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LARGEST EXCAVATION IN CAMBRIDGE REVEALS MIDDLE BRONZE AGE ARTEFACTS

06 November 2013

Excavations at Countryside Properties’ Great Kneighton development on the southern fringe of Cambridge, have uncovered prehistoric activity stretching back over 5,000 years.  During the largest single excavation ever undertaken in Cambridge, Oxford Archaeology East found new evidence of prehistoric activity with far more extensive and unusual remains than expected.  

The most surprising was a Middle Bronze Age landscape of field systems, enclosures and settlements covering large areas of the site dated to around 1500 BC.  Other surprising finds included traces of Iron Age activity and some seemingly unique Romano-British features, including an enigmatic funerary ‘monument’ and a poignant memorial garden.

Richard Mortimer from Oxford Archaeology East comments: “Cropmark analysis and a previous survey at Great Kneighton had suggested that archaeology would be present, but the site threw up far more extensive and unusual remains than expected.  It undoubtedly proved to be one of the best sites in the South of England, and is fundamental to our level of understanding of prehistoric activity in the Cambridgeshire area.  The excavations have achieved far more than proving that, contrary to previous belief, the prehistoric settlement of the Cam was entirely unusual.  It has revealed a complex, ever evolving landscape populated by inhabitants who had access to some of the finest material benefits of the periods they lived in.”

Andrew Carrington, Strategic Land Director at Countryside Properties comments: “The team at Oxford Archaeology East have carried out an exceptional job uncovering and recording the important archaeological findings at Great Kneighton.  It is hoped that in the near future the archaeological findings will be displayed within the community building planned for the Central Square, at the heart of the development.  As part of the public art programme for Great Kneighton, there are proposals for a large sculpture to be located within the Central Square.  The sculpture will be constructed on the site where post holes were found during the archaeological dig, which suggest the existence of a Bronze Age building and will officially link the past with the future and create an excellent gathering place for the community.”     

Before construction commenced, a team of over 100 archaeologists and volunteers investigated some 20 hectares of the site during the year-long project.  The northern settlement produced the largest and most diverse range of Middle Bronze Age domestic artefacts so far discovered in East Anglia. The material included pottery, several worked bone points and a loomweight, as well as metalwork including a bronze spearhead.  Accompanied by cooking related items such as charred grain, quernstones and heaps of ‘potboilers’, this settlement proved to be a domestic setting.  Radiocarbon dating of various items dated the site at c.1520-1400BC.                                                         
Although the southern settlement site had a different layout, a similar collection of artefacts were found. These included several arrowheads which represent the only securely dated Middle Bronze Age arrowheads in the region. Also discovered were a variety of body parts, including human skulls, another unusual feature of the Middle Bronze Age, as interring of skulls has been viewed previously as an Iron Age phenomenon.

In the period of the Roman conquest, two high-status cremation burials happened at the site.  One of these elite graves included a leather bound wooden box with a metal lock plate and eleven pottery vessels imported from Gaul, which would have been used during the funeral feast before being laid to rest with the deceased.  A small glass vessel and a pre-Roman Gaulish toiletry set dating to AD 30-50 were also found, showing that some inhabitants could acquire high status imported goods.  The burials were set within a curious enclosure which may have served as a small cemetery or memorial garden.

Closer to the current day, was the discovery of a group of seven World War II ring ditches, enclosing a search light battery and its associated stores which showed the use of the site as part of Cambridge’s wartime defences, which can also be clearly seen from aerial photographs from the time.

Today, Great Kneighton is fast becoming an exciting new community where Countryside Properties is creating a contemporary, sustainable development offering imaginatively designed new homes, alongside a new 120 acre country park with a bird reserve.

Everything will be on the doorstep at Great Kneighton with a whole range of new amenities being planned.  In addition to new schools, a health centre, shops and library, residents will be able to enjoy many outdoor facilities including sports pitches, allotments, a range of play areas and community square.

For further information on Great Kneighton and new homes for sale visit www.greatkneighton.com  

 

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