The Henley Archaeological and Historical Group enjoyed a talk by the archaeologist Dr Jill Eyers, of Chiltern Archaeology, on 7 February about excavations at Yewden Roman Villa in Hambleden. Again HAHG’s lecture proved extremely popular, with a capacity audience turning up to hear the story of the villa.
The modern history of the villa started with the discovery of an Iron Age ditch in a gravel quarry (by the present-day car park) and a number of finds from the Roman period made by one Miss Glassbrook. This was followed in 1912 by an excavation which exposed four major buildings together with minor structures and pits. Unusually for the time, the exact location and depth of excavated finds was recorded carefully. This enabled Jill and her colleagues to re-analyse these finds. Together with the use of aerial photographs, geophysics surveys and field walking this allowed the original excavation to be reinterpreted.
One remarkable feature of the finds was the astonishingly large number of styli (Roman ‘pens’) found – far more than at any other villa. This suggests that there was a great deal of bureaucratic activity at the site in Roman times, possibly to do with military supply and/or the transhipment of goods arriving along the Thames by road towards Dorchester. Human remains were also found on the site including an exceptionally large number (97) of skeletons of newborn babies, which has been interpreted as evidence of infanticide. The motivation for this is still being debated.
There is more to learn from the site – perhaps we will be able to hear more from Jill in the future.