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Archaeology in the years of austerity
NEOLITHIC AND BRONZE AGE NORTHAMPTONSHIRE
Towards a new prehistory
The history of the excavation of Neolithic and Bronze Age sites in Northamptonshire is reviewed. Recent excavations are set within the growing understanding of Neolithic and Bronze Age chronologies on a national level, which is emerging from new excavations and new approaches to radiocarbon dating. Northamptonshire is shown to be making a continuing, if relatively small, contribution to this process through both commercial archaeology and the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
A Middle Neolithic enclosure and mortuary deposit at Banbury Lane, Northampton: an interim report
Mark Holmes, Adam Yates, Andy Chapman and Yvonne Wolframm-Murray
A triple-ditched circular enclosure, 23m in diameter with a central space 7.8m in diameter, was excavated in advance of new housing. The outer two ditches had single entrances to the north-west. A possible narrow entrance through the inner ditch had been blocked by an elongated pit, which was packed from bottom to top with a dense mass of disarticulated human bone, from perhaps 130 individuals. Only selected bones, particularly the femur with lesser quantities of the other major limb bones, had been collected for deposition in the pit. Fragments of skull are present in some quantity but vertebra and ribs are rare, and there are no hand or foot bones. Initial examination of the bone has recorded the presence of frequent lesions around the major limb joints, suggesting that the deposited material may have come from partially decayed corpses that had been forcibly dismembered to separate the major long bone joints. However, it will require much further analysis before the full story of the burial rite and the treatment of the individuals will be more fully understood. Initial radiocarbon dates indicate that the bone deposit was the product of a single event occurring in the Middle Neolithic (3360-3100 cal BC), although a more extensive programme of dating will be needed to establish the chronology of the whole monument in relation to the mortuary deposit.
Neolithic cremation burials at Milton Ham, Northampton
Simon Carlyle and Andy Chapman
In 2008 Northamptonshire Archaeology carried out a strip, map and record excavation of a Romano-British settlement at Milton Ham on the south-western outskirts of Northampton. This report focuses on a small and unexpected bonus: the recovery of three pits containing cremation burials, one of which has been radiocarbon dated to the late 4th millennium BC, the Middle Neolithic period. The burials were associated with several other small pits, three of which may have been truncated burials, while two larger pits may have held wooden posts, perhaps cemetery marker posts. These burials add to a growing body of evidence for cremation burial in the Middle Neolithic and they also add to the developing picture of Neolithic and Bronze Age activity in the environs of the Briar Hill Neolithic causewayed enclosure.
An Early Bronze Age henge and Middle Bronze Age boundaries at Priors Hall, Kirby Lane, Corby
Andy Chapman and Christopher Jones
In October and November 2011 a prehistoric ring ditch and an adjacent ditch system, located by geophysical survey and previously investigated by trial trenching, were subject to open area excavation. The ring ditch has been shown to be a henge monument, situated on high sloping ground, just below the watershed, overlooking the Willow Brook, which joins the River Nene to the east. A nearby pit contained an assemblage of decorated and rusticated Beaker sherds, and fragments of hazelnut shell have given the earliest radiocarbon date, 2140-1950 cal BC, indicating that the pit and perhaps the adjacent henge, were constructed in the Early Bronze Age, the final centuries of the 3rd millennium BC. The henge was near circular at 31.0-33.5m in diameter, with a broad U-shaped ditch and an entrance to the south-east. The former presence of an external bank was indicated by deposits of limestone that had come in from outside. There were a few shallow pits within the interior and to the north-west the unurned cremation burial of a 6-8 year old child was accompanied by a jet bead. This burial and a deposit of carbonised oak in the secondary fills of the ditch have given radiocarbon dates in the first half of the 2nd millennium BC, 1750-1620 cal BC, indicating that the burial was a later addition to the monument. A Middle Bronze Age side-looped spearhead also came from the fill of the henge ditch, showing the survival of the henge as a substantial earthwork. To the north of the henge there was an L-shaped ditch system, and a red deer antler tine has been radiocarbon dated to the Middle Bronze Age, 1190-1010 cal BC. The ditch also produced part of a human femur and fragments from a cylindrical fired-clay loomweight.
Flat-grave Beaker burials at Warmington and Ashton
Stephen Parry, Brian Dix and Alex Gibson
Excavation of late medieval and post-medieval buildings in 1995 near Warmington Mill, Eaglethorpe, Warmington, close to the River Nene, produced the unexpected bonus of a crouched Beaker inhumation burial of the Early Bronze Age. An adult male, 35-45 years of age, lay in a flat grave, with no encircling barrow ditch. He was accompanied by a Beaker, two V-perforated jet buttons, a broken flint dagger, a flint fabricator and a superb barbed-and-tanged arrowhead. The burial has been radiocarbon dated to the 20th century BC. Beaker graves with no encircling ditch and perhaps never covered by substantial mounds, are known in small numbers across England, but finding them is necessarily a matter of chance, as at Warmington, so they are likely to be underrepresented in the archaeological record. However, only 3.5km to the south of Warmington, a further two flat graves containing crouched Beaker burials had also been found by chance during excavations at Ashton Roman town in the early 1980s. These burials are also briefly described, and one has also been radiocarbon dated to the 20th century BC.
