Evidence of Roman beer production in Bedfordshire

Post-excavation analysis has yielded further traces of Roman beer production at the site.

Earlier this year, CA reported on excavations at a 2.3ha site called ‘Field 44’ near Tempsford in Central Bedfordshire, where archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) and the Cambridge Archaeological Unit found the remains of two Iron Age roundhouses and a Roman farmstead (CA 385). These excavations, carried out on behalf of National Highways as part of the proposed A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet improvement scheme, also uncovered a structure identified as a 3rd- or 4th-century malt-kiln or corn-dryer. Now post-excavation analysis has yielded further traces of Roman beer production at the site.


The boggy ground and oxygen-poor soil of Field 44 has helped to preserve a range of ancient organic materials. Samples collected over the course of the excavations, including the remains of ancient plants, invertebrates, and pollen, were analysed off-site by archaeobotanists, who identified organic matter found inside the oven as charred spelt grains (above). These grains appear to have been allowed to germinate before being dried, which suggests that the site’s occupants were involved in beer production – grains are only left to germinate in large quantities if the aim is to produce malt, the first step of the brewing process.

Field 44 has yielded little evidence of the sort of infrastructure that would have been required for brewing, though. Nevertheless, as Dr Steve Sherlock, Archaeology Lead for the road scheme, told CA in issue 385, the site appears to have functioned as a ‘central hub’ and ‘distribution point’ within a complex agricultural landscape. Indeed, as Project Science Advisor Dr Rachel Ballantyne explained: ‘It is possible only malt was being produced here, which was then taken to be brewed elsewhere. This raises interesting questions about how the people living in this farm might have been interacting with neighbouring communities as part of a wider trade network.’

The site’s anaerobic conditions also preserved a variety of 2,000-year-old wooden artefacts, including an Iron Age step ladder and a wattle panel, made of woven twigs and flexible branches.

For more information, see the A428 Archaeology Portal (www.mola.org.uk/A428), the Highways to the Past podcast (https://highways tothepast.buzzsprout.com), Twitter (@A428Cat) and Facebook (@A428BlackCat).