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The Excavation of a Ring-Ditch and Prehistoric Field System at Barleycroft Farm, Bluntisham, Cambridgeshire

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Evans, Christopher 


The results of previous watching brief cover in the quarry, whilst 'intriguing', demonstrated that the evidence of dispersed prehistoric settlement recovered could not be adequately dealt with during overburden stripping. Previous evaluation in the field to the west permitted some overview of the area's archaeology (e.g. character of deposits, alignment of boundaries; Evans 1995). Therefore, when approached to extend the watching brief cover to the next phase of stripping an alternative programme was proposed: employ what funds were available to excavate trenches across the area (6ha; TL 357723; stripping had already occurred across the easternmost 50m of the area before this work commenced). Although not ideal, this approach has the advantage of sample control and provides positive evidence of large-scale land-use patterns. Based, moreover, on the results of the evaluation, this technique was particularly appropriate to further trace the extensive prehistoric fieldsystem found in the western field. Although nuances of layout surely evaded the programme, a broad 'picture' of land-usage was recovered. Not only was the fieldsystem further traced and the settlement delineated on the hill/island top, but a major ring-ditch also found. Upon its discovery additional funds were duly applied for and received from ARC Ltd, enabling it to be stripped almost in its entirety (c. 80%) and thoroughly sample-excavated. The excavation was not 'perfect' and more sophisticated programmes could be envisaged (e.g. grid-sample chemical testing and excavation of the buried soil across its interior). Yet given that the ring-ditch was totally 'unannounced' (i.e. no visible cropmarks) and the response was necessarily rapid, this rapid excavation can be considered 'adequate' to its sequence. Due to limited resources and with general knowledge of early settlement distribution through the previous evaluation, trenching was concentrated within the northern two thirds of the field. Whilst at risk of biased retrieval, this proved fortuitous. After the trenching was completed, it was decided that the low quality gravel over the southern end of the field did not warrant extraction; the altered quarry edge roughly coinciding with the ring-ditch. It was, therefore, proposed and provisionally accepted that the monument would be preserved. However, shortly before the completion of excavation, the topsoil stripping crew mistakenly backfilled much of the site, severely damaging its surfaces. In alarmed response permission was granted to re-open the area and the excavation completed. However given the degree of damage, the ring-ditch can no longer be considered a worthy candidate for preservation.



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Cambridge Archaeological Unit, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge

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