In the future, 203 new dwellings will be erected on land north of Oxford Road forming one of the key sites of the Thame Neighbourhood Plan. Since January the site has been a hive of archaeological activity, as skilled archaeologists have tried to find out what stories this unassuming piece of land holds for Thame.
The dig was conducted by Oxford Archaeology, one of the largest and longest established independent heritage practices in Europe. Their specialist staff have excavated around 40,000m2 of the site and have unearthed some truly astonishing finds that span over 6000 years of Thame history. Members of Thame Town Council had the opportunity to visit the dig in July to find out more about the site’s past to inform their decisions on its future.
Guided by Senior Project Officer, Ken Welsh, Town Councillors and staff were led around the 46 evaluations trenches that stretched across all corners of the site. One trench of great interest contained the ruins of a Saxon roundhouse that has been destroyed by fire. Encased amongst the charred beams were a set of stone loom weights indicating the building would once have been a workhouse where Saxon women would have sat and weaved clothing.
On a different part of the site archaeologists had discovered a henge dating back to the Neolithic era. Henges have either one of two purposes; to protect something or to form a meeting place. In this instance, archaeologists were not certain of what purpose this henge was used for but regardless, this impressive feature has inspired the name for one of the new roads on the development, Henge Court. Roman ruins have also been identified on the site, including a grain dryer, which would have been used to dry barley prior to brewing beer.
One of the more grisly finds on the site was that of a Saxon girl who had been buried in the foetal position, as is tradition with burials of this era. Archaeologists had discovered that a year after she was first buried, someone had repositioned the girl’s skull and placed a horse’s head alongside her in the grave. The reasons for this remain unknown.
Experts believe the site has been utilised since the Mesolithic period (10,000 to 5,000 BCE) and many hundreds of artefacts have been found buried beneath the earth, some over 3000 years old. The rich history that is contained within the site will be evaluated and will eventually be housed in museums in the area, including Thame Museum. The excavations that have been made will be filled in again and this area of Thame will enter into another phase of its history as the new housing development takes shape.