2.6 The Excavations

2.6.1 Chronological summary of the excavation results

Although the principal focus in the excavations was the examination of the Early Anglo-Saxon evidence, the scale of the project ensured that the results would include other evidence from a broader chronological context. As the excavations progressed, new evidence was encountered which broadened the focus to include Late Roman and Middle Saxon activity in particular. The prehistoric evidence, although a minor component in the results as a whole, has an important bearing on our understanding of the broader landscape. Prehistoric

Although prehistoric evidence is reduced in relation to the density experienced on the sandy soils to the north of the site, this in itself is an important aid in understanding how the landscape as a whole was utilised during the later prehistoric period. There is certainly a fall-off in the incidence of lithics and the frequency of the characteristic Fengate/Peterborough/Grooved-Ware pits found in the cemetery 400m to the north. In addition to 13 Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age inhumations, two small cremation cemeteries were examined, one in Area 2DB with seven plough-damaged cremations in plain pottery vessels of Late Bronze Age type, and a second represented by a group of 25 un-urned cremations in deep pits in Area 11BA.

In Area 11AE, an open-ended sub-rectangular slot with associated post-holes and nearby fragments of disarticulated human skeletal material is reminiscent of similar features found beneath long-barrows such as Streethouses, Teesside (Vyner, pers. comm.).

Fig. 2.5 Slot and associated post-holes of ?mortuary structure

Small-scale or limited duration occupation during the Early to Middle Bronze Age was present in parts of Area 2CB where a number of round-houses were indicated by the presence of 'porch post settings' and associated stake rings demonstrated from high-level photographs. This occupation would appear to have been very short lived as the features were, apart from the major post settings, very shallow and little cultural material survived (see also 4.8 Prehistoric Ceramics Assessment and 4.13 Lithics Assessment). Roman

Fig. 2.6 The stone base of a Late Roman bread oven

The excavations undertaken on Site 12 during 1995 have radically altered our view of the Roman component of the site. The distribution of Roman ceramics includes two basic data groups: a generalised 2nd- to 4th-century assemblage with a widespread distribution across the site and a late 4th-century assemblage concentrated in and around a series of enclosures at the southern end of the settlement in areas 11AD/BD/CD and 11AE/BE/CE and becoming more pronounced in the valley extending southwards in Site 12. The Late Roman focus in this area relates to two unusual structures: a large 'double apsed' structure and a pair of superimposed apsidal walls on the opposite side of the valley adjacent to a large well shaft, which have been tentatively interpreted as parts of a shrine complex after much discussion with visiting specialists during the excavation. Associated bread-ovens and possible post-pad structures in addition to kilns, dense spreads of oyster and limpet shells and a high frequency of ceramics and late 4th-century coinage appear related to the activities of visitors to the complex rather than resulting from conventional settlement. The large structure measured 15x11.5m and had been cut into the hillside at the back and placed on a man-made terrace on the other side. It survived up to ten courses high where it was cut furthest back into the hillside and is most unusual. Constructed from carefully cut chalk blocks, with a rammed chalk floor the structure is currently unparalleled. It has been interpreted as a shrine because of its unusual plan-form and construction, and its association with a major reworking of the valley which incorporated a number of other unusual structural fragments. This interpretation requires extensive checking for parallels and evaluation of the material culture as part of the model testing process.

Clearly intact and well-stratified Roman deposits were left in situ at the close of the excavation rather than compromise their integrity through rapid excavation, but sufficient samples were examined to provide an interpretative framework within which to set the earlier Roman activity. In the centre of the valley, at the southern limit of excavation, a large pit cut into the hill-wash filling the dry valley may have formed the basis of an earlier Roman theatre. The plentiful evidence of late Roman activity is not matched by categorical evidence of occupation. A single round-house in the southern portion of Site 11 contained within a heavily fenced enclosure still represents the only clear evidence of long-term Roman housing.

image Fig. 2.7 Roman enclosures with timber gateway and round-house overlain by later features

A second much larger structure set on a rammed stone platform at the entrance to the main dry valley may represent a hotel or temporary accommodation for visitors to the site. The energy devoted to laying out the land associated with the 'shrines' is remarkable. Prior to the construction of the double-apse structure the valley was completely remodelled; the area between the structure and the main activity zone to the north was widened and flattened, possibly with the addition of the turf which was evidently removed in front of the structure where a terrace was formed by the deliberate deposition of nearly a metre of make-up, probably derived from cutting back the valley sides. The end result of this work was to create a large, c.50x40m, flat open space at the entrance to the valley with the main structure both raised up on the terrace and cut back into the western side of the valley, thus not obscuring the view to the south. The entrance to the structure was situated in the north-east corner of the building rather than in the straight east-facing wall, presumably to assist in maintaining the southern aspect. The view from the spring, which lay another 60m to the north, was probably obscured by structures extending across the entrance to the valley such that anyone entering the ritual zone would enter through the buildings before seeing the ritual space beyond. The two shrines were raised up and flanking the valley so as not to obscure the view to another structure assumed to lie to the south beyond the limit of excavation. At the southern limit of the excavated area, a large well, only partially examined, is presumed to be a ritual well associated either with the second shrine indicated by a small and multi-phase apsidal niche cut into the eastern side of the valley or the presumed larger structure beyond the limit of excavation to the south. A large fragment of fallen masonry with associated fragments of Roman iron water pipe fittings located against the southern limit of excavation gives a tantalising glimpse of a structure probably lying beyond the limit of excavation. Clearly the present excavation has not answered the many questions posed by this complex; however, sufficient data has been recovered from the final phases of activity to provide a preliminary interpretation and a context for the emergence of the Early Anglo-Saxon settlement (see also 4.9 The Roman pottery assessment, 4.11 The Slags and Metal-working Debris and 4.15 Other Material Classes: Additional data recovered in 1995). Early Anglo-Saxon

