on the Norwich Southern Bypass, 1989-91, Part I: Excavations at Bixley,
Caistor St Edmund, Trowse, Cringleford and Little Melton by T. Ashwin
and S. Bates
Archaeology and Environmental Division, Norfolk Museums Service, Dereham, 254 pp, 181 figs, 2 tables, 52 plates, East Anglian Archaeology, Report No 91, 2000, ISBN 0 905594 29 0.
Settlement and Land-use: The Archaeology of the Brighton Bypass edited
by D. Rudling.
New Link to the Past: The Archaeological Landscape of the M1-A1 Link
Road edited by I. Roberts, A. Burgess and D. Berg.
As the growth phase of the English motorway system waned in the final decades of the last millennium, there was a belated recognition by the Highways Authority of the importance of the archaeology along these linear transects through the landscape. In the volumes under review, the Norwich and the Brighton Bypass volumes record survey and excavation under the old arrangements in 1989-1991, largely funded as a rescue activity (with the survey provision for Brighton being clearly inadequate). More recently, with the West Yorkshire A1/M1 Link, direct funding by the Highways Agency as part of the motorway construction budget, enabled surveying to start in 1992 and excavation in 1996-8. The three reports allow us to compare how these new arrangements work. I suppose the first thing a potential purchaser of these books will want to know is ‘what did the excavators expect to find and what was actually found?’.
Norwich Southern Bypass
Bixley involved the rescue excavation of three crop-mark ring ditches in “severe winter weather”, which managed to blow-over the main site hut! All three barrows had been ploughed flat, with only ephemeral traces of one mound surviving. The northernmost barrow had three concentric ditches, interpreted as successive re-modellings following repeated central insertions of successive inhumation graves, overlain by three further pits, some containing unurned cremations. Other non-central pits yielded five probable inhumations, including an inverted Collared Urn. Two other barrows had single ring ditches, encircling cremation pits yielding three Collared Urns and fragments of other EBA ceramics from ploughed out secondary burials. Phasing of the barrows contexts was not possible, due to this truncation.
At Hartford Farm, Caistor St Edmond, excavation focussed on an area of ca 2 ha of crop-marks, which included a series of suspected prehistoric settlement enclosures and some smaller, square crop-marks, being either ‘Arras’ type burials or R/B temple enclosures. With Venta Icenorum only 750m to the south-east, other R/B settlement activity was also anticipated. In practice, the ring ditches proved to be five ploughed-out barrows, the six square features had no dating evidence but, after reviewing the shrine option, were interpreted as “valuable new examples of Late Iron Age square barrows”. There was no evidence of intensive R/B settlement “perhaps due in part to the presence of these earlier funerary monuments”. In addition, the prehistoric burial area contained two further phases of unsuspected activity, with four IA round houses and associated land boundaries being found, plus pits containing pottery attributable to the 4th to 2nd century BC, together with an important Anglo-Saxon cemetery with 46 inhumations (the latter to be published separately). Several ‘tree trunk’ inhumations were found in the barrows. One primary inhumation, within a possible palisaded barrow, included a rare composite bracelet of nine beads, four of jet, two of amber and three fragments of segmented faience beads [the latter attributed to not before c.1450 cal. BC – but earlier dates are now known (Sheridan A & McDonald A, 2001, 120)] and this was overlain by a lugged Food Vessel. A hengiform enclosure with a central 15m diameter ring of 32 post holes within an inner ditch, but lacking an obvious primary grave, was interpreted as a bermed bell-barrow from its situation.
Crop-marks at Valley Belt, Trowse, indicated a large double-concentric ring-ditch, with fainter evidence of three smaller ring ditches (which were presumed to be ploughed out barrows) and a rectilinear enclosure of unknown date. The excavation of ca 1.9 ha revealed all such ring ditches to be modern (a World War searchlight or anti-aircraft gun station - whose main feature had been scheduled, following its ‘discovery’ by St Joseph a mere 10 years after its decommissioning!). However, it also demonstrated at least two discrete episodes of unexpected prehistoric occupation. The first, with Beaker sherds from largely residual contexts, was poorly preserved, but the second, with pits and ditched enclosures with 4-post gateways(?), yielded an important collection of over 17 kg of Iron Age ceramics, dated to the early to mid first millennium BC. The two small rectilinear enclosures had no finds, but were assumed to be early R/B square barrows, as at Hartford Farm. A small R/B smelting furnace was also discovered.
