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Prehistoric Sandy

Looking towards Galley Hill April 2010
Looking towards Galley Hill April 2010

Sandy seems to have been quite a significant settlement in the late Iron Age and the Romano-British period and sites and finds from this era dominate the archaeology locally. However, there are also sites and finds from the earlier prehistoric period.

The Bedfordshire Historic Environment Record records all known sites of historic, and prehistoric, interest in the county. It is now on-line as part of the Heritage Gateway website.

The earliest evidence of human activity in Sandy comes in the shape of two Palaeolithic handaxes, one found in a gravel pit near the boundary with Tempsford [HER 14644], the other found south of Zwetsloot Nurseries [HER 14666]. Mesolithic flint flakes have also been found inside the enclosure at Caesar's Camp, an Iron Age hillfort [HER 442] and elsewhere on Sandy Heath [HER 9886].

The Neolithic is represented by a number of find spots. A polished flint axe was found in the Tempsford gravel pits close to the boundary with Blunham [HER 14669]. A Neolithic axe fragment was found west of the A1 (Tempsford Road) [HER 14661] and a large Neolithic axe of greenstone was found at the gravel pits east of Blunham [HER 14662]. A group of flints was recovered from Natterjack Pond on Sandy Heath [HER 16152]. They included two flakes, three blades and a scraper and may date to the Neolithic or Bronze Age. Flint tools continued to be used throughout the Bronze Age as the raw material was easier to come by than the copper and tin needed to make bronze as well as easier to work. Two sherds of pottery from the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age were also found in the pond.

A wrist guard was found near the railway station at an unspecified date [HER 1505]. It may have come from nearby Tower Hill which was quarried for ballast. It may be Neolithic or Bronze Age in date. An early or middle Bronze Age awl is recorded as being found somewhere in Sandy parish [HER 4347].

Caesar's Camp is the most obvious Iron Age site in Sandy [HER 442]. The Historic Environment Record describes it thus: "An irregular promontory enclosure defined by a partial rampart and ditch. Mesolithic flints and late Iron Age pottery have been found in the enclosed area; the remains of a contour fort following the outlines of a spur overlooking the Ivel valley. Ramparts are visible surrounding the top of the spur, but there is no trace of defences on the northern side. The interior has had some landscaping during the 20th century, but archaeological observations have not uncovered any significant remains. An apparent entrance through the ramparts has been noted on the south eastern side. Mesolithic flakes, late Iron Age pottery and small Roman coins have been found inside the enclosed area. Thought to be a late Iron Age defensive site, with possible reuse in the Roman period".

A Belgic, or Iron Age, cemetery has been discovered near Sandy station [HER 1501]. The Historic Environment Record notes: "A small number of late Iron Age vessels have been found in the area to the north of the known Roman cemetery. Three vessels were reportedly found in 1905, one in association with a pin described as ibex-headed and thought at the time to be late Iron Age, but it has been suggested that it could be as late as the 4th century AD. The vessel with which the pin was found is now lost. A second group of vessels was found in the 1950s, disturbed but thought to be virtually in situ, one of which contained cremated bone. The area is thought to be the site of a late Iron Age cremation cemetery".

A pit, and other features containing Iron Age pottery were found in a sand quarry at Cox Hill in c.1957-1959 and 1962 [HER 453]. The pit was rectangular and produced a large quantity of pottery along with burnt flints, and one struck flint. A post hole was also recorded nearby, and at a slightly later date a shallow ditch was observed.

A pit containing early Iron Age pottery and a great deal of burnt debris, suggesting possible use as a hearth, was found on the recreation ground at The Pinnacle in 1945 [HER 1496]. The pit also produced a perforated pebble, which may have been a bead but may instead have been used as a loom weight or spindle whorl.

There have been some isolated Iron Age finds. A bronze ring dating to the Iron Age, which was part of a horse's harness, was found somewhere in the parish [HER 19916] and at a site belonging to Hall Aggregates in Sandy a small late Iron Age pot was recovered [HER 16030]. A Celtic silver coin was found by a metal detectorist in a ploughed field behind 57 Cambridge Road [HER 16033].

