A year long excavation at Clay Farm, Trumpington, on the southern fringes of Cambridge, came to an end in May 2011. This 20 hectare site sat within the archaeologically rich landscape of the Cam Valley and represented the largest single excavation ever undertaken in the Cambridge area.
The excavations were commissioned by consultants URS Scott Wilson for Countryside Properties Ltd in advance of the development of a new settlement to be known as Great Kneighton. In all, 55 members of staff from the three Oxford Archaeology offices excavated the site alongside some 50 volunteers.
Archaeological remains were known to be present on the site from cropmarks and the results of an initial evaluation. However, the site threw up far more extensive remains than had been expected, with evidence of land-use stretching over 5000 years.
Evidence of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age occupation was restricted to a few small pits and tree throws and a general background scatter of struck flints. The most surprising, and a key discovery, was the existence and extent of the Middle Bronze Age field systems, enclosures and settlements that covered large areas of the site, in a part of the region where these had not previously been recorded. Within this field system areas of discrete settlement were found. These produced rich accumulations of midden material (rubbish/compost heaps), including significant quantities of shell-tempered Deverel-Rimbury pottery, animal bone, struck flint, metalwork and worked bone amounting to the largest and most diverse assemblage of domestic material from a Middle Bronze Age settlement yet discovered in East Anglia. In addition to these, we uncovered Early, Middle and Late Iron Age settlement archaeology with a contemporary, smaller and more organically developed field system.
In the Early Roman period, settlement activity continued, and waterholes, wells and a pottery kiln with in-situ lining, pedestals and kiln bars were found. The discovery of a potentially unique high status Roman cremation burial in a pit is particularly exciting. The cremated remains had been placed in a leather-bound wooden box compete with metal lock. Alongside the box were eleven vessels of high status imported tablewares from Gaul, a large lidded flagon, a small glass vessel and a pre-Roman Gaulish toiletry set dating to AD 30-50.
A double-ditched, sub-circular 'monument' was the single feature found dating to the later Roman period. This enigmatic feature contained re-deposited human remains from at least three individuals alongside five Late Roman bracelets and a group of large iron nails. Small fragments of very abraded Roman pottery were also recovered, along with clearly definable dumps of butchered animal bones. The monument may be evidence for a change in the way that people treated their dead as the Roman period came to an end. Perhaps this monument represents the re-invention of the “barrow” into which family members were re-interred.
The final part of the Clay Farm story belongs to a much more recent event – a group of seven World War Two ring ditches, constructed to enclose a searchlight battery and its associated stores. These formed part of the defences for Cambridge and can clearly be seen on aerial photographs from the time.