Northstowe Community Excavations

For a total of five weeks at the end of June and into July 2018, a community archaeological excavation was undertaken, with volunteers given the opportunity to work alongside professional field archaeologists from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) with their ongoing work on the Phase 2 archaeology, ahead of the new town construction of Northstowe.

Volunteer site hut and looking NW across part of Phase 2

Just under 60 people signed up to take part in the dig, from 18 year old university students to retired individuals and it was the flexibility of the dig that appealed to a lot of the volunteers, as they were able to attend as many days as they wanted. Some of the volunteers are already living in Northstowe that was part of the Phase 1 excavations, as well as the surrounding villages and people coming from further afield. The timescale of the dig unfortunately coincided with one of hottest heatwaves since the summer of 1976, but everyone persevered (just with perhaps more water and shade breaks!)

The aims of the community excavations were to investigate an unexplored area of large open area site that was ahead of the of the commercial excavations currently being undertaken by CAU site staff and to give the volunteers the chance to learn all aspects of a commercial excavation, including excavation and recording techniques. Matt Wood and Heather Turner of the CAU led the community side of the excavation, but the volunteers were very much included into the site staff team with one volunteer commenting:  “Thank you for the friendly welcome. It was very relaxed and informative. The relaxed atmosphere rubbed off onto the other volunteers – all friendly and happy to share what they had found. There was a good team spirit. And great that I was able to come, even though I was only available for one day.”

The archaeology consisted of a Late Iron Age (from the 1st century BC) and Roman (mid 1st to mid 5th century AD) farmstead that appears to be connected to a much larger Late Iron Age and Roman settlement, which has been under excavation since October 2016. The core of this excavation focused on the farmstead, with volunteers excavating various features including boundary ditches, pits, trackway systems and internal ditches, many of which yielded an extensive array of artefacts, all of a domestic nature, although no structural evidence has yet been found in this area.

The majority of the finds recovered would have had a personal use to the people who lived here; both plain and decorated pottery fragments were found, with animal bone, a multitude of metal work, including coins with also bone hair pins. There was evidence for small scale butchery having taken place on site, but again this would have likely been for personal use.

The results so far suggest that the settlement was continuously occupied from the Late Iron Age, through to the Late Roman period. These original Iron Age people remained on this site, but became ‘Romanised’ and could have been some of the original Romano-British occupants of the area.

The current plan of the archaeology at the focus of the community dig

The excavations are of course on-going (but the end of this phase is in sight!) so the full interpretation of the site and the finds are yet to come. The other half of the settlement (the blank area in the bottom of the plan above), is yet to be excavated but will hopefully come up for study next spring – watch this space!

Volunteers were asked to complete feedback forms at the end of their time on site and 99% of the volunteers rated their experience as either ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’. The most enjoyable aspects were recorded as working directly with CAU staff “Working with top class archaeologists and nice people”; “The 1 to 1 instructions with professional archaeologists and meeting other people who enjoy history/archaeology” and “Digging! Also learning from Matt and Heather who are very knowledgeable about this site and generally”. Other enjoyable aspects of the dig were recorded as finding the various artefacts as well as the independent work; “The allocation of features to dig that are individual, enabling a task to be completed through to the end, even when only the odd day on site can be managed”. Others stated they enjoyed “finding a brooch fragment, but also being part of the team”, “[I enjoyed] interpreting interesting ditches and features”, “Really everything, actual digging and learning a bit about the recording procedure” and “Being allowed to excavate alone/with people when needed and meeting like minded people”.

All the CAU staff involved in the dig would like to extend their gratitude to all the volunteers who took part in the excavations, whether it was for one day or twenty days. The contribution to the on-going archaeological investigations at Northstowe has been vital and we hope that all the volunteers both enjoyed their time on site, but also hope that they have gained more knowledge on archaeology as well.



Northstowe Open Day 2018

On Saturday 30th June 2018 an open day was held at Northstowe for Phase 2 of the ongoing archaeological excavations that are being undertaken by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU). This phase of archaeology began in October 2016 and has focused on the detailed excavations of a large Roman settlement known as site 18.


Site 18 is almost 900m long and 20 hectares in area, making it larger than Roman Cambridge. The rest of Site 15 will be excavated in the spring of next year when work commences focusing on the sites to the north of Rampton Road. The blank area to the south of the farmstead was lost to quarrying in the 19th and 20th centuries, so sadly it may never be known what could have been destroyed at that time. This Roman settlement is arranged along a roadway with three main arms heading southwest-northeast and southeast. Square enclosures have been recorded at the junction with narrower longer ones to the south, with evidence of buildings, wells, rubbish pits, ditches, metal working, textile production, a pottery kiln and cemeteries in the settlement area.

