5th August 2021:

OA East has safely welcomed nearly 200 visitors to their late Bronze Age site at Burwell in Cambridgeshire.

The 6.5 hectare excavation on Newmarket Road is taking place ahead of the construction of a new housing scheme being delivered by This Land. The archaeological team started work on the site in May and has uncovered a prehistoric settlement dating to 1,100-800 BC.

There are a large number of pits and postholes, suggesting there was a relatively large and well-established farming community in the late Bronze Age. The pits seem likely to have been used for seasonal storage of food and then repurposed as middens to dispose of rubbish. They contained layers of late Bronze Age pot and animal bone showing they were in use over some time, not filled up at once. One of the larger pits contained fragments of fired clay which would have been the positive mould for casting an axe head from bronze, and other notable finds so far include a ceramic spindle whorl, bone needle, copper alloy pins and a fragment of shale bracelet.


An aerial image of the site, looking north-west


Darker soil-filled holes are all that remain of timber structures and these show up clearly against the white natural chalk geology of the site. The layout of the post holes suggests there were several rectangular timber-framed buildings, most likely to have had thatched roofs and floors raised off the ground. Some of these had four posts driven into the ground, and others were larger with six posts. These may have been used as granaries, to store grain. Soil samples have been taken which will be checked for charred grains or other clues about their functions.

Earlier in the Bronze Age, about 2,500-2,000 BC, a funerary monument was built at the site. A circular ditch was dug and the earth mounded up in the centre. A complete male skeleton, at least 40 years old and relatively muscular, was buried at the centre of this monument alongside a large circular hole for a timber post. This post would have acted as a tall visible marker of the burial. The later Bronze Age settlement does not overlap with the earlier funerary monument and appears to have been respected as a feature of the landscape when people settled in the area a millennium later.


An archaeologist carefully trowels to reveal the remains of an early Bronze Age burial at the centre of a funerary monument


At the end of July, there was an open day for residents in neighbouring streets, as well as guided tours for Burwell Parish Council, the Burwell Museum committee and members of Staploe Archaeology Group, as well as the two Year 6 classes at Burwell Primary School. A press day was attended by a local newspaper, the Cambridge News, and BBC Radio Cambridgeshire’s Chris Mann. OA’s archaeologists maintained social distancing, and visitor contact details were collected for NHS Test and Trace.

These finds offer a fascinating insight into daily life nearly three thousand years ago, and the team will be continuing their excavation in Burwell during the remainder of 2021.