The final main site at Markshall, Caistor St Edmund, was designed to check an area of proposed gravel extraction that had adjacent prehistoric ring-ditches and to investigate a reference to the deserted medieval village of Markshall in the OS records . Excavation of ca 1.25 ha demonstrated that the DMV reference was erroneous, but yielded several pits with Early Neolithic flintwork, a pit with a Grooved Ware sherd, a few Beaker sherds and a grave (?) with an Anglo-Saxon bowl. The excavation section ends with short reports on three LBA socketed axes from Cringleford and on five pits from Watton Rd, Little Melton, which produced ca 9 kg of ‘post-Deverel Rimbury’ pottery of “potential regional significance”.
In the concluding Synthesis, Ashwin reviews the status of the Arminghall Henge in the context of the new discoveries and concludes that “it could well have been a focus for long-lived episodic use, rather than being either a monumental (continuously used) or a short-lived (single period) site”. He points out that the excavation of eight barrows by the Norwich Southern Bypass Project means that ca 70% of the Arminghall barrow group have now been excavated, making the group of “national significance as one of Britain’s most thoroughly-examined barrow cemeteries”. Unlike experience in East Yorkshire, the large-scale examination of the land between the Hartford Farm barrows failed to find any contemporary flat graves in the spaces between mounds. Construction of new barrows was judged to cease by 1,500 cal.BC.
Brighton Bypass Archaeology Project
At Mile Oak Farm, Portslade, the project aimed to sample lynchets within two fields of pasture, hoping that IA or R-B settlement activity could be located. Seventeen trenches were excavated, sampling 10% of the road corridor. When a 37x28m oval enclosure ditch was discovered, it was then completely excavated, revealing a MBA settlement of three houses, one of which overlay the ditch, with dates from 1550-1440 to 1110-840 cal BC. The excavator, Miles Russell, considers several possible interpretations for the ditched enclosure. A Bronze Age barrow, a MBA settlement enclosure and a stock enclosure/ animal corral are all assessed and rejected, in favour of it being a classic Class II henge monument (i.e. a first for Sussex). However, in the summary, David Rudling and Paul Garwood review the molluscan/ dating evidence and query this interpretation, thinking “instead that the enclosure ditch belongs either to the earliest phase of the MBA settlement, or is part of some other enclosure just predating it”.
Little coherent evidence was found for a MBA field system. Sue Hamilton’s comprehensive pottery report notes that, with 11,141 M/LBA sherds (66 kg), Mile Oak is “the largest extant BA assemblage from a single excavation in Sussex”. The MBA pottery is typical of the regional Deverel-Rimbury group, whilst the LBA assemblage, with its full range of LBA forms and limited decoration, suggests a date at the beginning of the first millennium BC. Other trenches contained some residual(?) Beaker sherds, a possible LBA round house, several 4-post structures, a possible bowl furnace site and important evidence of in situ LBA metallurgical activity (another Sussex first). Ironically “very little evidence of IA/ R-B activity was actually recovered”.
Twenty trenches across the West Hove Golf Course at Benfield Hill aimed to discover whether the road would disturb any further Anglo-Saxon burials adjacent to one found in 1931. Apart from evidence of a medieval lynchet, no other activity was found. Thirteen trenches at Haggleton to investigate a former medieval village also drew a blank. An area at Redhill that had previously yielded large quantities of prehistoric flintwork was investigated by fourteen trenches. Although no Mesolithic features were found, the overall collection, utilising flint nodules recovered from outcrops of Clay-with-Flints, is “one of the largest later Mesolithic flint assemblages to have been recovered from the South Downs”. On-site tool production continued though the Earlier Neolithic, with activity being intensified in the Late Neolithic/ Early Bronze Age. Thereafter the site was unoccupied, but continued to receive discards via manuring.
