Exciting remains of Iron Age farming community uncovered in St Neots

Exciting remains of Iron Age farming community uncovered in St Neots

Archaeological excavations at a site in Cambridgeshire have uncovered exciting remains of a farming community dating as far back as the Iron Age.

One of the UK’s major land promoters and developers L&Q Estates has commissioned Pre-Construct Archaeology (PCA) to carry out a programme of archaeological excavations at Monksfields, St Neots.

This has required several stages of work including fieldwalking and a geophysical survey in 2011 and trial trenching in 2021.

Following consultation with Cambridgeshire County Council’s Historic Environment Team, it was agreed the team should investigate six different excavation areas covering nearly 19 hectares which is the equivalent to over 26 football pitches.

For the most recent survey, the team has been on-site since April and has so far uncovered clear evidence of a rural community who lived on and farmed on the site for over 700 years from around 200 BC to at least the 6th century AD.  

L&Q Estates has been involved at the adjacent Loves Farm site as master planner since 2007 and has delivered key strategic infrastructure to support the homes at the wider development, including improvements to the railway station, Round House Primary Academy School, new parks, a community hall and the relocation of St Neots Town Football Club to a new high-quality stadium.

In 2020, L&Q Estates secured planning permission to develop a further 100 acres of land for a 1,020-home expansion to Loves Farm which is due to be started in 2023 along with a second primary school, employment units, a hotel and a local centre, and will mean a total of 2,400 new homes will be provided throughout the overall development.

The archaeological excavations have been carried out in accordance with the requirements of the planning permission to record the history of the area whilst it’s still available for examination, in advance of any construction being carried out.

Mark Hinman, Director & Regional Manager at Pre-Construct Archaeology, said the idea is to record those remains that may get damaged during the building process and preserve these findings for future generations.

He said: “The finds recovered so far paint a picture of farmers with little access to or need of expensive items. We have many simple cooking pots, quern stones for grinding flour, spindle whorls for making yarn and the butchered bones of animals from many a long-forgotten meal.

“Although the excavation is just passing the midway point, we can clearly make out the development of the site over time.  

“Whilst we are still not sure exactly when the first settlers arrived on the site this seems to occur between 400 BC and 100 BC.

“During this time visitors would see the distinctive thatched roundhouses of the local population dotted across the landscape with family and neighbours living within a stone’s throw of each other. After about 50 BC until the arrival of the Romans there were fewer bigger houses on the land which we think allowed the inhabitants to grow more crops – particularly wheat.

“From the scattered farmsteads of the Iron Age through the enclosed settlements of the Romano-British period successive generations lived on this land, improving drainage, growing new crops, managing livestock, adding enclosures, buildings and roads much like today.”

Darren Mace, Projects Director at L&Q Estates, said these were really interesting finds which were important to preserve before building work gets underway.

He said: “The current site was long thought to be of archaeological interest particularly because an extraordinary range of remains that had previously been revealed by excavations next door at the farm established by Adam Love in the 1770s which is now home to the Loves Farm community.

“Prior to the Loves Farm project there was little evidence for past activity in the immediate area but this work has demonstrated the importance of development-led archaeology in addressing current gaps in our knowledge and to help bring forgotten communities from the Iron Age and Roman periods back to life and reveal how the local landscape has been shaped by its past inhabitants.”

A complete pot under excavation

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