Later Bronze Age and Iron Age

Steven Willis

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The Resource

Archaeological remains of the first millennium BC are widely and liberally distributed across the East Midlands. In places these remains are dense, multi-phase and artefactually rich. In some areas there is exceptionally good preservation which is often not limited to isolated sites, but represents the extensive remnants of past occupied and experienced landscapes, for instance, in the major valleys of Northamptonshire, the Fens of Lincolnshire, and some parts of north Derbyshire. The varied character of the sites, monuments and feature types has led to various modern approaches – different archaeologies – as the particular nature of the remains requires. Everywhere the archaeological record attests to variation; both differences of detail within broader trends and themes; and contrasts of substance and (presumably) meaning. Interest lies in exploring the balance of these strands of difference, as well as in the patterns of similarity. Tracing and interpreting these patterns are the prerogative, challenge and reward of the archaeologist and of those sharing a curiosity in the period. The first millennium BC was an era of comparatively rapid social and cultural developments, generating a dynamic archaeological record. The East Midlands is a key area for observing and understanding these broad changes (cf. Haselgrove 1999), for it contains a diverse matrix of evidence, constituting a substantive resource.

Recent years have seen a series of projects, initiatives and publications that have greatly enhanced the quality of our documentation and thus interpretations of the period, although our comprehension of the nature of society at this time remains markedly patchy. There are areas of considerable weakness in our knowledge. Engagement with these remains has been partial and variable across the region, being determined by familiar factors such as the visibility of the record, the degree of archaeological input, the incidence of modern development, and the extent of arable cultivation (conducive to cropmarks and field-walking), as well as endemic difficulties encountered in developing chronologies.

This assessment aims to characterise the nature of the known record, following a chronological path, sketching the extent of its exploration and something of its potential. Strengths, weaknesses and imbalances in our knowledge will be highlighted. Only recently have approaches and models appeared which seem in any way sufficiently sophisticated to enable us to do justice to the quality of the evidence from the region (cf. Haselgrove 1999; Knight 2002; Lane and Morris 2001), although it must be admitted that for some sub-regions and periods, the record is still too limited to permit synthesis. The remains recorded to date together with those yet to be explored, comprise a valuable and complex resource with terrific potential for future engagement with this past, through fieldwork, analysis, interpretation, education and display. Through this can come a robust and nuanced understanding of practice, experience, environment and society at this formative period.


Unlocking the potential of the archaeological remains of the first millennium BC is dependent upon our ability to construct a satisfactory chronological framework. Chronological frameworks allow us to place remains, to comprehend contemporary similarities and differences, to analyse developments and trajectories, and to undertake valid comparison. Although, in terms of human history, the first millennium BC was not an especially long period, it was an era that witnessed comparatively rapid fundamental developments, and preceded a period in which dating can be quite precise. One might therefore in principle anticipate the development of a subtle chronology. In fact, dating in the first millennium BC is far from straightforward and precise. Rather it has proved an ‘Achilles’ Heel’ both more broadly (cf. Willis 2002) and within the region (cf. Knight 2002). This is due to several factors, including the conservatism and lack of elaboration of regional pottery traditions; the paucity of metalwork (which has often been accorded a determining chronological status that may not always be justified); the well-known problems with regard to the radiocarbon calibration curve (Barnett 2000; 2001; Knight 2002; Willis 2002); and, indeed, a previous lack of robust sampling strategies aimed at collecting absolute dates (see Haselgrove et al. 2001, where recommendations are made with regard to sampling procedures). In consequence, dates attributed to excavated sites and phases have been broad and vague, the ‘precision’ being stated in terms of centuries or half centuries. This constitutes a fundamental difficulty for our connection with the resource and its interpretation. Archaeological remains lie in ‘drifts’ through human lived pasts. That is to say the landscape of the archaeological past is uneven: there are periods and places where the remains are quantitatively thicker (and perhaps more studied), and there are others where the record is thin. This is very evidently the case with the East Midlands during the first millennium BC. The uneven character of the record in temporal terms has been considered elsewhere (Willis 1997a), while its geographical imbalance will be readily apparent from the present chapter. Our ability to build chronological frameworks and to date sites and phases is determined by the nature of the ‘drifts’ in the archaeological record, the qualities of those remains, that is whether, for instance, there is typological development such that we can determine sequences, or components suitable for absolute dating, and the utility of our methodologies (e.g. typologies and ‘scientific’ dating).

In this assessment, the evidence is divided into four phases in order to aid the identification of trends and to assist interpretation and discussion. These phases are conventional: the Late Bronze Age; the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age Transition and the Early Iron Age; the Middle Iron Age; and the Late Iron Age (for their approximate dates, see Table 2). This separation is attempted for the settlement and artefactual evidence in their broadest definition, although some spheres are considered under separate headings. Of course these four phases do not correspond with neat discernible changes in site types and forms. Here, as in other works covering the period, dates and attributions are inexact, although one may note that all archaeological dates are inherently ‘fuzzy’ (cf. Millett 1987). Generally this is not problematic for the present review, which aims to unite the various strands of data into a broad picture of the nature and development of the region through this era, and define areas of strength and weakness within the available archaeological data. The four phases conform to Hill’s structure for the period (Hill 1995a), and they are ‘ideal’ categories in the Weberian sense. The chronological attributions used here largely follow from (i) the labelling of the evidence in the county assessments, which with the exception of Northamptonshire, essentially accord with the four-phase division, and (ii) those employed elsewhere, for instance in site reports.

A difficulty arises, however, from the fact that the pottery sequences for the region (Knight 2002) do not change precisely in step with the four-fold periodisation employed here, although there is broad correspondence. This is problematic since pottery is the main artefact class recovered, on which reliance has had to be placed for dating. Specific difficulties exist in distinguishing ‘Late Bronze Age pottery’ from ‘Early Iron Age pottery’ resulting in an amalgam of sites which can only be broadly labelled Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age. The situation is exacerbated by the infrequency of other dating evidence. Equally the debut of Middle Iron Age pottery styles is not securely anchored, while the styles certainly endured across parts of the region well into, and indeed, beyond what we term the Late Iron Age (e.g. Pryor 1984, 155; Rollo 1988; cf. Knight 2002). Consequently a proportion of sites occupied during the period c. 100 BC to AD 50 have Middle Iron Age cultural associations (cf. Kidd 2004). This phenomenon raises interesting questions of those studying cultural forms and practice during the period, and awkward questions vis-á-vis the typological approach to chronology. For instance, sites actually occupied during the chronological ‘Late Iron Age’ may be ‘mis-dated’ because they seem earlier on the basis of their pottery. For this reason, in the Resource Assessment for Northamptonshire, Kidd placed some sites which lack ‘Late Iron Age’ cultural indicators in the Middle Iron Age bracket or a Middle/Late Iron Age bracket, at variance with the periods assigned by their excavators (e.g. some Wootton Hill style enclosures such as Aldwincle and Brigstock; see Jackson 1988-9). It should be emphasised that there are few excavated sites of the period within the region which have long stratified sequences to assist sophisticated relative dating.

Table 2: ‘Ideal’ chronology of the first millennium BC in the East Midlands

Conventional label for era during the first millennium BC in BritainSome diagnostic indicators in the East MidlandsApproximate date range
The Late Bronze Age (LBA)Post-Deverel-Rimbury Plainware pottery; Ewart Park metalwork; ‘ringfort’ sites; absolute datingc. 1000 BC-800 BC
The Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age Transition and the Early Iron Age (LBA-EIA)Plainware pottery (not chronologically specific); metalwork styles; absolute datingc. 800 BC-450 BC
The Middle Iron Age (MIA)Ancaster-Breedon style pottery; metalwork styles, including certain brooch forms; beehive querns appear; absolute datingc. 450 BC-100 BC
The Late Iron Age (LIA)More visible settlement and material culture record; elaborate pottery forms, some wheel-made, in some places; metalwork styles, including certain brooch forms; coinage; absolute datingc. 100 BC-AD 50

Table 3: ‘Actual’ chronology of the first millennium BC in the East Midlands

The Late Bronze Age

Conventional label for era and evaluation of dating indicatorsDating outcome
Dating indicators are generally infrequent, but more readily diagnostic than for the succeeding era. Post-Deverel-Rimbury Plainware pottery is identifiable with some confidence, although recovered groups are uncommon.The possibility that LBA tradition pottery may have endured in the Peak region for centuries into the first millennium BC unfolding over many decades (cf. Bevan 2000) requires consideration. Ewart Park metalwork is widespread across the region, but only occasionally recovered from settlement sites and is rarer still as a stratified site find. Confidence in previous radiocarbon dates may be questionable in terms of what was dated and given the implications of some relatively recent programmes in southern Britain (Needham and Ambers 1994; Bell 1990)Allocations of sites, phases and evidence to this period are probably reasonably reliable, although the beginning and end of the Late Bronze Age is chronologically fuzzy; neither was abrupt, both evidently being processes

The Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age Transition and the Early Iron Age

Conventional label for era and evaluation of dating indicatorsDating outcome
Generally dating indicators are infrequent and ‘weak’. Settlements attributable to the period are not numerous. Plainware pottery styles predominate and are not chronologically specific. Metalwork (such as stylistically Hallstatt items) is very uncommon; some iron artefacts could be Bronze Age. Major problem with radiocarbon calibration curve begins. Absolute dating has been crucial in some cases, but suitable samples are sometimes elusive; some old samples are now considered unreliableThe umbrella nature of this broad phase reflects a characteristic vagueness in record and our present ability to chronologically categorize its associated sites/evidence

The Middle Iron Age (MIA)

Conventional label for era and evaluation of dating indicatorsDating outcome
Pottery styles are conservative. Ancaster-Breedon style pottery continues in use into the first century AD. Metalwork, including brooches, is very rare, and often ‘unusual’ / atypical / ‘selected’ for deposition. Generally the artefact range is limited and chronologically unspecific. C14 dating continues to be problematic, while erstwhile sampling ‘strategies’ were unrobust before the 1990s.Attribution of sites to this period has placed them within broad date ranges. C14 (and luminescence) dating has been imprecise. Erstwhile reliance on a few metalwork items for dating now seen as suspect. At some sites, viewed on the basis of their material culture, the MIA extends to c. AD 50

The Late Iron Age (LIA)

Conventional label for era and evaluation of dating indicatorsDating outcome
More visible settlement remains and numerous material culture remains characterize the LIA in some parts of the region; these are varied and relatively ‘well studied. LIA ‘fingerprints’ are far from universal. Coinage, where present, is very rarely stratified in unequivocally IA contexts. Metalwork finds are everywhere rare before the first century AD. Brooches, more common during the first half of the first century AD, are often not closely dateable; their dating is frequently not in accord with dates ascribed to the pottery. Not all LIA sites yield LIA evidence. In contrast to areas in the south, the East Midlands only sees a modest (relatively late) influx of datable imports from the Roman world at this time.Dating is generally more readily accomplished, and is comparatively more reliable and ‘precise’ during this phase than during any other phase of the first millennium BC. Dating, nonetheless, lacks definition, with, particularly, a difficulty in attributing evidence to dates within the first century BC, rather than simply ascription to broad ranges. Changes in pottery styles (where these occur) are useful indices. The Roman ‘Conquest’ is not readily identifiable

Table 3 attempts to characterise each of the four phases and to reflect and summarise these uncertainties. Issues relating to first millennium BC pottery and chronology generally are discussed by Willis (2002), and specifically for this region by Knight (2002). Issues relating to radiocarbon dating and sampling are discussed in Haselgrove et al. (2001). Many key questions can, of course, be addressed without the need for precise dating, although in most cases the quality and subtlety of the answers is improved by the existence of a refined chronological framework and ‘closely’ dated site evidence.

The Nature of the Evidence, Archaeological Visibility and Sub-Regional Differences

Two inherent factors ‘problems’ if one wishes to see them in that light) structure the evidence for the first millennium BC in the East Midlands and consequently affect its analysis and interpretation. Firstly, there are marked sub-regional differences in the quantity of evidence in the SMRs and other databases, arising from a variety of reasons. A major variation, emphasised by Bishop (2000c), is between the region’s ‘lowland’ and ‘highland’ zones. This is a major theme for all periods. Investigating these differences is a matter of considerable archaeological interest and potential. ‘Highland’ areas have much less arable land, with pasture predominant today, even in valley floors, plus forest. This is significant as arable regimes are conducive to the generation of cropmarks, and site detection via fieldwalking. The paucity of Iron Age sites identified in parts of the uplands of north-western Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire (especially the Peak region) may be partly due to the lack of arable cultivation (cf. Bevan 2000). In the valleys of these areas, other means of site detection might be systematically undertaken. Elsewhere, factors include post-first millennium BC cover deposit build up, and sea level changes in Lincolnshire.

Secondly, a series of factors which are far from unique to the East Midlands operate against the identification of settlement and other sites of the first half of the first millennium BC (e.g. Kidd 2000; cf. Pryor and French 1985, 306). They include a general lack of archaeological visibility resulting from the inherent nature of such sites. Typically Late Bronze Age and Earlier Iron Age settlements will have been characterised by wooden buildings, potentially leaving only posthole traces and/or shallow gullies, arranged in open settlements as perhaps at Gamston (Knight 1992) and on the Peak District Eastern Moors (Barnatt 1999; cf. Ainsworth 2001), or within palisaded enclosures that leave only relatively ephemeral traces. Such archaeology was not readily detected by techniques like aerial photography and geophysical survey. Similarly, pottery at such sites is not likely to have been plentiful and is unlikely to survive long within ploughsoils due to its friable character. In addition, it is widely accepted that the population at this time was probably lower than in the later Iron Age. Population appears to have begun to increase during the Iron Age, although the characteristics of Late Bronze Age settlements that affect their recognition remain otherwise largely unchanged well into the Iron Age. These characteristics have confounded the regular identification of settlement sites before the Middle Iron Age. Detection methods are, however, becoming more sophisticated, especially in the domain of geophysics. The fact that the latter approach and/or evaluation trenching is now often routine, even where no previous archaeological remains are recorded on SMRs, will increase the possibility of identifying sites of this period – where they exist.

The Late Bronze Age c. 1000 BC-800 BC

Settlement evidence

Settlements of the later Bronze Age, as revealed by features, layers and stratified finds, are far from numerous (cf. O’Brien 1979b, 301), broadly reflecting the national picture. A number of sites have come to light only because they were found to underlie settlements of later date, as at Gamston, Nottinghamshire (Knight 1992), and at Kirby Muxloe, Leicestershire, which was located following field-walking which had indicated Iron Age and Roman activity (Cooper 1994; Fig. 27). Unsurprisingly there are regional variations in the frequency of known sites. Whether the limited current distribution of sites is representative of the actual picture – in terms of sub-regional trends – seems improbable. Later Bronze Age settlements are elusive in Leicestershire and Rutland (Clay 2000), although the number known compares well with other East Midlands counties. Of note, a small settlement site of Late Bronze Age date, with circular structures and post-Deverel-Rimbury Plainware pottery, has recently been investigated at Hibaldstow in North Lincolnshire (Allen and Rylatt 2001), just to the north of our region.

A map of the midlands showing the distribution of sites. There is a concentration in the center of the region and very few sites in the north.

Fig 27: Distribution map of Later Bronze and Early Iron Age sites mentioned in the text

The identification of earlier first millennium BC cropmark enclosures is not straightforward, as there is a paucity of diagnostic indicators to distinguish them from later first millennium sites. Generally there has been a tendency to ascribe cropmark enclosures to the Later Iron Age or perhaps Roman era in preference to the Later Bronze Age-Earlier Iron Age.

There are relatively few major defended sites in the region. Only a small number of these have yielded traces of later Bronze Age occupation. On the whole, these sites are not well characterised or explored, so further indications of Late Bronze Age occupation may be forthcoming (although the prospect is far from assured). Later Bronze Age occupation within some, however, is confirmed or probable in Derbyshire, where the Peak District moorlands contain a range of surviving earthworks relating to settlement and agriculture (see below). In addition, the multivallate contour hillfort at Borough Hill, Daventry, Northamptonshire (RCHME 1981, 63-5; Jackson 1993-4a; 1996-7), may have been occupied during this period. It has produced Ewart Park metalwork, although pottery from the interior cannot be categorised more closely than Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age.

Important evidence comes from Mam Tor, in the Peak District, an extraordinary site which has been the ‘magnetic north’ of later Bronze Age studies in the Midlands. Some two hundred ‘house platforms’ occur on its exposed and inaccessible summit, indicating a large community. Pottery and other finds, including a socketed axe, found in association with the house platforms seem to attest occupation during this period, although questions concerning the nature of this activity and the chronology of the ramparts and occupation sequence remain areas for debate and future work (Coombs 1976; Coombs and Thompson 1979; Barnatt 1995a; Guilbert 1996; Bevan 2000; Barrett 2000a). The occupation at Mam Tor is consistent with that seen elsewhere, for example, on a smaller scale, at Breedon Hill, Leicestershire (cf. below), or further afield at Eildon Hill North, Borders (Rideout et al. 1992). Occupation of what might be considered marginal locations could have been seasonal and relate to patterns of movement, perhaps tied to annual and/or agricultural cycles. More dramatically, such sites may be places of security in what has been cast as an endemically Hobbesian period of violence and threat (cf. Parker Pearson 1993). Despite concerted fieldwork and scholarship at Mam Tor, this colossus of later prehistory remains enigmatic at a number of levels, and in a manner that is metaphorical for our presently limited understanding of the earlier first millennium BC in the region.

A positive advance has come from the recent work conducted at Gardom’s Edge by the Peak District National Park Authority and Sheffield University. Fieldwork investigating ‘house sites’ and field systems has yielded much artefactual material, dating the settlement to the Late Bronze Age and/or Early Iron Age (Barnatt et al. 1995-2000; Barnatt and Smith 1997; Ainsworth and Barnatt 1998b); three timber-built roundhouses have been excavated. New understanding of the material culture from Gardom’s Edge has implications for chronology and interpretation of the period in northern Derbyshire, not least in the case of Mam Tor. Gardom’s Edge is believed to be typical of the surviving prehistoric archaeological remains, including field systems, on the East Moors. These remains can now be broadly dated from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age via comparison with Gardom’s Edge, and as a result of recent radiocarbon dating of environmental samples from settlements (cf. Barnatt 1999; Bevan 2000; Long et al. 1998). They seem to have been occupied over a prolonged period. The fort at Ball Cross, likewise in the Peak District, has also yielded pottery tentatively identified as Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age.

Elsewhere in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire evidence for later Bronze Age and/or Early Iron Age settlement is insubstantial. In Derbyshire several sub-regions, such as the Coal Measures, lack firm evidence for Late Bronze Age settlement. That such sites may exist is suggested by the limited evidence from Tibshelf (Manning 1995; Barrett 2000a). A roundhouse dating to the first half of the millennium has been excavated in the Trent valley at Swarkestone Lowes (Elliott and Knight 1999a; Guilbert and Elliott 1999). In Nottinghamshire several very small collections of pottery (including post-Deverel-Rimbury Plainwares) seem to indicate Later Bronze Age and/or Early Iron Age settlement; this pottery is insufficiently diagnostic to facilitate close dating. A little of this material is associated with features and stratified contexts, although the artefact-yielding features tend to be isolated or loosely grouped, rather than representing clear structural evidence (cf. Pryor and French 1985, 306). These Nottinghamshire finds mainly come from sites with extensive later occupation. Although constituting only ‘glimpses’, such collections are nevertheless significant as they evidently represent forms of settlement activity. Occurring mainly on the eastern side of the county, they are otherwise dispersed. Cases include Dorket Head, Arnold, on the Mercian Mudstone hills (Turner and Swarbrick 1978; Turner and Turner 1997); Gamston on the Trent gravels (Knight 1992); Epperstone in the valley of a tributary of the Trent (EMAB 1964, 25; EMAB 1966, 35-6; Challis and Harding 1975; S. Elsdon pers. comm); and Red Hill, Ratcliffe-on-Soar on the Keuper Marl by the Soar-Trent confluence, where postholes and gullies were revealed by Greenfield (Elsdon 1982). The ceramics from the latter site may be Early Iron Age rather than Late Bronze Age. Scratta Wood, on the Magnesian Limestone, also produced pottery that is understood to be Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age (Bishop 2000c).

Contrastingly a comparatively good sample of Later Bronze Age-Earlier Iron Age settlement sites with buildings has been identified via excavations in Leicestershire and Rutland. Later Bronze Age settlement is recorded at Bardon Hill, Barkby Thorpe, Eye Kettleby (Melton Mowbray), Glenfield, Glen Parva, Kirby Muxloe and apparently Ridlington (Clay 2000; Cooper 1994; Beamish 1997a; 1997b; 2002; Finn 1998; Liddle 1982a, 19), while settlement of Later Bronze Age-Earlier Iron Age date is known at Castle Donington (Coward and Ripper 1998; 1999). At Ridlington in Rutland, settlement is attested by a double-ring roundhouse (Beamish 1997a). Contemporary occupation is presumed at the hilltop site of Budden Wood, and possibly Beacon Hill, Woodhouse Eaves (Liddle 1982a). Pottery scatters indicate a further 15-20 sites that may be of this date.

In Northamptonshire there are again very few sites that can be attributed firmly to the Late Bronze Age. A series of sites are, here too, pigeon-holed as Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age. Flag Fen/Fengate, in north-west Cambridgeshire (Pryor 1974; 1978; 1980; 1984; 2001), was evidently a (?major) focal point at this time and with others like it may have been significant in the politics and culture of the Nene valley and its hinterlands.

Several important settlements of the period are known from the valleys and terraces approaching the Fens. Billingborough (Chowne et al. 2001) has yielded a ceramic sequence showing a progression from Deverel-Rimbury to post-Deverel-Rimbury styles, albeit with some qualification (Knight 2002). In some cases preservation has been found to be exceptionally good. In the Lower Welland valley recent work in advance of gravel extraction at Deeping St James revealed a well-preserved settlement sealed by alluvium. The site was defined by a substantial boundary ditch surrounding post-built roundhouses, four-posters and rectangular buildings, with extant floors, hearths and associated pottery and faunal assemblages (absolute dates are anticipated). Evidence for a field system was encountered, thought to relate to stock management. In Bourne Fen, Later Bronze Age-Early Iron Age pottery was found together with evidence of occupation including a hearth and fired daub (Lincolnshire SMR). In the north of the county identification of Late Bronze Age settlement has been very limited. A rectangular enclosure complex possibly of this date was located on the Lincolnshire Wolds at Kirmond le Mire. Sherds attributed to the Deverel-Rimbury and post-Deverel-Rimbury ceramic traditions were found, suggesting activity related to the time of transition, although it may pre-date the first millennium BC (Field and Knight 1992).

Few cases of smaller defended settlement enclosures, often termed ‘ringforts’ – of the type known at Springfield Lyons and Mucking (North Ring) in Essex and at Thwing, Yorkshire, during its final, Late Bronze Age phase (cf. Parker Pearson 1993) – are known in the region. In Northamptonshire, a ringfort at Thrapston (Hull 1998) yielded a post-Deverel-Rimbury Plainware assemblage and a single radiocarbon date centred on the eighth century BC. Other possible or likely ringforts exist, e.g. at Thenford (RCHME 1982, 143-4), or amongst the small number of uninvestigated earthwork-enclosed sites in Leicestershire and Lincolnshire, at least. The possibility remains that such sites had a ceremonial dimension.

Settlement morphology

The sample of settlement sites known for this period is very limited and diverse, which renders the distillation of trends difficult. In truth comparatively little can be said regarding the arrangement and organization of settlements, and the capture of such information via excavation is a priority.

