Ten years of discoveries at Wangford Quarry, Suffolk

Our Suffolk team have spent over ten years on excavations at Wangford Quarry, close to Southwold on the Suffolk coast, and we’ve recently received funding approval for the analysis and publication of their findings. The site is located on a south-facing gravel terrace that overlooks the River Wang – the sunny aspect and easy river access have probably always made this a favourable location for settlement and other activities. It’s no surprise then, that the site team discovered a notably long archaeological sequence, including Early Neolithic pits, Beaker flat graves, Bronze Age cremations, Iron Age settlement evidence, Roman enclosures, and medieval buildings.

Panoramic photograph of the site during excavation
Panoramic photograph of the site during excavation

Early Neolithic pottery

Fragment of a Carinated bowl
Fragments of pottery representing the ‘Carinated bowl tradition’

The Early Neolithic features were found clustered on a low ridge, overlooking the river. Here, a large number of pits and postholes contained Early Neolithic bowls radiocarbon-dated to 3,700-3,600 BC. This earlier prehistoric pottery is of significant interest and has recently been reviewed by the renowned specialist Dr Alex Gibson. His research has allowed a reappraisal of the early phases of the site, and the interesting observation that our pottery forms a transition between the elegant ‘Carinated Bowl tradition’, and the more elaborate and later Mildenhall Ware.

The pottery clearly shows that the pits contain reworked midden material taken from a parent deposit, with individual sherds from the same vessel showing differences in their degree of abrasion. Interpretations of symbolic manuring or perhaps of ‘seeding’ seem appropriate; a powerful image perhaps for an early agricultural community.

The Beaker pottery

Over 600 sherds of simplistically decorated early Beaker pottery have been recovered from the site, representing the full range of domestic vessels. We’ve found that, after a hiatus of over a thousand years, Beaker peoples were depositing midden material in similar pits to those in the Early Neolithic. Some of these pits have even clustered near to the Early Neolithic pits, raising questions as to how (or whether) this is a long-term tradition at a known deposition location, maintained across a vast span of time – the difference being 3,700 BC to 2,200 BC.

Roy Damant (formerly of Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service) excavating a Beaker grave, showing the dark coffin staining
Roy Damant (formerly of Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service) excavating a Beaker grave, showing the dark coffin staining

Beaker flat graves

Beaker flat graves were discovered in two clear groups, each located on a slight rise in the northern area of our site. Each group contained at least four graves, with one consisting of a complex sequence of large, deep, intercutting interments. Extensive organic staining suggests that some of these individuals were buried in substantial log coffins. Small, finely made ‘cups’ were a feature of the Beakers recovered from this group. Unfortunately, no skeletal remains survived due to the acidic nature of the ground.

The Bronze Age and beyond

At some point during the subsequent Bronze Age, field boundaries were laid out and a ring-ditch was dug, cutting one of the Beaker graves; this ring-ditch became the focus for a cremation cemetery, only partly revealed by our excavations. An incredible 40 cremation burials were identified by our team, with half contained within cremation urns. Radiocarbon analysis has suggested they date to between 1,500-1,200 BC. The pottery cremation urns are part of the ‘Ardleigh tradition’, but without the same range of decorative techniques or the pot-making proficiency seen at the type site in Essex.

Steve Manthorpe excavating a cremation urn
Steve Manthorpe excavating a cremation urn
Roy Damant excavating a cremation burial
Roy Damant excavating a cremation burial

The cremated human remains have been analysed by Sue Anderson, who has identified males, females, and children, often with more than one cremated individual contained within each burial. The presence of wormian bones (from the sutures of the skull) were present in a close group of four adjacent cremation burials and are indicative of a genetic trait that suggests this is likely a family group.

During 2022 the Iron Age, Roman, and medieval remains from Wangford will be looked at in greater detail. Watch out for web and social updates, and an upcoming Cotswold monograph on this site!

The project was fully funded by Breedon Limited in accordance with their planning permission.

Jezz Meredith

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