The excavations at Elms Farm have produced evidence for the occupation of the landscape from the Neolithic period onwards. These prehistoric aspects of the site, pre-dating the Late Pre-Roman Iron Age (nominally to 50 BC), are essentially unconnected to the LPRIA and Roman settlement and have been published separately (Atkinson and Preston 2001)). Only a brief summary of their form and significance is presented here.
The legible evidence for prehistoric occupation is largely concentrated on the upper gravel terrace, within Excavation Area W, which lies to the north of the Late Iron Age and later settlement focus, and had escaped much of the masking and truncating activity associated with it. This early occupation of the landscape comprises Neolithic settlement remains, Bronze Age funerary monuments (a Beaker burial, barrow and cremation burials) and vestiges of field systems of tentative Early to Middle Iron Age date (Figure 4).
It is evident that prehistoric period occupation and land-use is widespread and continues south across what subsequently becomes the focus of the Late Iron Age and Roman settlement, no doubt extending as far as the Chelmer river and its marshlands. Discovery of prehistoric features among the dense and complex later remains is somewhat incidental, but hints at a similar range of dates and types as those of the upper gravel terrace. Of particular note is a second Beaker burial in Excavation Area M, accompanied by two late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age pits in Area P. In view of the religious connotations attributed to an important part of the later settlement, it may be particularly significant that a group of five substantial post-holes of Middle Bronze Age date underlie the late Iron Age and Roman temple complex present in Excavation Area J. It has been conjectured that these constitute the remains of an earlier structure that may itself be of religious significance and which occupies a slight rise on the gravel terrace (Atkinson and Preston 2001, 70). Residual flintwork of Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Bronze Age date, and pottery of Bronze Age and earlier Iron Age date, is present across the later settlement area and attests to widespread, if seemingly unfocused, utilisation of the lower terrace.
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