About the Project

Discovering Dorchester-on-Thames


Dorchester-on-Thames is a key site in British history. It is the only site in the country that has seen towns dating from the late Iron Age (100 BC – AD 43), the Roman, and the Anglo-Saxon periods which have not been obscured by later development. Since 2007 a partnership of the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, Oxford Archaeology, and members of the local community, have been investigating these sites, forming the long-term ‘Discovering Dorchester’ research project.

Investigations at Dorchester will allow us to gain a better understanding of four of the key transition points in English history: the origins of agricultural societies in the Neolithic; the growth of urbanisation and movement away from a tribal society in the late Iron Age; subsequent incorporation into the Roman Empire; and the rise of an early Medieval centre from the confused situation which followed the severance of Britain from western Roman administration in the first decade of the 5th century AD.

Our Dorchester excavations thus far have been conducted at Minchin Recreation Ground, a later Roman enclosure and Bronze Age ring ditch (in 2007), Burcot Brook Car Boot field, recovering the vestiges of a Neolithic cursus and Bronze Age ring ditch (in 2010 to 2012) and the Dorchester Allotments, formerly the Hempcroft (2008 to present) which represents the south-western corner of the walled Roman town.

The village of Dorchester lies just off the A4074 between Berinsfield and Shillingford; the Allotments excavation site is in the southwest, off Watling Lane (grid reference SU577941). This site has been chosen in large part because it has never seen post-medieval development and because Professor Sheppard Frere’s investigations in 1962-4 revealed tantalising clues to what might have been occurring in this part of the town. Whilst Frere was limited to small trenches between cultivated plots, the Dorchester project has been given a 30m x 20m space for open-area excavation.


Project Directors


The Directors of the project are: 
  • Mr Paul Booth (Oxford Archaeology)
  • Professor Chris Gosden (Institute of Archaeology, Oxford)
  • Professor Helena Hamerow (Institute of Archaeology, Oxford)
  • Dr Gill Hey (Oxford Archaeology)

The Assistant Director of the project is:
  • Mr Edward Peveler (Institute of Archaeology, Oxford)


References

This is a famous site and we are not the first to excavate here; small-scale excavations in the 1930s, 1960s and 1970s have revealed the village’s prehistoric, Roman and Saxon past.

Interim reports for each year are published in the Council for British Archaeology journal South Midlands Archaeology.
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Atkinson, R.J.C., Piggott, C.M. and Sandars, N.K. (1951) Excavations at Dorchester, Oxon, Oxford: Ashmolean Museum

Booth, P. (2014) “A Late Roman Military Burial from the Dyke Hills, Dorchester on Thames, Oxfordshire,” Britannia 45, 243-273.

Booth, P., Dodd, A., Robinson, M. and Smith, A. (2007) The Thames through time – the archaeology of the gravel terraces of the Upper and Middle Thames: the early historical period: AD 1-1000, Oxford: Oxford Archaeology

Bradford, J.S.P. (1942) “An Early Iron Age site at Allen’s Pit, Dorchester,” Oxoniensia 7, 28-42

Bradley, R. (1978) “Rescue Excavation at Dorchester-on-Thames,” Oxoniensia 43, 17-39

Bradley, R. and Chambers, R.A. (1988) “A new study of the cursus complex at Dorchester on Thames,” Oxoniensia 7, 271-89

Cunningham, C.J. and Banks, J.W. (1972) “Excavations at Dorchester Abbey, Oxon”, Oxoniensia 37, 158-64

Durham, B. and Rowley, T. (1972)  “A cemetery site at Queensford Mill, Dorchester”, Oxoniensia 37, 32-7

Frere, S.S. (1962) “Excavations at Dorchester on Thames, 1962”, Archaeol J 119, 114-49

Frere, S.S. (1984) “Excavations at Dorchester on Thames, 1963”, Archaeol J 141, 91-174

Henig, M. and Booth, P. (2000) Roman Oxfordshire, Stroud: Sutton

Hogg, A.H.A. and Stevens, C.E. (1937) “The defences of Roman Dorchester,” Oxoniensia 2, 41-73

Kirk, J.R. and Leeds, E.T. (1954) “Three early Saxon graves from Dorchester, Oxon,” Oxoniensia 17-18, 63-76

Morrison, W.A. (2009) A synthesis of antiquarian observation and archaeological excavation at Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, BAR British Series 491

Munby, J. and Rodwell, K. (1974) “Dorchester” in K. Rodwell (ed.) Historic towns in Oxfordshire, Oxford: Oxford Archaeological Unit, 101-108

Rowley, R.T. (1974) “Early Saxon settlement in Dorchester” in R.T. Rowley (ed.) Anglo-Saxon settlement and landscape, Oxford: BAR, 42-50

Rowley, T. and Brown, L. (1981) “Excavations at Beech House Hotel, Dorchester-on-Thames 1972,” Oxoniensia 46, 1-55

Stevens, C.E. and Keeney, G.S. (1935) “Ramparts of Dorchester,” Antiquity 9, 217-9

Whittle, A., Atkinson, R.J.C., Chambers, R., and Thomas, N. (1992) “Excavations in the Neolithic and Bronze Age complex at Dorchester-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, 1947-1952 and 1981,” Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 58, 143-201.

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