2011 Community Dig
Sixteen test pits were excavated in Sharnbrook in 2011, bringing the total to date to fifty-nine. These included six excavated as a community project following on from HEFA excavations. New areas excavated in 2011 included the western side of the present village (pits SHA/11/07 - SHA/11/10, SHA/11/16 and SHA/11/17 along Loring Road and Lodge Road) and the southern extremity of the village (pits SHA/11/02- SHA/11/04, SHA/11/14 and SHA/11/15). The excavations were enlivened by the discovery of an entire bicycle c. 20cm below the surface of SHA/11/06. This unfortunately prevented any further excavation on this site.
Of greater antiquity was pottery of Roman date, recovered from SHA/11/02 and SHA/11/03, both from gardens within a modern housing estate adjacent to arable fields on the very southern-most edge of the present village. Very little Romano-British pottery has previously been found in ACA test pits in Sharnbrook, so this was an interesting discovery. SHA/11/03 produced four Romano-British sherds in total and also a large sherd of Iron Age pottery: furthermore, it seems likely that undisturbed deposits of this date survive in the area, and plausible that a LPRIA/RB settlement may have been present in this area. SHA/11/03 also produced a very small sherd (1g) of St Neots Ware, with the overall distribution of material of late Anglo-Saxon date now suggesting that this are was on, or beyond, the edge of the settlement at this time.
Considering the marginal location of many of the 2011 pits in relation to the pre-20th century settlement, a surprisingly large number of the pits produced pottery of high medieval date (mid 11th – mid 14th century AD). Both pits on the southern edge of the village yielding Roman material also produced high medieval pottery, as did nearby SHA/11/14, a little to the north-west along Manor Farm Way. Each produced 2-4 sherds. Although this area appears today to be one solely of 20th century expansion, sufficient material has now been found to suggest the likelihood of activity of some sort in this area in the 11th – 14th century AD. The quantities are insufficient to confidently ascribe this to habitation, but frequent enough to make this a possibility which should not be dismissed out of hand. SHA/11/07 and SHA/11/10 produced similar volumes of high medieval pottery, from gardens not far from the circular earthwork in Castle Copse, presumed to be a medieval ringwork or manorial structure.
In contrast, SHA/11/17 produced one of the largest volumes of pottery from any of the University of Cambridge CORS pits since the project began in 2005: 118 sherds of medieval shelly ware of 12th – 13th century date, weighing 403g in total, were all found close together between c. 8-20cm below the present ground surface, near the present entrance to Colworth Science Park. The layer also contained locally-derived stone occurring naturally in the subsoil, extensively used for building, and was overlaid by a layer of topsoil (possibly imported) devoid of any stone, pottery or other finds. Excavation was halted at 20cm, in order to preserve any further evidence for possible future larger-scale excavation. Analysis indicated that most of the sherds derived from a single jar, the commonest vessel type for this period. Although the sherds were found at a very shallow level, nothing was observed to indicate that it had been deposited there recently, and does appear to represent deposition in the medieval period. It is seems most likely to indicate settlement in the vicinity, this perhaps taking the form of a farmstead, hamlet or other dispersed element of the settlement pattern. Excavation of a larger area would however be required to clarify the exact nature of this deposit.
Only one of the pits excavated in Sharnbrook in 2011 which yielded high medieval pottery produced any material dating to the later medieval period (mid 14th – mid 16th century AD) (SHA/11/10). It seems as if most of these sites, which came into use as settlement and attendant activity expanded in the high medieval period, declined in use in the later period. Overall, late medieval settlement contraction is not as marked at Sharnbrook as at many of the other University of Cambridge CORS settlements, but it does seem that some contraction may have taken place, impacting particularly on the recently-expanded peripheries.