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Digging deeper: an archaeological investigation of the ‘Missing Mile’

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On Thursday members of the public had the chance to see archaeological excavations on land adjacent to the A38 Whitminster roundabout.

The research is a prelude to the construction of the Stroudwater Navigation’s ‘Missing Mile’ – a section of canal that will eventually connect Stroud to Saul Junction, on the Gloucester-Sharpness canal.

Missing Mile archaeology 2 | Digging deeper: an archaeological investigation of the ‘Missing Mile’
The land that will be used to construct the ‘missing mile’ of canal. Picture: Matt Bigwood.

“We have to do the archaeological dig here before we can actually start excavating the canal, because if there any finds here we’ve got to make sure they are recorded and captured for the future, and once that’s done, we’ll be able to start excavating the canal and getting the project underway,” explained Chris Mitford-Slade, Canal Project Director with Cotswold Canals Connected.

The section of the canal destroyed during the construction of the M5 motorway in the late 1960s will be reinstated, crossing land south of the A419: “We’ve got the hurdle of the planning application, but that’s going through at the moment and because of the floodplain here, the flood modelling is really, really complex,” added Mr Mitford-Slade.

Missing Mile archaeology 8 | Digging deeper: an archaeological investigation of the ‘Missing Mile’
Cllr Catherine Braun, leader of Stroud District Council, Professor Mark Horton and Chris Mitford-Slade. Picture: Matt Bigwood.

“It’s all coming together now and we’re hoping to get the planning approval around Christmas time and then we’ll be able to start working on site here around February or March next year.”

The dig has uncovered evidence of Roman settlements, and well-known archaeologist Professor Mark Horton has been involved in the research: “I’m vice president of the Cotswold Canals Trust and we knew we were going to have to do archaeology here as part of the Phase 1B canal development, so I was trying to help to move it along.”

Professor Horton had previously worked with Rhiannon Philp from Archaeology England/Wales: “I’ve known and worked with her and her staff for many years, so they’ve come over to do the professional side to make sure the planning aspects are fulfilled, but also they’re very willing to incorporate trust volunteers, and of course that helped reduce the cost a bit as well and meant also that the canal trust could be involved directly in the project.

“It’s been really fascinating, because we knew there was quite a lot of Roman activity on the other side of the road [north of the A419] but nobody knew quite how far it was going to extend. What’s coming out is a mass of ditches, a building – all of it early Roman. We’ve got early Samian pottery here, and this whole area of the Severn valley is crammed with Roman occupation.

Missing Mile archaeology 13 | Digging deeper: an archaeological investigation of the ‘Missing Mile’
Buzzing – Professor Mark Horton launches his drone. Picture: Matt Bigwood.

“The A38 is a Roman road, so we would expect stuff close to it, but the sheer concentration of material here is fascinating.”

Volunteers Mike Gleed, Dr Peter Spencer-Phillips and Nicola Round displayed a selection of their Roman finds from the site, ranging from relatively crude locally produced kitchenware through to Samian ware imported from Gaul, an area of France under Roman control.

“We’ve found pottery from Gaul and Dorset (the darker burnished ware), just a tiny fraction of the finds, but it proves there was a massive amount of international trading even then – this is close to the Severn and the River Frome was navigable,” said Dr Spencer-Phillips.

Many of the finds represents domestic rubbish from Romano British people living at the site and will help understand how they lived, including what they ate, farming practices, potential local industries and trade links.

www.cotswoldcanalsconnected.org

cotswoldcanals.org

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