Understanding context and a visit from the police (Milton, week 2)

All ready for the Superindendent's visit © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
Final clean before recording two intersecting ditches of an iron age field system © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
Metal detecting the site in search of small finds © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023

The site layout so far

It’s week two from the site at Milton and today we bring you the cornerstone of archaeology: understanding context!

With more than one episode of activity being uncovered, we thought we would share with you the initial plan layout of some key features on the site to explain what we are investigating.

Plan of the site, with soil colour differences and ditch system overlay © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023

Click to expand the plan above and you can see a network of ditches that form a tangled knot of archaeological features. This is a photograph of the site from the air enhanced to show differences in soil colour. The white areas show standing water from recent heavy rains. Within this layout is a hidden sequence of development, which our hand excavations aim to unravel. The ditches were the boundaries for enclosures, laid out to form a pattern of paddocks, fields or yards, but there is more than one layout here superimposed on top of each other and subsequently modified during use. What we see in this plan is the disuse of boundaries from all periods of activity.

Hints on how the sequence may be separated into different episodes of activity can be spotted in the plan. For example, there is a ditch curving from the northern corner towards the south-east that doesn’t fit with the overall uniform layout of straight ditches, and in the south-east part of the site are small narrow curving features – these are likely to be earlier, possibly late Iron Age. Another theme is that there are several continuous principal ditches that form large rectangular fields – probably earlier Roman. Another important observation is how the fields may have been modified and subdivided, or a later layout of small square enclosures perhaps replaced the larger fields during the 2nd-3rd centuries AD and were abandoned by the 4th century. There are also signs of a very late episode of activity at the east end of the site that is slightly skewed from the orientation of the other ditches.

There is quite a contrast between what can be seen at the edges of the site and what can be seen in the main concentration. Our current thinking (which will be informed by ongoing work) is that the late Iron Age boundaries represent continuity into later periods, albeit with reorganisation of how the land was used. Land use was essentially agricultural, although it is unclear yet whether this was arable, pastoral or a mixed farming economy. In later periods the land use may have shifted to include settlement or processing activities in the area to the south of the excavation, an area that is due to be stripped later this month.

From the darkest ditch fills, we’re now bringing to light an abundance of animal bone, and we expect to recover considerable charred remains from soil samples. This may be concentrated to such an extent that we expect it will tell us whether the material is domestic or agricultural, and whether it is from food preparation, butchery, grain processing or if it was stored in middens before being used to fill the ditches. For the moment, without any evidence of kilns or metalworking (so far), it seems likely that activity was mainly focused on agricultural production of grains, vegetables, fruits, and livestock.

Work continues apace with hand investigations, which in one spot revealed a dog skeleton – a strong suggestion that we should expect a homestead close to hand. Our metal detecting has yielded a variety of bronze coins, brooches/pins, fastenings, loops, catches, nails and fittings that come from personal adornments, furnishings and structures. Some that we will share with you in coming updates.

A visit from the police!

We were also excited to take a little break this week to receive a visit from Superintendent Adam Gallop, who will head up the new station.

The Superintendent and his colleagues took a tour around the site and remarked with interest upon our findings so far, congratulating the professionalism of the team. He even had a go with a trowel!

Area Commander for the south of Cambridgeshire, Superintendent Adam Gallop, said:

“It was fascinating to hear from Jim, James and the team how they approach the task and of course the interpretation of the history of the site. Some of the finds are amazing, imagine discovering a coin from the third century, thinking about what may have been bought and sold with it and what sort of people handled it. The archaeology team have a massive challenge ahead of them and I look forward to following it as it progresses.”

That’s it for today. We’ll bring you more next week, so be sure to follow us on social media so you don’t miss out: TwitterFacebookLinkedInInstagram.

Previous update (week 1)

Next update (week 3)

See the main site project page here

A guided tour of the site © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
The Superintendent gets to work © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
A recent discovery of a dog skeleton © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
Archaeological Research Services Ltd