It is likely that many Late Bronze Age sites were either unenclosed, or enclosed only by palisading. Several examined settlements within the Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age envelope were unenclosed, as on the Eastern Moors of the Peak District (B. Bevan pers. comm.) and probably at Crick, Northampton-shire; Hughes 1998), where several of the occupation/ building clusters have yielded ceramics of this date. Interim information (ibid.) indicates that occupation clusters with associated ceramics equating to Knight’s Group 1 (A. Woodward pers. comm.) include circular structures and D-shaped enclosures, with a high proportion of entrances on the eastern side. A series of luminescence dates has been obtained, but its early chronology is still under review, so the start date is uncertain. Another unenclosed settlement within this chronological span is Wilby Way, near Wellingborough (Enright and Thomas 1998; 1999). The nature of the site at Swarkestone Lowes is uncertain, as no features contemporary with the roundhouse were encountered (Elliott and Knight 1999a; Guilbert and Elliott 1999); it is entirely possible that this Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age settlement (if such it was) was likewise unenclosed.

Ditched enclosures of the Late Bronze Age are known at Billingborough, Kirmond le Mire (cf. above) and elsewhere (cf. Pryor 1996). Better evidence is required to clarify how frequently such features are settlement boundaries, or are concerned with the management of herds, or are communal meeting areas, etc. Phase 1 at Billingborough (Middle to Late Bronze Age) is thought to represent the remains of a settlement, defined by a U-shaped enclosure containing four-post structures, pits, an occupation layer and a fence (Chowne et al. 2001). Evidence for buildings was absent, probably due to erosion.

Buildings and structures

Some variety in building types occurs in the region. A rectangular building, of posthole and beam-slot construction, is recorded at Eye Kettleby, Leicestershire (Finn 1998; 2011), where post-Deverel-Rimbury Plainwares (of approximate eleventh- to ninth-century BC date) were associated. Rectangular buildings are also reported at Deeping St James. Circular structures occur at several sites in the south of the region, including Kirby Muxloe, Glen Parva and Deeping St James (Cooper 1994; Liddle 1982a, 19; Lincolnshire SMR); a proportion of the circular buildings at Crick may also prove to be of this date (Hughes 1998). Double-ring roundhouses occur at several sites, specifically Willow Farm, Castle Donington, Leicestershire; Ridlington, Rutland (Beamish 1997a); and Swarkestone Lowes, Derbyshire (Guilbert and Elliott 1999), where the structure dates to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age. The posthole ring of the latter, representing its inner roof supporting timbers, is c. 7 m in diameter. In the north of the region the recent work at Gardom’s Edge, Derbyshire, has revealed three circular buildings with stakehole walls and posthole doorways (Barnatt et al. 1995-2000). A post-built structure, perhaps of semi-circular type, approximately of this date was also identified at Gamston (Knight 1992). ‘D’ shaped structures are a known later prehistoric type, often thought to represent working areas.


Clay (2000) highlights the fact that the palynological information garnered from the Leicestershire and Rutland sites of Croft (Smith et al. 2005), Hemington, Kirby Muxloe and Oakham (Greig et al. forthcoming) identify a pattern of increasing clearance from the Later Bronze Age and a predominance of grassland. Many instances of erosion dated to or attributed to the early and mid first millennium BC are seen as a consequence of concerted clearance and farming.

As is well known, the early part of the first millennium BC was a period of comparatively poor climate, with increased ground wetness and lower temperatures. Flooding and inundation occurred in the Fens and Fen margins (Pryor 1984; Pryor and French 1985, 305-6). Contrastingly, on the East Moors of the Peak District pockets of arable cultivation associated with field systems and settlement continued in use from the second into the first millennium BC, with pastoral activity also likely (Long et al. 1998). This begins to ‘correct’ earlier interpretations suggesting the abandonment of upland areas in Britain around the end of the second millennium BC (cf. Burgess 1985).

Material culture


One of our main sources of knowledge for the Later Bronze Age in the region remains metalwork. This is especially significant for areas where documented settlement evidence is meagre. The regional collection is an eclectic ensemble, deriving from piecemeal discoveries and reporting, as for instance, in the case of the fine Ewart Park type sword recovered by a digger operator during gravel extraction at Church Wilne, Derbyshire (R.G. Hughes 1999, 6, fig. 18). Comparatively few items come from modern controlled fieldwork. A number of Later Bronze Age hoards are known, for instance, in Leicestershire and Rutland, the important groups from Beacon Hill, Cottesmore, and Welby (cf. Liddle 1982a, 17, fig. 8); in Northamptonshire a Late Bronze Age hoard was recently recovered at Ecton (Kidd 2000). The Nettleham hoard from near Lincoln is also of regional importance (cf. May 1976, 103), as are the Hallstatt Gündlingen type swords found together near Tattershall (Cowen 1967, nos 189-90). The corpus covering Lincolnshire published by Davey (1973) includes much Later Bronze Age metalwork from the historic county, while May’s (1976) volume on Lincolnshire continues to provide a valuable summary. May includes a distribution map of Late Bronze Age bronze objects (ibid., fig. 63), which shows clearly areas of numerous finds (e.g. the Middle Witham and its immediate hinterland) and those for which there is an absence (e.g. the Middle and Outmarsh areas bordering the coast, the Fens, and the middle and northern Wolds).

Riverine contexts for such metalwork are frequent, echoing patterns observed across northern Europe (Bradley 1990). Most of the 19 instances of Late Bronze Age metalwork on the Nottinghamshire SMR are associated with the River Trent. From this river have come both local and imported Hallstatt swords (Cowen 1967, nos 191-3; MacCormick 1966, 36, fig. 7.7-8). Finds are also known from the Witham, including the extraordinary antennae-hilted sword (Hawkes 1946, 12, pl. 3a-b; Davey 1973, fig. 20 no. 199). Chowne (1980) has noted the comparatively high number of Later Bronze Age metal finds from the peat fen between Lincoln and the Slea. He eschewed an interpretation of these items as part of a ritual phenomenon, suggesting instead that since these items were particularly associated with the edge of the fen, where the peat layer was thinner, they came from settlements subsequently buried by peat growth.

Elsewhere, Late Bronze Age metalwork has been found at sites with domestic occupation. These include the ridge top settlement at Glenfield, Leicester, and Gardom’s Edge, Derbyshire. In Northamptonshire, Ewart Park metalwork was found in the interior of Borough Hill, Daventry (RCHME 1981, 63-5; Jackson 1993-4a; 1996-7). A significant find is the fragments of a socketed axehead from Mam Tor, typologically Late Bronze Age, but manufactured in lead (Guilbert 1996), raising the possibility that lead was being extracted in the Peak during the later prehistory.

Assessing the evidence from Lincolnshire, May (1976, 103) pointed out that the frequency with which bronzes of Late Bronze Age date have come to light indicates that bronze must have been plentiful at this period. A case could be made for this being so for the whole of the East Midlands. Significantly, May deduced that this indicated ‘a well-organised and secure supply of metal, since there were no local sources either of copper or tin’ (ibid.).

In sum, the region has yielded a large number of Late Bronze Age metal artefacts, some of which are magnificent items by any standard. Certain types of tool, martial equipment and ornamental pieces predominate, as they do elsewhere in Britain. These bronzes indicate the wealth of the region, and its cultural and economic articulation with southern Britain and the northern Continent. Some at least of these pieces were presumably fashioned locally and constitute an index of technological awareness within Late Bronze Age communities in the region. The nature of many of these pieces and of their findspots suggests attention to symbolism and ritual. They remain important items both for materials analysis research and also for considering society and social practice.


Assemblages and collections of Late Bronze Age pottery are not numerous, nor are they well characterised. Key references are Knight (2002) and the Gazetteer of Later Prehistoric Pottery Collections (First Millennium BC) accessible through the University of Southampton website.

Spanning the very end of the second millennium BC until c. 800 BC are the post-Deverel-Rimbury Plainware styles, which are succeeded by (overlapping) Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age styles. Post-Deverel-Rimbury Plainware is known from a select number of sites particularly from the Peak District and the Fen hinterland (which may or may not be significant), including Ball Cross, Derbyshire (Stanley 1954) and Mam Tor (see below), Billingborough (Chowne et al. 2001), Deeping St James and Hagnaby near Stickford (Knight 2002). Recent large Plainware assemblages from Langtoft and Welland Bank in south Lincolnshire (D. Knight pers. comm.; Pryor 1998a) may be dated via radiocarbon determinations on associated organics. In Leicestershire comparatively little Late Bronze Age pottery is known. A reassessment of the pottery from Mam Tor is required in the light of the finds from Gardom’s Edge (Barrett 2000a; Bevan 2000). Thin-sectioning of pottery samples from the 1960s fieldwork at the site has provided new insights with regard to the typology and other aspects of this important collection (Guilbert and Vince 1996), demonstrating, again, the research potential of archived materials.


A few Later Bronze Age sites have yielded evidence for cereals, spelt being noted on drier sites, there having been an increase in the identification of such remains in recent years (Chapter 11). Elsewhere spelt is not so apparent. Deeping St James, Lincolnshire, yielded evidence of barley, bread wheat, and emmer cultivation during the Late Bronze Age (A. Monckton pers. comm.), with flax and hazelnut shell also represented. Emmer and nut shell were also recovered at the Lincolnshire Fen-edge site at Hagnaby Lock near Stickford (Murphy forthcoming a). Emmer, barley and nut shell were present at Eye Kettleby (Monckton forthcoming a). Querns come from a number of sites or contexts believed to date to this period, like Tibshelf (Manning 1995) and Gardom’s Edge (B. Bevan pers. comm.). In the valleys leading to the Fens, livestock, particularly cattle, appear to have become increasingly important (Pryor and French 1985, 306). At Washingborough, Lincolnshire, cattle comprised half of the faunal assemblage, the remainder consisting of a mixture of domestic and wild animals, birds and fish. In a cogent article Pryor (1996) outlined a case for identifying large-scale sheep raising on the western Fen margin during the Later Bronze Age, with many of the enclosures and ditches of this landscape seen as relating to flock management. He suggests the regime did not continue much into the first millennium BC, due to flooding of summer grazing areas with sea level change and climatic deterioration. Salt ‘winning’ at this time may in part have been directed towards the provision of licks for sheep and other animals, providing them with vital dietary supplements (ibid., 322). Mixed agricultural regimes were evidently practised at this time in favourable pockets on the East Moors, Derbyshire (cf. Long et al. 1998), where extensive field systems have been recognised, and indeed continued through the first millennium BC.

The Late Bronze Age to Iron Age Transition, and the Early Iron Age c. 800 BC-450 BC

The lack of chronological resolution means that it is often difficult or impossible to assign archaeological evidence as either Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age. Besides, the shift from the use of bronze to iron tools, and the other changes associated with the emergence of the Iron Age, were part of an unfolding process that did not occur at a fixed moment in time but was made over several centuries. In this section, therefore, the evidence lying within the approximate parameters of the Transition and the Early Iron Age is grouped together. Finds and sites of this period are infrequent (cf. Willis 1997a; Clay 2000; Kidd 2000; Fig. 27 above). Based on the range of changes that are recognised as having taken place in the century between 850-750 BC (e.g. Needham forthcoming), the date of c. 800 BC is taken here for the start of this transition.

Settlement evidence

The archaeological visibility of settlements is at best only marginally higher during the Earlier Iron Age than during the Late Bronze Age, largely because the character of sites is not markedly different. Defended settlements of the period might be thought to be more readily identifiable, but there has been only very limited investigation of potential sites, with a concomitant lack of diagnostic material.

As noted above, a number of sites have produced modest evidence for occupation during the Late Bronze Age and/or the Early Iron Age: in the Trent valley these include Dorket Head, Epperstone, Gamston, Red Hill and Willington, Derbyshire, while also in the north of the region, evidence assigned a similar date has been forthcoming from Scratta Wood, on the southern slopes of the Ryton valley west of Worksop, and at Gardom’s Edge (cf. above). Further south, both Crick and Wilby Way, Wellingborough (Enright and Thomas 1999), in Northamptonshire, and Empingham, Rutland, have yielded evidence of activity/occupation of this period (attribution to this phase in the case of Wilby Way being confirmed by radiocarbon dates). In all these cases this evidence represents the earliest phase of a settlement which is long-lived, with either apparently continuous occupation through the Iron Age and into, in some cases, the Roman period, or where subsequent occupation through these periods is evident but not necessarily unbroken. At least some of these sites were, during this initial period, unenclosed.

A black and white aerial photo of a large, roughly square hill fort. The edges of the fort are defined by tall ridges in the earth, outside of which are ditches. The inside of the square is relatively featureless.

Fig 28: Burrough Hill Hillfort

Two major Leicestershire hillforts, Breedon Hill and Burrough Hill (Fig. 28), appear to have earlier Iron Age origins (Clay 2000). However, the chronology of these two important sites is obscure. A Late Bronze Age start date is possible for Breedon Hill, while concerted activity and occupation at Burrough Hill could have started in the Bronze Age or earlier Iron Age (cf. Liddle 1982a, 22). Kenyon’s seminal work at Breedon Hill indicated that occupation pre-dated the construction of the defensive works (Kenyon 1950, 20), which may also have been the case at Mam Tor. Whilst the sequence of the defences at Breedon Hill is fairly well understood, the dating of the site’s development during the first millennium is vague, and the nature of the remains inside the earthworks is not clear (e.g. Wall 1907, 246-7; Wacher 1964; 1977; Liddle 1982a). In Northamptonshire occupation at several hillforts is attributable to this phase (for instance, at Hunsbury and Rainsborough; cf. Kidd 2000).

Away from the hillforts, earlier Iron Age occupation/ activity has been identified at several sites in the south-east of the region, namely at Empingham (Cooper 2000a, 46-8), Stamford Road, Oakham, and perhaps Ridlington (Beamish 1997a), all in Rutland, while settlement of this period is also attested on the Welland and Nene valley gravels. Just over the border in Cambridgeshire, work on the Deepings’ bypass revealed an Early Iron Age settlement with circular structures, in the Welland valley; pottery from the site is transitional, from Early to Middle Iron Age (?sixth to fifth centuries BC). In Lincolnshire, at Washingborough, by the Witham, a series of significant finds dating to the period of the Later Bronze Age-Early Iron Age transition was recovered in the early 1970s and subsequently. These items are presumed to derive from an adjacent settlement (Coles et al. 1979; Elsdon 1994a). Extensive use of this river margin during the first half of the millennium is likely.

In Northamptonshire sites of Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age date occur along the Nene valley. Small-scale sites are also known at Gretton by the Welland (Jackson and Knight 1985), and in the undulating terrain between Corby and Kettering, specifically at Weekley Hall Wood (Jackson 1976b) and Great Oakley (Jackson 1982), where the subsoil is clay. In sum, in Northamptonshire, sites attributed to this date are concentrated on the permeable geologies of the Nene valley, but as in Leicestershire and Rutland occupation on claylands is precedented. In western Northamptonshire defended sites on the higher ground are believed to be occupied during this period. Presently few sites are known on the clay subsoils of southern and western Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, but this may be due to difficulties of archaeological visibility and non-intensive research input.

Kidd (2000) notes that the distribution of likely domestic activity is very much broadened when the incidence of Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age pottery collections is plotted using the Gazetteer of Later Prehistoric Pottery Collections database. This applies particularly to Northamptonshire, and to a lesser degree to Leicestershire, Rutland and parts of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire where such material has been collected, especially via surface survey.

Settlement morphology

With such a small sample of settlement sites, the identification of trends is once again difficult. One deduction can be made: the morphology of occupation sites is not distinctive or prominent enough to make them regularly visible to current survey and prospection methods.

Sites excavated in Northamptonshire may be broadly typical of non-upland sites in the region as a whole. In Northamptonshire the small number of sites recorded to date, at Gretton, Great Oakley and Weekley Hall Wood (see above and Kidd 2000) demonstrate that settlements are often unenclosed and of small scale, containing perhaps only one to a few timber structures and pits. This pattern is seen also in areas further south, as at Bancroft, Milton Keynes (Williams and Zeepvat 1994, 20-40). At Weekley Hall Wood a probable circular, or possible semi-circular structure was recorded; of the six four-post structures discerned, five occurred in an east-west string indicating zoning; two-post structures were also present, but pits were few (Jackson 1976b).

Buildings and structures

The evidence from Weekley Hall Wood (Jackson 1976b) may not be atypical for much of the region. Here, the probable circular structure was represented only by an incomplete ring of postholes defining a semi-circle; if genuinely semi-circular, this structure may have been a shelter (as at Gamston); alternatively, the other half of the circle may have been lost. If it was a circular building, a south-east facing entrance is possible (ibid.), and its diameter will have been c. 13 m, at the larger end of the size range for such structures. The four-post structures at this site are of broadly similar dimensions with a long axis of c. 2.5-3.8 m, bar one which is c. 1.5 m square. Four-post structures are normally thought to represent granaries, although other functions have been suggested: drying frames, funerary platforms, shrines and towers (Ellison and Drewett 1971; Gent 1983; Knight 1984, 154; Beamish 1998, 29).

Material culture


Metalwork of this period is scarce across central eastern England. One of the few recovered items is a socketed axe from Mam Tor attributed to the late seventh century BC (cf. Bevan 2000, 147).

Early Iron Age brooches are rare in Britain generally. An example from Dragonby, to the north of present region, but within the historic county of Lincolnshire, comprises the lower bow and foot of a copper alloy brooch of La Tène I type. May (1976, 125; 1996) suggested a date in the fifth century BC, whereas Hull and Hawkes (1987, 110) preferred one in the fourth century BC. Either way, there is no evidence of occupation or activity at Dragonby at this time (May 1996). In Northamptonshire a Swan’s Neck pin was recovered at Wilby Way, Wellingborough (report forthcoming).


Towards the very end of the Bronze Age an increase in finger decoration occurs, as evidenced by assemblages from further south in England. However, the East Midlands lacks sites where this shift of emphasis from post-Deverel-Rimbury Plainwares to Decorated vessels occurs (cf. Thrapston; Hull 1998). The pottery groups from Washingborough, although small and only ascribed to a Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age bracket, are of regional note (May 1976, 111, fig. 61; Elsdon 1994a). Fine and coarse wares are represented and include a number of sherds from very fine burnished vessels that are unusual for the East Midlands.


Comparatively few saddle querns have been found in the East Midlands. Examples are known from Breedon Hill and Wanlip, Leicestershire, Ancaster Quarry, Lincolnshire and Swarkestone Lowes, Derbyshire. The improvised use of locally available stone (e.g. river and boulder clay cobbles) seems to have been common. Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age contexts at Crick have yielded spelt, plus some emmer and barley (Monckton 1998b).

The Middle Iron Age c. 450 BC-100 BC

The ‘identity’ of the Middle Iron Age and the nature of the record in the East Midlands

‘As Clay and others have pointed out, the Middle Iron Age is as much a cultural phenomenon as a chronological entity (Clay 2000; Kidd 2000; Hill 1997a). Like the preceding periods it does not have hard and universal chronological parameters but relates to a set of practices that were of comparatively long duration and which were replaced gradually and at differing times. A large number of sites attributable to this phase are known from Northamptonshire (Fig. 29) where they may be described as ubiquitous (Kidd 2000). Elsewhere in the region fewer sites have been identified, but the corpus is steadily accruing, particularly as a consequence of PPG16 interventions, as in Lincolnshire, where previously only a tiny number were known (cf. May 1976; Willis 1997a). Nonetheless there is such a profound imbalance in the numbers of sites recorded (and published) for Northamptonshire compared to the rest of the region, that the question arises as to whether this is more than a matter of differential archaeological survival, potentially reflecting an actual difference in settlement density (A. Kidd pers. comm.). This is an important matter for investigation.

A map of the midlands showing the distribution sites. Sites are concentrated along the rivers Trent and Nene, and in a central horizontal band.

Fig 29: Distribution of Middle Iron Age sites mentioned in the text

With one or two exceptions, sites have not yielded the quantity of remains found where sizeable interventions have taken place in other regions, for instance, at Little Waltham in Essex (Drury 1978); at Wetwang and Garton Slack in the East Riding (Brewster 1980), or in the Upper Thames valley.

Settlement evidence

Rectangular ditched enclosures, covering not more than c. 0.5 hectares and containing one or two circular buildings, together with ancillary structures, are seen as the typical site type of the Middle and Late Iron Age in central Britain. Evidently they represented the farmsteads of small family or kin groups. Sites of this type dated to the Middle Iron Age have been excavated across the central band of England and further north (cf. Haselgrove 1984), for instance at Bursea Grange in the south-eastern Vale of York (Halkon and Millett 1999, 67-74), Weelsby Avenue, Grimsby (see below) and at Fisherwick, Staffordshire (C. Smith 1977; 1979), a site which became particularly influential in our understanding of the Iron Age in this region of Britain.

Such sites are well known from aerial reconnaissance and field survey in Northamptonshire, where a number have been excavated (Kidd 2000); some continue into the Roman era, for instance at Weekley (Jackson and Dix 1986-7). However, the modest sample of sites that have now been investigated display considerable variation, and generalisations should proceed with caution (given the size of the sample and the variety). This degree of variation mirrors the pattern observed in Cambridgeshire (C. Evans pers. comm.).

One of the best known settlements of this period is at Ancaster Quarry, situated on a shelf on the limestone slope overlooking the Ancaster Gap. The site was excavated in the early 1960s and a detailed summary has appeared (May 1976, 133-41). This apparently open settlement was discovered following quarrying. Features recorded included two circular structures, with, remarkably, ovens and fireplaces, and a series of pits, most of which contained occupation ‘refuse’. Bell-shaped pits are reported which may parallel the familiar grain-storage pits of Wessex and elsewhere. The pottery typifies the Middle Iron Age East Midland handmade tradition and constitutes one of the ‘type-collections’ of Cunliffe’s Ancaster-Breedon style, also referred to as ‘Scored ware’ (Cunliffe 1978, 43; 1991; see below). In Northamptonshire another open settlement of Middle to Late Iron Age was fully excavated in the 1990s at ‘The Lodge’, Crick (Chapman 1995); c. 20 circular structures were recorded, relating to several phases (Fig. 30).

Diagrammatic representations of two archaeological sites - Crick, Northants and Humberston, Leics. Both sites are roughly 500m across and contain a large number of small circular structures.

Fig 30: `Aggregated` Iron Age settlements at Crick, Northamptonshire and Humberstone, Leicester

Several other important sites have been examined, and some are now fully published. At Wanlip, near Leicester, excavations in advance of road construction revealed a variety of occupation features outside a comparatively small enclosure, c. 20 by 17 m, thought to be associated with cattle/stock management rather than occupation (Beamish 1998). This site, lying on sand and gravel was recorded previously as a cropmark. An integrated programme of radiocarbon and luminescence dating indicated that the settlement was in use c. 450 to 350 BC. A further important addition to the corpus of Middle Iron Age sites also lies in Leicestershire: Elms Farm, Humberstone (Fig. 30), where the evidently open settlement of Phase 1b is clearly of this era (Charles et al. 2000). Again the subsoil was boulder clay.

A site of different type was discovered by chance in 1990 at Sleaford. This comprised a large palisaded enclosure, which measured at least 50 m across (Elsdon 1997). Excavation revealed massive close-set postholes, an entrance and a ‘cross-wall’. Only a small proportion of the interior was excavated, with no evidence of domestic structures coming to light. Ancaster-Breedon pottery was recovered, suggesting a date of c. fourth to second century BC. Monuments of this type and date may not have been particularly rare in eastern England during the Early and Middle Iron Age but their identification and excavation is rare. Elsdon (ibid.) suggests that the site might parallel that investigated at Fisons Way, Thetford, Norfolk (Gregory 1992), but the function is uncertain, due to the lack of archaeological features and the lack of excavated parallels. There are indications that the enclosure included stock management and arable crop processing, and whilst suggesting that the site was defensive or ritual, Elsdon did not rule out a domestic function.

