Between 1993 and 2014 extensive archaeological investigations were undertaken in Hinxton, south Cambridgeshire by OA East (formerly Cambridgeshire County Council’s Archaeological Field Unit, CAM ARC) on behalf of the Wellcome Trust. Centred around Hinxton Hall and the Genome Campus, the excavated areas lay on either side of the River Cam within a ‘borderland zone’ crossed by prehistoric and Roman routeways, close to the modern county boundary with Essex.
Hinxton’s post-glacial valley landscape of indigenous woodland, streams and seasonally flooded pools attracted Palaeolithic and Mesolithic communities to the area, to work flint and to hunt. The fills of one such pool yielded a Terminal Palaeolithic ‘Long/Bruised Blade’ assemblage of national significance.
Tree clearance to permit exploitation of the fertile valley sides began in the Early Neolithic, with many small tree throws and a large hollow being utilised for flint knapping and other activities. The increasingly ‘ritual’ or ceremonial significance of the landscape is indicated by the discovery of a Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age shaft containing a substantial assemblage of worked flint and Beaker pottery. This theme persisted throughout the later prehistoric and Early Roman periods, which saw the construction of two later Iron Age square enclosures – the largest of which appears to have been related to mortuary practices – followed by a small timber shrine. Burial of selected individuals, both in graves and as disarticulated remains, began in the Early Neolithic and continued sporadically through the Bronze Age and later Iron Age to Early Roman periods. The careful burial of a small dog alongside eggs and other offerings appears imbued with significance.
Agricultural exploitation of the valley seems to have been almost continuous until the Middle Roman period, with brief interludes perhaps resulting from flooding. It is largely represented by ditches demarcating fields, enclosures, tracks and droveways, including a formalised braid of the Icknield Way. Specialising in animal husbandry with a focus on cattle and sheep, the presence of two large corrals linked to major trackways potentially demonstrates stock management on a scale commensurate with supplying the nearby fort and Roman town at Great Chesterford. During the later Roman period, this farmland lay largely fallow, with only sporadic quarrying along the gravel terraces flanking the river edge, perhaps to provide building materials for construction and repair of the Roman town and its developing road network.
The immediate landscape was not resettled until the Anglo-Saxon period, although one of the major Roman field boundaries was re-established in the Saxo-Norman period and continued to influence the alignment of boundaries and associated settlement here for several centuries. The post-Roman period of activity at Hinxton is the subject of a companion volume (Part II).
Alice Lyons , Lawrence Billington, 2023. 'Hinxton, Cambridgeshire Part I, Excavations at the Wellcome Genome Campus 1993-2014: Late Glacial Lithics to the Icknield Way', East Anglian Archaeology 178