Hampshire Archaeology

Home » Bronze Age

Category Archives: Bronze Age

Buried in time – three Bronze Age rings

A previous blog (Buried in time – a Saxon Vill at Cowdery’s Down) described the well-preserved evidence for timber architecture dating from the 6th and 7th centuries AD found during excavation prior to housing development at Cowdery’s Down. The site, on the crest of a chalk ridge just to the east of Basingstoke, actually produced evidence of occupation from the Early Bronze Age right through to the English Civil War, the earliest features being three ring ditches*.

cw4

Aerial view of excavation in progress – Barton’s Lane, the straight road on the left, is now a shady avenue. ‘Oliver’s Dell’ is the curving enclosure to the right of the dig.

The three Early Bronze Age circular ditches were close together and ranged in size from 15m to 20m across. During the 1978 season of excavation the ditches were sectioned and found to be filled with chalk rubble; they had trench-like straight sides giving no reliable evidence of the former presence of central mounds. The centres of the rings were examined but no features were discovered. The ring ditches may have originally surrounded round barrows (the standard funerary monument of the Bronze Age) which were later destroyed and ploughed-out, but the evidence was inconclusive.

cowdery's down 2

Rings revealed: digging a section of one of the ditches.

Two of the rings were cut by field boundaries dating to the late Iron Age, proving that if barrow mounds had been present, then they must have been levelled before that period; ancient snail evidence suggests that the chalk rubble fill derived from the sides of the ditches rather than from a central mound. The original form of these circular monuments, like many other excavated ring ditches on chalk, remains problematic.

cdburial

The female burial during excavation.

One of the ditch sections revealed a crouched inhumation burial cut into the bottom of the fill. This was of a female aged 30-40 years. She was facing towards the centre of the ring and was accompanied by grave goods which included a jet toggle and two ‘pestle pendants’, probably of shale. These were recovered from the beneath the neck area and have been dated to c.1700-1500 BC. Pottery representing a maximum of five vessels was recovered from the same ditch. It was stratigraphically later than the burial and in a tradition suggesting a Middle Bronze Age date (1400-1000 BC). At the end of the digging season, the remainder of ditch fill was removed, and one of the three rings was found not to have any pottery associated with it.

* ‘ring ditch’ is an archaeological term describing a circular ditch.  They can vary in size and date and the same phrase can be used for a barrow ditch (mostly from the Bronze Age) or the gully surrounding a roundhouse (mostly from the Iron Age).

Further reading

A1978.1  Archive deposited with the Hampshire Cultural Trust

Fasham, P.J. 1982, Excavation of Four Ring-Ditches, Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society, Vol 38, pp. 19-56.

Millett, M. 1983, Excavations at Cowdery’s Down, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1978-81, Arch J, Vol 140, pp.151-279.

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

Advertisements

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

poh

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.

raven

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.

ravenstone9

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

 

 

 

 

Buried in time – some Langstone Harbour flints.

To Leeds, to meet with John Bowers, who in the late 1960s and early 70s was one of an intrepid band collecting prehistoric flintwork from the muddy foreshores of Langstone Harbour.  John’s real interest lay in bird watching and other natural history pursuits, but encouraged by Chris Draper*, he and his wife joined in rescuing the flint and pottery revealed by the shifting tides, and benefited from ‘identification sessions’ with Roger Jacobi and others.

John Bowers with a few of the Hayling Island finds.

John Bowers with a few of the Hayling Island finds.

With the passage of time, John feels it is now appropriate for the flints to find their way to an established archive, and with most of the harbour falling within the Havant Borough Council area, the Hampshire Cultural Trust has offered to take them in.  A reasonable number of the tools and artefacts have details of location (and the collection date), some more common types, such as scrapers, have just the location.

The main channels, mud flats and islands

The main channels, mud flats and islands

The Harbour has been the focus of considerable interest over the years, with Barry Cunliffe and Richard Bradley cutting their archaeological teeth in the area while still at school. In more recent years Mike Hughes, while County Archaeologist, instituted a programme of work that ran for nine years (1992 – 2000) involving Portsmouth & Southampton Universities and the Hampshire & Wight Maritime Trust, to look in detail at the intertidal zones.

