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Didcot dig: A glimpse of 9,000 years of village life

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Adam Hawthorne
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« on: February 17, 2013, 06:33:42 pm »

This Neolithic bowl probably contained organic matter such as food, as an offering to appease the gods
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"Only ever a dozen or so pond barrows have ever been excavated so this provided some great new information," he added.

Up to 50 burials, of both adults and children, were identified.

Mr Masefield said: "It's possible that three or so of these burials in [grain storage] pits are what we call 'special burials', because it's not the usual way of doing it.

"It could be ritual or they could be social outcasts."

He said there is evidence found at other sites - though not at Didcot - suggesting Iron Age people did practise human sacrifice and may even have "bred" individual human beings solely for this purpose.

"They are found with immaculate nails and signs of having lived a privileged life, almost like royalty," he said.

"When the person is killed it's been done in three different ways. It appears to be ritual."

Archaeologist Kate Woodley, from Oxford Archaeology, said the team still had a lot of work to do analysing the finds from the dig, which could take another two years.

"We don't want to say too much too early and get it wrong.

"We'll get a more precise picture with carbon 14 dating and sampling."
'Losing our history'

Karen Waggott, who is campaigning to preserve the site, feels the findings at Didcot were not revealed until "it's too late to save the site" from being built on.

"We're only just finding out about this, and you blink and more houses have gone up," she said.

"We're losing our history just as we're finding out about it."
Animal skulls found during the dig at Didcot Grain storage pits were later used for ritual feasting and many animal bones were found

But Mr Masefield said although the site was the largest and "most significant" dig in recent years in Oxfordshire, there was nothing of "schedulable value" - so important that it could be legally protected.

He said it was so significant because it "allows the interpretation of a large area of landscape through the ages".

The project was funded by developer Taylor Wimpey, and had it not been for the firm's support, it would not have happened, he explained.

To save some of the archaeology, Mrs Waggott suggested a "history trail" through the new estate, information boards to mark discovery spots and a museum.

"They should leave a piece of land where the [Iron Age] village was.

"Maybe if they could build a little roundhouse - then our children can see what was here once."

A spokesman for Taylor Wimpey said: "We are eager to safeguard this window to the past.

"Much of the Roman farmstead for instance, will be preserved under sports pitches.

"Our intention is for the development to provide homes for generations to come in Didcot, just as the site has done for thousands of years."

Local artist Miranda Cresswell has put on an exhibition at the Cornerstone Arts Centre to remember the fields disappearing under the new houses.

Ms Cresswell, from Oxford University's archaeology department, spent the summer of 2012 sketching the excavations from a footpath.

She hopes the pictures and drawings of the archaeological dig will be kept "so that in 100 years when we look back we can see what it looked like underneath".

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