A GROUP of students and amateur archaeologists have announced a series of discoveries at the site of a Roman settlement in Hampshire.

Excavations, led by Winchester University Professor Tony King, began at the site in Exton in the Meon Valley after a rare Roman temple was discovered in 2015, writes Arthur Scott-Geddes.

The temple was first uncovered during a dig led by Winchester University Archaeologist Dr Nick Stoodley using geophysical surveying equipment supplied by Historic England.

The temple is one of only two known examples in the UK to have been built on a hexagonal plan.

The most significant find of this year came on the very last day of the dig, when archaeologist Joan Terry uncovered the skull of a horse.

Further excavation revealed the complete skeletons of a mare and foal, believed to date back to the Iron Age, found buried beneath the centre of the temple’s hexagonal foundations.

Prof King, leading the dig, called the discovery “an extraordinary find.”

“It raises all sorts of questions about relationships between the Iron Age people and the colonising Romans. What is certain is that this spot has been a shrine for several centuries with suggestions of a fertility theme across at least two cultures,” he added.

The temple has been at the centre of excavation work throughout 2017 and 2018.

The discovery of artefacts and a series of connected rooms, believed to be a bath house with elaborate plasterwork depicting a female figure, have convinced the team of itsreligious purpose.

Excavations this year also focussed on two nearby barrows discovered by the Meon Valley Archaeological and Heritage Group (MVAHG).

One is now believed to be an Iron Age ring ditch dating from about 1500BC. Another, older barrow is believed to be Neolithic, dating back to around 3500BC.

A further Iron Age ditch was excavated by volunteers in 2017, uncovering ancient pottery including one almost intact vessel.

A sizeable Roman settlement is emerging in the Meon Valley, centred on a large building first excavated by Prof King in 1985, part of which is now on display in the British Museum.

Survey work by the MVAHG last year revealed the foundations of a large rectangular building and led to the discovery of several Roman coins. The building is thought to be the villa.

The MVAHG was born out of the ‘Saxons in the Meon Valley’ project inspired by Peter O’Sullivan, winner of the Mayor of Winchester’s Community Award in 2014.

It offers places to volunteers keen to get experience of archaeology.

Further excavations at the site are planned for 2019.