Welcome to the Urban Archaeology blog. Chiz Harward provides a range of archaeological services including desk-based assessments, evaluations, excavations, watching briefs and post-excavation services, training and development work, and archaeological illustration. This weblog will carry news of projects as and when they happen as well as wider thoughts on archaeological issues, especially recording, stratigraphy and training.

Iron Age burial and medieval farming

Since August Urban Archaeology has been working for LP Archaeology excavating the remains of a medieval farm in a pasture field next to The Horse and Groom Inn, Bourton on the Hill in the Cotswolds. The pub is building a new car park which needs to be terraced into the hillside and which would remove all the archaeological remains, so we are excavating these before the ground reduction.
Aerial view of the site looking north showing some of the medieval farm buildings

Trial trenches in 2011 showed that there was a varied range of remains on the site: a large Iron Age ditch, a Roman pit containing building rubble and grain-processing waste, medieval pits and postholes, and the remains of at least one stone-built medieval building. However when we stripped the site we hadn’t really expected to find an almost complete ground plan of a medieval farm, with nine rooms -each measuring approximately 5m by 5m- and with some walls surviving to 1.2m in height.

We have been carefully  excavating the site –removing hundreds of tonnes of rubble to get back to the original walls and floors. The buildings are substantial and very well built using local limestone; they had been terraced back into the hillside and formed two wings which were arranged around a courtyard. Doorways between the rooms were found along with evidence for hearths, timber door-frames and stone floors. Further work is required to establish when exactly the building was built, although it may have been around the 13th century –further rooms were added over time and the buildings were finally demolished around the 16th century. 
Medieval room with the remains of a central hearth constructed from limestone blocks; scale 0.5m
View of two of the medieval rooms terraced into the hillside showing the fantastic preservation; scales 0.2m and 1m
The western part of the parish of Bourton on the Hill was held by the Abbot of Westminster in the medieval period and it is possible that the farm belonged to one of his tenant sheep-farmers. Bourton on the Hill was a centre for the shearing of Westminster’s sheep in the Cotswolds and there are many medieval documents relating to sheep farming in the village and to associated buildings. We have identified the remains of a probable sheepcote (a large stone building) to the west of the farm site where sheep would have been over-wintered between Michaelmas and Easter. Sheep farming and the wool trade were very important industries in medieval England and especially in the Cotswolds and it is very possible that our buildings were the domestic and ancillary farm buildings of a medieval tenant sheep-farmer. Beyond the farm buildings lay open ground, where rubbish including broken pottery and animal bones were dumped, all of which will tell us more about the diet and life of the inhabitants of the farm. 
Half-sectioned medieval pit, contexts like these contain valuable information about the environment, diet and lifestyle of the medieval inhabitants of the farm; scale 1m

Further down and farther back

As well as our wonderfully preserved medieval farm, we are excavating a wide range of earlier remains on the site, these include a 3m wide late prehistoric ditch, and we have been finding a fair amount of Roman pottery, although few Roman features –there must be a Roman settlement site nearby.
Iron Age burial at Horse and Groom Inn; scale 0.2m
One of the most interesting finds has been an Iron Age skeleton, which had been buried in a round pit cut into the natural limestone. The body had been carefully laid in the pit in a foetal position, and a joint of meat (only the bone survives) placed on the right shoulder. The pit had been backfilled with soil and large fragments of a pottery vessel had been thrown –already broken- into the pit. This vessel was not a ‘grave good’ buried with the body, and may have either broken deliberately at the time of burial, or it may be a complete coincidence. The skeleton will be analysed by an osteologist in order to find out the gender, age at death, stature and possibly any diseases that the individual suffered from. Unfortunately it is unlikely that we will be able to tell the cause of death.
The body had been lain in the side of a shallow circular pit

The skeleton is carefully planned and located using a planning frame and tapes
Excavation continues with the dismantling of the medieval buildings and the completion of the excavation of the earlier features. Once off site the work continues: all the finds will be assessed by specialists and our on-site assumptions will be tested! We will also use all our detailed records to reconstruct the story of our site, integrating all the information whether that is pottery, human remains, buildings or medieval documents. Throughout this process we will post updates and insights on this blog. The final site report will be published in an academic journal after all the analysis is complete.
A selection of pottery from the site
Urban Archaeology and LP Archaeology would like to thank The Horse and Groom Inn for generously funding the excavations.

More posts on our excavations: