22nd July 2013:

The Neolithic enclosure at Rectory Farm, Godmanchester

OA East has successfully tendered for the analysis and publication of the Rectory Farm, Godmanchester archaeological project. The fieldwork was carried out by the Central Archaeology Service of English Heritage between 1988 and 1995. It focused on threats from gravel extraction to a Neolithic trapezoidal enclosure/cursus complex of national importance and a scheduled Romano-British villa, although many other remains were also found.

The site lies within the valley of the Great Ouse, along which extensive prehistoric landscapes have been the subject of archaeological work for some time. Until the 1990s, however, the local river gravels were considered to be the focus of pre-Roman activity in the area. More recent investigations on the Bedford/Cambridgeshire claylands have now identified extensive prehistoric occupation on the higher ground. A more complete picture of Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age archaeology in the area is therefore emerging, with numerous ritual/ceremonial and burial remains being focused on the gravels.

Many of the sites that stretched along the Great Ouse have been excavated by OA East, most of them being dug before we joined Oxford Archaeology. They include the complex of Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age ceremonial monuments at Brampton. Adjacent to these are the Neolithic to Bronze Age occupation and field systems found on the northern side of the adjacent Alconbury Brook at Huntingdon Racecourse. Other relevant sites in the vicinity include the cursus and long barrow at Eynesbury.

The trapezoidal enclosure found at Rectory Farm consists of a delimiting ditch and inner bank and an array of free-standing posts, enclosing an extensive open area. It is of unusual form and it is of particular interest in terms of its wider setting in a developing monumental landscape. Interpretation of its function will entail a major component of archaeoastromony, which will be conducted by Prof. Clive Ruggles. Issues to consider will be whether it was calendar-based functional (for example, as a gathering point for fishing/hunting at the optimum time of the mid spring equinox), or whether it was entirely ceremonial/religious.

There was little evidence for Iron Age activity at the site and the area may have been flooded at this time. During the Roman period, the villa which developed next to the Neolithic enclosure would have lain close to the small Roman town of Durovigutum (Godmanchester), the centre of which was demolished c AD 240 to build a mansio and associated structures. The presence at Rectory Farm of a large accompanied and primarily cremation cemetery of apparently late date (2nd century) is of particular significance.

Post-excavation work on the site has commenced, and will continue until the end of March 2014.