The Return of the Dig


19 Oct 2022

We’re back doing more digging!! Archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) have been breaking new ground! Over the next few months MOLA will be digging into the past of Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire - join us on this incredible journey of discovery!

A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet: The Return of the Dig

Flashback to the Trading Centre 

MOLA began their excavations on our A428 Black Cat improvements last year, working with archaeologists from Cambridge Archaeological Unit. What they unearthed was pretty spectacular!

They found some of the largest roundhouses ever excavated in England. They were part of a settlement established in the middle Iron Age (c.300-100 BC) and measured a huge 15 and 20 metres in diameter. That’s more than twice the size of an average Iron Age roundhouse! Even more exciting was uncovering a small piece of roundhouse wall, preserved in the waterlogged conditions. This was an incredibly rare find, but MOLA’s discoveries didn’t stop there!

Excavating a roundhouse

[Photo: Excavating a roundhouse]

People lived at the site from the Iron Age through the entire Roman period (43-c.410 AD). During this time the community grew in wealth. It appears they made their money through farming, cereal processing, and pottery production. The settlement was also an important local trading centre. MOLA even found evidence they were producing malt, an important ingredient in beer!

With all this from just one area, imagine what incredible things might be found as MOLA continue their investigations!


Why are MOLA doing more archaeology work? 

MOLA’s excavations at The Trading Centre were just the beginning - they still have a lot to uncover! The initial dig has helped them build their understanding of the archaeological landscape, but it has also raised some interesting questions which they are hoping to answer. They are now excavating a much larger area, and this will allow them to see how different places in the landscape related to each other and changed over time. We would like to find out more about the communities who lived here in the past, especially their industries and wider trade links.

As MOLA explore the archaeology along the length of the proposed scheme, we hope to be able to begin answering some of these questions. Along the way, there’ll be plenty of opportunities for you to join the journey and discover more about the region’s past – whether you live locally or further afield.


What's next? 

MOLA have some ideas about what they might find next, from the archaeological evaluation they carried out in 2020. This was a really important part of the project as it helped them understand how much archaeology had survived after being buried for hundreds or even thousands of years.

MOLA used a number of survey techniques including geophysics, which helped them identify archaeology under the ground without digging. They also did some trial trenching – these trenches covered about 10% of the area will eventually be excavated. MOLA’s surveying allowed them to better plan the excavation by estimating the extent of archaeological remains across the scheme.

The evaluation gives MOLA a good idea about the archaeology they are going to find, but there are definitely going to be surprises along the way! They have many new areas of interest, which they’re really excited to get our trowels into… Here’s two of them!

Breaking ground

[Photo: Breaking ground]


The Iron Age Farmstead

The Iron Age Farmstead was established over 2000 years ago in the mid to late Iron Age (c. 300 BC- 43 AD). MOLA is already finding evidence of the people who lived here, including their jewellery…

This twisted copper alloy wire ring was last worn by someone over 1600 years ago. 

twisted copper alloy ring

[Photo: twisted copper alloy ring]

People continued to live and work at the Iron Age Farmstead for centuries. In fact, it was inhabited throughout the Roman period (43 AD-410 AD) as well. MOLA has informed us they think that people lived here until at least the 4th century.

This is an amazing opportunity for them to find out how the settlement changed and developed over time. We are really looking forward to telling the stories of the people who lived there. Who might have owned the ring, and how did they come to lose it? How did the farmstead’s inhabitants interact with other nearby settlements? Did they trade goods across the Roman empire as they found at The Trading Centre?


The Square Ditch 

The Square Ditch Village was also founded in the mid-late Iron Age (c.300-100 BC). Its current defining feature from MOLA’s geophysical survey is (you’ve guessed it) a boundary ditch which surrounded the settlement. So far they’ve found some pieces of Roman pottery right at the top of the ditch and a full set of red deer antlers!

What do you think the people who lived here were planning to do with the deer antlers? Perhaps they were going to make them into bone tools, or do you think they had another purpose?

deer antlers

[Photo: deer antlers]

As MOLA’s excavations continue, we look forward to revealing even more about the archaeology across our A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet improvements and the stories of the people who lived there, from prehistory to the present day. There is so much more to discover!