A RECENT archaeological dig near Meonstoke in the Meon Valley has revealed the foundations of a Roman building with a very rare hexagonal shape.

The discovery was made by the amateur Meon Valley Archaeology and Heritage Group, led by University of Winchester archaeologist Dr Nick Stoodley, using geophysical equipment on loan from Historic England.

“Only one other building like this has been discovered in Britain,” said Tony King, Professor of Roman Archaeology at the University of Winchester and director of the excavation.

“It is a wonderful chance for the university’s undergraduate students to excavate such a site. We are speculating whether we are seeing a pagan temple or some other type of building, and we have uncovered a Roman bathhouse very close by.”

Meonstoke villagers Alison Smalley and John Snow have been organising support from the other Meon Valley villages.

Armed with trowels and kneels, around 80 people of all ages took part in groups of 12 a day.

“It’s a wonderful experience,” said one volunteer. “Something I’ve always wanted to do – it’s been on my bucket list for years.”

Back in in 1986, Professor King was also involved in the excavation of a sizeable Roman building, the façade of which is now in the British Museum.

“The new discovery is all part of the same complex,” added Professor King. “We hope to come back next year and connect the two with further excavations.”

The Meon Valley Archaeology and Heritage Group is a spin-off from the ‘Saxons in the Meon Valley’ project inspired by Peter O’Sullivan, winner of the Mayor of Winchester’s Community Award in 2014.

The project’s activities included work with schools on the Saxon elements in the Key Stage 2 syllabus, visits to museums, lectures to local historical societies, and the production of a stunning DVD about the valley, its landscape and architecture, much enhanced by unusual aerial shots with a drone camera.

Project archaeologists have surveyed 18 sites so far with some significant results contributing to a better understanding of what happened here when the Romans left in 410AD and the Saxons took over.

The project has shed new light on their cemeteries, settlement patterns and lifestyles.

After the Roman period the then remote and wooded Meon Valley was settled by the incomers from Saxony in north Germany and Jutland in present-day Denmark.

Christianity moved into the area, displacing pagan practices, and the Meonstoke church dates from the 13th century but is thought to have replaced an Anglo-Saxon church.

The valley was referred to in the eighth century by Bede as the Provincia Meanwarorum (Province of the Meonwara), according to the Saxons in the Meon Valley website.

The Meonwara (‘Meon People’) were the Saxon and Jutish settlers who Bede described as living in the valley.

Bede (Old English: Bǣda or Bēda) is also referred to as Saint Bede or the Venerable Bede. He was an English monk at the Northumbrian monastery of Saint Peter at Monkwearmouth and of its companion monastery, Saint Paul’s, in modern Jarrow, both in the Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. Bede is well known as an author and scholar; his most famous work, ‘Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum’ (The Ecclesiastical History of the English People) gained him the title “The Father of English History”.