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2006: The Roman Economy and Batten Hanger Excavations

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A particular strength of the surviving evidence around West Dean is the identification of a fairly large number of Roman sites. Cunliffe (1973) suggests that the early date for the larger villas in the area indicates that the local aristocracy allied themselves with the Roman invaders and maintained their land-holdings as they became a part of the ‘Roman’ economy and administration. The density of Roman sites encouraged us to initiate a study of the size of villa farms/estates, what agricultural activities they carried out, and how people selected their material culture from what was locally available. We wanted to try and identify evidence relating to agricultural production and other economic activities that are sometimes missed when excavations focus primarily upon the built structures. For this reason we focused our attention on what we assumed to be the working ‘yard’ area to the North of the Roman Villa at Batten Hanger.

Batten Hanger was first excavated by the Chichester District Archaeological Unit under John Magilton between 1988 and 1991. The later phase of the villa comprised an aisled building (the ‘north range’) and bath-house with mosaics and hypocaust heating as well as a long terrace consisting of 9 rooms (the ‘west range’); at least two buildings pre-date this phase (Magilton 1991; see Fig. 2). This is similar to the two Chilgrove villas (also on the West Dean Estate) which showed substantial evidence for increasing wealth and status partly expressed in extensive rebuilding around the late 3 rd to 4th century (Down 1979). The Eastern gable of this building had a fairly grand façade dated to the late 4 th or early 5 th century by a scattered hoard of coins buried when it collapsed. The Villa was contained within a ditched enclosure which extended to include a substantial area with no apparent structures to the north of the Villa buildings. With the help and advice of James Kenny, who prior to becoming the Chichester District archaeologist had spent several seasons supervising excavations at Batten Hanger, Mark Tibble undertook a geophysical survey North of the Villa in February 2006 which, in addition to showing the edge of the 1991 excavations, indicated a number of potential archaeological features. Clive Meaton and Andrew Gardner directed excavations between mid-May and late-June 2006.

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A circular feature visible on the geophysical data-plots was revealed to be a ditched enclosure dating to the 3 rd century AD, the interior of which contained a thick, dark deposit possibly indicating the use of this area as a large stock-pen (archaeobotanical samples recovered during flotation and analysis of phosphate samples may help to clarify this interpretation). This in turn was cut by a sequence of pits which were filled with Roman rubbish; the latest of these pits was truncated by the foundation trench for a small square building probably dating to the 4 th Century AD. The 2342 sherds of pottery analysed by Anna Doherty and Charlotte Thompson mostly dates to the later 3 rd and 4 th centuries, but there is a significant quantity of residual 1 st and 2 nd century material. No Prehistoric features were found but a few sherds of flint and grog tempered wares suggest Middle or Late Iron Age activity in the vicinity. There is a good range of Roman pottery, dominated by Rowlands Castle type wares, including an unusual group of large jars with characteristic deliberate finger-marks on the inside and a perforated base suggesting some special function for these vessels. The majority of the coarse wares seem to be of a similar range to the nearby villas at Chilgrove, Upmarden and the later phases at Fishbourne with 60% of identified forms consisting of jars and 18% (sherd count) and 21% (weight) of bowls and dishes. One interesting aspect of the assemblage is the high number of mortaria in Samian or imitation Samian fabrics, including two vessels in Central Gaulish samian, four in Oxfordshire red-slipped ware and one New forest coarse red colour-coated ware. The ‘table wares’ also includes between 8% and 4% of beakers including colour coated wares from the Nene Valley and New Forest, this is more than villa sites usually produce, possibly facilitated by the proximity of the New Forest industry and the market at Noviomagus (Chichester). Like the investments in building improvements the range of dining paraphernalia suggest a high status and sociable display in the late 3 rd and 4 th centuries. There was a relatively small amount of metal recovered from the site, mostly consisting of iron nails and hob nails for boots, with a surprising lack of any personal ornaments. However, scattered through most deposits was a significant amount of slag, most likely from blacksmithing activities which are also attested by the presence of hammer scale. This highlights a significant recycling of iron in the later phase of the villa and complements a pile of distorted iron objects including door fittings that were found awaiting recycling within the excavations of the Villa in 1990, and a late 4 th century iron working furnace at Chilgrove I (Down 1979). This may link to a decline in iron production in the Weald, and a decline to the Atrebati previous privileged access to iron. Magilton J. 1991 Elsted: The Roman Villa at Batten Hanger in: The Archaeology of Chichester and District.

Down A. 1979 Chichester Excavations 4. Chichester Excavations Committee.


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