Excavations along the Aston Clinton Bypass
In 2001 and 2002 archaeologists from environmental consultancy RPS Group working for Balfour Beatty on behalf of the Highways Agency investigated three sites affected by the construction of the A41 Aston Clinton Bypass. The results of this work have been published and some of finds were on display in the County Museum in Aylesbury in 2009.
At the western end of the road scheme (Woodlands roundabout) a late Bronze Age to early Iron Age (1300 BC – 500 BC) site revealed the remains of a substantial 4-post structure surrounded by a gully with a single entrance. Pits around this structure contained human bone and unusually shaped ‘concertina pots’ thought to mimic bronze beakers. A skull was radiocarbon dated and found to be several hundred years older than the other finds. The site is interpreted as a roofed shrine or mausoleum on which remains of the dead were exposed. The skull could have been a treasured relic.
The second site lay where the bypass crosses the B489 Lower Icknield Way. Here a long-lived settlement sat alongside a drove road heading up into the Chiltern hills. First occupied in the Bronze Age, the settlement lasted through the Iron Age and Romano-British periods into early Saxon times – a period of at least 1,500 years. Cattle and sheep bones together with the droveway and a corral indicate that pastoral farming was important with herds perhaps grazing in the vale in the summer and taken up on to the Chilterns in winter. However, there was no sign that the Icknield Way was an ancient routeway as there was no archaeological traces of it and the settlement had been constructed across its supposed line.
The third and final site lay at the eastern end of the scheme on Tring Hill, where a dispersed Anglo-Saxon cemetery of 18 burials was discovered. The cemetery is dated to around AD 600, shortly after Aylesbury was supposedly captured from the Britons. The most spectacular burial was that of a mature woman adorned with a pair of gilded saucer brooches, a bead necklace and toiletry set (used for cleaning finger nails and ears). These finds were on public display for the first time at the County Museum.
The A41 follows the line of Roman Akeman Street, the main road from Verulamium to Cirencester, so the archaeological discoveries came as no surprise but they proved even more interesting than had been anticipated. Whilst the later prehistoric shrine is a useful addition to knowledge of cult practices in Buckinghamshire, perhaps the greatest insight was clear evidence that the long sinuous lanes which still link the Vale of Aylesbury to the Chilterns could have been created by tramping herds of prehistoric cattle.
The full publication report by RPS archaeologist Robert Masefield, ‘Prehistoric and Later Settlement and Landscape from Chiltern Scarp to Aylesbury Vale: The Archaeology of the Aston Clinton Bypass, Buckinghamshire’ can be consulted at the Historic Environment Record and copies are also available from Hadrian Books at £40.
All photos are courtesy of RPS and the pottery drawing is courtesy of Albion Archaeology.