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 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 eighty 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 eighteen 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, their cemeteries, settlement patterns and lifestyles.
A print-ready image of the Roman hexagonal building at Meonstoke, a possible pagan temple, is available to download by clicking here