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Colchester Archaeological Trust

CAT Report 1575: summary

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A prehistoric ring-ditch and Roman landscape at Lanswood Park, Elmstead Market, Essex: evaluation and excavation
by Howard Brooks
(with contributions from Michael Bamforth, Dr Matthew Loughton, Laura Pooley, Bronagh Quinn, Megan Seehra, Alec Wade, and Adam Wightman)

Date report completed: August 2022
Location: Lanswood park, Elmstead Market, CO7 7FD
Map reference(s): TM 0722 2368 (centre)
File size: 22530 kb
Project type: Evaluation and excavation
Significance of the results:
Keywords: Prehistoric, Roman, Ring-Ditch, Cremation, Well, Timber,

Summary. The Tendring Peninsula is rich in archaeological cropmark sites. When excavated, these cropmark sites generally reveal multi-period occupation centred on the prehistoric and Romano-British periods. The current site, at NGR TL073 236 and just east of the famous Beth Chatto Gardens, conforms to this pattern. A small scattering of prehistoric flints indicates passing activity in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods (Period 1a). The first dated features were two deposits of burnt flints accompanied by large sherds of Middle Bronze Age pottery. These deposits may be ceremonial rather than domestic in nature. Of a group of fifty-one cuts arranged in two or three overlapping oval patterns, nineteen contained Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age pottery (Period 1b). The cuts (with or without finds) were of widely differing depths, and so the oval patterns are unlikely to have been created by the uprooting of wooden posts. Again, a ceremonial function is more convincing than a domestic one for these deposits. Mirroring the oval pattern of the cuts, an adjacent ring-ditch may, by association, be dated to the Bronze Age. A cremation burial offcentre within the ring-ditch is similarly undated, but contained the remains of an adult buried with a copper object surviving only as a bone stain. The beginning of a sustained period of activity belongs to the 1st century AD (Period 2a), when a Late Iron Age/early Roman enclosure was laid out, initially containing two unurned cremation burials. Although a small number of features can be dated to this 1st century phase, the later first and early second century (Period 2b) saw a massive increase in activity (continuing into the third), with the laying out of an enclosure (half of which lay within the excavated area), approached by at least four trackways or droveways. A significant element of the site was a Roman timber well. Sixteen iron nails may have been parts of structures which are otherwise invisible. In a possible connection, one plank from the well may a have had a nail hole, indicating a former life as part of a wooden structure. Apart from those instances, there were no signs of a structure (for example, convincing settings of post holes) within the enclosure, other than two possible fence lines. It may therefore be assumed that the primary function of the enclosures was agricultural, with evidence of the movement of livestock (the droveways), and of cereal processing (quern fragments). It may be noted that there were no Roman coins. A small quantity of slag shows that some metal working took place. Although no hearth or ovens were found, a quantity of baked clay, some of it with wattle holes, may be indicative of fired clay structures which are not otherwise apparent. What is difficult to interpret is the large volume of Roman pottery here (55 kg). This is surely indicative of a settlement in the immediate vicinity. Likewise, the large group of Roman brick and tile (53 kg) must indicate the presence of a nearby Roman masonry structure with a tiled roof and a hypocaust. It may be concluded that the excavated site was a farmyard belonging to an adjacent and substantial Roman-period structure with a tiled roof and a hypocaust, most likely to be of 1st century date (Period 2a) and associated with the early enclosure and cremation burials mentioned above. The pottery found on the excavated site was presumably used by the inhabitants of this building and then dumped as waste in the adjacent farmyard. Significantly, the fact that brick, roof tile and flue-tile fragments from the building found their way into the farmyard ditches must imply that the building was demolished or at least remodelled during the lifetime of the farm (Period 2b).