Melton Mowbray Distributor Road Scheme

Area 5a North during excavation © ARS Ltd 2023
Pottery beaker © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
Archaeologist with Roman brooch © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023

Melton Mowbray Distributor Road Scheme

Since late February 2023, Archaeological Research Services Ltd has been investigating archaeological remains exposed during topsoil stripping on the route of the Melton Mowbray Distributor Road Scheme on behalf of Leicestershire County Council. This phase of work follows on from earlier phases of geophysical survey and trial trenching undertaken for the Scheme between 2018 – 2022.

What are we expecting to find?

We’re expecting to uncover the buried remains of a series of identified archaeological sites, which are likely to represent individual farmsteads and/or their related agricultural boundaries and enclosures dating back to at least the Iron Age and Roman period. This will add to numerous other archaeological discoveries that have been made in recent years around Melton Mowbray as the town has grown. Flint artefacts of Mesolithic to Bronze Age date, as well as Neolithic and Early–Middle Bronze Age funerary sites, were discovered on the west/south-western side of Melton Mowbray, which indicate occupation by both hunter-gatherer and early farming communities during the 6th-2nd millennium BC. The previous phases of archaeological fieldwork produced later evidence for farming settlements in the Iron Age and Roman periods on the northern and eastern outskirts, beneath masking deposits of medieval ridge and furrow produced by agricultural activity on the periphery of the medieval town.

What has come to light so far?

We have been excavating a series of discrete sites, including a series of sites with boundary ditches and pits containing fragments of pottery, animal bone and other domestic debris representing the remains of Iron Age or Roman farmsteads and their associated field systems.

A significant discovery at one site was a series of Roman cultivation rows which may have been a vineyard. A medieval headland had preserved a section of parallel-running planting trenches spaced at about 4m intervals enclosed on the north side by a boundary ditch containing Roman pottery. This ditch is situated near the bottom of the slope and overlies the remains of an Iron Age enclosure. The fills of some of the planting trenches included abraded fragments of 1st-2nd century pottery, including greyware. The base and sides of the planting beds have irregular indentations likely to have been formed as a result of root growth.

Planting trenches of this nature are similar to excavated examples East Anglia, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire, as well as one in Rutland. They are considered to be associated with plantation agriculture such as viticulture, the production of other fruit-bearing plants or vegetables, potentially as a commercial endeavour. Pollen analysis undertaken at Wollaston in Northamptonshire produced evidence for viticulture. The Melton Mowbray site is the furthest north of those that have been investigated.

The current work is confirming the anticipated picture of a dynamic prehistoric and Roman farming landscape.

As work continues, we’ll be posting updates from the site.

You can find the first one (July 23) here and you can find the latest news update (Oct 23) here.

See below for photos of the Roman planting trenches before, during and after excavation.

Roman planting rows across slope before excavation © ARS Ltd 2023
Roman planting beds during excavation © ARS Ltd 2023
Roman planting bed section after excavation © ARS Ltd 2023
Archaeological Research Services Ltd