A multi-million pound Thames Water project to protect the future of a rare Oxfordshire chalk stream has revealed some fascinating and gruesome discoveries dating back almost 3,000 years.
An ancient settlement was found containing an array of historic artefacts while preparing to lay new water pipes which will relieve pressure on the precious Letcombe Brook, near Wantage.
Among the important finds were 26 human skeletons believed to be from the Iron Age and Roman periods, and some likely to have been involved in ritual burials, along with evidence of dwellings, animal carcases and household items including pottery, cutting implements and a decorative comb.
Cotswold Archaeology has now carefully removed the items for forensic examination, allowing Thames Water to start laying the six kilometre pipe which, following consultation with residents, will supply nearby villages with water taken from groundwater boreholes near the River Thames and not Letcombe Brook.
Neil Holbrook, chief executive of Cotswold Archaeology, said: “The new Thames Water pipeline provided us with an opportunity to examine a number of previously unknown archaeological sites.
“The Iron Age site at Childrey Warren was particularly fascinating as it provided a glimpse into the beliefs and superstitions of people living in Oxfordshire before the Roman conquest. Evidence elsewhere suggests that burials in pits might have involved human sacrifice.
“The discovery challenges our perceptions about the past, and invites us to try to understand the beliefs of people who lived and died more than 2,000 years ago.”
Paolo Guarino, Cotswold Archaeology project officer, added: “These findings open a unique window into the lives and deaths of communities we often know only for their monumental buildings, such as hillforts or the Uffington White Horse.
“The results from the analysis of the artefacts, animal bones, the human skeletons and the soil samples will help us add some important information to the history of the communities that occupied these lands so many years ago.”
Chris Rochfort, Thames Water environmental manager, said: “We’ve found significant historical items on many previous upgrade projects but this is one of our biggest and most exciting yet.
“This is a £14.5m project which is going to have real benefits for the environment by reducing the need to take water from the Letcombe Brook, a chalk stream which is a globally rare and highly important habitat for us to protect. As a result, future generations will be able to enjoy it for years to come – and now they can also learn about their village’s secret history.”
The archaeological findings have already been shared with residents at events in Letcombe Bassett and Letcombe Regis village halls.