Iron Age

Iron is used in Britain from c.800 BC and its use as a tool (as well as a weapon) allowed farmers to cultivate the clays between Cambridge and St Neots, as iron tipped spades and ploughs could work the soil. Archaeological digs and analysis of aerial photographs in this area have found widespread settlement with a patchwork of farmsteads joined by field systems.

These are series of irregularly shaped enclosures that mark out fields bounded by ditches. They are often connected or side by side, and can have droveways or roads running between them and commonly associated with evidence of houses or other domestic activity, usually an further enclosure with one of more ring ditches within the boundary. A ring ditch is a circular ditch with an opening at one side that indicates the remains of a round house. There are the remains of field systems along both sides of Highfields Road, although occupation appears to have been limited to the east side where roundhouses and a ‘banjo enclosure’ dating from the Late Iron Age (100BC onwards) were found.  Roundhouse Close, off Clare Drive is named after this find.

Archaeological dig in Caldecote – can you see the evidence of the roundhouse?

Archaeological dig in Caldecote – can you see the evidence of the roundhouse?

Archaeological dig – here the roundhouse can be clearly seen

Archaeological dig – here the roundhouse can be clearly seen

Banjo enclosures are very distinctive in shape, being a vaguely triangular enclosure measuring some 35m long on each side with a defined ‘avenue’ type approach facing north-west. Within the enclosure was a roundhouse, the entrance to which also faced north-west. These enclosures are mainly known from the southern part of the country, and although five examples are known from Cambridgeshire, this is only one that has been properly excavated. The Caldecote enclosure had three different phases before finally being abandoned after fire destroyed the house.

A reconstruction of an Iron Age roundhouse

A reconstruction of an Iron Age roundhouse

This is what the inside of a roundhouse may have looked like.

This is what the inside of a roundhouse may have looked like.

Ditches can have several uses in these environments. They are useful to keep animal contained and to act as boundary markers. They can also serve as drainage ditches, and certainly at sites in Cambourne there is evidence of seasonal flooding and the use of ditches to keep houses and possibly fields dry. These sites indicate a simple agrarian existence, with people living in groups of round houses, each surrounded by a field system. These are an early form of village, although there is no evidence for any form of central or public building.

Finds from the Caldecote settlement area includes pottery sherds, mainly hand thrown but some possibly wheel-made coming into towards the end of the Iron Age. Food processing is evidenced by the presence of quern stone fragments which indicate the presence of wheat (also seen in the environmental samples). Additionally, pig and sheep bones all indicate the practice of butchery at the site. Other finds include loom weights (for weaving) and bone awls or similar implements, possibly for leather working.

More widely, Cambridgeshire formed the frontier between three great tribal groupings: the Iceni of Norfolk, the Catuvellauni of the south east and the Trinovantes of central England. The forts and other large centres may have been there to mark territory; certainly Stonea Camp appears to have been an Iceni stronghold, for a hoard of gold coins called staters, minted by the Iceni, were located in the banks of Stonea Camp, together with evidence of a brutal massacre of women and children. It is tempting to see Stonea as a last refuge of the Iceni in one of their revolts against Rome.

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