17th April 2014:

Excavations along a 30km Anglian Water pipeline between Thetford in Norfolk and Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk are coming to an end after nearly five months on site. The project has been a joint venture between OA East and PCA Central, one which has provided the means to deal with approximately 30 separate sites along the route of the pipeline. Not surprisingly given the distance covered, the excavations have revealed remains from multiple periods as the route of the pipeline winds its way through rural Suffolk.

Some of the earliest findings came from a gravel ridge overlooking the floodplain at Barnham and comprised an impressive late Mesolithic/early Neolithic flint scatter, along with a small number of Neolithic pits. The same site was also part of a Saxon settlement; seven sunken featured buildings were encountered, the most unusual of which was 1m deep and contained a primary ashy deposit and at least 100 sherds of Saxon pottery, some of it decorated. To the south of Barnham a small Roman inhumation cemetery of eight individuals was discovered, positioned between Bronze Age barrows to the east and west. One of the burials, that of a juvenile, contained an enamelled Roman disc brooch, while three others contained knives.

Sites on the edge of Bardwell uncovered dispersed Iron Age settlement along the higher ground south of the village, including a ditch of monumental dimensions, while to the north of the village there was evidence for medieval expansion along Spring Lane during the 12th-14th centuries. Similar concentrations of medieval activity were found close to Fakenham Magna and at Rougham airfield. North of Pakenham an area of buried soil contained quantities of early Bronze Age pottery and a large contemporary assemblage of struck flint, including at least 15 scrapers.

At the far south of the pipeline route the easement passed along the western side of a Roman road, which extends along a ridge of high ground and is now a secluded country lane. The location is significant due to the presence of four Roman burial mounds – the Eastlow barrows – directly to the east of the road, only 40m from the excavation corridor. The most impressive of these still stands to a height of 4m. It was excavated in the 1840s, and was found to enclose a Roman brick-built burial chamber containing a lead coffin. The site became something of a tourist hot-spot in the later 19th century and was then filled in and closed due to safety concerns, but not before the chamber was used as an apple store in the early 20th century. Typically, the adjacent pipeline easement contained no Roman remains, but what we did find attests to the importance of this location over thousands of years. Only 40-50m from the Roman barrow, an area of late Bronze Age/early Iron Age settlement was discovered, clustered at the end of a middle Bronze Age double ditch (on a similar alignment to the barrows). The Bronze Age settlement is juxtaposed with a well preserved medieval beamslot building of probable 13th century date and associated medieval roadside settlement.

The collaboration between OA East and PCA Central has been highly successful during fieldwork over the winter months and the two offices will continue to work together during the post-excavation process.