Flints in focus - the eyes have it.

Flints in focus – the eyes have it.

Fieldwork was, of necessity, more restricted than fifty years ago. Langstone Harbour is one of the most important bird reserves in the country and much of it is out of bounds to the general public and was only available to the project for three weeks in the year.  Nevertheless, the survey produced 53 new sites and distinct features for the Historic Environment Record, as it plotted the submerged and semi-submerged landscape.  Dense scatters of Mesolithic to Bronze Age flints sat alongside large pieces of Bronze Age pottery associated with a hearth; and formerly complete Bronze Age urns were found in some number.

The work showed that to Mesolithic communities (c 8,000 years ago) the area was a low-lying valley, 40km from the sea and it provided a rich source of raw flint, exposed in the gravels of the river beds. By the Bronze Age (4000 years ago) permanent settlement and barrows were constructed on the coastal plain, while the harbour area would have been suitable for summer grazing. It was only in the Iron Age (2500 years ago) that the sea-level rose sufficiently to allow saltwater ingress, and salt making industries exploited the brine-filled creeks. Oysters would have been fished here in Roman times, and the harbour may have been accessible to Roman ships.

The Hayling volume

The Hayling volume

* There is a feature on Chris Draper and his archaeological work at Westbury Manor Museum, Fareham.

Further reading:

Allen & Gardiner (2000), Our Changing Coast: a survey of the intertidal archaeology of Langstone Harbour, Hampshire. CBA Research Report 124.

Allen & Gardiner (2001) Langstone Harbour, Hants Field Club Newsletter, 36 p 3-5.

Buried in time – a Bronze Age cremation cemetery at Kalis Corner, Kimpton

Fifty years ago, in 1966, an excavation began at Kalis Corner, Kimpton, which proved to be of national importance.  The discovery owed much to the landowner, William Flambert, whose life-long interest in archaeology enabled him to identify the significance of part of a field in which the plough repeatedly snagged on compacted flints.  He invited the Andover Archaeological Society (AAS) to investigate.  The society had been set up in 1964 in response to the increasing destruction of sites as a result of the redevelopment of Andover as an ‘overspill’ town.

Max Dacre

Max Dacre lifting a fragmented cremation urn

 

In 1966 the AAS was directed by Max Dacre, who was originally given one month to complete investigations at Kalis Corner, before the autumn ploughing began.  Work took place at weekends using volunteers and it soon became clear that the site warranted more attention.  Deadlines were gradually extended until work was finally completed in 1970.  The careful scientific excavation earned the AAS recognition from the wider archaeological community and the results were published in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, in 1981. 

The site became an oasis, stranded by ploughing and harvesting.

The site became an archaeological oasis, stranded by ploughing and harvesting.

At Kalis Corner the AAS discovered a Bronze Age cremation cemetery that was in continuous use for 1500 years.  In addition it was preceded by late Neolithic activity. The site is located only ten miles east of the Wessex Neolithic henge monuments of Woodhenge and Durrington Walls and to the south is the Harrow Way, an important prehistoric track-way linking Wessex and Kent. Nearby is the Kimpton barrow cemetery and it has been suggested that the two sites were part of a wider mortuary landscape during the Bronze Age (Stoodley 2013).

The grid

The ‘grid method’ was used to excavate the flint platform. Sheets of polythene cover the fragile pottery.

As already mentioned, the earliest activity on the site was Neolithic, centred on three large sarsen stones that may have occurred there naturally. Funerary activity began on the site in the early Bronze Age (2000 – 1500BC) when a number of cremations were placed in deep holes. This was followed by the erection of a circle of small sarsen stones within a flint platform, together with a pyre area where the cremations would have taken place, and the deposition of 22 urns covered by flint cairns (only six of which contained cremated remains).

