A selection of finds were discovered in a pit on a settlement site at Chapel House, Long Melford.
The finds include: animal bone, pottery and a spearhead dating from the Late Iron Age to Early Roman period. The objects were likely to have been deposited in the pit just after the Roman Conquest.
The socketed spearhead was cast from iron and measures just 140mm long and 23mm wide making it quite small for its type. It has a small flat leaf shaped head and a hollow socket where it would have attached to a wooden handle. It dates to the mid-1st Century AD and is an item associated with the Roman military. This object indicates that either soldiers or former soldiers have been visiting or even living locally to the settlement.
The pottery and animal bone deposits in this pit add another dimension. The pottery was mostly Late Iron and Early Roman Gallo-Belgic imports dating to the Early-Mid 1st Century AD. There was interestingly no Samian ware in this pit. The presence of these imported pots and the lack of Samian ware suggests that the people who filled this pit were from a native Iron Age population, likely from the Trinovantes/Catuvallauni tribal groups of Essex and the Midlands, rather than the Iceni of North East-Anglia.
The types of pottery in this pit mostly consisted of (but not limited to) platters (e.g. no.17 and 18), a variety of different types of beakers (e.g. no. 19-27), a few storage jars (e.g. no 28 and 29), and a lid (no. 30). These forms of pottery are strongly linked to eating and drinking. Given the number of sherds that could be fitted back together, the good condition of the pottery and the types of vessels present it is likely they were deposited in the pit after a feasting event. This is further supported by the large number of animal bone (363 pieces), discovered in the pit. There were nearly four whole sheep deposited in the pit along with pig and cattle bones; and even some of the sheep legs bones showed evidence of having been roasted.
There were also a number of other items in the pit that weren’t directly related to a feasting event. These include a number of loom weight fragments from a warp-weighted loom used for weaving textiles (probably made of wool), an iron nail, and worked flint that was likely residual in the soil and pre-dates the pit. The use of pits for rubbish disposal is very common, however unlike today rubbish was sometimes purposely disposed of as part of a ritual. The pit was likely filled up after the feasting event debris was deposited and then closed.
The last find from this pit are the bones of an infant of c. 40 weeks gestation. The bones of this little one could either be intrusive, having come from the later Roman infant burials nearby or they were buried in the pit around the time of the feasting event. Often the remains of the very young (small infants and still born children) are treated differently in death to the rest of the population and it is not uncommon to have found them ritually buried in pits during the Roman period.
Pits such as these can give archaeologists today a snapshot of the past. It has provided a valuable insight into the people who owned and used this material. The were a native population of reasonable status. They had links to the Roman military and were able to access elite circles, cultural practices (hosting feasts) and imported material goods. In addition to this we are also able to gain an insight on their every day lives, how they made textiles, what animals they tended to and how they may have treated their dead.
For further information:
Pooley, L. 2016. Archaeological excavation and monitoring on land to the rear of Chapel House, Chapel green, Little St. Mary’s, Long Melford, Suffolk, CO10 9HX: February – November 2015. Colchester Archaeological Trust, Colchester.
The ‘From the Vaults’ series is written by the County Council’s Archaeological Archives Officer