Over the winter of 2012–13 and in 2016, NAA carried out two excavations associated with development of a supermarket distribution centre at Goldthorpe to the west of Doncaster in Yorkshire.
The earliest archaeological features were two pits, one of which contained flint-working debris and charcoal, and was radiocarbon dated to c.4200–4000BC, the transitional period between the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic. The main evidence from this period in northern England comes from scatters of flint and archaeological features such as pits are very rare. Around 2000 years later, during the Early Bronze Age, the site became a place of burial. Two cremation burials (one containing the remains of two people) were found close together in small pits that had been covered by a stone cairn. One of the burials was accompanied by a Collared Urn pottery vessel. The burials both dated from the period 2000–1750BC. A third cremation burial was found some distance away. A number of pits, some in small groups, were also found, three of which provided Bronze Age radiocarbon dates.
In the later Iron Age, the area was enclosed by an extensive field system, and parts of 11 fields divided by ditches were recorded. One of the ditches respected the Bronze Age cairn, which must have still been visible as an earthwork. A small enclosure in the corner of one field initially contained a building, represented by several postholes, but was subsequently repurposed as a small stock-enclosure. Other than the building, there was no direct evidence for occupation, although pottery and refuse found in many of the ditches indicated that people had been living nearby.
The ditches of the field system continued to be recut and maintained throughout the Roman period. Importantly, radiocarbon dating showed that a number of features (including some of the ditches, pits and two corn-drying kilns) dated from the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Analysis of the charred plant remains found in the kilns has provided a rare insight into the rural economy of this part of Yorkshire during the early post-Roman period when it lay within the ‘Dark Age’ kingdom of Elmet (click here to find out more).
In the medieval period, the area became part of an open-field system and the excavations were crossed by the ridge and furrow typical of this agricultural regime. The only significant post-medieval feature was a small, heavily fired rock-cut kiln, possibly used for burning limestone as either fertiliser or for mortar production.
The excavations at Goldthorpe have demonstrated that even quite an unprepossessing area of land in the middle of a modern industrial estate can contain evidence for human occupation, agriculture, industry and burial extending over a period of at least six millennia. Of particular significance was the evidence for continuity of the Roman agricultural landscape, especially use of the corn-drying ovens, into the post-Roman period. It was an important time of social, economic and political transition for which we have relatively little documentary or physical evidence.