An Ancient Landscape
by Kate Weaver

First published in "Sailing with Spirit: Northamptonshire's Holistic Magazine", Issue 19, Summer 2001

To many people, archaeology conjures up pictures of eccentric professors in sun baked deserts trying to piece together the history of ancient tombs or of Tony Robinson waving his arms about on Time Team. Archaeology in Nether Heyford has changed this perception to include everyone irrespective of age or experience. In July 2000, local people were invited to help on a dig at the site of Whitehall Farm Roman Villa.

With the help of archaeology students and, of course, our very own local Archaeologist Stephen Young, we set about trying to establish the extent of the Roman settlement at the site. Sometimes this involved the use of a small trowel, as expected, but surprising to us amateurs was the extensive use of a mattock (a cross between a pickaxe and a shovel). It was also a surprise for our backs, although the knees welcomed the change!

The focus of the dig was to establish whether the site had included a bathhouse, as most of the actual villa building has been lost over the years. There was great excitement at the discovery of the stoke hole which indicates the existence of a warm room which would be associated with a bathhouse and many hours were spent shovelling charcoal and debris. Other exciting finds were of painted plaster and a collapsed hypocaust (the underfloor heating system). Whilst scratching around in the dirt with a small trowel may not seem fun to some, the joy of finding a small item from the past that has lain in the ground for nearly a thousand years is hard to describe. Holding a small piece of broken pot in your hand that you know was last held by someone 2000 years ago, gives an indescribable feeling. You can guess that when the pot was discarded, very little thought was given to the action that led to its being left undisturbed for nearly 2 millennia: after all how much thought do we give to discarding a chipped or broken mug today? Nevertheless, there is an indefinable link between the two civilisations. You cannot help but ask yourself what were they thinking of? How were their lives lived in what we now consider to be our valley?

It is testimony to the Romans that the sites they chose to settle on all those years ago are still the homes of many today. Whilst the landscape may have changed the essence of the area and the spirit that follows the Nene remains today to make the area a very pleasant place indeed and in quiet moments is it small wonder our thoughts turn to the ancient people who left so much of themselves behind.

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