Gamlingay Cambridgeshire Village
Saxon Gamlingay



An initial desk-based assessment (Murray 1996a) revealed the presence of possible archaeology on the site, in the form of enclosures and discrete features, as identified in the air photographic appraisal of the site (Cox/Palmer 1996). A study of the available historical cartographic evidence showed the site to have been in agricultural use since the later medieval period. The alignment of narrow field strips on a map of 1602 suggests that ridge and furrow is likely to have been present, draining down towards the Millbridge Brook from ESE to WNW.


A field evaluation was subsequently undertaken to determine the location, extent, date, character, condition, significance and quality of any surviving archaeological remains liable to be threatened by the proposed development. This was undertaken after an aerial photographic assessment, which revealed a sequence of crop/soil marks were on the site, though only a limited number were confirmed as of archaeological origin. Some were clearly geological, presumably reflecting the tilting bands of carstone/ironstone present in places on the site, and large features such as the early Saxon causewayed enclosure were not picked up by the survey. The plot should not be seen as enhancing the excavated record for the unexcavated areas, as many of the linear anomalies were not present in reality, though it clearly picked up a length of the phase 3c enclosure ditch at the south, and suggests it curves back northwards (Fig. 8). The modem quarry pit F2871 was picked up as an anomaly, but the Grubenhauser were largely undetected (though a number of large, pit-like features were identified - these do not relate to the excavated Grubenhauser).

Twenty-three trenches were excavated using a 360° tracked mechanical excavator. The trenches followed a standard offset grid layout, tailored slightly to examine features identified as cropmarks in the Air Photographic Assessment Report and also 'blank' areas (Fig. 8). From 20 trenches originally proposed, three additional smaller trenches were excavated to further define archaeological features revealed. In addition, 23 small (1m x 1m) test pits were dug by hand to assess artefact distribution within the topsoil, located at the one end of each of the evaluation trenches. The site was fieldwalked, i.e. finds were collected from the surface of the ploughsoil, but the site was not formally walked by transects. Straw had been cut and partly baled during the evaluation, and finds visibility on the surface was reasonably good, though the surface was masked in places by loose straw.

Struck flints were numerous on the surface of the ploughsoil, especially in the north-eastern quadrant of the site.

Results of
the Evaluation

  • Rapid fieldwalking of the site revealed a significant quantity of struck flint and cores (including pyramid cores) indicative of Mesolithic activity. What was believed to be possible Prehistoric field systems were represented by a number of ditches with leeched, compacted, fills containing struck flint.
  • The archaeological features revealed did not directly correspond with those on the aerial photographs, but showed some broad similarities (Fig. 8).
  • In the centre of the site, the evaluation revealed an inhumation cemetery of mid or late Saxon date (7th-10th centuries AD), with associated features. The graves were likely of Christian tradition (indicated by their consistent E/W alignment). Although the archaeological horizon had been truncated by ploughing, the skeletons remained reasonably well preserved. Ditches dating to the possible prehistoric and Saxon periods were also located across widespread areas of the site.
  • No cemetery boundary was located, and the burials lay both within and beyond the inner 'enclosure' of the air photographic plot. The enclosure was not detected m any of the evaluation trenches No evidence of a contemporary religious building was identified. However, the presence of Christian (E/W aligned) graves of this period, at some distance from the present (mediaeval) Gamlingay Church, suggested that an earlier church may lie closer to the evaluated area. The features were overlain by (on average) 0.3 m of ploughsoil and a thin ( layer of subsoil. Subsoil layer L1002, which sealed the archaeological features represented a former ploughsoil, probably derived from mediaeval agricultural activity (ndge and furrow ploughing). In addition to struck flint, sparse abraded Saxon sherds were found within L1002.
  • A few features of Saxon date were present on the southern periphery of the site, suggesting that an area of occupation may lie outside the area of proposed development. . The CCC CAO brief did not allow the excavation of any of the inhumations at the stage of evaluation. This limited the amount of available information from the evaluation for the cemetery and did not allow any accurate dating of the cemetery.
  • None of the Grubenhauser were identified during the evaluation, as they were not encountered within the evaluation trenches.

The Excavation

Cambridgeshire County Archaeology Office advised that a large part of the site be subject to formal archaeological excavation in order to satisfy the planning condition.

The excavation was carried out during the summer and early autumn of 1997. Prior to topsoil stripping the flint scatter in the northern part of the site was investigated by gridded test pitting backed up by fieldwalking. Thirty 2x2 m test pits were excavated at 20 m intervals across the northern part of the site, and both topsoil and subsoil were volumetrically sieved using 10 mm sieves (see Figs. 7 and 11).

Two individual areas were initially stripped: Area 24 (continuing the number sequence of the evaluation) was positioned in order to ensure full excavation of the cemetery and to allow the surrounding area to be investigated. It initially encompassed an area of 10, 000 m .A second triangular trench. Area 25, covered an area of 2, 500 m2 and overlay archaeological features identified during the evaluation in the south western comer of the site.

In tandem with the excavation, fieldwalking was conducted on the remaining land between Station Road and Area 24, in order to farther define the flint scatter. The fieldwalking comprised surface flint recovery using 10-metre collection units aligned on the National Grid. On completion of this work, Area 24 was extended northwards by mechanical excavator, exposing a farther 2000 m for archaeological excavation and recording.

Limited farther trenching was undertaken beyond the area of excavation to trace and record the alignments of ditches.

of Features

At least 50% of all discrete features (pits, post holes, irregular features etc.) were excavated. Where artefactual or ecofactual potential was high, or relationships between features required clarification, farther excavation was carried out. Furthermore, 26 environmental samples were taken from a range of deposits on the site. In accordance with the CCC CAO brief, all burials, or features believed to contain burials, were fully excavated. All Grubenhauser were quadrant-excavated with the exception of Building 1 (F2003), which was excavated in two halves, and Building 14 (F2586) which was half-sectioned. Initially each Grubenhaus was half excavated (two opposing quarters). Those which were of stratigraphic or structural interest, or which produced significant finds assemblages were subsequently fully excavated. A policy of issuing new context numbers to fills of excavated quadrants was maintained throughout the excavation to allow spatial reconstruction of the artefacts, and to limit potential cross-context contamination. Three-dimensional recording of all artefacts was maintained for two Grubenhauser (Building 4 [F2153] and Building 5 [F2430]), whilst fragments of what were believed to be whole pottery vessels were also 3D-recorded in the other Grubenhauser. All other Small Finds of intrinsic interest were also 3D-recorded.

At least one segment was excavated through all ditches. Additional segments were excavated where the feature extended over a substantial distance, intersected with other features, or where further information was required to gain an understanding of their date or function. Where more than one segment was excavated a policy of issuing new cut and fill numbers, cross-referenced to overall 'general' cut and fill numbers was maintained to record the spatial distribution of artifacts and to localise any potential contamination.