Whatever the relationship between the Late Roman '?shrine complex' and the Early Anglian occupation, large-scale expansion took place during the Early Anglian period. In contrast to the anticipated picture of organic growth and shifting settlement, the expansion of the settlement appears to have incorporated an important and distinctive element of deliberate zoning. Unlike the contemporary position in continental Europe, the settlement, beyond what appears to be a higher status core at the south, was devoid of property boundaries, even where these would have survived in the better preserved zones. Discrete areas show remarkable functional differences such that the region to the east of the stream channel was almost exclusively utilised for housing and that to the west for storage, craft and industry, and agricultural processing. Only at the southern end of the site, where the character is fundamentally different on account of the extensive network of enclosure ditches and fence lines initially established in the Roman period, is there any clear evidence of mixed function, a feature which may owe much to what appears primarily to be a difference in status. The principal Anglo-Saxon occupation phase extends beyond that of the associated cemetery covering the Anglian or Early to Middle-Saxon periods ending c. AD 850.

The structural evidence for the Anglo-Saxon period as a whole is remarkable with 90+ post-hole structures and 125 Grubenhäuser. All the recognised types of Early- and Middle-Saxon post-hole structures are represented. The Grubenhäuser, however, are all of the twin-post construction type with a single post at each end although a number show evidence of additional posts representing repair or replacement (see also 3.6 Structural Evidence, 3.7 Material Culture and sub-sections 3.7.4 (pottery), 3.7.6 (loom-weights), 3.7.7 (worked bone), 3.7.8 (copper alloy), 3 .7.9 (glass), 3.7.10 (worked stone), 3.8 Environmental Data, 4.1 Plant Macrofossils, 4.2 Charcoal Assessment, 4.3 Faunal Remains Assessment, 4.4 Assessment of Soils, 4.6 Coprolite Assessment, 4.10 Anglian Pottery Petrological Assessment, 4.11 The Slags and Metal-working Debris, 4.14 Anglo-Saxon Ceramics, 4.15 Other Material Classes: Additional data recovered in 1995). Middle Saxon

During the Middle Saxon period from c. AD 650 to c. AD 850, the settlement area contracted to cover little more than the Late Roman core of the site. It is difficult without detailed analysis of the assemblages to determine the level of population during this late phase. Only three Middle Saxon post-in-trench structures and part of a fourth were located in the areas examined, and the difficulty in distinguishing between some of the ceramics without more detailed analysis makes the level of activity unclear. The lack of any artefacts in the fill of the Anglo-Saxon well (constructed in AD 724) may indicate that occupation died out earlier than is implied by the coin series; however, this seems unlikely. There was certainly intense activity during this period in the southern part of the site and it is likely that a number of structures, both Grubenhäuser and post-built structures, may be related to this phase in the final analysis. Two of the Grubenhäuser examined in 1995 were certainly filled in during the Middle Saxon period, one containing a sceatta and the second glazed imported pottery. The extensive deposits of ash and burnt/decayed daub examined in 1995 may help in the identification of a broader range of late features. At a relatively late stage in the project the recovery of a pit group incorporating large amounts of pottery in association with two stycas allowed us to identify at least one class of pottery as certainly Middle Saxon. This had previously been thought to be Bronze Age both by the excavation team and by visiting specialists. One weak aspect of the ceramic assemblage as a whole is the rarity of obviously imported ceramics (see also 3.6 Structural Evidence, 3.7 Material Culture and sub-sections 3.7.4 (pottery), 3.7.6 (loom-weights), 3.7.7 (worked bone), 3.7.8 (copper alloy), 3.7.9 (glass), 3.7.10 (worked stone), 3.8 Environmental Data, 4.1 Plant Macrofossils, 4.2 Charcoal Assessment, 4.3 Faunal Remains Assessment, 4.4 Assessment of Soils, 4.6 Coprolite Assessment, 4.10 Anglian Pottery Petrological Assessment, 4.11 The Slags and Metal-working Debris, 4.14 Anglo-Saxon Ceramics, 4.15 Other Material Classes: Additional data recovered in 1995). Medieval and later

By the medieval period the site was deserted and had been turned over to 'Rig and Furrow' agriculture, perhaps in the 10th or 11th centuries. Subsequently the site continued to be used for agriculture. During the post-medieval period, two areas were quarried for ?building stone; one area on Site 2 probably removed a number of post-hole structures from a high point on the chalk outcrop that supported most of these structures. A second area of late quarrying activity lay immediately to the west of the spring pool and must have removed important evidence, although its extent was limited. Modern agriculture had intensified plough damage and associated truncation over large areas of the site.


© Internet Archaeology URL:
Last updated: Tue Dec 15 1998