The Dorchester – Stadhampton – Benson – Warborough area of the Thames Valley is a rich, diverse and internationally important archaeological resource.
There is significant evidence of archaeology dating from the Palaeolithic, Neolithic / early Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Roman period and the Anglo-Saxon period.
The areas around Dorchester and Warborough contain substantial numbers of Scheduled Ancient Monuments. And within their landscape context, the archaeology in the PAGE area has a number of special features which make this part of the Thames Valley internationally important:
- the rarity of some of the monuments
- the value of the monuments when grouped together
- the diversity of the monuments and the periods represented
- the scientific and cultural significance of the sites
- the educational value of the archaeology throughout the area
Gravel extraction in the PAGE area threatens to destroy this local heritage forever.
Location of cropmarks and other land demarcations indicating sites of archaeological interest.
The Palaeolithic (or Old Stone Age) is one of the most enigmatic of archaeological periods. Lasting from the dawn of humanity until the end of the last ice age its remains have been subject to extensive erosion and natural destruction.
Hand axes and other flint tools have been found in the Berinsfield area, with a scattering of other similar finds from Dorchester to Stadhampton.
The Neolithic - early Bronze Age
The henge monument to the north of Dorchester, known locally as the “big rings”, was lost to aggregates extraction in the 1970s. The Dorchester henge was one of 8 henge monuments known in the UK, similar to Avebury or Stonehenge. This henge monument and the surrounding cursus and ritual complex demonstrate an important concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age activity.
The henge spawned a network of sites in two distinct corridors – one running north-east towards Stadhampton and one running south-east towards Benson and beyond. Within these corridors there is a concentration of other Neolithic monuments including a causewayed enclosure, long mortuary enclosures, other settlements, stretches of cursus and a range of associated ritual and funerary sites.
Many of these monuments are easily recognisable from aerial photography, which manifest themselves as cropmarks and other demarcations in the land.
Aerial photograph of the Dorchester “big rings.”
Professor Roger Mercer from Edinburgh University, an expert on the Neolithic and Bronze Age described our stretch of the River Thames as:
Professor Alasdair Whittle, from Cardiff University, also an expert of the Neolithic, described the area under threat as:
Humphrey Case, former Keeper of Antiquities at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and an expert both on the Neolithic and the archaeology of the area, has pointed to the importance of the monuments in the PAGE region:
Gallery of other images coming soon
The Iron Age
The hillfort at Wittenham Clumps and the Dyke Hills at Dorchester provide a visible focus of Iron Age activity and are good indications of sites of human settlement.
The combination of these monuments bears direct comparison with the oppida or town-like conglomerations known elsewhere in western Europe at this period.
These sites were one element of a network of settlements and farms across the area which produced a dynamic Iron Age society in the region. An example of one of these settlements was an Iron Age farmstead which was excavated in the Warborough area in 2003 during work on a Transco gas pipeline.
Many Iron Age artefacts have been found in the Drayton St Leonard area – during the 2003 PAGE Campaign, the fieldwalking investigations uncovered a gold Cunobelin stater coin, one of only 66 in the UK.
Barry Cunliffe of the University of Oxford commented on the area:
The Roman Period
The Roman town of Dorchester provided a hub for the settlement and commercial activity for the region in the Roman period.
The extent of the hinterland to this town can be seen in the large associated cemeteries. The most impressive of these is the one at Church Piece, Warborough. Archaeological excavations here led to the discovery of a lead and stone coffins. There is also the Scheduled Ancient Monument in the large, open field between Warborough and Benson (SMR 8580) showing the presence of Roman agriculture with archaeological finds of animal burials and a Roman corn dryer.
The extent of the Roman occupation of the Berinsfield area can also be seen through field systems and pottery production at several Scheduled Ancient Monument sites.
The Anglo-Saxon Period
Occupation at Dorchester clearly continued well beyond the Roman period. In 635AD, Bishop Birinus arrived from Rome to preach Christianity to the West Saxons and to baptise King Cynegil, giving him Dorchester as an episcopal seat.
The size of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Wally Corner, Berinsfield illustrates the extent of the settlement in this area.
Early Saxon material has been found at Berinsfield, Long Wittenham and Benson.
The proposed gravel extraction in the PAGE area threatens to destroy the environment of this local heritage forever.
Join the PAGE Campaign to protect this internationally important area of outstanding historical value.