Four sites (A-D), with a total area of approximately 0.5ha., were excavated by Colchester Archaeological Trust during February and March 2007 on the sports pitches south of the Roman Way Camp on Colchester Garrison Alienated Land Area S2 (south), following a trial-trenched evaluation in January 2007.<1><2>
The excavations revealed a number of phases of occupation. Early prehistoric flints, Grooved Ware and a Beaker sherd may indicate a passing presence here in the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages. The first permanent settlement is marked by a possible Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age round-house. A single ditch approximately at right-angles to the Berechurch Dyke may date to the Iron Age although a later (Anglo-Saxon or medieval) date is also possible. There was no firm evidence of Late Iron Age activity here, and only a minor Roman presence can be demonstrated, presumably because in both periods this was farmland inside the oppidum. However, a small stock control system probably used for the close handling of sheep and tentatively dated to the Roman period shows some pastoral use of this landscape. Elements of a farmstead’s enclosure (probably fronting onto the medieval precursor of Berechurch Hall Farm) and further field boundaries were laid out in the medieval period. These may have been maintained and added to up to the mid 18th century. At that time, a small agricultural building, possibly a barn, was erected. Later, but still in the 18th century, the old field system was rendered redundant by the creation of a large enclosure. This is shown on the Chapman and Andre map of 1777, and appears to contain a large building, which would have stood beyond the east edge of Site D. This enclosure itself was no longer used by the final quarter of the 19th century. <1>
Site A: TL 9928 2208, centred on evaluation T12 (35m2 in area)
Site A was centred on a Middle Iron Age pit or ditch terminal within evaluation trench T12. The aim was to further clarify the nature of this feature and whether it was isolated. The excavation defined six features: five post-holes (F1, F2, F3, F5, F6) and a short linear feature (F4). It was difficult to interpret these features because of the small size of the excavated area and because of the complete lack of dated finds. The five post-holes (F1-F3, F5-F6) may have been part of a structure or structures which is or are not readily
apparent. The linear feature (F4) may be a long oval pit or tree hole, or it may have been part of a field ditch relating to agricultural activity in this area.
Site B: TL 9935 2209, centred on evaluation T13 (760m2 in area)
Site B was designed to further clarify the nature and context of the Early Iron Age ditch in the northwestern part of Area S2 (south), ie evaluation trench T13. The site was extended using part of the available contingency. Fifty-three features were identified, of which nine were irregular ‘natural’ features possibly caused by the removal and clearance of trees (F13, F27, F33, F51, F98-F102). These were grouped mainly in the central part of Site B. Charcoal flecking in their fills may indicate that tree stumps have been burned and dug out. Prehistoric pottery was found in F13 and F33. In the northern part of Site B, a series of post-holes (F18, F21-F25, F78-F81) appeared to form a post-ring 8.37m in diameter. This post-ring may be part of a round-house. Dating evidence from associated post-holes consists of Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age pottery from F18 and F25. The possible round-house could therefore be either Bronze Age or Early Iron Age in date. The latter date is indicated, given the large assemblage of Early Iron Age pottery (c 800-600 BC) that was recovered from a shallow feature immediately adjacent to the round-house
(evaluation feature F7). A group of three post-holes (F16, F17, F103) at the north edge of the site may be the remains of another post-built structure. Other scattered features suggest a phase of prehistoric activity. These are pit F48 and post-hole F49, paired post-holes F9 and F19, and isolated post-holes F11 (in the southern part of the site) and F86 (on the south edge of the site). A tight cluster of possible post-holes F82-F85 yielded a single Beaker period sherd (F82) which suggests some activity here at the end of the Neolithic period or the beginning of the Bronze Age. The two struck flints are dated to the Mesolithic or Early Neolithic (finds no 1 from F10), and probably Late Bronze Age/Iron Age (finds no 12 from L2). In the southern part of Site B, a number of short lengths of ditch (F7, F8, F87) and short linear features (F88, F89), formed a coherent pattern. There is a possibility that intercutting pits/post-holes F9 and F19 (both dated by Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age pottery), in line with F7, were also related. A single Roman sherd from F87 combined with a lack of prehistoric sherds from the ditches suggests that a Roman or later date. The presence of a sherd of medieval pottery in short ditch F91 in the north-east corner of Site B shows that it, and possibly other features on this site, are of a later period.
Site C: TL 9957 2193, centred on evaluation T21, T23 and T24 (2500m2 in area)
Site C was an L-shaped area in the south-eastern part of Area S2 (south). The area was designed to clarify the nature of the potentially later Iron Age ditches which are aligned parallel with the Berechurch Dyke and whether pits and post-holes in this area relate to structures and/or settlement at this vicinity. Archaeological features were concentrated in the southern half of Site C. Although there were a few post-holes and pits, the main discovery was a series of ditches defining a medieval paddock or plot system (with at least two phases) containing sufficient finds to suggest adjacent settlement (to the south). There are a number of other features in this area- a row of postholes extending up the centre of the later droveway (F43-F45). These may represent some sort of fence connected with the droveway. There were four features to the east side of the droveway. One (F56) was dated to the Middle Iron Age by a potsherd and may represent an earlier, ie pre-medieval phase, of activity on the site. Pottery of a similar date was found in residual contexts in later ditches F36, F37, F46 and F47. This group of pottery points to a Middle Iron Age phase of activity. Three other features (F60-F62) were undated. On the west side of the droveway, a single pit F42 contained a sherd of Roman pottery. Given the amount of residual Roman material in medieval ditches on this site, this pit may be either Roman or medieval in date.
Site D: TL 9967 2197, centred on evaluation T26 (1500m2 in area)
Site D was located in the eastern part of Area S2 (south). The purpose of the site was to investigate the nature of Iron Age activity within the close vicinity of the Berechurch Dyke, as suggested by features within evaluation trench T26. The site was also designed to clarify the date and nature of medieval or post-medieval landscape features located by the evaluation. The principal discoveries were the robbed-out ground-plan of a post-medieval agricultural building built on earth-fast timber plates, and a large ditched enclosure which appears on the Chapman and André map of Essex (1777) but not on the 1st
edition Ordnance Survey sheet XXVII, which was surveyed in 1875-76 and published in 1881. The remaining features were principally post-medieval field ditches, although one ditch was stratigraphically earlier and could be prehistoric. Middle Iron Age residual pottery was recovered from ditches F66 and F67 and also from pit F35 excavated in evaluation trench T26. An east-west ditch F66 produced a burnt flint and a Middle Iron Age sherd. Since this ditch is cut by post-medieval ditch F67, it must be post-medieval or earlier. The metric dimensions (10.8m long and 5.4m wide) of the post-medieval building suggest a structure with an original intended size of 36 feet long and 18 feet wide, with three 12-foot-wide bays. The absence of a hearth would seem to rule out a domestic use, and the presence of the midstrey perhaps confirms that this was an agricultural barn.