Road Work Uncovers New Evidence at Iron Age Site
By Alicia Lopez
A new archeological site was uncovered during construction on a UK road in the summer of 2020. While it is not uncommon to find Roman archeological evidence through European construction projects, this particular find helps to paint a picture of life around 2,500 years ago and gives modern archeologists greater insight into the daily life of ordinary people in Roman Britain. This site included foundations from Iron Age houses, coins, and perhaps most excitingly, a corn dryer with preserved plant remains inside.
One of the first discoveries at this site were the foundations of Iron Age roundhouses, dated to around 330 BC. Another interesting discovery was an indication of the dividing lines between farms along the edge of “Stane Street,” the modern name for the 57-mile Roman road linking London and Chichester. Beyond these houses, archeologists found four burials and 16 cremations preserved in urns within what seems to be a cemetery, indicating that this was a fully established site.
Along with the houses and cemetery, archeologists found thousands of pieces of pottery shards in trash heaps, some of them containing food elements, which can tell archeologists more about the diet of the roundhouses’ inhabitants. Additionally, remnants of animal bones, a key part of these piles, help depict daily food in the Iron Age. Looking at the animal bones, archeologists can determine what sort of animals were kept on the farms in addition to what animals were consumed with what frequency. Additionally, archeologists found 72 coins, nearly all of them in one location. They all date within the range of 330-348 AD, which potentially indicates that they were buried at the same time in a one-time event. However, at present, it is unclear what event this was.
The potentially most exciting part of the discovery was the excavation of a corn dryer with remnants of plant material within it. Corn dryers were especially common at late Roman Britain sites and were used to dry out corn and grain over low temperatures to prevent germination. Essentially, these dryers helped Romans process grain and corn for storage. Head archeologist, Sarah Cobain, reported, “For me, the standout find was the Roman period corn dryer. This structure, specifically the preserved plant remains found within it, can tell us a great deal about the way in which the landscape was farmed. Finding out what was being eaten gives us great insight into the daily lives of the people that occupied this part of Hertfordshire, nearly 2,000 years ago”.
This find just goes to show that there is still more about the ancient world to uncover. While an initial excavation had been performed before the modern road construction started, archeologists evidently were not able to discover all parts of the site. While the site is located in a predictable location and contains expected material, this find brought a settlement archeologists did not know about to light, bringing up a new picture of the past and potentially aiding our reconstruction of the Roman world.
Arch MD Mag. “Fascinating Archaeological Finds along New A120 Route.” The Archaeology and Metal Detecting Magazine, 15 Sept. 2021, https://archmdmag.com/fascinating-archaeological-finds-along-new-a120-route/.
“What We Found and What next?” Cotswold Archaeology, 7 Sept. 2021, https://cotswoldarchaeology.co.uk/community/discover-the-past/the-archaeology-of-the-little-hadham-bypass/what-we-found-and-what-next/.
Alicia Lopez (College ’22) is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who studied Classical Studies and English.