ARCHAEOLOGY

BUILDING A ROAD THROUGH HISTORY

Outside the village of Brampton, Cambridgeshire, a handful of archaeologists huddle with a small group of local volunteers. Some of these professionals have been working here for two years and are all that remain of one of the largest archaeological teams ever assembled in Britain. They are in the final stages of excavating a small medieval hamlet called Houghton and have invited members of the public to join them for their final few weeks. Houghton was once a bustling little settlement, its dozen or so properties arranged around a broad central track. The scattered postholes and pits from this long-forgotten village are emblematic of the entire landscape, which has seen waves of people come and go over the past 6,000 years. Each has left an imprint upon the terrain.

Dump trucks, bulldozers, and other heavy equipment rattle away behind the archaeologists, kicking up the dust that seems to perpetually hover above the mostly flat farmland that forms the backdrop to this once bucolic countryside. As it happens, the 800-year-old settlement is in the middle of a construction zone, a huge infrastructure project to upgrade and extend a 21-mile stretch of the A14 roadway between the towns of Cambridge and Huntingdon. Houghton is one of the final sites that must be cleared before the archaeologists’ work is complete and they surrender this tract of land to the advancing army of road builders.

England is so archaeologically rich that hardly any construction project takes place without encountering at least some evidence of its deep historical

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