three Late Iron Age enclosures interpreted in Trust report

Yesterday (20th February), Trust senior archaeologist Howard Brooks was working on a large report here at Roman Circus House. The report is on our excavation at the former Hyderabad and Meeanee Barracks off Mersea Road in the old garrison at Colchester. This was a large area (our garrison Area A) and we subdivided it into eleven sites (A-K). We conducted the excavation in 2011, but we are writing the report now because we had to wait for the specialist reports to be completed. Most of the barrack buildings were demolished and the area was cleared, and then we machine-excavated 85 evaluation trenches. We followed this with hand-excavation of the features which we had identified during the evaluation trenching. Now, Howard is collecting all the results and interpreting them in our final report on the excavation.

The really remarkable discoveries from the excavation have already been described on this web-site and in the Trust magazine. We uncovered two Middle Iron Age round-houses, a previously unknown part of a large defensive Late Iron Age dyke, a hoard of 1,247 Roman coins which was probably buried in uncertain times in AD 271, and part of a cemetery which included two Germanic or Anglo-Saxon warrior burials, in which both individuals had been buried with a round shield on their chest and a spear beside them, and one also with a dagger in a belt around the waist. But Site F produced evidence of a group of three small but interesting Late Iron Age/early Roman enclosures (numbered 1-3). They are interesting because their functions are not obvious and so they are more difficult to interpret.

The three enclosures seem to have been enclosures for holding stock animals, and so they would have been part of the extensive agricultural landscape of the oppidum. The oppidum was the area of Camulodunum, the Iron Age stronghold where the Roman town of Colchester was later built. We have been archaeologically investigating this part of the oppidum, to the south of the modern town centre, since 2000, during the redevelopment of the old garrison. We have uncovered evidence of agricultural elements such as trackways and the ditches of field systems across the whole area. The linear features and post-holes which represent the three enclosures here, on Site F, provide us with some quite detailed evidence. We think that Enclosure 1 was a small fenced area with what looks like a stock-control feature at the entrance. Enclosure 2 seems to have been a stock enclosure with fence posts. Enclosure 3 seems to have been defined by a wicker fence and to have had a small post-built structure within it, which we interpret as having been an animal shelter. The three enclosures would have been used to corral stock animals, possibly for three different purposes.

Camulodunum was probably the most important stronghold in southern Iron Age Britain, and it was protected by the largest system of Late Iron Age (and, later, early Roman dykes) in Britain. A dyke was a defensive earthwork consisting of a large bank and ditch. The part of a dyke which we discovered at the Hyderabad and Meeanee Barracks site seems to be an eastward extension of the Berechurch Dyke, which was constructed north-south and protected Camulodunum from attack from the east. This part suggests that the dyke continued further north than we previously thought, turned east and continued towards the River Colne. So, at the Hyderabad and Meeanee Barracks site, we have uncovered considerable evidence of Iron Age Camulodunum, from part of a great dyke, through round-houses, to humble stock enclosures. We might evaluate the relative importance of the dyke and the stock enclosures rather differently: however, stock animals were an essential part of life and the economy, so perhaps the stock enclosures could be considered as even more important, archaeologically, than the defensive dyke…

Hyderabad Barracks and Meeanee Barracks were part of a historic military site. The land, between Mersea Road and Military Road, was bought in 1806 by the government. It was called the ‘Ordnance field’, and it was part of the Army land along with ‘Barrack field’ and ‘the Camp’ off Barrack Street. In 1855 and 1856, wooden hutted barracks were built on the Ordnance field to create an infantry station. Between 1896 and 1905, the hutted barracks were replaced by two brick-built barrack complexes. A plan of 1911 gives a completion date of 1899 for Meeanee Barracks and a completion date of 1905 for Hyderabad Barracks. The area of the two barracks is now a residential development.

When the report is completed, we will publish it in our online library at .

The images show two figures from the report, ie a plan of Site F and the three enclosures and a detailed plan of Enclosure 3, and a site photo. of one of the enclosures.