ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 50, December 1999


Cistercians `depopulated land' to found Jervaulx

A detailed survey of the earthworks at Jervaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire has cast intriguing new light on the policy of the austere Cistercian order in locating its new monasteries.

Objecting to the self-indulgent lifestyle of contemporary Benedictine houses, the Cistercians aimed in the 12th century to return to the ideals of the Desert Fathers, and sought isolation in mountains, forests, marshes and other `wasteland' areas - or so it has long been thought.

The survey of Jervaulx by English Heritage archaeologists has found instead that, at Jervaulx at least, a Cistercian house was founded in a settled agricultural landscape which the original inhabitants were clearly required to leave.

This new evidence of the Cistercians as depopulators - acting presumably with the backing of the Crown or other major local landowners - comes from the discovery of a network of roads, ploughed fields and at least one house within the monastic precinct, which appear to immediately predate the abbey's foundation in 1156.

The survey has also discovered that after the Dissolution, a massive country house was built in the abbey precinct, surrounded by grand formal gardens. This was probably the work of Matthew, Earl of Lennox, paternal grandfather of James VI of Scotland/James I of England, and the estate may have been embellished by the future king himself. Jervaulx was owned by his family between 1544 and 1603. The house and gardens were abandoned by the mid-17th century - no sign of them appear on a 1627 map of the estate - and their existence was completely lost to history.

Evidence for part of the house was seen as a rectangular area of amorphous mounds and hollows adjoining the monastic buildings, thought to be the end of a southern range. The main part of the house probably adapted monastic buildings - a number of blocked and altered windows in the monks' infirmary and elsewhere may represent that phase of the building's life.

The main evidence for the country house comes from the remains of formal gardens at least 400 by 250 metres in extent. They contain up to 14 garden compartments delimited by terracing, watercourses and paths. The sites of two pavilions, a possible gazebo and other prospect points have been identified. The main elements of the monastic water supply system were adapted into ornamental water features, and the monastic watermill seems to have been converted into a romantic ruin.

The survey, conducted by Chris Dunn and Marcus Jecock, also found ten 20th century earthwork enclosures identified as World War II munitions stores. They were placed under trees - presumably to camouflage them from the Luftwaffe.

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Roman harbour found at Wroxeter

A man-made Roman harbour linked to the River Severn has been discovered at the Roman town of Wroxeter in Shropshire.

The harbour, constructed between the river and the town ramparts, is marked today by a patch of boggy agricultural land, whose significance remained unnoticed until torrential rains this autumn turned the area into a pool. The shape of the harbour was clearly revealed to archaeologists surveying the area.

The rectangular harbour, measuring roughly 150 by 80 metres, has not yet been formally mapped - you'd `sink in up to your knees if you tried', according to Roger White of Birmingham University's Wroxeter Hinterland Project. However, a harbour wall dividing the harbour from the river has been confirmed as artificial by fluvio-geologists working as consultants to the project.

A harbour had long been suspected at Wroxeter. Evidence from the Rhine and elsewhere has shown that rivers were used as major communication channels in the Roman period. Goods travelling to and from Wroxeter by river barge will have needed a harbour for loading and unloading. A similar Roman harbour survives, with sandstone harbour walls, on the River Dee at Chester.

Direct evidence of goods transported by river from Wroxeter has been found ten miles upstream at the Roman villa of Alkmund Park at Berwick. `Half-box' heating tiles, used for channelling warm air from the underfloor hypocaust system up the walls of the villa, have been found to be geochemically identical to similar tiles known from Wroxeter, and were therefore made from the same clay. A Roman tilery is known at Wroxeter, on the Severn floodplain on the opposite side of the river from the harbour.

Around Oswestry in Shropshire, northwest of Wroxeter and upstream along the Severn, a number of Roman villas are known in an area thought to have been without Roman roads. `These villas were almost certainly served by the Severn and its tributaries,' Dr White said.

