Investigating Oxford's watery landscapes

The old medieval city of Oxford is located on a gravel promontory at the confluence of the Rivers Thames and Cherwell and surrounded on three sides by water. Beyond the immediate urban expanse lie floodplain meadows and a complex network of meandering streams, canals and backwater channels.

Within the modern city, the once prominent topography is muted beneath metres of urban make-up that extends onto the fringes of the low-lying floodplain; watercourses have been canalised, diverted, and in places culverted underground. Archaeological investigations in the city, mostly related to developer-funded work, provide windows into Oxford’s hidden landscapes. Each provides a piece of the jigsaw that helps understand the relationships between the wider natural and cultural landscapes and how these changed through time.

Mapping deeply buried palaeochannels and floodplain islands, tracing mill channels, potential routeways and crossing points are some of the key aims of geoarchaeological investigations that have been carried out across the city and its hinterland. Several recent large projects have added significantly to our knowledge in this respect, through the drilling of boreholes, deposit modelling, geophysical survey, LiDAR and GIS analysis, evaluation and excavation, radiocarbon dating and palaeoenvironmental analysis.

To find out more, click here to download a poster of recent geoarchaeological work in the city of Oxford.