Tales of the unexpected
Uncovering an illuminating Iron Age settlement at Poulton
North-west England has traditionally been viewed as a sparsely populated, peripheral landscape during the Iron Age – but excavations in rural Cheshire have revealed an unexpected Iron Age and Romano-British settlement that could revolutionise this picture. Kevin Cootes, Rea Carlin, Janet Axworthy, Matt Thomas, Roxanne Guildford, and David Jordan reveal more.
Regular readers of CA may recall a feature exploring the excavation of more than 900 skeletons from a rural cemetery associated with a late medieval chapel at Chapel Field in Poulton, Cheshire (see CA 352). The human remains were unusually well-preserved for the region, thanks to an atypically neutral soil pH, allowing the Poulton Project to investigate the lives and deaths of this small farming community in fascinating detail. The results of this research are nationally important, yet within the graves further surprises awaited us. With each skeleton, we recovered artefacts pre-dating the burials. Unbeknown to the medieval grave-diggers, they had been cutting through older archaeological deposits, shovelling evidence of earlier activity back in with the interments.
Hundreds of finds were recovered during the first few seasons of excavation, with the earliest comprising flint and stone tools of Mesolithic date. The small huntergatherer groups that they had belonged to were the first people to repopulate northern Britain after the retreat of the ice sheets around 10,000 years ago, and most likely used Chapel
ABOVE A reconstructed roundhouse at Poulton, where excavations have uncovered unexpected evidence of an Iron Age and Romano-British settlement.