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Cardington in Prehistory

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. The site is very useful for drawing up a picture of an area before the Norman Conquest of 1066, stretching all the way back to the Palaeolithic period.

The earliest find from the parish was a group of Palaeolithic stone tools [HER606]. The exact date and location are not known, nor is the detailed makeup of the group but it is known to have included an axehead.

The next great epoch of human prehistory, the Mesolithic, the age of hunter-gatherers, is also represented in Cardington by one stray find. In 2004 an area either side of the boundary with the parish of Eastcotts at RAF Cardington was excavated [HER18238]. Most of the finds consisted of soil marks representing ditches, perhaps part of a Neolithic field system. One Mesolithic flint blade was also found.

This field system is not the only evidence of Neolithic settlement in Cardington. Two sites south of the river and either side of the boundary with Cople around Octagon Farm have yielded important prehistoric. An extensive area of crop marks [HER585] shows the presence of a camp enclosed by three concentric ditches. This probably dates to the Neolithic period.  Later in its history the site was covered in Romano-British huts.

An area south-west of Octagon Farm, which is in the parish of Cople, was investigated using geophysics because it was thought to be Roman [HER586]. Results, however, showed something much more complex. Two ring ditches, late Neolithic or early Bronze Age in date were discovered along with Iron Age, Romano-British and Anglo-Saxon settlement. Late Neolithic and early Bronze Age flint tools were also found. Flint tools continued to be used into the Bronze Age as the raw materials were in greater supply and were easier to work than the new metal technology was to learn and practise.

Very close nearby lies what has been described as a ritual landscape [HER 1480]. A mortuary complex was established here in the Neolithic which continued through into the Bronze Age. It included four rectangular Neolithic mortuary enclosures, an oval enclosure, a cursus (a long, narrow enclosure with ditches on each side which may form a processional way), and eleven Bronze Age ring ditches, some or all of which may represent the remains of round barrows where the dead were buried. Later the area was covered in Iron Age field systems and included a Roman kiln.

A Neolithic axehead was found in Cardington in 1935 during ploughing [HER 299]. A Bronze Age socketed axe was found at Cople Road [HER 15964]. A further ring ditch has been discovered south of Pasture Farm near the boundary with Eastcotts [HER15268], again, this may be the remains of a Bronze Age round barrow.

Iron Age settlement near RAF Cardington and near the Cople boundary has already been mentioned. Aerial photographs north of Harrowden Lane [HER 9081] showed complex group of enclosures on a gravel table overlooking Elstow Brook. Some excavation in 1994 turned up Iron Age and Romano-British material. During pipeline construction north of Warden Little Wood in the extreme south of the parish ten pits or ditches were found. They contained pottery from the 1st centuries BC and AD [HER 9828].

More Iron Age occupation was found in the north of the parish, south-west of Cardington Cross [HER 16079]. During widening of Elstow Brook in 1993 post holes were found and what little dating evidence emerged suggested a settlement of the early Iron Age or even earlier, though a sherd of Roman pot was also found. The final Iron Age evidence comes from Southill Road where excavations for a pipeline produced a series of enclosure ditches from an Iron Age field system.

Not yet dated, though probably prehistoric, is a complex area of crop marks south of Cardington village [HER 584]. More than a dozen irregular rounded enclosures can be determined along with pits and ditches. Finally crop marks at Water End in Cople extending over the Cardington boundary [HER 707] seem to comprise enclosures and linear features all of which are probably prehistoric.

It can be seen, then, that Cardington has a rich prehistory with sites from most parts of the parish. Clearly by the Iron Age there was a thriving community here. That community seems to have continued after 43 AD and the rival of the Romans.