Archaeologists are looking forward to exciting discoveries at the mysterious Roman ritual site of Hatch Furlong on the Ewell Bypass. The last week of April and first week of May will see experts from Birkbeck College in the University of London returning to this site, which yielded evidence of an ancient temple in last year's excavation season.
The public will have a chance to visit the excavation during the first week in May. Ewell was a Roman settlement on Stane Street, the main road that linked London with Chichester. Stane Street was probably constructed in the early years following the conquest and the Ewell settlement was sited close to the road and to the springs that lie at the foot of the Downs.
Many Roman finds have been found over the years in the immediate area of Hatch Furlong. These include a number of shafts or wells discovered during chalk quarrying on the site now occupied by Homebase. Further finds made within Hatch Furlong itself in the 1970s included another chalk-cut shaft, 12 feet deep, containing the remains of a number of young dogs. Taken together, these various discoveries hinted at a ritual site consecrated in the 1st & 2nd century AD on the higher ground overlooking Stane Street and the Ewell settlement. It was this activity that the excavation set out to explore.
Trench 1 found the 12-foot deep shaft emptied in the 1970s, and located a second probable shaft near the first. The upper fills of this second shaft dated to the late 3rd-4th century. Both features were bounded to the north by a shallow ditch . The western portion of the ditch contained 2nd century pottery and its eastern portion contained late 3rd-4th century pottery. The ditch fills also contained a number of fragments of dogs' skulls.
Trench 2 found part of a narrow rectangular flue belonging to a small oven or drier The flue was constructed of unmortared tile, flint nodules, and chalk and sandstone blocks The oven sat within the upper fills of a large shallow 2nd century quarry , which occupied the corner .of the trench. The quarry backfill had been cut into by several other features. Including the butt end of a linear ditch dated to the 4th century . Charcoal from the fuel used in the oven was scattered nearby.
Trench 3 found the mouth of another probable shaft or well, lined with flint rubble Pottery recovered from the backfill of the construction trench suggests that it was dug some time in the 2nd century , though finds from the uppermost fills of the shaft appear to indicate that the latter remained open into the 4th century. A 2nd century jar was buried upside-down in a small pit next to the mouth of the feature. Tool marks visible in the side of a late 2nd-3rd century shallow sub-rectangular pit at the south end of Trench 3 showed how a narrow pointed pickaxe had originally been used to excavate the soft chalk.
Trench 4's principal point of interest lay at the western end of the trench in the form of a series of shallow inter-cutting pits or quarries . These contained a range of finds of late 2nd or early 3rd century date. Notable amongst them were quantities of broken roof and floor tile, together with a number of iron objects including an ox-goad - one of several recorded from the site. No fewer than five fossil sea urchins were recovered from this trench, perhaps after being deposited as lucky charms.
So much Roman brick and tile were recovered from the excavations that there must have been a building nearby, though no certain traces were identified. It seems that there were at least two main phases of Roman activity dating to the 2nd-3rd centuries and late 3rd-4th centuries. This part of the shrine was created after the 1st and early 2nd century, when shafts were dug in the Homebase area further south.
If the archaeology proved extensive and rewarding, the hoped-for student and community involvement was just as impressive. Training in archaeological techniques was given to 35 Birkbeck students over two hectic weeks; work over three (equally hectic) weekends was carried out by up to 30 local volunteers; two open days attracted over 400 visitors, and 6 school parties were conducted around the site.