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Colchester Archaeological Trust

CAT Report 383: summary

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Archaeological investigations at Birch Pit western extension, Maldon Road, Colchester, Essex: 2004 and 2005-6
by Benfield, S
(with contributions from Brooks, H; Boghi, F; Crummy, N; Curl, J; Fryer, V; Martingell, H)

Date report completed: 01/02/2007
Location: Colchester, Essex
Map reference(s): TL925192
File size: 5,324 kb
Project type: Watching brief
Significance of the results: *
Keywords: Roman settlement, Bronze Age, ring-ditch, Iron Age, Roman pit, trackway/droveway, cremation, enclosure, oven/hearth, medieval, post-medieval, Anglo-Saxon

Summary. A watching brief and two seasons of excavation were carried out at Birch Pit during 2004 and 2005-6 on behalf of Hanson Aggregates. The requirement for archaeological work was associated with an extension to the western side of the quarry. This was centred on the area east of Palmer's Farm and north of the Maldon Road, and included part of a surface spread of Roman finds denoting the site of a Roman settlement. The archaeological monitoring in 2004 covered topsoilstripping for an extraction area and the associated enabling works for Stage 1 of the quarry extension. As a result of this, a number of features of prehistoric and Roman date was identified which required excavation. The further Stage 2 of the quarry extension in 2005-6 necessitated area excavation of part of the site of the Roman settlement. There were a few prehistoric features, all of which can be attributed to the Middle-Late Bronze Age. These consist of three pits close to the Maldon Road and probably a small ring-ditch on the north-west of the site. The major period of activity recorded on the site is that associated with a Roman settlement. However, some finds are of Late Iron Age type or background and it is possible that the settlement originated in the pre-conquest period. The site of the settlement is more extensive than the area covered by the excavation and extends north and west beyond the limits of the excavation. There was no trace of any remains of buildings in the part of the site of the settlement which was excavated. Away from this area, to the south and east, there was little evidence of any Roman occupation or activity except for an isolated pit, and a small group of cremation burials, dated to the 1st-early 2nd century, located about 300 m to the north-east. The settlement can be divided into two phases. Phase 1 (the early-mid Roman period) consisted of a north-south track or droveway on the east side of the site, with another path or track running east-west. Short lengths of ditch seem to have defined enclosed areas such as fields or paddocks, and there was also a possible ditched enclosure only part of which lay within the excavation area. One feature was probably a well, and there was a probable oven within the area of the possible enclosure. A group of four rectangular pits were probably graves for inhumation burials, relating to the later part of Phase 1 or possibly Phase 2. Evidence of activity in Phase 2 (the late Roman period) indicates changes to the settlement layout. However, the small number of ditch features which can be attributed to this phase form only a fragmentary landscape and suggest a degree of continuity from Phase 1. The east-west path or track across the site may have been retained; however, late-dated ditches cut across the line of the north-south track or droveway on the east side of the site, and probably also across the possible enclosure, suggesting that both of these features had gone out of use. This gives the overall impression that the landscape had possibly been partly reorganised into blocks of fields or paddocks. There is little indication of any significant post-Roman settlement until the early post-medieval period (c late 16th-early 17th century), when pottery from three adjacent pits suggests a settlement in the immediate vicinity. Many of the ditches identified as post-medieval or modern may date from this period. However, there are one or two individual finds which suggest possible activity in the Anglo-Saxon, and certainly in the early-medieval or medieval, periods. Also, the similar alignment of both the Roman and post-Roman ditches, while possibly a result of the natural topography of the area, could imply some degree of continuity in settlement and land use within the wider landscape up till the present day.