A multi period site with remains of a possible Bronze Age cemetery, Iron Age and Romano British settlement and a Roman Villa.
The Bronze Age remains are of Beaker burials and pits dating to the late 3rd or early 2nd millennium. A large settlement began in the Early or Middle Iron Age (6th-5th century BC) and continued into the Romano-British period (mid 1st century AD). A Romanised settlement including a bath house and various other buildings dates to the 2nd and 3rd centuries. This may have been replaced or converted into a 4th century AD courtyard Roman Villa. The last datable evidence is a coin from the House of Theodosius which provides a post 388 date to the villa and occupation may have continued until the end of the 4th century.
Five Beaker burials have been excavated which may have been marked by a mound. Evidence of Iron Age occupation has been recorded all over the site and includes an extensive settlement of round houses, pits and ditches and two middle Iron Age burials. The site is similar to the large Durotrigian Iron Age settlements of Cranborne Chase. There is little evidence to explain the transformation of the late Iron Age site into a Roman settlement in the 2nd century AD. However, it seems likely from the remains found that the Iron Age site continued and a slow metamorphosis into a Romanised settlement occurred in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. This is indicated by the presence of various Roman structures and a bath house. In the 4th century a courtyard villa was constructed with three ranges of residential and working areas. Remains of rich wall paintings, mosaics and other decorative elements have been found. The final phase of the courtyard building dates to the mid 4th century and the site may have been occupied until the end of the Roman period.
The site was first excavated in 1845 and extensively excavated between 1968 and 1984 by the Wimborne Archaeological Group. Many of the finds are on display in the Priest's House Museum, Wimborne.
(17) Roman Settlement (926119), including a villa, lies N.W. of Barton Hill Dairy on a site overlooking the Tarrant, on the S. and E. slopes of a Chalk spur between 300 ft. and 360 ft. above sea-level. Excavations in 1845 revealed 'extensive remains of foundations, and walls with stucco and coloured facings, extending over an area of nearly twenty acres'. On the N. side of the field, 'at some distance from the spot where the principal remains of foundations were discovered', two rooms about 5½ ft. square flanked a narrow corridor; their floors were variously described as paved with red and white tesserae arranged in parallel rows, or as stuccoed. The walls, of flint and greensand 3 ft. thick, were plastered internally and were painted with 'ribbon-work, arches, foliage etc.' . A well 30 ft. deep contained the base and part of the shaft of a large column 'of a classic character and resembling the Ionic'. Finds included flue and roofing tiles, tesserae, samian and coarse pottery, amphorae, circular pipes (presumably of earthenware), querns, bronze brooches, shale rings, and coins of Constantine and Constantius. Some of these finds, and also fragments of mosaic with guilloche, angular and curved patterns in red, white and two shades of grey, are in D.C.M.; other finds are in the B.M. It has been suggested that the site is Anicetis of the Ravenna Cosmography (J.B.A.A., 3rd ser. XVII (1954), 77–8).
The two primary accounts of the excavations of 1845, both by W. Shipp, differ in detail (Hutchins I, 318–19; Brit. Archaeol. Ass. (Winchester Congress, 1846), 179–82). Two Durotrigian silver coins in the Pitt-Rivers collection, described as from Tarrant Gunville, may come from this site (S. Frere, ed., Problems of the Iron Age in Southern Britain (1960), 240).
Limited test excavations in 1968 and 1969 tended to confirm the 19th-century accounts, yielding evidence of flint walls, generally 2 ft. thick, over a wide area. Two plain tesselated pavements, severely damaged by ploughing, and much decorated wall plaster also came to light. Nearly 50 coins were found, ranging from Lucius Verus to Valentinian, but chiefly of the 3rd and 4th centuries.