The Later Prehistory of Ipswich


The ‘later prehistoric’ period covers the period from around 4,500 BC to the Roman Conquest in AD 43. In this part of England, the settlement sites of this period contain timber buildings that leave only ephemeral traces in the form of post-holes and gullies. As a result, these traces tend not to be observed unless a site is being intentionally excavated by archaeologists. Pits and ditches associated with these settlements are more durable, but again are unlikely to be identified outside archaeological excavations. Stone and metal artefacts, such as flint axes or bronze blade fragments, are both resilient and more recognisable, but are usually only recorded as ‘stray finds’, with no information about their contexts.

Burials of the Neolithic period are rare in this region and none have been found in Ipswich. Iron Age burials are nationally rare and again none are recorded from Ipswich. Bronze Age burials, however, are relatively numerous and are more readily identifiable as they are frequently associated with substantial burial mounds and are often to be found as cremations in large pottery urns.


Stray finds have a fairly even distribution over the borough area, which suggests that settlement may have been present in most areas, though the distribution may include items picked up as curios from other areas and subsequently lost. There is a noticeable concentration of Neolithic stone and flint axes within the bounds of Ipswich which suggests that some may have been imported from the surrounding rural areas. The most notable ‘stray finds’ in Ipswich are the Iron Age gold torcs (IPS 079) that were found in the Belstead Hills area in 1968 (with an additional one in 1970). They are an important indicator that there must have been significant and very wealthy settlements in the near vicinity.

The sites with recorded features (houses, hearths, pits and ditches) are heavily biased towards those areas where housing and industry expanded in the 20th century – that is in the Whitehouse and Whitton areas on the northwest and north sides of Ipswich, in the Chantry area of the south-west, and in the Landseer, Gainsborough and Priory Heath districts of the south-east. These areas did not have the long-term and extensive below-ground disturbances that the areas of central Ipswich experienced and therefore their prehistoric deposits were better preserved. Development in those areas has also, since the 1970s (and especially since the 1990s) been preceded by archaeological excavations. Within the limitations of this biased sample, there is a tendency for the sites to be located on the edges of the slightly higher ground that forms an arc in the eastern half of the borough area, and in the similarly higher area in the Stoke area of the south-west. This accords with observations about the locations of settlements elsewhere in Suffolk. This is not an exclusive distribution and it is noteworthy that some of the Bronze Age burial sites (IPS 017, 087, 104, 400) are in the lower areas of the western part of the borough, on or around the terraces of the River Gipping. In contrast, another group (IPS 024, 031, 676, 725, 1581) in the south-east of the borough are on higher ground and form an extension to a larger group that extends into Foxhall, Nacton, Bucklesham and Levington.

Edward Martin, 2017

All Known Neolithic sites and find-spots in the borough of Ipswich. (Image: SCCAS).


All Known Bronze Age sites and find-spots in the borough of Ipswich. (Image: SCCAS).


All Known Iron Age sites and find-spots in the borough of Ipswich. (Image: SCCAS).



Iron Age Enclosure, Aerial Photograph. Excavated 2006, (Image: SCCAS).

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