Middle Iron Age occupation is reasonably well attested in Northamptonshire, the greatest concentration of known sites occurring, unsurprisingly, along the Nene and Ise valleys and in some instances on the clay subsoils (Knight 1984; Taylor 1996; Kidd 2000). Again fewer sites are logged in the south and west of the county, probably due to limited survey possibilities and intervention needs (cf. Kidd 2000). Around ten palisaded enclosures of the period are known in Northamptonshire including the sub-rectangular example at Briar Hill, measuring 20 by 10 m.

Overall, the Iron Age is poorly represented in the Fenland Survey (T. Lane pers. comm.; Hall and Coles 1994) and was specifically targeted in follow-up work to establish whether this was a reliable pattern. Now a different picture is emerging as excavation in the 1990s has revealed a series of sites of the first millennium BC, while sites examined previously have been recently published. Along the western and southern edges of the Lincolnshire Fen in particular, an array of sites has yielded evidence for salt production (salterns) and domestic settlement. Data from the Survey implied that perhaps a third of the sites, that is those yielding briquetage but no pottery, could be satellite salterns away from the domestic base. Where occupation evidence occurs, it is possible that such ‘settlements’ were sporadically occupied, perhaps seasonally (cf. Lane and Morris 2001). These sites have been sampled rather than extensively excavated but a fairly consistent picture is emerging, as exemplified by the small-scale work undertaken at Helpringham Fen and at Cowbit Wash (Healey 1999; Lane and Morris 2001).

At Helpringham Fen, in addition to evidence for salt production, pottery, quern fragments, and animal bones were recovered indicating domestic activity at the site or close by. Two radiocarbon dates were obtained (Healey 1999, 19 and appendix), which together with the pottery suggests use in the third century BC. The salterns at Cowbit also produced pottery and animal bone. This complex site yielded evidence of various phases of use, principally during the Middle Iron Age (as denoted by radiocarbon and archaeomagnetic dating), with fairly strong indications that this was seasonally organised (Lane and Morris 2001); the chronology of the earlier phases could not be established. Similarly, excavations at Langtoft, Outgang Road, north of Market Deeping (Lane 2001) where ceramics indicated a Middle Iron Age saltern, also revealed a circular structure c. 8 m in diameter, indicated by a gully with a series of postholes within. This may well represent the remains of a domestic building; again the faunal record is consistent with other indices suggestive of occupation. At Hoe Hills, Dowsby, on the Fen edge, two comparatively well-preserved successive circular structures of first millennium BC date were also excavated as part of the Fenland Survey follow-up programme. Associated Ancaster-Breedon pottery indicates a Middle and/or Late Iron Age date (T. Lane pers. comm.; Lane and Trimble 1995).

These interventions have established that stratified remains of salterns dating to the first millennium BC (and Roman period) are often extensive, can be comparatively well preserved, with a variety of cultural and palaeoenvironmental indicators represented, and with some level of domestic occupation. Unequivocally, the Fens are an important resource for studies of the first millennium BC in eastern England. However, these sites are subject to serious threats from ploughing and the drying out of the Fens (Hall and Coles 194; Lane and Morris 2001). The environmental circumstances and histories of such sites mean that excavation and post-excavation are likely to be complex, and this aspect requires careful consideration when costing archaeological work. The past two decades have seen interventions of modest scale; there is a strong case for area excavation at such ‘sites’, since results to date suggest these are extensive complexes with dispersed functional areas.

Less work has been undertaken along the North Sea coast. Here cover deposits mask ancient land surfaces at many locations (Kirkham 2001; J. Rackham pers. comm). A cluster of salterns, however, is recorded in the vicinity of Ingoldmells, via piecemeal work over decades (Baker 1960; 1975; Kirkham 2001). There is some likelihood that circular features c. 9-12 m in diameter recorded by Warren (1932) by salterns at Ingoldmells Point, represented buildings of this period, associated with salt production. Again, these may not have been domestic structures in continual use, but seasonally occupied dwellings, or they may have served some other purpose, perhaps specifically related to the salt production process.

Turning to the defended sites, Breedon Hill and Burrough Hill in Leicestershire (Fig. 28 above), and Crow Hill, Hunsbury and Rainsborough in Northamptonshire were evidently in use during this period (cf. above; Thomas 1960; Brown and Simpson 1968; Liddle 1982a; Parry forthcoming; Jackson 1993-4b; Avery et al. 1967). The hillfort at Castle Yard, Northamptonshire (Knight 1986-7), as well as the plateau fort at Honington Camp (Lincolnshire) may have been constructed during this era. The sizeable enclosure at Tattershall Thorpe, Lincolnshire, was apparently in use at this time too, as indicated by radiocarbon dates and ceramics (Chowne et al. 1986; Seager Smith 1998). Its interpretation is doubtful, in part because of a lack of exploration of its interior (or for that matter, its immediate exterior). A central agricultural role in a pastoral economy was favoured by its excavator (Chowne et al. 1986), but now it might be suggested that the identity of the site involved domestic, high status and/or ceremonial functions. Suggesting, however, that the site is a ‘marsh fort’ analogous to those at Burgh,Suffolk (Martin 1988) and Sutton Common, South Yorkshire (Parker Pearson and Sydes 1997), whilst legitimate, only raises further questions. Information about the interiors of these East Midlands forts and enclosures is generally meagre, hindering our understanding of their chronology, character and function/s.

There is little firm evidence for Middle Iron Age settlement in the Peak District, but this apparent absence of occupation may derive from a lack of archaeological input and an inability to recognise diagnostic Middle Iron Age material and to discriminate sites from those thought to be Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age (cf. Radley and Radford 1969). These aspects of the evidence are discussed by Bevan (2000) and Chadwick and Evans (2000, esp. 118-9; see above), along with older assumptions about the use of the area at this time, which they understandably see as flawed. Small amounts of typologically Middle Iron Age tradition pottery (but possibly still current into the Roman era) have been recovered from the Peak region although not, as yet, associated with settlement features (Bevan 2000, 147).

In the Trent valley the enclosure of settlements during the Middle Iron Age by ditching has facilitated their recognition (e.g. Gamston; Fig 31). Site 1 at Holme Pierrepont on the valley gravels, and Aslockton, further east in the Devon valley, may both have begun in the Middle rather than the Late Iron Age (O’Brien 1979b; Palmer-Brown and Knight 1993). This contrasts with a lack of identification and investigation of Middle Iron Age sites in Lincolnshire, particularly in the middle and north of the county, perhaps due to an enduring absence of enclosure via ditching, as at Ancaster Quarry and Sleaford.

Four diagrams showing activity on a site from four different time periods. The site is roughly 120m long and comprises several overlaid structures and enclosures.

Fig 31: Phases of Iron Age occupation at Gamston, Nottinghamshire (from Knight and Howard 2004)

Just outside the region, in south Humberside, a small settlement, presumably a farmstead, existed at Weelsby Avenue, Grimsby, during the Middle Iron Age (Sills and Kinsley 1978; 1979; 1990; Wise 1990); located on a till spur, the subsoil is clay. The site was enclosed by a single ditch and bank which demarcated an interior c. 40 m square; within were two circular structures and a four-poster.

Some degree of continuity is observable in site location, in so far as a high proportion of Middle Iron Age sites either continue into the Later Iron Age at the same location, or nearby, as at Ancaster, Helpringham Fen and Sleaford.

Settlement morphology

No standard, regular pattern of settlement morphology is discernible. Instead, sites display a series of familiar elements, as in the preceding and succeeding periods both within the region and beyond. In the East Midlands these elements occur in differing combinations and configurations; sometimes certain elements are present, sometimes not. No template for settlement morphology appears to have been followed, although some ordering principles were clearly adhered to in the materialisation of individual sites. Some clustering of family/kin/ other groups is implied by the number of apparently contemporary roundhouses in certain areas.

The publication of Wanlip (Beamish 1998), in many ways a ‘state of the art’ article, highlights a number of significant aspects in the anatomy and biography of this site which reveal a ‘grammar’ in the human and social practices undertaken there. Through careful analysis and presentation of the evidence, various trends noted elsewhere in the British Iron Age are shown to be reflected in the archaeology of this site: buildings and enclosure entrances were oriented in relation to cosmological events; two-post structures occur in an east-west band across the site (reminiscent of the band of four-posters at Weekley Hall Wood) aligned roughly north-south. There is an overall symmetry to the arrangement of the major site elements; zones with pits occur, with the interior of the enclosure essentially clear of pits.

The settlement at Elms Farm, Humberstone (Charles et al. 2000) at this phase comprises a cluster of several penannular gullies, plus other gullies, a small enclosure (containing no structures or features), and two four-post structures; not all features are contemporaneous. The settlement is apparently open, but lies within and seems to respect a Bronze Age enclosure that may have been vestigially manifest at this time. Building orientation is to the east. The largest penannular gully presumably denoted the largest building and this lies to the front of the rest, four out of five of which are in a row. Variety in the morphology of settlement enclosure is further highlighted by sites in Northamptonshire. Enclosure A at Stanwell Spinney, Northamptonshire, dating to this period, was oval in plan and seems to have enclosed a circular building (Dix and Jackson 1989).

It is of course characteristic for settlement sites of this period to include evidence for circular buildings and ancillary structures, particularly four-post and two-post structures. These components are present at Wanlip, with one of the four-posters, which happens to be exceptionally large, having a centrally placed cremation. What two-post structures represent is often not clear. They may be drying frames, upright looms, or the remains of entrances to circular buildings (cf. Knight 1984, 159; Ellison and Drewett 1971); the latter is suggested at Wanlip (Beamish 1998, 34-6). During the life of the sub-rectangular enclosure at Wanlip, a south facing entrance continually existed, with a least one other opening to the east during one sub-phase. Weelsby Avenue, Grimsby, also had a south facing entrance in its Middle Iron Age phase. The palisaded enclosure at Sleaford had an entrance (perhaps the main entrance) facing south-east. The morphology of the settlements associated with salt winning on the Lincolnshire Fen edge is not well understood. In sum, it is apparent that more archaeological information can be gathered on the layout of sites at this period than for the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age.

Buildings and structures

In contrast with the variations in site morphology at this period, the buildings and structures are more coherent in type and size. The one certain circular structure at Wanlip had a ring groove suggesting polygonal construction (Beamish 1998). It was c. 13 m across and had one entrance facing east-north-east, and perhaps a second aligned due west; postholes within the ring groove were probably related to its construction and use. One of the two circular structures at Ancaster Quarry was defined by a gully of c. 12.5 m diameter, which according to the excavator could have been for the inner (load-bearing timbers) or outer wall (May 1976, 133). Whichever, this building is fairly large and of a similar magnitude to the structures at Wanlip and (probably earlier) Weekley Hall Wood. It had an entrance facing north-west, providing a panoramic view looking out from the doorway. The second Ancaster Quarry structure was much smaller at 4.6 m in diameter for its outer wall. Weelsby Avenue, Grimsby, contained two circular structures, of c. 9.5 and 5.5 m diameter respectively (Wise 1990). The enclosure at Fisherwick also contained two circular structures, one being 11 m in diameter (Smith 1979). The largest circular structure at Elms Farm was represented by an eavesdrip gully, the internal diameter being a substantial 18 m; no internal features were identified. Of the five or so others of this phase from the site, two are defined by gullies c. 10 m in diameter and two others by gullies c. 8 m in diameter.

Four post-structures, of the type normally thought to represent granaries, are recorded at Sleaford, Elms Farm, Humberstone and Wanlip, as well as Weelsby Avenue, although not at Ancaster Quarry, where, possible grain storage pits occur. Two-post structures are know from Ancaster Quarry, Sleaford, and Wanlip, as well as elsewhere.

Material culture


One of the earliest La Tène items found in Britain is likely to have been unearthed on the Lincolnshire-Cambridgeshire border before the mid nineteenth century. The item comprises part of a bronze scabbard and iron blade now in Wisbech Museum (Jope 1961a; 1961b; May 1976). The scabbard is decorated in Early La Tè;ne style. It may be considered a harbinger of the nationally significant ensemble of fine Middle and Late Iron Age metalwork from the eastern East Midlands The series of important metalwork finds from the region’s rivers, particularly the Witham and Trent, dating to this period (or the Late Iron Age) are generally interpreted as ‘votive’ losses in the style of Llyn Cerrig Bach or La Tène itself. A finely decorated bronze sword scabbard plate from the Trent at Sutton (May 1976, 128-9, pl. 4) belongs to this period, as do three iron swords from the Witham, two having plain bronze scabbards and the third, an elaborately fashioned bronze scabbard mount (ibid., 129-30, pl. 3). Also from the Witham is an iron bladed dagger with a hilt fashioned with a anthropoid figure as a pommel, which was recovered with its bronze scabbard; May suggests a second-, or possibly first-century BC date for this unusual find (ibid., 130, pl. 5). In addition, parts of two shields, well-known and magnificent by any measure, have been recovered: the Witham Shield (ibid., 130-3) and the La Tène style decorated shield boss from Ratcliffe-on-Trent (Watkin et al. 1996). Collectively these pieces add much to our understanding of Iron Age Britain at a series of levels – in terms of technology, art and cultural practice – and are of international significance. It is likely that further items will be forthcoming from these rivers in future years.

Many of these riverine finds are ‘old’ discoveries (May 1976), although a more recent important collection of martial finds and tools was made at Fiskerton, east of Lincoln (Fig. 32; Field and Parker Pearson 2003). Such finds have great potential for insight into many aspects of life in later prehistory, not least because they are often complete or largely so and in a good state of preservation. They may come to light at any moment, during controlled archaeological fieldwork, or as chance discoveries. However found, such items have the power to thrill, excite and animate the public, and stimulate the imagination of the archaeological community.

Brooches of this period are also rare (Willis 1997a). An iron brooch was recovered from Burrough Hill (Thomas 1960, 52), presumably the La Tène I variant brooch illustrated by Challis and Harding (1975 ii, fig. 11 no. 1). A copper alloy brooch of La Tène I affinity came from Ancaster Quarry (May 1976, 140, fig. 69.1), together with an long iron involuted brooch of Middle Iron Age affinity (ibid., fig. 69.2). An early La Tène II iron brooch, dated approximately to the third century BC is recorded from Market Deeping (Lincolnshire SMR). A La Tène style brooch with coral mounting was recovered from a cave at Harborough Rocks (Derbyshire SMR), seemingly more likely to date to the Middle than the Late Iron Age (Smith 1909, fig. 4).

A black and white photo of an archaeological excavation. A trench contains two clearly defined rows of upright wooden posts in states of decay and disintegration. Between the two rows are scattered planks and wooden debris.

Fig 32: Timber causeway at Fiskerton, Lincolnshire. also the location of logboats and metalwork deposition

One of the best known Iron Age brooches from the East Midlands is the ‘bird brooch’ from Red Hill, Ratcliffe-on-Soar (Hawkes and Jacobsthal 1945). This is an involuted type and is now thought to date to the fourth century BC (Elsdon 1982, 24). The general vicinity of its findspot seems to have been a place of special meaning or status throughout the later prehistoric and Roman periods.


A major regional tradition spans the Middle Iron Age in much of the East Midlands, namely the Ancaster-Breedon tradition (Cunliffe 1974; 1991; Elsdon 1992a), of which ‘Scored ware’ is a significant part. In addition, two sub-regional decorated traditions copy La Tène style ornamental patterns: the Dragonby-Sleaford tradition (Willis 1998; Elsdon 1997; Elsdon and May 1996), and the Northamptonshire group (cf. Jackson and Dix 1986-7). All these wares are considered by Knight (2002). The Dragonby-Sleaford tradition probably dates from the late Middle Iron Age; the Northamptonshire group may have earlier origins.


There is clearer evidence of field systems and trackways than in the preceding period. Establishing the chronology of boundaries and field systems largely identified by aerial photography and geophysical survey is, of course, problematic. In some instances, however, these systems have been examined together with settlement sites, whereby Middle Iron Age origins are apparent, or a Middle Iron Age date has been deduced from absolute dating, artefacts and/or sequences. These landscapes show strong continuity and evolution through the Late Iron Age and into the Roman period. Of course, Late Iron Age and Roman period systems are more readily detected, not least since they were probably more numerous.

Land boundaries, field systems and trackways of Middle Iron Age date are well documented in Northamptonshire, through both survey and excavation, as at Weekley (Jackson and Dix 1986-7), Wollaston (Meadows 1995; 1996), and Courteenhall (Ovenden-Wilson 1997; Thomas 1998). At Wollaston, land divisions apparently initiated in the Early Iron Age developed in the Middle Iron Age with ancillary and settlement enclosures appearing within the established landscape system. Meadows (1995; 1996) has argued that this development was connected with a shift from pastoral to mixed agriculture. At Stamford Road, Oakham, a waterlogged deposit dated from charcoal to between 190 BC-AD 5 (at 95%) suggests an open landscape with cereal pollen throughout the profile, and some indication of nearby pasture on the basis of the insect assemblage (Greig et al. forthcoming).

Unsurprisingly the fullest data for these agricultural landscapes comes from areas of permeable subsoil, productive of cropmarks and also subject to the quarrying of aggregates. Midland clays have been less revealing, although Clay (1989; 1996; 2001) has discussed the growing evidence for agricultural landscapes in Leicestershire, Rutland and beyond; agricultural landscape features on boulder clay and mixed geology dating from late in the Middle Iron Age are recorded at Normanton le Heath in north-east Leicestershire (Thorpe et al. 1994). Kidd notes that presumed Middle Iron Age enclosures and landscape systems are known on non-permeable subsoils in Northamptonshire (Kidd 2000), for instance at Brigstock (Foster 1988). Valuable cropmark evidence is now also available for Lincolnshire (Bewley 1998).

The evidence for an agricultural landscape around the site at Wanlip is limited, with few detectable cropmark features (Beamish 1998, 2). From deposits of Middle Iron Age date at this site came spelt, plus a little emmer and bread wheat type grains, together with hulled six-row barley; typically for this period, quantities were small, with pits the most productive contexts (Monckton 1998c). Legumes, possibly beans, were also consumed, together with gathered foods (hazelnuts and sloes). A small number of querns of both saddle and rotary type (Marsden 1998a) came from a structured deposit. Bone did not survive, although as generally in the region, a mixed agricultural economy is likely (cf. Beamish 1998, 42). This was evidently the case at Ancaster Quarry where wheat and barley were recovered, together with a series of saddle and rotary querns (May 1976). According to May (ibid., 137) sheep were the most numerous animal; cattle were also comparatively well represented, ages at death indicating that these animals were used for meat, with a proportion presumably employed for traction; horses the size of ponies were also present.

At Middle Iron Age Elms Farm, Humberstone, spelt was the main cereal, with a little possible emmer, and hulled four- or six-row barley as a second cereal; a small quantity of hazelnut shell was indicative of wild resources (Pelling 2000). It is probable that mixed farming (arable and pastoral) was, again, undertaken at Elms Farm.

At Helpringham Fen fragments of rotary quern were recovered; amongst the small faunal assemblage sheep predominated, then cattle; pig and horse were also represented. Butchered animal bone was also recovered at Cowbit (Albarella 2001a). There and elsewhere the evidence points to stock rearing occurring alongside salt making, two activities which were likely to be complementary, if meat products were preserved by salting. Data from more sites of this type are required, but on current information the faunal assemblages at these sites are entirely consistent with those from parts of lowland eastern England. Wild animals, including, notably, wild fowl, and fish were evidently not consumed with any regularity, despite the environs. Large quantities of animal bone, including sheep, cattle and horses are reported from the Weelsby Avenue enclosure during its Middle Iron Age phase, together with a fragment of rotary quern. With only a moderate number of Middle Iron Age sites excavated in recent years, particularly outside Northamptonshire, our understanding of agricultural economies and ecology is limited and provisional.

Beehive rotary querns

From the Middle Iron Age into the Roman period, querns are conspicuous finds, beehive-shaped rotary querns replacing saddle querns. Beehive querns of Hunsbury type have a wide distribution in Leicestershire (Liddle 1982a, 22, fig. 17; Clay 2000), a large proportion of which are likely to be of Iron Age date rather than Roman. Some 40 examples are known from Breedon Hill. A modest corpus of beehive querns is recorded for Derbyshire, particularly from the eastern margins of the Peak District (cf Bevan 2000, 148, fig. 2). It is likely that arable cultivation continued in the valleys and favourable upland pockets of the Peak region during this period. The occurrence of querns is an indirect indicator of this probability.

The Late Iron Age c. 100 BC-AD 50

Settlement evidence

Visibility and frequency

Across most of the region the Late Iron Age sees far more evidence for settlement and land use than in the preceding centuries (Fig. 33). The Leicestershire and Rutland SMR, for example, lists over 220 locations of Later Iron Age occupation. Settlement is identifiable via cropmarks (Pickering and Hartley 1985; Hartley 1989a), chronologically diagnostic artefact scatters and other surface survey work, plus excavation. Clay (2001) points out that densities of 1 Late Iron Age farmstead/ enclosure per 2 sq km can be deduced in certain well-surveyed areas of Leicestershire and Rutland (cf. Clay 1996; 2002; cf. Network Archaeology Ltd 1999). Such frequencies mirror patterns discerned in other areas of Britain, for instance the Upper Thames valley (Hingley and Miles 1984) and the Tees valley (Still et al. 1989). During this period the majority of farmstead sites seem to have been enclosed by ditches, whether they had unenclosed origins or not.

A map of the midlands showing the distribution of sites. There are sites throughout the region, but fewer in the north.

Fig 33: Distribution map of Late Iron Age sites mentioned in the text

Continuity and development

There is clearly a fairly strong trend of continuity: many settlements which originated in the Middle Iron Age continued to be occupied into the Late Iron Age. This may be particularly the case in Northamptonshire, as, for instance, at Crick (Hughes 1998) and Kings Heath, Northampton (Shaw et al. 1990). Elsewhere, other cases are apparent at Burrough Hill (Thomas 1960; Brown and Simpson 1968; Liddle 1982a), Elms Farm, Humberstone (Charles et al. 2000), and Sleaford, albeit in an adjacent area (Elsdon 1997). Settlement enclosures making their debut during the Late Iron Age such as Clay Lane (Windell 1983) and Enderby, Enclosure I, (see below) seem to follow Middle Iron Age traditions. Similarly, landscapes were not so-much re-ordered, rather existing boundaries and divisions were developed and ‘filled in’ (cf. Kidd 2000). Continuity is not, however, universal: neither the Wanlip nor Ancaster Quarry sites continued into the Late Iron Age, whilst Weelsby Avenue, Grimsby, became a different type of site.

Farmstead enclosures and settlement in the landscape

The commonest type of site is the farmstead, placed within a distinct enclosure and/or placed with a landscape/field system (cf. D. Jones 1988). Enclosure 1 at Navenby, Lincolnshire (Palmer-Brown 1994), is a ‘classic’ sub-rectangular ditched enclosure containing circular structures; nonetheless this is an element of a wider system of land management features. On the other hand, the farmstead at Normanton le Heath, Leicestershire, during its early phase, appears not to have lain within a discrete defining enclosure, but to have been placed within a field system (cf. Hingley 1984, 74; Thorpe et al. 1994, 30; Willis 1997a). This need not indicate an emphasis on livestock farming. Similarly, the partially excavated Late Iron Age farmstead at Aylesby (Steedman and Foreman 1995), which lies just within North Lincolnshire, seems to be placed within an agricultural landscape rather than to occupy its own enclosure. The identification and publication of this site is highly significant for it is one of the few Iron Age sites known via excavation in the comparatively unexplored area east of the Lincolnshire Wolds, where aerial reconnaissance has been frustrated by geology and rigg and furrow. Together with the evidence from Weelsby Avenue, it demonstrates occupation and use of the region, and the potential for finding other sites and features.

