Iron Age treasure found in Northamptonshire

weston-coins1

A 2012 ULAS project near Weston by Welland in Northamptonshire has uncovered a small cache of Iron Age silver coins. The site is located on a prominent hilltop, with spectacular views over the surrounding countryside, and lies within a rich Iron Age and Roman landscape. Significant sites nearby include the Gartree Road, which runs south-east out of Leicester into Northamptonshire through the Roman town of Medbourne, located c.3km to the north-east, and notable Roman activity has been recorded at Drayton, Slawston and Great Easton.

The site itself was initially identified from aerial photographs, which show a cropmark interpreted as a possible Roman military marching camp. Trial trenching carried out by ULAS in 2011 confirmed the presence of the south-eastern side of this feature, a large ‘V’ shaped ditch with an ‘ankle breaker’, a characteristic often ascribed to military ditches. A squared ditch terminal was also recorded, marking the south-western side of an entrance which coincides with a gap in the photographed cropmark. The ditches were backfilled with clay, similar to the natural subsoil, while evidence for clods of earth was identified in the base. These lumps of soil may represent the remains of turf revetments forming the face of the rampart. The lack of artefacts recovered from the ditch deposits appears to suggest that activity on the site was relatively short lived, supporting the idea that this is a temporary marching camp.

weston-ditch
The camp ditch.

The current project has focused on the interior of the camp, as this is to be the location of a new barn.  Removal of the topsoil from the barn’s footprint has revealed evidence of archaeological activity: gullies, pits, post-holes and stake-holes but little in the way of dateable material. However, it is highly likely that the camp was in use for only a short period of time and therefore would not be expected to generate large amounts of cultural material in the same way as a long-standing settlement. The central area of the camp would probably have been occupied by the administrative headquarters and stores, with lines of tents occupying the forward and rearward portions of the defences. It is therefore possible that the stake-holes found at the site, which are clearly aligned in rows, may represent the locations for some of these temporary structures. If so, their survival is both unusual and fortuitous, in view of their small size and shallow depth.

The most substantial feature on the site was a large pit filled with burnt daub. This is thought to probably be an oven, the daub being the remains of the superstructure which had collapsed inwards. Evidence of charred grass, perhaps used as kindling, as well as fuel – oak, hazel, ash and poplar/willow – was recovered from inside the oven but insufficient material survived to determine its purpose.

weston-oven
The possible oven pit filled with burnt daub.

A small hoard of six Iron Age silver coins and a red deer antler were deposited together at the base of the oven pit. Their presence, along with the antler, at the base of the feature is significant, suggesting a possible ritual element to their deposition. The coins appear to be of the VOLISIOS type, in the North-Eastern regional tradition which is attributed to the local people of the East Midlands, the Corieltavi. VOLISIOS coins are rare and were under-represented at the nearby Iron Age shrine of Hallaton. They are clearly heat-affected and were therefore sited before or while the oven was in use, suggesting an early post-conquest period date for the construction of the feature. However, the feature also contained Roman wheel-thrown wares, mixed among the collapsed debris, which are burnt and therefore presumably became incorporated into the feature while it was still in use. Inscribed Corieltavi coins are generally dated to the first half of the 1st century AD but the presence of this type of pottery would tend to date the feature to a later phase of occupation to that indicated by the coins, perhaps the late 1st century or early 2nd century.

weston-coins1
The Iron Age coins.

In the absence of clear dating evidence it cannot be said for certain that all the features ‘inside’ the ditch relate to the marching camp phase of the site, proposed to be of the Conquest period, mid-1st century AD. However, many of the features are likely to be surviving remnants of internal features of the camp and this project has provided a valuable opportunity to gain further insights into a rare and poorly-understood Roman monument.

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