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Colchester Archaeological Trust

CAT Report 289: summary

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An archaeological excavation at Birch Pit northern extension, Maldon Road, Colchester, Essex: June-August 2003
by Holloway, B

Date report completed: 03/03/2005
Location: Colchester, Essex
Map reference(s): TL85832886, TL928199
File size: 4016 kb
Project type: Excavation
Significance of the results: * *
Keywords: Bronze Age, ring-ditch, cremation, prehistoric pottery, barrow, Roman quarry, enclosure, trackway/droveway, prehistoric field ditches, prehistoric enclosure

Summary. An area of land to the north of the operational quarry at Birch Pit was excavated in advance of sand and gravel extraction. Several features were found additional to those formerly recorded during an evaluation. Conspicuous among these were the remains of a Middle Bronze Age cemetery close to the site's south boundary. This cemetery comprised three ring-ditches. Sixteen Middle Bronze Age urned and unurned cremation burials were excavated in the area between them, in addition to two pits containing urns from which cremated remains were not recovered. The urns, which apparently post-date the ring-ditches, belong to the 'Ardleigh Group', a local variant of the Deverel-Rimbury assemblage dating to the Middle Bronze Age and in use c 1400-1200 BC. No layers attributable as the remains of barrows could be identified in the ring-ditch fills. Two other Bronze Age sites in the region, at Brightlingsea and Chitts Hill, share particular characteristics with the site at Birch Pit which include: 1) the presence of a significant number of cremations containing single urns; 2) low frequency of cremations with two urns; 3) small size of the cemetery; and 4) absence of urns buried upright. Some features encountered during the evaluation were re-investigated. These included two large pits, F23 and F24, and a parallel pair of shallow ditches aligned approximately east-west, F1 and F3. F23 and F24 were probably quarry-pits in use in the Roman period. The ditches F1 and F3, perhaps indicative of a droveway or trackway, are probably of later prehistoric date; they may signify the further development of a largely agricultural landscape subsequent to the construction of the Deverel-Rimbury cemetery. Located at the site's south-west corner, an almost right-angled 'enclosure' ditch, F4/F11, had an atypical profile. Elements of the structure and layout of F4/F11 compare with important parts of a Deverel-Rimbury settlement near to North Shoebury in south Essex. It is therefore possible that ditch F4/F11 enclosed a small Bronze Age settlement that was associated with the Bronze Age cemetery, located about 110m to the south-east of this feature. Alternatively, it is possible that F4/F11 defined an agricultural enclosure. The trackway and presence of the possible enclosure F4/F11 might form part of a network of cropmarks located to the north-east (EHCR nos 11548, 11577, 11582), some 0.8km from the main site. While still undated, this cropmark complex includes trackways and fields (EHCR no 11924), as well as a large rectangular enclosure. Eleven pits were found of which six contained charcoal and one was lined with flint. It is possible that some of these pits were pyre sites linked with the Bronze Age cemetery, although the dating of these features is problematic.