Late Iron Age enclosures are well attested in the Trent valley, as at Chapel Farm, Hemmington (Knight and Malone 1997; 1998), and Holme Pierrepont (O’Brien 1979b). Four ‘sites’ were investigated on the gravel terrace at Holme Pierrepont in the 1970s; these have yet to be fully published and are not well dated. The four ‘sites’ are essentially windows upon an evolving wider system of landscape use and settlement, emerging – it would seem – from the end of the Middle Iron Age. The complex is very significant in terms of the Middle Trent valley, revealing the largest number of circular buildings on any site examined in Nottinghamshire, with eight being recorded at one of the areas investigated (S. Elsdon pers. comm.). This complex is potentially important for understanding the economy of the area, the chronology of Ancaster-Breedon pottery, and the landscape in the valley, as well as for comparison with more recent interventions. Since the work was conducted some while ago sampling and recovery methodology may not be comparable with present approaches, hence the value of some results may be lessened.

Areas with ‘thin’ settlement records

Areas which have seen comparatively little identification and/or investigation of Late Iron Age settlements include parts of northern, central and eastern Lincolnshire, although some evidence has come from fieldwork related to infrastructure and pipeline projects (Network Archaeology Ltd 1999). Somewhat more evidence comes from southern Lincolnshire: the enclosure and settlement complex at Mill Drove, Bourne yielded much data (M. Darling pers. comm.). Evidence for settlement in Derbyshire continues to be limited into the Late Iron Age. Evidence of this period in the Peak District is sporadic; finds have been made at Harborough Rocks and cave (Makepeace 1990). On the Mercia Mudstone in Derbyshire, at Little Hay Grange Farm, Ockbrook, Iron Age features and finds underlay a building of Roman date (Palfreyman 2001). Although the nature of this phase is not clear, the site evidently witnessed ‘activity’ with, perhaps, ‘domestic’ occupation nearby. Ditch fills yielded a sequence of Middle and Late Iron Age pottery (Ancaster-Breedon pottery and wheel-turned Late Iron Age pottery), as well as a stratified La Tène III derivative brooch and an Iron Age coin, a Corieltauvian stater (Ebbins 2001). The start date of this site remains obscure.

Earthwork-enclosed sites

Of the region’s large earthwork-enclosed sites, a few have yielded evidence of use during this period. Activity, presumed to relate to occupation, is known from limited excavations at Burrough Hill, Leicestershire, which revealed features and finds of Late Iron Age material (see above for references). ‘Refortification’ occurred at Crow Hill in Northamptonshire (Parry forthcoming), although there is a lack of evidence from other hillforts in the county, leading to the suggestion that they were abandoned – or at least not occupied – by this time (cf. Kidd 2000). Hunsbury seems likely to have remained an important site, until around the late first century BC.

On the other hand, smaller ‘defended’ sites are well attested in some areas. The sub-rectangular earthwork (3 ha) at Ratby Bury, Leicestershire, produced later Iron Age material (Liddle 1982a, 26). At Colsterworth, on the Lincolnshire Limestone, in south Lincolnshire, a small defended settlement of 0.5 ha contained a number of circular buildings (Grimes 1961; May 1976); Gallo-Belgic pottery was recovered. Excavated during the Second World War this significant site remains unpublished. Elsewhere, especially in Northamptonshire, a distinctive enclosed settlement type is known, being mainly Late Iron Age (c. 25 BC to AD 50), namely the so-called ‘Wootton Hill style’ enclosures. They have been characterised by Dix and Jackson (1989, 158) as, ‘small enclosures, each surrounded by an exceptionally deep ditch and additionally strengthened by banks, stockades and elaborate gateways’. Sixteen examples of this monument class (confirmed or suspected) have been recorded in Northamptonshire, for instance, Aldwincle (Jackson 1977), Brigstock (Jackson 1983) and Weekley (Jackson 1986-7). Wootton Hill style enclosures have also been identified in Nottinghamshire from aerial photography (Bishop 2000c). Dix and Jackson (1989) interpreted the morphology of these enclosures as ‘defensive’.

Aggregation and ‘major settlements

‘Whilst the majority of settlements appear to have been farmsteads, presumably consisting of family/ extended family groups, extensive ‘aggregated’ settlements, consisting of clustered but often spatially discrete enclosures and settlement/activity foci, clearly existed and may be more common than previously realised (cf. Kidd 2000). New wide-scale geophysical surveying, and the mapping of aerial photographs seems to indicate their existence in some frequency in Northamptonshire, and in parts of Lincolnshire and Leicestershire/Rutland. At Navenby, Lincolnshire, work in 1994 (Palmer-Brown 1994), for instance, exposed part of what is clearly a much larger site. The origins of this process of aggregation are unclear. In Northamptonshire the aggregated complex at Wilby Way, Wellingborough, covering 5 ha (Enright and Thomas 1998; 1999) evidently dates from the Middle Iron Age, as may Crick, c. 12 ha (Chapman 1995; Hughes 1998; Kidd 2004). The complexes at Duston (RCHME 1985, 252-7; Friendship-Taylor 1998, 148-70), and possibly Stanwick (Neal 1989) and Twywell (Jackson 1975) appear to be examples of the phenomenon dating to the Late Iron Age. A. Kidd (pers. comm.) points out that these apparent contemporary aggregations may conceal subtle dynamics: they could be seasonal, or part-seasonal aggregations (as perhaps at Crick) or the product of a mobile settlement pattern as with some Anglo-Saxon sites. These considerations are significant matters for investigation.

This recent work has complicated the prevailing, rudimentary models of settlement hierarchy. It is now unclear what differences existed between intensively farmed, settled and lived landscapes with ladder settlements, groupings of buildings and functions, such as Crick and in the Trent valley (which find parallel in East Yorkshire; Brewster 1980; Stoertz 1997; Halkon and Millett 1999) and the so-called ‘major centres’ of the Late Iron Age, occurring mainly in historic Lincolnshire such as Ludford, Owmby, Ulceby, Sleaford, Dragonby and Kirmington (May 1984). As Jeffrey May (pers. comm.) has stressed, it has never seemed appropriate to term these complexes oppida. Although they may have some characteristics in common with oppida, they also share features with less exotic complexes, as cropmark and aerial photography confirm. Recorded features at Owmby, for example, are not dissimilar from the patterns at Wollaston or Holme Pierrepont, or indeed in parts of the Vale of York (Halkon and Millett 1999).

The presence of numbers of Iron Age coins and brooches at these Lincolnshire sites has made them appear very different from other sites in the region, yet these finds might have more to do with religious activity and ritual deposition than be indices of ‘high status’. If they are subtracted from the picture, the record for these ‘major centres’ seems much more ordinary. Indeed, Iron Age Dragonby (May 1996) is perhaps best described as an aggregated complex. If there is a difference between these sites and other aggregated complexes, it lies not in morphology, but in aspects of their material culture, access to ‘prestige items’ and consumption patterns.

The major Late Iron Age sites of the East Midlands may have been polyfocal, with specialist functions and differing functional areas, as appears to be the case for some large-scale sites in the south-east of Britain, as at Camulodunum (Millett 1990; Crummy 1997), Saham Toney, Norfolk (Brown 1986) and sites in Hertfordshire (Bryant and Niblett 1997; Haselgrove and Millett 1997). Due to insufficient work, this, if true, has yet to be demonstrated for the East Midlands. Only in the case of Sleaford can a specialist economic function be inferred, in this case in the production and distribution of that vital commodity: salt, but again this needs to be demonstrated. There is no evidence yet of a connection between these aggregated sites and iron smelting and working, as was the case for the development of Ariconium, by the Forest of Dean (Jackson forthcoming). It seems likely that these aggregated, and ‘high status’ sites were themselves embedded in the agricultural economy.

Clearly these aggregated sites, whether ‘high status’ or not, existed by the early first century AD and are largely a Late Iron Age phenomenon. In truth our knowledge is weak regarding their origins, and for that matter their development and detailed morphology. Their sheer scale means that they will only gradually yield their secrets as a result of piecemeal interventions; even then it will be problematic to extrapolate from recovered samples, since particular interventions may well not be representative of the site as a whole. So far, the only intensively examined site is Dragonby, in North Lincolnshire, the start date of which is not chronologically anchored (May 1996). An origin around the turn of the first century BC seems probable, and is likely to apply to a proportion, at least, of the other sites.

Leicester and Sleaford seem qualitatively different from the other sites. Both have produced some remarkable material, indicative of their identity, notably imported pottery including Arretine ware, and potential evidence of coin manufacture (Clay 1985a; Jarvis 1986; Clay and Pollard 1994; Elsdon 1997). Indeed, Leicester is the only site to which the term ‘nucleated centre’ seems at all applicable. A density of finds and features indicates an extensive cluster of settlement and activity on the east bank of the Soar, although we have only minute parts of the jigsaw (e.g. Clay and Mellor 1985). Sufficient is known of Late Iron Age and early Roman Leicester to suggest that it was an exceptionally important site at this formative time. This importance is not as widely appreciated as it should be. All developments in the centre of the city should be monitored in the light of this potential.

Away from these ‘isolated’ centres such material is rare (cf. Willis 1994; 1996). As Bishop (2000c) notes for Nottinghamshire, there is little artefactual or settlement evidence to differentiate between settlements in the later Iron Age on grounds of status or function. This ‘egalitarianism’, which is also seen in Derbyshire, may be a continuation of Middle Iron Age cultural norms (cf. Hill 1995a). The results of new work will test this impression.

Development into the Roman era?

Some sites occupied during the Late Iron Age did not continue into the Roman era, as for instance, those at Enderby and Humberstone (Elms Farm), Leicestershire. The general pattern, however, seems to be that settlements occupied in the Roman era overlie Late Iron Age occupation (cf. English Heritage 1991, 36; Taylor 1996; Clay 2001); in most cases, there is an apparent uninterrupted development, as at Leicester, and perhaps at Little Hay Grange Farm, Ockbrook (Palfreyman 2001), Holme Pierrepont (O’Brien 1979b), Lockington (where Roman period occupation lies adjacent; Clay 1985b; Ripper and Butler 1999), Sapperton and Navenby (Palmer-Brown 1994). There remains a need, however, for a more systematic desk-top study of those sites that continued into the Roman era and those that ended in the mid first century AD. Sufficient data exists from which to distil the actual picture, for what is a fundamental research question.

Many Roman villas have Late Iron Age antecedents, as at Piddington and Weekley in Northamptonshire (Friendship-Taylor and Friendship-Taylor 1989; Jackson and Dix 1986-7), where in both cases there is some indication of ‘high status’ during the Late Iron Age; and perhaps Norton Disney, Lincolnshire (Oswald 1937), and Mansfield Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire (Oswald 1949).

Iron Age occupation may commonly precede that of the Roman period in parts of upland Derbyshire (Bevan 2000). This was so at Ockbrook and at Staden, near Buxton (Makepeace 1995), to cite two instances (and perhaps at Horsborough and Harborough Rocks; cf. Bevan 2000). Bevan suggests that since Roman sites are more readily detected, they should be more extensively examined in anticipation of identifying underlying Iron Age phases.

Settlement morphology

As noted above, a proportion of Late Iron Age settlements are enclosed, but settlements and buildings placed in field systems rather than in specific enclosures are increasingly coming to light, as are open settlements. One cannot say that any one of these forms is particularly characteristic of this period; sub-regional trends are, however, discernible to some extent. The morphology of settlements was not static (Hingley 1984; 1990) but evolving, and occasionally they were radically altered. The later Iron Age saw a degree of site re-modelling, as for instance at Normanton le Heath (Thorpe et al. 1994).

Enclosed settlements occur in circular/oval, D-shaped and sub-rectangular forms. Examples of the latter occur at Navenby, on the Lincolnshire Limestone, where at least two sub-rectangular ditched enclosures have been recorded. Enclosure 1 measures roughly 50 m square (its north-east corner is a little stretched out); the main entrance opens due east and there is a probable second opening facing due west; within are at least three circular buildings, all facing east (Palmer-Brown 1994).

A similarly sized sub-rectangular enclosure at Enderby (Enclosure II) has an entrance on its northern side (Meek 1996, illus. 1), facing towards its companion enclosure (Enclosure I) lying c. 350 m to the north. The enclosures at Colsterworth (May 1976, fig. 96), likewise on the Lincolnshire Limestone, and Enderby, Enclosure I (Clay 1992, 24) are D-shaped, but of larger scale (c. 80 m by 70 m in the case of Colsterworth). At Huncote (Leicestershire) an oval enclosure of Later Iron Age date is known, with evidence of two circular buildings. Enclosures of the ‘Wootton Hill style’ vary from square, rectangular, trapezoidal to D-shaped; the unifying characteristic is the pronounced nature of the ditches and other works. Timber circular buildings have been identified within most of these enclosures. A large Late Iron Age trapezoidal feature at Brauncewell Quarry is believed to be a stock management enclosure (Lincolnshire SMR).

Open settlements are known, at Empingham ‘West’ (Cooper 2000a, 46-8), and apparently at Elms Farm, Humberstone (Charles et al. 2000), as well as at Winterton in North Lincolnshire, which is yet to be published. A period of undated open settlement is also apparent from cropmark evidence at Normanton le Heath (Thorpe et al. 1994, 30). The initial farmstead phase at Enderby (Enclosure I) was open (Clay 1992).

A pattern of paired circular buildings has been identified at Enderby (Clay 1992; Meek 1996), and is believed to reflect functional differences (i.e. living vs. kitchen/agricultural uses). The site at Aylesby on the Lincolnshire Middle Marsh (Steedman and Foreman 1995) included two adjacent circular buildings which may be a pair. Pairing is also strikingly apparent at Bancroft, Buckinghamshire, during Period 2 (Williams and Zeepvat 1994).

The orientation of Late Iron Age circular structures conforms with the trend observed by Oswald (1997), with the majority facing to the east or south-east. Two circular structures at Empingham ‘West’ (Site 4), for instance, are orientated to the south-east (Cooper 2000a); contrastingly all four structures within Enclosure II at Enderby face north-east (Meek 1996, illus. 2; Meek et al. 2004, illus. 3).

Little is known of the specific morphology of the aggregated sites and high status centres, other than what can be deduced from geophysical and aerial survey (for Kirmington see Hemblade and Cooper 1989; Jones and Whitwell 1991). Work at Sleaford and Leicester (Elsdon 1997; Clay and Mellor 1985; Clay and Pollard 1994) has opened only small windows onto this archaeology. Area excavations at Dragonby (May 1996) revealed an intensively used system of domestic compounds and trackways. It seems unlikely that the scale of stripping/ excavation required to understand the detailed morphology of these sites could occur in the foreseeable future, or be justified, unless there is a specific threat. In the meantime characterisation of these important sites could proceed via non-destructive sampling and survey like the English Heritage programme at Owmby (Olivier 1997).

Buildings and structures

Far more Late Iron Age circular buildings are known than for the preceding periods and the number has increased considerably in recent years (cf. Willis 1997a; Clay 2001). Four-post and two-post structures are also comparatively well attested, especially in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. As in preceding periods some circular buildings are represented by substantial postholes, as at Enderby, Leicestershire (Clay 1992), others by ring grooves, sometimes with postholes (cf. Knight 1984), like the recently discovered building at Cossington (Sturgess and Ripper 2000), at Colsterworth (May 1976), and those at Elms Farm, Humberstone (Charles et al. 2000), as well as at Holme Pierrepont. At Enderby, Enclosure II, the two largest buildings were represented by concentric rings with large central postholes and a likely internal diameter of c. 10 m (Meek 1996).

Clay has recently inventoried Later Iron Age circular structures in Leicestershire and Rutland (Clay 2001). A circular building recently recorded at Crown Hills, Evington, Leicester, is reported to have an extant hearth (Chapman 2000). Particularly noteworthy are the structures at Enderby (Clay 1992; Meek 1996; Ripper and Beamish 1997), Elms Farm, Humberstone (Charles et al. 2000) and Normanton le Heath (Thorpe et al. 1994), being comparatively well preserved, and yielding valuable structural details. Three circular structures at Empingham ‘West’ were represented by eavesdrip gullies (Cooper 2000a, 46-8); 13 postholes occurred within one of these buildings, some, if not all of which are likely to be associated. Only two buildings were fully exposed, both with entrances facing south-east. The internal diameters, within the eavesdrip circuits, each measure approximately 10 m across. All three had hearths, two being centrally placed.

The two circular structures partially exposed at Aylesby (Steedman and Foreman 1995) were represented by penannular gullies, interpretable as wall trenches; both measured c. 8 m in diameter; one had an apparent west-facing entrance, which, as pointed out in the report, may have been positioned for sound practical reasons given the proximity of the site to the North Sea and its exposed setting. There is some indication that one of the buildings was of polygonal construction.

The evidence from Enderby suggests that smaller circular structures may often have been non-residential. A smaller building at Rampton, Nottinghamshire apparently had an industrial function (Ponsford 1992). A non-residential use cannot, however, be presumed for all smaller circular structures, and their function has to be a matter for investigation in each case. Some such structures may have been domestic, with social status and age differences being potential determinants of who lived where and in what manner.

Clay (2001) suggests that the structure at Cossington, Leicestershire (Sturgess and Ripper 2000) may have had a ceremonial rather than a domestic function, since it was sited adjacent to a Bronze Age barrow where successive ritual and burial re-use took place, coinciding with an absence of domestic debris.

Rectangular buildings are also now known in the region: at Leicester (Clay 1985a) and at Normanton le Heath (Thorpe et al. 1994), where unusually beam plates and postholes are employed in combination. Such structures are rare in Britain, but are beginning to be recognised; across northern Gaul they are common as domestic loci. Four- and two-post structures continue through the period. Several four-post structures were exposed at Elms Farm, Humberstone (Charles et al. 2000) and one two-post structure was recorded at Empingham ‘West’ (cf. above).

Material culture


Metalwork finds, including coins, brooches and cosmetic items, occur more frequently in Late Iron Age contexts than previously. This is particularly clear with brooches (Willis 1997a). This is part of a general trend across southern and eastern England during the later Iron Age. Large numbers of finds have been recovered by people using metal detectors, creating a series of problems, dilemmas and potentials. There are marked sub-regional differences in the incidence of finds.

Lincolnshire has produced a great many Late Iron Age artefacts, coming to archaeological attention by various paths. Leicestershire and Northamptonshire have yielded comparatively moderate quantities, but including such spectacular items as the La Tène III sword from Aldwincle (Megaw 1976) and the Desborough mirror (RCHME 1979, 33). Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have so far yielded little metalwork, or indeed coins (with certain exceptions); exploration of this difference should be instructive. Volumes of pottery from excavations are also perceived to be relatively low in this area (Barrett 2000a), but this needs to be tested (cf. Willis 1999, 85-90).

Several items may be mentioned here because they, or their findspot, are unusual. From Normanton le Heath has come a copper alloy hilt- or mouth-guard from a sword scabbard (Thorpe et al. 1994). A La Tène III brooch is known from Gringley-on-the-Hill, Nottinghamshire (Oswald 1938), an area with comparatively little first millennium BC evidence, although a triangular clay loom weight and Iron Age pottery is also reported (ibid.; Knight and Howard 2004). From sites in the east of the region have come a series of Nauheim brooches of c. 120-60 BC, predating the profusion of brooches in the last decades of the pre-Roman Iron Age, as at Mount Pleasant, Nettleton, on the Lincolnshire Wolds (Willis with Dungworth 1999; Willis 2001). These items, together with other material culture, perhaps indicate a particular articulation with the Continent at this time.


In the east of the region Late Iron Age pottery, including wheel-made vessels, appears perhaps by the start of the first century AD, and, crucially is often mixed in groups with Scored ware, as at Dorket Head, Dunstan’s Clump, Gamston, Holme Pierrepont and Rampton (Turner and Swarbrick 1978; Turner and Turner 1997; Garton 1987b; Knight 1992; S. Eldson pers. comm.; Ponsford 1992; Knight 2000). Aslockton, Nottinghamshire, is another site yielding stylistically Late Iron Age pottery (Palmer-Brown and Knight 1993). The debut of such pottery is now seen as a genuinely Late Iron Age occurrence, rather than happening around the time of the Roman Conquest, as was once thought. On the other hand, Scored ware is now seen to continue in parts of the region until the mid first century AD (Elsdon 1992a; Willis 1998); the occurrence of these two styles together can no longer be regarded as problematic.

‘Prestige goods

‘Clay (2001) points out that the hinterland settlements around Leicester have virtually no evidence of the exotic and ‘high status’ material culture consumed at that site during its Late Iron Age heyday. There is no imported pottery, virtually no metalwork and just one coin. In fact this pattern is entirely consistent with what one might predict following Haselgrove’s (1982) ‘prestige goods model’. Although over 20 years old, this remains an argument worthy of continued consideration, not least in the case of the East Midlands (Willis 1996), although the same pattern could arise from different factors.


Agricultural expansion during the later Iron Age is further considered in Chapter 11. Mixed agricultural economies existed on the claylands at Enderby (Clay 1992). Clay (2001) suggests that there was here, perhaps, a greater emphasis on a pastoral base, with sheep and cattle predominant. This seems also to have been the case at the ‘clothes-line’ complex at Tixover, Rutland (Beamish 1992). At Elms Farm, Humberstone, cattle and sheep were present in equal proportion (Charles et al. 2000). Pig was represented amongst the small faunal samples from Late Iron Age contexts at Empingham ‘West’ (Cooper 2000a), and Nettleton, Mount Pleasant (Stallibrass 1999), where the species accounts for c. 13% of the faunal assemblage. Domestic fowl bones occur at various sites including Enderby Enclosure I (Clay 1992) and Nettleton (Stallibrass 1999).

Cereals are regularly present on excavated sites in Leicestershire, Rutland and Northamptonshire. Less information is available for Lincolnshire, although assessment of samples spanning the first century AD from Nettleton, Mount Pleasant, has identified wheat and barley grains with no chaff present (Willis 2001). Where cereals occur there is a consistent pattern of low frequency. Whether this reflects survival, past usage, or a lower emphasis on cereal farming is unclear (Monckton 1995, 35). Across the region, the pattern is for spelt to appear most commonly, with barley also represented; only occasionally are grains of bread wheat type found, with no chaff to confirm its presence. Rich deposits of processed cereals are known from Rushey Mead (Pollard 2001; Monckton 2001) and Elms Farm, Humberstone (Charles et al. 2000).

The unusual Middle and/or Late Iron Age enclosure at Aslockton in the Devon valley, Nottinghamshire is thought likely to have a stock management purpose, as its c. 20 ha interior is divided up with sub-rectangular compounds (Palmer-Brown and Knight 1993).

In Nottinghamshire the appearance of enclosed field systems appears to be a late development, around the late first century BC, through the first century AD, and perhaps into the earlier second (cf. Garton 1987b). As Bishop (2000c) notes, further clarification is required. In southern Nottinghamshire and the Trent Valley the cropmarks conform to a co-axial field system arrangement with integral settlements, reflecting the ‘brickwork plan’ on the Sherwood Sandstones of northern Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire. Doubtless their development was a relatively long process, interspersed with accelerated periods of enclosure and change (perhaps much like the enclosures of ‘common land’ in more recent times). A standard interpretation is that these systems arose from land pressures and economic changes produced by increasing population and settlement expansion, and perhaps a social imperative to generate surpluses for wealth and status creation.

