Sutton amateur archaeologists close in on their ultimate goal

THE lives of the bronze age people who settled, worked and traded in East Cambridgeshire are shrouded in mystery. But a dedicated band of volunteers in Sutton is throwing light on this integral part of our past, and look set to make real advances in our a

THE lives of the bronze age people who settled, worked and traded in East Cambridgeshire are shrouded in mystery.

But a dedicated band of volunteers in Sutton is throwing light on this integral part of our past, and look set to make real advances in our archaeological understanding of East Cambridgeshire in the new year.

IAN RAY reports on a project that shows how a community-organised venture has made a significant contribution to our knowledge of local pre-history.

FOR more than three years now, a group of volunteers, who have named themselves the Sutton Archaeological Group, have worked steadily to excavate a Bronze Age barrow at the village's gravel pits.

The barrow - a Bronze Age burial mound - has already provided a glimpse into the activities of the people in the area, but the team hopes to dig deeper and even uncover some human remains.

The project began after villager Gill Shapland decided an application could be made to the Local Heritage Initiative to investigate Sutton's Bronze Age past.

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Very little is known about the area, but we do know the Bronze Age people moved from the easily-defended hills to areas like Sutton following the onset of a wetter climate; settlers would have made the most of the plentiful supply of water that surrounded the area on nearly every side.

A group was formed with fellow enthusiasts Alex Tinker and Liz Hawkins and together they decided on a site to carry out their excavations.

The barrow they settled on was the perfect location because Dickersons, the company excavating the quarry, were happy for the group to carry out their work, and have since assisted by providing a mechanical digger.

The group then went about making an application to the Local Heritage Initiative through parent organisation the Sutton Conservation Group, and were delighted when they received £25,000.

Members of the conservation group and other villagers quickly stepped forward to volunteer their services and work began at the site in 2003.

The care that needs to be taken has meant work has been time-consuming, but a regular crew of a dozen people, along with a number of other volunteers has allowed the group to make solid progress.

"The site is closed for the year now, but we normally go down on Saturdays and Sundays," said treasurer Liz Hawkins.

"So little is known about the Bronze Age in this area and the dig has become very exciting now."

The group has uncovered tools and animal bones, but as they dug deeper they found a rich supply of pottery that has been the star find so far.

"The pottery is just wonderful and it is evidence that these people had trading links with the continent," Miss Hawkins said.

All of the finds have been carefully catalogued with the help of professional archaeologists from the county council's Archaeology Field Unit, and the group has staged regular exhibitions to keep the community informed about progress, the most recent of which was at Glebe Hall earlier this month.

The material found has already given archaeologists a better understanding of the area, and a series of samples have been taken from the dig for pollen analysis.

"These will help tie down the dating of the barrow more accurately, and will provide a good picture of the vegetation and environment that people lived with," Miss Hawkins said.

The real hope for the group, however, is that they find a real Bronze Age person in the mound, or at least what is left of them.

It is with this aim that the group will resume the dig next year, and its members hope to recruit some new faces as the project steps up a gear.

"We've had our funding extended until 2008, and we would very much welcome anyone who is interested in helping out," Miss Hawkins said.

"Even if people come down for a couple of hours every now and again that would be useful to us and if you stand there and hold a pole, you are helping the project - there is something for everybody to do."

INFORMATION: If you are interested in helping the Sutton Archaeological Group, contact secretary Alex Tinker on 01353 775256 or Liz Hawkins on 01353 777735.

The Bronze Age

#. In Britain, the Bronze Age is considered to have been a period from around 2100 to 700 BC.

#. The period is characterised by immigration - people came to Britain from the continent, and it is believed some came from as far away as modern-day Switzerland.

#. The Bronze Age saw significant cultural change and the Beaker People displayed very different patterns of behaviour from their predecessors.

#. A deteriorating, wetter climate pushed settlements away from easily-defended sites in the hills and into more fertile lowlands, like Sutton.

#. People grouped together in tribes, but the structure of each tribe became more complex, with hierarchies becoming more pronounced.

#. The Bronze Age people began to bury their dead individually, whereas earlier peoples had buried larger groups together. The barrow at Sutton is an example of this.

East Cambridgeshire's Buried Past

ISLEHAM has a rich Bronze Age heritage, and more than 6500 pieces of bronze, including swords, spear-heads, arrows, axes, knives daggers and armour have been found there.

Equipment for horses and many fragments of sheet bronze, all dating from the late Bronze Age have been found and are now in the Moyse's Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds and the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge.

Objects have also been found in Stuntney, Soham, Wicken, Chippenham, Coveney, Mepal and Wilburton.

Devil's Dyke, which runs through Burwell, is one of the largest surviving examples of an Anglo-Saxon earthwork. The dyke was built for defensive purposes and consists of a large bank and ditch running for 7.5 miles. At its peak, it is 11m in height.

Competition between tribes was particularly fierce in the late 6th and early 7th centuries and it is believed that dykes were used to separate tribal boundaries and to fend off competition.