Archaeologists discover Roman and Medieval settlements in England

A Roman trade distribution centre, an abandoned medieval village and three prehistoric monuments are among nationally significant archaeological discoveries uncovered during work to build a new roadway in England.

Highways England announced the discoveries last month as they work on an upgrade of the A14 between Cambridge to Huntingdon. In total, around 350 hectares have been excavated – an area around half the size of Gibraltar – making it one of the biggest and most complex archaeological projects ever undertaken in the UK.

The finds mean experts now have a much better understanding of how the Cambridgeshire landscape was used over 6,000 years of occupation.

Excavating a Roman trade distribution centre on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon scheme – image courtesy Highways England

With most of the archaeological programme now being completed, finds so far date from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages, as well as Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods. The sites uncovered include:

  • A Roman trade distribution centre which would have played a pivotal part in the region’s supply chain, and was linked to the surrounding farmsteads by trackways as well as the main Roman road between Cambridge and Godmanchester. The discovery of artefacts at the site relating to the Roman army indicates that this trade was controlled centrally.
  • The remains of 12 medieval buildings abandoned in the 12th century. Covering an area of 6 hectares, the entire layout of the village is discernible, with the earlier remains of up to 40 Anglo Saxon timber buildings and alleys winding between houses, workshops and agricultural buildings.
  • A massive Anglo-Saxon tribal territorial boundary with huge ditches, an imposing gated entrance and a beacon placed on top of a hill overlooking the region.
  • Three prehistoric henge monuments, which are likely to have been a place for ceremonial gatherings and perhaps had a territorial function. These impressive Neolithic monuments, measuring up to 50 metres in diameter, would have been very important places for our distant prehistoric ancestors. They retained their special significance over the millennia with evidence for later Anglo Saxon buildings at these sites.

Some 250 archaeologists led by archaeology experts MOLA Headland Infrastructure have dug more than 40 separate excavation areas, uncovering new information about how the landscape was used over 6,000 years and about the origins of the villages and towns along the A14 in Cambridgeshire today.

Neolithic henge monument being excavated on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon scheme – image courtesy Highways England

Highways England has been working closely with Cambridgeshire County Council to ensure that areas of possible historical interest are investigated and preserved. Cambridgeshire County Council’s senior archaeologist in the Historic Environment Team, Kasia Gdaniec, explained:

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.

The valuable contribution of the A14’s excavation programme has also been to unlock major multi-period settlements and populate what had been an empty modern agricultural belt along the A1 west of Brampton with hundreds of people over time.

Earlier prehistoric Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial and burial monuments that are 5,500 and 4,000 years old, have also been investigated, but the new Roman pottery industry that has emerged from sites in the Brampton area and at the new Great Ouse bridge sets apart the host sites from others traditionally dug in the county.

Over the coming months, there will be opportunities for people to see the A14 archaeology work in action, more information is available on the Mola Headland website.

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