In parts of Derbyshire a considerable degree of landscape continuity is suggested from the Middle Iron Age through to the Late Iron Age (Bevan 2000). As on the Leicestershire claylands, mixed farming was apparently being practised on the Mercia Mudstone. This seems likely at Little Hay Grange Farm, Ockbrook; the faunal assemblage comprised predominantly cattle and sheep/goat, with horse represented (Palfreyman 2001). More samples are required from such areas to establish and verify trends.


Coins appear during the Late Iron Age. Some non-regional issues of second-century BC date occur, but the majority are issues of the two tribal entities conventionally associated with the region: the Corieltauvi (in Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and possibly parts of Derbyshire) and the Catuvellauni (of whose territory Northamptonshire formed a part). The earliest local coins are gold scyphate types presumed to be earlier first century BC in origin, perhaps by some period. Recent reviews of these coinages and their archaeological distributions and meaning include May (1984; 1992; 1994) and Curteis (1996). Large numbers of coins are known from the region (and numbers continue to rise apace) providing a valuable resource for studying a wide range of aspects of the latter part of the period. A major hoard site with over 3000 coins has recently been located in east Leicestershire (Fig. 34; Priest et al. 2003). This has doubled the number of known Corieltauvian coins and has been interpreted as a major open air ceremonial centre.

A black and white photo of ten coins, all stamped with the image of a horse surrounded by different arrangements of dots and characters.

Fig 34: Corieltauvian coins from the East Leicestershire Hoard

Finds: Craft, Industry and Exchange


Evidence for Late Bronze Age and Iron Age crafts and artefact production has grown considerably in the past fifteen years with the recovery of much new material and the publication of earlier finds. The nature of the evidence largely parallels the picture elsewhere in central, southern and eastern England. Within the region, as nationally, models exploring the social organization of these crafts have been slow to emerge, with some notable exceptions (e.g. Henderson 1992; E.L. Morris 1994; De Roche 1997; Hingley 1997; Lane and Morris 2001). The development of such models in this domain needs to be encouraged. New, exciting, information on medium and long distance exchange networks has also begun to emerge, commensurate with their embryonic identification in some other regions of Britain.


The study of woodworking, carpentry, ‘engineering’ in wood, wood management, charcoal production and trade in wood has been very much a back-seat passenger in the advance of later prehistoric studies in Britain. Evidence is partial and typically indirect, yet wood held a central role in culture and society at this time. Wood, and its by-products, were fundamental in the great majority of structures of all types, and especially buildings. Hence the use of wood is apparent at virtually every ‘site’ of the period, usually implicit from other remains, but occasionally manifest in preserved wood of some form. Wood and charcoal were, of course, crucial domestic fuel sources, and were required on a large scale by the Middle Iron Age, if not earlier, in order to undertake the production of iron, salt and for other processing and craft activities. Maintenance of these various supply needs will have been a key social issue (De Roche 1997; Willis 1999).

It seems certain that managed woodland was maintained across the region (e.g. Long et al. 1998). A long-range trade in wood and timber products is conceivable, likely even, especially for specialist wood products, skills and certain timbers, and for particular projects; it seems likely that wood used in the construction of some of the hillforts of the Welsh Marches derived from a wide hinterland. The huge trunk from which the Hasholme logboat of East Yorkshire was fashioned (Millett and McGrail 1987) testifies to the survival of some magnificent ancient woodlands. The many dimensions of wood use in later prehistoric societies warrant a much higher profile than they currently have.

In 2001 two log boats were excavated at Fiskerton by the Witham (Fig. 32 above); one is probably Iron Age, the other Iron Age or Roman (Pitts 2001). Three log boats and a wheel were previously recovered at Holme Pierrepont (MacCormick 1968). Given the nature of the regional environment, further finds of wooden boats of the first millennium BC can be anticipated from time to time, as has been the case in Humberside (McGrail 1990).


Evidence for textile manufacture is widespread, but thin. Sites yield at best only a few artefactual items. The items conventionally defined as clay loom weights, spindle whorls and weaving combs could have been put to a variety of uses, but on balance probably indicate textile production. Not infrequently these types of artefacts occur in association. Clay loom weights are known from Ancaster Quarry, Aslockton, Billingborough, Elms Farm (Humberstone), Gamston, Gringley-on-the-Hill, Grove Farm (Enderby) and Normanton le Heath. Both the Aslockton site and Elms Farm, Humberstone (Charles et al. 2000, fig. 53/3) produced bone weaving combs, whilst Ancaster Quarry also yielded spindle whorls. At Harborough Rocks and Cave, in the White Peak, bone pins, spindle whorls and a weaving comb were recovered, with pottery types suggesting an Early Iron Age date (Hart 1981, 77). The evidence, in this case, may or may not be taken at face value. No loom weights were recovered, leading Hart to conclude that ‘only the preliminary work was conducted in the cave… weaving and finishing were carried out elsewhere’ (ibid., 77). Quantities of artefacts relating to textile manufacture per site across Britain are likewise typically modest.


As well as forming indices of arable economy, querns can often be provenanced via petrological study, enhancing our knowledge of trade and exchange in the later first millennium BC (Knight 1992; Ingle 1993-4; Kidd 2004). Querns of Millstone Grit occur across the East Midlands (e.g. Wright and Firman 1992) perhaps deriving from Yorkshire. Rotary quern production and/or finishing is suspected at several sites in the region. Some of the querns found at Ancaster Quarry were sandstone (May 1976, 136) and probably derived from the Lincolnshire Wolds. Spilsby Sandstone from the Caistor area was evidently exploited for quern manufacture, with examples travelling west and north into the heartland of the East Midlands and to the Humber region (e.g. Wright 1996). A rotary quern from Elms Farm, Humberstone, Leicestershire, occurs in Lincolnshire Limestone (Roe 2000).

Bone and antler

Bone and antler artefacts were a regular part of first millennium life. Production was probably undertaken at the sites where such items were used. Some specialisation emerged in Britain during the Roman period, and the working of tooth ivory was probably regionally specific in the first millennium – although not in the East Midlands. The range of worked antler and bone objects recovered at sites such as Billingborough (Bacon 2001), Elms Farm, Humberstone (Allen 2000) and Wakerley (Jackson and Ambrose 1978; Gwilt 1997) is likely to be typical. Such artefacts appear to have been associated in particular with leather, horn and textile working.


The production of iron was likely to have been a major regional industry. To date evidence on the scale of the Vale of York (Halkon and Millett 1999) and the Forest of Dean (Jackson forthcoming) is lacking. The strongest evidence for smelting comes from Northamptonshire (Kidd 2000). The excavations at Great Oakley demonstrated that nodular ores were being extracted and smelted in the earlier Iron Age (Jackson 1982). Possible smelting furnaces of Iron Age date occur there and at Wakerley (Jackson and Ambrose 1987) and Harringworth (Jackson 1981). Crick has produced an iron bloom (Starley and Tulp 1998), probably brought to the site for further working, probably as an alternative to the more frequently encountered currency bars of the period. Much smelting slag has been found at the Castle Yard hillfort (Knight 1986-7), and a number of slag scatters elsewhere in the county are thought likely to be of this date.Only limited evidence for metal working is logged for the Middle Iron Age, although such activities were probably common rather than exclusive. Smithing slag was found in association with the Sleaford palisaded enclosure, and might be a significant element of the identity of that site. Industrial residues indicative of ironworking are also reported from Wanlip (Beamish 1998, 84). Little is known about the likely exploitation of ironstone and other iron sources in the region during the Middle Iron Age, or for that matter during the later Iron Age (Condron 1997; J. Cowgill pers. comm.). During the Late Iron Age ironworking was wide-spread, but usually limited to small-scale operations such as the repair and fashioning of domestic/everyday tools. Evidence occurs, for instance, at Normanton le Heath (Thorpe et al. 1994) and Elms Farm, Humberstone (Charles et al. 2000). Smithing occurred at Crick (Starley and Tulp 1998). Rampton, Nottinghamshire (Ponsford 1992) produced particularly important evidence.

Non-ferrous metalworking

A series of publications by Dungworth (1996; 1997) have enhanced our understanding of non-ferrous metalworking. Copper alloy working is attested at Crick (Starley and Tulp 1998) and Elms Farm, Humberstone (Charles et al. 2000). In North Lincolnshire a major find of copper alloy working debris dating to the later Iron Age was excavated at Weelsby Avenue, Grimsby (Foster 1995). Clay mould fragments occasionally occur, as at Billingborough (Chowne et al. 2001), while a mould was recovered from the fills of a triple dyke system at Ketton (Mackie 1993). These finds may indicate small scale copper alloy working (in the case of Billingborough, perhaps for horse furniture).


Salt production was clearly a major industry. There is abundant evidence from Lincolnshire for the Middle and Late Iron Age (Hall and Coles 1994; Healey 1999; Lane and Morris 2001). On the North Sea coast many sites are known from the Ingoldmells area (cf. above; Kirkham 2001), but virtually none further north. The exception is a saltern in Tetney parish investigated in the 1990s (Palmer-Brown 1993a) and radiocarbon dated to the Late Bronze Age, an unusually early date. In the Fens salt production in the Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age is attested at Billingborough (Chowne et al. 2001), supported by a series of radiocarbon determinations. Features associated with salt production were not well preserved in this case, which unfortunately is common.Many salt production sites are known in the western and southern Fens (Lane and Morris 2001). Salt making was clearly an extensive, and presumably economically important, undertaking from the Middle Iron Age onward. In the northern Fens only the area around Wrangle has evidence for this industry. The sustained exploitation of this resource will have created an important commodity for trading and perhaps a means of wealth creation. Lane and Morris (2001, 385-8) have proposed a model for the development of salt production in the Fens beginning with an ‘opportunistic’ phase during the Middle Iron Age when production was seasonal and centred away from the main domestic based, linked with seasonal animal grazing. Later, the landscape was exploited all year round with permanent occupation, this phase being tentatively dated to the Late Iron Age.

Briquetage is now regularly recognised for what it is on settlements across the western part of the region. Mapping these incidences provides a vital indicator of trade and exchange. Sites in the central Midlands (Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire) were evidently receiving salt from south-east Cheshire in stony VCP (very coarse pottery; e.g. Elsdon 1992b, 41; 1994b, 37-8; Knight 1992; Elliott and Knight 1999a, 149; Morris 1999). Briquetage is, however, completely absent from settlements in the hinterland of the Fens and central and northern Lincolnshire, the area in which the Fenland salt would have been consumed (cf. Lane and Morris 2001). Not a single consumer site can be identified, in contrast with some other areas where salt was conveyed in distinctive transport containers (e.g. E.L. Morris 1994; Fitts et al. 1999). The salt from the Fens and the North Sea coast must have been conveyed in organic containers such as leather bags or baskets, or possibly in coarse pottery vessels.


For the study of first millennium BC pottery from the region Challis and Harding (1975) remains a helpful point of reference, particularly in terms of typology and incidence. Other regional overviews and studies include Cunliffe (1974; 1991), Elsdon (1992a; 1993) and Willis (1998). Two contributions by Knight (1984; 2002) are also particularly important for the study of first millennium pottery from the region, the latter establishing a chronological framework (see also Willis 2002). The Dragonby and Old Sleaford reports are fundamental for the study of Late Iron Age pottery in Lincolnshire (Elsdon and May 1996; Elsdon 1997). A new major resource covering England is the Gazetteer of Later Prehistoric Pottery Collections (first millennium BC), accessible through the University of Southampton website. A vital set of guidelines for processing pottery of this era exists (PCRG 1995) while Knight has proposed standardised recording conventions (1997b).

The East Midlands has yielded numerous collections of pottery of first millennium BC date. From Northamptonshire over 500 ceramic collections are documented. There are sub-regional variations to the size and frequency of assemblages, and dating is vague. Overall, however, this material is a resource of tremendous potential (Gwilt 1997; Knight 2002; cf. Evans 1995). Other important published assemblages include: Elms Farm Humberstone (Marsden 2000), Enderby (Elsdon 1992b), Gamston (Knight 1992) and Wanlip (Marsden 1998b).

There is growing evidence for organised production and long and middle distance distribution. Petrological analysis of inclusions in pottery types is becoming more routine and has begun to illuminate likely sources of production (Knight et al. 2003). Later Iron Age pottery with igneous inclusions found at Swarkestone Lowes, Derbyshire, for instance, was probably made in the Charnwood Forest area of north-west Leicestershire. General models of pottery production and distribution have been put forward by Elaine Morris (1994)and Dee De Roche (1997), and evidence from the region should be considered against these.

An aim of the project at Wanlip was to provide tighter dating for Ancaster-Breedon pottery (Clay 2000); the outcome has been to lengthen its date range (Marsden 1998b; cf. Barnett 2000). Establishing pottery chronologies remains a central objective. This apart pottery is a generally abundant, richly textured information resource for the period (cf. Evans 1995), both in terms of major patterns and nuances in cultural life.


Our understanding of artefacts as been enhanced by the now more or less routine use of procedures such as petrological and scientific analysis. Provenance studies are beginning to highlight the complex and often wide exchange connections of the East Midlands in the first millennium BC. The site at Gamston, Nottinghamshire (Knight 1992), for instance, was in receipt of salt from Cheshire, pottery from the Charnwood Forest and querns probably from Derbyshire and/or Yorkshire. Undoubtedly this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of its actual exchange connections. Whilst this site is adjacent to the Trent, which was doubtless a major routeway, nonetheless it is a site of modest status. Its exchange connections are unlikely to be atypical. The Northamptonshire evidence shows that exchange links with much of southern and central England existed throughout the Iron Age and were probably regular and developed, rather than piecemeal (A. Gwilt pers. comm.; Kidd 2000; 2004).

Identifying, mapping and digesting the exchange connections of the region, via now routine materials analysis and employment of skilled professional finds specialists, is likely to be one of the most important aspects of study of the period in the next 10 to 20 years.


There are few burials of first millennium date in the East Midlands. For instance, no evidence for human remains, burials or cremations of Iron Age date is cited in May’s study of Lincolnshire (1976). Recent work has not altered this pattern, which seems constant through the entire millennium, if it is accepted that the era of monumental burial was broadly over by the Late Bronze Age. Equally, there is no evidence of the adoption of a burial rite in the Late Iron Age mirroring those known from Hertfordshire, not even at Leicester which has parallels with sites in that region. Burials may of course come to light here in due course. The prevailing assumption is that excarnation was commonly practised (cf. Carr and Knüsel 1997), perhaps with cremation, leaving little archaeological trace. The few known burials and cremations are thus of considerable interest and carry the potential to enlighten areas such as diet, origin of the individual, health and cultural practice. However, the principal inference concerning those burials that do occur, is that there must have been something exceptional about the person buried, in their life or manner of death and its meaning to others.

As noted above, a cremation burial of Middle Iron Age date was excavated at Wanlip (Beamish 1998, 28-9), occurring centrally within a four-post rectangular building, accompanied by a special deposit. An unaccompanied cremation of an adult, probably of Middle or Late Iron Age date was excavated at Elms Farm, Humberstone (Boyle 2000). Cremation burials of Later Iron Age date are known from Enderby (Meek 1996), where two occurred, and Market Harborough (Liddle 1982a, 27). At Irchester, Northamptonshire, a minimum of four Aylesford-Swarling style cremations are recorded (Hall and Nickerson 1967), but they may be mid first century AD in date.

There are several instances of ‘unusual’ treatment of human skulls. A adult skull fragment from the Middle Iron Age site at Helpringham Fen displays sawing marks, where the skull bone has been ‘opened’; the sawing was carried out at or after death (Bayley 1999). Billingborough, also on the Fen margin, has yielded a series of ‘worked’ skull fragments, from several individuals, where a similar process had been undertaken, together with other procedures, including drilling and polishing/wear (Bayley 2001). A skull from Hunsbury, Northamptonshire, has a perforated vault. A skull from a palaeochannel at Birstall, Leicestershire, dated to the Late Bronze Age (Ripper 1996) may represent decapitation prior to deposition in a watery context. Cut marks on the atlas vertebra seem to support this interpretation. Special treatment of the head and deposition of human heads in watery contexts is attested elsewhere during the first millennium BC (e.g. Willis 1999, 100; Whimster 1981), as well as in Roman Britain (Crummy 1984, 93-8), and is a longstanding area of interest and discussion (cf. Merrifield 1987; Bradley and Gordon 1988; Knüsel and Carr 1995). Ritual and ceremony may have lain behind the deposition of the skulls at Birstall. Similarly human skull fragments from a pit alignment at Tallington, Lincolnshire (Gurney et al. 1993) may represent a structured deposit. A number of human skull fragments were recovered from ditch contexts at Elms Farm, Humberstone (Boyle 2000), where they may or may not have been components of special deposits. Bayley suggests that in the case of the fragments from Billingborough, the evidence is consistent with their employment as amulets (2001, 78).

Turning to inhumations, the evidence is equally disparate, and engaging. Early/Middle Iron Age pit burials occur at the Northamptonshire sites of Twywell (Jackson 1975), Wilby Way (Enright and Thomas 1998) and Brackmills, Northampton (Chapman 1998). The Brackmills burial – a female in crouched position and wearing a lead alloy torc – is located on the edge of a settlement site; a radiocarbon date was obtained. At Twywell and Brackmills dog burials occur in adjacent pits, a rite which is of no small interest since it antedates some better known cases of ritual dog burials of the Roman era (cf. Merrifield 1987). Other crouched pit burials are known from Leicester (Clay 1985a, 17) and Rushey Mead, Leicestershire (Pollard 2001). Two crouched inhumations were found at Winster in the Peak District in the nineteenth century during Bateman’s campaigns; these are now dated as second century BC to second century AD (Beswick and Wright 1991). Putative Late Iron Age burials are also recorded from an evaluation at Towcester, Northamptonshire (Walker 1992), where an apparently enclosed cemetery with inhumations was encountered, but is not fully published. Recently an inhumation believed to be Iron Age was found at Stenigot, on the Lincolnshire Wolds, in advance of an infrastructure scheme; an iron nail was associated and it pre-dated a ditched enclosure (Field and George 1998, 37). Remarkably, this burial seems to represent the first inhumation of Iron Age date in the county (ibid.; N. Field pers. comm). Disarticulated human bones or incomplete skeletons occur at several sites: Breedon Hill (Wacher 1977), Leicester (Clay 1985a), Mountsorrel, Leicestershire (Walker 1994) and Tixover, Rutland (Beamish 1992), as well as at Aylesby (Steedman and Foreman 1995, 34).

A square enclosure at Aston upon Trent, Derbyshire, postulated as a Iron Age barrow on analogy with the square barrows of East Yorkshire (Stead 1991), was examined in 1967 but contained no evidence of a burial (May 1970). This led to the suggestion that it constituted a cenotaph, which might be considered circular thinking! Square barrows, presumed to represent cemeteries, occur at two other locations in Nottinghamshire, at the Ness, North Muskham and Hoveringham. Originally, these would have been impressive features. The possibility that there was a cart burial at Hunsbury remains open (cf. Kidd 2000; Baker 1891; George 1917; Knight 1984, 115). A better, larger sample of reasonably well-dated burials, either cremations or inhumations, is, of course, desirable!

Hillforts and Analogous Sites

The term ‘hillfort’ is an umbrella category, covering a range of site sizes, types, and functions, with each having its unique identity and biography (cf. Hill 1995a; 1995b); in consequence, a variety of earthwork sites in contrasting landscape settings may be included under this label. The constituent counties of the East Midlands each have a few examples of sites that may uncontroversially be defined as hillforts, with Northamptonshire having somewhat more (or better defined) hillforts. These have been surveyed by the Royal Commission for Historic Monuments (RCHME 1981; 1982; 1985; 1993). The relative sparsity of hillforts in the East Midlands, together with adjacent regions such as Yorkshire and Warwickshire, is one of the distinctive aspects of their first millennium BC archaeology, contrasting with regions such as Wessex and the Welsh Marches (Cunliffe 1991). Details of the principal sites are given in Table 4.

Generally the hillforts, actual and potential, and analogous sites are poorly explored, with little investigation of interiors or of immediate environs. Sites such as Robin a Tiptoe in Leicestershire, where earthworks are associated with hill summits, could be later prehistoric, post-Roman or multi-period. As Liddle observed, ‘satisfactory’ answers regarding their chronology will only be forthcoming from excavation (Liddle 1982a, 22; cf. Clay 2000). Our lack of knowledge of these sites is a hindrance to a broader understanding of the period, especially if they were significant in people’s lives and practices. On the whole, hillfort studies in the region are currently static.

A modest number of hilltop enclosures in the Peak District/north Derbyshire can be termed hillforts (Hart 1981, 73-81; Hart and Makepeace 1993; Bevan 2000, 145). Their locations are striking and dramatic (Fig. 35). Several are completely undated; elsewhere the limited excavation undertaken has yielded no unequivocal indicators as to date or sequence. A pertinent case is Mam Tor. Some have argued that the whole site is Later Bronze Age, while others see the settlement as Late Bronze Age but its earthworks as Iron Age (Guilbert 1996; Bevan 2000, 147). It would not be surprising, of course, if the actual chronology was complex. A correlation has been noted between the location of the hillforts of the Peak District and the main valleys where Iron Age settlement is likely (e.g. Barnatt and Smith 1997), implying that such hilltop enclosures may have been placed adjacent to likely population concentrations and at the threshold of contrasting resource areas.

A black and white aerial photo showing a clifftop. There is an enclosed area formed by the cliff edge on one side and a large earthwork on the other. Fields and hills can be seen in the background.

Fig 35: Combe Moss promontonry hillfort, Derbyshire

To some degree this is also true of the small number of defended sites on the Mercia Mudstones above the Trent valley (cf. Bishop 2000c). Here too there has been only limited investigation of ‘hillforts’, such that their date and character remain as unclear in 2005 as they were 45 years ago (Simmons 1963). They display variety and do not necessarily occupy the most defensive locations; accordingly Bishop (2000c) suggests they are unlikely to be of uniform date and function. Only one upland site in Nottinghamshire has been the subject of recent excavation, thanks to the efforts of J. and C. Turner and the Sherwood Archaeological Society. This is the intriguing site at Dorket Head, Ramsdale Park, which has yielded data of considerable significance, while raising a series of questions as to the nature of the site over time. The site is multi-period with a complex sequence that has yielded a range of ceramics assignable to various stages during the first millennium BC and into the first century AD and Roman period. How typical is it?

Hunsbury, in Northamptonshire, is a rare East Midlands example of a ‘developed hillfort’ (cf. Cunliffe 1991). During its ‘developed’ phase, at least, it was the location for intensive activity and occupation (Baker 1891; Dryden 1885; Elsdon 1976; Fell 1936; George 1917; Ingle 1993-4; Jackson 1993-4b; RCHME 1985). A substantial and regionally important artefact assemblage has been gathered from the site, which offers significant research opportunities. The site is a strong candidate for ‘central place’ status, and its role in relation to its social hinterland has begun to be explored.

