In pictures | Roman ‘curse tablets’ and miniature axes found at Barratt site

A man in a hard helmet holding a miniature axe.
One of the miniature votive axes found on the site (Photo courtesy of Red River Archaeology Group)

Archaeologists have uncovered a "remarkable" Roman villa complex at a Barratt and David Wilson Homes housing development in Grove, south Oxfordshire.

Findings include mosaic tesserae, hypocaust box flue tiles, miniature votive axes, hundreds of coins, rings, brooches and a horse-headed belt buckle dating to AD 350-450.

Broken coloured plaster pieces.
Archaeologists found remarkable quantities of sophisticated painted plaster inclusive of floral motifs (Photo courtesy of Red River Archaeology Group)

According to the Red River Archaeology Group team working on the site, the most intriguing items were the enigmatic assemblage of tightly coiled lead scrolls.

Although blank (to date) when unrolled, they recall Roman ‘curse tablets’ which, when viewed alongside the miniature votive axes, suggest a ritual or pilgrimage took place somewhere on the estate.

The Brookside Meadows site in Grove, Wantage, sits on a landscape inhabited since the Bronze Age and includes a villa complex richly decorated with painted plaster and mosaics, and a monumental hall-like ‘aisled building’ with hints of internal colonnades.

A small unrolled scroll and a rolled one.
The lead scrolls and miniature votive axes continue to be researched but archaeologists said there are parallels to other Romano-British temple/cult sites in England where this range of items are considered votive offerings. (Photo courtesy of Red River Archaeology Group)

The artefact-rich site was long-lived, with Roman activity extending from the 1st or 2nd centuries into the late 4th or perhaps even the early 5th century AD.

Barratt and Wilson Homes said they work with archaeologists in the early stages of their projects as best practice to allow experts to carry out excavations in sites of interest.

Tiles pieces.
Remains of a complex brickwork floor, possibly relating to a hypocaust (Photo courtesy of Red River Archaeology Group)

Louis Stafford, senior project manager at Red River Archaeology Group, said: “The sheer size of the buildings that still survive and the richness of goods recovered suggest this was a dominant feature in the locality, if not the wider landscape”

Drone footage of the site (Credit: SUMO GeoSurveys)

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  1. Should be an archaeological site celebrating the history and culture of the United Kingdom, not yet more homes to profit greedy corporations, wringing their hands, in an already over-populated village; most of which will offer no benefit to local people, only outsiders.

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