At the north end, the settlement takes on a different form with double and triple ditch lines enclosing about 6 hectares on the northwest side of the road. Presuming there were banks between the ditches, it is possible that this is defensive in nature reflecting the sometimes hazardous nature of life on the Roman fed edge. This is a very similar arrangement to that recorded on the site excavated of Northstowe Phase 1 on the old golf course.

Two other sites have also been or are being investigated. To the west is Site 15. Like Site 18, this has Roman remains overlying those on the Iron Age, but the nature of both differ from that seen on the larger site. A looping ditch-cum-trackway leads from Site 18 to and around Site 15 on to the Phase 1 site. Between the two sites lies a zone being interpreted as a ‘farmstead’, dominated by evidence of activities relating to agriculture, in particular a corn dryer, the first found in the Northstowe landscape.

Work is almost finished on this part of Phase 2, but there are new sites to be investigated in 2019 and the results will be considered along with those of Phase 1 on which analysis is currently underway.

Between 10am and 4pm on the Saturday, the site was opened to the public with tours every 15 minutes of the current excavations, and information boards on display with some of the best finds so far recovered. Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) were also on site with a variety of hands-on activities, including identifying different animal bones, excavating and identifying seed remains, a chest of draws to represent the stratigraphy of excavation and a number of boxes of finds to represent different time periods. Along with Cat Collins from ACA, was Emma Rees, finds officer at the CAU, who talked visitors through the activities on offer.

Until the 20th July, there is also community excavations happening at Northstowe, which is open to all over 18’s between Monday and Friday only. If you’d like to take part in excavations contact with the dates that you’d like to attend.

Opportunity to dig at Northstowe alongside the Cambridge Archaeological Unit

From next week there is a free community excavation starting that will be taking place alongside archaeologists from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) at the new town of Northstowe.

The community excavations at Northstowe will start on Monday 18th June 2018 at 9am and will run for five weeks until Friday 20th of July 2018. The dig is open to over 18’s only and there is no limit on the number of days you can participate, although the dig will run Monday-Friday only, there is no weekend work available. You will be working alongside professional archaeologists from the CAU as they continue to excavate Phase 2, which has found extensive archaeology mainly of Iron Age and Roman date.

There will also be an open day on Saturday 30th of June for members of the public (including children) to visit, with exhibitions of some of the finds, information, activities for younger visitors and tours of the current areas of excavation. More information on that will follow and you can read about last year’s open day here.

The goings on at last years open day at Northstowe
Some of the finds on display

The schedule for on-site work will be to arrive for 9am and the day will finish at 4pm. There will be a break for half an hour from 10.30am and an additional break for 45 minutes for lunch at 1pm. There is no opportunity to buy food at Northstowe, so please bring enough food/snacks, although there are shops in Longstanton village. Tea/coffee will be provided and there is fresh drinking water also available. It is advised that you should bring your own mug and water bottle.

Directions to arrive at Northstowe, from the the A14, is via School Lane, and from the north through Longstanton village, via the Old Oakington Barracks gate, on Rampton Road, CB24 3EN. You will need to stop and sign in at the security gate, who will have a list each day of who is attending the dig, from there you can follow the signs to the CAU compound, where there is plenty of parking.

There is also a CAU risk assessment that you will be required to read and sign on your first day on site, but there are also some health and safety guidelines below to read before you join the excavations.

2018 Cambridge University undergraduate training excavation at Northstowe
2018 Cambridge University undergraduate training excavation at Northstowe

If you would like to participate in the dig or for further information, please contact Catherine Collins at ACA on either 01223 761519 or via email on Places are limited and as stated above, you can attend the dig for as many days as you like, but please let us know beforehand what days you would like to attend. If you just turn up on the day, security won’t be able to let you in.


Longstanton Community Test Pitting Weekend, 9th-10th September 2017

Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) with the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) as part of the University of Cambridge ran a weekend of archaeological test pitting in the village of Longstanton on the 9th and 10th September 2017 in conjunction with the Longstanton and District Heritage Society (LDHS). The test pitting tied in with more recent archaeological work at Northstowe on Phase 2, where the excavation is going to uncover more about the large Roman settlement that has been identified on the old Oakington Airfield. Further information about the site and open day that was held there on the 8th July can be read about here.

The excavations in Longstanton also followed on from a similar test pitting weekend back in October 2015 that coincided with the end of the Phase 1 archaeology at Northstowe that was focused on the golf course. The results from that weekend can be read about here.