Table 4: Some hillforts and analogous sites of the East Midlands
(Note: Excludes some certain ‘ringforts’: * denotes that a site has been sampled via excavation)

County/NameLocation and TypeDateReference
Ball Cross*Peak District. Small ramparted siteLBA and/or IAStanley 1954; Hart 1981, 75, fig. 7.2.7
Borough Hill, Walton on TrentTrent valley Hillfort? Iron AgeDerbyshire SMR
Burr TorPeak District. Hilltop earthworks, enclosing large areaNot Known ? Iron AgeBarnatt and Smith 1997; Hart 1981, 75, fig. 7.2.3
Castle NazePeak District. Double ramparted promontory earthworks enclosing large areaNot Known ? Iron AgeHart 1981, 75, fig. 7.2.4
Castle RingPeak District.Small univallate hilltop enclosure of contour type? LBA and/or EIA ? Iron Age (LBA/EIA finds)Makepeace 1990, 29; Makepeace 1999, 16
Cratcliff RocksPeak District.Promontory earthworks enclosing small area; postulated promontory fortNot Known? Prehistoric/Later PrehistoricMakepeace 1999
Fin CopPeak District. Promontory earthworks enclosing large areaNot Known ? Iron AgeBarnatt and Smith 1997; Wilson and English 1998
Mam Tor*Peak District. Hilltop earthworks enclosing large areaLBA, ? and EIACoombs 1976; Coombs and Thompson 1979; Barnatt and Smith 1997; Guilbert 2001
Markland Grips*Magnesian Limestone. Promontory fort with triple ramparts? Iron Age (? EIA finds)Lane 1969; Hart 1981, 75, fig. 7.2.6
Bardon,’Castle Hill’Charnwood Forest.Small near circular enclosure defined by extant ditchesNot Known ? LBA-? IALiddle 1982a, 22, fig. 16; Leicestershire SMR
Beacon HillCharnwood Forest. Hilltop enclosuresNot Known ? LBA-? IA LBA findsLiddle 1982a, 17, fig. 9; Leicestershire SMR
Belton Castle, Belton*Charnwood Forest area. Small near circular earthwork? Iron Age M/LIA findsLiddle 1982a, 22, fig. 15
Borough Hill*East (High) Leicestershire. Sub-rectangular single rampart enclosure hillfortEIA-LIA LIA finds (Roman finds)Wall 1907, 247-9; Thomas 1960; Brown and Simpson 1968; Thawley 1973; Liddle 1982a, 22, fig. 12
Breedon Hill*Carboniferous Limestone uplands. Hilltop earthworksEIA-MIA ? LIAWall 1907, 246-7; Kenyon 1950; Wacher 1964; 1977; Liddle 1982a, 22
Ratby BuryLeicester Forest. Sub-rectangular earthwork enclosureNot Known ? Iron Age LIA findsWall 1907, 252-3; TLAS 7, 23; TLAHS 47, 73; Liddle 1982a, 26
Borough Banks, Old SomerbyKesteven uplandsNot Known ?? IALincolnshire SMR
Careby Wood CampKesteven uplands. Double ramparted oval enclosureNot Known ?? IAPhillips 1934, 102; May 1976
Honington CampKesteven uplands. Double ramparted sub-rectangular hillslope/plateau fortNot Known ?? MIAMay 1976
Round Hills, IngoldsbyKesteven uplands. Small circular enclosure with single bank and ditch, putative hillslope fortNot Known ?? IAMay 1976
Tattershall Thorpe*Lower Bain valley. Lowland enclosure of uncertain function, possible ‘marsh fort’MIA to LIAChowne et al. 1986; Seager-Smith 1998
Arbury Banks, Chipping WardenHillfortNot KnownRCHME 1982, 27-9
Borough Hill, Daventry*Large multivallate contour hillfortLBA/EIARCHME 1981, 63-5: Jackson 199-4a; 1996-7
Borough Hill, northern hillfortHillfortNot Known ? MIARCHME 1981, 63-5
Castle Yard, Farthingstone*Hillfort? EIA and/or MIARCHME 1981, 86-7; Knight 1986-7
Crow Hill, Irthlingborough*Hillfort? EIA, MIA and LIAParry forthcoming
Egg Rings, Salcey ForestEnclosure, possibly a small hillfortNot KnownWoodfield 1980
GuilsboroughHillfort? EIA and MIACadman 1989; Pattison and Oswald 1993-4; RCHME 1993
Hunsbury*HillfortLBA/EIA to LIAFell 1936; Jackson 199-4b; RCHME 1985
Rainsborough*HillfortLBA/EIA and MIAAvery et al. 1967; RCHME 1982, 104-5
ThenfordCircular earthworkLBA?? Iron AgeRCHME 1982, 143-4; Northamptonshire SMR
Warden Hill, Chipping WardenPossibly a small hillfortNot KnownKidd 2000
Burton Lodge,Burton Joyce*Mercia Mudstone uplands. Earthwork enclosure, located by a hill crestApparently Iron Age (IA finds)Mein and Revill 1951; Simmons 1963; O’Brien 1979, 309
Combs Farm, Farnsfield*Mercia Mudstone uplands. Promontory fort, defined by extant ditch, with rampart and possible second ditchNot Known ? Iron AgeWalters 1910, 26-7; Simmons 1963; O’Brien 1979b; Bishop 2000c
Crow Wood, Styrrup*Bunter Sandstone district. Lowland enclosure, possible ‘marsh fort’ ?Iron AgeBadcock and Symonds 1994; Parker Pearson and Sydes 1997
Dorket Head, Arnold*Mercia Mudstone uplands Plateau. Earthwork enclosureLBA and/or EIA; Late Iron Age;(also Roman finds)Turner and Swarbrick 1978; Turner and Turner 1997
Fox Wood, WoodboroughMercia Mudstone uplands. Possible hillfort defined by ditch and bank with internal division? Iron Age;(? IA, plus Roman finds)Oswald 1939; Simmons 1963; O’Brien 1979b, fig. 6
Bold Ox Camp, OxtonMercia Mudstone uplands (overlooked) multivallate hillslope enclosureNot KnownSimmons 1963; Bishop 2000c
RidlingtonChater valley. Hillslope enclosure? LBAClay 2001

Two possible ‘marsh forts’ exist within the region, namely the enclosures at Tattershall Thorpe, Lincolnshire and Crow Wood, Styrrup, in north Nottinghamshire. Parker Pearson and Sydes (1997; after Riley 1980, 35, pl. 15) claim an example just to the north of the present region at Moorhouse Farm, Tickhill. Further characterization is required in these instances. There is a good prospect of more sites of this type being identified on ‘higher ground’ within low lying areas, potentially in the Ancholme, Witham and Trent valleys, or in the Lincolnshire Middle Marsh. Later prehistoric ‘defended’ sites of various types may also come to light in the Lincolnshire Outmarsh, conceivably well preserved below marine silts and alluvium (so far neither the Middle Marsh nor the Outmarsh have witnessed much archaeological intervention).

As was standard in Britain during the twentieth century, attention focused upon hillfort defences, with the aim of identifying ‘sequence and date’, as at Breedon Hill, Leicestershire (a site with a most chequered biography during the last century). There has been a woeful lack of examination of the interiors, nor has there been much excavation in their immediate surroundings. Consequently, it is unclear how intensively hillforts were used, when and in what manner. We still do not know whether they included year-round settlements, and to what extent they are comparable, in terms of their social role, with hillforts in the Welsh Marches, Wessex and elsewhere.

Although nationally our understandings of hillforts have adjusted rapidly since the mid 1980s, their potential ‘defensive’ functions cannot be ignored. Indeed some at least in our region may be the consequence of social tensions during the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age, or a desire to collect and protect (new or different types of) agricultural surplus. A specialised role/s can be assumed (cf. Hill 1993; 1995b).


  • Hillforts and analogous sites are not a major class in the region.
  • The frequency of these monuments varies across the region.
  • Their morphology is varied.
  • Chronological understanding is variable, but generally limited.
  • There has been little investigation of their interiors or exteriors.
  • Some have yielded evidence of domestic occupation, e.g. Breedon Hill, Borough Hill in Leicestershire, and Mam Tor.
  • In general it is likely that these are complex sites.
  • Their relationship to the contemporary social structure and practice is unclear; some appear to have been ‘central places’.
  • Some sites have been extensively damaged by extraction (e.g. Breedon Hill, Hunsbury, Tattershall Thorpe); almost invariably these sites are now protected, although protection often stops at the fringe of their extant earthworks; present threats to these sites are limited (although ‘drying’ is seemingly a problem in the case of Tattershall Thorpe).
  • The state of preservation of some sites may be considered good (e.g. Honington Camp).
  • The identification of further hillforts, marsh forts and other sizeable ‘defended’ enclosures is likely, particularly in lower lying areas.
  • They remain a valuable resource, but the context in which work at these sites may be conducted in the next decade or two is unclear; surface survey is likely to make a valuable contribution.
  • The research potential of these sites, when subject to integrated and structured programmes, is indicated by the previous work at Breedon Hill. This potential, however, is a long way from being realised and will need to include survey of their environs.

Linear Monuments

Long distance linear boundaries are one of the characteristic features of the first millennium BC in eastern England. These systems include pit alignments and single, double and triple ditch/dyke arrangements. Synthesis is not simple. Broadly speaking, these monuments make their debut in the Late Bronze Age. Whilst displaying some diversity of detail and morphology, they are grouped together here because they seem to have shared similar functions in bounding the landscape and in a number of cases, the different monument types appear closely related (Fearn 1993; Boutwood 1998). The functions and meaning of these enigmatic features were doubtless not universal, and they have no firm precursor. Nonetheless, there is patterning to their incidence within the landscape and a number of examples evidently respect existing anthropogenic features. They mark a new episode in the dynamic unfolding of cultural landscapes in later prehistory and there is a tacit consensus that they represent significant boundaries of a political-economic sort. Unsurprisingly, much of the evidence comes from aerial reconnaissance, although a number have been examined through excavation.

These boundaries are an important component of the later prehistoric record, being germane to any broad attempt to interpret the region’s social relations and development. Nonetheless they are a relatively untapped resource: before the recent fashion for landscape archaeology, they received relatively little attention, whilst fieldworkers concentrated upon settlements. That they are linear, of large scale, occur in rural settings and characteristically yield little cultural material mitigates against detailed investigation. On the other hand, these monuments are a comparatively well-preserved class, being the repository of much potential environmental and cultural data. Having received much attention during aerial reconnaissance, several valuable studies involving their systematic mapping, characterisation and interpretation are now to hand (e.g. Pickering 1978; Boutwood 1998; Thomas 2003), whilst the advent of PPG16 has led to a certain amount of evaluation and sampling.

Pit alignments

‘Pit alignment’ is a suitably descriptive term, rather than an interpretative one, for strings of pits (variable in scale, but often oval or sub-rectangular in plan and about the size of a particularly large desk) normally found arranged in single lines (sometimes in paired rows), which can extend for distances of up to c. 1.1 km. Such alignments occur across the region, although far from uniformly. Whilst not unique to the region, they are a comparatively well-represented monument class, and may be cast as one of its distinctive later prehistoric features. There are, unsurprisingly, both sub-regional differences, and differences in the numbers so far recorded in the constituent counties. There is a strong patterning to their incidence in Lincolnshire, where they are well represented in the Welland valley and on the limestone uplands, but virtually absent elsewhere; Boutwood (1998) has stressed that this is very likely to be indicative of an actual archaeological trend.

It is generally accepted that pit alignments became popular in the Late Bronze Age and are normally a first millennium BC phenomenon (cf. Fearn 1993). Dating evidence, however, is often elusive (e.g. Boutwood 1998, 39). At Messingham in North Lincolnshire, for example, just outside the region, a series of alignments were investigated but yielded no artefacts (Laskey 1979, 74). Where evidence is available, it typically indicates a Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age date, as at Eye Kettleby in Leicestershire (Finn 1998) and Tallington, Lincolnshire (Gurney et al. 1993). When sequences are discernible, pit alignments precede settlements of Middle Iron Age date (cf. Kidd 2000). Their dating must be a priority for investigation.

Whilst most examples have been identified via aerial reconnaissance, pit alignments are not infrequently encountered during fieldwork, occurring unexpectedly where no previous indicator was known. Some excavated pit alignments are listed in Table 5.

In Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire pit alignments are present in the Trent valley. The Nottinghamshire SMR lists as many as 74 (V. Baddeley pers. comm.; RCHME 1960; Whimster 1989), and the total for Lincolnshire is similar (c. 70; cf. Boutwood 1998), but few have been excavated in either county. In Leicestershire and Rutland over 50 pit alignments are recorded on the SMR. In Northamptonshire, the figure is 136, here again principally known from cropmarks. Most pit alignments are associated with permeable geologies (as in the Nene valley, and in south-west and north-east Northamptonshire). Small numbers are, however, known on impermeable geologies, for instance, at Crick (Kidd 2000). Analysis by Boutwood suggests that there is a strong cultural element to their distribution. Differences of geology and in the amount of development and quarrying probably goes some way towards explaining the variations between counties.

Although some pit alignments are isolated, they often occur in groups, forming elements within developing landscape systems. One of the best explored examples is the complex at Wollaston, Northamptonshire (Meadows 1995; 1996). Here, a co-axial pit alignment system covering an area of c. 2.5 km was instituted during the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age. Elsewhere, there are instances of two, three and four rows of pit alignments traversing the landscape. These multiple alignments may represent ‘additions’ to an original alignment (cf. J. Pollard 1996).

Table 5: Some excavated pit alignments of the first millennium BC in the East Midlands

Aston HillDerbyshireAbbott and Garton 1995
Swarkestone LowesDerbyshireKnight and Morris 1997; Elliott and Knight 1999a
Eye KettlebyLeicestershire/RutlandFinn 1998
Glentham CliffLincolnshireD. Jones 1988
Long BenningtonLincolnshireFearn 1993
TallingtonLincolnshireGurney et al. 1993
MessinghamNorth LincolnshireLaskey 1979
Briar HillNorthamptonshireBamford 1985
CrickNorthamptonshireHughes 1998
GrendonNorthamptonshireJackson 1995
GrettonNorthamptonshireJackson 1974
RingsteadNorthamptonshireJackson 1978
WollastonNorthamptonshireMeadows 1995
BulcoteNottinghamshireMOW 1969, 59; TVARC 1969, 5-6
RamptonNottinghamshireKnight 2000

The interpretation of pit alignments is a matter of debate (cf. Taylor 1996; 1997). Taylor (1996) suggests that they developed from pit clusters of Later Bronze Age date, as known in Northamptonshire, which were perhaps markers within the landscape. Clay (2001) infers that the pit groups recorded at Lockington and Castle Donington (Meek 1995; Coward and Ripper 1998; 1999) in the Trent valley, were clusters of this type. Pit alignments often appear to have been constructed in relation to other ‘places’ in the landscape, not least earlier prehistoric ceremonial monuments, between which they may extend (Taylor 1997). Whether or not they were constructed with the intention of describing ‘owned’ territories or for demarcating certain rights, their appearance points to a major reorganisation of landscape or at least a re-definition of existing boundaries previously expressed by other means. Boutwood (1998) notes a correlation between pit alignments and water courses in Lincolnshire; the explanation for this is unclear but she suggests that this may have both practical and ritual/symbolic elements relating to access to water (for pasture animals) and in emphasizing a natural boundary (cf. Hingley 1989a, 143-4).

Linear ditch systems

Monuments of this type are numerous in the East Midlands, in the form of single, double, triple and even quadruple parallel ditches (Table 6). Triple ditches are particularly well recorded. Jones (1988, 19) and Boutwood (1998) have discussed what the duplication of these ditches may represent. Detailed study shows that these are often far from straightforward features. Some were long-lived, some show re-cutting, some are certainly multi-period; they occasionally include pit alignments; ditches may have been added in the life of the monument; and field investigations have, on occasion, revealed more ditches than are apparent on aerial photographs. The biographies of each system are likely to have varied, while sequences and associations are detailed. Normally they are traceable for a few hundred metres, although some have been traced for as much as 3 km. They are not particularly regular in form and alignment; but typically do not respect topography. Again they are a distinctive, but not unique, aspect of the region. Analogous monuments occur elsewhere in eastern England, especially in East Yorkshire, Norfolk and Hertfordshire (e.g. Stoertz 1997). Most are known from aerial photography, but at ‘The Larches’, Stowe-Nine-Churches, in Northamptonshire, a length of a triple ditch system is extant as an earthwork for over 600 m, continuing as a cropmark for a further kilometre (Moore 1973b; RCHME 1981, 179-81); two earthworks are recorded by Boutwood (1998) in Lincolnshire. Like pit alignments, they are particularly well attested in Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Rutland, and south-west Lincolnshire (35 are known in the latter county). Some 14 double or triple ditch systems are documented in the Leicestershire and Rutland SMR.

Without excavation, these ditches are not closely dateable. Yet sampling does not necessarily result in firm evidence, particularly vis-á-vis the date of their cutting. Their debut as a monument type seems to belong to the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age. The primary fill of the Ketton system, for instance, dates to the Earlier Iron Age, although the monument continued in use into the Late Iron Age (Mackie 1993). Radiocarbon dates obtained from material in the primary fills of two ditches at Rectory Farm, West Deeping, indicate a Late Bronze Age to Middle/Late Iron Age date (Hunn and Rackham forthcoming). Excavations on a triple dyke on the northern outskirts of Lincoln yielded Late Iron Age pottery from lower ditch fills (Palmer-Brown 1993b); between two of the ditches was the base of an eroded bank. At Greetwell, Lincolnshire, the pottery from one ditch was typologically Middle Iron Age, while another contained Late Iron Age or early Roman pot (Boutwood 1998; Lincolnshire SMR).

The distribution of multiple-ditched linear boundaries includes a band across the east and south of the East Midlands from the Humber to Northampton (cf. Boutwood 1998). The limestone geology here gives rise to particularly responsive soils (e.g. Everson 1978; Jones 1988, 13). The absence of such features from eastern Lincolnshire seems to be genuine as the soils of the Wolds are likewise conducive to cropmarks. Pickering (1978) noted what he believed to be a tendency for some of the systems to either follow the alignment of the Jurassic Limestone Ridge, or lie at right angles to it (cf. Everson 1978; 1979), that is west to east, and north to south. A possible parallel can be found in the Chilterns, where multiple ditches are situated at right angles to the Icknield Way (Bryant 1997). Pickering suggested that the features were elements of a widespread network. In fact the predominant alignment is not quite as Pickering had thought, but rather north-west to south-east and south-west to north-east.

There is a general consensus that the multiple boundaries were not ‘defensive’. They would not, in many cases, have presented an effective barrier, although if combined with banks, palisades and hedges they may have been. Nonetheless they seem likely to relate to controlling the movement of people and animals; they may have been both boundaries, and served as trackways. A quadruple linear ditch system is known as a cropmark from near Allington, south Lincolnshire, with a rectilinear enclosure adjoining on one side (Pickering 1978). In searching for associations between multiple ditches and other anthropogenic features, Boutwood (1998) noted a correlation with ‘washing-line’ enclosures. These small enclosures may have been pounds for stock, as at Brauncewell (Taylor 1998; cf. Pryor 1996). ‘Junctions’ of these features are known, for instance, at Long Bennington (Pickering 1978; Fearn 1993). In Northamptonshire, the association of long linear ditch systems with axial boundaries and settlements is comparatively clear (cf. Kidd 2000), as at Ecton/Sywell in the Nene valley (RCHME 1979, 47-50 and 144-5). There are no certain cases of dyke systems adjacent to aggregated settlements, as occurred further south in the Late Iron Age for example around Colchester and Chichester. Dykes occur east and north of Lincoln (Everson 1978; 1979; Field 1980; Palmer-Brown 1993b), but these are morphologically no different from the dykes occurring elsewhere in the region, and contained Late Iron Age pottery; besides, no sizeable settlement of any standing is known at Lincoln in the pre-Roman period.

Table 6: Some linear dykes of the first millennium BC in the East Midlands

Single linear dykes
Willoughton CliffLincolnshireCropmarkD. Jones 1988, 19
GrettonNorthamptonshire1st mill. BCJackson 1974
Double linear dykes
Long BenningtonLincolnshireCropmarkBoutwood 1998
WaddinghamLincolnshireCropmarkEverson 1979a
GrettonNorthamptonshireLBA/EIAJackson & Knight 1985
Preston & RidlingtonRutland?IA; to be confirmedBeamish 1997a; 1997b
TixoverRutlandLIABeamish 1992
TixoverRutlandNo dating evidenceMackie 1993
Triple linear dykes
Brauncewell QuarryLincolnshire?LIABoutwood 1998; Lincolnshire SMR
Lincoln, Nettleham & GreetwellLincolnshireFill in LIAEverson 1979a; Field 1980; Palmer Brown 1993b
Long BenningtonLincolnshireNo dating evidenceFearn 1993
Brampton/PitsfordNorthamptonshireLBA/EIANorthamptonshire SMR; cf. RCHME 1981, 16-21
Stowe-Nine-Churches, The LarchesNorthamptonshireEarthworkMoore 1973b; RCHME 1981, 179-81
KettonRutlandEIA to LIAMackie 1993
Quadruple linear dykes
Allington, Glebe FarmLincolnshireCropmarkPickering 1978
BlyboroughLincolnshireCropmarkEverson 1979a
Willoughton CliffLincolnshireCropmarkD. Jones 1988, 19


There is evidence that these various forms of boundary were a focus for votive and structured deposits during the Iron Age, something which should not occasion surprise (cf. Hingley 1990). Pottery, animal bone and, notably, fragments of two Nauheim brooches and a metalworking mould were recovered from the fills of the Ketton dyke system (Mackie 1993). A horse long bone had been inserted vertically into one of the pits of the Long Bennington alignment during its silting (Fearn 1993), while at Tallington horse and human skull fragments occurred in pit fills (Gurney et al. 1993). At Gretton the terminal pit of an alignment contained a copper alloy ring-headed pin probably deposited in association with textiles (Jackson 1974).

Pit alignments and parallel linear dyke systems occur in similar areas (cf. Boutwood 1998, figs 2 and 8). Often, though, they may have served different functions, as detailed scrutiny reveals that they occur in mutually exclusive locations. Caution is required as the relationship between pit alignments and ditch systems is neither straightforward, nor well understood. Taylor (1996) has noted cases where pit alignments were replaced by ditches. An earthwork ditch and bank at Harlestone Firs, Northamptonshire, for example, seems to continue an adjacent pit alignment, known via cropmarks (Cadman 1995). The pit alignment at Eye Kettleby was replaced by a ditch. A group of triple ditches in the Brampton/Pitsford area north-west of Northampton that cut across spurs of higher ground, isolating them, may be contemporary with a complex of pit alignments (cf. Kidd 2000). Finally, there are cases of parallel ditches associated with parallel pit alignments, and of two pit alignments and a parallel ditch.

Whilst not unique to the region, pit alignments and linear dyke systems are particularly well represented,and were clearly significant. They hold much potential for investigating social relations and organization, as well as questions relating to the phenomenology of landscape.

Our understanding of long distance linear monuments has improved greatly in recent years. It is now clear that many were long-lived and they probably served a variety of functions. Plotting these monuments via the National Mapping Programme of the RCHME, and studying their character and distribution using GIS and other tools, will doubtless achieve further advances. The matter of their differential visibility according to the subsoil, does, however, need to be engaged. One obvious question is how these features relate to changing agricultural practices, for instance to a putative end to transhumance, and the shift from apparently ‘open’ land to defined ‘domains’ (cf. Bishop 2000c). Their relationship to the ‘brickwork’ fields of north Nottinghamshire is also a matter for investigation.

Their very scale and existence provide an index of local communal organization and political or social structures. Whether they relate to local imperatives to land division amongst comparatively modest sized communities, as Boutwood has suggested (1998), or are manifestations of tribally organised large-scale systems of demarcation (cf. Hingley 1989b), or from a combination of motivations, remains uncertain. That they were brought into being demonstrates the powerful resource base of the period, demographic, economic and ‘political’. The construction of such boundaries – if, as is generally surmised, they relate to the definition of ‘owned’ territories – presumably played a role in the generation and maintenance of group identity. Their further investigation is potentially very important for our understanding of society at this time.

