An electric company in England has uncovered a host of millennia-old objects dating to the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Roman, and Saxon periods at a site near the city of Dorchester. Spanning 6,000 years of history, the artifacts were excavated as part of a project that lasted almost two years.
The finds were announced last month by the London-based electric company National Grid, which partnered with Oxford Archaeology to conduct the project. Historic England, the Dorset AONB Partnership, and Dorset County archaeologists also provided input.
Artifacts recovered include over 6,000 shards of prehistoric pottery and more than 40,000 struck flints, as well as a greenstone axe head, a bone awl, and antler tine, all dating to the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.
The Neolithic period in Britain starts around 4,000 B.C.E. and continues to 2,500 B.C.E. During this time, the population transitioned from hunting and gathering to a more sedentary lifestyle characterized by farming and agriculture. The Bronze Age saw the adoption of metals, beginning around 2,500 B.C.E. and lasting until 800 B.C.E.
In a webinar hosted earlier this month, John Boothroyd, project manager for Oxford Archaeology, said that the sheer scale of remains “far exceeded our expectations.”
The team of over 25 archaeologists also found buried objects from the period, including a long barrow, 10 round barrows, more than 300 prehistoric pits, 27 cremations (some of the remains were interred in urns, while others placed directly in the ground), and 8 inhumations, as well as evidence of enclosures and field systems.
Researchers believe there may be a social distinction between the people in the barrows, or burial mounds, and the people who were cremated, potentially suggesting a hierarchy. Dorset County archaeologist Steve Wallis said in the webinar that the hilly landscape would have been marked by funerary mounds. “You can often see [the mound] from only one side of the ridgeway, from one particular valley—I think that’s probably telling you that the person buried there, their family, or their clan was living in that valley,” he said. According to Wallis, even if they were living miles away, they’d still be able to see the mound and “could point out the individual barrow to their families.”
A Roman settlement was also discovered. In it were a corn drying oven, two malting ovens, and several large millstones, which were likely used for crop processing. It would have been a high-production site that required cattle, water, or even slaves to power the large millstones. Archaeologists also identified 8 rectangular stone structures and a series of quarry pits, as well as 34 burials in all age ranges, from infant to adult. They found a bone textile comb, a bead from a bracelet, and pottery in the burials dating to the late Iron Age or Early Roman Period, suggesting the site was active for about 500 years, from the 1st century B.C.E. to the 4th century C.E.
The Dorset VIP (Visual Impact Provision) is part of a series of similar projects across the country, designed to enhance the natural landscape by replacing large electrical towers with underground cables. Boothroyd said it will take up to two years to process the finds. More information about them is expected to be released as studies and testing are conducted. After that, they will be displayed at the Dorset Museum in Dorchester.