Volunteers

Volunteers at work on the flint platform

It was in the Middle to Late Bronze Age (1500 – 600BC) that most activity occurred. A large platform of flints accumulated into which cremation burials were inserted. This platform was extended four times and different types and phases of burial were identified. For example Stoodley suggests that the presence or absence of flint cairns over burials through this period may reflect changing ‘fashions’ in burial practice. Five distinct clusters of burials could represent family groups, whilst the range of different ages and sexes represented and the scarcity of associated artefacts suggests an egalitarian community without a marked social hierarchy.

214

Richard Warmington (left) whose detailed drawings (example below) made it possible to interpret the site.

293

What is remarkable is the apparently continuous use of this site for such a long time: the use and reuse of pyre sites, the incineration and bone pulverisation techniques and the techniques of platform construction, were all consistent over the long time scale.

The archive and finds from Kalis Corner are in the care of the British Museum (museum no. 1988, 0505).  One ‘outlier’ pot of the same period is in on display in the Andover Museum.

References:

Dacre, M and Ellison, A (1981) A Bronze Age Urn Cemetery at Kimpton, Hampshire, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 47, 147-203

Stoodley, N (2013) The Archaeology of Andover The excavations of Andover Archaeological Society 1964-1989

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

58

Happy crew – it’s tea break – Peggy Dacre with the pot.

 

Digging deeper

The Hampshire Historic Environment Record (HER) is a fantastic tool. Under its alternative title of the Archaeology and Historic Buildings Record (AHBR) it can be accessed and interrogated on-line in all manner of ways. If you want to know whether your village, town or parish hides items of archaeological or historical interest it’s the place to start, and it can lead you on a trail towards obscure reports (we call them ‘grey literature’) as well as published evidence.

Using the database it’s easy to get hooked on searching for your favourite type of site – Roman villas, for instance (104 results) – and then while away an evening, sifting through the various leads, which might head you towards some splendid find displayed in a museum, or alternatively into a ditch terminal. As more and more illustrative material becomes digitally available and linked-in, the historic environment will be more and more at our fingertips and our appreciation of what has gone before will be much enhanced.

One large step along this route has been taken by the staff of the Hampshire County Council Historic Environment Section, with the release of the Atlas of Hampshire’s Archaeology. Using the 50,000 records at their disposal, David Hopkins (County Archaeologist) and Alan Whitney (Historic Data Manager) have produced a set of forty maps which span the periods from the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) which began around 10,000 years ago, to the end of the Roman occupation (about 1600 years ago). The excellent base maps employ either topography (15 altitude bands) or landscape type (derived from a palette of 25 pastel shades) and this, together with the river systems, allows the current character of the country to be easily read.

Landscape studies: the enigmatically-named 'Soldier's Ring' is represented by the hedgeline and diagonal boundary; Bokerley Dyke is on the horizon.

Landscape studies: the enigmatically-named ‘Soldier’s Ring’, a Romano-British enclosure, is represented by the hedgeline and foreground diagonal boundary; Bokerley Dyke is on the near horizon.

When it comes to putting things on the map, there are at least forty different symbols employed, but these range from just three for our Middle Stone Age ancestors, to eleven on one of the Roman maps. This inevitably leads to a bit of congestion, especially when the symbol for a single find is essentially larger than an industrial estate, but care has been taken to make everything fit sympathetically.

A genuine sense of distribution can be obtained for all periods – and an appreciation of the physical relationship of communities with soil types and river systems. It highlights the enigma of the Neolithic in Hampshire – long barrows, yes, but why on earth no causewayed enclosures, cursus monuments or henges? It also shows how, by the following Bronze Age – to judge from the spread of round barrows – there were no ‘no go’ areas. In the Iron Age – a period blessed with 14 maps – grain and wool processing are among particular activities that can be teased out and ‘banjo enclosures’ also have their part to play; on the Roman maps, the layout of the road system brings communications well and truly to the fore.

The 'banjo enclosure' at Nettlebank Copse - investigated as part of the Danebury Environs project.

The Iron Age ‘banjo enclosure’ at Nettlebank Copse – investigated as part of the Danebury Environs project.

