Nestled in the heart of Central Bedfordshire, England, is Field 44, a historical hot spot spanning from the Middle Iron Age to the late Roman period. It is a site that keeps on giving and now it has revealed waterlogged Iron Age remains dated to roughly 2,000 years ago, including a rare wooden ladder.
A handful of shallow wells were found, and nestled in one of them, the evidence of a perfectly preserved, 2,000-year-old wooden ladder. Along with this, wattle panels (woven twigs and branches) covered with daub were found, made out of mud, crushed stone, and straw or animal hair to line the well, in addition to small posts and pieces of timber, according to a press release .
Wattle panel found at the site. (MOLA)
The site, which has previously displayed evidence of Roman beer production , is under excavation by archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA). The discovery was made during works for the National Highways proposed A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet road upgrades, according to the MOLA website .
What Wood Can Teach Us
“We can learn a lot from these wooden objects. As well as being able to see how people made and used them during their daily lives, finding out what type of wood they used will tell us about the trees which grew in the area. This can help us reconstruct how the landscape would have looked at the time, and how that landscape changed throughout history,” wrote MOLA in the same press release.
Putting the discovery in greater context, it’s important to remember that wood will decompose in the natural course of time. Bacterial microorganisms, and fungi, generally work their way to quick decomposition. This is why, only around 5% of archaeological sites across England have surviving wood from this time period.
Field 44’s waterlogged conditions prohibited oxygen from penetrating the wood, which made the conditions less than ideal for bacteria. Apart from wood, insects, pollen, and seeds also thrive, which are likely to be revealed over the course of further investigations. Conservators will be drying and preserving the wood, before the specialists take over and look for hidden clues.
Three archaeologists excavating a Roman kiln at the site. The combustion chamber with its central pedestal is on the right. ( MOLA)
This will help paint an accurate picture of Iron Age England and its ecosystems and landscapes from 2,000 years ago, particularly in Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. From preliminary investigations, they’ve been able to gauge some of the thriving flora, including buttercups and rushes.
Pre-Iron Age and the Iron Age: Settling Down in Field 44
Though there’s no evidence of pre-Iron Age settlements, there is evidence of people visiting these areas. Flint arrow heads have been discovered dating all the way back to the Neolithic (c. 4000-2200 BC) and Bronze Age (c.2600-700 BC).
Left: Barbed and tanged flint arrow head, typical of the Bronze Age. Right: leaf-shaped flint arrow head, dating to the Neolithic. ( MOLA)
From the middle Iron Age period (c.300-100 BC), the first evidence of a settlement has been found. Two large roundhouses, more than 15 meters (49.2 feet) wide, were uncovered, larger than other examples from this period. In addition, the remains of butchered animals, pottery, loom weights, and personal dress items (like a ring headed pin) were found inside the building areas. Labor was practiced both inside and outside the space.
The southern part of the site reports the best preservation and the least interference from later forces. The rest of the site has witnessed significant changes, built upon or destroyed by later settlers, leading to a gradual alteration of the site’s layout. The first clear traces of ditches and demarcations come from the late Iron Age (100 BC – 43 AD), suggesting the first territorial expression.
A fruitful 2020 dig also revealed fine tableware (called Samian) and amphorae (pottery containers with a pointed bottom, mainly used to transport liquids by the Romans). There were a number of high status finds in addition, which defied expectations of a typical farmstead from this time period.
Due to the seemingly vast quantities of pottery being produced and traded at this site, it was clear that the settlement had acquired some renown by the growing wealth and importance of the settlement.
Top Image: Iron Age ladder found during excavations near a roundhouse in Bedfordshire, England. ( MOLA)
By Sahir Pandey