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A Slice of Rural Essex: Recent archaeological discoveries from the A120 between Stansted Airport and Braintree

Timby, Jane and Brown, Richard and Biddulph, Edward and Hardy, Alan and Powell, Andrew (2007) A Slice of Rural Essex: Recent archaeological discoveries from the A120 between Stansted Airport and Braintree. Oxford Wessex Archaeology. ISBN 978-0-9545970-2-3

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Abstract

The following report presents the results of the archaeological fieldwork carried out between 2000 and 2003 along the A120 between Stansted Airport and Braintree in north-west Essex. Essex County Council undertook the preliminary stages of work in 1990 with a comprehensive fieldwalking programme to identify sites of potential interest accompanied by documentary searches and other related works. In 1993 Essex County Council also undertook a large scale rescue excavation at Stebbingford Farm, Felsted, subsequently published (Medlycott 1996). In 2000 Oxford Archaeology undertook the initial field evaluations on 19 targeted sites and subsequently, between 2001–2003, Oxford-Wessex Archaeology completed the evaluation programme with follow-up excavations where deemed necessary and finally undertook a watching brief. The 2001–2003 seasons were undertaken concurrently with the construction of the road. The work was funded by the Highways Agency and at the completion of fieldwork some 47 ‘sites’ had been investigated. Evidence for the presence of human activity was documented from the Mesolithic through to modern times with clear evidence of settlement and manipulation of the landscape from middle Bronze Age times. The earliest evidence for activity came from finds of distinctive flintwork and nearly every site yielded at least one piece of struck flint. Two isolated Mesolithic tools were identified, one from Clobbs Wood/Grange Farm and one from West of Ongar Road. Assemblages of reasonable size were recovered from Strood Hall, West of Ongar Road and West of Stone Hall. These can be dated to the early Neolithic, mid/late Neolithic and late Bronze Age respectively, thus providing a valuable chronological sequence of technological development. At Strood Hall the flintwork was accompanied by sherds of early Neolithic pottery. During the middle Bronze Age we get the first significant appearance of prehistoric farming communities establishing a pattern of settlement that developed across the landscape throughout the Iron Age. The number of sites within each chronological period suggests a peak of activity in the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age, falling sharply to the late Iron Age. However, when the duration of each period is considered there is a relatively consistent density of settlement within the landscape from the middle Bronze Age through to the Roman period. One noticeable focus of activity was the combined watersheds of the River Roding and its tributary to the east, with middle Bronze Age features being recorded at three sites, North of Frogs Hall Stables, Stone Hall and Strood Hall and residual middle Bronze Age pottery being found at another four (Warish Hall; Frogs Hall East; Highwood Farm and South of Great Dunmow). The area to the east of the River Chelmer displayed evidence for far less extensive middle Bronze Age activity. Late Bronze Age/early Iron Age activity represents a continuation of the developments witnessed during the middle Bronze Age. The range of features is similar, comprising again mainly pits and ditches. However, some of the ditches, particularly at Stone Hall, can be seen to form a more recognisable layout of fields and droveways. In addition, there is for the first time an identifiable structure in the form of a four-post structure at Stone Hall, and there is quite widespread evidence of burial practices. The increase in the number of locations containing late Bronze Age/early Iron Age features, from six (in the middle Bronze Age) to thirteen, points clearly to both the intensification of settlement in areas of the clay plateau landscape that were already occupied, and the expansion of settlement into previously unoccupied areas. With the exception of South of Great Dunmow and Clobbs Wood all the sites producing evidence of middle Bronze Age activity witnessed continued activity in the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age. The middle and late Iron Age saw a reduction in the number of sites encountered which seems to reflect a change in the pattern and distribution of settlement, with a greater emphasis on the nucleation and in some cases the enclosure of settlement. These are processes well illustrated by three sites: Highwood Farm, Grange Lane and East of Little Dunmow Road. Seven sites yielded in situ evidence for late Iron Age and Roman-period activity. Strood Hall was the largest. Excavation revealed the nearly complete plan of a mid 1st to mid 4th-century farmstead, complete with round- houses, at least one rectangular building, and a cemetery. Investigation at Rayne Roundabout provided evidence of field systems and