Archaeological Solutions

An Iron Age site in Cambridgeshire

Work has recently been completed on a site in Cambridgeshire which revealed evidence for episodic or seasonal Neolithic occupation, three phases of Iron Age occupation, each representing a development of the preceding phase, and evidence for a small early Anglo-Saxon settlement.

The site lies close to the river Cam and is formed of a large area of land that slopes gently to the west, in the direction of the river. In addition to the archaeological features that were present, the excavation identified several natural features, including a palaeochannel, representing a former course of the river Cam. This palaeochannel appears to have had some influence over the archaeological activity present at the site, especially during the latest phase of Iron Age activity.

The Neolithic period is represented at this site by a series of pits, distributed across the site, but mostly on the slightly higher ground to the east. This is fairly typical of this period in eastern England and the site can be compared to a number of other sites in the region. These comparisons have lead to the conclusion that the pits represent only occasional occupation of this site by a Neolithic population. However, evidence for cereal cultivation during this period was recorded and this suggests a settled population but only present in small numbers.

The Iron Age archaeology can be divided into three distinct phases. The first of these, which is dated to the middle to late Iron Age, represents the development of a settlement starting with only two or three small enclosures and expanding to comprise several small enclosures at the centre of two to three much larger enclosures. Evidence of 3 to 4 Roundhouse structures indicates domestic occupation of the site during this phase and the overall impression is of a small agricultural settlement. The second phase of Iron Age activity is very similar in character and represents the continued development of the site. The layout remains the same from the previous phase but there is clear development of it. The evidence for domestic buildings is lacking from this phase and these buildings may have been moved elsewhere. The third Iron Age phase represents the period at approximately the time of the Roman conquest of Britain. No direct evidence of the conquest was apparent, but it is hinted at by increasingly Roman-like artefacts, especially amongst the pottery that was found. The activity of this date represents the development of the same basic layout of the site that was evidence in the preceding Iron Age phases. For the most part, the evidence appears to suggest that character of the activity here had changed very little during the Iron Age. However, in this latest phase of Iron Age occupation an enclosure appears to have been deliberately laid out along the north-eastern bank of the former channel of the river Cam. A concentration of pottery in the ditches forming this enclosure and the presence of a pair of ditches leading directly to the river channel suggest that this part of the site may have been used for landing boats. These boats are likely to have been carrying goods for trade, including pottery, and this may explain the concentration of pottery in this part of the site. Navigable rivers were often used for transporting trade goods in the Roman period.

The Anglo-Saxon activity is represented by seven Sunken-Featured Buildings, an architectural style typical of this period, and a small number of pits and other features. They represent a small, self-sufficient settlement practising a mixed agricultural economy and probably producing their own woollen textiles. This site is unusual, however, as the preservation of one of the Sunken-Featured Building was sufficient to have allowed the study of a deposit that built up during the use of the building. Usually the deposits found in such buildings represent the material dumped into them as the sunken portions of them were backfilled after they had gone out of use. Not only does this provide useful information regarding the landscape of the surrounding area at the time that this building was standing, it also provides useful information about its form and structure. It appears that this deposit built up beneath the suspended floor of this building; whether or not this type of building had floors suspended over the sunken portion of them is a much-debated subject.

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