Gamlingay Cambridgeshire Village
Saxon Gamlingay

PREHISTORIC OCCUPATION

As has been noted, Gamlingay has was occupied for many years before the Saxon Settlement.

Mesolithic

Flint Tools     

Flint Axes     
The presence of a large assemblage of struck flint is of both local and regional importance. Holgate (1995) has noted the presence of earlier Mesolithic sites along the Lea and Come valleys, but none along the Ivel valley to the west until the later Mesolithic. Material from the flint scatter within the ploughsoil over the northern half of the site contained evidence for Mesolithic activity in the form of blade cores, blades and microliths, as well as five transversely flaked 'tranchet 'axes and pyramid cores. The latter suggests seasonal hunting camps along the previously larger Millbridge Brook, probably a seasonal or low-density camp (McDonald, below). In addition, a moderate quantity of struck flint was retrieved from the fills of tree hollows and pits, with residual material coming from later features. Most of the residual flint is probably of Neolithic and Bronze Age in date, indicating that the site continued to be utilised during these periods.

The Mesolithic flint assemblage, though not in situ, adds to the known distribution of sites in the region, and reiterates the presence of activity along the main river tributaries at this time. The Mesolithic was equivalent to the period during the Holocene when much of lowland Britain was forested, with breaks around lakes and rivers, with the attendant hunting and fishing potential of these areas. It has been suggested that there was a definite change in social and economic organisation between the Early and Late Mesolithic periods, with early specialised subsistence economies organised solely from base-camps, developing into generalized subsistence economies with task-sites satellite to base camps, though evidence for this has largely come from Central Pennine sites rather than East Anglia. Finds of Mesolithic flintwork have been widespread in the vicinity of Gamlingay village, especially on the western side of the present village (Stubbert, 1993). Taylor (1997) notes that both Mesolithic microliths and Neolithic tools are 'common' finds near to the brook in Dutter End and on the Heath in the south west of the village, with finds comparable to those found at Gamlingay. Taylor cites the presence of Gamlingay's sandy heaths and acidic bogs as unfavourable to medieval agriculture, thus preserving the prehistoric flintwork until ploughed up by later agricultural practices.

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Neolithic/Bronze Age

Pebble Hammer      Neolithic and Bronze Age occupation of the Gamlingay site was relatively small-scale, compared to the Saxon evidence, with struck flint in the ploughsoil and one or two pits (one containing a moderate quantity of Neolithic pottery). Fields about a mile to the south-west of the excavations, along the Millbridge Brook at Littleheath, produced dense Neolithic flint scatters (Walker 1911). The large assemblage included barbed arrowheads, spear-tips, scrapers and flint knives, and Walker (ibid., 64-65) argued that they indicated a Neolithic settlement. Cropmarks of a ring ditch are present in the field to the south-east of the site, suggesting funerary use of the area, and also probably occupation close by, into the Bronze Age. The academic potential of the Neolithic/Bronze Age data is more modest than for the Mesolithic and Saxon periods, though the flint and pottery assemblage is valuable for comparison and enhancing patterns of regional distribution in its own right. The Neolithic pottery is also likely derived from largely in situ deposits, and though small in volume, is important.

The utilisation of tree hollows as temporary shelters is well-documented at Hinxton Quarry, Cambridgeshire (Mortimer & Evans 1996) as well as from other sites throughout the south-eastern region. The use of these suggests a temporary encampment rather than a static site of any longevity, perhaps a seasonal hunting camp by the river. Tool-making was certainly being carried out during the time on site.

The pebble-hammer is also a relatively rare item, retrieved from the fill of a Saxon Grubenhaus, though possibly derived from an adjacent Neolithic pit that was truncated when the hut hollow was dug. It may well represent another item 'curated' by the early Saxon population. It is one of a cluster of these pebble hammers identified around Cambridge though made from sandstone probably sourced from Cornwall.

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Roman Activity in the Area

Much of the Roman material (brick/ tile, pottery, vessel glass) was retrieved from Saxon contexts, in particular Grubenhauser, suggesting their re-use or 'curation'. Some of the iron may also have been collected as scrap metal from a nearby Roman site. The specialist report notes that isolated pieces of slag from the grave fills, pits, ditches and Grubenhauser fills are morphologically different from the assemblage in one of the pits, and may be residual Romano-British material. Roman coins were found and all were 3rd of 4th century in date. The other Roman finds from the site I suggest a more diverse timespan. The bulk of the pottery represents a domestic assemblage, with a broad date range throughout the Roman period.

The small quantities, particularly of building material and pottery, indicates that a Roman site was nearby, but not immediately adjacent. The Roman material may have been finding its way to the Saxon site from more than one source, perhaps as traded items from visitors to the settlement. Since no Roman features were encountered during the excavations, it is likely that the excavated site was fanned during the Roman times, associated with nearby occupation. This may include a possible Roman villa to the north. Stubbert (1993) notes the discovery of quernstones of a presumed Roman origin close by the latter. This villa would have had been a rural site of some status; away from the major Roman road network but probably served by smaller tracks from the main local centres of Godmanchester and Sandy. Very little other Roman material is known from the immediate vicinity of the area of Gamlingay. Although the light soils of the river valley would have been attractive to Roman occupation, though little evidence of Roman continuity of agriculture or livestock was evident on the Saxon farm. This limited evidence does not allow us to address the question of continuity between Roman and Saxon periods at Gamlingay.