1000 years of farming

Bronze Age (c800BC)

The beginning of human activity at Cambourne can be dated approximately to the Late Bronze Age (c800BC). We found some pieces of pottery and charred grain, chaff and hazelnut fragments, indicating that crops were grown and used here. The evidence suggests that the area was forested and that people had cut clearings and built farmsteads from around 800BC.

Iron Age (700BC-AD43)

Reconstruction of ploughing in the Iron AgeReconstruction of ploughing in the Iron Age
But it was from 700BC onwards, during the Iron Age, that intensive farming at the site developed. The Celts who lived in the area farmed fields of wheat, grew peas and beans, ate hazelnuts and fruit, and erected enclosures for settlements and droveways for their animals. We found the bones of sheep, cows and goats, and a few of pigs,horses and dogs.
The enclosures were areas of land enclosed by ditches; from the shells of snails we found in them, we know these ditches were frequently filled with water, telling us something about the climate at the time.
Iron Age / Roman enclosure with roundhouse. This site is known as "The Grange".Iron Age / Roman enclosure with roundhouse. This site is known as "The Grange".
Inside the enclosures were one or two round-houses about 15 metres (50 feet) across. These were made from wattle and daub (wooden stakes interwoven with twigs and smeared with mud to form a solid surface), and with a thatched roof. Inside would live a family and some of their animals, sometimes together in one large room, sometimes with the animals in a separate area. Some of the round-houses had hearths where fires were burnt. In all, 24 round-houses from this time were found at Cambourne in six small dispersed farmsteads. It is possible that a Celtic chieftain owned the land as part of a large estate and organised the landscape.
The evidence of the daily life of these Celtic farmers turned up as Wessex Archaeology staff dug the trenches. Pottery typical of this period was found, as were a bone needle, two ceramic loom weights for weaving cloth, and pieces of broken querns (a stone used to grind cereals by hand).

Roman period (AD43-410)

Reconstruction of an Iron Age roundhouse at Butser Ancient Farm, Petersfield, HampshireReconstruction of an Iron Age roundhouse at Butser Ancient Farm, Petersfield, Hampshire
What makes Cambourne interesting for archaeologists is the evidence for both continuity and change in the landscape. Although archaeological evidence is sparse for the first century of Roman occupation (which began in AD43), we know that by AD150 people were farming, often using the same settlements as before, though their enclosures were now more regular in shape and the field boundaries were altered.
As well as using the same farms, the Britons under Roman rule continued to farm in the same way, growing crops and keeping animals, mainly sheep, goats and pigs. We know something about the way they farmed from finding a ploughshare and a sickle. We found evidence of the droveways that they used to move their animals from paddocks into the fields and back.
In what is an unusual development, the local people adopted some aspects of Roman culture but decided they would stay true to their own traditions in other areas.
They were happy to use Roman pottery and glassware and to begin to eat off flat dishes, to use olive oil from Spain and to cook stews in pots. However, unlike most Britons in Roman Britain, they continued to live in round-houses built in the same way as they did before the Romans came. Though they would have seen the usual Roman style of housing for peasants – square buildings with mortar or earthen floors and wooden walls – they kept to the old ways. It is not the case that the Britons living here knew little of the Roman culture for the site was a few miles from the Roman road, Ermine Street, which ran from London to York. The people living here would have seen the fruits of trade from across the Roman Empire and beyond, but deliberately chose not to adopt the Roman style of housing.
The Roman pottery found at the site included Samian cups and bowls from central Gaul and Spanish amphorae (large two-handled jar used to hold wine or oil). Also found on the site were everyday items like nails and hobnails, keys, brooches, a finger ring, a hairpin, spoons and knives. Three impressive pewter plates were the most expensive objects found. However, for a settlement this size, the number of finds is relatively few and tells us that the general rise in prosperity in rural Britain in the later Roman period didn’t reach the people living at Cambourne.
As time passed the use of the landscape changed – we know this from our discovery of about a dozen skeletons from the later Roman period. One was of a man whose head had been removed from his body after death, a common burial practice in Roman times whose meaning is obscure. Often the head is placed with the body but in this case it was never found. In another part of the site, several skeletons were found in a ditch, and elsewhere some skeletons were found which had been placed in coffins which have since rotted away – this tells us that disused parts of the farms were being used as cemeteries in the 3rd and 4th centuries.

Saxon and Medieval (AD410-15th century)

The farmsteads that had been occupied for more than a millennium were still used after the Romans withdrew from Britain in the early 5th century. By the ninth century, however, the landscape was changing and people across Britain were beginning to move from isolated settlements into villages, to places like Caxton in the case of people living on the Cambourne site.
Medieval ploughs destroyed almost all the archaeological evidence in the area, so our knowledge of this period is patchy, but we believe the land had been turned into regular strip fields where villagers grew their crops until the land was enclosed and farmed privately in the first half of the 19th century and farmhouses were built.