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Mucking excavation

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Mucking excavation

Mucking excavation
Mucking excavation
Shown within United Kingdom
Location Mucking, Essex, England, United Kingdom

51°29′38″N 00°25′48″E / 51.49389°N 0.43000°E / 51.49389; 0.43000Coordinates: 51°29′38″N 00°25′48″E / 51.49389°N 0.43000°E / 51.49389; 0.43000

Type Settlement
Abandoned During or after the 8th century
Periods Roman and Anglo-Saxon
Site notes
Excavation dates 1965–1978
Archaeologists Margaret and Tom Jones

The Mucking excavation was a major archeological dig that covered an area of 18 hectares (44 acres) near Mucking, in southern Essex, England. The excavations took place between 1965 and 1978, prior to (and during) gravel extraction. At the time it was the largest excavation in Europe[1] and it was the first opportunity to excavate a Saxon settlement site and the associated cemetery simultaneously.[2] It uncovered features from the Neolithic to Medieval, a period of some 3,000 years, although the finds were predominately from the Bronze Age to the Saxon. To date, excavation reports have been published covering the Anglo-Saxon period. Reports covering the Roman and pre-Roman periods are in preparation.

The Site

The site was on the 100 feet (30 m) gravel terrace, close to the north bank of the Thames, and was owned by Surridge Disposals Ltd.[3] There were a number of other Saxon settlements in the vicinity - see list of archaeological sites in Thurrock. The site was discovered as a result of aerial photographs showing cropmarks and soil marks. The earliest photographs to reveal the site were taken by the Luftwaffe in 1943.[3] However, these were not readily available to archaeologists. The importance of the site was recognised following photographs taken by Dr JK St. Joseph of Cambridge University on 16 June 1959,[3] although these photos were not published until 1964.[4] The tenant farmer (T Lindsey) remarked that crop marks for archaeologists were his best crop.[3]

An earlier small-scale investigation had been carried out by members of the Thurrock Local History Society, under Ken Barton, on the western side of Buckingham Hill Road, as a result of field walking finds rather than aerial photographs. In late 1965 Margaret Jones was asked to carry out a brief exploratory excavation at a site, then known as Linford, which was slowly being destroyed as a result of gravel digging by Hoveringham Gravels Ltd.[3]

The main excavations

As a result of this exploratory dig, and of the earlier investigations, Dr Jones' contract was extended and she was appointed director of the full scale excavations. She was joined by her husband Tom and in 1965 (after the crops had been harvested)[5] they began the mammoth task that was to last for the next 14 years on the Mucking hill top. The excavation was unusual in that it continued through the winter, unlike most excavations which only took place in the summer.[6] The Joneses were assisted by many younger archaeologists and 'volunteers' from Britain and abroad including more than 3,000 students from many countries.[7] The volunteers lived mainly in tents during the warmer months, but in the winter, occupied old caravans and sheds. The organisation of the camp, the feeding, the pay and the volunteers' welfare involved many individuals guided by terse memos signed by the initials 'muj'. Margaret Jones sometimes commented that it was more like a holiday camp than an archaeological dig. In the final stages of the dig, volunteers were supplemented by local unemployed people, funded by a government job creation scheme. Without this extra assistance, the excavation might not have been completed.[8]

Margaret Jones died in 2001. The Independent of 31 March 2001 carried an obituary which said 'for a generation of respectable middle-aged archaeologists ... to have dug with Margaret Jones at Mucking remains a badge of honour'. In her will, she left money to fund fieldwork or research related to the Mucking excavations or for landscape archaeology covering the same periods as Mucking.[9]


