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Fleet Marston

10 February 2022

Having already been aired on Clark Whelton's email list it would be interesting to note what is already known about Fleet Marston, a Roman settlement of sorts just outside Aylesbury. Or rather, what HS2 has discovered as the site was well known long before the line of the new railway cut a swather across the top of the site. In fact, the settlement is not unusual as it lies on the road between St Albans and Cirencester, the two biggest Roman towns in Brittannia. There is also another Roman road that remained in use until the 18th century AD – replaced by a new toll road between Aylesbury and Buckingham. The Roman road to the north was used by Welsh drovers coming along the Welsh Lane to Buckingham, and then all points into the London markets. Welsh cowboys. However, it is remarkable what lies just beneath the green sward of modern farm country. See https://phys.org/news/2022-02-archaeologists-small-roman-town-excavated…. … HS2 cuts a thin line through the countryside between London and Birmingham, but only the narrow length of the line is been investigated archaeologically. Even then it is only a few sites dotted along the route that are chosen for proper excavation. It all depends on what is revealed by air photography and geophysics, as well as what might be known from historical sources. For example, the old church at Stoke Mandeville was chosen, to the east of Aylesbury, as the ruins of the church could clearly be seen, and its graveyard. Hence, the bodies had to be raised from the soil and reinterred elsewhere. Likewise, the site of Fleet Marston was also well known from geophys and investigations done by archaeologists prior to the building of a huge housing estate to the west of Aylesbury. It was obvious HS2 presented an opportunity to explore the site more deeply, and it has clearly been a success. 

The river Thame, a tributary of the Thames, winds its way around Aylesbury, and separates Fleet Marston from the larger town. It seems this was also true of the Roman period, separated by the flood plain. Although normally little more than a stream in very wet weather the Thame can flood a large area. Building the housing estate on one side of the flood plain required the imposition of a sophisticated drainage system in the rare case of severe flooding. A very clever piece of civil engineering was set in motion and allows the sides of the flood plain to be extensively built upon. It is marked as a public access nature reserve running from one side of Aylesbury to the next. The Thame itself is fed by a variety of streams, many of which issue forth from the spring line at the base of the Chilterns escarpment. Water percolating through the chalk moves horizontally as it hits clay – or in this instance, a clay mixed with chalk layer which was a boon for the local cement industry. The Upper Icknield Way runs along the spring line, and numerous farms and villages. It became the route of invading armies, from the Romans to the Vikings to the Normans.

Hence, getting the findings into perspective and away from media spin, Fleet Marston covers a very large area but HS2 has excavated in a narrow strip – yet has come up with some interesting findings. These include coins and pottery fragments, spoons, pins, brooches, gaming dice and even bells. The media alighted on finds in a Roman cemetery the line cut through. It included 50 bodies that seem to have been beheaded, a Late Roman burial practise it has been said. The other option is criminals – but would they be buried alongside non criminals? Some interesting questions have yet to be answered.

At https://phys.org/news/2022-02-google-archaeologists.html … a new Google App that will aid archaeologists to trawl through archived data.

At https://phys.org/news/2022-02-bronze-age-women-genetic-landscape.html …. another piec e of research by geneticists which may actually define some of the limits of the methodology.

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