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2. Site Narrative

2.1 Introduction

The following site narrative aims to provide a chronological description and limited discussion of the investigated remains that elucidate the origins, development and demise of the Late pre-Roman Iron Age to late Roman settlement excavated in 1993-95 at Elms Farm, Heybridge.

As already mentioned, the remains that precede the Late pre-Roman Iron Age have been reported upon elsewhere (Atkinson and Preston 2001) and, other than providing a brief summary for this prehistoric land-use, the narrative begins in earnest with the Late pre-Roman Iron Age origins of the settlement at Heybridge.

Discussion generally stops short of integration with the full gamut of specialist analyses, beyond the necessities of dating and assignation of function. This further detail, and the wider discussion of Heybridge's place and importance within the wider regional and national setting, is addressed in the overview of settlement morphology presented in the companion East Anglian Archaeology synthetic report monograph (Volume 1; Atkinson and Preston 2015).

While a full discussion of all meaningful remains that contribute to the understanding of the settlement is presented here, the underpinning data (context descriptions, stratigraphical relationships and finds lists) that comprise the research archive are deposited with the Archaeology Data Service (ADS).

Narrative report structure

The site narrative description is presented in a linked, hierarchical structure, comprising an overview and detailed description for each of the periods of site use (NB. There are no detailed descriptions for Period 1).

Site subdivisions, grouping and zoning

During the course of pre-excavation planning, fieldwork and post-excavation analysis, a hierarchy of different codes was evolved to aid reference to general and specific areas of the site (see Introduction). The developer's scheme of works imposed the first three levels of subdivisions comprising Phases I-III. Phase III, the largest of these areas, was further subdivided into general Development Areas A to C, with Area A again being subdivided into Areas A1 to A4.

For the purposes of archaeological excavation, particularly as it became clear that sampling of the entire area could not be achieved, individual excavated areas within A1 to A4 were given an alphabetic code (Areas D to R, omitting the letter O). This was later extended during post-excavation analysis to the 1993 site where all area excavation was accorded the identifying label of Area W.

During the post-excavation phase a more descriptive subdivision of the site was developed, based on the natural topography and the historical layout of the site. In the absence of a more tangible settlement structure, description of Period 1 and 2A occupation evidence is spatially referenced to the topography of river valley terracing and watercourses. While such factors remain important throughout the site's lifespan, the subsequent imposition of clearer structure and increased legibility of land-use function allow reference to perceived zones within the landscape for the succeeding Late Iron Age and Roman period settlement. These are principally based on the subdivision of the river terrace landscape that is in evidence by Period 2B, as primarily defined by the road network. Three zones lie within the main excavated area on the lower gravel terrace:

Two further zones cover more peripheral areas to the perceived focus of settlement activity:

Within these zones Enclosure Systems (ES) were identified, equivalent either to groups of fields on the same orientation or groups of property divisions. These were in turn subdivided into Open Areas (OA), roughly corresponding to individual fields or blocks of land. Thus the Central Zone (between Roads 3 and 5) in Period 2B contained Open Areas 17, 18, 19 and 22. The Open Areas naturally changed over time, sometimes amalgamating to form bigger areas, or subdividing to form smaller ones; these changes are covered under the individual period descriptions.

Periods and phasing

The features are divided into broad phases based on period sub-divisions.

Phase Broad Period Date Range
1 Prehistoric Palaeolithic to Middle Iron Age
2 Late Pre-Roman Iron Age and Transition Mid-1st BC to mid-1st Cent AD
3 Early Roman Later 1st to mid-2nd Cent AD
4 Mid-Roman Later 2nd to mid-3rd Cent AD
5 Late Roman Late 3rd to mid-4th Cent AD
6 Latest Roman-Early Saxon Late 4th to 5th Cent AD
7 Later (Post-Abandonment Post 5th Cent to Now (Present Day)

The evidence for this rests on the ceramic dating evidence, coupled with stratigraphic and morphological evidence. Naturally, individual features may show several distinct stratigraphic elements (e.g. initial cut, back-filling, re-cutting, more back-filling, levelling) - usually this activity fell within a single period, but in some cases the activity spans two or more periods and the feature is therefore shown on all the relevant period-based plans.

Text layout and structure

For ease of use the text has been broken down first by period and then by landscape element. Each period is subdivided into a summary stratigraphy text that presents a period definition and then a narrative description of the major landscape structures for that period (zones, enclosure systems, roads/tracks, followed by the activity that occurs within individual Open Areas). Detailed texts (provided as links) then describe the individual features and layers present within each of these subdivisions.

Numbering, conventions and referencing

Throughout this report, all negative (cut) features are referenced by the context number assigned to the cut, e.g. pit 5940. Deposits, other than fills, are referenced by their context number in parenthesis; e.g. layer (5763). Individual fills of cut features are referred to only rarely, in the form (5799)[5806].

Where, particularly in the case of boundary ditches, a feature has been investigated by means of a number of segments placed across it at intervals, each excavated segment has been given a cut number. In addition the entire feature has been accorded an overall feature or Group number at the post-excavation stage to aid ease of identification and referencing; thus ditch [25078] refers to excavated ditch segments [15049], [15102], [15107] and [15223] and to the unexcavated parts of the feature. All of these collective feature numbers are 25000s and whenever possible, are used as the principal form of referencing, particularly in synthetic and summary texts.

Buildings and other recognised structures have also been numbered in post-excavation, using a separate number series for each and running in chronological order across the entire site. As far as possible, individual structural elements are not referred to in the text, but only by overall Building or Structure numbers: each has been presented in plan on which its individual structural elements are shown and labelled with their individual cut numbers.

Where a single feature was allocated multiple cut numbers (e.g., when a half-sectioned feature was later fully excavated, or two apparently separate features turned out to be parts of the same) it is initially referenced by both numbers (e.g. 7174=7204) and thereafter referred to by the first number only. This compromise allows referencing to artefactual assemblages from both parts, as reported elsewhere in the report and ultimately to the archive.

Stratigraphic evidence is mentioned in the text only where necessary to explain anomalies in the artefactual dating; otherwise detailed discussion of stratigraphy is rarely included and compatibility with the artefactual dating must be presumed.

Only those features specifically discussed in the text are labelled on the period plans.


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