Roman roads are an interesting subject, and have a number of people committed to their study. The current maps don’t include the routes through the New Forest surveyed by Arthur Clarke (2003), the last Archaeology Officer of the Ordnance Survey, which would enhance the western approaches. Other features that don’t fare well (in the Bronze Age) are the so-called ‘ranch boundaries’, sometimes termed ‘Wessex linears’, which are represented by a static symbol when their role, interpreted by some as the first tangible manifestation of territories (Cunliffe, 1993), would be better shown by a true representation.

The maps are accompanied by short essays summarising the character of each period, particularly with regard to the landscape. Indeed, the word ‘landscape’ wins out in any word count and is perhaps a little repetitive, especially when it is contrasting the  ‘farmed’ with the ‘wild’. True, the landscape is the canvas holding the scene together, but with such vivid and varied pictures being painted by the human activity, it could perhaps be allowed to slip into the background a little. Alternatively, simpler maps showing the advance of the ‘farmed’ at the expense of the ‘wild’ would make the point – but would take a lot more preparation!

George Willis and friends picking the fields around Basingstoke clean of worked flints - in the 1920s.

George Willis and friends in the 1920s – picking the fields around Basingstoke clean of worked flints.

The maps throw up a number of issues not explored in the text, issues that tend to dog distribution maps. The concentration of finds in certain areas will be the result of individual fieldwork (George Willis et al around Basingstoke, for example, or Malcolm Lyne (2012) in Binsted and environs) and the growth of certain towns (Basingstoke, Andover etc) will have provided many more opportunities for discovery than other locations. Aerial cover will also be uneven, although in time the increasing use of LIDAR will bring greater equality. As a result there will inevitably be some bias on display, but the maps do a brilliant job in presenting the current state of knowledge and providing food for thought.

And in so doing, they are the perfect spur and complement to further research. The national ‘Atlas of Hillforts’ , for example, is nearing completion and it will be interesting to see how much variety is proposed in the survey for the forty or so ‘hillforts’ on the Hampshire map. Also, the Roman layout is forever being reconsidered – including roads that deviate for unknown reasons – whither Vindomis? etc ; and the monumental ‘desert’ that is the Neolithic remains as intriguing as ever.

So do make use of the maps – and having taken in the broad sweep of thousands of years of human history, consult the Historic Environment Record, and dig a little deeper.

Dave Allen, Curator of Hampshire Archaeology, Hampshire Cultural Trust

References;

Clarke, A (2003) The Roman road on the eastern fringe of the New Forest, Hampshire Studies, Vol 58, 33-58

Cunliffe, B W  (1993), Wessex to A D 1000. p129 ff

Lyne, M (2012), Archaeological Research in Binsted, Kingsley and Alice Holt Forest, BAR British Series 574

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).

tw5

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 – the Litchfield Seven Barrows

Bronze Age burial mounds (‘barrows’ or ‘tumuli’) are familiar features across the county and can also be recognised in their ploughed-out form (ring-ditches). Some occur singly, but groups or ‘cemeteries’ are also widely distributed.

The barrow cemetery - centre - viewed from the south 30 years ago. The group extended under the road and railway (far right). This view was taken when ploughing still nibbled at the individual mounds. Crawford's new finds are dead centre. Beacon Hill hillfort is in the background.

The barrow cemetery – centre – viewed from the south 30 years ago. The group extended under the road and railway (far right). This view was taken when ploughing still nibbled at the individual mounds. Crawford’s new finds are dead centre. Beacon Hill hillfort – and ‘ancient fields’ – lie in the background.

Grinsell called this the ‘Burghclere group’ in his 1930s survey, but Lichfield or Litchfield Seven Barrows is more appropriate. Today, several of the monuments have all but disappeared beneath the A34 and the now redundant Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway, but it was the impending demise of two of the mounds that brought about one of the earliest examples of rescue archaeology in the county.

The Newbury to Southampton line was, in the early 1880s, a late addition to the network and it made a beeline for the Bronze Age cemetery (which, after all, had already been trundled over by the turnpike). Lord Carnarvon (the 4th Earl) gave permission to Walter Money Esq, FSA, to investigate the barrows ‘before they were interfered with by the contractors’. Money was commendably thorough. In his equivalent of a ‘desk-top study’ he found that the Earl’s predecessor had sanctioned the opening of several of the barrows eighty years before when ‘little beyond burnt bones and ashes appears to have been met with’, although another account suggests that one of them was piled high with bones!