Meanwhile at Wroxeter, excavations have taken place along the line of a new water pipeline running north-south through the site of the town, revealing evidence, as expected, for Roman buildings, with some artefacts such as glass fragments and a brooch. The archaeological deposits were found to lie in stratified layers two metres deep, providing new evidence for the longevity of Wroxeter, which is now thought to have survived to the 7th century.

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New Saxon horse burial in Suffolk

Another early Anglo-Saxon horse and warrior burial has been discovered in a cemetery at Lakenheath in Suffolk. The discovery follows that of a spectacular horse and warrior burial at the cemetery in 1997, which came complete with decorated ceremonial bridle.

The new horse and warrior burial lacks the ceremonial bridle, but in other respects is similar to the first. It was originally covered by a barrow and surrounded by a ditch. The warrior himself was interred with a full set of weapons including sword, shield and spear. Both burials are thought to date from the 6th century.

The quality of bone preservation in the grave was far worse than two years ago, but in situ examination of the remains suggested the horse was some 8 or 9 years old at death, about 13 hands high, and of lighter build than the 1997 find.

The burial provides further evidence of the early Anglian tradition of animal sacrifice at the grave of a dead warrior chieftain. The famous early 7th century cemetery at Sutton Hoo, on the Suffolk coast, included one warrior burial immediately adjacent to a separate grave containing a slaughtered horse. Another of the Sutton Hoo burial mounds was surrounded by satellite burials of young men, interpreted as victims of ritual human sacrifice.

Excavations this year by Suffolk County Council's archaeology service uncovered, in all, 60 new Anglo-Saxon graves on the RAF base at Lakenheath. These follow the 270 graves found during excavations in 1997.

Also in Suffolk, a `ritual' - or, at least, intentional - deposit of three Neolithic flint axe heads has been discovered within an area of known Neolithic settlement near Lowestoft. Such deposits are relatively rare, and presage the better-known Bronze Age practice in East Anglia and elsewhere of ritual burial of hoards of artefacts.

Two of the axe heads are exceptionally large - around 30cm long. One is partially polished, the other flaked from a parent core. The third, smaller axe is also partially polished. The axes therefore represent different stages in axe manufacture, foreshadowing some Bronze Age hoards where artefacts were buried at different levels of completion.

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In brief

Saxon village

A massive Anglo-Saxon village, more than 100 acres in extent, has been excavated in the Fens of North Cambridgeshire by the Cambridge University archaeological unit. The village was inhabited from the 7th-12th centuries, and was flourishing at the time of Hereward the Wake's last stand against the Normans at Ely, a mile away, in the early 1070s. The village may possibly be associated with the legendary rebel.

More than 50,000 artefacts and bones have been recovered, including pots, jugs, storage jars, platters, bowls and glass-beaded jewellery. Most remarkable, however, were the graves of about 20 dogs - possibly sheepdogs - whose careful interment contrasts markedly with the dumping of other animals such as cattle, cats and pigs.

Roman finds

An early Roman fort, possibly used in the invasion of AD43, has been found near Faversham in Kent. Excavations by Paul Wilkinson have revealed postholes and roads in the interior, and a deep ditch outside complete with `ankle-breaker' - a wide slot cut in the base of the ditch.

Meanwhile, Britain's largest Roman silver coin hoard has been found by detectorists in Shapwick, Somerset. The 9,377 coins, spanning 31BC to AD222-35, were declared Treasure last month. Excavations by Somerset County Council suggest the site was a large courtyard villa.

Next issue

From the next issue, British Archaeology will be greatly improved (see BA, May). It will be 40 pages plus cover, incorporating eight pages of Briefing each issue. It will be full colour throughout, with a stronger element of art direction and an expanded range of content.

The magazine will appear six times a year, in February, April, June, August, October and December. Design will be provided by the leading London firm of Esterson Lackersteen, currently design consultants to the Guardian, whose work has been used by a number of distinguished magazines including RA (the Royal Academy of Arts magazine). These improvements will be achieved at no additional cost.

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© Council for British Archaeology, 1999