HAHG Lecture – Becoming Roman in Oxfordshire: Excavations at Marcham
On 3 November, Professor Gary Lock of the University of Oxford spoke to the Henley Archaeological and Historical Group on the topic of “Becoming Roman in Oxfordshire: Excavations at Marcham”. This site, near Wantage, was first excavated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries after gravel workings revealed a cemetery. In 1937-8, the garden of the neighbouring Noah’s Ark pub was excavated by Bradford and Goodchild, uncovering the ground plan of a stone-built Celtic/Roman temple and a circular structure outside this temple, as well as extensive pits, apparently used for ritual deposits rather than for storage. In 1976, crop marks indicated the existence of a further, larger, circular structure. The whole site is of particular importance as it covers the period of transition from the Iron Age to Romano-British as well as that from late Roman to early Anglo-Saxon. Excavations and geophysical surveys by the University of Oxford took place between 2001 and 2011, revealing further significant information.
The temple and smaller circular structure were surrounded by a stone-walled rectangular sacred enclosure or temenos. On the outside of the temenos, near the entrance, were workshops with bronze furnaces, probably for producing votive offerings for worshippers. To the south of the temenos, there were further features, apparently ritual rather than domestic, surrounded by ditches. These ditches originated in the middle Bronze Age and were re-dug in the Iron Age and Roman periods, indicating a more extended continuity of worship than previously believed. Directly opposite the entrance to the temenos was a Roman-period shrine built with a central shaft found to contain offerings; these offerings included cockerel bones, suggesting that the shrine may have been dedicated to Mercury, or his Celtic counterpart, Lugus. The larger circular structure is now believed to be a ‘semi-amphitheatre’ used as a theatre (possibly for religious plays) rather than for games. In the centre of this structure is a hole in the bedrock through which water has flowed, to drain away through a ditch into a boggy area. Near the shrine is a large rectangular building. On the basis of coin evidence, the building was constructed in the late 4th century. Some of the coins bore the chi-rho symbol, offering the tantalising suggestion that the building may be a very early Christian church.