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Buried in time – ‘the unique qualities of human actions’

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Petersfield Heath; George Anelay (left) Claire Woodhead and Stuart Needham discuss the latest discovery.

To Petersfield, to see the third year of excavation at the ‘People of the Heath’ community project, and an opportunity for Hampshire Cultural Trust conservator, Claire Woodhead, to discuss the processes involved in dealing with their latest Bronze Age find (for an update on the project see their excellent bulletins).

The twenty or more burial monuments on the Heath were first put on record in a comprehensive fashion by a youthful Stuart Piggott, a native of Petersfield. Several small diameter circles were evident among the larger barrows and the project has now examined four of them. George Anelay who along with Stuart Needham is directing the project, told me how they all differed and that they hadn’t revealed an obvious similarity of purpose, with no central burial feature present. It put me in mind of one of Stuart Piggott’s own memorable passages (in ‘Ancient Europe’ – he went on to become Professor of Archaeology at Edinburgh) about ‘the unique qualities of human actions’ and their inability to create identical sets of circumstances – all this in a pre-industrial age of course!

It took me back to my own adventure with an early Bronze Age burial site – in Buckinghamshire – which found a remarkable parallel in Hampshire – with, it goes without saying, differences in detail. We’ve already visited Stockbridge Down in this series to view an execution cemetery and the hillfort at Woolbury, but in the late 1930s, J F S Stone and N Gray Hill excavated a round barrow, which ‘although small…was found to possess some unusual features’.   The main occupant was a Beaker period crouched female burial, accompanied by one of the distinctive vessels and a bronze awl, but the rarity was the surrounding ditch, which was composed of five segments – they are usually continuous. In 1978 I had the good fortune to dig a ring ditch threatened by quarrying at Ravenstone, Bucks, and this monument was composed of four ditch segments with, at the centre, a Beaker period crouched female burial, accompanied by a pot and a bronze awl.

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Recording the Ravenstone segments

But that wasn’t the end of the story. At Ravenstone, the female burial was a secondary interment; beneath her was a deep burial pit containing a coffin – but no body – it was presumably a cenotaph. At Stockbridge Down there were cremation burials later than the main burial, dug into the ditch. This has only now got me scratching my head for a point of process I’d missed before. At Stockbridge the excavators were content that the ditch was dug to surround the burial – so female crouched burial, Beaker, awl, causewayed ditch were apparently contemporary.

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At Ravenstone the causewayed ditch surrounded a deep grave-pit with a coffin (generally an attribute of a male Beaker burial). So the female crouched burial, pot and awl were interlopers – and the depth of her grave suggested that it was indeed dug through a barrow mound (the actual mound had been subsequently ploughed flat). Therefore two very similar plans are perhaps not as similar as they seem. They’re certainly not identical, are they Professor? It’s one of the joys of being an archaeologist.

 

References:

Allen, D, The Excavation of a Beaker Burial Monument at Ravenstone, Buckinghamshire in 1978, Arch J Vol 138 for 1981.

Piggott, S, 1965, Ancient Europe

Stone, JFS & Hill, N G, 1940, A Round Barrow on Stockbridge Down, Hampshire, Antiquaries Journal, Vol XX

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

 

 

 

 

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Buried in time – Tom Walls’ flints

RAF pilot Tom Walls was stationed in Hampshire during World War II, flying from  airfields such as Middle Wallop. He had a keen interest in Stone Age archaeology and when airborne sought out gravel pits which he could later visit on the ground. One was Goodwilley’s Pit at Yew Hill, Kings Somborne and another was Marshall’s Pit in Harewood Forest. In later years he investigated a number of sites in Surrey with the Surrey Archaeological Society, and this connection led to Jon Cotton arranging for the Hampshire finds to be returned, via the Kings Somborne Society, following Tom Walls’ death in the early 1990s.

Pages from Tom Wall's notebook describing his 'summer 1944' investigations at Goodwilley's Pit.

Pages from Tom Wall’s notebook describing his ‘summer 1944’ investigations at Goodwilley’s Pit.

Goodwilley’s Pit boasted a rich seam of material which, although geologically ‘haphazard’, contained many Palaeolithic tools. Tom Walls paid the quarrymen 6d (2½p) for each one they discovered and made notes about the circumstances and location of their finds. An eagle-eyed Mr Day, of Moss Lane, aided by his son, found the majority, many of which they rescued from the conveyor belt between the hopper and the grinder.

