University of Leicester Archaeological Services

A Late Neolithic Circular Structure Discovered in Rothley, Leicestershire

A Late Neolithic Circular Structure Discovered in Rothley, Leicestershire

Image of the structure at Rothley

A Late Neolithic Circular Structure Discovered in Rothley, Leicestershire

Neolithic Settlement at Temple Grange, Rothley, Leicestershire

Image of photograph of ULAS staff working on Rothley siteExcavations at Rothley in 2010 have revealed evidence for a Neolithic settlement, including the discovery of a circular structure dated by Grooved Ware pottery and C14 samples to c. 2700 – 2500 BC. Surrounding this was evidence for at least a further two possible structures, along with numerous pits containing significant quantities of artefacts. Evidence from the Iron Age, Roman, and Anglo-Saxon periods were also revealed.

Image of ULAS working at RothleyThe excavation was undertaken by University of Leicester Archaeological Services between January and May 2010 in advance of residential development by Charles Church (North Midlands). The site was located on the southern edge of the village to the west of Woodcock Farm. The site was located mid-way up a north-facing slope on the west-side of the River Soar, 1.7km south of earlier excavations at Lodge Farm that identified significant Neolithic discoveries in 2005 including a stone plaque (see Cooper & Hunt 2005, and here).

The Structures

The circular structure composed of 48 post-holes forming a rough circle around 5 metres in diameter. Three sherds of pottery were recovered from the structure, including a sherd of Grooved Ware. Three of the post-holes had charred hazel fragments that were suitable for radiocarbon dating. At 95.4% probability the dates were 2880 – 2580 cal BC; 2700 – 2480 cal BC; and 2780 – 2570 cal BC.

Image of the circular structure, which had enough room for three archaeologists

Eight metres north-west was a further possible structure. This composed of a shallow irregular-shaped pit or hollow measuring at its maximum extent 2.8m by 2.8m, becoming narrower at the east-end (1.5m). Within this were five post-holes, all located on the sloping sides of the pit. Overlying the post-holes, and filling the hollow was a pale brown sandy-silt, containing around 30 finds (including Grooved Ware pottery and worked flint). The structure has broad similarities to sunken-buildings – or pit-dwellings - of the Neolithic period, seen most often in south-east Europe (Tipper 2004:4). A broadly similar building of Neolithic date was found at Lodge Farm (Clay et al 2006: 5). A further cluster of post-holes 25 metres north-east indicate at least two phases of another circular structure.



Image of some of the post-holes being recordedImage of plan of post-hole feature












Pits and Pieces

Surrounding these structures were dispersed clusters of refuse pits or perhaps 'working hollows'. Four pits contained large quantities of worked flint and pottery sherds. Of particular interest was a large 'undressed' ground stone axe, a finished tool that had had its ground surface systematically removed by later knapping. The flaked fragments from the polished surface were also found, and fragments of a similar, possibly the same, axe were found in another pit 60m north. The Neolithic practice of deliberately destroying axes is known from other sites including the nearby Lodge Farm site (Cooper & Hunt 2005: 15).

Image of plate of a 'working hollow' being excavatedImage of another 'working hollow' being excavated. Each contained 100s of artefacts including pottery and worked lithics. The 3D position of all these were carefully recorded with a GPS

Two pits again containing quantities of artefacts had leaf-shaped arrowheads placed at the base of each. A C14 sample providing a date of 3520 – 3330 BC suggests earlier Neolithic activity, perhaps some 800 years earlier than the circular structure.

Image of sherd of Grooved ware pottery recovered from one of the post-holesImage of leaf-shaped arrowhead found at the base of one of the pits or 'working hollows'

Later Settlement Activity

Image of ULAS staff excavating an Anglo Saxon Sunken-Featured BuildingArchaeological evidence was not limited to the Neolithic, Iron Age and Roman pits and ditches were also excavated. Of particular interest was an Anglo-Saxon Sunken-Featured Building (being excavated on the right).


Settlement evidence of the later Neolithic in the East Midlands is rare – and is generally limited to discrete pits or residual finds (Clay 2006: 77). However, in more recent years there has been an increasing number excavated including Lodge Farm, Rothley (Clay et al 2006), Eye Kettleby, Leicestershire (Finn 2011), and Curzon Lodge, Derbyshire (Johnson & Waddington forthcoming). The discovery of the circular structure of late Neolithic date is rare within the region and further afield. The building is very small, being comparable in size to examples excavated at Treystan, Powys (Britnell 1982), though the structure at Rothley is far more substantial being constructed with wide posts, rather than thin stakes. In view of its size the circular structure may be best interpreted as a domestic house rather than timber circle. The deposition of the objects within the various pits – including the deliberate destruction of the axe – appears to have been structured, and may signify an act of closure to the settlement. The discovery of two important Neolithic sites within a short period of time – both from developer-funded projects – is in part down to good fortune, but also due to the perceived favourable location in the landscape. Rothley is situated in the River Soar valley, close to the confluence zone with Rothley Brook and the River Welland. It is not far from Charnwood hills – a major outcrop site for axes that were widely distributed across the country. The two Rothley sites combined therefore offer significant new information on Neolithic settlement in the region, and wider Neolithic studies in Britain.

The excavation report is nearing completion and will be uploaded in due course to the Online Access to the Index of Archaeological Investigations (OASIS), under ID:universi1-102368, available at: http://oasis.ac.uk

Britnell, W. 1982, ‘The excavation of two round barrows at Treystan, Powys’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society. 48, 133-202
Clay, P. 2006, ‘The Neolithic and Early to Middle Bronze Age’, The Archaeology of the East Midlands. An Archaeological Resource Assessment and Research Agenda. Leicester Archaeology Monograph 13, 69-88
Clay, P., Hunt, L., and Cooper, L. 2006, Rothley Lodge Farm, Rothley, Leicestershire Assessment Report and Project Design. University of Leicester Archaeological Services unpublished report 2006-140
Cooper, L. and Hunt, L. 2005, ‘An Engraved Neolithic Plaque with Grooved Ware Associations’. PAST. Newsletter of the Prehistoric Society, 50, July 2005, 14-15
Finn, N. 2011, Bronze Age Ceremonial Enclosures and Cremation Cemetery at Eye Kettleby, Leicestershire: The Development of a Prehistoric Landscape. Leicester Archaeology Monograph 20
Johnson, B. and Waddington, C. forthcoming, ‘Archaeological Excavations at Curzon Lodge, Longcliffe, Derbyshire’, Derbyshire Archaeological Journal 2011
Tipper, J. 2004, The Grubenhaus in Anglo-Saxon England. Landscape Research Centre Archaeological Monograph Series 2:1

Gavin Speed
Senior Archaeological Supervisor
University of Leicester Archaeological Services

Institute for Archaeologists website| Investors in people website
UPDATED: 03rd June 2011
This document has been approved by the head of department or section.