The background

View of the Cambourne development. Photo courtesy of Rog Palmer, Air Photo ServicesView of the Cambourne development. Photo courtesy of Rog Palmer, Air Photo Services
 
The expansion of high-tech industries in Cambridge (known informally as “Silicon Valley”) has brought a demand for more housing in the county. Developers have considered options for building since the 1980s.
 
In 1998 work began on constructing 3,300 homes by a developers’ consortium, now comprising Bovis Homes, Bryant Homes and George Wimpey. This will continue until about 2009.
 
Under planning procedures, developers must ensure before work begins that no archaeological remains will be destroyed by construction. So in 1989, years before the builders began putting up the first homes, Wessex’s staff started their work.
 
Aerial view of one of our excavations at Cambourne. Photo courtesy of Rog Palmer, Air Photo ServicesAerial view of one of our excavations at Cambourne. Photo courtesy of Rog Palmer, Air Photo Services
 
The initial phase was to produce what archaeologists call a desk-top assessment. This is an investigation of records of all the archaeological finds and important sites near the area where the houses are to be put up.
 
This assessment found that nothing of any great interest had been found at or near to the Cambourne site, and predicted there was little chance of anything being found under the ground. However, because the site was so large the county council recommended further investigation.
 
One of Wessex Archaeology's staff excavating a feature.One of Wessex Archaeology's staff excavating a feature.
Wessex Archaeology then carried out what archaeologists call an evaluation, in which a mechanical excavator was used to dig a series of trial trenches 50 metres long and two metres wide across parts of the site to see if anything lay below that would warrant a full excavation.
 
Three years of work and two hundred trenches revealed nothing, until one day in November 1999 when Vaughan Birbeck, a senior project officer, came across evidence of ditches dug during the Iron Age and Roman periods. These quite clearly showed that there had been a substantial settlement nearby. Other trenches he dug later showed more evidence of ditches and enclosures.
 
Cambourne was clearly not the archaeological desert people had assumed, and it was time to look closer at the site.
 
Now a total of 724 trenches have been dug, and 20 hectares (50 acres) of land excavated within an area of 600 hectares. The results of this huge investigation have intrigued archaeologists since.