Revealing the lives of Iron Age and Roman farmers in Nottinghamshire

Extensive excavations near Newark-on-Trent have revealed a complex farmstead that was in use from the late Iron Age through to the Roman period.

Back in June, the investigations – carried out by MOLA ahead of the construction of the Newlink Business Park – revealed the remains of two Roman wells along with livestock watering-holes and enclosures. As work progressed over the summer months, though, a more complex picture was slowly revealed, with over 12km of ditches uncovered to-date, packed into an area approximately the size of 3.5 football pitches (right). This has created a bit of a puzzle for archaeologists, as they have tried to untangle the maze of features, which were probably cut by Iron Age and Roman farmers over a period of 400 years.

What is clear, though, is that the farmstead began in the late Iron Age (c.100 BC- AD 43) and then underwent a series of extensions and transformations during the Roman period (c.AD 43-410). In particular, drainage appears to have been a problem for the site’s occupants, who dug many new ditches and pits to manage the issue. The size and shape of livestock enclosures also seems to have evolved over time, possibly adapting to the different types of animals being kept.

Image: MOLA

There was evidence of domestic activity, too. Loom weights and quern stones were discovered inside the remains of a roundhouse, along with sherds of Samian ware – including a beautifully decorated piece depicting a crouched animal, possibly a lion. Another piece of pottery – a large sherd of mortaria, which was once part of a large mixing or grinding bowl – was stamped with the letters ‘OLLVSI’. This indicates it was made by a known potter, called Sollus, who worked in Verulamium (modern-day St Albans) between AD 60 and 100.

Commenting on the excavation, Kathrin Winzer, MOLA Project Officer, said: ‘At first glance, different colours of soil may not seem particularly exciting, but as an archaeologist this tells us a story of how the land was used over time. When you are uncovering so many features, working out how different parts of the site relate to one another is like trying to solve a huge puzzle.’

The excavations are now nearing their conclusion and post-excavation analysis is just beginning. It is hoped it will reveal more details about this intriguing farmstead.