Ritual, Structured Deposition and Religion

As in other parts of the British Isles, the corpus of ritual and structured deposits of first millennium BC date in the region is growing, reflecting the renewed interest in such phenomena (cf. Merrifield 1987; Hill 1995c; Bradley 1990; Hingley 1992). Many finds attributed this status were found long ago, being ‘spectacular’ items of metalwork from riverine contexts (May 1976). There is a growing consciousness that intentionally placed and structured deposits were commonplace in later prehistory and that they may take the form of modest, even mundane and highly fragmentary, artefactual or ecofactual items. Hence they are likely to be encountered fairly routinely during fieldwork. They offer a potentially highly useful point of access into the belief systems of the period, which only now are we beginning to explore in a sophisticated manner – as well as providing attractive frontispieces for reports!

On the whole, the patterns so far discernible in the East Midlands seem to echo more widely recognised trends in British later prehistory. The pattern of metalwork deposition, for example, changes over the course of the first millennium BC (cf. Hunter 1997). A tradition of deliberate deposition of fine items (e.g. swords) characterises the Late Bronze Age. This, however, ends with the Iron Age transition, such deposits being highly exceptional during the middle centuries of the millennium. A ‘resumption’ in the deposition of fine metalwork then occurs in the later Iron Age. This sequence is strikingly apparent at Flag Fen, Cambridgeshire on the south-east margin of our region (Pryor 2001). In Nottinghamshire, too, a series of Late Bronze Age metalwork finds have been recovered from the Trent, together with La Tène style metal items (cf. Bishop 2000c; Phillips 1934, 105; May 1976, 128-9; Watkin et al. 1996).

The materials and functional types selected for deposition reveal certain preferences and patterning. Metal items relating to warfare, ‘productivity’, status and control are particularly prominent. During the Late Bronze Age and Later Iron Age these include swords (and their scabbards), spears and shields – elegant and often elaborate pieces symbolic of power and martial status. Also occurring are axes and artefacts relating to the production of metal, in other words items that facilitate agricultural production and the ability to manufacture material culture that will help alter and ‘control’ the natural and social environments. From Billingborough in southern Lincolnshire, for instance, an iron metalworking ‘poker’ recovered during excavation is an apparent votive deposit (Chowne et al. 2001, 95).

It is also clear that querns were deposited in symbolic locations and as special deposits (cf. Hingley 1992; Willis 1999, 99). This phenomenon has, however, yet to be systematically examined across the region. The role of querns in converting grain to flour is likely to have resulted in their being invested with particular significance, and seems likely to account for their selection as votive items and as components of structured deposits. The first millennium BC was, of course, a period during which grain production and management was especially prominent. At Wanlip querns of both saddle and rotary type were found together, evidently forming a structured deposit (Beamish 1998; Marsden 1998a). Querns found in pits at Ancaster Quarry (May 1976, 136) and Hunsbury hillfort may also be elements of structured deposits, as may some of the querns from Breedon Hill. At Crick, Northamptonshire, a ‘placed’ quern was found at the centre of a supposed ritual structure.

Structured deposits including faunal remains are also coming to be recognised, for example sheep at Ancaster Quarry; a dog burial and perhaps that of a crane at Billingborough (Chowne et al. 2001); and potentially an assemblage of calf bones from the top fill of a major ditch at Nettleton, Mount Pleasant, Lincolnshire (Stallibrass 1999). Human skeletal material also seems likely to have been subject to ritualised processes. The ‘unusual’ treatment of human skulls is noted above. Some groups of ‘mundane’ remains encountered at settlements also appear to be structured deposits. This seems to be the case at the Late Bronze Age ringfort at Thrapston, Northamptonshire, where antler, pig bone (burnt) and pottery was encountered in ditch fills. Similarly at Elms Farm, Humberstone (Charles et al. 2000, 159-60), dating to the Middle to Late Iron Age, complete or near complete pottery items, animal bone and metalworking debris occur in groups, the contexts of which are suggestive of special areas and boundaries. The earlier Iron Age site at Wanlip, Leicestershire (Beamish 1998) shows a combination of settlement, ritual and mortuary activity. As Clay (2001) notes, this follows trends observed elsewhere in the Early and Middle Iron Age of ritual events and acts occurring within domestic settlements (cf. Hill 1995c).

Considering the possible use of organic material in such activities, samples routinely collected in order to capture palaeoeconomic/palaeoenvironmental data may well lead to the identification of special/structured deposits.

As elsewhere in the British Isles, the contexts of deposition from which these ritual/votive items have been forthcoming are very often boundaries, thresholds and ‘watery’ locations (cf. Fitzpatrick 1984; Hingley 1990; Priest et al. 2003). The aforementioned poker from Billingborough had been deposited in a silted Bronze Age boundary ditch. That pit alignments and linear dykes were the focus for structured deposits is noted above. Thresholds and entrances, of both settlement enclosures and roundhouses, are often associated with finds of this type, typically ceramics (cf. Gwilt 1997). At Elms Farm, Humberstone, for example, pottery groups almost invariably occur at or by the termini of roundhouse ring gullies (Charles et al. 2000, illus. 42).

The metalwork from the Witham and the Trent indicates an association with running water and particularly with the great rivers of the region. On the other hand a La Tène III sword came from a palaeochannel of more modest scale at Aldwincle (Megaw 1976). Bogs and ‘natural’ water sources might also be anticipated repositories for such material. There is a notable absence of the type of deep shaft known in other parts of Britain (cf. Webster 1997). Wells and water pits occur at settlements (although less frequently than on Roman sites). As elsewhere, examples may have been the focus for ritual deposits and when encountered should be excavated with this possibility in mind.

Whilst some areas of southern Britain saw the emergence of shrines during the later Iron Age, the East Midlands lacks identified examples. The sites at Wakerley and Weekley, Northamptonshire, may have performed such a function (Kidd 2004; Gwilt 1997), whilst the site at Thistleton (Allen 1965; Liddle 1982a; Whitwell 1982) evidently had a Late Iron Age pedigree. It is likely that many of the sites with sizeable assemblages of Iron Age coins identified in Lincolnshire (May 1984; 1994) were shrines or temples, the coins being votive deposits (Willis with Dungworth 1999). Kidd (2000) notes other possible ritual structures in Northamptonshire: at Crick (Chapman 1995), Stanwell Spinney (Dix and Jackson 1989) and Wilby Way, Wellingborough (Enright and Thomas 1998; 1999). The enigmatic site at Red Hill, Ratcliffe-on-Soar probably included a late Roman temple, which may well have had its origins as an Iron Age shrine (Challis and Harding 1975; Elsdon 1982). The recently discovered East Leicestershire hoard complex with possible evidence of feasting appears to have been an open air ceremonial site (Priest et al. 2003).

This short review demonstrates that structured deposits and ritual were quite common, and should be anticipated in future interventions. Some features and activities, however, noted elsewhere in later British prehistory are not yet attested in the region (e.g. ritual shafts) or are thinly represented (e.g. rituals involving heads; shrines). To respond to the challenge of recognising them, new methodological approaches may well be required (cf. Gwilt 1997).

There is perhaps a tendency for the archaeological community to conflate structured and selected deposits as representing the same belief systems and ‘rituals’ in all cases; however, the meanings and understandings of these practices for people in the first millennium BC were doubtless complex and textured. Many such activities are likely to represent strategies (becoming routines) relating to the negotiation of uncertainties in human life, and status passages. These undertakings were often related to food generation or procurement; fertility; productive and transformative undertakings (e.g. quern deposition, the Billingborough ‘poker’ and the tools from Fiskerton), and the dynamics of power – and will have occurred regularly on a variety of scales. As more examples of these activities are documented and as our interpretations develop we should be able to recognise more patterns. We will never open the ‘black box’ of past belief systems but the archaeological exploration of this domain should define some parameters and play a role in generating interpretations of society and culture at this time.

Social Relations and Society in the First Millennium BC

Whilst detailed consideration of social relations is inappropriate here, this is a fundamental domain for two reasons. Firstly, social relations will have had a formative influence upon the nature of the remains. Secondly, engaging with the ‘big picture’ and constructing syntheses and interpretations of the period is one key goal of our engagement with the past.

The early part of the period may have witnessed the decline of ‘transhumance’ and increased ‘permanent’ settlement and land division/holding (cf. Bishop 2000c). In the East Midlands, as elsewhere in lowland Britain, the first millennium BC, particularly from

the middle centuries onward, was a period of marked population growth. A dynamic of population increase and agricultural colonisation, intensification and innovation becomes apparent, leading to changes in landscape use impacting to various degrees across the region. This dynamic is evidently what drove this society forward. Claylands, the Fens and other wetlands were brought into use (or more intense, different usage). An increase in grain production, and also of other products is suggested by the archaeological remains. These perceived patterns require further investigation using the increasing archaeological evidence available to us.

Social relations during the Late Bronze Age are enigmatic and the degree of social continuity from Bronze into Iron Age is equally obscure. Certainly there were particular sources of social stress during the first half of the millennium (due to climatic change, the full debut of iron, demography, etc.).

Mineral exploitation in the form of iron smelting and metalworking, and salt production, together with agricultural and craft production, will have been generators of wealth, perhaps conflict and potentially power. How these new levels and types of exploitation and economy were organised and controlled is a key matter for investigation via theory and interpretation grounded in the archaeological evidence. Centralising control may have existed, or egalitarian structures may have been in place; there may have been variations in time and space. The tentative general model of a comparatively egalitarian (long) Middle Iron Age in England being replaced by a more differentiated hierarchical system in the Late Iron Age, as proposed by Sharples (1991) and Hill (1995a) is seemingly not contradicted by the evidence from much of the region: there are no indicators of ‘chiefs’, not that is until the latest Iron Age, and then this is only inferred. Model-building for specific regions remains an important need (cf. Haselgrove 1999; Haselgrove et al. 2001; Willis 1999).

Warfare and hostility seem to have been uncommon from the Middle Iron Age if not earlier; although this remains a matter for investigation. The martial equipment that has been recovered is largely ceremonial, symbolic and impractical as a means of attack or defence – although due to its votive connections, this may be unrepresentative of the everyday – while genuinely defended settlements are essentially absent. A lack of endemic conflict is implicit in the evident success of agriculture and economy: an absence of armed conflict would have enabled productive activities to flourish. In such a world, ritual involving weaponry may have been symbolic. Social cohesion must have been maintained through embedded norms, collective ceremonies and notions perhaps of a collective ‘project’: food production and social reproduction.

Scrutiny of settlement morphology demonstrates that the builders followed entrenched templates in realising particular elements (e.g. circular structures, enclosures, settlement entrances). How these features were configured, however, varied from site to site. In consequence a landscape of settlements existed that shared considerable uniformity of elements but diversity in their assembly. This picture is at variance with the more homogeneous patterns seen in some contemporary regions of Britain. Overall this pattern implies common cultural and phenomenological perceptions.

In the later Iron Age, there is greater evidence for differentiation, both in terms of types of site and in material culture and what the latter implies (cf. Hill 1997b). The debut of coinage, and the greater use of personal accoutrements (e.g. brooches) and attention to the appearance of the self implied by cosmetic instruments may be bound up with status and a new or more manifest categorisation of individuals in society (cf. Hill 1995a).

Overview of the resource

The East Midlands is rich in archaeological remains of the first millennium BC, only a very small proportion of which have been investigated archaeologically. Extensive, extant remains – known for instance through aerial photography – survive, in places at a very high level of density.

Archaeological evaluations in locations with no previous evidence for the period, are regularly finding sites, particularly of Middle and/or Late Iron Age date, in many (but not all) parts of the region. A great many new discoveries of first millennium BC stratified remains, have occurred following the introduction of PPG16, while the numbers of finds (especially metal items) being recorded subsequent to recent initiatives is very substantial. The impression amongst those working in the region is that there are now more Iron Age settlement sites ‘positively’ identified than those dating to the Roman period.

The remains are complex and profoundly varied in type and nature. Through study and synthesis they carry tremendous potential for informing us about the ‘life and times’ of this period: the everyday, the mundane, the special, and the event. The region participated in processes discernible elsewhere in Britain, but also has distinctiveness and both regional and sub-regional dimensions of variation. The diversity of settlement evidence includes some breathtaking foci of human activity (e.g. Mam Tor) and more ‘ordinary’ domestic settlements, while the material culture includes some of the most impressive metal artefacts to have been recovered in Britain, for instance the Desborough mirror and the Witham shield (Brailsford 1975). A great deal more remains to be either unearthed or preserved in situ. The rich nature of the evidence, through analysis and (changing) interpretations, can reveal how people situated and structured their lives, tackled practicalities and negotiated beliefs. Both strengths and weaknesses exist in the record, and their clarification by means of this review has highlighted a series of research priorities which will be explored in the agenda which follows.

The Research Agenda


The organisation of the Research Agenda broadly follows the headings in the Resource Assessment, addressing key gaps in knowledge, potential for research and suggested research topics. It also takes into account the research framework set out nationally for the Iron Age (Haselgrove et al. 2001).

Overall our knowledge is very incomplete. For the period c. 1000-500 BC in particular, and in some areas generally, the available information is very weak. For various reasons the record for Northamptonshire is comparatively strong, while that for parts of Leicestershire (especially in the hinterland of Leicester), parts of the Fens, and the Trent valley is reasonably good; for these areas something of a coherent picture is beginning to emerge. Quantitatively, SMR and other records for the East Midlands, with the exception of Northamptonshire, are thin in many categories (e.g. circular structures; ceramics) when compared to other counties, such as East Yorkshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. Knowledge is thin for much of Lincolnshire and upland Nottinghamshire. Upland Derbyshire has, within an East Midlands context, an exceptional amount of upstanding archaeology, which is yet to be confidently dated. Some points of detailed, qualitatively rich information, however, exist across these areas. More sampling, especially via targeted interventions (including area excavation), is required if the disparity between these regions and other areas is not to widen.

Major differences exist within counties in the quantity of information available, such as the contrast between areas of permeable geology (more sites and data) and impermeable geology. Over much of the region, a comparatively good record exists for valley bottoms and sides. Contrasts exist between areas conducive to intense study by a particular method (e.g. aerial photography of large areas of Lincolnshire), and relatively ‘blank’ landscapes (e.g. the Lincolnshire Middle Marsh).

That much of our record of settlement and activity for the millennium derives from river valleys and margins is unsurprising and reflects patterns seen elsewhere for the first millennium BC (e.g. in Warwickshire). This is clearly, in part, a consequence of the agricultural practices of the period. Recognition of this trend should not prejudice investigations away from such areas.

Across the counties, the quantity of archaeological fieldwork on first millennium BC remains has been increasing. As in some other parts of Britain, the archaeology of the first millennium has been the major beneficiary of PPG16: that is to say more information relating to this era has been forthcoming in the context of modern development, than for other periods. Development is ongoing throughout the region via housing and infrastructure projects, but is invariably patchy with ‘hot-spots’ around existing urban areas and certain routeways. Consequently new sites and information are disproportionately centred around these localities.

Many parties stress the need for projects to be seen through to publication, including back-log sites. There is a call for a greater proportion of the developer-funded fieldwork to be published than is the currently case (Haselgrove et al. 2001). The potential for research both at, and away from, the present ‘hot-spots’ of developer funded fieldwork is apparent from the Resource Assessment. The first millennium BC archaeology of the East Midlands is of great significance for understanding wider patterns and processes of the period in Britain.

In the following sections, key observations are noted with bullet points.


Present position and prospect

The problems of dating the archaeology of the first millennium BC are well characterised (Knight 2002; Willis 2002) and are identified as a major challenge in the Resource Assessment. The lack of chronological precision is rightly seen as an ‘Achilles’ heel’ for the period. Establishing greater chronological subtlety via the collection of more absolute, and indeed more precise, reliable dates is highly desirable. Improving the chronological framework will assist advancement in most areas of potential research.

Radiocarbon dating

  • An audit of the region’s radiometric dates needs to be undertaken to identify weaknesses in the existing record (Haselgrove et al. 2001, 3-4).
  • It is recommended that appropriate dating programmes are written into project specifications for work dealing with remains of the period prepared by those responsible for enforcement, including local government archaeologists under PPG16 (Haselgrove et al. 2001, 4-5). Multiple single entity radiocarbon (AMS) dating should be routine for all excavations of first millennium BC sites. This could draw on samples taken for palaeobotanical evidence to ensure an adequate choice of single entity samples.
  • A selective strategic and retrospective absolute dating programme could be useful to the region (cf. Table 3 above; Needham and Ambers 1994).

The potential of radiocarbon dating is improving via more critically aware sampling strategies, multiple sampling, accelerator dating and Bayesian techniques. Date ranges acquired may well be sufficiently ‘tight’ to begin to address most of our general research questions. Tactics for improving the situation have been developed. ‘Tight dating’ itself brings forward new questions: the more precise the dating, the more specific are the questions and comparisons that may be made.

Ceramic chronology

Improving ceramic chronology is a key issue. Our knowledge and awareness is developing through concerted study, confirming the potential of this field for future research. The chronology of the pottery types of the East Midlands, however, has yet to be adequately defined. Ancaster-Breedon style ‘Scored ware’ is a prime example, while the date(s) of the debut of wheel-made pots also requires clarification. Improving ceramic chronology remains a key research topic and will directly benefit future projects where pottery is recovered. Projects aimed at enhancing our understanding of pottery chronologies are considered a priority for funding. Dating of the carbonised remains often found on vessel surfaces offers the prospect of directly dating the currency of the types (Willis 2002). The synthesis by Knight (2002) has successfully collated and assessed the previously disparate information on this subject, and provides an heuristic region-wide ‘standard’. It will be beneficial if this survey is regularly maintained.

Luminescence dating

Thermoluminescence dating of both ceramics and soils remains in principle a potentially useful chronological tool for the first millennium BC. The possibility that this method will provide the degree of close and reliable dating felt to be required by those studying the period is presently, however, uncertain. The utility of the method is, by consensus, still regarded as ‘experimental’; date ranges so far have been generally broad, in some cases instructive, but in others erratic. Dates arising from luminescence require corroboration: comparison of the results of different techniques is important. It is considered prudent to continue to collect dates via this method.


Potential samples for dendrochronological dating should be targeted wherever feasible, particularly when they are in situ, in ‘secure’ contexts and associated with other cultural remains. Work at Fiskerton in the Lower Witham valley demonstrates the potential of the method. Suitable samples may be forthcoming from a wider exploration project in this buried valley.

Substantive issues

The chronology of the region’s hillforts is poorly understood. Future work at such sites should include a dating programme. This might be sensibly linked to a programme of environmental analysis, not least in the Peak region (cf. Makepeace 1999).

Many chronological issues relate to the well-preserved field systems and settlements of the Peak District and its vicinity. ‘Celtic’ field systems in the Peak region, mainly on the Eastern Moors, have been assumed to be Romano-British due to their apparent association with ‘dated’ settlements, but as Bevan (2000, 147) notes, this is still a matter for investigation, with better dating information required. Similarly, dating is required for the sub-rectangular and sub-circular enclosures of the region which, morphologically, appear to be Iron Age.

Beyond chronology

Existing chronological constraints do not preclude the development of a sophisticated archaeological understanding of this dynamic era. Many worthy and illuminating themes can be explored for which the present level of chronological awareness is adequate (e.g. spatial analysis).

Archaeological visibility, site prospection and landscape exploration

  • There are marked regional/sub-regional variations in the ‘thickness’ of data sets for the period. There is considerable variation in the number of SMR records county by county, category by category.
  • Areas for which the known record is apparently thin may in fact possess some of the best preserved sites and landscapes. In a number of places, first millennium BC remains seem likely to be masked by later sediments, as in the Middle and Outmarsh of Lincolnshire, and the Ancholme and Lower Witham valleys.
  • Contrastingly, the uplands of Derbyshire, with many recorded features, have few sites dated to this millennium; although many of the well-preserved remains and monuments within that landscape may in fact have been in use at this time. There is much potential in such areas.
  • Clay (2001) noted that at Wanlip, much settlement evidence was situated outside the cropmark enclosure. This phenomenon is relatively common elsewhere and has implications for those designing mitigation strategies when enclosure sites are threatened. Some level of investigation beyond detected enclosures and site ‘boundaries’ should be undertaken as a matter of course.
  • An objective approach is required with regard to the drafting of archaeological project specifications. Locations due for development should be subject to archaeological evaluation, even if they appear to be ‘blank’ in terms of SMR records.
  • In recent years an increasing number of sites have been recorded on clay subsoils, with some sampled by excavation (particularly in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire). Such sites have, on the whole, been relatively elusive. Prospection on clay subsoils is to be encouraged (cf. Clay 1989; 2002). The dynamics of settlement and agriculture on impermeable versus permeable geologies is an instructive issue, with implications for our understanding of wider processes. Initial work has shown significant potential. Further environmental data for woodland clearance (or otherwise) on claylands is also desirable.
  • Bevan (2000) and others have suggested that geophysical prospection of largely pastoral upland valley floors in the north-west of the region may reveal hitherto unsuspected first millennium BC occupation and activity. Such prospection would test the hypothesis of ‘non-abandonment’ of the Derbyshire uplands during the first millennium BC.

The Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age c. 1000 BC-450 BC: settlement archaeology

  • There are well-attested gaps in our data set for ‘settlements’ of this period. This is a serious deficiency. Known sites are modest in number and are characterised, very largely, by limited numbers of small-scale features and deposits. The elusiveness of these sites is in part explained by their character, plus other reasons true of all counties. This picture contrasts with the much fuller record for the Middle and Late Iron Age. Addressing this imbalance is a fundamental priority. Although it is often likely to be qualitatively different to occupation of Middle and Late Iron Age character, settlement and activity of the period is there to be found, doubtless somewhat extensively.
  • Soberingly, a large proportion of recorded ‘sites’ of this period have been located by chance rather than by standard archaeological detection. Many discoveries occurred because sites and activity areas underlay more readily detected Middle and Late Iron Age sites. This correlation suggests that archaeology for this era can be anticipated on a fairly regular basis when sites of the latter period are explored.
  • Close interval geophysical survey and evaluation of all greenfield areas for development using selective mechanical stripping, has been successful in locating sites of this period in north-west and north-east England, as well as in the East Midlands.
  • Since the Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age is weakly understood, all ‘sites’ or foci of this period, however ephemeral, should be regarded as having a high research potential.
  • It is apparent that archaeologists in preceding decades did not extract the levels of information that are routinely obtained from current excavation and post-excavation work. The archives of past excavations are a valuable data set and re-visiting them is potentially highly rewarding (cf. Gwilt 1997), as it may well be possible to extract more and different information in the light of new perceptions and understandings. A well-recorded excavation and a well-curated archive are prerequisite in this respect.
  • Why traces of earlier first millennium occupation and activity underlie the more emphatic settlement remains of the second half of the millennium is a matter of considerable interest for our understanding of social developments. A proportion of Middle and Late Iron Age settlements may represent permanent occupation at localities previously familiar and repeatedly visited during transhumance or other, perhaps seasonally related, movements (leaving only ephemeral traces) earlier in the millennium (cf. Bishop 2000c). The possibility of a restructuring of economy and society, in parts of the region at least, from a mobile pastoralist one to a more sedentary one with fixed land ‘appropriation’ is a major topic for investigation. More widely, the nature of any relationships between earlier and later first millennium settlements requires study.

