Sometimes the most significant discoveries are not made until after the fieldwork has ended. In the spring of 2014, a team from OA East, commissioned by Mott Macdonald Ltd, returned to Essex to investigate a number of sites that had been identified by evaluation along the route of a new Essex and Suffolk Water pipeline. Five areas were investigated along the c 14.5km-long route between Chelmsford and Langford.

These sites revealed archaeology dating from most periods between the Mesolithic and modern, with the more significant elements including an early to middle Bronze Age barrow and an early Saxon (6th to 7th centuries AD) settlement. The latter, found at the eastern end of the pipeline route close to Langford, comprised the remains of at least seven timber halls and two sunken featured buildings.

Arguably one of the most important outcomes of this work did not come to light until the initial post-excavation analysis. Radiocarbon dating indicated that what had appeared to be a superficially unsignificant cremation deposit found in a pit was in fact Mesolithic – making this the first positively identified cremated human remains from this period in Britain.

In addition to being a significant discovery in the course of delivering the archaeological requirements of Mott Macdonald Ltd, this result has wider implications, particularly in terms of highlighting the need to undertake more systematic radiocarbon dating of unaccompanied cremations, both as part of future projects but perhaps also in relation to existing excavation archives.