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A Slice of Rural Essex: Recent archaeological discoveries from the A120 between Stansted Airport and Braintree

Timby, Jane and Brown, Richard and Biddulph, Edward and Hardy, Alan and Powell, Andrew (2007) A Slice of Rural Essex: Recent archaeological discoveries from the A120 between Stansted Airport and Braintree. Oxford Wessex Archaeology. ISBN 978-0-9545970-2-3

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Abstract

The following report presents the results of the archaeological fieldwork carried out between 2000 and 2003
along the A120 between Stansted Airport and Braintree
in north-west Essex. Essex County Council undertook
the preliminary stages of work in 1990 with a comprehensive fieldwalking programme to identify sites of
potential interest accompanied by documentary searches
and other related works. In 1993 Essex County Council
also undertook a large scale rescue excavation at
Stebbingford Farm, Felsted, subsequently published
(Medlycott 1996). In 2000 Oxford Archaeology undertook the initial field evaluations on 19 targeted sites and
subsequently, between 2001–2003, Oxford-Wessex
Archaeology completed the evaluation programme with
follow-up excavations where deemed necessary and
finally undertook a watching brief. The 2001–2003
seasons were undertaken concurrently with the
construction of the road. The work was funded by the
Highways Agency and at the completion of fieldwork
some 47 ‘sites’ had been investigated.
Evidence for the presence of human activity was
documented from the Mesolithic through to modern
times with clear evidence of settlement and manipulation of the landscape from middle Bronze Age times.
The earliest evidence for activity came from finds of
distinctive flintwork and nearly every site yielded at
least one piece of struck flint. Two isolated Mesolithic
tools were identified, one from Clobbs Wood/Grange
Farm and one from West of Ongar Road. Assemblages
of reasonable size were recovered from Strood Hall,
West of Ongar Road and West of Stone Hall. These can
be dated to the early Neolithic, mid/late Neolithic and
late Bronze Age respectively, thus providing a valuable
chronological sequence of technological development.
At Strood Hall the flintwork was accompanied by
sherds of early Neolithic pottery.
During the middle Bronze Age we get the first significant appearance of prehistoric farming communities
establishing a pattern of settlement that developed
across the landscape throughout the Iron Age. The
number of sites within each chronological period
suggests a peak of activity in the late Bronze Age/early
Iron Age, falling sharply to the late Iron Age. However,
when the duration of each period is considered there is
a relatively consistent density of settlement within the
landscape from the middle Bronze Age through to the
Roman period.
One noticeable focus of activity was the combined
watersheds of the River Roding and its tributary to the
east, with middle Bronze Age features being recorded at
three sites, North of Frogs Hall Stables, Stone Hall and
Strood Hall and residual middle Bronze Age pottery
being found at another four (Warish Hall; Frogs Hall
East; Highwood Farm and South of Great Dunmow).
The area to the east of the River Chelmer displayed
evidence for far less extensive middle Bronze Age activity.
Late Bronze Age/early Iron Age activity represents a
continuation of the developments witnessed during the
middle Bronze Age. The range of features is similar,
comprising again mainly pits and ditches. However,
some of the ditches, particularly at Stone Hall, can be
seen to form a more recognisable layout of fields and
droveways. In addition, there is for the first time an
identifiable structure in the form of a four-post structure
at Stone Hall, and there is quite widespread evidence of
burial practices.
The increase in the number of locations containing
late Bronze Age/early Iron Age features, from six (in the
middle Bronze Age) to thirteen, points clearly to both
the intensification of settlement in areas of the clay
plateau landscape that were already occupied, and the
expansion of settlement into previously unoccupied
areas. With the exception of South of Great Dunmow
and Clobbs Wood all the sites producing evidence of
middle Bronze Age activity witnessed continued activity
in the late Bronze Age/early Iron Age.
The middle and late Iron Age saw a reduction in the
number of sites encountered which seems to reflect a
change in the pattern and distribution of settlement,
with a greater emphasis on the nucleation and in some
cases the enclosure of settlement. These are processes
well illustrated by three sites: Highwood Farm, Grange
Lane and East of Little Dunmow Road.
Seven sites yielded in situ evidence for late Iron Age
and Roman-period activity. Strood Hall was the largest.
Excavation revealed the nearly complete plan of a mid
1st to mid 4th-century farmstead, complete with round-
houses, at least one rectangular building, and a
cemetery. Investigation at Rayne Roundabout provided
evidence of field systems and enclosures. Another field
system was encountered at Parsonage Lane, this time
