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Bronze Age village found with buried megalith

This is quite old news but I'd not read about it before and thought it may be of interest. It comes from British Archaeology Magazine, Issue 59, June 2001.

A complete Middle Bronze Age village has been excavated in Essex. Such settlements are very rare in East Anglia, where the shortage of building stone has meant the survival of few substantial prehistoric remains.

At the heart of the village was a massive, imported standing stone that had been ceremonially buried next to what seems to have been the settlement's main public building.

The rectangular village enclosure, defined by hedges, contained a number of timber-post roundhouses and rubbish pits, clustered around a large circular building some 15m in diameter which was entered along a long corridor of timber posts. Next to this possibly ceremonial building was a large pit containing a huge, 1-tonne sandstone megalith.

No clues were found to where or when the stone had originally been erected - perhaps in the Neolithic - and it may have been transported to the settlement over some distance. The nearest standing stones known today are several miles to the north in Cambridgeshire. 'What is particularly interesting is that the stone was ritually decommissioned,' said site director Nick Shepherd of Framework Archaeology. 'It is very enigmatic.'

The Bronze Age settlement lay at the heart of a well-populated landscape of smaller, less well-defined settlements and may have acted as a kind of ceremonial and social 'capital' of the region. Less than a mile away was a contemporary cremation pyre site by a stream. Its surrounding ditches were filled with charcoal and bits of human bone. Between the pyre and the settlement lay a cremation cemetery which was not well preserved.

The site was found as part of an unusually large-scale excavation project covering some 57 acres (23 hectares) in advance of carpark construction at Stansted airport. The project has shed light on the intensity of landscape occupation in the Middle Bronze Age, when settlements were spaced at roughly one-mile intervals, and again in the Mid-Late Iron Age. Previously, the low-lying claylands of southern Essex were assumed to have been densely wooded right up to the Roman period.

According to Mr Shepherd, occupation seems to have fallen back dramatically in the later Bronze Age, when climatic conditions worsened, and again in the Saxon period following the collapse of the late Roman rural economy. 'The soils here are heavy and difficult to work,' he said. 'The evidence implies that settlement in this marginal area was only worthwhile when conditions were good.'

Framework Archaeology, a joint venture between Wessex Archaeology and the Oxford Unit, was set up to undertake commercial excavations within a 'research framework', and the Stansted excavation is being conducted accordingly. Instead of sampling the whole site, in the normal manner, and analysing the finds only at the end of the excavation, finds are studied as they come out of the ground. Decisions on where to excavate next are then taken on the basis of new questions that need to be answered. 'At a normal dig, you find you collect masses of material that turns out to be worthless. That is not happening here,' Mr Shepherd said.

The buried megalith is likely to be re-erected close to its burial site at the entrance to one of the airport carparks.
fitzcoraldo Posted by fitzcoraldo
10th January 2003ce
Edited 15th February 2006ce

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