- This website reflects our views on the Terminal 5 site based on many years of post-excavation analysis, which culminated in the publication of the final volume of the T5 report in 2010.
The Heathrow Landscape
How do we know this?Find out more details in our archaeological evidence section
Category Archives: The Enclosed Landscape
Download an animation showing the Bronze Age settlement (requires QuickTime).
Despite the landscape now being divided by hedges and track ways, people and their animals still needed access to water. Access to streams and rivers had been made more difficult by the hedges and so people dug large, deep water holes near their settlements and in their fields to provide this vital recourse in each of the landholdings.
While waterholes had an obvious but important practical function for Bronze Age farmers, archaeologists have suggested that watery places often held special significance for our ancestors. These waterholes may have acted as a focus for people to come together from different family groups in the landholdings to undertake ceremonies that reminded them of their past and how they had been and still were linked together to form a community. We think that as part of these ceremonies unusual artefacts such as wooden axe hafts and wooden ards (used for cultivating the soil) were placed in the waterholes. In one case a stone axe head that was already 1500 years old and probably a very important family heirloom was also placed in the waterhole. These ceremonies were an important way of maintaining the links between the family groups and reminding everyone that although they were now psychically separated by ditches and banks they still formed a community.
Between 2,000 and 1,700 BC the centuries-old mechanisms for controlling land access and tenure were breaking down, though we don’t know why. It could have been due to population growth or any number of unrelated factors.
The new solution adopted by the community and families at this time was to divide the landscape up with ditches and banks topped by hedges into distinct ‘farmsteads’. To allow these fields to be laid out we know that the landscape had been largely cleared of woodland. It would appear that each family group lived and farmed in scattered settlements within their respective farmsteads, which were further subdivided into small fields.
Over time the boundaries between the farmsteads developed into trackways or lanes used to move animals around the landscape. Pollen and plant evidence from waterholes show that people were keeping sheep and cattle in the fields and also growing cereals. If we were able to go back in time and visit Heathrow around 1,500 BC we would see a landscape of small settlements, fields and trackways. This is the origin of the sort of rural English landscape that we would be familiar with today
From at least 700 BC (and probably from as early as 1,000 BC) the dispersed settlements of the family groups of the Middle Bronze Age gave way to a single large settlement occupied by a reunited community. This settlement was constructed in the middle of the site. Although this required some of the hedgerows in the vicinity to be uprooted, the majority of the fields that had been established over 1,000 years earlier continued in use. Our evidence for this settlement is clearest from about 400 BC during the Middle Iron Age when it consists of at least 14 roundhouses with thatched roofs and wattle and daub walls. The community in the settlement now farmed the previously independent farmsteads of the Middle Bronze Age as a single agricultural resource. This included the creation of a vast enclosure, which may well have provided a protective pasture for collective herds of cattle, sheep or horses. Animal rearing and cereal growing were still the main sources of food for the people of the settlement, with the greater emphasis being on the pastoral resource.
In the period between 2,000 BC and 1,000 BC the monumental Neolithic landscape was transformed to of one of agricultural production set within fields enclosed by boundaries marked by ditches, banks and hedges. Within the fields the Bronze Age inhabitants dug waterholes for their domesticated cattle and sheep and built small settlements that were approached by trackways running between fields and animal pens.
This pattern of fields and hamlets continued to develop throughout the Bronze Age, and the shape of the rural landscape of Heathrow at about 1000 BC would be somewhat familiar to us today. The development of an enclosed landscape containing settlements suggests that there was a major social and economic revolution in the way that ownership and access to resources linked the people and the land. The land and the communities became linked by ownership