Only three days left before the archaeologists arrive and life at Temple Towers (your correspondent’s compact and bijou residence in genteel East Oxford) is a fevered mixture of preparation (must remember to remove the dead mouse from the patio) and anticipation.
As part of the preparation, I’ve been looking into the history of the area and in this I’ve been privileged to have access to a cornucopia of data. I love data.
After three years of visiting museums on a regular basis, I’ve finally worked out that it’s not about wandering round for hours looking at vast collections of stuff – it’s about going in with a question and following a line of thought. So I was able to go into the Ashmolean and home in on exhibits relating to Roman Oxfordshire.
Then there was the library and a book about how geology and landscape influenced human settlement. This area, for example, is rich in clay (and was rich in woodland), which is why it developed a thriving pottery industry in Roman times.
Yesterday, I went to the History Centre (Record Office) to look at early Ordnance survey maps (you can even print maps off at 20p a go). With the help of the archive staff it was even possible to work out that, in 1879, the land was used for pasture. Whilst I didn’t have time, information from things like census returns, street directories, newspapers and tithe awards could have added details about human activity and land use.
Another fascinating resource is the collection of areal photographs in Britain From Above. These show that in the 1930s this was still very much a village on the edge of extensive farmland, albeit a village with a car factory.
So what do I hope to find under the garden?
The worst scenario is late 20th century builder’s rubble; but even then it should be possible to gather data about the geology of the area.
The dream scenario would be human remains. Or a dinosaur. Or maybe an elephant.
I’m not too bothered about finding a gold hoard (even if it looks good in a photo) but an old coin would be nice. Clay pipes and Roman pottery are both realistic possibilities. Evidence of an earlier building on the site would be good, but indications at the moment suggest that the land hasn’t previously been built on.
To be honest, I don’t mind. I think the process itself will be interesting. And, if they don’t find any stuff, they will still find information – even if it’s just the information that there is nothing of historical interest. And information is the greatest treasure of all.