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Elstow in the Dark Ages

Archaeologists tend to frown on the term Dark Ages, preferring labels such as Early Medieval but the phrase is well established and easily understood as being the period from the date the last Roman forces left England in 410 to the Norman Conquest of 1066. Dark Age sites are not numerous but Elstow has a comparative wealth of them.

The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record [HER] contains information on the county’s historic buildings and landscapes and summaries of each entry can now be found online as part of the Heritage Gateway website. A number of Dark Age sites also have evidence of earlier activity. Cropmarks east of Village Farm [HER 2421] have yielded evidence of Bronze Age and Iron Age occupation. Evidence for Dark Age activity includes remains of a sunken-featured building known as a grubenhaus and associated with the earliest phases of Anglo-Saxon settlement in England. There are also later Anglo-Saxon and Saxo-Norman buildings. Animal remains, pottery, a blade, a tool for carding wool, a key, a loom weights, some nails, a spur, a quern for grinding corn and a spindle whorl have all been found.

Another two grubenhauser were been identified near Village Farm [HER 16082] during excavations ahead of the construction of the Bedford Southern Bypass. A hearth was identified and animal remains, a needle, nails and pottery were found along with a crucible and slag showing that there was metalworking on the site. Earthworks south of Village Farm [HER 3383] may include another grubenhaus as well as a pit. An early Dark Age loom weight (5th or 6th century) was found along with a pot sherd.

In the north-east of the parish a group of rectangular enclosures and ring ditches showed activity in the Bronze Age and Iron Age and a pit was dated to the 7th or 8th century AD [HER 1626]. Cropmarks west of Peartree Farm again included Iron Age as well as Romano-British evidence and another possible grubenhaus were identified [HER 1624].