1. The tunes are lost but this broken bone flute shows that Anglo-Saxons made music.

A highway to history

An extraordinarily rich archaeological trail has been found along a 21-mile stretch of the A14, between Cambridge and Huntingdon, during a £1.5billion upgrade of the road. Some 40 sites have revealed 25 settlements and thousands of artefacts from Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age and the Roman, Anglo-Saxon and medieval periods.

'We now have the evidence to rewrite both the prehistoric and historic records of the area for the last 6000 years,' says Dr Steve Sherlock, Archaeology Lead for the project, which is one of the largest and most complex undertaken in Britain. Around 250 archaeologists led by MOLA Headland Infrastructure have been working with road builders Highways England to explore and protect the sites. 'We are committed to conserving and where possible enhancing the historic environment,' says Dr Sherlock.

Within an area of 1.35sqm of largely flat farmland, seven tons of pottery, 6.5 tons of animal bone, a ton of building material and more than 7000 small finds have been excavated.


2. Beside the post-holes of one of three huge henges excavated on the site the archaeologists look tiny.

These include an Iron Age timber ladder, a Roman Medusa jet pendant and an Anglo-Saxon bone flute. Three prehistoric henge monuments, measuring up to 50m in diameter, have also been uncovered, as have a Roman pottery industry and trade distribution centre, and an Anglo-Saxon gated and moated tribal boundary site on a hill overlooking the area and marked with a beacon.

Most dramatically, a six-hectare medieval village of 40 timber buildings has been discovered. The inhabitants are thought to have deserted the village in the 14th century when the surrounding forest, on which they depended, was designated a royal hunting ground. This curtailed their living which depended on grazing, foresting and tanning (for which tree bark was used).

The discoveries suggest this was once a well-inhabited area, with some sites near what was a Roman road under the A1, while others are near barrows and henges, which continued to be important for centuries after they were no longer used for their original purposes.

'The A14's Archaeology Programme has exposed an astonishing array of remarkable new sites that reveal the previously unknown character of ancient settlement across the western Cambridgeshire clay plain,' says Kaiser Gdaniec, Cambridgeshire County Council's senior archaeologist. As he explains: 'The fast-paced archaeological excavations have been extremely challenging, especially during this relentlessly cold and wet winter, but a very large, hardy team of British and international archaeologists successfully completed sites in advance of the road crews taking over to build the road structures.'

Work will shortly come to an end and a planned tour of the deserted village, which Dr Sherlock describes as 'an absolute bobby-dazzler', is already fully booked.

(www.molaheadland.com)
Roger Williams

 



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