Bronze Age : c 2000 – 800BC


Passenham Quarry, Calverton

This Bronze Age archaeological site lies on the very edge of the western border of the parish some 900m from Calverton and Lower Weald.  It was found to contain a group of four ring ditches, presumed to be levelled Bronze Age round barrows which formed a linear cemetery on low-lying ground adjacent to the River Great Ouse. The excavations also revealed an alignment of some 90 late Bronze/early Iron Age pits running East -West across the southern part of the site.

Passenham Quarry Bronze Age site

Location of the Broze Age site on the bank of the Rivetr Great Ouse some 900m west of Calverton and 200m SW of Passenham

Barrows site excavation

Three ring ditches exposed during archaeological excavations (sandy coloured area) at Passenham in 2007 by Northampton Archaeology.

Description of ring ditches/barrows

Of the ring ditches one (No 2 on aerial photo left) was double-ditched and measured 30m (98ft) in diameter with the inner ring 16m (52ft) in diameter. The second also measured (No. 1) 30m (98ft) in diameter, while the third (No. 3)  was 22m (72ft) in diameter. The other (No 4 and unexcavated at the time of the photo) was again around 30m (98ft) diameter. Within one of the ring ditches the natural was raised and domed, suggesting that the former central mound had only been fully ploughed away in recent times. The other two had probably been so in antiquity. The ditches were up to 1-1.2m deep, but no contemporary internal features had survived and it must be assumed that all traces of any former burials had been lost to ploughing. The absence of any deeper central graves suggests that the primary burials are most likely to have been cremations, which would suggest that the barrows were probably constructed during the first half of the second millennium (2000-1400 BC). There is little other material evidence to date the barrows, but the upper ditch fills contained residual Iron Age pottery from nearby settlement.

The pit alignment – Late Bronze Age to mid Iron Age 

Part of a previously unknown pit alignment was also exposed, running roughly at right angles to the river just beyond the southern end of the barrow group. A total of 42 pits were investigated, and geophysical survey at that time  indicated that the alignment continued beyond the excavated area.

Pit alignment lookingwest

Pit alignment after excavation looking west (photo Northamptonshire Archaeology)

The pits were generally circular or oval in plan, 0.8-1.1m (2’7″ – 3’7″) in diameter, and 0.4-1.1m (1’4″ – 3’7″) deep. The upper fills of most of the pits contained residual early Iron Age pottery, with c. 1000 sherds recovered. At the time this suggested that there was likely to be an associated domestic settlement nearby, which may have been a precursor to known middle-late Iron Age and Roman settlement that was also located by geophysical survey and confirmed by subsequent excavation to the immediate east of the investigated area. A total of 45 pits lay within the second phase of investigation on an east to west alignment (dotted line in image above). The line of pits formed a direct easterly continuation of the 47 pits excavated in 2006 (faintly visible across the left of the excavated area in image above) and making a total alignment of 92 pits. These can also be seen in their excavated and cleaned forms in photo on the right (the second and seventh pits were excavated to reveal  flat vertical cross sections to help interpret their dug profiles and subsequent fills).

Detail assessment 

Although the line of the pits was generally straight, there were small, but distinct, changes in alignment and slight offsets visible along the excavated length of the monument . These adjustments in alignment and distinct groups of pits have been observed elsewhere and have been attributed to the possibility that discrete family groups were responsible for the digging of a certain number of pits.
However, the original digging of the pits would appear to have been broadly contemporary. Much of the pit alignment was a simple, single-phase system comprising fairly regular circular pits between 1.45-2.54m (4’9″ – 8’4″) in diameter and 0.50-1.11m (1’8″ – 3’7″) deep and spaced on average 2.5m (8’2″) apart from centre-to-centre. However, two pits had been re-cut (re-dug); both at the eastern end of this part of the alignment. Overlying two pits was a layer of pebbles and cobbles, perhaps to provide access across the alignment when the pits had largely filled up.
The pits exhibited a wide range of profiles; there were a mixture of wide U-shaped and more narrow V-shaped profiles, most had stepped or irregular edges. This may indicate that, once dug, the pits were left open to slowly silt up. The relatively soft geology of the area meant that the sides were heavily weathered in the intervening period, causing the irregular profiles.

Interpretation of the pit alignment

Pit alignments, which are widespread within the East Midlands, are generally thought to have functioned as some form of territorial boundary within the late Bronze Age to middle Iron Age. In common with other examples such as at Gayhurst the pits seem to have been dug in small groups, indicated by slight changes in alignment and morphology (shape/form), possibly by individual teams of people. Unlike the pit alignments investigated at Gayhurst, which were re-dug several times in distinctly different ways, no further digging activity took place after the initial excavation. The pits appear to have been left to silt up naturally, with some deposition of pottery, charcoal and bone in the upper, disuse fills. The reasons behind this are unclear since the material would have had to be brought to the pits from some distance away.

Ring ditch/barrows and Pit Alignment text  from a report by Ed Taylor, and text covering the later investigation of the extended alignment by Charlotte Walker – both of Northamptonshire Archaeology.

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