The dig was financed by the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments in the Department of the Environment (a precursor to English Heritage). The dig was criticised in some quarters as "excavation without publication", but Margaret Jones defended the need to excavate everything ahead of the gravel extraction and refused to spend valuable time preparing results for publication.[10] Hamerow acknowledges that small-scale sample excavations would not have revealed important features of the site – for example that it was a single settlement, the location of which moved over time rather than separate early and later settlements.[2] Three volumes of excavation results have so far been published.[2][3][11] The Cambridge Archaeological Unit has agreed to complete the publication of the excavation reports on the Roman and pre-Roman periods. Initial finance has been allocated for this by English Heritage via the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund (ALSF).[12]


The excavation found more than 44,000 archaeological features.[13] These included isolated graves and pits from the Neolithic and a hill fort from the Bronze Age. There were also more than 100 Iron Age round houses and a Romano-British cemetery. The excavations revealed substantial indications of a high status Romano-British building (that Margaret Jones had "no doubt"[5] was a villa), located either within the excavation or nearby.

The Saxon settlement

The site had been abandoned by the Romano-British during the 4th century and there was a gap before the Saxon occupation of the site began in the early 5th century. This was among the earliest Saxon settlements in England.[7] The Saxon settlement gradually moved north over the course of two hundred years after its establishment.[14] During or after the 8th century, the settlement was either abandoned, or drifted beyond the area that was excavated.[15] The area previously occupied by the Saxon settlement became part of a Saxo-Norman field system.[3]

More than 200 Saxon sunken featured buildings (Grubenhaus) were excavated, together with nearly a dozen large timber buildings. These more substantial halls were up to 50 feet (15 m) long and 25 feet (7.6 m) wide with entrances in the middle of both longer sides.[7]

The Saxon cemeteries

There were more than 800 burials in the Saxon cemeteries ranging in date from the early 5th to the 7th century.[11] Two cemeteries were excavated, although one of them had already been partially destroyed by gravel working. Cemetery II contained cremation and inhumation graves, while cemetery I contained only inhumations. Cemetery II (the undamaged cemetery) contained graves from which 125 brooches were recovered, allowing the reconstruction of Saxon dress styles.[16] The cemeteries were not used after the middle 7th century although the settlement continued in to the 8th century. Later burials may have been at a Christian cemetery associated with Cedd's minster church at Tilbury.[11]


In addition to the brooches, other finds from the settlement and cemeteries included 5th century domestic Saxon pottery and late Roman military belt fittings. More than 5,000 items were donated to the British Museum by the landowners.[17] Some of the originals finds from the excavation are displayed in the British Museum, and others are in storage. Some replica finds are in the Thurrock Museum.[7]


While the finds from other periods are of some interest, it is as an Anglo-Saxon site that Mucking is most significant. Unlike Sutton Hoo or the Royal Saxon tomb in Prittlewell, the dig provided significant information about living and working conditions for people below the status of kings or princes. It was the first time an excavation had covered both a Saxon settlement and its associated cemetery.[2]

Archaeological literature

Results from the Mucking excavation have been extensively used in illustrating and debating archaeological issues. For example, before the dig was completed, hand made pottery was illustrated almost entirely by sherds from Mucking in The Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England by DM Wilson.[18] Many other authors have used the results. Arnold and Wardle[19] used evidence from Mucking to support the idea that there was a major shift in the location of Anglo-Saxon settlements in the 8th century, from lighter to heavier, but more productive soils. However, Rippon[20] argued that the later phases of occupation at Mucking had not been excavated. Similarly, results from Mucking have been used in the debate on the numbers of incoming Anglo-Saxons at the end of the Roman period. For example Hooke[21] and others[22] have used the quality of soil at Mucking to suggest that incoming Saxons were forced by the local inhabitants to settle on the poorest agricultural land. On the other hand, Myres puts forward the view that the site was chosen by the London authorities "to provide early warning of strange vessels sailing up the river with hostile intent".[23] The discovery of a "Roman style" military buckle in a Saxon grave at Mucking has been used to argue for continuity between the Roman and Saxon settlement.[24]

Notes and references

External links

  • Mucking - Prehistoric and Roman, Cambridge Archaeological Unit ALSF Project Archive
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