Monument record MCC2868 - Middle Iron Age enclosure with an internal round-house, South of Ypres Road, Colchester


Middle Iron Age sub-rectangular ditched enclosure with an internal round-house, defined by excavation in 2003 (Area 2) in advance of the construction of the new Garrison.


Grid reference TL 99425 23477 (point)
Map sheet TL92SE
County ESSEX


Type and Period (13)

Full Description

Middle Iron Age (Period 3) Enclosure
Area 2 was dominated by a sub-rectangular ditched enclosure. Three sides were identified during the main excavation, while the northern side was located later by trial-trench to the north of the excavation area.

The enclosure, defined by a single ditch F229, measured 52.5m x 47.5m, giving an internal area of some 2,495 sq m (c.0.25ha). The exposed length of the ditch had no entrance gaps, but the presence of a linear hollow way apparently leading up to the north-eastern edge of the enclosure ditch from the east suggests an entry at that point, probably across a plank bridge. The hollow way was some 22m long within the excavation area (extending eastwards of the excavation for an unknown distance), around 3.5-5m wide, and was eroded around 0.15-0.2m into the underlying natural sands and gravels. This feature was probably created by a lengthy period of use by stock, foot and probably cart traffic. Gravel had been thrown down to consolidate the hollow way after erosion episodes. The hollow way ended abruptly in a squared-off end 1.5m from the eastern ditch, which suggests access continued by a slightly raised route over the ditch, i.e. the narrow gap of undisturbed natural gravel between the west end of the hollow way and the ditch could be explained as the ground-fast position of the eastern end of a wooden bridge. A second possible, but rather less impressive, entrance point was suggested by the narrowing of the western ditch and a small eroded hollow on its outer edge which is consolidated with gravel.

The enclosure ditch was most substantial on the eastern side of the enclosure, 2.8m wide x c.1.3m deep; the western side was notably less substantial at 0.5-0.75m deep and 1.3-2.3m wide. It was recut at least once, indicating a relatively long period of use. A gravelled layer within the south enclosure ditch suggests that the ditch had two phases, with gravel laid down to consolidate the ground over earlier ditch silts. A stony horizon in the south-western corner of the enclosure may also represent a consolidation phase. Environmental sampling revealed fragments of twigs, thorn, seeds and fruit stone in the eastern ditch, which may be evidence for a hedge close to the ditch (presumed to have been on top of an internal bank). There was a corresponding lack of evidence for a hedge on the western side. Taken with the large amount of pottery (see below), and the lesser size of the ditch, this led to the conclusion that the western side of the site was not intended to appear as impressive as that on the east.

The enclosure ditch produced 3136g (440 sherds) of pre-Belgic pottery. Only 518g came from the lower fill; all the rest came from the upper (recut) levels. 61.6% by weight of the enclosure ditch pottery came from the west length. In addition, more pottery came from the very few pits inside the enclosure, and from the round-house (There was 3710g of pre-Belgic pottery in total from Area 2). Fragments of an Iron Age loomweight from the enclosure ditch fill suggests that weaving was one of the activities carried out within the enclosure.<1>

A circular pit F63, c.2m in diameter x c.3m deep, was defined in the south-east corner of the enclosure ditch, where the recut ditch was at its deepest. Whether this was a sump or an animal watering hole is difficult to say. It had rather steep sides (too steep to allow animals to approach it easily), and was interpreted as a sump (to remove excess water) or possibly a well. The lower fill of this pit comprised a waterlogged alluvial silt from which a column sample was extracted for pollen analysis but the results were poor.

Middle Iron Age round-house
The interior of the enclosure was dominated by a circular structure defined by a penannular gully 11.8m in diameter, interpreted as an eaves-drip gully (designed to catch rainwater from the eaves of a pitched thatched roof) of a round-house. Further evidence for the building, in the form of burnt daub with impressions, was found in a Middle Iron Age pit to the north.

A break in the eaves-drip gully on the northern side of the circle could represent an entrance. This conclusion may be supported by post-holes for a potential porch. However, part of the east side of the gully was removed by a later ditch, and it is perhaps more likely that the entrance was on the eastern side, given the usual east-facing aspect of round-houses. The shallow gully has produced a relatively small assemblage of Middle Iron Age pottery, which indicates that it is contemporary with the lower ditch fills of the enclosure.

A circular arrangement of post-holes close to the eaves drip gully appears to represent the outer wall of the round-house, whilst an inner ring of post-holes presumably housed roof supports. With the maximum extent of the building at 11.8m diameter (and the thatch overhanging slightly), this was a relatively large and impressive structure.

The round-house, though relatively central, was situated noticeably closer to the southern and western side of the enclosure. This position is striking since the round-house would have had a greater visual impact on the visitor coming in through the eastern enclosure entrance, than if it had been central. This wish to impress, prior to and at the point of entry into the settlement, was also represented by the much more substantial and impressive nature of the enclosure ditch (and its presumed bank) on the eastern side of the enclosure than on the southern and western sides. It is also interesting to note that the domestic debris (in the form of discarded pottery) was dumped in greater quantities in the western ditch than in the southern and eastern ditches.

Environmental sampling revealed a lack of debris in features associated with the round-house. A reasonable interpretation of this is that the house was kept clean, and that rubbish was not allowed to accumulate anywhere inside or around it.<1>

Sources/Archives (1)

  • <1> EXCAV REPORT: Brooks, Howard (CAT) and Masefield, Robert (RPS Group). 2005. The Colchester Garrison PFI project, Colchester Essex: a report on the 2002 excavation of Areas 2, 6, 10. CAT Report 292, pp.8-10 & Figs. 4-12.

Finds (0)

Protected Status/Designation

  • None recorded

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Events/Activities (3)

Record last edited

Jan 4 2017 10:19AM

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