Recent archaeological excavations at Willington Lock Quarry

Fragments of the Neolithic flint axehead found in two separate pits © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
The Early Bronze Age ring ditch during excavation © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
Aerial view of a section of the Late Bronze Age/Iron Age pit alignment during construction © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023

Archaeological Research Services Ltd has undertaken archaeological investigations at Willington Lock Quarry since December 2020. The excavations, of an area south of the river Great Ouse, took place in advance of gravel extraction at a quarry operated by Breedon Group.

The earliest finds from the site are flint artefacts, including edge-damaged blades and a scraper which date to the Upper Palaeolithic period (i.e. at the end of the last Ice Age: 14,000-7,700 BC) and may have been associated with a nearby reindeer hunters’ camp. A small quantity of Late Mesolithic flintwork (6,000-4,500 BC) has also been recovered, which indicates sporadic use of the site by hunter-gatherer groups at this time.

Neolithic pits

The earliest features from the site lay on the edge of the gravel terrace and comprise a cluster of six pits representing the remains of a habitation site dating to the Middle Neolithic period (3,700-2,800BC). The fill of these pits produced over 150 fragments representing the remains of at least a dozen impressed-decorated, round-based pottery vessels, as well as flint tools which included three parts of a broken polished flint axehead. The flint axehead fragments were found in two separate pits. The breaking up of the flint axehead and, presumably, deliberate deposition of the parts of the same axehead in two different pits may represent a form of ceremonial activity.

Early Bronze Age monument

The truncated remains of an Early Bronze Age (2,400-1,500 BC) burial monument was found 250m to the north-east of the Middle Neolithic pits. This comprised a circular ditch enclosing an area that was 10m in diameter. A small pit was situated in the centre of the circular ditch which contained cremated human bone. No artefacts were found with the cremation.

Later prehistoric pit alignment

The most striking feature revealed so far is an alignment of at least 128 pits running for a length of at least half a kilometre in a north-west to south-east direction, roughly perpendicular to the river Great Ouse. The pits probably date to the Late Bronze Age/Iron Age (1,500-50 BC). Each pit measures between 1.2m and 2.4m in diameter and is spaced between 0.5m and 1.7m apart. It is difficult to know precisely what these pit alignments were for (in some parts of the Midlands they can run across the landscape for many kilometres) but it is thought that they were land boundaries. What makes the pit alignment at Willington unusual is that the pits were re-cut and re-established, possibly on more than one occasion. The pit alignment therefore probably defined the outer limits of the farmland, including access to the river, that was associated with particular groups of farmsteads.

Roman farmstead

The remains of two small rectangular-shaped ditched enclosures dating to the Roman period were found at the southern edge of the site, which may have been associated with an oven and a series of pits that were found nearby. Part of a bone comb was recovered from the infill of one of these pits. These features probably represent the peripheral fields and stock management enclosures associated with a nearby Roman farmstead.

> For more quarry excavations, see our award-nominated site at Black Cat Quarry

Archaeological Research Services Ltd