A settlement dating to the Iron Age and the Romano-British period has been uncovered near the village of Childrey in Oxfordshire, ahead of works to lay new water pipes for a Thames Water project.
The excavation, carried out by Cotswold Archaeology (CA), discovered more than 30 human burials, half of which were buried in Iron Age pits; the remainder came from a small formal Roman cemetery. One of the Iron Age burials – that of a woman – really stood out, however.
Sharon Clough, a CA osteoarchaeologist, explains: ‘There was a huge variety of burial practice in the Iron Age; and burial in pits is a fairly common finding on settlement sites. These are usually placed on their side and in a crouched position, but this example from Childrey Warren demonstrates one of the more unusual or “deviant” body positions. The female has been placed with her arms draped over her head, with her hands together, and her legs bent up with the knees wide apart. Her feet have been detached and placed, still articulated, by her right arm.’
The remains of a newborn baby were found in the same pit, beneath the woman’s body. The infant was probably interred at an earlier date, but scientific analysis may shed more light on the relationship between the two burials.
The team also uncovered a wealth of evidence for the activities of the living, including the remains of dwellings, butchered animal bones, and household items such as pottery, cutting implements, and a relatively pristine bone comb of late Roman date, decorated with zoomorphic and geometric designs.
All of the finds have now been carefully removed from the site and are currently undergoing post-excavation analysis in the Cotswold Archaeology office at Kemble. It is hoped that this will help reveal some of the mysteries behind these unusual burials, as well as providing some interesting insight into Iron Age life.
Commenting on the significance of the discovery, Paolo Guarino, the Project Officer who directed the excavations, said: ‘These findings open a unique window into the lives and deaths of communities we often know only from their monumental constructions, such as hillforts or the Uffington White Horse.’