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Colchester Archaeological Trust

CAT Report 1960: summary

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Archaeological excavation on land at Fingringhoe Ranges, Lodge Lane, Langenhoe, Colchester, Essex, CO5 7LX March-September 2022
by Laura Pooley
(with contributions from Ben Holloway, Dr Matthew Loughton, Megan Beale, Adam Wightman, Alec Wade, Gabrielle Smith, Val Fryer & Lisa Gray)

Date report completed: August 2023
Location: Fingringhoe Ranges, Lodge Lane, Langenhoe, Colchester, Essex, CO5 7LX
Map reference(s): TM 03143 17124 (centre)
File size: 10,798 kb
Project type: Archaeological excavation
Significance of the results:

Summary. Archaeological excavation was carried out at Fingringhoe Ranges, Lodge Lane, Langenhoe, Colchester, Essex in advance of alterations to the firing ranges.

Before 2018 little was known about the development site or its immediate landscape. Previous archaeological surveys along the Essex coastline had identified a sparse scattering of prehistoric sites, some Late Iron Age/Roman Red Hills, a Roman settlement 3km to the north-east, and evidence for sheep pasturage in the medieval and probably post-medieval periods until the Ranges were created in the late 19th century. In advance of the current project an archaeological evaluation was carried out in 2018, with the excavation of a small car park following in 2021. Archaeological remains revealed during these projects included a Red Hill and a significant concentration of Roman material to the north-west of the development site. Also encountered were a number of small pit features ranging in date from the Bronze Age/Late Bronze Age, through the Late Iron Age/Roman and into the medieval period.

The c 18.3 hectare development site was divided into four excavation areas totalling 4.3 hectares. Prehistoric pits and pits/tree-throws/scrub clearance pits were found scattered across the development site, with a slight concentration along the eastern edge of Area D. The worked flint assemblage provided evidence for activity on this area of marshland leading down to the Colne estuary in the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age, with prehistoric pottery continuing this evidence into the Middle Bronze Age and Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age. The size of the assemblage would seem to represent small-scale and temporary occupation of the site throughout prehistory, that was probably seasonal in nature to exploit the resources of the salt marsh. The Middle Bronze Age cremation of a possible adult was also excavated.

Late Iron Age/Roman occupation of the site was more extensive. The most significant monument was a Roman ring-ditch with single entrance enclosing four foundation pads. Both the ring-ditch and several associated features produced an assemblage of 25 bolt-heads and four spearheads, indicating occupation by the Roman army with an artillery device like a scorpion or ballista also present. It is suggested that these pads could have either 1) formed the base of a square, timber watch tower founded on four large corner posts, or 2) formed the base for an artillery placement. Dating evidence from two of the four foundation pads places the structure within the late 3rd to 4th century and, positioned on a trackway leading south-east towards the Pyefleet Channel, it is possibly part of the Saxon Shore defence.

The excavation of four red hills in Areas B and C proved to be disappointing. Despite being large features, they were extremely shallow with no evidence of in situ settling tanks, hearths, flues, burning or any other features. What there was instead was quantities of baked clay and daub, with briquetage from one of the four, and significant levels of modern contamination from the firing ranges throughout. This contamination included iron wire, shrapnel, a tank hull and large amounts of charcoal. Although undated, these red hills probably belong to the Late Iron Age or Roman period. Immediately to the south-east of the watch tower/artillery placement was a possible irregular encampment that may have been occupied either by stationed soldiers or those involved in the salt industry. Most of the Roman finds from the entire site (pottery, animal bone and small finds) came from this area.

A medieval enclosure within Area D dates from the 12th to the 14th centuries. Three sides of the enclosure were excavated along with a large number of internal pits. There were no structural remains, but domestic waste including pottery vessels, animal bone and oyster shell indicates that people were living inside the enclosure. Both placename evidence and information from the Domesday Survey would suggest that the enclosure was associated with seasonal sheep pasturage following the reclamation of the salt marsh. Post-medieval field boundary ditches in Areas B and D are present on the 1840s Tithe Map of the area and are also associated with reclamation of the salt marsh. All of the modern features are from the firing ranges.