Review Michael Dawson
Farmsteads… is the result of the latest in a long line of infrastructure projects in Bedfordshire. The M1 itself opened in 1959, but it was not until 1969 that motorway archaeology developed. Early approaches had focused on single sites, but – with the construction of the M5 – emphasis shifted to the landscape as a whole. The two schemes represented by this volume began conventionally, with early assessment and evaluation followed by a series of excavations. Described as ‘mitigation’, such investigations offset rather than reduce the impact of development.
The report is set out site by site, from introduction through specialist reports to discussion. Colour images and clear plans make it easy to cross-reference, and there is light relief in some pictures showing the conditions of work.
Of particular interest are the discussion sections, Iron Age farming beside the Ouzel, and the cremation cemetery, followed, characteristically, by the more-awkward-to-deal-with trackways and boundaries, Saxon remains, and medieval settlement. The conclusion that the Iron Age settlement was ‘long-lived’ is of interest, though whether this is continuous occupation or repeated reoccupation of a preferred site is uncertain. Similarly, the argument that the area north of Houghton Regis was characterised by the rite of cremation which, as the numbers declined in the 2nd century, reflected a dwindling subsection of society, leaves open the relationship between settlement form and burial practice. I was particularly drawn to the relationship between the gulley (4075) and the cremations of M1A.
Overall editing is to a good standard, with occasional lapses and loose ends. It would have been interesting to know why, for example, GRD10 (p.93) ‘may not have been domestic’. The online/.pdf version certainly makes it easier to follow a context number in such a comprehensive report.
This is a welcome addition to the archaeology of the East Midlands. The results are impressive, and their speedy publication has provided a large body of specialist data and a useful review, raising questions which will be of value to those designing projects in the future.