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Evidence of Iron Age settlement found in Dagenham

PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 January 2019

The 'archaeological horizon', the depth at which artefacts and remains are found, was only half a metre deep. Picture: AOC Archaeology.

The 'archaeological horizon', the depth at which artefacts and remains are found, was only half a metre deep. Picture: AOC Archaeology.

AOC Archaeology

A team of archaeologists has discovered remains of what could be a small farmstead from around 3,000 years ago.

An reconstruction of what the pottery looked like when it was in use. Picture: Gabby Rapson/AOC Archaeology.An reconstruction of what the pottery looked like when it was in use. Picture: Gabby Rapson/AOC Archaeology.

Experts spent a total of four weeks at the site on the corner of Dagenham Leisure Park, where they discovered evidence of a subsistence farm dating to 800-400 BC.

The dig is helping build a picture of what the area was like before the Romans invaded in 43 AD.

“In Iron Age Britain, in general, people were subsistence farming, but probably also using the landscape in other ways as well,” said Helen Chittock, a project officer with the company that undertook the dig, AOC Archaeology.

“People living in Dagenham, the sort of activities they were doing were: arable farming, exploiting the landscape through hunting and gathering, and possibly farming animals as well.”

The Dagenham Idol was found in 1922 and is one of the most significant finds ever made in the borough.The Dagenham Idol was found in 1922 and is one of the most significant finds ever made in the borough.

The site team was by Les Capon, an AOC Archaeology project manager who has been with the company for 22 years.

They began by digging to the ‘archaeological horizon’—the depth at which artefacts and remains start to appear.

At this site, it was a mere 50cm deep.

“We were digging down to the archaeological horizon by using large excavation machines—the large JCB-type things—the tricky thing there is stopping at the right moment between the non-interesting topsoil and the archaeological horizon.

The 'archaeological horizon', the depth at which artefacts and remains are found, was only half a metre deep. Picture: AOC Archaeology.The 'archaeological horizon', the depth at which artefacts and remains are found, was only half a metre deep. Picture: AOC Archaeology.

“You’ve got to dig it just right.”

When they got there, the team found holes indicating a circular building around ten feet across, which was possibly used as a small family farmhouse.

They also found shards of pottery that had been carefully placed into ditches to form small piles. Why the prehistoric people did this is not yet understood.

“It’s a smallish house that you could fit one family in. If you think about your typical living room in a terraced house in east London—because I live in east London—some of those rooms are only about 10 feet across, which is only three metres, and are perfect for sitting in,” said Mr Capon.

The land where east London now sits has been the site of human activity for thousands of years.

An artefact called the Dagenham Idol was discovered in 1922 on the north bank of the Thames and has been carbon-dated back 12,000 years to the Neolithic period.

Valence House Museum in Becontree currently houses the Idol.

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