Archaeology, development and the public in the east of England

The Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) undertakes approximately 50 archaeological investigations annually and has been a key research arm of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology for three decades. As such, it bridges the Department’s research and commercial activities.

Among its broad portfolio of projects in eastern England, two long-term, high-profile examples include Must Farm in Whittlesey, near Peterborough, and major interrelated developments in West and North West Cambridge (known as Eddington).

At Must Farm, unparalleled Bronze Age archaeology has been revealed, including nine exceptionally well-preserved logboats, several hurdle-built fish-weirs, more than 20 fish-traps, and Bronze and Iron Age weaponry. Most spectacular was a Late Bronze Age settlement of wooden structures built over a slow-flowing watercourse – the Must Farm pile-dwelling settlement.

CAU conducted meticulous excavations of the remains which, following a catastrophic fire, had collapsed into the stream. Waterlogged silts preserved structures, inorganic artefacts and delicate organics such as textiles and foodstuffs, providing a unique opportunity to reveal, in fine detail, life in Bronze Age Britain.

In post-excavation analysis led by Mark Knight and Rachel Ballantyne, CAU is now reconstructing a Late Bronze Age community at the individual household level, and exploring its inhabitants’ lifeways over its approximately one year of occupation.

CAU’s North West Cambridge (Eddington) Project entailed excavating six major Bronze Age to Roman sites between 2012 and 2019. This work built on excavations in West Cambridge led by Evans between 1994 and 2018. With four farmsteads, a villa-estate complex and a roadside centre excavated, this research represents one of the most comprehensive landscape investigations of a Romano-British countryside.

Through a strong programme of public engagement and innovative collaborations with a wide variety of stakeholders, these research projects have resulted in far-reaching impacts on education, the arts, industry and development both in East Anglia and nationally.