Major development projects in West London, such as Terminal 5 at Heathrow and the recent M25 widening, continue to require that staple of construction - gravel. The sheer scale of these developments and of the gravel quarries themselves continues to change the natural and historic landscape east and west of the M25 - on the border between Greater London and East Berkshire.
The historic settlements, such as Harlington, are now virtually islands between the quarries and modern infrastructure. Over the last five years, Wessex Archaeology has been working at the quarry owned by CEMEX UK LTD. Initial evaluation showed that there were enough archaeological features to warrant a full excavation. The excavation begins with the mechanical removal of topsoil. This reveals the archaeological features beneath. These are then mapped using state of the art laser survey equipment, known as a Total Station. The archaeologists then have an instant plan of the site and can work out the best way to excavate. The resulting excavations revealed that the archaeological features ranged in date from the Neolithic (Stone Age 4000 – 2400 BC) to post-medieval (1500-1799 AD) periods.
The Neolithic (4000 – 2400 BC)
The earliest archaeological remains discovered on the site came from the Middle Neolithic. There were several pits. These contained large fragments of a type of Neolithic pottery known as Mortlake Ware. Some also contained worked flint tools, including fragments of polished stone axes. In some cases the pottery and flint appears to have been deliberately placed in these small and often shallow pits, perhaps as part of a ceremony or ritual This apparent pattern in the selection and deposition of these objects in an identical manner is interesting and, conceivably, ceremonial.
The Bronze Age (2400 - 700 BC)
Few features could be certainly dated to this period but it seems likely that a field system dates to this time. From about 1500 BC field systems began to appear all along the Thames Valley and the fields at Harlington may well be part of this pattern.
Waterholes also become more frequent. They were at least 1.5m deep and digging them would have been a sizeable task to undertake, using only antler picks! Like the ditches, they suggest a more permanent level of settlement. The waterhole from this period is the most striking example found during the excavations and contained a large amount of Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age pottery, including some decorated finewares.
The feature also produced a large amount of charcoal and grain. This evidence, all of it domestic waste, suggests that although no buildings or dwellings have been found, there must have been some nearby. It may be that any evidence of a settlement lay beneath the M4.
Roman (AD 43 - 410)
Interestingly there were no archaeological remains from the Roman period. This might imply that the site went out of use after the Early Iron Age. The reason for this however remains unclear.
Early Saxon to Medieval (AD 410 – 1499)
Once again there are clear traces of ancient field systems and waterholes. One of the waterholes contained a large amount of butchered animal bone, so it is likely that food was being prepared nearby. A well was also found, this was smaller than the waterholes, with much steeper sides, but of the same depth. Archaeologists found the first clear evidence of a building. A series of postholes form a roughly rectangular building 9m by 10m in size. It is on the same alignment as the surrounding fields. Although there is no pottery to date the building, environmental sampling produced rye. The rye crop was first introduced to northern Britain in the Roman times, but was not widely grown until the Saxons introduced it as a main crop.
Four graves were also discovered. Because of the soil conditions no bones from the burials survived, but two of the graves contained sets of glass and amber beads.
A special find was the discovery of a Saxon penny.The coin was issued by King Ælfred between AD 871 and 875. The image on the front is the less common ‘ELFRED REX’, whilst the reverse bears the name of a moneyer called Wine, who struck coins for several of the Saxon kings of the time, and is known to have minted coins in Canterbury. Coins of Ælfred the Great are rare finds.
Alfred came to the throne of Wessex in 871, on the death of his brother Æthelred. Although Æthelred was survived by a number of children, the imminent threat posed by the Danes meant that Ælfred was the logical choice as successor. He suffered a number of defeats early on in his reign, and as a result Wessex was forced to buy peace. The problems continued, and Alfred was driven to take refuge on the Isle of Athelney in AD 876, from where he led a guerrilla campaign which culminated in a significant victory at the battle of Edington in AD 878. This marked a major change in Ælfred's fortunes, and he was instrumental in maintaining Wessex as a major force in the late 9th century, and is also known as the founder of the first standing fleet.
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