A BUILDER’S drinking pot which was smashed more than 1,100 years ago could help archaeologists accurately date the birth of Wallingford for the first time.

Leicester University experts say tiny pottery fragments uncovered in the town’s Anglo-Saxon ramparts could prove Wallingford was first fortified during the reign of Alfred the Great to protect his kingdom from Viking invasion.

Dozens of local volunteers helped sieve a tonne of earth last month during two weeks of excavations in Castle Meadows, where the archaeologists uncovered the ramparts beneath later medieval construction.

In the soil they found shards of just one type of pottery, to which grass was added during the firing process, meaning scientists will be able to precisely date when the defences were built.

Wallingford Museum curator Judy Dewey said early analysis suggested it would date the town’s fortifications to the late ninth century, conclusively backing up documentary evidence.

She said: “This is real evidence which will be able to accurately date the fortification of Wallingford. That is a fairly major breakthrough.

“We only found one kind of pottery, all of one period, which was probably broken by people building the ramparts.

“The people building it were probably drinking something out of it and it got broken.

“It means there is a human story of the people building the ramparts at the time, and it suggests what we have learnt from documentary evidence about Wallingford being a fortified town of Alfred’s period is totally true.”

The latest technology will be used to pinpoint a precise date from the finds.

The Leicester-based academics returned to the town for the third year running for the fortnight of investigations around Wallingford’s castle, once one of the most important riverside fortresses in England.

Archaeologists last dug the site in the 1960s, when they found the town’s original North Gate, a late-Saxon street and a kiln structure.

Project director Neil Christie said the recent digs would help explain how the town changed over time.

He said: “The whole three-year project is trying to look at the evolution of Wallingford from a Saxon burg to a medieval borough.

“The work we’ve been doing has given a far clearer structural guide to that sequence.”