One of the largest archaeology projects in the UK has revealed Anglo-Saxon settlements, a Roman military camp, remnants of a Medieval village, and a wealth of archaeological treasures. That’s quite a lot for what first appeared as flat Cambridgeshire countryside! The Guardian reports that 200-plus archaeologists have been working away on “scores of sites on a 21-mile stretch of flat Cambridgeshire countryside, the route of the upgraded A14 and the Huntingdon bypass” over the winter and they will continue to do so through this summer.
Neolithic henge monument under excavation on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon scheme. ( Open Government Licence v3.0 )
According to Cambridge News , the team is exploring an area measuring about 1.35 square miles (350 hectares). Altogether, they are undertaking 40 excavations. The features they have found vary from the remnants of Roman pottery kilns to Anglo-Saxon settlements and a Medieval village. Prehistoric burial grounds and henge monuments , as well as a couple of post-medieval brick kilns fill out what was once a very active region.
As for artifacts, Cambridge News makes note of seven tons of pottery, 6.5 tons of animal bones, prehistoric flint tools, and more than 7000 small finds such as personal objects. Those personal pieces include a late 2nd to 4th century AD Roman pendant of Medusa which may have been a protective amulet and a rare carved Anglo-Saxon bone flute dated to between the 5th to 9th century AD.
An ornate Roman jet pendant depicting the head of Medusa was found by archaeologists. ( Highways England, courtesy of MOLA Headland )
One surprise find is a well-preserved Middle Iron Age timber ladder from 500 BC. It was placed in a deep pit where archaeologists believe the owner would collect water or stir liquid with a wooden paddle which was discovered nearby.
Steve Sherlock, head archaeologist for Highways England, reflected on the significance of the discoveries so far,
“There is not one key site but a whole expanse – the excavation has given us the whole of the English landscape over the past 6,000 years. The Anglo-Saxon village sites alone are all absolute bobby dazzlers. The larger monuments such as the henges and barrows show up in crop marks and geophysics, but you can only really see things like the post marks of timber buildings by getting down into the ground and digging. The workshops and animal enclosures give you an impression of the hard grind of everyday life, but when you get something like the bone flute you suddenly see into a world that also had art and music, dancing and entertainment.”
Anglo Saxon bone flute. ( Cambridge News )
The Guardian reports the layout of the sites shows that several were placed alongside a Roman road which is now under the A1. However, there are also sites that cluster around the ancient barrows and henges.
Emma Jeffery, senior archaeologist from Mola Headland Infrastructure, has been working on the Medieval village site and had this to say ,
“The medieval village was occupied between the 12th and early 14th centuries, and the most likely explanation for its abandonment was that they lost the use of their woods when they were enclosed as a royal forest. At a stroke they lost their grazing, foraging and bark for uses such as tanning leather, so the economic justification for the village was gone.”
An archaeologist excavates a skeleton in Cambridgeshire. ( Highways England/MOLA Headland Infrastructure )
Cambridgeshire County Council’s senior archaeologist, Kasia Gdaniec, discussed how difficult, yet productive the work has been at the sites:
“The fast-paced archaeological excavations have been extremely challenging, especially during this relentlessly wet winter, but a very large, hardy team of British and international archaeologists successfully completed sites in advance of the road crews taking over to build the road structures. No previous excavation had taken place in these areas, where only a few cropmarked sites indicated the presence of former settlements, but we now know that extensive, thriving long-lived villages were built during the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and Saxon periods.”
Excavating a Roman trade distribution centre on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon scheme. ( Open Government Licence v3.0 )
Cambridge News says people can witness the archaeological work in action on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme on Saturday, April 7, 2018 between 10am and 5pm. The event is free and includes meeting some of the archaeologists, seeing artifacts found during excavations, and touring one of the dig sites.