Wardell Armstrong Archaeology discover Iron Age and Saxon remains near Milton Keynes

20 September 2012

Two perfectly preserved Iron Age notched log ladders as well as burial sites dating back to the early Saxon period have been found by Wardell Armstrong Archaeology.

The discoveries were made while carrying out open area excavations on farm land to the western side of Milton Keynes. The site is being developed for mixed use building, where Wardell Armstrong has been commissioned to carry out archaeological surveys as part of the planning permission process.

After trial trenching had revealed potential Iron Age and Romano British remains, excavation work in June this year concentrated on a large circular pit measuring around 7m in diameter and 2.5m in depth. The two Iron Age timbers of around 2.5m in length were found in the base of the heavily waterlogged pit which had provided the perfect anaerobic conditions for preservation.

Very few examples of notched log ladders have ever been found in Britain, and it appears that these two examples may be the largest yet discovered. They seem to have been used as steps down to the base of the pit to extract clay for use in building, lining or waterproofing.

Wardell Armstrong Archaeology carefully removed the log ladders which were then transported to the York Archaeological Trust who specialise in the conservation of timbers of this size. The process will take around 18 months to complete, after which they will be put on display in a local museum. The timbers could date to between 800BC to 100AD, but dendrochronology will be used to establish a more precise date.

Yet another highly unusual archaeological find was also uncovered in another part of the development site – a multi-period burial ground where human remains were accompanied by iron knives, blades and beads. Some twenty burials were discovered in total, including those of Iron Age, Romano British and Saxon date, suggesting that the location of the burial ground may have been focussed on an earlier a Bronze Age burial mound which was considered a sacred place.

After extensive recording, photography and soil sampling, the bodies were carefully lifted, packaged and transported to Wardell Armstrong Archaeology’s offices in Carlisle to be examined and analysed by the company’s human bone specialist. The artefacts found with the bodies will eventually be given to a local museum and the bodies reburied in consecrated ground.

“Although they’re very exciting, these unexpected discoveries naturally have cost implications for our client, especially that of conserving the log ladders,” said Helen Martin Bacon, associate director at Wardell Armstrong Archaeology.

“Our job as always is to protect our client’s interests by staying aware of the commercial realities and helping to keep any costs and delays to a minimum. We have to strike a fine balance - making sure that the archaeology is of the highest standard while also ensuring that our clients are only asked to do what’s reasonable and proportionate.”