Sherborne, A Puzzle Solved

This relates to the lost church of Sherborne excavation. No, we still don’t know where it was but a phone call from Tony today let me know that the identity of the strange stone structure has been solved (see ‘The Lost Church of Sherborne’).

A mix of finds from the site but the handle fragment on Tony's finger is typical of the Roman period.

A mix of finds from the site but the handle fragment on Tony’s finger is typical of the Roman period.

When we looked at the pottery from the site last week, there were one or two pieces that looked Roman mixed with everything else. When I visited, Tony’s team were about to dig the dark soil at the far end of the sunken stone structure with its strange parallel revetment walls. Over the weekend the soil was excavated and found to contain many more pieces of Roman pottery.

Another trench was dug nearby and this also full of Roman material including a fragment of painted plaster and cubes of cut brick and stone typical of a disturbed mosaic. There is likely to be a Roman farm or villa nearby.

Once the mystery structure was found to be Roman in date and was fully excavated it could be seen to be a partly robbed T shaped structure. This consisted of a wider channel with a narrower flue forming the top of the T.

The Roman corn dryer. The fire was lit near where the man is kneeling. The hot air would be drawn along the channel by the narrow flu which crosses the picture bottom left to top right. The flue stone has been partly robbed (at some time) on the right hand side of the picture.

The Roman corn dryer. The fire was lit near where the man is kneeling. The hot air would be drawn along the channel by the narrow flu which crosses the picture bottom left to top right. The flue stone has been partly robbed (at some time) on the right hand side of the picture.

When operational, the fire was lit at the bottom of the channel and hot air was drawn along it by the flue. This heated and dried newly harvested grain placed on racks above it. The dried grain would last longer so that it could be stored over winter. These sorts of corn dryers are quite common on Roman rural sites.

So the medieval church is still lost but evidence for a Roman farmstead has been found. The unexpected of archaeology keeps us guessing but makes it particularly enjoyable when a puzzle is solved.

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