Downley archaeology

Book unearths village past

THE publication of a book about an archaeological project which unearthed fascinating discoveries in  Downley has brought the past back to vivid life.The scheme, which saw schoolchildren digging holes and people scurrying through the woods with strange contraptions, won £23,000 of lottery funding. A free book of the findings is available to anyone who wants to learn more about the village’s intriguing past.Dr Jill Eyers, a geologist and archaeologist from Pusey Way, Lane End, was one of the guiding lights of the project. She said: “I’m feeling a bit like Santa, giving away all these books. I have been overwhelmed – people are absolutely loving them. I have had them saying to me how wonderful it is.“At the start, someone said to me on Downley Common there’s no archaeology here’. But there is if you know where to look for it. It’s a matter of going through old maps, which are easily available for anybody,” she added.

More than 200 people became involved with the Time Team-style project, often joining in when they saw other people digging holes or using equipment. Many children from Downley School were also happy to help. The project involved landscape surveys, geophysics, map research and excavations, and workshops on subjects ranging from basic training to tips for recognising a flint tool.And there were plenty of intriguing discoveries. The archaeologists learned where the first farmers settled in the village, 6,000 years ago, discovered where an old brick kiln was located in the 1700s, and found out how the  West Wycombe Dashwood estate used to be run from the village.Dr Eyers explained that one of the most fascinating finds was some ancient money. She said: “It’s a very rare Roman coin, produced for Nero. We didn’t find much of a Roman presence, so someone must have dropped it passing through. I think that was the most exciting thing for most people.”The book detailing the discoveries, written by Dr Eyers, Bev Cabot and Alison Jewesbury, is titled Archaeology of Downley Common. It is available free at the community library in School Lane, the Le de Spencer Arms pub in The Common, the grocer’s shop in the High Street, and Adult Learning in Bartholomew Tipping Way, Stokenchurch.The project was organised by Chiltern Archaeology and also had start up funding from the Chilterns Conservation Board.

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