Top Sites of 2019 – No.3 Oxcroft Lane, Bolsover

A plan of the site showing all archaeological features belonging to all phases. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2020
Mesolithic flint blade. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2020

Last year we undertook several phases of archaeological work on behalf of Jones Homes (Yorkshire) Limited on land adjacent to Oxcroft Lane in Bolsover, Derbyshire. The site, which is located 1km to the north of the centre of Bolsover, was already known to contain archaeological remains, visible as a cropmark on aerial photographs taken in 1996.

Further archaeological investigations in 2017 included geophysical survey and evaluation trial trenching which confirmed the presence of archaeological features on the site. These matched the square enclosure previously identified from the aerial photographs in 1996, as well as other associated features.

The excavation of trenches in January and February 2018 revealed remains of a Romano-British rural settlement including pits, postholes, enclosures, field boundaries and a droveway, as well as finds of Terra sigillata pottery, which is commonly known as Samian ware and was a red tableware imported from France.

Aerial photo of enclosure and droveway. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2020
Neolithic leaf-shaped arrowhead. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2020
Aylesford Swarling Pottery. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2020

The subsequent excavation of approximately four hectares in 2019 revealed four broad periods of occupation on the site: Prehistoric, Romano-British, Late Roman/early medieval and medieval periods, many of which have several phases.

The discovery of a number of worked flint tools suggests that the site was used in the Mesolithic period (c.10,000 – 4,000 BC) while there is also evidence to suggest potential land enclosure or the creation of field systems possibly as early as the Late Neolithic period (c.2000 BC).

A small enclosure was constructed in the western area of the site in the late pre-Roman Iron Age period (AD 1 – AD 43), and the way it was orientated suggests that its creators had disregarded pre-existing land divisions which had been previously established in the Neolithic/Bronze Age periods. This enclosure, which was dated to the early 1st century AD, is remarkable for having yielded Aylesford Swarling (Belgic) type pottery, unusual in Derbyshire.

Roman reorganisation of the landscape in the late 1st century AD and into the 2nd century AD was demonstrated on the site with new field systems being created. At the same time small enclosures for domestic buildings were also built and a droveway system was developed to the north. By the end of the 2nd century AD the field systems had become modified, creating larger enclosures, possibly reflecting a change in land use or agricultural regime. This coincided with the occurrence of malting ovens, probably associated with each of the building enclosures within the site. By the later 3rd century the focus of settlement had shifted to the north, around either side of the droveway, and the fields previously defined to the south seem to have been abandoned.

Within the interior of the new enclosure, to the south of the droveway, the remains of two adult females were found who had been laid face down in their graves. These graves were assigned to the later Roman/early medieval phase on the site. A further burial dated to AD 380 lay to the south-west, which was probably also associated with the other graves. Another grave, also of an adult female, lay further south of this burial and has been dated to between AD 331 and AD 426.

A number of post-built structures, located to the south and west of the group of graves, may represent exciting evidence of sub-Roman occupation on the site dating to, or shortly after, the withdrawal of Roman military aid and government from Britain in AD 410. These temporary structures are largely rectangular but also appear to have fence lines associated with them.

The site was later turned over to fields, with evidence of medieval ridge and furrow cultivation visible at the southern end of the site.

Post excavation work and analysis is ongoing with the intention to produce the full archive report in a digital format, as well as a synthesis in a national archaeological journal.

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