Living With Monuments: Excavations at Flixton, Suffolk

Stuart Boulter
Stuart Boulter

I’ve been lucky in that for over twenty years of my archaeological career I was able to spend part of my time at Flixton Park Quarry, near Bungay in Suffolk. Like many other river terrace sites, that at Flixton has attracted human occupation from the earliest prehistoric periods through to the present day, and the removal of the ploughsoil has revealed a palimpsest of archaeological features.

The earliest artefacts came from deep within the naturally derived sand and gravel deposits, and were mostly found during the quarry process itself – these included flint handaxes and other tools, some of which would have been made by our ancient ancestors the Neanderthals. While these tools were rarely found in situ, during our last phase of excavation on the site we did uncover a buried soil with evidence for flint knapping in the Upper Palaeolithic Period.

Neolithic and Bronze Age

Early Neolithic long barrow
Early Neolithic long barrow

During the Neolithic and earlier Bronze Age there was evidence for transient occupation, mostly in the form of pits, with pottery and worked flint as the main finds, along with the development of a monumental landscape. The earliest monument took the form of a long barrow – the first to be completely excavated in Suffolk – and was presumably associated with funerary activity, although no evidence for burials had survived. This Early Neolithic monument was followed by a long enclosure that may have overlapped in its use with the long barrow, while a Late Neolithic posthole circle had already been previously excavated.

Early Bronze Age ring ditch
Early Bronze Age ring ditch

The Early Bronze Age saw an increase in the construction of monuments with a number of ring-ditches of different sizes and layouts, some of which included burials – both inhumations and cremations – attesting to their funerary function. The Middle Bronze Age was not as well represented, but there were unurned cremation burials which C14 dating suggested belonged to this period. The later Bronze Age saw the first evidence for more settled occupation, with roundhouses and four- and six-post granaries. While these shifted across the landscape, there did seem to be a fairly continuous, although fluctuating presence through the Iron Age and into the Roman period, before tailing off in the 4th century BC.

Iron Age and Roman

1st century stacked burial
1st century stacked burial

The later Iron Age and earlier Roman archaeology was particularly enigmatic, with a hint of military presence – a stacked burial of four bodies, with evidence suggesting that they were related and had suffered trauma injuries that may have caused their deaths. In addition, there were three large, square, posthole structures which looked very much like ‘horrea’ – military style granaries. It is very difficult not to suggest a link between these unusual features and the Boudican revolt at about that time, as the site is located in what would have been the territory of the Iceni.

Roman pottery kiln
Roman pottery kiln

Anglo-Saxon

Early Anglo-Saxon activity was recorded in the form of an inhumation cemetery, accompanied by an extensive area of occupation. While broadly contemporary with the cemetery, there was no definitive evidence to suggest that the people buried in the cemetery were those who had lived in the settlement, with a separation of c.600m between the two. The settlement itself was characterized by rectangular posthole buildings (halls) and Sunken Featured Buildings (SFBs), along with a few pits. The majority of the artefactual assemblage was recovered from the SFBs, which appeared to have been used for the disposal of rubbish once each building had gone out of use.

Medieval

The Middle and Late Anglo-Saxon and medieval periods were not well represented in the main quarry, possibly because settlement by this time had moved to the current villages. However, the line of the former Homersfield to Flixton Road ran through the quarry and the presence of medieval metalwork in the vicinity attested to stray losses along this route. Significant medieval archaeology was encountered in one of two extension areas, where a series of enclosures were occupied by large rectangular-aisled buildings the size of which suggests high status and wealth, possibly associated with a religious manorial establishment.

Post-medieval

Post-medieval features largely related to Flixton Hall and its associated parkland, although World War I training trenches and latrine pits were encountered, with a large number of beer bottles, sardine tins, and jam jars providing evidence for the diet of the troops in the field.

The story of Flixton Park Quarry can be read in detail in two volumes, Volume I, and the recently published Volume II, and will be continued with further volumes to be published, one relating to the main quarry and others detailing two extension areas.

Stuart Boulter​

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