enclosures. Another field system was encountered at Parsonage Lane, this time confined to the late 1st to early 2nd century AD, although some resumption of activity is evident from the later 3rd century. Ephemeral traces of Roman-period activity were recorded at Valentine Cottage and Frogs Hall East , both early Roman, and West of Panners Roundabout, which dated to the late Roman period. Ditches dating to the late Iron Age/early Roman period were recorded at Warish Hall. Artefactual scatters incorporating late Iron Age or Roman pottery were collected at Greenfields, Blatches and Clobbs Cottage/Grange Farm. Evidence for Saxon activity remained elusive with one notable exception, a single timber building dating to the beginning of the 8th century at Takeley. If the generally accepted understanding of the Saxon period in north- west Essex is one of the slow expansion and coalescence of initially sparse and dispersed settlement, then the period from the 11th to the 14th century is one of development on an increasingly rapid scale, followed by a relatively abrupt collapse. The archaeology uncovered appears to reflect this, with a single short-lived farmstead at Blatches and two other small examples of sites reflecting an equally transient industrial focus: a pottery production site to the West of River Roding and a windmill at Clobbs Wood. Overall the excavations yielded a very modest artefactual assemblage within which pottery was the most prolific find, providing a good sequence from the middle Bronze Age through to the later Roman period. Several of the Roman burials from the cemetery at Strood Hall produced grave goods. No artefactual material was recovered dating to the Anglo-Saxon period. Small assemblages, again mainly ceramic, represent the medieval period from settlement sites at Blatches, Stebbingford Farm and the kilns west of the River Roding. Cremated human bone was recovered from eight sites with examples dating to the late Bronze Age, late Iron Age, Romano-British and non-specific prehistoric. The majority derived from the late Iron Age/early Romano- British or early Romano-British period from the cemetery at Strood Hall. Deposit types include the remains of urned and unurned burials, most of the latter including deposits of pyre debris recovered as one with the remains of the burial. Other contexts represent the remains of discrete deposits of pyre debris within grave fills, fragments of bone apparently incidentally included in the fill of vessels forming grave goods or within the general grave fill, and one possible memorial/ cenotaph deposit. The remains of a single inhumation burial were recovered from Strood Hall, situated within the confines of the cremation cemetery. The quality of the environmental remains was variable with some sites producing very well-preserved samples of charred plant remains and charcoals and others poorly preserved material. The collective animal bone assemblage was generally poor with poor preservation and a high fragmentation rate. The evidence from the A120 sites supports the suggestion that animal husbandry was more important than arable cultivation up until the late Iron Age. Charred plant remains were recovered in low concentrations from Stone Hall, West of Ongar and Greenfields. All three sites produced emmer/spelt wheat grains and chaff, hulled barley and a few hazelnut shell fragments. Charcoal analysis of samples from domestic contexts and cremation burials from Greenfields, Stone Hall and Grange Lane indicated that mixed oak/ash deciduous woodland was available as a resource throughout the late Bronze Age and Romano-British periods. The molluscs indicate that the area around the Iron Age farmstead at Highwood Farm had been cleared for some time. The assemblages from all the A120 sites examined indicate an Iron Age and Romano-British lowland pasture, with little intensive use of the local landscapes. The early Roman evidence primarily from Strood Hall and Rayne Roundabout shows an expansion of production from increases in the quantities of bone and charred cereal remains. The first evidence for large scale spelt processing was recovered from both sites, with several deposits of concentrated spelt processing waste being recorded. Blatches was the only medieval site to produce useful quantities of environmental evidence. This produced a typical medieval assemblage of mixed cereals, legumes (horse bean, pea and possibly cultivated vetch) and all the main species of domesticated animals.

Item Type:Book
Subjects:Geographical Areas > English Counties > Essex
Period > UK Periods > Bronze Age 2500 - 700 BC
Period > UK Periods > Early Medieval 410 - 1066 AD
Period > UK Periods > Iron Age 800 BC - 43 AD
Period > UK Periods > Medieval 1066 - 1540 AD
Period > UK Periods > Mesolithic 10,000 - 4,000 BC
Period > UK Periods > Modern 1901 - present
Period > UK Periods > Neolithic 4000 - 2200 BC
Period > UK Periods > Post Medieval 1540 - 1901 AD
Period > UK Periods > Roman 43 - 410 AD
ID Code:372
Deposited By: Joseph Reeves
Deposited On:29 Nov 2010 17:04
Last Modified:04 Nov 2013 15:55

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