A14 archaeology will rewrite local history

A sskeleton being excavated

A sskeleton being excavated - Credit: Archant

Archaeological finds along the route of the upgraded A14 will help to rewrite thousands of years of Huntingdonshire’s history.

Roman cockerel found on the A14

Roman cockerel found on the A14 - Credit: Archant

Archaeological finds along the route of the upgraded A14 will help to rewrite thousands of years of Huntingdonshire’s history.

The project, along 21 miles of road and covering more than 860 acres, is one of the biggest ever undertaken by archaeologists in the UK and has uncovered thousands or artefacts - including the site of the deserted medieval village Haughton, near Brampton.

Around 250 archaeologists, led by MOLA Headland Infrastructure, have been at work since before construction of the £1.5 billion new road started and they will make over a quarter of a million site records covering 40 separate excavations.

They have so far found around 25 settlements dating from prehistoric to medieval times featuring 40 Roman pottery kilns along Roman roads, seven prehistoric burial grounds, eight Iron Age to Roman supply farms, three prehistoric henges, two post-medieval brick kilns, three Saxon settlements, including one with royal connections, and a Roman trade distribution centre, as well as the lost village where the layout of houses can still be seen.

Finds supervisor Jim McKeon with some of the finds discovered during work on the A14

Finds supervisor Jim McKeon with some of the finds discovered during work on the A14 - Credit: Archant

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Tons of pottery and bones have been found and the number of small finds is expected to exceed 7,000 in total.

Dr Steve Sherlock, archaeology lead for Highways England, said: “Highways England is delivering the biggest roads investment in a generation, and we are committed to conserving and where possible enhancing the historic environment.

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“In the context of a project like the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvements, that means undertaking archaeological excavations to ensure we record any significant remains that lie along the 21-mile route. The archive of finds, samples and original records will be stored so that the data and knowledge is preserved for this and future generations.”

Dr Sherlock said: “We now have the evidence to rewrite both the prehistoric and historic records of the area for the last 6,000 years.”

Roman jet Medusa head found at Brampton

Roman jet Medusa head found at Brampton - Credit: Archant

Cambridgeshire County Council’s senior archaeologist in the Historic Environment Team, Kasia Gdaniec, said: “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.

“No previous excavation had taken place in these areas, where only a few cropmarked sites indicated the presence of former settlements, but we now know that extensive, thriving long-lived villages were built during the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and Saxon periods.

“The valuable contribution of the A14’s excavation programme has also been to unlock major multi-period settlements and populate what had been an empty modern agricultural belt along the A1 west of Brampton with hundreds of people over time.”

She said: “Earlier prehistoric, neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial and burial monuments that are 5,500 and 4,000 years old, have also been investigated, but the new Roman pottery industry that has emerged from sites in the Brampton area and at the new Great Ouse bridge sets apart the host sites from others traditionally dug in the county.

A lost village comes back to life

A lost village comes back to life - Credit: Archant

“The fast-paced archaeological excavations have been extremely challenging, especially during this relentlessly 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.”

“There is still more to do, but we want to share the archaeologists’ excitement over what they are finding with the wider public and hope that they will enjoy the ongoing displays and interpretation that will be a legacy of this national infrastructure project.”

Daniel Bennett, 24, from Huntingdon, who started an archaeology traineeship in late 2017, said: “I’ve learnt so much in such a short space of time and working alongside experts on a daily basis I am constantly acquiring new skills and expanding my knowledge. Working on the A14C2H project has been an amazing experience, the archaeology is really varied so I’m getting to discover so much.”

Key finds include a Roman jet pendant, from the late 2nd to 4th century AD, depicting Medusa, one of only 10 found in the UK and a rare Anglo Saxon bone flute from the 5th to the 9th century, both found at Brampton; a well-preserved Iron Age timber ladder found near Fenstanton and dating from 525-457 BC, together with a neolithic flint axe head from 4,000-2,500 BC, one of the earliest finds.

A remarrkably well preserved Iron Age timber ladder was found aat Fenstanton

A remarrkably well preserved Iron Age timber ladder was found aat Fenstanton - Credit: Archant

There will be opportunity for people to see the archaeology work in action on Saturday 7 April 2018 between 10am and 5pm, as part of an A14 archaeology open day.

This is a free event, which will include meeting the archaeologists, seeing the artefacts unearthed so far and taking a tour of one of the digs. Booking for the site tour is essential and will be on a first come, first served basis. For more information and to book a place on the tour, visit www.molaheadland.com/archaeology-excavation-and-discovery-open-day.

People not going on the tour will still be able to drop in on the day for displays, talks and activities at the scheme’s Brampton site offices on Buckden Road, although they will not be able to go on site.

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