Wangford quarry – a 6,000 year Suffolk story

Excavations over an eleven year period at Wangford quarry, near Southwold on the Suffolk coast, revealed archaeological remains from the Early Neolithic period to the present. Beaker flat graves, Middle Bronze Age cremation burials, Iron Age settlement and medieval activity were also identified across this south-facing gravel terrace, overlooking the River Wang. Our excavations were part of an extended programme of archaeological work for the quarry operator.

Wangford quarry covvered in a light dusting of snow with quarry plant
Wangford Quarry

Early Neolithic pits (radiocarbon dated to between 3,750 and 3,650 BC) were clustered towards the south of the site where they overlooked the river valley. Alignments of post-holes – some with evidence to show that the posts had been burnt down – were angled towards the river. Concentrations of small to medium pits behind these lines contained fragments of carinated and plain bowl pottery distinctive of the period.

After a gap of over a thousand years, Beaker activity (dating to between 2,250 and 2,100 BC) arrived with flat grave burials (a type of inhumation burial unmarked by a barrow) and a spread of pits, some occurring in dense groups. Across the higher ground away from the river were two groups of Beaker graves (nine in total). The ground at Wangford is particularly acidic so no bone survived but the presence of complete finely decorated ‘Beaker’ pots placed as grave goods in each grave indicates that these were indeed burials. Thick organic staining around the base of four of the graves suggested the presence of large wooden coffins.

two archaeologists excavating around a bronze age urn, which is wrapped in cling film
Excavation of Middle Bonze Age urn

The eastern group of Beaker graves later became a focus for a Middle Bronze Age cremation cemetery, dating to between 1,300 and 1,100 BC. Forty cremation pits were found, half of them in large bucket-shaped urns (the other cremation burials were probably placed in organic containers). Analysis of the cremated bone has shown that children and adults of both sexes were buried here, sometimes with more than one individual in an urn.

During the Iron Age the area across the higher ground (previously used for burials) became intensely used for settlement and agricultural activity. An arterial droveway might have funnelled livestock through the settlement. Two large roundhouses were identified plus a smaller round ancillary building. Over a dozen four-post structures were also uncovered and these probably represent granaries or other storage buildings.

record photo of roman urn looking at the urn in the pit from the side
Roman urn

Some evidence for the Roman period survives but the main area of activity during this period was probably centred to the south and east of the quarry. A small Roman enclosure near the edge of the site contained three Roman cremation burials, two of them in urns.

The higher areas across the top of the site were bisected by a dry valley (the ‘Swale’) and the main concentration of medieval activity was concentrated within this dip, dating from the 12th to 14th centuries. Tailing down the Swale was an unusual triangular enclosure, which at its top end opened out onto Green Lane, now a farm track but probably a significant route towards Southwold in the medieval period. A rectangular post-built building with a central hearth stood within the enclosure, interpreted as a stand-alone kitchen or brew-house. A large bread oven was built within a sunken rectangular structure and another post-hole building might represent a barn or store house with a suspended floor.

photo of archaeologist excavating section through oven using a hammer and chisel at Wangford Quarry
Excavation of medieval oven

From the 15th century the site fell into disuse. In the Post-medieval period, a bridge and sluice was constructed across the River Wang, allowing a new route to Southwold that crossed the marsh. Green Lane thus lost its significance and the new road became the focus of activity, away from the excavation area.

The stony fields of the site were used for rough pasture until wartime pressures in the mid-20th century led them to be ploughed, possibly for the first time. Always marginal for crop growing, this land was leased to a quarry operator for gravel extraction beginning in 2007 when our first excavations began, revealing a rich and complex history from this small forgotten corner of Suffolk. The current analysis of the project is being funded by Breedon Group

Jezz Meredith
Senior Publications Officer

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