Since 1993 Oxford Archaeology East (formerly Cambridgeshire County Council's Archaeological Field Unit) has been involved in an extended campaign of archaeological evaluations, excavations and monitoring on behalf of the Wellcome Trust at Hinxton in south Cambridgeshire. This work revealed a natural post-glacial river valley landscape first utilised on a seasonal basis during the prehistoric period, with evidence for Neolithic to Roman agrarian activity alongside elements associated with death and ritual.
By the 7th century AD a small settlement or farmstead, represented by two earthfast timber halls and a number of Sunken-Featured Buildings (SFBs), was established in the northern part of the site, with further scattered SFBs and associated activity to the south. The burial of a mature female located to the north-east provides a tangible link to the inhabitants of the settlement, which may have been the documented Hengest's Farm - the origin of the place name, Hinxton.
Some of the SFBs appear to have burnt down and/or been abandoned by the 8th century; one of the buildings contained rows of unfired loomweights at its base that appear to have been stored on straight poles. Samples of burnt timber from two of the SFBs were radiocarbon dated to AD 590-775 and AD 650-960. When combined with the date of other finds, the results suggest that the structures were being used during the transition from the early to middle Saxon period. Following an apparent hiatus, re-settlement of the main northern (Hinxton Hall) area probably occurred at some point in the 9th century. This was represented by a core group of timber buildings of sill-beam and post-in-trench construction and related settlement features, around which a field system and ancillary structures were created. To the south-west, on the other side of the river Cam and possibly adjacent to a ford, woodworking and other craft activities (including flax retting) were being undertaken on a woven wattle platform.
This settlement continued to develop and adapt in the subsequent centuries, with the construction of new buildings and rebuilding or repair of others and creation of a substantial enclosure around the primary structures. This enclosure may not have been ‘defensive’ in the military sense, but prevented animals from entering the living area and kept unwanted predators – and possibly rustlers and thieves – outside. A smaller satellite settlement was also established to the south, adjacent to a major north-west to south-east boundary; the latter probably demarcating the main routeway extending from Hinxton High Street down towards Great Chesterford to the south. Both of these settlements were abandoned by the end of the 12th or early 13th century, although some evidence of agricultural activities spanning the medieval and post-medieval periods was found. Thier demise probably coincides with a move towards the formalisation of the village around the parish church in the medieval period. This process – which saw both the decline of independent family-farms and hamlets being brought together in a village, often under one Lord’s jurisdiction – is a key change that ushers in medieval rural life.
A further phase of excavation is being undertaken at Hinxton and is due to be completed in July 2014, following which the results will be incorporated into two monographs that are currently in draft form and will be published as part of the East Anglian Archaeology series.
An iron sword pommel of probable 9th-century date is of similar size and weight to Anglo-Saxon and Viking examples. A sword grip made from walrus ivory probably came from the same weapon. It was skilfully made, with concave indentations for fingers. Swords were heirlooms and were the mark of a warrior in the Viking age. They were given names, such as ‘Fotbitr’ (leg biter).