A desktop study can reveal something different from the underlying archaeology that is only fully understood during an excavation. The Medieval earthworks at Eye Kettleby suggested Medieval activity in an area of designated development. These ‘humps and bumps’ had already been mapped in the field and from the air photographs in the 1980s, and large quantities of flints and Anglo-Saxon pottery were later recovered during a field survey in the 1990s. These finds suggested activities inside a wide period between Mesolithic and Bronze Age and a later possible Early-Middle Anglo-Saxon cemetery. Nevertheless, the main feature of the published excavation (Finn 2011) turned out to be ‘ceremonial’ enclosures defined by ditches with Bronze Age cremations and with an Anglo-Saxon settlement in the northern area. This shows how the expectation of find something typical, such as an Anglo-Saxon cemetery, defines the initial interpretation.
The area is bordered in the south-west by a stream but the river Wreake runs farther in the north. The area was at the time of the excavation relatively flat, but there were indications that the carr in the west was filled in during the Medieval period in order to level the area. The flint finds representing the earliest intervention in the area corresponds to blade technology with a few mainly end scrapers dated roughly to the Mesolithic/Early Neolithic. Later layer of flints belong to the Neolithic/Early Bronze Age blade technology with a higher number of scrapers and retouched flakes. Most of the flint finds from the carr were debitage, but there was a Neolithic flint axe, of orange flint and probably exotic, which could have been deposited with intention.
There were a couple of Neolithic pits but the main feature was four enclosures, two round ones and two oval ones. The circular enclosures were in the middle and those oval ones on both sides creating a somewhat elongated shape. The cremations concentrated inside the enclosures. The scientific dates of the Early Bronze Age cemetery are around 2100 and 1800 BC. The circular enclosures do remind ring ditches around the barrows in Leicestershire as is pointed out by Finn. The site was reused as an ‘Urnfield’ cemetery at a slightly later date towards the Middle Bronze Age with 8 separate groups of cremations. Some of these were between the enclosures, some farther away and three groups inside three of four enclosures. The oval one in the east remained empty. The dates from the urned cremations hover around 1500-1600 BC with a wider spread with the unurned ones.
During the Late Bronze Age the site was in both settlement and funerary use. There were pit alignments with animal bones to create boundaries into the area, which had signs of houses with ditches and post-holes and a hearth pit. The Late Bronze Age finds included a socketed bronze axe, spindlewhorl and loomweights. This earlier ceremonial space was at least partly truly domesticated at this point.
The monumental enclosures here did not lie in isolation but as part of a busy Bronze Age landscape with ring ditches and barrows dotting the Eye/Wreake river valley, not to mention flint scatters and possible Late Bronze Age settlements. Interestingly, there is a pit with a considerable deposit of fired clay and pottery that suggests that the destruction of the Late Bronze Age building was deliberate. Brück has suggested that the short-lived settlements were a sign of generational shift. At least these signs of deliberate dismantling are more common than just present there at Eye Kettleby.
Finn, N., 2011.Bronze Age Ceremonial Enclosures and Cremation Cemetery at Eye Kettleby, Leicestershire. Leicester Archaeology Monograph 20.