A417 Missing Link unveils Gloucestershire’s hidden treasures

We’re helping to reveal thousands of years of Gloucestershire’s rich history, thanks to our work on the A417 Missing Link. National Highways have partnered with us, as our joint venture Oxford Cotswold Archaeology (OCA), to unveil exciting discoveries over the past year, showcasing the changing landscape and the lives of local inhabitants over more than 12,000 years.  

archaeologist in PPE excavating at A417

The site has unearthed a wealth of remarkable artefacts spanning various historical periods, from the mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age to the Roman eras, and even artefacts from the Second World War. These discoveries include a Roman Cupid figurine, pottery, coins, and jewellery. A curated selection of these finds, along with 3D models and photographs, will be showcased at a FREE event on May 11th. Members of the public are invited to attend and explore these captivating discoveries first-hand.

Early Roman brooch -dating back to 43-80 AD

Since March 2023, OCA has worked closely with Historic England, Gloucestershire County Council archaeologists and contractors Kier as part of National Highways’ A417 Missing Link upgrade, a scheme which will improve a three-mile stretch of single-lane carriageway on the A417 between the Brockworth bypass and Cowley roundabout in Gloucestershire. 

Ahead of construction getting underway, the archaeological team have worked hard to chart the history around the old route, and the communities who have lived and worked alongside it. Excavating an area of 355,000m2, the team of more than 60 archaeologists and 50 office-based specialists have spent more than 100,000 hours carefully excavating and curating over 10,600 artefacts, weighing in at 100kg, that will be carefully preserved for future generations.

Steve Foxley, Project Director for the A417 scheme, said: “We are excited about the findings this landscape-led scheme is uncovering, as the archaeology team provide a unique window into the ancient history of Gloucestershire. Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds have a rich cultural heritage, and the team are bringing their expertise to bear in adding to that history.

These discoveries will contribute significantly to our understanding of how people in the past adapted to changing environmental conditions, and we will ensure the remains are preserved and recorded. As well as delivering the road upgrade, we’re absolutely committed to conserving and, where possible, enhancing the historic environment and the special landscape around the A417.”  

Jim Keyte, National Highways’ Archaeology Project Manager for the A417, added: “The project is a great example of how well-planned archaeological works can be undertaken successfully without resulting in delays to construction. For over a year, our detailed archaeological excavations have revealed substantial new knowledge about how our ancestors lived and used this landscape. We are now beginning the detailed analysis and interpretation of the finds and we’re looking forward to publishing the results of this work in future”

two archaeologists in PPE discussing recording, one holding a clipboard

OCA Project Manager, Alex Thomson, said: “It has been a privilege for the Oxford Cotswold Archaeology team to support National Highways and Kier on the A417 Missing Link project. We knew that the area had clear archaeological potential, but the results of our fieldwork have exceeded all expectations – we have been treated to some excellent archaeology that tells a fascinating story about this corner of the Cotswolds across thousands of years.

We have recovered some fantastic artefacts to go with those we found during the evaluation stage, and these have included prehistoric flint tools, pottery from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman periods, countless coins and items of jewellery, plus a series of emotive everyday items from thousands of years ago that give a unique window into life across the ages. We’re very excited to be able to share the results of this exceptional programme of archaeological work, and to tell the human stories this landscape holds.”

During excavation last summer, we uncovered an Iron Age ‘banjo enclosure’. This site likely served as a hub for significant activities like feasting. The revelation drew considerable interest and was featured on the latest season of Digging for Britain on BBC Two, hosted by Professor Alice Roberts, who visited the A417 Missing Link project to meet the team and gain insights into our work. The series is now available on BBC iPlayer.

Aerial photo of ‘Banjo’ enclosure

Gavin Jones, project director at Kier Highways, said: “An archaeological dig is a really exciting time in a project like this. It’s a privilege for us to work with National Highways and Oxford Cotswold Archaeology to potentially uncover some fascinating artefacts. We look forward to engaging with the local community as we begin to explore this wonderful part of the country.”

For those eager to see the finds in person, and for the opportunity to talk with the archaeologists who have been working on the A417 Missing Link Project, an open day is being held this Saturday:

  • When: 10am to 3pm, Saturday 11 May 2024
  • Where: Gloucester Guildhall, 23 Eastgate St, Gloucester, GL1 1NS
Share this!