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The Hambleden Valley has a rich archaeological and historical background. There are finds or structures ranging from the Palaeolithic to post-Medieval times. Within a 1 km radius from the central point of the proposed project area (the public car park between the village and the river) there are 83 find spots, many with multiple finds (SMR database, January 2008).

The project is mainly intended to discover more about the Romano-British activity in the valley along with the nature and extent of the numerous features seen as crop-marks in aerial photographs. It will attempt to relate these to the multi-period activity which is no doubt represented by these features. In short, it will help us to understand the use and development of the Romano-British landscape for this area as a whole.

Two Romano-British villas are already recorded at close proximity (only 670 m apart) in the Hambleden Valley – Yewden and Mill End. The majority, but not all, of the Yewden villa has been excavated by Cocks in 1912 (Cocks, 1921) which revealed a large collection of artefacts and information on the villa structure and layout. However, there is a great need for a re-evaluation of some of the artefacts (e.g. metal, bone, pottery and a newly acquired photographic record against excavation notes). Also required is a re-evaluation of some of the recorded structures (e.g. the 14 ‘corn-driers’ on site).

The second villa at Mill End has never been excavated, but is known from crop marks. The proposed non-intrusive geophysics survey will confirm the villa plan and indicate the nature of other crop marks associated with the villa.

 Archaeology of the valley

In the Hambleden Parish there are only two Palaeolithic flakes, both found in the stream bed. Maybe Palaeolithic people were not present for long in the valley - or maybe people just do not recognise their stone tools?

There is more prolific finds related to Mesolithic activity – with 19 find spots of a variety of tools from tranchet axes to microburins, scrapers and cores. These are concentrated in the banks or close to the river Thames and Hamble Brook. Hence they may reflect ‘visibility’ of the finds.

There are numerous Neolithic artefacts (58 find spots with multiple objects in many), which are very likely to be a true increase in activity during this period. They include axes, scrapers, cores and flakes and in a variety of locations, on hillsides and not solely close to the stream or River Thames. These tools show people were cutting trees, living and making their tools in the valley.

In contrast, the Bronze Age finds are represented by only two reported items – a socketed axehead and a Palstave, both just north of Yewden. Similarly, the Iron Age is represented by only three finds – a bronze razor, 2 strap unions (near Yewden) and ‘metalwork’ in the Thames . This is unusual, as cropmarks seem to indicate that the Romano-British villa complexes are closely associated with seemingly earlier (Iron Age) structures.

The Roman archaeology is discussed in full below as it is the focus of this initial phase of the project. For the folowing  Anglo-Saxon period there is only one record of a potential barrow (outside the valley on the County boundary with Oxfordshire). The Medieval period only boasts 3 find sites although one is hoard - a beautiful collection of 59 annular brooches (which is at the Bucks County Museum).

Roman archaeology

Hambleden is well-known for its two Roman villas. The famous Yewden villa was excavated in 1912 and a description and interpretation was written by the excavator A. H. Cocks (1921). The villa was shown to be in use from the 1st to the 4th centuries. It is an intriguing site with a villa complex and surrounding boundary wall, tessellated pavements, bathroom suites, a well, 26 pits (interpreted as refuse pits), 14 kilns (interpreted as corn-drying ovens), several adult and 97 infant burials, and a wealth of high status finds. Coins are numerous and include a hoard of 294 coins, at present being re-evaluated. Pottery is also abundant and includes plain and decorated Samian, Rhenish, New Forest , Sandford, Belgic and much coarse pottery. Some of the finds are unusual such 70 styli indicating literacy and a recording role or manufacture of these items on site. More detailed information can be obtained from Cocks (1921) and a detailed assessment of the importance of this site within the Scheduling documentation (English Heritage SM27160).

A second villa at Mill End is known from parch marks which appear in times of drought. They have been traced and interpreted by Farley (1983, Britannia 14, 256-259). However, these can be verified and enhanced by geophysics surveys during this project.