Crop Marks and the Aston on Trent Cursus
Aston on Trent has a long history with written records going back to mediaeval times, however the area was inhabited long before even the Vikings and Anglo-Saxons were on the scene.
Aerial photographs from the 1960’s clearly show a complex series of lines, including a ‘cursus’, a pair of straight lines that run roughly north east – south west for more than a mile. Cursuses have only been found in Britain and were named after Roman race tracks by William Stukely, an 18th century antiquarian who found the first at Stonehenge in 1723. However they actually pre-date the Romans by a considerable time; the Aston on Trent cursus construction date is estimated to be between 2500BC and 1500BC.
No one knows why the cursus was built or what it was used for, although it may have links with ritual burial functions. With ditches around 11 feet wide and 5 feet deep and at least 5700 feet long, it is a significant construction.
A number of Bronze Age burial sites in the area have been excavated and a few Bronze Age artefacts were found but the Aston on Trent cursus seems to have been built at a later date. This was confirmed when a section of the cursus was excavated by in 1986.
Another feature seen on some aerial photographs from the 1960’s, near to the northern end of the cursus was a henge monument – a double ditched circular feature with a ring of post holes. This was destroyed when the field was turned into a gravel pit!
The Aston on Trent Beaker Burial
The recent discovery of a Bronze Age log boat at Shardlow, complete with stone cargo was a fascinating glimpse into the prehistoric past, but there have been other excavations and finds nearer to Aston on Trent itself including the excavation of a barrow (prehistoric burial site, marked SITE on the map on the previous page) in the field next to Aston on Trent Lock in the 1960s.
The site had been used since the Neolithic or New Stone Age when people lived or camped there, possibly for only one season. A decorated beaker, a flint arrowhead and an archer’s wrist guard were found plus a number of bowls, including a 14 inches diameter carinated bowl (having a ridge or shaped like a ridge or the keel of a ship.) Some worked flints and waste flint flakes were also recovered. Radiocarbon dating of the corn fragments suggested a date of 2890+/-150 BC. The beakers, wrist guard and arrowhead can be seen in Derby museum.
From similar material found at Stenson, Swarkestone and Aston, it is likely that there were quite a number of people living in the area during the late Neolithic and early Bronze ages. There are barrows at Twyford, Willington, Swarkestone and nearby at Weston, and another cursus of a similar size to the Aston on Trent cursus has been discovered at Potlock farm between Willington and Findern.
Iron Age Enclosure
A number of enclosures (areas of land surrounded by ditches) were found by aerial surveys towards the northern end of the cursus. One, adjacent to Acre Lane, was excavated in the 1960’s, revealing pottery from the Iron Age and a small amount of Romano-British and medieval pottery indicating that people may have been living in or around the site over a considerable period. The enclosure was roughly 36 feet square and 27 feet across internally.
Although not obvious today, Aston on Trent and its surrounding area has been home for people for at least 5000 years. The River Trent has made a significant contribution to its attractiveness due to the richness of the soil, and in the transportation of people and goods. From the monuments that they left, such as the barrows and cursus, we can get a glimpse, albeit a frustratingly small one, into our distant ancestors lives. They thought Aston on Trent was a special place!