Edward Biddulph, Kate Brady, Andrew Simmonds, and Stuart Foreman
Oxford Archaeology, £20
Review Amy Brunskill
Berryfields, situated to the north-west of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, is a site rich in history. Akeman Street, an important Roman road, runs past its southwestern edge, the Roman roadside settlement of Fleet Marston is located in the area, and the earthworks of the medieval settlement at Quarrendon are visible to the north-east. Despite this, very little investigation had been carried out prior to the work described in this volume, beyond a few chance finds identified through metal-detecting surveys and other limited interventions. The study of the area first began in 1996 with desk-based assessments, followed by other investigations such as fieldwalking and geophysical surveys. Oxford Archaeology’s involvement began in 2002, and the bulk of the work was carried out between 2007 and 2016, prior to the construction of a housing and development project.
This wide-ranging monograph presents Oxford Archaeology’s fieldwork at Berryfields, which has shed light on human activity at the site from the early Neolithic to the post-medieval period, with a particular focus on its important role in the Roman rural landscape as a significant point at the intersection of several routeways through the countryside.
The volume presents a comprehensive introduction to the site and the work carried out there, followed by an account of the archaeological sequences identified, complete with helpful illustrations and maps. A thorough description of the finds, from the many pottery fragments to an unusually well-preserved willow basketry tray, adds detail to the story of human presence in the area, which is reinforced by a summary of the few human remains that existed in the form of inhumations, disarticulated bones, and cremations.
Environmental and faunal evidence offers an idea of the site’s changing landscape over time, as well as the conditions in certain locations (such as a waterlogged pit that may have been used for votive deposition), and provides insights into other activities such as the malting and brewing industries that grew up in the Roman period. The final chapter summarises the story of this area throughout its many periods of occupation, tying together all the evidence in a coherent and engaging picture of ‘life on the Roman road’.
Of particular interest are the middle Iron Age and the Roman phases of occupation. Although there is some evidence of sparse prehistoric activity before this, the settlement in the middle Iron Age period was larger and more permanent than anything that came before it. Several enclosures and roundhouses have been identified, while artefactual and environmental evidence points to an economy largely based on livestock and to potential cultural links between the Berryfields area and the Iron Age hillfort at Aylesbury.
Roman activity represents the area’s heyday, however, and excavations in Berryfields have shed light on the important roadside settlement of Fleet Marston. This appears to have been a new town, built up in AD 43 with the construction of Akeman Street, as no evidence has yet been found of a late Iron Age site growing into the Roman settlement. With its position at an intersection along a major routeway, the site was an important place of trade and may have functioned as an official mutatio (changing post) or mansio (stopping place). It was also the location of multiple roadside industries, such as brewing, woodworking, and metalworking, aimed at supplying the travellers passing through.