The Thames Valley NMP project was one of four pilot projects for the National Mapping Programme established by the former RCHME (Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England) and partially funded by English Heritage.
The project covered 1450 sq kms of the Thames Valley, following the course of the Thames from its source in the Cotswolds near Cirencester to the outskirts of London at Slough and Windsor, passing through Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Surrey.
The archaeology of the Thames Valley
The archaeology of the Thames Valley is characterised by the cropmark remains of numerous settlements from the prehistoric to medieval periods with associated fields and trackways, some forming landscapes which were traced over a number of kilometres. This intensive use is characteristic of lowland river valley locations throughout England with well drained land ideal for cultivation and settlement, and the rivers offering water, communication and ritual foci.
There were also numerous prehistoric sites identified as ritual and funerary in nature. There were 933 Bronze Age barrows recorded, but of particular note were the Neolithic ritual sites clustered in close proximity (within 2km) to the river and its tributaries. These included four henges, 16 cursus monuments, six of which were new to the record. Also, a total of 12 causewayed enclosures were recorded, three of which were new discoveries. Rich in river gravel deposits, this area is under threat from continued aggregates quarrying, with many archaeological sites having already been destroyed.
Of particular interest were a group of sites known as Highworth Circles. These are a cluster of circular enclosures typically 40 to 95 metres in diameter, with an external bank and internal ditch and no apparent entrance. In total 41 were recorded, with many still surviving as earthworks.
This is a little understood group of monuments and there are two schools of thought concerning their likely date and function. Based on morphology it was suggested that they represented a form of hengiform enclosure of prehistoric date. However, their sheer number and general confinement within the Hundred of Highworth supported by the results of excavation has led to the suggestion that they are medieval (13th-14th century) in origin and probably related to some form of stock management.
The images used on this page are copyright English Heritage unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project please contact the English Heritage Archive.
For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Aerial Survey team please contact us by email via the link above.