18th December 2018:
Throughout this year's hot summer, a team from OA East were at the National Trust's Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire for a two-hectare excavation at the site of a new car park and visitor centre.
Sitting on a small ridge known as Lamp Hill, the excavation area lay to the north-east of the main visitor attraction of Wimpole Hall and was situated between the Roman roads of Ermine Street and Akeman Street, now the A603 and A1198. Building on the results of an evaluation in 2016 and a training excavation earlier in 2018 (for students of the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Continuing Education), this major excavation revealed the remains of a Late Iron Age to mid-Roman (c.100BC – 150AD) rural settlement.
Two roundhouses were found, one with its central hearth intact. Relatively few other structural remains were found due to later 19th century coprolite mining which disturbed the core of the settlement. By the later Roman period, the site appears to have been repurposed as fields and livestock enclosures.
However, it became evident as excavation progressed that this was not the site of a typical farming settlement. Nearly 200 metal artefacts were found, and though the majority were domestic (such as cosmetic kits, keys, brooches, belt fittings and coins), there were a notable number of items of military equipment. These included a complete iron spearhead, an arrowhead, a couple of small blades and even a small copper alloy fitting from the breast plate of Roman armour (Lorica Segmentata). It appears that there was an established trading relationship between the Roman military who were travelling up and down Ermine Street (or even constructing it) and the native inhabitants of the settlement of Lamp Hill.
A selection of the small metal finds from the excavation
Two finds were especially worthy of note, the first being a small figurine holding a torc. This is a decorative piece from the handle of a spatula, which would have been used to clear wax on a writing tablet, ready for re-use. The figure is that of the Gaulish deity ‘Cernunnos’ who is associated with fertility and dates to the early second century AD. Secondly, a small, worn silver denarius was recovered from the top of a large boundary ditch. The denarius was most probably minted at Patrae in Greece between the years 32 -31 BC, by Marc Antony, to pay his troops for the ongoing civil war with Octavian.
Figurine of Cernunnos holding a torc
Not only have the archaeological discoveries surpassed all expectations, the project has had a very successful outreach programme. The site played host to over 60 volunteers who gained hands-on experience of field archaeology. In addition, there were two guided tours per day and a well-attended open weekend. In total, 2500 visitors of all ages engaged with the archaeology during eight weeks of excavation, marking an enormous success for the Wimpole estate.
The finds from the excavation are now being cleaned, catalogued and analysed and will hopefully form the basis of some future exhibitions at the National Trust's Wimpole estate.