Iron industry revered by Romans discovered during link road dig in East Sussex

By Ben Miller | 03 February 2014

Archaeological finds in East Sussex suggest why the Romans would have pushed for control of a sophisticated iron production line

A photo of two men in high visibility jackets and hard hats digging an archaeological pit
All roads lead to Iron Age finds on a link project in East Sussex© East Sussex County Council
An epicentre of the prehistoric iron industry, coveted by the conquering Romans for its sophisticated production techniques and believed by archaeologists to have been one of the finest sites of its kind in ancient Europe, has been discovered during a major roadbuilding project in Sussex.

A photo of an archaeologist in a high visibility jacket working on dark brown mud land
© East Sussex County Council
Dozens of boreholes, 181 trial trenches and 24 test pits have been investigated by Oxford Archaeology along the future 5.6km link road between Bexhill-on-Sea and Hastings. The evidence ranges from the late Mesolithic and Neolithic periods to the Bronze, Iron, Saxon and Medieval ages.

“One of the sites that has been found on the archaeological work for the link road has been an iron working site – a late Iron Age site,” says Casper Johnson, the county archaeologist.

“So that’s dated between about 50BC and 50AD, before the Roman Conquest.

“It shows a high level of technology, high level of iron production, which is the sort of thing that the Roman Empire would have wanted to control.

“So the sites we are looking at here on the link road are in some ways the reason why the Roman Empire wanted to control Britain.

“There are only a small number of really high quality iron resources in Northern Europe. The ones here around Hastings are some of the best, and certainly in Britain they are the best.

“Iron was the key technology, a key resource – this is 2,000 years ago, for weapons through to nails and the fittings for wagons and horses.

“So this is high quality – this is an important resource that the Roman army needed and wanted to get control of.”

A fractured complete pot – described as a “very nice find” by an archaeological team who began their work in the area two years ago – was found in the field south of Upper Wilting Farm, dated to the early to mid-Saxon period and thought to confirm the long history of occupation on the high pastoral grounds.

They believe “scatters” – more than 120 pieces of worked flint were discovered in a mere square metre of land – derive from temporary hunting camps and a base camp, and say the well-preserved late Mesolithic and early Neolithic hunting landscape could be of national importance if it can be linked to organic remains and worked wood within the trenches and pits.

“There’s still quite a lot of excavation to continue,” explains Johnson.

“The archaeological dig started in April 2013 and will continue right through this year along the lengths of the road.

“So there are flint scatter sites still to dig and there is the remainder of this iron working site still to dig.”

A Grade II-listed farmhouse, disused railway bridges and 19th century houses feature along the course of the proposed link road, which was granted planning permission in July 2009.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a large dark pot uncovered during an archaeological investigation sitting on a sheet
© East Sussex County Council
A photo of a man in a high visibility jacket and helmet working on a brown mud site
© East Sussex County Council
A photo of a deep archaeological pit within grassland with a pole sticking out of it
© East Sussex County Council
A photo of a man in high visibility clothing noting down measurements at a dig site
© East Sussex County Council
A photo of two men in high visibility clothing making notes within an archaeological pit
© East Sussex County Council
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The discovery of some interesting archaeology is a poor compensation for the destruction of miles of beautiful Sussex landscape. I'm glad it's being so thoroughly excavated, but sad that it needs to be. We have too much traffic, too many roads already.
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