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Airport Gate, Bath Road

This is a summary of the archaeological investigation undertaken by the Museum of London Archaeology Service (MoLAS) on the site of the Airport Gate warehouse development, Bath Road, Harmondsworth on behalf of Allied Commercial Exporters Ltd.

The Airport Gate site is situated on the northern side of Heathrow Airport, immediately to the north of the Bath Road. It is bounded to the east by houses which front onto Blunts Avenue and by a recreation ground, to the north by open fields and to the west by industrial buildings.

Three distinct phases of human activity were recorded on the site. The earliest of which was a system of Middle Bronze Age field boundaries. One of these ditches consisted of at least two phases of construction. The ditch fills contained a quantity of material such as pottery, flint, burnt flint and charcoal which would suggest that there had been Middle Bronze Age occupation in the immediate vicinity. The majority of the pottery has been identified as of Deverel Rimbury type and includes the base of a large vessel as well as decorated rim fragments.

Three isolated pits containing charcoal, bone and burnt flint were also recorded. The fills from these pits were also found to contain fragments of Deverel Rimbury pottery. Together the burnt flint and charcoal content of the pits suggest that they may be refuse or cooking pits. Flint blades and flakes were also recovered form these pits and they have been dated to the later Prehistoric period. Analysis of the soil sample from the most southerly pit has found two small fragments of human bone. The bone was whitish blue in colour and this shows that it had been heated to over 600 C for a long time which suggests this pit contained a cremation.

Many of the features are at present undated. This includes the most striking feature on the site which was a large rectangular enclosure, open at the western end and associated with a droveway. The enclosure had several phases of recutting of the ditches and was divided down the centre by a shallow gully. The enclosure had what appeared to be a form of gateway at the western end leading into the northern half of the enclosure. The presence of the central gully and the entranceway strongly suggests that there were two different activities taking place within the one enclosure.

The droveway to the south of the enclosure was formed by the southern side of the enclosure and a parallel ditch that extended beyond the limit of excavation to the west.

The droveway ditch was found to be very shallow and appeared to be truncated but this may have been how the ditch was originally designed with an entrance leading into a larger field or paddock to the south.

The droveway was blocked by a short section of ditch that had postholes cut into its base. This was constructed in the final phase of use of the enclosure and droveway. It would have prevented livestock entering or leaving the area directly to the east of the enclosure.

The enclosure, droveway and a shorter ditch at the very northern end of the site, were all found to be on a northwest - southeast alignment. This is approximately a 45 realignment from the Middle Bronze Age field system. These features, though at the moment undated, are probably Late Bronze Age or Iron Age in date.

The environmental samples taken from the fills of undated pits and ditches contain a quantity of charcoal from which radio carbon dates may be obtained. The environmental samples that have been taken from the enclosure have revealed the presence of a large number and range of cereal grains such as wheat, barley, oat, as well as legumes and weed seeds including dock and grasses.

A line of postholes that ran approximately NW - SE to the north of the enclosure are also undated. These postholes may simply form a fence line but equally they may be associated with other postholes in the vicinity and form a fairly large structure such as a hall or barn. One of these undated postholes has been found to contain a rich assemblage of over 200 grains and the only chaff from the site.

The excavation revealed other pits in association with the three that had already been located during the evaluation. A large elongated pit was also found to contain a fragment of loom weight. This pit had almost vertical sides and was associated with a number of postholes dug around it. The base of the pit was very irregular with numerous small indentations that appear to be stakeholes. This feature, although not a typical example, has been interpreted as a sunken featured building(SFB). This form of structure was common though out the Anglo-Saxon period and are usually found to be ancillary buildings such as weaving and storage sheds.

All the Saxon features contained charcoal in sufficient quantity to suggest occupation in the immediate vicinity. The environmental analysis has shown that seeds from cereal plants, beans and weed seeds were present although the quantities suggest that the building was not connected with processing or storage of arable crops.

The presence of the loomweight fragment from the SFB and the fragment from the neighbouring pit suggests that the building was a weaving shed. SFBs are sometimes found in conjunction with Saxon halls which are long, rectangular post-built dwellings.

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