On the highest part of High Wood, but hidden in the trees, is an area of uneven ground that has mystified local people for many years. It was probably dug by antiquarians in the 19th Century who left nothing but possible spoil heaps and later plundered by treasure hunters with metal detectors in the 20th century. Nothing was recorded. But this year the site finally gave up its secret!
The South Oxfordshire Archaeology Group (SOAG) had already excavated for four years on the site with limited results. A complex selection of walls indicated low-status buildings with perhaps metalworking at some date.
In this final season, a new trench was opened across the site and the flint base of a new wall was exposed. The wall was followed to a square corner at which point excitement grew! With up to thirty volunteers working over six weeks, the foundations of the traditional layout of a Roman Temple emerged.
The inner square or cella, which is clearly seen in the overhead photograph, would have received offerings to the god. The cella is surrounded by a larger square area, or ambulatory, that would be open to those visiting the temple.
The whole site was much larger, perhaps 50 metres across, and surrounded by a further wall, parts of which have been located. This enclosure was known as the temenos. The eastern wall of the temenos includes an entrance marked by two plinths close by the trackway, but the complete layout and extent of the site are not known because the south wall has been completely destroyed.
This picture shows an excavated trench where, at some point, the ground sank and part of the wall of the cella collapsed into it. Only shards of pots were found in the ambulatory but a few hundred coins, which may have slipped between long-gone floorboards, were found over the cella, the ambulatory and small buildings in the temeros.
Some iron age artefacts suggest that this temple was a sacred place before the Romans arrived here and built the villa just a mile along the track to Henley. It is interesting to note that a footpath still exists from the site of the Temple, in almost a straight line, all the way to Henley.
Coins and metal objects were identified by professional metal detectorists to ensure the site was no longer vulnerable to ‘night hawks’, illegal metal detectorists/ treasure hunters. The whole site has now been backfilled and covered over to protect it for the future.
For more information on this style of temple visit: Romano-Celtic temples
Finally – JOB DONE! The team pack up and are on their way to the next dig(?) – at the Bottle and Glass.
For more information about the site and the work by South Oxfordshire Archaeology Group, visit: SOAG