Longstanton Both Years

The organisation was aided by Rodney Scarle of the LDHS and our base for the two days was at The Manor Longstanton, kindly hosted by Hilary Stroude. The weekend started with around 30 people arriving at The Manor for a quick briefing by Alison Dickens (ACA’s manager and Senior Project Manager at the CAU) and then it was out to site in the early autumn sunshine to start digging. A total of 11 test pits were excavated over the weekend, the majority in private gardens and sited along the length of the village between Thatchers Wood in the south, up the High Street, in Thornhill Place and Hattons Park to Striplands Farm and Hattons Farm in the far north. An additional pit was sited in the far east at Rampton Drift. Cat Collins (ACA) toured the test pit sites with Alison both days to offer advice and support where needed and were joined by Project Officer Matt Collins from the CAU on Sunday who is currently running the Northstowe Phase 2 excavations .

Despite some heavy rain Saturday afternoon that ended the day a little earlier than originally planned, the excavations went really well, with all the groups excavating to a decent depth and uncovering a range of finds, all of which adds to our understanding of the wider picture of previous settlement here and how it ties in with what has been discovered during the much larger excavations at Northstowe. The results from 2015 and once we have them for 2017 will be available on the ACA website here.

Of note however, a potential of three archaeological features were able to be identified within the confines of these small 1m2 test pits, all of which were found in the north of the village and close to the Phase 1 works, suggesting that the archaeology identified there does indeed extend west into the current village as they were recorded as being on the same alignment as the features identified in Phase 1.

Probable linear features of either Late Anglo Saxon (AD 850-1065) or high medieval (AD 1066-1399) date were partially excavated that may have been utilised as part of the settlement or perhaps as field boundaries. Analysis of the pottery will go some way in determining the probable date of the likely ditches, although further excavation in these areas would be the only way to fully determine the extent and use of these features.

Pottery of similar date was also found down the High Street and at Thornhill Place, although the latter showed the amount of disturbance that had likely occurred within the garden as in the same context was also found a tiny plastic mouse!

The excavations also showed that there has been a significant deposit of builder’s rubble at both Thatchers Wood and Rampton Drift with a distinct lack of earlier material at the latter, potentially due to its location beyond the original extent of the village, thought to be along Long Lane. At Thatchers Wood, it was found that about 0.3m of builder’s rubble had been dumped across the land, but this had actually sealed the earlier archaeology which was still visible in the clayey soils.

There was one test pit that was excavated close to the original manor site of Hattons Park (and named after the last Lords of the manor) and sited likely under Longstanton Primary School is today. Just to the west of this was excavated test pit five which uncovered a range of likely 18th or 19th century brick rubble and mortar suggesting that this may have been the site of or was close to some outbuildings associated with the manor or even remnants of the wall itself when it was taken down. As the majority of the deposit was made up of mortar remnants it is likely that the bricks would have been taken away and reused elsewhere. A nice find from this test pit was also the discovery of an Electro Plated Nickel Silver spoon, probably also of 19th century date.

At the end of the weekend, all the volunteers, garden owners and interested members of the public gathered back at the Manor for a brief summing up by Alison on what was found and tying it into the wider landscape, with a chance to see all the finds on display before they were bagged up and transported back to Cambridge for analysis by ACA.

Feedback from the weekend digging was extremely positive with 99% of the volunteers rating the dig as ‘excellent’, with some particular comments stating ‘It was fun and interesting and a great way to learn about the local area and meeting new people’ (HL), ‘It’s a great way to be outside, find out about the archaeology of the area and meet likeminded people. A great experience, well organised, more please!’ (PS), ‘I enjoyed getting family and friends involved to do something different. The support from Cat, Alison, Matt and Rodney was really helpful and we had a good time looking for finds and cleaning them’ (KH), ‘A good social activity which adds to the village history record’ (PH) and ‘Great fun, good to take part in something local and useful’ (JS).

ACA would like to thank again all those who took part in the excavations and to those whose gardens were dug up and to both Rodney Scarle and Hilary Stroude for their organisation beforehand as well as hosting the event at The Manor. The current phase of the Northstowe excavations may finish in the late spring next year, but there are many more phases to of this new town to investigate and hopefully we’ll be able to come back and dig in Longstanton again in the future. Watch this space!

Northstowe Open Day

On Saturday 8th July the current ongoing excavations at Northstowe, run by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU), held an open day for members of the public. The archaeology is being undertaken in advance of construction of the new town development.

A simple Phase Plan for the current excavations

Phase 1 was focused on the golf course and uncovered four distinct sites from the Iron Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and medieval periods and was completed in late 2015. The site of the open day is part of the phase 2 works on the old airfield site which began in  October 2016 and will continue into 2018. The archaeology of this phase focuses on a large Roman settlement, of at least 20 hectares (50 acres) in extent.

Some of the Roman roof tile from site

The Roman settlement here is arranged around a crossroad with arms heading out roughly northeast-southwest and northwest-southeast (plan above). A series of squared enclosures sit at the crossroads and along the longer southwest-northeast axis, with evidence of wells, rubbish pits, ditches, cemeteries and a pottery kiln. Several building have been identified from within the enclosures, some have produced large quantities of roof tile and a stone column, both of which may eventually hint at the status of this building. From the artefacts already excavated, we can say that 1600 years ago this place was a thriving centre of domestic activity, industry, commerce and worship.