Eastwick Barn, a field system with associated earthworks, was the only scheduled site to be examined. Nineteen trenches sampled the various features. Stratified pottery and flintwork suggest that most of the lynchets started formation by the earlier Iron Age, with a period of fairly intense arable agriculture, which caused severe erosion. No original fence lines were found, but flint banks delimited the fields. There was then a lack of Middle and Late IA pottery (perhaps due to its greater vulnerability to disintegration), before a resumption of intense R-B cultivation/manuring. An anomalous R-B burnt mound is tentatively explained as a place where erratic sarsen boulders, cleared from the fields, were heated and shattered, prior to their removal.
The junction of Coldean Lane and Ditchling Road was the final area to be investigated, as previous road-widening had uncovered BA burials and IA/R-B settlement evidence. Twenty-two sample trenches in the western portion failed to find any such activity, but did find a prehistoric(?) boundary ditch. However, in the steeper eastern section (“Downsview”), some twelve structures of a MBA settlement were examined in a 0.25 ha excavation. Radiocarbon dates indicate that occupation starts 1680-1570 cal BC and ends 1020-800 cal BC (at 95% confidence). Structure 1, a double stake-hole structure and Structure 2, a stake-walled building, seem to constitute a pair, (as at Mile Oak). They are discussed in detail, with experience from reconstructing these structures at Michelham Priory. The MBA/LBA pottery is examined by Hamilton, who notes the MBA fine ware has links to Wessex, whilst MBA coarse ware urn(s) with horse-shoe applied bands have Essex parallels. The LBA is an “essentially plain ware assemblage”. Local stone was used for querns and rubbers, but a Jurassic limestone mould fragment reminds us that specialised stones could travel considerable distances (>150km).
Appendix 2 & 3 briefly summarises the excavations a) at Varley Halls in 1992, which revealed a MBA settlement with two 2-phase roundhouses, together with four house platforms and b) at Patcham Fawcett in 1993/4, where five roundhouses and some 4-post structures of M/LBA date were found.
The study of valley-bottom sediments demonstrated that, before the LBA, local communities irregularly cleared the land of forest and scrub for short periods of agriculture, but that, by the LBA/EIA, formal division of the landscape resulted in all sites receiving inputs of colluvium.
Rudling concludes that, in the valley bottoms examined, there was an absence of EBA settlement, whilst the “excavations on steep valley sides at Mile Oak and Downsview both revealed important MBA settlement sites” of surprising longevity. He reviews evidence of other MBA settlements in Sussex, speculating that the nearby high-status MBA Hove barrow “may have been an especially important funerary monument at the centre of an elite social grouping in central southern Sussex”. By the LBA, there was “a shift from the barrow-dominated landscape of the EBA to a settlement-dominated farming landscape with a large number of small clusters, each perhaps consisting of several household clusters”
West Yorkshire A1/M1 Link
The scale of the exercise is well illustrated by Alison Deegan’s section, which provides a comprehensive assessment of aerial photographs from 229 sites within a total study area of 80km2. This data is then very helpfully integrated with the excavation results and 35ha of geophysical survey to generate clear composite figures for the landscape around each of the eight main areas investigated.
At Bullerthorpe Lane, isolated IA pits predated a 2nd to 4th century AD settlement enclosure. At Swillington Common, the route crossed a double ditched trackway and field system. In a ca.1.7 ha site, seven post-built BA structures were identified, two of which had MBA dates and were 10m apart with similar porched roundhouse plans (echoing the Brighton Bypass MBA “pairs” above). One posthole contained a residual(?) small V-perforated jet disc, an unusual find in a domestic context. The trackway may date from the LBA. An intriguing D-shaped palisaded enclosure, with a 4-post structure set in its entrance, was dated to M/LIA, but lacked any local parallels. The pattern of enclosures continue to develop throughout the later IA/ early Roman periods.
Excavation of ca.2.4ha section of the route between two known cropmark sites at Barrowby Lane revealed three phases of ditch boundaries, with the earliest probably dating to the LIA/Early Roman period. At Manor Farm, excavation of ca 0.5ha of a cropmark of rectilinear ditches and two ring ditches revealed a small EBA barrow, with a primary Collared Urn, some secondary offerings and residual early Neolithic sherds. In the earlier IA, ditched enclosure A was constructed around a group of post-holes, then in the M/LIA, this was cut by a further rectilinear enclosure B and a rounded triangular structure, which was rebuilt at a later date. The absence of R-B features seems to indicate that the settlement then moved.
