Vertical view of the ring ditch with an opening visible on the right hand side © ARS Ltd 2023
Remains of a two-phased sunken-floored building © ARS Ltd 2023
Excavating one of the ring ditches © ARS Ltd 2023

In 2019-2020 Archaeological Research Services Ltd undertook archaeological excavations on land covering 5.84ha to the east of Hardingstone, Northamptonshire, in advance of residential development on behalf of Tilia Homes (formerly Kier Living). Despite extensive truncation from medieval and later ploughing, along with post-medieval ironstone quarrying, the remains of two Bronze Age ring ditches and an Anglo-settlement were investigated.

The presence of a small quantity of Mesolithic flint debitage indicates activity of some description at the site. Later Neolithic – Early Bronze Age flint debitage and implements found in the vicinity of the two ring ditches could predate the ring ditches, which could indicate that the site was at least partially cleared of woodland when the ring ditches were established. The flints and a common vetch seed which produced a radiocarbon date of 1404 – 1261 cal BC recovered from the ditch fills indicate that both ring ditches were in existence by the mid-2nd millennium BC. One ring ditch had an opening on its south-east side, suggesting that it had some form of internal space, although it is unclear whether the ditch was encircled by an internal or external bank. The closed ditch around the other ring ditch may indicate that there was originally a mound in the centre.


Map and site plan of Hardingstone © ARS Ltd 2023

A small quantity of Iron Age and Roman pottery was found during the excavations, which is interpreted as the site having been open fields at the time with the pottery being incorporated into the topsoil during manuring and cultivation.

Traces of Anglo-Saxon occupation dating to the early 5th to early 7th century were identified on the northern edge of the site represented by two shallow pits, probably the truncated remains of sunken-floored buildings, and a pit which produced pottery, animal bone and charred plant remains.

An enclosed farmstead then became established in the mid-7th century about 250m away to the south-east, initially comprising a rectangular enclosure sub-divided into two internal areas and associated pits and a sunken-floored building. The fills of these features contained 5th-8th century pottery and animal bone, a sample of which was radiocarbon dated to 636 – 675 cal AD. This is followed by the expansion of the initial enclosure, which is re-cut and extended to create a larger enclosure overlying its footprint. Another enclosure is then constructed abutting its western side and a further enclosure immediately to the north as part of this enclosure complex with a field system to the south and west.

A sunken-floored building overlying the infilled remains of the previous sunken-floored building within the original enclosure, and a sub-oval post-built structure, was located in the northernmost enclosure. The charred plant remains and animal bones from the fills of the enclosure ditches and other features suggests the cultivation of cereals and legumes and cattle, sheep/goat and pig husbandry. Animals were butchered and meat prepared for consumption on site. Craft activities undertaken at the site included weaving and possibly metal working. The pottery and metalwork from the site, in comparison with finds from other middle Saxon site in Northamptonshire, may indicate that the site produced surplus goods for trade, for example cereals, meat or ironwork.

Two human inhumation burials radiocarbon dated to the 8th-9th century were also recovered. One of the burials was an elderly man who had been killed by multiple blows from a heavy long-bladed weapon and dumped’ in one of the partially-infilled ditches. Analysis of his skeletal remains indicated that he had experienced a life of physical labour. Isotopic investigation indicated that he grew up and probably spent most of his live in the area. He may have lived at this farmstead or a relatively nearby settlement, and his untimely death and unceremonious burial in an enclosure ditch may have been associated with the ending of the use of at least this part of the site. The other burial was an adolescent who was buried close to the centre of another small rectilinear enclosure which was located within the northernmost enclosure and on a different alignment, and may have served as a mortuary enclosure.

The farmstead was abandoned by the 10th century and the site had reverted to agricultural land by the 12th-13th century.

A report on the results of the excavations will be published in Northamptonshire Archaeology early next year.

To find out about the features and finds discovered at the site please use the ‘Links and Downloads’ page to access the project report (when it is available).

Site location and phasing © ARS Ltd 2023
Burial of an adolescent in a grave 1 looking NW © ARS Ltd 2023
Drawing of refitted fragments of an early Anglo Saxon pottery vessel © ARS Ltd 2023
Archaeological Research Services Ltd