Three fine ovates

Three fine ovates

In all, Tom Walls obtained about sixty implements from Goodwilley’s Pit. The most common types were flint handaxes. There are a variety of tool sizes and shapes which would have had different purposes such as cutting, scraping and hammering. It is even thought that some of these ubiquitous objects may have had a symbolic function. In southern Britain handaxes date from at least 500,000 years ago (although the ‘starting date’ is constantly under review) but they are scarce between 400,000 and 60,000 years ago, possibly due to the severity of the Ice Age climate affecting the human population (Stringer. 2006).

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Between 60,000 and 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals were living in southern Britain and there may be evidence for this at Goodwilley’s Pit. Neanderthals produced a distinctive type of handaxe – the bout coupe – a slender ‘rounded triangle’ shape, with the cutting edge all the way round, and there is a possible candidate in the collection.

Pointed handaxes, with cortex retained to provide a more comfortable grip.

Pointed handaxes, with cortex retained to provide a more comfortable grip.

Many of the remaining handaxes are not flaked all over, leaving some of the original surface (cortex) to fit comfortably in the hand and improve the grip. These multi-purpose pointed tools may have been used to dig up edible roots, as borers and awls, or as weapons.

The Marshall's Pit 'cleaver'.

The Marshall’s Pit ‘cleaver’.

One of the most intriguing flints in Tom Walls collection is a remarkably large example from Marshall’s Pit in Harewood Forest, to the east of Andover. It measures 280 mm in length but is comparatively slender, and weighs 1.25 kg. A handaxe from Furze Platt, Maidenhead, measuring 306 mm, but weighing 2.8 kg, is generally considered to be ‘too large for practical purposes…perhaps (having) a symbolic meaning.’ The Marshall’s Pit tool might just have made an effective (two-handed) cleaver!

Another distinctive item found in the river bed at Yew Hill is made of greenstone. It is a pestle mace-head which dates to the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age (c 4,000 years ago). This example is polished with tapering sides and a perforation for a handle. There is some debate regarding the use of these beautifully-crafted artefacts. It is possible that they too had no practical function and were a symbol of an individual’s status in the community.

The pestle mace-head.

The pestle mace-head.

The Tom Walls’ collection was donated to the Hampshire County Museums Service in 1994 and is now in the care of the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Accession number A1994.18.

References:

Allen D. 1994. Fifty Years Ago – Squadron Leader Tom Walls. Hants Field Club & Arch Soc Newsletter 22 pp 14-15

Stringer C. 2006. Homo Britannicus: The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain. Penguin:London.

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

Buried in time (and a housing estate) – Balksbury plateau enclosure

When the much-needed Andover bypass swept around the southern reaches of the town in the late 1960s it sliced through the southwest corner of the 18 ha (45 acre) plateau enclosure of Balksbury.  From that moment on, the earthwork’s days  were numbered.  Housing developments eventually arrived and now carpet nearly all of the interior, but at least the disappearance of the archaeology was well-documented, and six episodes of excavation are on record.

General view of the 1973 excavtions

General view of the 1973 excavtions

In 1939 the southern side of the defences was examined by Jacquetta Hawkes, while husband Christopher was busy excavating at nearby Bury Hill.  Twenty years later the northeast corner of the enclosure was looked at during house-building.  More substantial opportunities came in 1967 with the arrival of the bypass and again in 1973, when the same excavator, Geoff Wainwright, undertook one of his celebrated ‘big digs’, uncovering 10 ha of the interior.  The Central Excavation Unit investigated a further 2 ha in 1981.  Finally, between December 1995 and April 1997, another 5.5 ha of the interior was examined, additional work took place outside the enclosure, and a section of bank and ditch was looked at in detail.

Excavations in 1997

Excavations in 1997 – examining the ‘defences’

Viewed as a whole, the site produced evidence from Neolithic to Late-Roman date, although the earliest activity is represented only by stray finds, including a Beaker burial of an adolescent female.

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The BAlksbury Beaker burial

The Balksbury Beaker burial

Around the 8th-9th centuries BC (Late Bronze Age) large-scale clearance of woodland preceded the construction of the enclosure.  A single entrance was found to the southeast as well as three phases of bank and ditch, some involving timber strengthening.  If there was any occupation at this period, it apparently took the form of a few four and five-post structures, scattered around the periphery.  In the Early Iron Age the evidence is more substantial, with three round houses and 27 storage pits identified.  Pits also dominated in the Middle Iron Age, with 90 attributable to this phase, but there were no recognisable structures.

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Iron Age pit (half sectioned) and roundhouse (post ring and porch).

Iron Age pit (half sectioned) and roundhouse (post ring and porch).

In the Late Iron Age and Early Roman periods a number of pits and gullies were dug but the type of activity they represent is elusive.  It does, however, appear to merge into the later Roman occupation which involved a substantial building with ovens (and painted wall plaster), a corn-drier, small enclosures, pits and burials.  Finds included both local and imported pottery, worked bone and stone, coins and jewellery, including 11 brooches, four bracelets, five rings and a buckle plate.  Part of a scabbard for a La Tene 1 type dagger, a rare find from a settlement site, is of Middle Iron Age date.

The 'T'-shaped corn drier from the Romano-British phase.

The ‘T’-shaped corn drier from the Romano-British phase.

In the mid-1990s, the final phase of excavation concentrated on the nature and economy of the enclosure, rather than its wider landscape setting.  The enclosure, at 18 ha, was too big to be defended effectively and its description as a ‘hillfort’ is wrong.  It probably marked out an important place in the landscape, a focal point for communal activities, which may have included feasting, exchange of goods, and the means to build social relationships.  Later activity took place in the centre of the site and the impression is of a succession of small farming settlements taking advantage of an existing, but redundant, enclosure.

Further Reading:

A1978.12  Archive held by the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Balksbury Camp, Andover, Excavations 1973 & 1981, Wainwright & Davies (1995), English Heritage Archaeological Report 4.

Excavations at Balksbury Camp, Andover 1995-97, Ellis & Rawlings (2001), Hants Studies Vol 56.

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

Geoffrey Wainwright (third from left) who led the 1967 and 1973 digs.

Geoffrey Wainwright (third from left) and some of the diggers in 1973.

Ken Smith (left) and the 1981 excavation crew.

Ken Smith (left) and the 1981 excavation crew.

Buried in time – the Beaker phenomenon

The Chilbolton Beaker Burials

 A small round barrow, near Leckford, used between 2270 and 2140 BC

 The Beaker period marks the transition from the Neolithic (New Stone Age) to the Bronze Age. In some areas it is recognised as a very specific horizon, the Chalcolithic or ‘copper age’. It coincides with the appearance of metalworking (gold and copper) in Britain. A ‘Beaker’ is typically a flat-bottomed vessel intricately decorated with indented patterns all over the exterior surface.

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 The small circular ditch

 

The Chilbolton discovery was made in 1986 on the Leckford Estate during ground clearance. A small circular ditch was found, with two opposing gaps, enclosing a large central pit. This turned out to be a grave which had been used twice. Excavation was by Test Valley Archaeological Committee assisted by Winchester Archaeology Office.

Beaker burial with labelsChilbolton primary burial_0002
The primary burial; the bones have been disturbed and replaced – the arms at one end of the grave, skull at the other, and legs in the middle, including the femurs (thigh bones) in opposite directions.  The body must have been decomposed but the wooden chamber in which he was buried may have still contained voids.  The detail picture shows the copper dagger next to the Beaker vessel.

The first burial, a male aged 20-30 years, had been placed in crouched position on the floor of a timber mortuary chamber. A short time later the second burial, a male aged 35-45 years, was placed on top of him but this action disturbed the existing bones. They were replaced, but in the process many became jumbled and a put back in the wrong positions, including opposed thigh bones.  In life this young man was strong and robust and 5’ 10” in height. His right forearm had a healed ‘parry fracture’, so called because wounds like this can occur when deflecting a blow to the head.

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The rich collection of grave offerings; only the right hand Beaker came from the secondary burial

 

He was buried with a rich collection of grave offerings. A Beaker was placed at his feet and leaning against this was a copper dagger. Next to his head was a pair of gold, basket-shaped earrings, or hair tresses, with a second, smaller pair and a gold bead nearby. In addition, 55 stone beads were recovered by sieving the soil from around the burial. Flint flakes were also present and a flint ‘strike-a-light’ was found beneath the pelvis. At the southern end of the grave was an antler spatula which may have been used for flint knapping. The second burial was accompanied only by a pottery Beaker.

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 The secondary burial

 

Rich burials of this kind are rare but widespread and have encouraged a lot of speculation about whether it is ethnicity (migration), status or beliefs that are represented.

The Chilbolton finds are on display in the Andover Museum. A1986.1

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, with help from Stacie Elliot.