New Forest History and Archaeology Group 2018 Excavation
We are hoping to continue our excavation work at New Copse this August. Further details will be posted once permission has been obtained.
The excavation is intended to be the first season of a renewed fieldwork project by the New Forest History and Archaeology Group on Roman-period settlement sites within the New Forest. Excavation of such settlements has been undertaken by the New Forest Section of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society, mainly in the northern and western sectors of the New Forest, e.g. at Church Green, Eyeworth, Sloden, and Backley Holmes (Pasmore 2011). There is still much to be established concerning the nature, layout and dating of these sites, and in addition, few sites have been investigated in the southern part of the Forest.
New Copse settlement earthworks (NFS 13/82 and 14/82) form a large and potentially important site which is probably Romano-British. There are numerous associated earthworks and New Forest fine ware has been recovered. A sketch plan was prepared at the time of discovery but no detailed survey was carried out until the current project in 2007. The area lies within a timber plantation (New Copse) and carries oak probably planted in about 1808 together with some later regeneration and a few beech. The area was heavily drained when the plantation was made, so that almost the whole site is covered with a complex series of open ditches, which very much confuse the picture of the underlying archaeology.
The different features have been lettered and find-spots are indicated by stars. There are probably at least eight separate enclosures and not all of them seem to belong to the same period; some, but not all of the enclosures can be seen in LiDAR mapping available for this area. The site is bisected by a small stream and a second stream, the Etherise Gutter, lies close to the northern limit. A depression (J) on the north west side may be a small clay pit. Other features within the site include a number of low mounds (E, D, R and H). The excavation trenches are shown in blue.
In the adjacent OS kilometre grid squares centred on the New Copse site, the Hampshire HER identifies a small number of finds, all to the west of the site in the area of the village of Brockenhurst and the Lymington River. Most notable is the find of a Roman steelyard at SU 309 025, approximately 2 km to the west of the New Copse site. It is possible that the Brockenhurst area served as a focus for Roman settlement along the middle reaches of the Lymington River, as coins and pottery have been recorded in SU 3002, SU 3003 and the New Copse site SU 3102/3202. LiDAR plots indicate the existence of a field system of later prehistoric/Roman type, c. 200 m to the east of the New Copse site.
A gap in knowledge at the local level has existed for the central part of the Forest, although an extensive sub-rectilinear earthwork enclosure has long been known just to the east of Brockenhurst at New Copse (the focus of the current excavation, together with others just to the east, e.g. Frame Wood (SU 3503). A Roman road running north-south is postulated under the present A337 between Cadnam and Lymington , which potentially would enhance settlement communications along the Lymington River valley, within which the New Copse site lies. To the south is the LIA/early Roman site at Ampress Park, Lymington, that may have served as a minor port for coastal communication. This would suggest that there may be more Roman-period activity along this N-S corridor than has hitherto been recorded. The find of the Roman steelyard emphasizes that trade was taking place, and presumably agricultural exploitation of this area. The New Copse site may also have pottery production, on the basis of material recovered during earthwork survey.
The regional framework for research makes a priority of the New Forest lowland and Heath region. In addition, for the Roman period, one of the strategy’s aims is to examine: ‘The diversity of settlement, the relationship between settlements and their development and purpose through time. In particular, to look at rural, dispersed, small scale and seasonal settlement.’ The supra-regional Solent-Thames research framework also prioritises the New Forest area as one needing further research on Roman settlement patterns.
Photo of the site area, February 2015.
NFHAG is registered Charity (No 1160219)