SMR evidence of A-S finds led to geophysics over 5ha at Parlington Hollins and the discovery of a complex of conjoined enclosures (not visible to aerial photography). Starting with a Later IA enclosure and a line of ten ca.2m diameter rock-cut pits, two more enclosures were added in the Early Roman period, before further enclosures/ field systems were constructed during the peak occupation phase in the 3rd- early 4th centuries AD. The presence of two SFBs indicates activity continues into the post-Roman.
Aerial photographs of field systems being crossed by the Roman road from Castleford to York led to ca1ha of the route at Roman Ridge being dug. Five pits were found, which could be the truncated remains of a rectangular (Late Neolithic?) structure. They contained flintwork, five fragments of cremated, probably human, bone and sherds from three different Beaker vessels. Blaise Vyner comments that such evidence of ‘ritual’ is only accessible when large areas are examined and he cautions against “assuming that the primary interest of Yorkshire prehistoric communities was necessarily targeted at those areas where the monumental evidence now best survives.” The sub-division of the landscape seems to start during the LIA/Early Roman period, with the brickwork field system being over-ridden by the Roman road (of which 100m was excavated) in the late 1st century AD.
Excavations at Hook Moor and Dawson’s Wood examined sub-rectangular enclosures close to the intersections of field boundaries, concluding that the enclosures were short-term episodes within a longer-term, IA/R-B system of boundaries, probably for livestock. The route also crossed three linear earthworks. Dating evidence for Grim’s Ditch suggested it was created, perhaps as a territorial boundary, in the E/MIA and possibly redefined and integrated into the expanded field system in the later Roman period. South Bank was shown to be of late IA construction, but finds in the adjacent Becca Banks, running along the northern edge of the Cock Beck valley, only indicated construction between the LIA and 7th century AD. Construction of these Aberford Dykes is interpreted as a reaction by the Brigantes to Roman incursions.
In a very useful 15 page review of West Yorkshire prehistory, Andrea Burgess notes that “the ephemeral and apparently sporadic Early Neolithic activity within the road corridor does not suggest any major changes to the existing Mesolithic occupation patterns” and highlights that this previously unsuspected Neolithic activity is located at the two areas which subsequently became foci for BA activity. The survey has significantly increased the number of ring ditches/ barrows, which at Swillington Common seem to have attracted subsequent MBA unenclosed settlement. Despite a paucity of IA artefacts/ post structures, the increasing evidence of field systems and ditched/ palisaded enclosures developing throughout the MIA to LIA, together with beehive querns for cereal processing, hints at settled mixed farming and further undermines traditional ideas of ‘Celtic cowboys’.
How have radiocarbon strategies changed over the last decade?
The radiocarbon section for the Brighton Bypass is more comprehensive than that for Norwich, with 41 samples being analysed, with all sample species being identified and short-life samples being used wherever possible. This trend is even more marked in the M1-A1 Link volume, where the arrival of AMS dating has increased the number of potential samples, enabling excavators to be far more selective, and improved funding has increased the scope, with 83 samples being dated. This access to more dates per site resulted in over 60% of the samples being found to be pre-Roman and enabled Ian Roberts to discuss the evidence for a later Bronze Age discontinuity in the area (supporting Colin Burgess’s hypothesis) and to argue that several R-B sites continued in occupation until the 6th to 7th centuries AD (suggesting that the current Later Roman artefact attributions should be extended into the sub-Roman).
What other trends are revealed over the last decade?
From this snapshot sample of three reports, it would appear that the
latest motorway investigation:-
Lanting JN & Brindley AL, 1998, “Dating Cremated Bone: The Dawn of a New Era”, Journal of Irish Archaeol. IX, 1-7.
Sheridan A & McDonald A, 2001, “Faience” in Shepherd IAG & Shepherd AN, “A Cordoned Urn burial with faience from 102 Findhorn”, Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 131, 101-128
Review Submitted: June 2003
The views expressed in this review are not
necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.
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