LITTLEDEAN INFORMAL CONFERENCE 2nd November 2019
VENUE The Belfry Inn Littledean, Gloucestershire
A private conference to inform the Academic community, County Archaeologist and Historic England of the recent archaeological work and finds at the Temple site, Dean Hall, Littledean.
The conference was arranged to take place on the 2nd November 2019 at The Belfry Inn, Littledean to introduce and inform a group of invited academics including English Heritage and the County Archaeologist, of recent finds at the Littledean Temple Site. The aim of the conference was to both inform and seek advice. Mr Bryn Walters (Association for Roman Archaology) invited the following people:-
Professor Tony King Winchester University President Association Of Roman Archaeology,
Professor Miranda Aldhouse-Green Cardiff University,
Professor Josh Pollard Southampton University,
Reverend Professor Martin Henig Oxford University,
Graham Saxby-Soffe Archaeologist and Treasurer Association For Roman Archaeology,
Dr. Kate Adcock DPhil OxonTrustee of The Association For Roman Archaeology,
Melanie Barge English Heritage,
Toby Catchpole County Archaeologist.
Attending Littledean Team:-
Robin Holley, Luigi Thompson, Anthony Beeson, David, Matthew Macer-Wright, Donald Macer-Wright.
The appalling weather conspired to limit the turnout, with Professors King, Green and Henig not able to attend. Graham Soffe made it from the south coast, via Southampton airport to pick up Kate Adcock. Professor Josh Pollard from Southampton and Anthony Beeson from Bristol both attended. Luigi Thompson, Bryn Walters and Robin Holley all made it from Swindon. Toby Catchpole from Gloucester attended. Matthew and Don Macer-Wright from Dean Hall with Robin Holley laid out the artefacts.
Plans, Photographs and Timelines were presented to the attendees.
Professor Pollard reviewed the possible neolithic and bronze age material and considered that although the items found deposited within SH1 (Stone Hole 1) were ritual objects the ceremonial ‘axes’ were not constructed in neolithic fashion and probably represented something else. He offered to study the artefacts at Southampton University with colleagues and students specialising in the fields which would identify the source of the ‘beach cobbles’ and geology. Don Macer-Wright took Professor Pollard to the site and showed him the neolithic pollisoir boulders and water features. He considered the water channel was most likely to be Bronze Age rather than Neolithic. The low mounds just to the east of the site remains he considered may be the remnant of a tumulus.
The stone ‘Celtic heads’ produced huge interest although no one present was able to comment on them with authority.
Kate Adcock and Graham Soffe were both very interested in the finds and found the visit to the site most stimulating. Graham’s first hand experience of the Hayling Island Temple is particularly important allowing him to comment with authority on aspects of the Littledean site as they become evident.
Following the conference Bryn Walters arranged for Professor Miranda Aldhouse-Green to view the Celtic heads at Sevenhampton.
MEETING AT THE OLD POST OFFICE SEVENHAMPTON WITH PROFESSOR ALDHOUSE-GREEN TO REVIEW THE COLLECTION OF STONE HEADS 12th October 2019
Bryn Walters arranged for Professor Miranda Aldhouse-Green to visit the Old Post Office, Sevenhampton, courtesy of Mrs Diana Webster and Luigi Thompson. The collection of 65 stone heads was laid out on the table by Don Macer-Wright in readiness for inspection by the leading authority in the field of Celtic studies, who has published a huge number of titles on her specialist subject.
Professor Miranda Aldhouse-Green’s first considered comment, after many minutes of silence studying the objects was “it’s all about eyes”. The gathered party was struck by this profound statement. As she pointed out the disparity and idiosyncrasy particularly evident in the eyes of individual heads we grasped the point immediately. Also she noted how some heads appear to have facial deformities or features which have been highlighted. In particular she saw a raised protrusion on head No. 53 (Fig 1.) which suggests a growth. Don mentioned and described the practices at St Anthony’s Well, 2 miles to the north of Littledean, where to this day people still occasionally visit the well to bath their eyes and limbs, to help relieve soreness and arthritic complaints. This was met with a broad smile and the remark from the Professor “I rest my case”.
Discussion focussed on the unique nature of the finds, their singular importance, their provenance from secure pre Roman stratified contexts and their universal connection with water associated deposits. By way of conclusion Professor Miranda Aldhouse-Green considered the evidence conclusive and compelling, representing a practice of ritual deposit in return for healing favours and that the site was no doubt a water healing sanctuary of the pre Roman Iron Age. She considered evidence central to this practice was the mineral content of the water. It is naturally iron rich from the geology and was particularly elevated by the metal working, which the archaeological evidence indicates was taking place contemporaneously, with heads being deposited in the pool used for quenching metal. However the evidence indicates heads were also deposited prior to the metal working period and the Professor stressed that significant research and study of the heads including the factors of context, form and style and geological provenance etc., would tax academic minds and provide an exciting area of study for many years to come.
footnote: “Miranda gave a very good Concluding Remarks at our Symposium on Roman temples at the British Museum last weekend. In it she referred to Littledean and suggested that it was a water shrine connected with the healing of eye diseases. And also that it might have been on an ancient pilgrimage route running between different temples such as Lydney.” (email comm. Graham Soffe 23rd November 2019)