A Bronze Age pit deposit and round barrows near Wootton, Northampton
Andy Chapman and Simon Carlyle
An archaeological evaluation was carried out by Northamptonshire Archaeology on 180 hectares of open farmland to the north-east, east and south-east of Wootton, Northampton. Areas of archaeological remains had been identified from aerial photographs and geophysical survey, and these and the intervening areas were examined and characterised through the excavation of 306 trial trenches.
This report focuses on the features of certain or likely Bronze Age date. At the northern end of the site, on the Hunsbury ridge, there are two or possibly three ring ditches, probably the remains of Bronze Age round barrows, one of which had been previously investigated. There was also a dispersed pattern of field or enclosure ditches of possible Iron Age date. On the lower slopes to the north of Wootton Brook there was a single pit, radiocarbon dated to the Early Bronze Age, containing a deposit of dark charcoal-rich soil, with a small amount of cremated bone, at least partly cattle bone, three flint arrowheads and a scraper. This pit joins the growing corpus of Neolithic and Bronze Age pits in the region located in recent years as chance finds during the investigation of extensive development sites. In the same area there was also an Iron Age ring ditch and several late Iron Age ditches. At the southern end of the site, on a low prominence south of Wootton Brook, a middle/late Iron Age settlement comprised a sub-rectangular enclosure as well as subsidiary enclosures and pits. An isolated ring ditch in this area may be either a Bronze Age ring ditch or part of the Iron Age complex.
An Early Iron Age Sompting Type axe from Preston Capes
Dot Boughton and Julie Cassidy
The discovery, by metal detecting, of the first Sompting Type axe from Northamptonshire fills a gap in knowledge of the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age transition in the county, as both metalwork finds and settlements of this date are few in number. The Sompting type axe is a copper alloy, socketed side-looped axe, distinguished by the presence of elaborate decoration in the form of pellets-in-circlets linked by ribs, and dated to c 800-600BC.
An Archaeological Survey of the Hunsbury Hillfort Defences
Dennis Jackson and Martin Tingle
This project sought to assess the condition of the earthworks at Hunsbury, establish the extent of archaeological survival within the ramparts and examined a previously recorded external ditch. Three geophysical surveys were commissioned which were followed by small scale trial excavations. These demonstrated that the 19th-century quarrying within the interior in the 19th century had left a small but significant area intact which was larger than previously imagined. It also showed that the hillfort had a vitrified rampart, a comparative rarity in England and confirmed the existence of a substantial but incomplete and undated outer ditch.
A new interpretation of the Sculpted Tympanum of All Saints, Pitsford
Mary Curtis Webb
The carving on the tympanum of All Saints church, Pitsford is one of a group of rare 12th-century English sculptures depicting Christ’s Redemption of mankind. The scene is Christ’s Descent into Hades to destroy Death, here personified by Behemoth, the twin figure of Leviathan. The main literary source of these carvings is the Ransom Theory as expounded by Pope Gregory the Great in his lengthy commentary on the Book of Job, the Moralia in Job completed shortly before 597. At the end of the 12th century the Ransom Theory was abandoned in favour of Anselm’s exposition of the Doctrine of the Atonement. Consequently, carvings depicting the Ransom theory, such as the Pitsford tympanum, vanished for ever from the repertoire of ecclesiastical sculpture, and the scenes and characters depicted are now either a source of mystery or are reinterpreted to fit later doctrines. It is to be hoped that the unique historical importance of the whole surviving corpus of 12th-century English sculpture will become more widely recognised and that this heritage will be properly preserved for posterity.
Two post-medieval market tenements and their environs at the Market Place, Kettering
Between April and July 2010 Northamptonshire Archaeology undertook a programme of watching briefs and open area excavation at the southern fringe of the Market Place, Kettering, Northamptonshire. The truncated remains of 18th to 20th-century tenements were revealed, comprising stone wall foundations, stone and brick-lined cellars and pits. In association there was a substantial assemblage of post-medieval pottery, together with clay tobacco-pipe, animal bone and other finds, including a set of vulcanite dentures. Documentary research has identified the excavated structures as the remnants of commercial premises and has provided details of their occupancy through the later post-medieval period.
A cottage roof at 62 Billing Road, Brafield-on-the-Green
As part of the restoration of a cottage at 62 Billing Road, Brafield-on-the-Green it was necessary to remove the existing thatch, which exposed the underlying roof timbers. Both were recorded prior to their replacement. The roof timbers are of interest as they illustrate the practicalities and economies of roofing a small cottage of low status by utilising whatever timbers can be acquired. Most were only roughly trimmed and many retained bark, and all were heavily infested with wood boring insects. The result was a roof that would not appear in any text book on timber construction techniques.
Building Recording of Nissen Huts at former RAF Chelveston
Northamptonshire Archaeology carried out buildings recording at the former RAF Chelveston Airfield, Chelveston, Northamptonshire. Two of several Nissen huts constructed during World War 2 and used for the storage of small arms, ammunition and explosives were surveyed and photographed prior to their restoration for reuse as storage.
Obituary: David Blackburn – Local Historian
Andy Chapman and David Blackburn
Luftwaffe record of Lyveden’s labyrinth
National Trust, Joe Prentice and Andy Chapman
Portable Antiquities Scheme in Northamptonshire, 2011
A Roman iron signet ring from Corby, Northamptonshire
Ian J Marshman
Archaeology Data Service: Unpublished Fieldwork Reports (Grey Literature Library)
The National Heritage List for England
Archaeology in Northamptonshire, 2010
Compiled by Pat Chapman
Archaeology in Northamptonshire, 2011
Compiled by Pat Chapman