Roman farmstead excavated at Milton, Cambridgeshire

Earlier this year Archaeological Research Services Ltd excavated a Roman farmstead west of Milton, on the northern outskirts of Cambridge, providing new insights into rural domestic life and adding to the picture of affluence in this area of Roman Britain.

The excavations, which were carried out in advance of the construction of a new police station, uncovered a network of enclosure ditches, an oven/kiln, and the beam slots of rectangular buildings. The earliest ditches were laid out in the 1st century AD, and underwent a series of modifications until the site was abandoned in the 4th century.

A substantial amount of animal bone, mainly from cattle, came from the ditch fills, some of which had evidence of butchery. The remains of other stockyard animals, including sheep/goat, pig, and domestic fowl, were also recovered. While barley grains dominated the seed assemblages, there was no evidence for crop-processing, perhaps indicating that cereals were brought to the site for use as animal feed. Fragments of pottery strainers were recovered too, possibly used for cheese-production. These finds may be from food-preparation for a household, with at least some commercial production – perhaps for the nearby town of Duroliponte (Cambridge), situated c.4km to the south-west.

The pottery found on the site featured local utilitarian ware, as well as 1st- to 4th-century fine tableware, including Samian, Nene Valley colour-coat, and Oxfordshire parchment ware. Copper-alloy objects included an ornamental drawer handle and an oyster spoon, along with items of personal adornment, notably a bracelet, a fibula, and a tutulus brooch. Fragments of box-flue tiles, several large pieces of tegula, and sandstone floor tiles came from the upper fill of ditches. These building materials – usually associated with stone-built structures like villas and bathhouses – were found in a condition that suggests they had not travelled far from the demolished structure.

Overall, the evidence suggests that the enclosures and buildings were from a moderate- to high-status settlement and could have been part of either a villa estate or an affluent farmstead. This site is one of a growing number of wealthy Romanised sites investigated in recent years on the Fenland edge and along Ermine Street, enhancing our understanding of the economic position of this region.

Image: The National Museum of Denmark / Text: Robin Holgate