Monday 13 June 2022

From the Parish Magazine - Eton Wick History Group Meeting - Archaeological History and Finds of Eton College's Rowing Lake

On the 13th of August and 10th of September the Group explored the archaeological history and finds of Eton College's Rowing Lake site. Approximately 45 enthusiasts visited the site itself in August, meeting at the newly formed information Centre at Boveney Court Farmyard to commence with a short explanatory talk, given by Mr. Tim Allen of the Oxford Archaeological Unit, and then transferring by minibus and cars to be conducted around the site by Mr. Allen: subsequently returning to the farm to examine various finds. This was the end of the archaeologists third summer of excavation there and they have examined two-thirds of the Rowing Lake project area. The remaining third will continue in agricultural use until after the year 2000, by which time it is hoped that half of the rowing course will have been dug and the main contractors will then be ready to clear remaining land to enable the archaeologists, with the help of students and school-leavers to check it out before the final 1200m of lake is excavated. Our site visit had to be drawn, reluctantly to a close when the light failed, and we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

The finds have been numerous, some very exciting, and Mr. Allen's enthusiasm was most infectious, so there was a very good turnout when he came to give a talk to the Group on the 10th of September. He illustrated it with many photographic slides depicting not only some of the fascinating finds, but also explanatory maps and diagrams to enable us to pinpoint their precise locations. Mr. Allen explained that the archaeologists' first step had been to fly over the site and examine crop marks, areas which remained wet when others were parched, mounds etc. Crop marks in the area showed the site of Roman and Iron Age enclosures and Bronze age burial mounds and wet areas proved that the Thames had previously meandered down a different channel. In 1993 they thought that anything of interest would be found on dry ground (magnetic and electrical resistance tests don't works when the area is wet) but, in 1994 they dug trenches in the wet areas and soon found a large Mesolithic (8000-4000 BC) site they found 35,000 flint tools in an area of 50m. A hearth and some pottery were dated at 4000 years old and vertical posts which were probably bridge supports proved that the major channel of the Thames flowed through the project site until some 2000 years ago evidence of two bridges was found in 1995 and a further four in 1996 - one bridge dated from 1400 - 1300 BC and another from 800 - 400 BC (even remains of a beaver-lodge were found, complete with dead beaver). Until about 300 AD the channel continued around the south side of Eton Wick where the Neolithic enclosure was found in South Field: in fact, there were enclosures at each end of the original channel. 

The remains of beetles, snails, plants, and pollen in the peat have enabled the archaeologists to reconstruct a complete environmental history of the Rowing Lake site: how 6,000 years ago it would have been completely wooded and then gradually the land was cleared. Large groups of people lived there in Neolithic times they were the earliest farmers in Britain and thousands of flints, pottery and animal bones dating back 6,000 years were carefully excavated; pots were round-bottomed which indicated they were from the continent and had been brought by the first settlers in Britain; quern stones were found and they would have been Roman, as would have been the remains of a cart and Roman pots. 

There were two Bronze Age barrows circular ditches generally with burials in the centre: a number of skeletons - there had been 7 cremations in and around the East barrow alone and inhumation burials (normally laid on their side and with their knees tucked up under their chins) of an 18 year old woman with a decorated pot dating to 1500 BC, a roan of about 45 and a child of 12; also one skeleton laid on its back which still had an amethyst pendant and could have been Saxon; and then, of course, there was the skeleton, Luke, who dated back at least 2.500 years. There were, too, skeletons of cattle and sheep. Another exciting find was a Bronze Age well, lined with planks the earliest known of in Southern Britain. A coin made in Kent between 100 and 50 BC was found; and another coin dated 210 AD. it is thought that during the Roman Period the area became a low status farmstead site; and the head of an aid (a primitive wood plough) was found it dated back to about 900 BC.

There was, of course, much more; and we look forward to the return of the archaeologists in 2000 or 2001, when we hope there will be more exciting finds to record.

During the 1990's the Parish Magazine of Eton, Eton Wick and Boveney reported on the meetings of the Eton Wick History Group. A member of the audience took shorthand notes in the darkened hall. This article was published in the October edition of 1997.

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