Archaeologists return to Pineham, Northamptonshire

In 2014, ULAS archaeologists returned to Pineham in Northamptonshire to carry out a second season of excavation. Now, with two seasons of fieldwork completed, the large-scale excavation has investigated a total of 12 hectares of land in advance of major residential development for Taylor Wimpey (East Midlands).

The excavations have focused on two fields, targeting archaeological evidence previously identified in geophysical survey and trial trenches; and work in 2013 and 2014 formed the final phase of archaeological investigation in the area, following on from earlier excavations to the south and south-west in the commercial development areas (Brown and Carlyle 2007).

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Site plan of Pineham

In 2014, investigations focused on the west field. The majority of the archaeological evidence consisted of Iron Age settlement enclosures, with multi-phase roundhouses, associated ditches, and field systems. The Iron Age enclosures were added to a pre-existing ditched boundary, seen running east-west for over 1km in length, and were connected on its eastern edge to a well preserved graveled trackway that extended over 300m (and beyond the site limits in both directions).

pineham2 (1)
Roundhouse 100% excavated. Note the eaves drip gully is serving its purpose in keeping the interior dry.

Both enclosures were surrounded by exceptionally deep ditches, reaching 5m in width and 2.2m in depth. The southern enclosure was 0.2ha in area and contains a centrally-placed roundhouse, sub-enclosures, pit clusters, and post-holes. The enclosure entrance way was just 1.5m wide and contained a large post-hole set to one side. The northern enclosure was over twice as large (0.5ha) and appears to be multi-phase (being incorporated with the gravelled droveway to the east at some point). It contained three roundhouses and sub-enclosures. A complete iron currency bar was recovered from one ditch, seemingly deliberately placed in the bottom of the ditch at the apex of a later ‘D’ shaped enclosure, at the location of the original southern terminus of the northern enclosure. It is possible the bar may indicate the settlement had trade links with nearby Hunsbury Hill fort (located 2km to the east) where it has been suggested that these types of objects may have been manufactured (Fell 1936, 67). It adds to the increasing number of currency bars located in ditches from settlement contexts (Hingley 2005, 192).

These huge enclosures with the deep ditches and (presumably) internal banks would have looked visually very impressive, with their function surely beyond simply defensive – these lay at the bottom of the valley close to the river and flood plain. The scale is certainly similar to some other Iron Age enclosed settlements in the East Midlands termed ‘Wooton Hill Style Enclosure’ (Dix and Jackson 1989).

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Entrance into Iron Age enclosure showing very large ditches.

Previously, in 2013, in the east field the majority of the evidence consisted of a substantial multi-phase Roman rural settlement, the early Roman phases consisted of some field boundaries and enclosures. In the later Roman period activity intensified, with numerous enclosures and paddocks added to a pre-existing linear ditch, forming a gridded arrangement. These fields contained evidence of a variety of agricultural activities, including a large water hole (containing surviving timber revetment and fragments of a leather shoe), cobble surfaces, ovens/kilns and wells. A small stone-built rectangular structure was set within one small enclosure. The structure was square-shaped with a stone flue running around the internal perimeter and stoke hole on one corner, it may have been a ‘smoke’ house or drying oven.

View of the stone 'smoke-house' from above (image courtesy of Aerial Cam).
View of the stone ‘smoke-house’ or drying oven from above (image courtesy of Aerial Cam).

Clusters of human burials were located on the edge of the activity areas, some laying within the enclosures, others overlying the enclosure ditches, and one within a ditch. Pieces of a circular lead tank (which had been cut up into flattened pieces) were laid individually along a short section of a ditch forming the southern boundary of the enclosure.

Fragments of lead sheet found in the bottom of a ditch.
Decorated side piece and half of the circular base of the lead tank during excavation. Length of decorated piece 0.75m.

The excavations in the east field also revealed evidence for significant Anglo-Saxon settlement activity – this included buildings of various forms and sizes, along with pottery and other Saxon objects.

Brown, J. and Carlyle, S. 2007, Northampton, Upon, Pineham North. South Midlands Archaeology, 37, 19-20.

Dix, B. and Jackson, D. 1989, Some Late Iron Age Defended Enclosures in Northamptonshire. Midlands Prehistory. Some Recent and Current Approaches into the Prehistory of Central England. BAR 204, 158-179.

Fell, C.I. 1936, The Hunsbury Hill-Fort, Northants. A New Survey of the Material, The Archaeological Journal, 93, 57-100.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

    Some wild conjecture on my part: cut-up and flattened lead tank possibly a ritually disposed of (or hidden) baptistry?

    1. Post-excavation analysis is at an early stage at the moment so no thoughts as yet. In all, four fragments of lead tank were recovered and they have been interpreted as parts of an Early Christian baptismal font. The pieces were laid individually along a short section of the ditch. The base of the tank had been cut into two separate pieces and the other two recovered pieces consisted of around c.2/3 of the side of the tank that had been flattened out. The pieces appear to have been cut to a portable size, perhaps intended as scrap metal. No furnaces were recorded on the site but two lead ingots have also been recovered perhaps suggesting metal was being melted down on the site.

      1. Interesting. The find of a Roman christian baptistry there is an unusual and important one in and of itself, no?

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