Archaeological Excavations at Willington Lock Quarry

A broken axe head. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2021.

Archaeological Research Services Ltd began undertaking archaeological investigations in December 2020 in advance of gravel extraction at a quarry site near Willington, Bedfordshire. This work has already revealed archaeological remains dating mainly to the prehistoric period.

The earliest finds from the site, apart from some Mesolithic flintwork, came from features that lay on the edge of the gravel terrace overlooking the river Great Ouse, which comprised two pits dating to the Neolithic period (4000-2500BC). In one of these pits were the remains of a possible human cremation, Neolithic pottery, flint tools and part of a broken polished flint axe head. The second pit was close by and also contained Neolithic pottery, as well as further fragments of the same broken polished flint axe head that was found in the first pit. The remains of a possible midden containing Neolithic pottery, several flint tools and animal bones were also found nearby. These features may have been part of a Neolithic settlement, although the breaking up of the flint axe head and, presumably, deliberate deposition of two of the parts of the same axe head in two different pits may represent ceremonial activity.

The most striking feature revealed so far, however, is an alignment of pits which probably date to the later Bronze Age/Iron Age (1500-50BC). Each pit measures between 1.2m and 2.4m in diameter and is spaced between 0.5m and 1.7m apart. The pit alignment runs for at least 275m and includes a total of 94 pits. It is difficult to know what these pit alignments, which in parts of the Midlands can run across the landscape for kilometres, were for. Elsewhere in Bedfordshire pit alignments have been found running perpendicular to the river Great Ouse which were accompanied by a bank either side of the pits, and so acted as land boundaries. Almost exclusively these landscape features seem to be established and then left to fill in naturally. However, what makes the pit alignment at this quarry important is that it is a land boundary that was re-cut and re-established, possibly on more than one occasion, with many of the pits showing evidence of being partially cleared out and re-defined.

Traces of a small ditched enclosure, possibly of Romano-British in date, have also been found to the south of the site, with part of bone comb recovered from the infill of an associated pit.

Archaeological Research Services Ltd