Partnering with the Wellcome Genome Campus and Hinxton Hall
Major archaeological investigations by OA East have taken place at Hinxton, South Cambridgeshire for more than twenty years, on behalf of the Wellcome Trust. Research into the findings is nearing completion and will be published in two monographs. The excavated areas lay on either side of the River Cam.
In a valley landscape consisting of woodland, streams and seasonally flooded pools, the nomadic late Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic population used the site as a hunting ground and an area for flintworking. Tree clearance may have begun in the Early Neolithic (4,000 years BP), reflecting the transition to farming which required open land. After a period of flooding, a Late Neolithic 'ritual shaft' was constructed, containing a large amount of worked flint and sealed by the remains of more than thirty Early Bronze Age Beaker pots. Such features reflect the spiritual life of the site’s early inhabitants. A field system was established on the higher ground, after which activity again declined, perhaps once again due to flooding. During this period, an isolated Middle Bronze Age 'crouched' burial was placed into the top of one of the largest pools.
By the Middle Iron Age, a braid of the Icknield Way crossed the site, running from east to west. To its south lay a large enclosure that became a place for mortuary ritual and was perhaps used to process the dead by excarnation (exposure to the elements). The presence of a few burials suggests that this enclosure remained associated with death into the Late Iron Age and Early Roman periods, when a small timber shrine was also built. This shrine may have been dedicated to the Goddess Fortuna, as part of a statuette depicting her was found.
The site appears to have been in continuous use for livestock farming from the Middle Iron Age until the Middle Romano-British period. The farmers used corrals and other stock enclosures which were either directly linked to the Icknield Way braid or to other tracks/droveways. After the Middle Roman period the farmland lay largely fallow: sporadic quarrying on the riverside gravel terraces perhaps provided building materials for the nearby town at Great Chesterford.
The land was not resettled until the Early to Middle Anglo-Saxon period when it housed a scatter of halls, sunken-featured buildings and associated structures, perhaps acting as a craft-based focus for a small settlement. By the Late Saxon period, settlement and fields were concentrated in the northern part of the site. The main structure was an L-shaped hall, adjacent to which lay a storehouse or workshop. During the 11th century a ditch encircled the settlement and several new timber buildings (including latrines) were constructed. 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. This may have been the documented Hengest’s Farm, which gave modern Hinxton its name. Notable finds include the pommel and hand grip from what appears to be a Viking sword, as well as counters and a tabula gaming board (now known as backgammon). Further discoveries were made in Ickleton, on the western side of the River Cam, where a working area probably associated with flax retting and wood working was found.