confined to the late 1st to early 2nd century AD,
although some resumption of activity is evident from the
later 3rd century. Ephemeral traces of Roman-period
activity were recorded at Valentine Cottage and Frogs
Hall East , both early Roman, and West of Panners
Roundabout, which dated to the late Roman period.
Ditches dating to the late Iron Age/early Roman period
were recorded at Warish Hall. Artefactual scatters incorporating late Iron Age or Roman pottery were collected
at Greenfields, Blatches and Clobbs Cottage/Grange
Farm.
Evidence for Saxon activity remained elusive with one
notable exception, a single timber building dating to the
beginning of the 8th century at Takeley. If the generally
accepted understanding of the Saxon period in north-
west Essex is one of the slow expansion and coalescence
of initially sparse and dispersed settlement, then the
period from the 11th to the 14th century is one of development on an increasingly rapid scale, followed by a
relatively abrupt collapse. The archaeology uncovered
appears to reflect this, with a single short-lived farmstead at Blatches and two other small examples of
sites reflecting an equally transient industrial focus: a
pottery production site to the West of River Roding and
a windmill at Clobbs Wood.
Overall the excavations yielded a very modest
artefactual assemblage within which pottery was the
most prolific find, providing a good sequence from the
middle Bronze Age through to the later Roman period.
Several of the Roman burials from the cemetery at
Strood Hall produced grave goods. No artefactual
material was recovered dating to the Anglo-Saxon
period. Small assemblages, again mainly ceramic, represent the medieval period from settlement sites at
Blatches, Stebbingford Farm and the kilns west of the
River Roding.
Cremated human bone was recovered from eight sites
with examples dating to the late Bronze Age, late Iron
Age, Romano-British and non-specific prehistoric. The
majority derived from the late Iron Age/early Romano-
British or early Romano-British period from the
cemetery at Strood Hall. Deposit types include the
remains of urned and unurned burials, most of the latter
including deposits of pyre debris recovered as one with
the remains of the burial. Other contexts represent the
remains of discrete deposits of pyre debris within grave
fills, fragments of bone apparently incidentally included
in the fill of vessels forming grave goods or within the
general grave fill, and one possible memorial/
cenotaph deposit. The remains of a single inhumation
burial were recovered from Strood Hall, situated within
the confines of the cremation cemetery.
The quality of the environmental remains was
variable with some sites producing very well-preserved
samples of charred plant remains and charcoals and
others poorly preserved material. The collective animal
bone assemblage was generally poor with poor preservation and a high fragmentation rate.
The evidence from the A120 sites supports the suggestion that animal husbandry was more important than
arable cultivation up until the late Iron Age. Charred
plant remains were recovered in low concentrations from
Stone Hall, West of Ongar and Greenfields. All three
sites produced emmer/spelt wheat grains and chaff,
hulled barley and a few hazelnut shell fragments.
Charcoal analysis of samples from domestic contexts
and cremation burials from Greenfields, Stone Hall and
Grange Lane indicated that mixed oak/ash deciduous
woodland was available as a resource throughout the
late Bronze Age and Romano-British periods.
The molluscs indicate that the area around the Iron
Age farmstead at Highwood Farm had been cleared for
some time. The assemblages from all the A120 sites
examined indicate an Iron Age and Romano-British
lowland pasture, with little intensive use of the local
landscapes. The early Roman evidence primarily from
Strood Hall and Rayne Roundabout shows an expansion of production from increases in the quantities of
bone and charred cereal remains. The first evidence for
large scale spelt processing was recovered from both
sites, with several deposits of concentrated spelt
processing waste being recorded.
Blatches was the only medieval site to produce useful
quantities of environmental evidence. This produced a
typical medieval assemblage of mixed cereals, legumes
(horse bean, pea and possibly cultivated vetch) and all
the main species of domesticated animals.

Item Type: Book
Subjects: Geographical Areas > English Counties > Essex
Period > UK Periods > Bronze Age 2500 - 700 BC
Period > UK Periods > Early Medieval 410 - 1066 AD
Period > UK Periods > Iron Age 800 BC - 43 AD
Period > UK Periods > Medieval 1066 - 1540 AD
Period > UK Periods > Mesolithic 10,000 - 4,000 BC
Period > UK Periods > Modern 1901 - present
Period > UK Periods > Neolithic 4000 - 2200 BC
Period > UK Periods > Post Medieval 1540 - 1901 AD
Period > UK Periods > Roman 43 - 410 AD
Depositing User: Joseph Reeves
Date Deposited: 29 Nov 2010 17:04
Last Modified: 04 Nov 2013 15:55
URI: http://eprints.oxfordarchaeology.com/id/eprint/372

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