Some of the pottery excavated, included a head from a jog or flagon

Site tours were given by CAU staff currently working on the phase 2 excavations and a count by the wonderful men on the security gate at the end of the day recorded nearly 500 visitors to the site, which may have been helped by the lovely sunny weather!  Many of the finds were on display, including posters of further information about the archaeology and the history of the airfield, when it was in use during the Second World War. A drone video of the whole excavation area was also playing on a loop, giving visitors the true sense of scale to the size of the settlement.

Site tours and the display area for the open day

Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) were also on site to promote the upcoming test pit excavations in Longstanton village. These are planned to take place over the weekend of the 9th-10th September 2017 and will follow on from excavations in the village in 2015. It is hoped that the results from these smaller excavations will tie in with what has been found at Northstowe to bring together a bigger picture of the archaeology of this region. If live in Longstanton and are interested in volunteering your garden please get in contact with us directly, or if you are local to the area and want to take part in the test pitting please also get in contact.

Volunteers signing up for the Longstanton test pitting and signing the visitors book

ACA also had a range of hand-on activities for the younger visitors to site to learn more about archaeology. This is based on the work we undertake in Primary Schools targeting the Key Stage 1 and 2 History curriculum and was a chance for children to experience archaeology first hand and even relate back to things they had learnt in the classroom.  For further information about these days or to book a session with us, please click here, or if your children what to do more archaeology, the Young Archaeologists Club, Cambridge, takes all children between the ages of 8 and 16.

ACA’s Emily Ryley showing some of the younger visitors about viking weaving methods and what artefacts can tell us about the past

ITV Anglia also came out and filmed the excavations with CAU senior manager Alison Dickens, who explained the archaeology. The video can be watched here.

Filming for ITV Anglia news

The CAU and ACA would like to thank all the many visitors who came out on Saturday to see the archaeology and learn more about the local area. All the comments left in the visitors book were very positive, commenting on how interesting the site is “Absolutely fascinating window into our past – just beneath our feet. Fantastic heritage. Well done!” (JS), the knowledge of the archaeologists “Extremely interesting to see and a fantastic and informative talk given” (SS) and the range of activities available for the young visitors to site “Fantastic insight into local area and made interesting for kids” (FT) and “Great activities for kids” (ER). ACA will try and keep you all updated on a future developments on site.

Northstowe Excavations Open Day

Open Day at Northstowe Phase 2 Archaeological Excavation Site – 8th July from 10am – 4pm

Aerial View

The archaeological excavation at Northstowe Phase 2 will be open to the public between 10am and 4pm on Saturday 8th July 2017. Work is currently progressing on a large Iron Age and Roman settlement extending over at least 20 hectares (50 acres).  The site is located at a crossroads and there are remains of buildings, ditches, rubbish pits and many other features and artefacts from all periods of the site’s history.


There will be an opportunity to view on-going excavation work on part of the site, a display of finds and information about both the process of the work and the archaeological findings. Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) will also be on site offering hands on learning for any younger visitors and there will also be a chance to sign up to take part in an archaeological dig in Longstanton.



Access to the archaeology site is via the gate to the former Oakington Barracks on Rampton Road, Longstanton, CB24 3EN. Parking is available on site. There is level access suitable for wheelchair users and those of more limited mobility.


Open Day JPEG

FEAG talk on Northstowe excavations

This Thursday 16th March, ACA’s own manager Alison Dickens will be giving a talk about the ongoing large scale excavations at Northstowe, just north of Cambridge. Back in January ACA managed a visit out to the site to see how the excavations are progressing, you can read about that blog post here.


This talk is part of the monthly lectures given to members of the Fen Edge Archaeology Group (FEAG), but all are welcome to attend. The talk will start at 7.30pm, but doors will open at 7pm and will be held at Rampton Village Hall, Church End, Rampton CB24 8QA.

Summary of the talk:

In this talk Alison Dickens will talk about the excavations prior to the development of Northstowe – what was found during Phase 1 and the early stages of Phase 2 and looking forward to further work. Phase 1 is on the site of the old golf course near Longstanton and the archaeology there was completed in late 2015. Evidence was found for occupation in the Iron Age, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods. The Romano-British hamlet found in Phase 1 seems to have been a ‘standard’ Roman rural settlement, as actually a second Roman settlement has already been identified in Phase 2, just half a kilometre away to the south and potentially around the same size as Roman Cambridge. FEAG members spent two weeks digging on part of the Romano-British settlement in 2015. As part of the second phase of excavations, there will be community work, open days, and work with primary schools.
Alison Dickens is a Project Manager at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) and head of Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA).