Hampshire Archaeology

Home » Burials » Buried in time – Meon Hill – ‘eorthbyrig’ and executions.

Buried in time – Meon Hill – ‘eorthbyrig’ and executions.

‘One of the few drawbacks of air-photography’ state Crawford & Keiller in Wessex from the Air (1928) ‘is its failure to register colours’. They were moved to say this because the enclosure at Meon Hill, near Stockbridge,  had revealed itself as a ‘semicircle of brilliant scarlet [poppies] sharply outlined against the bright yellow of a field of oats’.

Shades of grey; aerial photograhy in 1924

Shades of grey; aerial photograhy in 1924

The plate that accompanies the entry in their book (above) emphasises the point (spot the enclosure!) but the reason they were so pleased with what they saw from above, was that they were actively searching for the lost ‘eorthbyrig’, literally ‘earth-bury’ or camp, mentioned in the bounds of Longstock in AD 982. They counted the discovery of the Meon Hill site, on 12 July, 1924, ‘as one of the most successful results of the season’s work’.

What Crawford and Keiller really saw!

What Crawford and Keiller really saw!

Eight years later the site was excavated, on behalf of the Hampshire Field Club, by Dorothy Liddell. She dug three ‘cuttings’ or trenches. Trench I sectioned the ‘V – shaped’ ditch on the northeast side of the ring, Trench II tackled the northwest sector and Trench III the southern side. All three cuttings yielded flint flakes, implements and ‘pot-boilers’: plus pottery and metal finds of Iron Age and Romano-British date. The excavators gave up counting the pot-boilers – fire-crazed lumps of flint – as there were so many!

Some of the skeletons

Graves line the ditch

Trench II revealed an earlier ditch, cut through by the ring, but the discoveries that aroused greatest interest were the result of later activity in this area. Ten skeletons were found, their graves dug into the soft soil of the enclosure ditch. Six of the males, aged between 20 and 50, had been decapitated. Burial orientation and a few associated small finds suggested a late 10th century date, and the site bears comparison with the ‘execution cemetery’ found on Stockbridge Down, just across the valley. Interestingly, one of the three complete skeletons was identified as female, while the final individual was missing both skull and upper body and may have been disturbed by animal burrowing.

A close up of some of the graves

A close up of some of the graves

A second season in 1933 resulted in the discovery of 24 pits and 29 postholes with ‘numerous other hollows and depressions’ cut into the chalk varying in depth from 1 to 7 feet (0.3 to 2.2m). The conclusion at the time was that a group of underground Iron Age dwellings had been found, whereas today we would be happy to call them storage pits.  Some of the postholes no doubt belonged to surface-level Iron Age roundhouses.

'Magnificent views' Men and horses are busy with the harvest. The dots show the line of the enclosure ditch.

‘Magnificent views’ Men and horses are busy with the harvest. The dots show the line of the enclosure ditch.

Meon Hill lies on Houghton Down, about ½ mile west of Stockbridge. The location boasts magnificent views along the Test Valley, in sight of Woolbury, Danebury and Quarley. In former times the enclosure was touched by the Stockbridge-Salisbury road, which now veers away from it, and tradition has it that a drovers’ inn once stood within. Today the site is all in cultivation.

Industrious archaeology; a truck and rails made the digging easier - equipment supplied by Mr Musselwhite of Basingstoke.

Industrious archaeology; a truck and rails made the digging easier – equipment supplied by Mr Musselwhite of Basingstoke.

Further reading:

Archive (not the skeletons) held by Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Crawford OGS & Keiller A (1928) Wessex from the Air, p107

Liddell, D (1934) Excavations at Meon Hill, Proc Hants Field Club, 12, 126-162

Liddell, D (1937) Report on the Hants Field Club’s Excavations at Meon Hill, Proc Hants Field Club, 13, 7-54

Photographic illustrations from the excavation reports.

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, and Peter Stone

 

 

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