BUTSER ANCIENT FARM ARCHIVE 1973-2007 Archivist Christine Shaw
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The Fishbourne Foray

In time for the 1985 season, the Fishbourne Roman Villa Trustees approached Peter Reynolds with the idea of establishing a "Roman Farm Project" on a site adjacent to the Palace. Thus the Butser involvement with studies pertaining to the Romans began a long while ago. Although the crop growing part of the venture was short-lived by Butser standards, the Earthworks set up on the same site has been studied for the same length of time as those elsewhere and exists today, although it is likely that the site will be required for re-use.

The importance of this location was that it moved away from essentially chalk-based soils to a rich, deep brickearth.

The diagram below gives a good impression of what was set up.

The legends clearly indicate what was present. The life of the cereal research here was only four seasons but was nevertheless indicative in contrast with the long-standing work on chalk soils.

The design of the Earthworks is best seen from the Wroughton Site presentation

The following picture shows one arm of the Earthworks, so that comparison can be made with other earthworks.

The exact date of this picture is not recorded but it is from the first or second year after construction, as there is little or no plant invasion of the bank, other than where it was turf covered from the start, as part of the design.
A noteworthy difference from any other site is that the ditch commonly contains water. In winter the ditch is full nearly to overflowing. Only in mid-summer does the ditch dry out completely. This eventually led to a U-shaped profile but, somewhat surprisingly, the sides of the ditch did not collapse and growth of seedlings recurred every year, as the water level fell. It is presumed that the water movements were so slow and gentle that little mechanical erosion occurred.
The vertical split plank fence at the end of this arm is there because the centre grass area was required for animal grazing and so there is a causeway here. Over the years both horses and cows had access to this grazing. Both types of animals dislike sudden drops and the main effect of their grazing was to reduce the inner face of the bank with little outward effect on the outer face, which was part of the annual experimental recording programme.

A standard one metre square survey pit was dug near the centre of the inner grazing area. This was used to get a geological profile of where the earthworks is located, for comparison with other known profiles and explanations of the local geology. This picture, regrettably, does not show the layer of gravel believed to correspond to a known raised beach in this area. The results have been reported in a Newsletter of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeology Society, as "A Geological Section from the Grounds of Fishbourne Roman Palace" Roger Hedge, Newsletter 42 August 2004 pp10-13.

Another interesting "find", during construction of the earthworks, was the presence of a field drainage system using earthenware pipes, a common improvement of poorly drained farmland, remembering that the winter water table is barely sub-surface. These pipes were rather less than a metre below the existing surface.

Several noteworthy features were observed during the plant colonisation of the earthworks. Due to the richness of the soil and the abundance of water, once plants were established growth was rampant and quite unlike the tardy growth of plants on the chalk based earthworks elsewhere. The plant species also tended to be associated with specific arms. Bulrush [greater reedmace] favoured arms F and G predominantly, while bramble initially spread around the entrance between Arms H and A and along Arm C. Over time bramble bridged Arm C and later part of D. However, bramble also took over the top of these banks and formed great "mounds" of impenetrable depth. Sallow took hold in Arms D to H and soon produced veritable "trees"

In the diagram above, Arm A is to the left of the entrance opposite the Car Park and the arms are lettered clockwise.

All this growth led to considerations that had not arisen elsewhere. The underlying philosophy of the work was to leave the Earthworks "unmanaged" and relatively intruder-free .... children and animals notwithstanding! With the single species beginning to exclude other plants and to alter the behaviour of the erosion, the question arose, "Should these plants be removed or cut back?" One idea was that bulrush, sallow and blackberry are all "resource" plants. Had these developed around a "real world" earthworks, at any time, let alone the Iron Age, then they would have been utilised. In that circumstance, then oorampant intrusion would not have arisen and a greater variety of plants would likely be present. All this would lead to a different erosion pattern from that being experienced. Thus, from year ten active cutting down of the sallow was started and repeated every two or three years.

Because the fields for cereals and herbs was only available for four years, due to the needs of the Roman Palace and demands on the Ancient Farm Site itself, most of the data from this location is for this earthworks alone.