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Roman cemetery and coins and Iron Age homes unearthed by A120 archaeologists

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Archaeologists digging the route of the £30m new A120 Little Hadham bypass discovered a 2,000-year-old lost settlement.

Their finds, unearthed over the summer and autumn of 2019, are being publicly documented now as the route around the village nears completion this winter.

Geophysical surveys were initially deployed in 2016 to explore the potential for buried archaeological remains, followed by small trenches to test what might lie beneath the otherwise inconspicuous farmers' fields.

A120 archaeology (51314836)
A120 archaeology (51314836)

These preliminary explorations hinted that prehistoric and Roman remains survived, buried, along the line of the new road. As a result, a major archaeological excavation was undertaken in advance of construction. Cotswold Archaeology led the project alongside civil engineering and construction company GRAHAM.

The excavations did not disappoint. The site team was quick to discover the foundations of Iron Age (300 BC) houses and the remains of the former field boundaries that would have sub-divided the farming landscape.

However, much of the archaeologists' efforts were focused on the Roman period remains, dating back to the 1st to 4th centuries AD. A small cemetery was unearthed, including the remains of four burials and 16 cremations, some of which survived within their urns.

Roman coins (51314834)
Roman coins (51314834)

Some of the more eye-catching finds include 72 Roman bronze coins, nearly all of which date to a very short period between AD 330 and AD 348, the time when the House of Constantine ruled the Roman Empire.

Sarah Cobain, Cotswold Archaeology's principal post-excavation manager and lead on the project, said: "For me, the standout find was the Roman period corn dryer.

"This structure, specifically the preserved plant remains found within it, can tell us a great deal about the way in which the landscape was farmed.

"Finding out what was being eaten gives us such a great insight into the daily lives of the people that occupied this part of Hertfordshire nearly 2,000 years ago."

A120 bypass plans (51314763)
A120 bypass plans (51314763)

Seamus McLoughlin, project manager at GRAHAM, said: "Delivering a construction project on this scale requires meticulous planning, while having to recognise that archaeological excavations are essentially an exploration of the unknown.

"I was personally drawn to the find of the fancy jet bead; a really pretty object that was most likely to have been made in Whitby, Yorkshire."

Cllr Phil Bibby, Hertfordshire County Council's executive member for highways and transport, said: "The construction of this important highway scheme has been a great opportunity for us to take a look at what's under our feet and learn more about the people who lived in our county hundreds of years ago. I'm delighted that these fascinating finds have been unearthed and examined to give us an insight into what life was like for our ancestors."

The route of the A120 was established by the Romans in the first century AD and has likely been in almost continuous use ever since. In the Saxon period, the old Roman road was known as Stane Street and ran from the great Roman city of Colchester westwards through Bishop's Stortford towards Braughing, where it met the main road from London to the north.

The 2.4-mile (3.9km) single-carriageway bypass, running from Stortford to the north of Little Hadham, will alleviate congestion at the notorious traffic lights in the centre of the village.

As part of the scheme in partnership with the Environment Agency, new road embankments along the River Ash and Albury Tributary will act as flood defences.

To find out more about the archaeology, see cotswoldarchaeology.co.uk/community/discover-the-past/the-archaeology-of-the-little-hadham-bypass.

A120 bypass plans (51314760)
A120 bypass plans (51314760)

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