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Archaeological Investigations

Spring, 1999

THE archaeological investigations in the Broad Street area of the Museum site, required as part of the planning permission for the underground development at the front, are now complete and the results have been gratifyingly unspectacular.

The Museum is situated just outside the old city wall, probably on top of the earlier ditch that ran between the wall and Horsemonger Street, as Broad Street was formerly known. Before the building of the Museum, which was completed in 1683, this section of the wall had been demolished and the Sheldonian Theatre built. Houses occupied the area to the north of Exeter College, as shown below in a detail from the first accurate map of Oxford, which was published in 1675 in David Loggan’s Oxonia depicta.

The archaeological work was undertaken by the Thames Valley Archaeological Service under contract from the University Surveyor’s Office. It consisted of digging three trenches below the cobbles in front of the Museum. These revealed a number of interesting archaeological features and deposits from the late seventeenth century to the nineteenth century. Pottery sherds from earlier periods, both Roman and medieval, were also found, but it was concluded that these probably derived from other areas, given the high degree of disturbance that has taken place on the site over the centuries.

The deepest trench, which was taken down to 2·6 metres, did yield evidence of the city ditch and supported the existing theory that it had been backfilled in the seventeenth century, after the Civil War. Above the ditch infill were dumped deposits from the eighteenth century, on top of which were compacted stone surfaces. These provide evidence of the rise in the level of Broad Street over the years. As the official report states, it is likely that the site experienced ‘a period of rapid redevelopment in which the ground level was dramatically altered and in which part of the existing street frontage (i.e. the walls) were robbed and reused’.

As for individual finds, the list is perhaps a little unexciting: pieces of pottery, animal bone and clay pipe, some leather shoe soles and a few nails.