It has been some time since we last posted on our blog but that doesn’t mean we have been sitting idle over the winter, far from it! We are currently planning future community work, open days, and working with primary schools in the area as part of the excavations at Northstowe. It’s a new development of around 10,000 new homes being built on the edge of Longstanton village, just north of Cambridge. The development continues apace and last Friday Cat and Emily went for a visit to the site to better understand the archaeology being done by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) prior to the arrival of the builders.
The development at Northstowe is being done over several phases. Phase one is located on the west side of Longstanton on the site of the old golf course and the archaeology there was completed in late 2015. Multiple phases of occupation were found; dating to the Iron Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods. The first building to be completed in the new town was Hatton Park Primary school which now sits on an area of Anglo Saxon settlement, where at least 20 structures, including houses were found. Nearby, the recovery of 20 or so skeletons where found buried just to the south of the Saxon village, and in the remains of the original Roman town. Post excavation analysis has suggested that these burials were not high status, but of every day Anglo-Saxons, who were buried with a small number of grave goods that were common at that time, including both beads and brooches.
The earlier Romano-British settlement was a linear hamlet, offset from a central metalled road. This road probably would have linked west to the Via Divina, the Roman road where the A14 now runs, that connected Roman Cambridge (Duroliponte) in the south to Godmanchester (Durovigutum) in the north. Over 500 Roman coins were found across the spread of occupation that also spanned the entire Roman period from the 1st to mid-5th century AD. It appears to have been a ‘standard’ Roman rural settlement, as actually a second Roman settlement has been identified in phase two of the Northstowe excavations just half a kilometre away to the south.
Phase two of Northstowe is located on the site of the Oakington Barracks and Immigration detention centre and to the south of phase one. As mentioned a separate Roman settlement has been found here, potentially around the same size as Roman Cambridge (although the work here is still ongoing). The excavations so far undertaken here suggest that this settlement has more in the way of specialist activities being undertaken, compared to the settlement in phase one. A Roman pottery kiln is currently being excavated that would have produced pottery similar to a type known as Horningsea ware. During its excavation it could be seen how the kiln was used, including a shallow depression where the kiln debris had been repeatedly raked out and left in situ. It appears that on one firing the kiln broke and was abandoned with the pottery still left inside. A number of other interesting finds have so far been excavated from phase two and include a small figure of a god, likely made of lead which may have come from a piece of furniture. The figure may be a fairly rare example and will be need to be investigated further. Next to the road also in this settlement was found large amounts of iron working and iron slag that might suggest the location of a blacksmith, or perhaps a farrier given the convenient location for transport. Other metal objects found represent many aspects of daily Roman life.
As the excavations in phase two continue through the summer there will be plenty of opportunities for members of the public to get involved. ACA will be visiting Hatton Park primary school and Over Primary school to deliver our new hand-on archaeology sessions: CALF days, kindly being sponsored by the Homes and Communities Agency. On CALF days pupils will be able to handle real artefacts, look at a ‘dig’ and make their own interpretations of the evidence in their classrooms. We’re also hoping to excavate test pits within Longstanton again this summer, with Longstanton and District Heritage Society (LADHS). Access Cambridge Archaeology helped the community excavate 5 test pits in the autumn of 2015, the results of which you can read more about here. The test pitting in Longstanton will aid in understanding the relationship between the settlements identified during the Northstowe excavations and the current layout and position of the village of Longstanton.
The CAU are planning to host at least two open days this spring and summer, with the opportunity for members of the public to see what has been found, have guided tours around the site and to generally learn more about the history and archaeology of the landscape around Longstanton. Dates for these open days will be announced soon and we hope you will be able to visit and see the excavations for yourself as they progress.