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Excavations at Stansted Airport: Insect remains

Excavations at Stansted Airport: Insect remains

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Excavation on the MTCP site (BAAMP00) discovered a Middle Bronze Age ring ditch
which surrounded the much eroded remains of a round barrow. The ditch contained waterlogged organic sediment above the primary silting. There are examples known of round barrows in the Fenlands of East Anglia which were engulfed in peat as a result of a rising water table long after their abandonment. However, it is most unusual for a barrow ditch to contain waterlogged sediments likely to have been contemporaneous with the use of the monument.
Excavation on the MTCP site (BAAMP00) discovered a Middle Bronze Age ring ditch
which surrounded the much eroded remains of a round barrow. The ditch contained waterlogged organic sediment above the primary silting. There are examples known of round barrows in the Fenlands of East Anglia which were engulfed in peat as a result of a rising water table long after their abandonment. However, it is most unusual for a barrow ditch to contain waterlogged sediments likely to have been contemporaneous with the use of the monument.

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: Framework Archaeology on Jun 10, 2008
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05/30/2012

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by Mark Robinson
CHAPTER 36Insect remains
 
 
36.1
36
 
Insect remains
 Mark Robinson
Excavation on the MTCP site (BAAMP00) discovered a Middle Bronze Age ring ditchwhich surrounded the much eroded remains of a round barrow. The ditch containedwaterlogged organic sediment above the primary silting. There are examples known of round barrows in the Fenlands of East Anglia which were engulfed in peat as a result of arising water table long after their abandonment. However, it is most unusual for a barrowditch to contain waterlogged sediments likely to have been contemporaneous with the useof the monument. Therefore, extensive bulk sampling was undertaken for waterloggedbiological remains, including insects. Assessment identified those samples with goodpotential for full analysis and showed a general similarity between the range of insectspresent in those samples with better preservation. It was therefore decided to analyse asingle sample from context 320117, feature 324078, in detail. The waterlogged sedimentswere provisionally dated to the Middle Bronze Age.
Methods
A sample of 10 litres was washed over onto a 0.25 mm mesh to recover organic material.The organic fraction was subjected to paraffin flotation to extract insect remains. Theparaffin flot was washed in detergent and sorted in water with the aid of a binocularmicroscope for insect fragments. Specimens were identified by comparison withreference material at magnifications of up to x100.
Results
The results are given in Table 36.1 for Coleoptera (beetles) and Table 36.2 for otherinsects. The tables record the minimum number of individuals represented by thefragments identified from the samples. Nomenclature follows Kloet and Hincks (1977).The Coleoptera have been analysed by species group in Figure 36.1 after Robinson(1991, 278-81).
The origin of the assemblages and conditions in the ditch
The organic deposit in the ditch accumulated under water. The insects from it could bedivided into aquatic and marginal species which lived in the ditch and terrestrial specieswhich had entered the ditch from the surrounding landscape. There was no evidence thathuman activity, for example the dumping of refuse, had imported insects to the ditch. Theassumption advanced in Robinson (1991, 316) has been followed that of the order of 50%of the terrestrial Coleoptera that reached the deposits by natural agencies had their originwithin 50 m of the ring ditch.Water beetles comprised around 20% of the total Coleoptera. They were all speciescharacteristic of smaller bodies of stagnant water.
 Helophorus
cf.
brevipalpis
was the
 
 
36.2most abundant but there were several examples of 
 Hydrobius fuscipes
, which tends tofavour stagnant water above a bed of organic debris. The occurrence of six individuals of the minute weevil
Tanysphyrus lemnae
suggested that its host plant,
 Lemna
sp.(duckweed), covered the surface of the water in the ring ditch. Cyperaceae (sedges), thehost plants of 
Plateumaris sericea
, perhaps grew in the ditch although it is possible thatthis leaf beetle had flown in from vegetation alongside the nearby river channel. Some of the aquatic beetles were amphibious species, such as
Coelostoma orbiculare
and these,along with a few beetles of wet mud or dead waterside vegetation, such as
 Lestevalongoelytrata
and
Platystethus cornutus
gp., probably lived on the sides of the ring ditch.However, there were few insects of marsh habitats, suggesting an abrupt transition to theterrestrial environment.
The setting of the ring ditch
The terrestrial insects were almost entirely species which can occur in, or are dependentupon, grassland habitats. The wood and tree-dependent beetles of Species Group 4 onlycomprised 1% of the terrestrial Coleoptera (Fig. 36.1), suggesting a very open landscape.The only members of this group present were
 Melanotus erythropus
, which occurs invery rotten wood and
Grynobius planus
, which bores into drier dead wood.Members of Species Group 11, chafer and elaterid beetles with larvae which feed on theroots of grassland plants, were particularly abundant, comprising 21% of the terrestrialColeoptera. This value was particularly high for an archaeological assemblage. The mostnumerous species were
Phyllopertha horticola
and
 Agrypnus murinus
but other membersof this community included
 Hoplia philanthus
,
 Agriotes lineatus
and
 A. sputator 
. Thehigh percentage of this species group was perhaps because grassland extended to the veryedge of the ring ditch. The strong presence of 
 A. murinus
would suggest well-drainedpermanent turf. Grassland vegetation was also implied by the majority of the leaf beetlesand various of the weevils. The leaf beetles
 Hydrothassa glabra
and
Crepidodera ferruginea
respectively feed on
 Ranunculus
spp. (buttercups) and grasses. Together theycomprised 5% of the terrestrial Coleoptera. The vetch and clover-feeding weevils of thegenera
 Apion
and
Sitona
, which make up Species Group 3, were, at 3% of the terrestrialColeoptera, not sufficiently numerous as to indicate the presence of meadowland or talluncut grass but at an appropriate abundance for pastureland. Weevils which feed on
Plantago lanceolata
(ribwort plantain), another grassland plant, such as
Ceuthorhynchidius troglodytes
, were also present. The most numerous species of groundbeetle,
Calathus fuscipes
and
C. melanocephalus
, favour grassland habitats, unless veryclosely grazed, while various of the rove beetles, such as
 Xantholinus linearis
or
longiventris
and
Staphylinus olens
, often occur in grassland. One of the species of groundbeetle,
Pterostichus niger 
, is now more usually associated with woodland habitats thangrassland in Southern England. (Under the cooler and more humid conditions of NorthernEngland, it readily occurs in grassland). However, it appears to have been living ingrassland at Silbury Hill during the Neolithic (Robinson 1997, 43) and at Runnymededuring the Late Bronze Age (Robinson 1991, 322). The ants included workers of 
 Lasius flavus
gp., the mound-building yellow ant of grassland.

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