Neolithic and Roman Dyrham

It’s a fabulous piece of landscape between Bristol and Bath.

But you can’t really see Dyrham House at the moment it’s covered in scaffolding.

The west side of Dyrham House.Now covered in scaffolding while the roof is repaired. The medieval parish church beside it shows that there has been a house here at least since medieval times.

The west side of Dyrham House.Now covered in scaffolding while the roof is repaired. The medieval parish church beside it shows that there has been a house here at least since medieval times.

You can’t see Neolithic Dyrham either it’s covered in Roman Dyrham… and who’d have thought there was a Roman Dyrham. Paul found it a few years ago but he’s just found something 3000 years older.

The story we tell the visitors is that Dyrham is a great house and garden created by a wealthy man. A key player in William III’s government during the 1690s. That’s the most visible layer in the multiplex of Dyrham but it’s far too obvious and far too simple for the archaeological soul.

I got a text and decided to stop off on the way back from Brean Down. Parked at the top and walked down the bowl of the escarpment to the valley floor passing the scaffolded house to get to the West Garden.

I could see Paul’s trench at the far end and passed below the medieval church tower along the path to see what he had found. The gardeners want to recreate the late 17th century garden beds and the excavation was to find archaeological evidence for their location.

The view west along the access path towards the garden gate and to the left is the site of the excavation. It was dug to find the late 17th century garden beds but found something much older.

The view west along the access path towards the garden gate and to the left is the site of the excavation. It was dug to find the late 17th century garden beds but found something much older. The proposed sites for new garden beds can be seen as mown rectangles.

There wasn’t any really…but in the process Paul found a polished Neolithic axe made from stone brought all the way from south Wales. He also found some worked flint tools of the same date. He placed them on the table beside the trench. We wondered whether the 17th century gardeners had levelled the ground and cut down through the valley deposits reveal a Neolithic feature.

A polished axe made of stone from west Wales. It dates to the Neolithic period and is over 4500 years old.

A polished axe made of stone from south-west Wales. It dates to the Neolithic period and is over 4500 years old.

Things are not necessarily what they first seem. The next find from the feature was a piece of medieval pottery and then other things of various dates turned up..so the gardeners, 320 years ago, had dug up the Neolithic stuff from somewhere up-slope and then it became mixed with later material and dumped down slope to level out the garden terrace.

The gardeners’ redeposited soils were deepest at the south terrace edge. Mainly yellow and orange natural clay but then everything went dark again. There was still archaeology underneath. What could it be?

Then the Roman pottery started popping out of it, oyster shells and chunks of bone with cut and saw marks on, butchered joints of meat.

The pottery and bone from the Roman ditch filling.

The pottery and bone from the Roman ditch filling.

It went down and down.

It is good to imagine the generations who have enjoyed the gardens and then all those who lived here before the gardens. Lots to be discovered.. where are their houses now?

The view back towards the house showing the numbered archaeological layers filling the deep ditch filled with Roman pottery.

The view back towards the house showing the numbered archaeological layers filling the deep ditch filled with Roman pottery.

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