600-year-old 'suburb' is found on building site

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The Independent Online

Scotland's first, purpose-built "suburb", constructed more than 600 years ago, may have been discovered on the site of a 21st-century development.

Scotland's first, purpose-built "suburb", constructed more than 600 years ago, may have been discovered on the site of a 21st-century development.

The new luxury housing estate in Dreghorn, Ayrshire, has been suspended while archaeologists uncover the remains of the medieval settlement as well as a stone age, or neolithic, hamlet.

The find sheds new light on rural life in medieval Scotland. Dreghorn, between the river Irvine and Annick Water, rose to prominence in the 19th century as a coal-mining and brick-making centre. But it had been a thriving medieval village hundreds of years earlier and had supported rural life in the area in neolithic times, before 2000BC.

A team of up to 30 experts have been excavating two acres of a five-acre site adjacent to Station Brae in Dreghorn since December, after the discovery of aerial photographs taken in the 1940s revealed the possible location of ancient remains.

With George Wimpey, the house builder, eager to start work on the site, Addyman Associates, an archaeological firm, was given until next month to uncover Dreghorn's secrets.

About 60 metres downhill from the main street of the existing village, a medieval road runs the length of the site, which was probably abandoned in the 14th century.

Along the side of the road are a series of structures, probably wattle-and-daub houses, containing some of the best examples of medieval Anglo-Norman pottery found north of the border.

However, experts have been surprised by the lack of fancy goods such as bronze buckles. "This is really looking like the low street of the village," said Tom Addyman. "The main street is the most desirable with the better houses at the top of the hill.

"It appears they were trying to create a second parallel street and turn it into a proto-urban set up, like an early suburb, but their grand design failed."

One hypothesis is that a mini ice age at the end of the 14th century raised ground water levels, driving residents out of properties on the lower street.

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