Brixworth: Industrialisation of the Countryside – 2000 years ago

We sometimes think of the Roman invasion of AD 43 as a great watershed, but in many ways a lot of the developments which we think of as Roman were actually a continuation of processes that begun in the Late Iron Age (from about 100 BC onwards). One of the trends we can detect in some (but not all) parts of Britain was a desire – or need – to grow more food and make more efficient use of the countryside. Our excavation in 2016 at Brixworth, Northamptonshire, for Barratt Homes provides a good example of this process in action.

Roman corn drying oven – perhaps used for malting to make beer
Roman corn drying oven – perhaps used for malting to make beer

From around 400 BC onwards a series of trapezoidal and sub-circular enclosures were constructed, associated with a large number of pits which were likely used for the storage of grain and other agricultural products. A lovely beehive quern demonstrates that grain was being turned into flour on the site. This activity continued seemingly unaffected by the Roman invasion and the site developed into a farm made up of a complex series of enclosures that were used either as places to live or for a variety of agricultural purposes, including crop processing. The construction of a large drying oven suggests an expansion of crop-processing activities in the later Roman period (roughly AD 200-400) and perhaps even brewing (the oven might have been used in the malting process).

The people who lived in Brixworth must have devoted much of their waking hours to agriculture on an almost industrial scale. Let’s hope they enjoyed their local beer when the day’s toil was over.
You can see some of the finds from Brixworth following the links below.

Metal artefacts from Brixworth
Quernstone from Brixworth

Excavating an Iron Age storage pit
Excavating an Iron Age storage pit
A finely-made stone-lined Iron Age water cistern – it is natural bedrock at the bottom
A finely-made stone-lined Iron Age water cistern – it is natural bedrock at the bottom