Archaeology and Environment of the Etton Landscape by Charles French and Francis Pryor
I always feel an air of expectancy when another book or paper comes out on the archaeology of the fenland by Charly French and / or Francis Pryor. This is especially the case for me with this volume having heard Francis and Charly describe their discoveries during lectures in the late 1980’s. Building on over 30 years of work in the area they have an unparalleled understanding of the Fenland landscape. This volume reports on the Etton Landscape project which, between 1983 and 1990, examined the river systems, floodplain and lower terrace gravels between Maxey, Northborough and Etton. While most attention has been focussed on the excavation of the Etton causewayed enclosure (Pryor 1998) this project served to examine the wider landscape around it - the Etton environs.
The book follows the same formula as others from the Fenland Archaeological Trust and is in the attractive new look of the East Anglian Archaeology volumes. Chapter 1 provides the project history and environmental background to the area including contributions from Mark Macklin, David Passmore and Rob Scaife. Chapter 2 looks at excavations at ten Etton landscape sites followed by reports on the artefacts and environmental evidence. Chapter 3 examines the evidence from fieldwork in advance of the construction of the A15 Bypass half a km to the east of Etton causewayed enclosure, again with sections on the artefacts and environmental evidence. Chapters 2 and 3 also include contributions from Charlotte Ainsley, Adrian Challands, Jane Downes, Chris Gaffney, Kasia Gdaniec, Bob Middleton, Stuart Needham, Sandra Nye, Carol Osborne, Mark Robinson and Gillian Wallace. These are followed by the Discussion and Conclusion in Chapter 4 and eight appendices.
The Etton Landscape consists of relict river systems, floodplain and the lowermost parts of the Welland First terrace gravels. The archaeology, in common with other Fenland areas, includes very important data with, in particular, the survival of buried soils beneath alluvium. While structural occupation is elusive, although midden deposits are present, the variety of small henges and ring ditches provide significant sites in the environs around the causewayed enclosure. All the sites straddled the period of later use of the causewayed enclosure at the end of the third and beginning of the second millennium BC. The authors identify a mosaic of ‘old’ and ‘new’ environments from old woodland to pasture and small zones of scrubby fen-like carr. The middle of the second millennium BC saw the addition of field systems laid out at right angles to the stream systems before the landscape gradually opens up in the first millennium BC.
As usual the results are very well presented and the information is very well integrated and illustrated. What is particularly impressive about this report, as one expects with these two authors, is the integration of the geomorphology and archaeology. Often reports relegate the geomorphology to an appendix with the archaeology somewhat divorced from its context – the impression I often get is the tail (the archaeology) wagging the dog (the geomorphological landscape). In this volume the interelationship of the two is always apparent and the dynamics of how the landscape was exploited and changed over time is clearly interpreted. While I am often in favour of synthetic reports, in this case, with a wide range of specialist contributions which all contribute to the holistic story, it is good to see that the detailed specialists reports are all included in printed format.
So once again many congratulations to Francis and Charly in adding yet another high quality publication to the great number they have produced for this fascinating area of prehistoric Britain. My only slight criticism is that it is a shame we had to wait so long between the end of the fieldwork and the publication seeing the light of day. Having said that I’m looking forward to the next one.
Review Submitted: January 2006
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