AMATEUR archaeologists have unearthed new information about Oxford’s history by digging up people’s back gardens. Have-a-go historians, who have been volunteering in the three-year-long East Oxford Archaeology Project (EOAP), discovered that medieval Temple Cowley is bigger than previously thought.
The diggers, who have been knocking on residents’ doors to get access to sites to explore, have found medieval and Roman pottery under the built-up area.
They have used these to build a picture of the medieval settlement, which takes its name from a local manor owned by the Christian military order of the Knights Templar.
Project leader and archaeologist Jane Harrison said: “Before the mid-19th century, the east of Oxford was a rural area with many small villages, most of which had medieval or older origins.
“One of the manors there was granted to the Knights Templar. “We discovered that the settlement was larger than the one that is depicted in the earliest maps from the 18th Century. So, it (must have) shrunk, which a lot of them did, particularly with the effect of the plague.”
The Knights Templar was an order of knights created to protect the Holy Land, which is in modern-day Israel. They used the farm land on manor estates to generate income to fund the crusades.
The project was funded with a £300,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and money from Oxford University.
Last weekend, volunteers dug the 70th and final test pit at a house in Junction Road.
Dig supervisor Tricia Hallam, 59, said group had found a piece of a medieval vessel, probably a jug, with a green glaze.
“At one house we dug down half a metre before we got down to the original ground level,” she said.
“The house was built in 1902 and one of the owners put down half a metre of top soil.”
As well as discovering the history of East Oxford, EOAP has also helped to train amateur archaeologists in the skills of the discipline.
Craig Byron, 55, became excited about the discipline after moving to Donnington from New Zealand.
He said: “I am interested in history and archaeology but I have no qualifications in it.
“I came across the website and thought it sounded really interesting.
“It is a great opportunity to find out about the place I have moved to and practise archaeology.”
In the next and final year of the project, volunteers will take away the pottery shards dug up and work out exactly what period they date from. From that data, they will be able to build a map of how habitation patterns in the area have changed through time.
The results will be published in a book of photographs, maps and diagrams to tell the story of both east Oxford and the project itself.