Excavations on land at Roman Way, Godmanchester have revealed a significant amount of prehistoric, and most significantly Bronze Age archaeology, little activity of which has been recorded previously in the Godmanchester area.
The Early to Middle Neolithic phase was represented by a working hollow, which may have been a natural depression utilised for flint working. It could also be suggested that the hollow was a large tree bole, a result of localised land clearance by burning.
This argument is supported by the large amount of charcoal in its fill. A short, terminating ditch was also assigned to this period based on pottery within its fill. This may represent the earliest enclosed field systems or settlement boundaries, which appear to have been maintained until, or reinstated, in the Bronze Age. However, it is more likely that this tiny fragment was residual in the ditch, since Neolithic field systems are rare.
The Bronze Age activity on the site is also of significance. It appears that the enclosure/boundary system represented by at least four ditches on a north-northwest to east-south-east alignment served an important function to have been so well maintained (evident through re-cuts), or re-established, perhaps seasonally. It is also significant that there were no archaeological features dating to this period found on the south side of this line.
The area, which appears to be enclosed by ditch 6, turning at a right angle into an undated ditch line on an east-west orientation, may be forming an enclosed area for the Cremations. A later, again undated, ditch on a north to south alignment, which truncates the corner of the square enclosure, may be evidence of the landscape being subdivided or the addition of another enclosure to the north. It is difficult to say more about the extent or function of these enclosures due to the limits of the site and lack of evidence from the immediate areas.
Analysis of the three cremations revealed that all of the cremations were burnt at extremely high temperatures over a long period of time, indicating well constructed and well maintained pyres. These Cremations were tentatively dated to the Bronze Age by the small amount of pottery recovered from one. Only two of the Cremation contents contained significant amounts of bone for interpretation. Two certainly contained the remains of adults; one was identified as being male. The third cremation may not have been a cremation at all, but the remains from a cremation pyre or a cremation deposited in a different way. Without knowing how far the cremations extend to the west, it is not possible to say whether these are isolated burials or are simply on the edge of a larger cemetery. If these were isolated burials, it would not be unusual to find them on the edge of an enclosure, rather than in a designated cemetery.
The absence of any Roman features on the site was initially surprising given the Roman occupation and development of the Godmanchester area. However, the subject site is some distance from the Roman town of Godmanchester (Durovigutum), and despite the presence of 'ribbon development extending south of the town adjacent to Ermine Street no occupational material was recovered from the current development area and the only Roman pottery sherd found was unstratified.
This pottery may have been a result of manuring the fields around the town, and as a result moving artefacts from other site areas. The location of the site is set far enough back from the Roman Road to not have been affected by any development at all and it could be suggested that it was land set out for pasture or agricultural use. The later (and undated) ditches running at right angles in the northern area of the site might have dated to this period and mark out divided plots of land for such use.
It must be considered that the dating of most of the features relies on a fairly small assemblage of pottery; the majority of which was highly abraded and therefore does not necessarily provide reliable dating evidence. However, the absence of any later material does support an early date for these features.
Approximately 700m north-east of Roman Way, excavations at Rectory Farm (McAvoy, in prep.) are of particular relevance to the subject site. The excavations revealed a highly significant prehistoric ritual complex which included a square ditched enclosure, a rectangular enclosure and a cursus. The projected line of the cursus possibly passes through or close to the subject site. The Neolithic features at Roman Way may be associated with a wider ritual landscape.
At Rectory Farm, pit clusters were located close to the intersection of the main enclosure and the cursus, and cremations were found near to a small ring ditch between the cursus ditches, about 200m South of this intersection.
At Roman Way, cremations were also discovered, allowing another comparison between the two sites. Bronze Age cremations are often sited close to Neolithic ritual monuments, on prominent visible points on high ground and river valleys; this is possibly the case with these two sites.