The Middle Iron Age c. 450 BC-100 BC: settlement archaeology

  • The number of sites of this period being investigated via fieldwork has increased, and there have been several significant publications in recent years. Nonetheless, Northamptonshire apart, the corpus of sites in print is meagre. Full publication of some sites excavated in the 1960s and 1970s would be beneficial, including, in particular, Holme Pierrepont and Scratta Wood (both Nottinghamshire).
  • The Middle Iron Age is sometimes cast as having been an undramatic epoch, but its appearance conceals its crucial formative character, upon which the cultural changes more visible in the Late Iron Age were predicated (cf. Hill 1995a). It is important that East Midlands sites of this period are fully published.
  • Recent publication has demonstrated the high quality and diversity of evidence that can be obtained from settlements of this period. Various new methods, ideas and interpretations are informing post-excavation and publication projects and enhancing our understandings. This work is revealing the rich potential for research in this era.
  • Numerous research topics are possible for the Middle Iron Age and cannot all be listed here. Some key areas for investigation are:

(i) the meaning, causation and possible sequences of settlement enclosure, as opposed to open settlements and settlements placed within field systems
(ii) the potential role of hillforts at this time
(iii) the emergence of land divisions, ‘filled’ landscapes, and the advent of ‘ladder settlements’ and ‘village’ like clusters, as now identified in Northamptonshire and in the Trent valley
(iv) the relationship of settlement change to agriculture
(v) the prospect of continued occupation within the Peak region through the middle centuries of the millennium, questioning the ‘orthodox’ model of upland abandonment (cf. Bevan 2000).
(vi) ‘locally observed’ changes in the Iron Age settlement record will presumably relate to macro level processes in many instances. It is important that projects make the connection between these levels.

The Late Iron Age c. 100 BC-AD 50: settlement archaeology

  • More sites attributed to this period are published than for preceding eras. Nonetheless the corpus is not extensive and is thin for large parts of the region.
  • The character of apparent aggregated settlements, and indeed the reasons for their emergence are not understood. Investigation of this phenomenon is an agreed priority.
  • Full publication of some much-referenced sites excavated many years ago such as Colsterworth would be welcome. Publication of sites where Roman settlement appears to overlie Late Iron Age occupation, such as at Sapperton and Thistleton, would be beneficial for our understanding of settlement development.
  • Sites classed as ‘major aggregated settlements’, especially in Lincolnshire, but also in parts of Leicestershire, are poorly characterised. Information recorded from surface collections, survey and detectorists’ finds has not been collated or published. Synthesis and further surveys are a priority if we are to make headway in understanding these complex sites and in evaluating their significance in settlement dynamics. The trajectory of these sites into the Roman era must also be fully considered.
  • Comparison of the major aggregated sites of Lincolnshire/Leicestershire with morphologically similar complexes in Northamptonshire and the Trent valley (which lack profile-raising small metal finds) is overdue. These sites might be instructively compared with potentially analogous sites in adjacent regions. The location of these settlements in the landscape is worthy of study (cf. Willis 1997a), as are intra-site spatial arrangements and morphology.
  • The Iron Age coin assemblages from the major aggregated settlements require re-evaluation in the light of new thinking relating to the role of coinage in society and the discovery of the East Leicestershire hoard site (Priest et al. 2003; C. Haselgrove and J. May pers. comm.).

Settlement and landscape

Work undertaken under the National Mapping Programme (NMP) is proving valuable in identifying sites and monuments (and incipient threats), patterning, morphology types, and the relationship between settlements and other foci and landscape systems. There is much potential for integrating this evidence with other types of survey data and databases. The same applies to the joint English Heritage/Prehistoric Ceramics Research Group Gazetteer of Later Prehistoric Pottery collections held on the University of Southampton website. Excavation and environmental data recovered from (now) extensive work is also ripe for broad synthesis linked to GIS.

Hillforts and analogous sites

  • There are comparatively few hillforts in the East Midlands. These sites are on the whole poorly characterised, poorly dated and weakly understood. We need to comprehend how they fit into the wider picture of society at this time.
  • Other ‘major’ enclosure/defended sites are an eclectic group (e.g. Tattershall Thorpe, Aslockton). These sites are not well characterised; they may have been for stock management or be ‘marsh forts’. Morphologically similar sites may exist, for instance in the Lincolnshire Middle Marsh and Outmarsh where there is a visibility problem.
  • Better chronological information is desirable for virtually all such sites. Some sites attributed to this category may not in fact belong to the first millennium BC.
  • By analogy with other regions, such sites probably served a range of functions. Their role(s) and ‘identities’ probably changed through time, and may have been less significant during the Late Iron Age. The role of these sites in evolving social relations may have been significant but is unclear. Their physical prominence may be unrelated to their past cultural significance and be misleading. Given their infrequency in many areas, they may be atypical and distract from general trends in local settlements. These issues remain a matter for research.
  • Previous work typically focused on earthworks and entrances, with little investigation of interiors or exteriors. These latter locations are a potentially significant resource. Any one site may not be representative, even with regard to its ‘neighbours’. Hunsbury, Mam Tor and Breedon Hill have yielded qualitatively rich information, but how this relates to broader patterns is unclear.
  • The context in which work at these sites may be conducted in the next decade or two is unclear, as few are under threat. Most are in a good state of preservation. Surface survey is likely to make a valuable contribution to knowledge, albeit on a site-specific basis.
  • Prevailing national policy is that, in general, such sites are to be preserved in situ, with policy and law directed towards their long term management and conservation. Archaeological knowledge can, however, be significantly advanced within these parameters, as management policies for such monuments often require non-destructive survey. This may provide opportunities to employ new survey technologies. Stabilisation and anti-erosion measures as a result of increasing visitors, animal activity, etc also present valuable opportunities to gain information. Such programmes have proved useful, from the South Downs to Traprain Law. In this way some new knowledge of Mam Tor has been obtained (e.g. Guilbert 2001). Future work should include survey of the immediate and intermediate environs of such sites as a priority.
  • Research-led fieldwork at these sites is probably to be welcome in principle, but may not be considered a priority where such sites are protected and not threatened, and where sufficient data informing their management have been collected.
  • A modern review of artefact collections from Breedon Hill and Borough Hill and other significant sites is desirable, especially if linked to publication.
  • A stronger case for research-led fieldwork exists in the Derbyshire uplands, where such sites seem potentially to have been more significant in the cultural landscape of the first millennium.

Linear monuments and other land divisions

  • Information on the sequence and chronology of these widespread and important monuments needs extensive enhancement.
  • Questions relating to the differential visibility of these monuments as cropmarks require consideration.
  • The prominence of these linear monuments, the investment of resources which they represent and their role as receptacles for structured deposits emphasises their social importance. Their role(s), within the cultural landscape require clarification via research and interpretation. Suggestions that they relate to territoriality and land ‘rights’ require exploration.
  • These dykes and pits have potential for yielding significant environmental data. This may be important for considering their relationship to agriculture. Often, however, contents are sterile.
  • The relationship of these features to any adjacent settlements is a priority for examination, as are points of linear boundary intersection.
  • During the period there was a marked development of extensive field systems across many parts of the region. These systems can provide much data for engaging with later prehistoric society and its dynamics. Their investigation is of importance from a range of perspectives. R. Bradley (pers. comm.) is currently collating information on the appearance of field systems across southern and central Britain.
  • The mapping of aerial photographs of these features and their investigation and interpretation should be developed further via the use of GIS (cf. Boutwood 1998).

Ritual, structured deposition and religion

  • For most of the region there are few identified shrines or formal religious locations, although they may have been comparatively common.
  • Structured deposits and ritual acts were probably often related to food generation, procurement, fertility, productive and transforming undertakings, and the dynamics of power, and involved various scales of community drama and observation. Investigating and modelling the sociology of these activities carries potential for wider interpretations of social organization.
  • Much is now known of structured and votive deposits in and around settlements and in wet locations. The identification and investigation of rituals and structured deposition in the agricultural landscape and in the ‘natural’ landscape (other than wet places) may be instructive.
  • There is scope for collating characteristics, trends, patterns and variations in structured deposits from across the region. This should assist their characterisation and inform their interpretation.

The agricultural economy

  • Systematic environmental sampling made a fairly late debut in the region compared to other parts of Britain, in part because of limited fieldwork until the mid 1980s. The corpus of sampled sites is now steadily expanding (although much of the evidence is yet to be published), but there are large swathes of the region about which we know little due to a lack of sampling, for instance Lincolnshire away from the south of the county; the upland areas of Nottinghamshire; and eastern Leicestershire. Sampling in these areas is a priority.
  • Sampling for palaeoenvironmental evidence must continue as routine. Through incremental build-up, we can construct a coherent picture of agriculture, diet and land use/cover in later prehistory. A particularly low recovery of both faunal remains and grains characterises samples from earlier first millennium BC sites and low frequencies of charred remains are encountered throughout the period (Chapter 11). Consequently, understanding of the economy and the relative importance of cereals and meat as foods is weakly developed. Monckton (Chapter 11) and S. Stallibrass (pers. comm.) have stressed the need for more samples of stratified faunal assemblages.
  • Recent work making the best use of evidence for cereals, animal husbandry and the environment has demonstrated the potential for integrated approaches to reporting palaeoenvironmental and economic evidence (see Chapter 11).
  • The likely relationship between agricultural developments and processes of settlement and social change (and change in other economic spheres) is a key research area.

Finds: craft, industry and exchange

  • Existing knowledge of industries and crafts is generally very weak; for instance vis-á-vis iron extraction and smelting, and the organization of productive activities. On the other hand, the 1990s saw a growing identification of trade and exchange networks across the region, especially in the Middle and Late Iron Age. The latter development is genuinely exciting, replacing speculation with evidence. Similarly, sustained and new work on pottery has been insightful.
  • In the past, much artefact reporting for the period was partial, unsophisticated, and poorly integrated with other specialist reports, the stratigraphy and the site synthesis. Many older reports are of limited value to present day finds specialists and the region is not alone in this respect. Since the 1990s, ‘good practice’ and state-of-the-art methodologies have been broadly followed.
  • Comparatively, the East Midlands has a strong artefact corpus and there are good prospects of informative finds from new excavation and surface collection in most areas. Artefact studies are capable of releasing qualitatively rich and diverse information on later prehistoric society.
  • To be fully useful, site and survey publications should include complete records (perhaps as tables) of the data, arranged so that readers can ‘reconstruct’ what was found. It is essential that finds, environmental and stratigraphic/structural reports are integrated if the full potential of the evidence is to be realised. Recent publications of sites in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire demonstrate the value of such integration (Main 1999 is a good extra-regional example of an integrated approach). Post-excavation managers and principal authors of site reports must ensure integration as a priority.
  • Kidd (2000) has highlighted the potential of GIS for integrating finds, environmental and settlement evidence over broad landscape areas.
  • Concern has been expressed that pressures inherent within PPG16, and the sheer volume of work faced daily by practitioners, does not lead to the erosion of the recent advances in finds work and publishing. Any erosion will compromise the potential for understanding the period.
  • Artefact conservation allied with materials analysis is providing much new and often surprising data on materials, technology and origins (e.g. V. Fell’s work on the metal tools from Fiskerton; Fell 2003). Routine examination of the regional corpus of artefacts holds the prospect of revealing new and significant information. Both elaborate and more mundane artefacts carry this potential.
  • Evidence for iron industries attributable to the first millennium BC has proved largely elusive despite their likely existence in various localities, especially in Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire (F. Condron pers. comm). There is some prospect of identifying industries via sustained survey and by keeping an open mind regarding types of evidence that may indicate smelting and working in the East Midlands (J. Cowgill pers. comm.), as has been done in Wales, the Forest of Dean and East Yorkshire, although distinct factors may pertain in our region. More prospection should be undertaken to locate, excavate and date possible ironworking sites.
  • Investigation of possible exploitation of regional lead sources during the first millennium BC would be a valuable research topic. Further investigation of copper alloy working is also warranted.
  • Studies of the salt industry in the Fens are at a comparatively advanced stage, but general and specific questions remain: for example with regard to chronology; the organization of the industry (at both ‘site’ and macro-levels) and its articulation with other economic processes; and the long-term sequence of Fenland salt exploitation. Study and publication of the salterns and use of the Fens is widely acknowledged as exemplary. The salterns around Ingoldmells have begun to yield useful results and their further examination and synthesis has significant potential.
  • The site at Tetney testifies to the extraction of sea salt on the North Sea coastal margin during the earlier first millennium. Prospection north of Ingoldmells holds some prospect of identifying similar remains in this relatively unexamined landscape. The Tetney site was not sealed by thick cover deposits, suggesting that locating some sites is feasible.
  • The Portable Antiquities Scheme and other initiatives with metal detector users have been highly successful in terms of collecting information on metal finds, such as coins, brooches and copper alloy fittings. Artefacts dating to the Late Bronze Age and the later Iron Age are amongst the most frequently recorded finds. More publication of this information is desirable. Such data sets have high potential for spatial research and synthetic studies, provided reported findspots are genuine.
  • Pottery research and publication in the region has been advanced in recent years by the work of Knight, Marsden and others, building on the foundations laid by Sheila Elsdon. Such reports demonstrate the value of pottery studies. Full quantification of stratified pottery by fabric and form is essential. Wide use of a regional standard for recording and typology will greatly facilitate assemblage comparison (cf. Knight 1997b). Knight’s (1998) unpublished guidelines are already employed by several practitioners; a published update of this would be of great benefit and make this useful tool more widely available.
  • More data on vessel use is desirable via lipid analysis, and the recording of macroscopically visible surface residues of carbonised remains, soot and limescale. Data collected in a systematic way will permit inter-site comparisons. Collated data sets, for example, the English Heritage/PCRG survey of first millennium BC pottery assemblages and Knight’s (2002) survey, provide a basis for future integrated research projects. The PCRG survey is more than simply a corpus of pottery finds, as the database has many other information fields making it a flexible research platform for various studies.
  • There is much potential with regard to petrological study. A joint research project, for instance, has been conducted, reassessing all thin-sections of prehistoric granodiorite tempered pottery from the region, with the aim of elucidating the production and distribution of this material (Knight et al. 2003). Fieldwork projects anticipating the recovery of pottery should budget for thin-section reports on a regular basis.
  • Studies of querns, briquetage and pottery highlight the movement of commodities during the Iron Age, providing an index of the matrix of connections and exchange that existed at different times. With sustained research via materials analysis, petrological study, etc., the variety and quantity of long, middle and short distance exchange will be further revealed.
  • Study of trade and exchange is significant because it can provide a variety of information on, for instance, the circulation and consumption of commodities, the transport of artefacts, technology, and, by inference, social relations. There is potential for identifying the extent and nature of the salt trade via study of briquetage containers from Cheshire, and potentially elsewhere, not least amongst old collections, where fragments of this ceramic have probably passed unrecognised; Dr Elaine Morris has begun a study of these older collections.
  • Petrological studies of pottery have begun to discriminate non-local items travelling into the region. Valuable information would be obtained by routine use of these techniques on freshly collected assemblages, as well as on archive collections (e.g. Knight et al. 2003). Projects aimed at improving chronological understanding of pottery sequences are an acknowledged priority.
  • Petrological study of querns has begun to identify regional industries and the distribution of their products. A case in point is the Spilsby Sandstone querns. Re-examination of old collections and a synthesis of results will be welcome (cf. Ingle 1993-4). Studies of the quern industries and their distributions is a valuable area of research warranting support.
  • The identification of East Midlands products travelling outside of the region is a likely prospect, and potentially instructive.
  • Investigation of flint use into the first millennium BC, particularly by J. Humphrey, has proven potential and warrants further support.
  • Region-wide studies are needed of ‘everyday’ crafts and artefacts such as wood working, wood management and exploitation and textile production, creating a baseline for discussion. This may establish how these activities were organised and enmeshed with other dimensions of culture. Was there specialisation? How may practices have fitted into a seasonal cycle of work?

Social relations and society in the first millennium BC

  • Up-to-date models of social structure for the period are conspicuously absent from both the regional and general literature. There is a tendency to follow the largely unsophisticated characterisations of the period presented in older national syntheses. The present unit-based organisation of much archaeology leads to rather localised accounts, often at differing scales. There has been a shortage of interest in this topic amongst the few able to take a wider view.
  • Synthesis is required to categorise and assess the frequency of particular site ‘types’.
  • Settlement morphology remains an under-examined area. The grammar of site organisation and its meaning is an area of study that could offer much insight into the perceptions and ideologies of first millennium BC people and their ‘lifeways’. Analysis of this sort is being undertaken for a number of large-scale post-excavation projects, namely Crick, Wollaston, Stanwick and Courteenhall in Northamptonshire, and for sites in the Trent valley.
  • Haselgrove et al. (2001, 9-14) call for larger sampling fractions during excavations to capture spatial data and to obtain larger artefact samples, amenable to quantified analysis. For the East Midlands, this increase in sample fractions is an important priority, and needs to be written into project specifications.
  • We have little synthesised information on settlement location, either broad trends or with respect to micro-topography. To date, the phenomenology of landscape has received little consideration, although elsewhere such studies are yielding interesting results.
  • Bulk samples routinely provide important information on the environs of settlements, not just foods and the immediate context. More pollen samples are needed.
  • Pope (2003) has recently compiled an inventory of published circular structures of the first millennium BC and their associated features in central and northern Britain, including this region. Extending this audit to include unpublished structures would be extremely helpful. Research on Late Bronze Age and Iron Age house forms and organization is needed to assist our understanding of social practice and relations.
  • Few burials are known from the region. Opportunities for locating and excavating urials should be pursued as information from these remains is likely to be of much value for understanding various aspects of society. Fragments of human bone are often encountered in settlement deposits and their study is also likely to yield important evidence.
  • When linked to new thinking in later prehistoric studies, there is sufficient data to attempt novel and stimulating interpretations of social structure. Characterization of social organization and the nature of power and social politics is a core goal of archaeological studies in any period. Intra-site examinations and syntheses have the capacity to offer insights into the perceptions and ideologies of first millennium BC people. More work is urgently required in the East Midlands, drawing on the improved resource now available. Models may be theoretical, speculative and unenduring in the long term, but are needed to complement the results of recent fieldwork and, importantly, to assist in driving thinking forward.
  • Haselgrove et al. (2001, 25-31) note that the causes and consequences of settlement expansion and increased cultural visibility after c. 300 BC in many parts of Britain, including the East Midlands, requires further research. New models are required to account for the changes evident in the later Iron Age of our region. Examining social organization and its potential relationship to settlement form and function may prove fruitful.

Conservation, management and the public

  • A general priority must be to develop a management framework and strategy for the whole landscape. Piecemeal denudation of the first millennium BC resource is on-going, and in some localities evidently rapid, progressively reducing the potential for understanding. There are particular threats to the archaeology of the first millennium in the East Midlands from peat destruction, the drying of the Fens, industrial-scale arable cultivation, changes relating to modern farming practice, climate change and irresponsible use of metal detectors.
  • Assessment of threats, monitoring and amelioratory projects all have a research potential. Surface survey projects examining the effect of modern ploughing and involving capture of various data types have been undertaken in recent years, as at Owmby on the Lincolnshire Limestone. The results of this work should inform policy in the imminent future. Scheduling of sites is attractive from some perspectives but this is often a complex issue.
  • The expansion of public interest in archaeology and the material past demands accommodation within future initiatives and represents a marvellous opportunity to facilitate and enhance projects, foster enthusiasm and mutually exchange knowledge.

Prospect: some research programmes

The Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age transition

  • Defining this transition and its cultural manifestations is a key research topic and requires pursuit in the light of present information.

The Peak region and its hinterland

  • The archaeological character of Derbyshire with its upland environments, comparatively good preservation, distinctive site types and forms, peat formations etc. is a diverse asset, ideal for the exploration of comparisons and contrasts with other parts of the East Midlands. It is fortunate that presently there are a number of dynamic archaeologists interested in examining its later prehistory.
  • In order to advance our awareness of the character of the Peak District/North Derbyshire region during the period, Bevan (2000) has called for integrated research programmes including examination of soils and pollen, re-evaluation of existing artefact collections, and an open-minded investigation of field systems/settlements, combined with studies of under-examined areas adjacent to the Peak District.

Fenland research

  • More excavation work in the Lincolnshire Fens is widely acknowledged as a priority, building on the high quality results of aerial survey and fieldwalking during the 1980s and 1990s and the Management Programme initiative. Only a very tiny amount of excavation has been undertaken to date, while two thirds of the Lincolnshire Fens are still unsurveyed. Extra funding is required for excavations here, due to the need, routinely, to undertake often extensive environmental archaeology and to discern and characterise the archaeological/natural interface.
  • Extensive excavations are needed to examine the full range of activities at salterns and settlements within this setting (Lane and Morris 2001, 466-9). The background to this work is the on-going destruction of peat and the drying out of parts of the Fens, detrimental to both the environment and the preservation of archaeological remains.
  • Exploring long term settlement and economic dynamics has been an on-going topic of investigation, including the impact of environmental changes during the first millennium BC and of cultural changes in the Late Iron Age. An important area of study concerns sites which continued into the first/second centuries AD and those which abruptly ended around the time of the Roman Conquest.

Collaborative projects

Several innovative collaborations between local authorities, specialists and universities are under way and highlight the value of combining resources and specialisms, including:

  • The Gardom’s Edge Project in the Peak region (Peak District National Park Authority and Sheffield University); this project has generated a rich set of new data.
  • The embryonic multi-period Witham Valley Project (Catney and Start 2003) developing out of the work at Fiskerton, which has a strong palaeo-environmental dimension (Sheffield University, Lincolnshire County Council, English Heritage and The Environmental Archaeology Consultancy).
  • Geo-archaeological initiatives in the Trent valley.

Coastline, riverine and ‘watery place’ surveys

The East Midlands is a land of many rivers and one of its distinctive attributes is its wet places. Work on the Thames foreshore, in the Hullbridge basin, Essex, and at other locations has highlighted the potential of intensive survey of coast and riverine locations, especially for the first millennium BC. In the East Midlands this is also demonstrated by ‘high profile’ projects such as the Fenland Survey and the Witham valley initiative, plus the corpus of spectacular metalwork finds from the major rivers. The resource potential of bogs, lakes, marshes and streams is also well attested at a national level.

  • There are particular dimensions of resource preservation in these wet locations, together with specific threats (with the latter being assessed by English Heritage via the Monuments at Risk in England’s Wetlands (MAREW) initiative ( Such environments are often associated with specific monument and artefact types, particular past economic activities, and the focus for votive deposition.
  • More work in wetland environments, targeting both the ‘high profile’ familiar locations plus other wet environs and their hinterlands is called for. (The text of English Heritage’s wetlands strategy is available at

Archaeological distinctiveness of the region in the first millennium BC: potentials

Haselgrove et al. (2001, 22-5) note that regional variations are a central feature of the British Iron Age and that their definition and evaluation is a core objective of future research. The distinctiveness and national importance of the first millennium BC archaeology of the East Midlands is unquestionable. The region lies at the heart of England, between markedly different physical (lowland and upland) zones which clearly had economic implications. It is in some ways physically near to Hallstatt and La Téne continental Europe across the North Sea, but from other perspectives, is at a geographical and cultural remove. In the British context, it lies between increasingly different cultural zones, one subject to much overt change (south-east England), the other following a separate path (northern and western Britain).

The East Midlands has its own cultural identities, with developing agriculture and distinctive landscape monuments and settlement forms. It possesses a fine metalwork tradition, extraordinary ritual places, regional pottery traditions, and represents the most northerly pre-Roman coin-using community. These features, among others, render the period one of rich potential study at both intra- and inter-regional levels (cf. Haselgrove 1999; Bishop 2000c; Kidd 2000). Numerous projects tapping this resource are conceivable, and could bring forth new insights and interpretations with resonance beyond the East Midlands and of likely national and international significance. Fresh possibilities will suggest themselves as fieldwork, artefact and other areas of study advance.


This chapter collates and expands the county-based documents produced by D. Barrett (Derbyshire), P. Liddle (Leicestershire and Rutland), J. Albone (Lincolnshire), G. Foard (Northamptonshire) and M. Bishop (Nottinghamshire). Several authors have generously taken time to discuss aspects of their papers with me. I am also grateful to Dr Mark Blackburn of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, for discussion of the numismatic evidence.

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