A gold coin of late Iron Age date was found in 1883 at Girtford Bridge [HER 439]. Seventeen Iron Age coins were found in and around Sandy during the 19th and early 20th century [HER 447]. Most are bronze, with a small number of gold and silver; those inscribed are of either Tasciovanus (c.20 BC to c.10 AD) or Cunobelin (c.10 AD to c. 42AD), both leaders of the powerful Catuvellauni tribe which was centred on modern Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. The HER notes: "A little to North East (of Tower Hill) and on North slope of Caesar's Camp, many Roman remains found, some British coins discovered during excavations for the Great Northern Railway" [HER 11320].

A significant number of cropmarks can be seen from the air. Many of these are tentatively identified as prehistoric by the HER but more accurate dating is impossible without artefacts found in situ. The following areas are recorded:

  • HER 652: a cropmark north-east of Warren farm shows an irregular enclosure with internal circular feature. No dating evidence has been retrieved; the enclosure is thought to be prehistoric.
  • HER 1658: cropmarks on Sandy Heath show a scatter of small sub-rectangular enclosures, with a connected linear group at the north east end of the Heath. To the south-west is a large rectangular enclosure and extensive linear features running north east to south west. Trial trenching to the south east of the cropmark complex has produced evidence for Second World War activity, as well as some undated features including a trackway. Some of the linear cropmarks may be geological in origin.
  • HER 1660: group of small curvilinear enclosures to the south of cropmark complex noted above [HER 1658] and lying south of Potton Road are thought to be prehistoric
  • HER 1661: a scatter of enclosures along a south-south-west - north-north-east ridge south of Highfield Farm include enclosures and two parallel ditches.
  • HER 3338: cropmarks indicating a double-ditched square enclosure, were cut by the line of the Sandy-Potton Railway north-east of Pump House. The date is not known, but it is thought to be prehistoric.
  • HER 13670: cropmarks west of Warren Farm are in two groups. One is oval in shape and is thought to be a single ring ditch, these are often dated to the Bronze Age and this may be the remains of a barrow or a circular hut. The second group consists of two linear features which run obliquely to each other. The two groups do not have an obvious relationship with each other.
  • HER 13674: cropmarks south-west of Warren Farm consist of features located in three groups. Two of the groups are linear and are possibly the remains of ridge and furrow. The other feature is ovaliod in shape and is probably a small ditched enclosure.
  • HER 13677: group of four cropmarks lies west of Deepdale. Three are irregularly shaped and are probably earthworks. One is circular in shape and is a possible hut circle or a small ringed enclosure.
  • HER 13678: cropmarks on Sandy Heath which are quite close to each other. Four appear to be oval in shape and one is squarer in form. These are probably enclosures. There is also a single linear feature
  • HER 13679: more cropmarks on Sandy Heath which probably indicate the presence of small enclosures and possible hut circles. Linear features are also present.
  • HER 13689 - another cropmark at Sandy Heath consisting of a single ovaloid shaped cropmark which has a flat and straight southern edge.
  • HER 13710: further cropmarks on Sandy Heath showing a number of different types of cropmarks, they include: four circular features; eleven linear features; one rectangular feature; nine incomplete rectangular features and some unidentifiable features. The cropmarks indicate that this is probably the site of multiple phases of activity. There are a number of possible hut circles or ringed enclosures, as well as ditches.
  • HER 13734: cropmarks east of Warren Farm contain a rectangular shaped feature with curved corners. This probably indicates a ditched enclosure.
  • HER 13736: cropmarks at Sandy Heath consisting of two linear features which run parallel to each other on a north-east to south-west alignment. This probably indicates a trackway.
  • HER 13892: cropmarks at Everton Park which show three irregular shaped cropmarks, and there is another that is ovaliod. The site also contains two fairly square shaped features and two which are a more rectangular shape. A number of linear features are also present on site. The cropmarks probably suggest the presence of earthworks on a site with possible structures and a probable ringed enclosure.
  • HER 13968: cropmarks north of Pope's Farm consist of two linear features which are possibly a trackway that runs north-west to south-east.
  • HER15100: cropmarks at Lord's Wood  are linear and there may possibly also be rectilinear enclosures

Two finds of from prehistory have been made which cannot be more precisely dated. HER 14667 - A flint pick was found in a gravel pit near the boundary with Tempsford [HER 14667] and a worked deer antler was found adjacent to Tempsford gravel pits [HER 14670].