Excavations at Waterbeach Barracks and the finding of Hidden Roman Remains by Steve Macaulay

Prior to the re-development of Waterbeach barracks and airfield into Waterbeach Town, Steve and his fellow archaeologists were granted unprecedented access to the site before construction began. Encouraged and supported by the Urban & Civic developers, Steve and his team experienced what he described as the ‘neatest project’ he had ever been involved in as an archaeologist.

He began by using maps and photographs to give us a perspective of the scale of the project, showing its geographical importance at the junction of a network of roads, waterways and canals. The importance of the location became clear from the considerable evidence of Roman activity in the surrounding area, which indicated that the landscape had been intensively managed during the Roman period. This was characterised by its open farmland, woodlands, farmsteads and small village settlements, all within fairly close proximity to one another. He suggested that it would probably have looked remarkably
similar to the landscape we see today.

At the start of the dig, a thorough geophysical survey was undertaken to identify potential areas of interest. In doing so, it also revealed the archaeological damage caused by the military, such as the digging of a lake between two important areas of excavation and the compacting of ground, apparently for use by the ‘jump jets’. In addition to numerous test digs, an exceptionally large seven hectare dig uncovered a plethora of archaeological finds spanning nearly 2,000 years, from the iron-age to Saxon times. It revealed evidence of extensive Roman farming, together with its associated human features such as enclosures, round-houses, constructed ponds and a kiln. 

Although farming techniques over the past 200 years have destroyed much of the evidence, many artefacts have been found from the Roman period including coins, pottery, a colander and even a metal chain, suggesting that there was a range of skilled craftsmen operating within the region. The remains of both Roman and Saxon halls have been discovered, evidenced by post marks in the ground, the difference between the halls identified by the alignment of posts which show the architectural change over time. Away from the settlements were burial grounds from different periods, with Roman, iron-age and Saxon burials located in close proximity. The Roman burials were distinguished by their decapitated corpses, but evidence was also found of cremation burials.

The aim of the dig, Steve concluded, was to capture the story of the people who had once lived at the Waterbeach Town location for its new residents. In doing so it would help to give them an understanding of what had been going on in the past underneath their homes.

Roland Thacker

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