Work to upgrade A14 near Cambridge exposes abandoned medieval village

Workers upgrading a stretch of the A14 near Cambridge have uncovered an abandoned medieval village.

A team of almost 250 archaeologists, who are working on Highways England's £1.5bn scheme to improve the 21-mile section of road between Cambridge and Huntingdon, are investigating 350 hectares of archaeology.

This is equivalent to around 800 small football pitches, and discoveries to date include a village abandoned in the 12th century.

The excavation of a medieval village near Houghton as part of the A14 upgrade project between Cambridge and Huntingdon. (MOLA Headland Infrastructure/ PA)
The excavation of a medieval village near Houghton as part of the A14 upgrade project between Cambridge and Huntingdon. (MOLA Headland Infrastructure/ PA)

The remains of 12 medieval buildings cover an area of six hectares, and the entire layout of the village is discernible.

The earlier remains of up to 40 Anglo Saxon timber buildings are also identifiable, with alleys winding between houses, workshops and agricultural buildings.

It is thought to have been occupied from the eighth to the 12th centuries.

Archaeologists led by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) Headland Infrastructure have dug more than 40 separate excavation areas, and expect to complete work by summer.

They believe their finds have enabled a better understanding of how the Cambridgeshire landscape was used over 6,000 years of occupation.

Their other discoveries include a Roman trade distribution centre which would have played a pivotal part in the region's supply chain, and was linked to the surrounding farmsteads by trackways as well as the main Roman road between Cambridge and Godmanchester.

The discovery of artefacts at the site relating to the Roman army indicates that this trade was controlled centrally.

Three prehistoric henge monuments, which are likely to have been a place for ceremonial gatherings and measure up to 50 metres (164 ft) in diameter, have also been found.

Other monuments include 40 Roman industrial pottery kilns along Roman roads, seven prehistoric burial grounds, eight Iron Age to Roman supply farms, two post-medieval brick kilns and three Saxon settlement sites.

Artefacts have also been uncovered, including a rare Anglo Saxon bone flute from the fifth to ninth century, an ornate Roman jet pendant depicting the head of Medusa, and a Middle Iron Age timber ladder.

Dr Steve Sherlock, archaeology lead for the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon project for Highways England, said: "The archive of finds, samples and original records will be stored so that the data and knowledge is preserved for this and future generations."

Kasia Gdaniec, senior archaeologist for Cambridgeshire County Council, said the archaeology programme had exposed an "astonishing array of remarkable new sites that reveal the previously unknown character of ancient settlement across the western Cambridgeshire clay plain".

She said: "The fast-paced archaeological excavations have been extremely challenging, especially during this relentlessly wet winter, but a very large, hardy team of British and international archaeologists successfully completed sites in advance of the road crews taking over to build the road structures.

"There is still more to do, but we want to share the archaeologists' excitement over what they are finding with the wider public and hope that they will enjoy the ongoing displays and interpretation that will be a legacy of this national infrastructure project."