19th May 2017:

A routine excavation by archaeologists from OA East at Chesterton in north Cambridge led to the discovery of the first significant remains of prehistoric settlement in the area and possible evidence for the ritual burial of animals

Previous investigations in the area have focused on the historic core of the old village and have largely revealed a story of medieval and later development. So when OA East was appointed to undertake a post-demolition evaluation on a housing estate adjacent to a known medieval moat on the outskirts of the village, the expectation was that the team would find traces of medieval activity or field boundaries associated with Chesterton's medieval 'Eastfield'.

Although the site clearly contained medieval remains, the evaluation and subsequent excavation also revealed a dense array of Iron Age archaeology, which represents the earliest significant settlement evidence yet to be discovered in Chesterton.

The Iron Age archaeology comprised a number of pits and a few postholes, and ditches that formed parts of small sub-rectangular enclosures. These remains were clearly part of a larger settlement extending beyond the footprint of the development site, but they are nonetheless an important discovery for this part of Cambridge.

The pits contained quantities of pottery and well-preserved animal bone, including a relatively large number of sawn-antler fragments. Most of the pottery from the pits has been dated to the early Iron Age, while that from the ditches spans the middle and late Iron Age, with a few sherds of Roman pottery also recovered from the upper fills.

The most remarkable discovery was a relatively shallow, square-shaped pit, carefully crammed with the articulated remains of at least six animals, including sheep, dog and pig. Preliminary examination has shown that none of them has been butchered or skinned. This appears to rule out a domestic interpretation, and points instead to ritual activity, the animals possibly having being killed and deposited as part of a religious ceremony.

Analysis of the pit and the other evidence will continue and no doubt reveal more secrets of the ‘ritual’ pit and prehistoric Chesterton.

The 'ritual' pit at Chesterton, Cambridge