Archaeological finds | Oxfordshire County Council

Archaeological finds

Collections include sites and objects from every period of human history.

man examining old coin

The Museums Resource Centre is the principal store for all archaeological sites excavated or studied in Oxfordshire, apart from those situated on land belonging to Oxford University - in that case, and in several other special cases, the repository is the Ashmolean Museum.

Our collections

Collections include sites and objects from every period of human history - prehistoric, Roman, Saxon, medieval and post-medieval.

We also host archaeological finds and information from all the towns, and nearly all the parishes, in Oxfordshire.

Curator of Archaeology

David Moon
Tel: 01865 300557
Email:david.moon@oxfordshire.gov.uk

What's found on archaeology sites?

iron age mirrorWe store many items found on archaeology sites. They include:

  • animal bones and human skeletons, and things made of metals such as jewellery and personal ornaments, weapons, tools, vessels, locks and keys, and fittings for furniture and buildings
  • precious metals such as gilt medieval brooches and spurs and silver chalices
  • pottery, tile, glass, flint, stonework and building materials
  • handmade objects of wood, ivory, and recycled animal bone
  • bags of slag and soil samples.

What can these archaeological finds tell us?

Site collections give us the information we have about the county's natural environment and developing landscape from thousands of years ago to the present.

We find out about its wildlife, farms and gardens, settlements, houses and furniture, the food eaten, the cooking methods, everyday clothes, transport and occupations, and even games and toys.

Update on the research on the Oxfordshire Mirror

Similarities

We have been very lucky to have money to do some research into the Oxfordshire Mirror. We were particularly struck by the Oxfordshire Mirror’s similarity to another decorated Iron Age mirror, the Pegsdon Mirror, which was found by metal detectorists in what later turned out to be the grave of an Iron Age woman, located between the villages of Pegsdon and Shillington in Bedfordshire. The find-spot of the Pegsdon Mirror is about 40 miles away from the area of south Oxfordshire we believe the Oxfordshire Mirror was found having received unconfirmed, anecdotal reports suggesting the actual find-spot of the Oxfordshire Mirror was 3-4 miles west of Didcot. Both sites also lie close to the Icknield Way prehistoric route, which was certainly in existence at the time the two mirrors were made. The grant money was made available by the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) from the Higher Education Funding Council for England via the University of Oxford, to all of whom we owe our thanks.

Patterns

The patterns on the two mirrors are startlingly similar, and there are no other two decorated Iron Age mirrors which look so alike as these. With this in mind, we felt sure there must be some deeper connection between the two mirrors, and the HEIF grant allowed us to try and find that link. Luton Culture, who run Wardown Park Museum and Stockwood Discovery Centre,  own the Pegsdon Mirror and were very kind and co-operative in lending it to us to enable a comparative research study and to put on display as part of the recent Forged In Fire exhibition.

X-ray

Initially we tried to use non-destructive x-ray fluorescence analysis, where an X-ray beam excites an X-ray spectrum which is shaped by the elements present and their concentrations. This was largely unsuccessful, as all we could analyse was the corrosion on the surface of the mirrors. However, it did suggest (in the case of the Pegsdon Mirror) that the handle and the disc were both made from the same material, as the make-up of the corroded bronze on the surface of each was more or less identical. We then decided to take samples- very small ones, and with the help of Dr Peter Northover, a metallurgist who has worked extensively on archaeological projects and analyses, we did just that. It was quite nerve-wracking, seeing the tiny section cut out of the Oxfordshire Mirror, but one sample from the disc and another from the handle showed terrific results. Peter was able to tell us not only what the chemical composition of the two samples was, but also a lot about the manufacturing process by which the mirror disc was made. This showed that the disc had been cast from molten bronze and then hammered out to make it thinner and flatter once the bronze had cooled. This must have been a very specialised process performed by a talented craftsman. The technique was demonstrated by John Fenn when he visited The Oxfordshire Museum in July with his reproduction Iron Age mirrors.

Remarkable result

The success of the sampling on the Oxfordshire Mirror was sufficient for Luton Culture to give us permission to sample their mirror too, although we could only sample the disc and not the handle. The results of the analysis were remarkable and a little surprising. The similarity of the bronze from the Pegsdon disc and the Oxfordshire handle was exact- so much so that it is extremely likely that the two were made in the same place at the same time. This is a truly remarkable result, and clearly shows a definitive, physical link between the two mirrors. The results will be properly published in an academic journal in due course, and a short film was made about the sampling and analysis process by Sharon Woodward of Woodward Media, which will be broadcast on the Community Channel in September.

What are the implications?

The HEIF grant funded research is now over, but we are left with a legacy, and with more questions to ask. We have developed a link with Luton Culture which I hope will continue for a long time. Certainly as we share the curation of these two remarkable mirrors the two institutions are inextricably linked into the future. But also we are left to ask what the implications of this connection between two of the best examples of decorated Iron Age mirrors are, and what does this mean in the wider context of Iron Age archaeology?

David Moon BA, MPhil, PCIfA
Curator of Archaeology
Oxfordshire Museums Service

Video

The discovery of the 2000 year old mirror in South oxfordshire, was the premise of an award winning documentary.

 

Archaeological sites

Types of sites range from Neolithic ritual landscapes and bronze age cemeteries through iron age and Roman settlements and small towns, to Anglo-Saxon cemeteries and hamlets, later Saxon and medieval villages and towns, monasteries, markets - and of course, the University.

New sites include Eynsham Abbey - the medieval Benedictine Abbey of Eynsham is one of the most notable monastic sites in Oxfordshire. Excavations from 1989 to 1993 revealed an outstanding number of beautiful and interesting artefacts.

For more information and visits, please contact the Museums Resource Centre at 01865 300557.

Identifying archaeological finds

We are ready to assist researchers with our finds identification service run in conjunction with the Finds Liaison Officer.

Finds Liaison Officer and the Portable Antiquities Scheme

The Portable Antiquities Scheme is a voluntary scheme for the recording of archaeological finds made by the public.

Anni Byard is the regional Finds Liaison Officer covering both Oxfordshire and West Berkshire. Contact Anni Byard at the Museums Resource Centre or: 
Tel: 01865 300557
Email: anni.byard@oxfordshire.gov.uk

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Last reviewed
06 December 2016
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