Extracting the Past

Kingsmead Quarry lies immediately to the west of the M25 near Heathrow, 3 km south of Horton and 2 km from Wraysbury.  A large gravel quarry, measuring 1 km from end to end, natural clay lies on top of gravel terraces.  Archaeological excavations, started in 2003, are development funded by Cemex UK.  Wessex Archaeology Site Director, Gareth Chaffey, gave AIM an illustrated talk about finds on the site, covering around twelve thousand years, going back as far as the late glacial period.

Finds from the earliest period include a 300,000 year old hand axe found by a quarry worker, flint blades, scrapers, arrow heads, polished bone points and pottery.  A barrow excavated in 1990 by Thames Valley Archaeological Services is early Neolithic; finds included antler picks, pottery and birch bark bowls.  Wessex Archaeology dug the last 20% of the barrow in November 2011, unearthing animal  bones, antler picks, flints, arrow heads and pottery, including a 5 ½ thousand year old Middle Neolithic Mortlake bowl with swirling patterns, a very rare find in this country.

Of only 15 Early Neolithic houses found to date in the UK, four are on this site.  Hazelnut shells and charred cereal have been found, for which radio carbon dating is being carried out.  It is likely that the houses were constructed of wooden posts, wattle and daub and inhabited by early pioneer farmers.

From the late Neolithic period twelve pits contained sherds of pottery, broken flints, a broken flint knife, sloes and service berries.  A very rare and well preserved human burial from this period was also found.

In 2011 Wessex Archaeology discovered an extremely rare early Bronze Age Beaker burial with unique finds.  The burial was clearly of a woman of importance, holding a beaker vessel.  Amber beads from the Baltic, (which it is thought may have been fasteners) decorated tiny gold beads from Cornwall, (which may have come from a necklace) and 70 lignite beads from East Anglia, (which it is speculated may have formed a bracelet) suggest a woman of wealth and high status.  Two barrows, a ring ditch, scrapers and a cow skull also date from this period.

Three and a half thousand years ago, in the Middle Bronze Age, the landscape was divided up into land holdings and farmsteads.  Seven roundhouses, field systems, a barrow, a large timber circle and both inhumations and a cremation cemetery on the site date from this period.  A particularly interesting find is a human skull showing probable evidence of leprosy, which would make it the earliest known case of the disease in this country.  In the settlement area of one farmstead an infant inhumation and eight buried cows were found.   A beautifully decorated bronze ‘Picardy’ pin of French origin was probably a clothes fastening.  An unusual u-shaped enclosure contained deposits of dead animals, leading to speculation that this may have been a sacred site.

The Late Bronze Age period included a huge ditch which forms a physical boundary, possibly a meader cut-off.

From pit clusters alongside the river, near Iron Age roundhouses, come finds of pottery and an example of the earliest coinage.  A buried horse skull with a puppy wrapped round it was an unusual find.  There is evidence of industrial activity on the site, including nails and other metalwork, loom weights, a spindle whorl and vitrified clay.

Roman farmsteads and pottery from the whole of the Roman period have been found, as well as Roman boundary ditches, drove ways, enclosures, water holes and animal pens.  Roof tiles, Samian ware from southern Gaulle, a piece of intricate metalwork with barley twist effect, thought to be a support for a cauldron, four leather shoes, a hammer, chisel, axe head, hippo sandal, ear scoop, brooches, a signet ring, various vessels and an iron cauldron from the late Iron Age found in a late Roman ditch strongly suggest a Roman settlement on the site, and it is hoped that excavations in 2014 may uncover more of this.

There are fewer finds from post Roman times, although a Saxon burial on the edge of the parish boundary is thought likely to be that of a criminal.  There is a small Medieval enclosure and pits and post- Medieval field boundaries.   A 1799 map shows field boundaries and names, including a field called Mill Meadow, which would suggest the presence of a mill in that area at some time.  Post- Medieval brick and tile unearthed indicate the location of the manor house and farm shown on the map.

Further information about Wessex Archaeology and their excavations at Kingsmead Quarry may be found at their website:  www.wessexarch.co.uk/projects/horton2013


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