The character of the Romano-British rural economy in Cambridgeshire has been illuminated by the Priors Gate excavation at Eaton Socon, near St. Neots. The sequence of roundhouses, enclosures, watering holes and a droveway, spanning much of the Roman period, reflects the development, at its most basic and local level, of the Roman agrarian landscape.
Unlike the county's Roman villas and other higher status rural settlements, which have been well represented in previous excavations, the evidence from this site - the features, the finds and the environmental remains - reflects the relatively low status of the farming population. The people who lived on or near the site were the people who actually cultivated the land, reared and tended to the livestock, and in time supplied the food to more distant, less rural settlements and towns. Their basic lifestyle afforded them a few luxuries - reflected in the small quantity of imported pottery and glass, the few coins and the single brooch - but little visible wealth.
The archive for this project has now been deposited with Cambridgeshire County Council Heritage Services.
A report on the excavation, by Catriona Gibson, was published in 2005 in the Proceedings of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society, vol. XCIV, pp. 21-38. A copy of that report is reproduced here by kind permission of the Cambridgeshire Antiquarian Society (Download the report from the list below).
Also published here are the following specialist finds and environmental reports from the excavation. Reports may be downloaded from the list at the bottom of this page.
Coins, by Nicholas A. Wells. The six coins found on the site, which date from possibly the Late Iron Age through to the late Roman period, are identified and described.
Pottery, by Rachael Seager Smith. The pottery from the site is quantified, and its forms, fabrics and dating discussed in relation to other assemblages in the region. Although predominantly utilitarian in character, the assemblage included some British and imported finewares and samian.
Animal bones, by Naomi Sykes. This reports describes the animal bones recovered during the excavation. It provides insights into the rearing and use of livestock, as well as their slaughter, consumption and disposal, and discusses their possible role in the region's wider agricultural economy.
Small finds, by Rob Court. This report describes the other finds from the excavation, including the fired clay, ceramic building material, clay pipe, stone, worked flint, burnt flint, worked bone, glass, metalwork, slag and shell.
Insect remains, by Mark Robinson. The remains of insects preserved in waterlogged sediments in the two watering holes are analysed to provide information about the character of the local environment and landscape.
Waterlogged wood and charcoal, by Rowena Gale. The identification of wood species, from material preserved in a waterlogged pit and as charcoal, indicates the nature of the local environment, possible coppicing of nearby woodland, and the range trees and shrubs used for wood-working and for fuel.
Charred and waterlogged plant remains, by Chris J. Stevens and Alan J. Clapham. The charred and waterlogged remains of crops, weeds and other plants recovered from ditches, pits and a roundhouse gully are described, throwing light on the growing, harvesting, storage, processing and consumption of crops, and the nature of the local environment.
Land snails, by Michael J. Allen. An assessment of the mollusc shells from an early enclosure ditch provides information about the local environmental and vegetation.