Meon Valley Archaeology & Heritage Group

September 2020 Excavation

– the end of an era!

September 2020 saw the fifth and final year of excavations at Exton Manor Farm. The project is a collaboration between MVAHG and the University of Winchester, directed by Professor Tony King.

The first year of the dig had defined the rare hexagonal foundations of what was believed to be a temple. In Year 2 the temple theory was established with the unearthing of part of a 2nd century dea nutrix (mother goddess) figurine. Year 2 also saw the definition of the rooms of the bath house and the discovery of a mass of high quality painted plaster depicting a mythological scene. The excavation was featured in BBC4’s ‘Digging for Britain’, screened in November 2017. The theory of a temple was affirmed in Year 3 with the discovery of the skeleton of a mare and her foal in the Iron Age phase in the centre of the hexagon, thought to be a sacrifice to the goddess Epona. Year 4 uncovered further apsidal ended rooms of the bath house and significantly a mausoleum was discovered close to the shrine.

Aerial view of the bath house at the end of the 2019 excavation. Photo: Ian Harris

September 2020: With work completed in the Temple area and at the Barrow site, the aim of the excavation this year was to locate the corners of the mausoleum and to find the floor and furnace in the bath house. With government restrictions in force due to Covid-19, our research project went ahead with reduced numbers and with measures in place to mitigate any potential spread of Covid-19 between participants.  Over the 2 weeks more than 40 MVAHG participants uncovered the foundations of the mausoleum and exposed further evidence of the workings of the hypocaust. Sadly the furnace room remains an enigma, thought to be eroded away, although the foundations of a platform for a water tank were discovered.

The importance of this site is clear to see. We have a rare hexagonal shrine dating back to the Iron Age, alongside a Roman bath house with a hypocaust and high quality painted plaster. The discovery of the mausoleum affirms the prosperity of the owner and is significant as it is thought to be the only rural Roman mausoleum found in Hampshire. Together with the Roman aisled building across the road, this signifies a high status site, unique in Hampshire and possibly unique in Roman Britain.

More hypocaust tiles are found in the bath house

Digging deeper in the bath house

Cleaning the finds

Mausoleum wall

Looking back to the 2019 excavation…

Following 4 weeks of digging in July, the headline news from the excavation site is the discovery of a Roman mausoleum. The new trench opened this year, known as ‘Trench 3’, was proving to be something of an enigma during the excavation. Artefacts discovered ranged from Iron Age pottery to a Victorian coin in the ‘ditch’ area. The flint platform was of typical Roman construction, but what was it used for? It was upon the discovery of human bones and a couple of dozen Roman roof tiles that led dig director Professor Tony King to confirm that this structure is a Roman mausoleum.

Aerial view of Trench 3, photo Ian Harris

Detail of bath house rooms with hypocaust tiles in situ, photo Ian Harris

 

Over in the temple area, the cranium of a young horse was discovered very close to the centre of the hexagon, where last year’s mare and foal skeletons were unearthed. This enhances the theory of this area being a shrine with offerings made to the goddess Epona. Further rooms of the bath house were defined alongside evidence of a hypocaust. At the prehistoric site, domestic artefacts were found to support the hypothesis of a Neolithic settlement here, together with a possible Anglo-Saxon cremation.

Barrow site: possible Anglo-Saxon cremation pit (below)

Unearthing the cranium of a horse (below)

Typical finds from the Iron Age trench (below)

Showing visitors finds at the Open Day (below)

Tony King showing visitors the bath house at the Open Day (below)

Aerial photos: Ian Harris. All other photos: Alison Smalley (MVAHG)