Excavations at Cholsey

Cholsey – the final update

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One of the many red kites who kept watch on our work.

The archaeological investigations at Cholsey have finally come to an end and our multi-office team have returned to their London, Cambridge, Newark and Warwick offices to enjoy their next adventure. As we mentioned previously, this is not where PCA and Cholsey part ways as we now embark on the more academic aspects of our work: putting together what we have learnt and placing this information into the public sphere to aid future research. Bellway Homes Limited have kindly provided a budget to allow us to assess and analyse the many soil samples, pottery fragments, bone, worked flint and other finds we recovered as well as the countless folders of paperwork, drawings, plans and photographs a project this size produces. Next, working closely with the Local Authority archaeological advisor and the regions research framework, we will put together evidence that helps further the knowledge of Bronze Age activity in this area. It has already been noted how the Bronze Age field systems over much of the Thames valley surrounding Wallingford are placed on an identical alignment, showing a single governing body in the area. Likewise the relatively large assemblage of animal bone and crop waste will allow us to gain a better understanding of diet and these, along with the pottery assemblages will help us gain a handle on trade routes during this period.

So although it is good bye to the site and we will miss the Red Kites and helicopters, this is the start of a new and exciting adventure that PCA hopes will further our collective knowledge.

Survey at Cholsey

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Last week we looked at the recording side of archaeology and mentioned the quantities and detail of data produced on a site this scale. This week, as we bring the onsite investigations towards their conclusion, we thought it was time to provide some of our initial broad-brush findings.

This plan shows the archaeology revealed, and while in places ditches have been ploughed out, especially towards the south, we can still get a good understanding of how the landscape was used.

Here, archaeological features are shown green and natural features are orange.


As mentioned previously, the parallel ditches of the ‘drove way’ dominate the site from left to right. Enclosures and field systems fed off this at right angles, showing a well-managed and maintained landscape. The ditches were cleaned out repeatedly, sometimes ‘migrating’ in the process but showing a longevity in its use. The workload would have been too much for a single family and is suggestive of a group working together, either under the control of a governing body or as part of a collective.

Artefactual material recovered during the course of the work has shown the importance of grain crops, sheep/goat and cattle to the Prehistoric population of Cholsey and it is clear that the rich and productive soils astride the Thames gave them access as to fairly far reaching trade routes including pottery coming from mainland Europe. Put together with previous archaeological investigations in and around the village, we can begin to picture the first chapter in the history of Cholsey, 4,000 years in the making.

Now that we are beginning to understand how the population worked the landscape what can we tell about the individual people themselves? In our next and final update we will look at what we have been able to discover so far about the individuals that lived here.

Cholsey update – the site archive

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As our investigations at Cholsey come to a close, we thought we’d take the opportunity this week, to focus on an aspect of archaeology often ignored, the site archive. While everyone enjoys the excitement of finding new things, we are also in the process of data collection with every feature, deposit and investigation given unique identification numbers. Documents are then produced to record their description, relationships and any interpretations. Photos are taken, scaled drawings and plans are made, and the whole is surveyed in reference to Ordnance datum. Any finds or soil samples we take are linked to these numbers through our records, and it’s this paperwork that provides the framework that allows us to understand the site. Years from now, it will also allow specialists and experts to reassess what we found in the same way that we use archaeological work from the past to help us in our investigations.

Another week, another mystery!

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The ongoing excavations at Cholsey have been nothing if not engaging. Even though it is clear that we are away from any areas of occupation, this managed landscape was obviously of importance with offerings being given to the Gods.

‘Normally I shy away from words like ‘ritual’, ritual in archaeology is often used to cover those things we do not know and yet in this instance it is difficult to use any other phrase’.

Jon Webster (Project manager)

This week Richard from our London office found yet another specifically buried animal, placed in a manner that suggests more than simply removal of unwanted or diseased remains. We know this must have been one of the earliest actions on the site so far seen, as one of the Bronze Age ‘droveway’ ditches overlies, and is therefore later than it. Is this an offering to bless the landscape which would soon be used for animal husbandry? Or is it a coincidence that it underlies the main foci in the landscape? Hopefully we’ll be able to find out more as we proceed. Who knows what next week will bring?

A Bronze Age votive offering

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This week at Cholsey our team have continued to be fascinated and surprised by the artefactual material revealed during our investigations. Following on from those beautiful worked flints and the dog burial, this week we have uncovered this rather stunning Bronze Age food storage jar which had been deliberately buried in the centre of the main droveway that dominates the area. Once off-site we can begin to excavate its contents in our labs to see what it was filled with. This will hopefully give further insight into this apparent votive offering, but for now you will just have to content yourselves with how beautiful an object the jar and its decoration is in its own right!

The pot was carefully wrapped and lifted for excavation and analysis in our labs.

Worked Flints at Cholsey

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As we mentioned in our first update, a cache of worked flints was discovered in one of the small pits that dot the excavation site in Cholsey, Oxfordshire. This was excavated by Sean Rice from our Warwick office. In amongst the more general cache were four lovely scrapers, two of which you can see here, but by far the star of the show is this lovely leaf shaped arrowhead. These delicate tools are frequently found broken but it is rare to find one in such lovely condition, so well done Sean.

Obviously, as with much of what we have found so far, we are left with as many questions as answers. Is this flint cache a one-off or can we expect more? Why were such tools buried rather than used? Are we looking at the waste material from knapping where a few of the finished items became mixed and discarded or were these deliberately deposited? We hope to answer these and many more questions in the coming weeks and months. We will have more news and updates for you next week so we hope to see you back with us then!

Cholsey update

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The excavations at Cholsey, Oxfordshire are truly a joint PCA effort with staff from the Cambridge, London and Warwick offices all working as one happy team to help discover the exciting Prehistoric past of the area.

This week’s example comes from one of our Cambridge archaeologists, Katie Ray, who was surprised by an unexpected discovery in one of her large Iron Age storage pits.

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