Money’s own excavations were moderately rewarding. He found a cremation at the centre of the barrow ‘nearest the road’ in a shallow cist scooped out of the chalk and ‘carefully covered over with fine rubble’. There was no sign of any ‘implement, ornament or pottery’ but he did find a flint scraper, one or two flakes and ‘a small portion of bronze, apparently part of a pin’. The dig also recovered a ‘portion of femur or thigh bone’ and the barrow, not surprisingly, ’presented distinct appearances of having been opened previously’.

Bronze Age barrow rituals, c 3000 years ago; an artist's impression (Mike Codd)

Bronze Age barrow rituals, c 3000 years ago; an artist’s impression (Mike Codd)

The barrow on the east side of the railway had also been opened, to a depth of more than eight feet (2.5m) but the earlier explorers had missed the primary cremation ‘by about a foot’ (300mm). The ashes and bones had been ‘laid with great care in a little oval mound’ and other finds in the general vicinity included animal bones and chipped flints. ‘Near the barrow’ continues Money ‘I picked up a Palaeolithic flint axe, about 4½ inches long. It is a very characteristic type of the productions of the old stone workers of North Hampshire, who judging from the rough character of their implements, must have been in a very inferior condition of civilization to those of North and South Wilts and Berks.’ Ah, the words of a Newbury man, I think we’d better leave it there.

The southernmost barrows, now protected by an unploughed apron, with Beacon Hill on the skyline.

The southernmost barrows, now protected by an unploughed apron, with Beacon Hill on the skyline.

Clearly the Newbury to Whitchurch line did little to improve the lot of the Seven Barrows, until that is OGS Crawford, first Archaeology Officer of the Ordnance Survey, was puffing towards Southampton on 21 March, 1921. ‘Dear Willis’, he wrote, in a letter to the Hampshire Field Club’s representative in the north of the county, ‘I did a bit of field-archaeology out of the window of the train yesterday. Found two new barrows in the group at Litchfield. They are both disc barrows, that is to say there is only the ring visible; whether there is, or ever was, a small tump in the middle I can’t say.’ Crawford encouraged Willis to visit the site and use the embankment as a vantage point;’…for the next two or three weeks’ he suggested, ‘they will make admirable subjects for a few photos’. Whether Willis was able to capture them in this way we don’t know, as there are no surviving images, but Crawford did add them to the OS 6” map, a rare honour for ploughed-out ring ditches.

The reality is a site hard-pressed by the A34 Trunk road - far busier now than it was in the 1980s.

The reality today is a site hard-pressed by the A34 trunk road – far busier now than it was in the 1980s.

The early account of the barrows, in Britton and Brayley’s ‘Topographical Description of Hampshire’, records ‘seven tumuli of considerable size and three of much less elevation’, to which we can possibly add Crawford’s sightings, giving at least a dozen. Seven was a number often attributed to a large group of mounds, as at Tidworth, Wiltshire and Lambourne, Berkshire, and probably had some mystical significance. Much of the mystery has been hammered out of the Litchfield cemetery by the demands of 20th century vehicular communication and, to judge from Money’s findings, most of the barrows have been opened in the past anyway. We can leave the last word with Coates’ suggestions for the derivation of the name. Dismissing lich (‘dead bodies’) he proposes hlywe for ‘sheltered place’ or possibly laferce meaning ‘lark’. It’s difficult to appreciate either at this location today.

References:

Britton and Brayley (1805) ‘Topographical Description of Hampshire’

Coates, R (1993) Hampshire Place Names

Crawford, OGS letter to George Willis (1921) Hampshire Cultural Trust archive.

Grinsell, L (1938) Hampshire Barrows, Proc Hants Field Club, 14, 9-40

Money, W (1883) Account of the opening of two Lichfield Barrows, Proc Soc Antiq, 10

Photos: Hampshire Cultural Trust.

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