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An occasional series covering Hampshire archaeological digs, large and small.
A ‘Banjo’ Enclosure in Micheldever Wood, 1973 – 1979.
‘Banjo’ enclosures are identified by their shape – a more or less circular enclosure, with outer bank, and parallel ditches leading away from a single entrance. The name was bestowed by B T Perry, when he was studying different forms of Wessex earthworks in the 1960s. He selected Bramdean, east of Winchester, as a typical example and excavated there in 1965 & 66, in the 1970s and in the 1980s. By this time the initial recognition of the type-site, i.e. the ‘banjo’ (O==) had been replaced by the realisation that they often formed part of a larger complex or ‘syndrome’.
Perry’s 1960’s excavations were comparatively limited and ten years later the opportunity arose to investigate another example, although under quite different and difficult circumstances. The route of the M3 motorway, from Basingstoke to Twyford Down, sliced through Micheldever Wood and, although archaeological surveys had taken place, the Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar trees formed an impenetrable mass across the area concerned. It was not until a huge geological test-pit was dug that the enclosure ditch and Iron Age pottery came to light. Further survey work showed that an extensive occupation site lay under the line of the proposed motorway.
The main excavation, led by Peter Fasham, took place from August 1975 to March 1976, with follow ups in mid-winter 1977-78 and 1979. Because of other commitments to M3 archaeological work, post-excavation analysis took a while – and publication was in 1987.
Pit diggers – and the photographer’s vantage point.
The main period of occupation at the Micheldever ‘banjo’ took place in the last two centuries BC (Iron Age). The evidence suggests that the enclosure was surrounded at that time by both arable and pasture fields, as well as woodland. Within the settlement were at least 14 pits, many of which could have been used for grain storage, and the animal bones recovered showed that cattle, sheep and pigs were present. Pig bones occurred more often in the ditch than those of sheep, and this appears to have been a deliberate, chosen method of disposal.
Eighteen human burials were found, eleven of which were of infants. They included a double grave of ‘unique closeness’ – presumably twins. One of the adults was of Romano-British date. He had been buried in hobnailed boots. His skeleton had extensive indications of arthritis, particularly in his shoulders and back, with a healed fracture to a leg (tibia) which had developed osteitis. His skull displayed evidence of severe infections in both jaw and sinuses and, to cap it all, his scalp as well. It must have been a hard life.
Other finds from the Iron Age use of the site included pottery and briquetage (salt trays), clay loomweights and spindle whorls and a number of metal objects, including socketed sickles.
Following the excavation at Micheldever Wood, archaeologists were prepared to accept ‘banjos’ as settlements but, in 1993, Barry Cunliffe excavated such a site at Nettlebank Copse, near Danebury. Far from clarifying the use of these enigmatic enclosures, his work showed that an ‘open’ settlement of pre 300 BC was surrounded by the ‘banjo’ ditch around the time of its abandonment.
The site may then have lain mainly dormant, apart from the quarrying of chalk, until the 1st century BC, when it was used for specialised purposes such as feasting, but not occupation.
The other feature of ‘banjos’ is that with the increase in aerial reconnaissance, particularly the use of Lidar, the number of known examples continues to grow. Twenty four were listed for Hampshire in the 1960s, whereas the number on the county AHBR is now 124!
Every picture tells a story!
Cunliffe B & Poole C (2000) Nettlebank Copse, Wherwell, 1993, English Heritage & OUCA Monog 49, Vol 2 part 5.
Fasham, P (1987) A Banjo Enclosure at Micheldever Wood, Hampshire, Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc, Monog 5.
Perry, B Excavations at Bramdean, Hampshire 1983 & 1984, with some further discussions of the Banjo syndrome. Proc Hants Field Club & Archaeol Soc 42, 35-42
Archive held as A1978.15 (R 27) by the Hampshire Cultural Trust.
Series by: Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone
An occasional series covering Hampshire archaeological digs, large and small
Houghton Down, Stockbridge; 1922, 1994, 1997.
Was this both a Roman villa and an Iron Age farm? A dig in 1922 by E A Rawlence, a Salisbury surveyor, found a substantial Roman aisled building containing a bath house. The excavated baths were covered by a shed until the 1930s. Rubbish accumulated, including a dead pig and barbed wire, and the hollows were eventually filled in. Later, aerial photographs showed circular buildings, storage pits, and fenced and ditched fields in the immediate vicinity.
Excavations by Professor Barry Cunliffe and his team in 1994 and 1997 for the Danebury Environs Project showed that, yes, it had been occupied, not quite continuously, between 700 BC and the 4th century AD. Generations of farmers extended the fields, pastures and ditches, dug wells, buried their dead, and built furnaces for metal-working and corn-drying ovens. The main activity took place in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, when there may have been more than one family in residence. By about the year 200, the main buildings were in masonry rather than timber, and included the aisled hall and a narrow building, also used for living and eating in. The farm had expanded from a modest to a prosperous state.
The aisled building, 27.2m long by 13.6m wide, had been carefully constructed and was a substantial structure that would have been visible for miles around. It had a chalk floor, full-height flint walls on greensand corner foundations, a central nave and light from a timbered clerestory. The roof, supported on 14 stone and timber piers, was made of hexagonal Purbeck stone tiles. In the south wall (and probably also in the north) there was a large door opening – over 2m wide.
By the late 3rd century the building had been subdivided by timber partitions. It had a large oven inside. It was evidently now the main working area of a moderately prosperous farm. It also had a large bath suite retrofitted into the northwest corner. A cold plunge pool was started outside the building, but abandoned after only a day’s work! Making a breach in the gable end wall had caused serious structural damage, and so the design was hastily changed and the plunge pool moved to the north side instead of the west – but still outside the main rooms!
A new strip building then enlarged the farm’s living accommodation. Beer was brewed from surplus corn. But there was still little in the way of fine, non-local pottery or decorative ornaments. By the end of its life, in the middle of the 4th century, the building housed a smithy and piles of building material for recycling.
The dig unearthed 13 burials. Two were Roman cremations, two were adults buried close together in the old western enclosure ditch, and nine were infants, buried, here as elsewhere in Roman Britain, under the floors of the Roman buildings.
Houghton Down archives A1994.35 & A1997.55 are in the care of Hampshire Cultural Trust
The Danebury Environs Programme: The Prehistory of a Wessex Landscape, Vol 2 Part 6: Houghton Down, Stockbridge, Hants, 1994, by Barry Cunliffe and Cynthia Poole. English Heritage and OUCA Mono 49, 2000.
And Vol 2 Part 1: Houghton Down, Longstock, Hants,1997, Mono 71, 2008.
Series by: Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone
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*.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
In the autumn of 1994 a metal detectorist found a Late Iron Age decorated bronze mirror, the first from Hampshire, at Latchmere Green, near Silchester. It was associated with the cremation burial of a woman and a child, and tells of a tradition of high status metalwork ‘reflecting the British nobility’s contacts with, and travels in, Italy in the late 1st century BC and early 1st century AD’.
The mirror was unearthed just within Bramley parish, at the southern edge of a known Roman site close to the junction of the Roman roads from Silchester to Winchester and Chichester. This settlement had been previously surveyed (Corney, 1984) and had yielded pottery finds of the late 1st to early 2nd century, through to the 4th century AD.
The mirror itself was badly corroded, with the handle and plate separated, and was in generally poor condition. Assuming circularity, dimensions were estimated as 170 mm diameter, giving a 227 sq cm surface area; it was 1.1 mm thick. The overall length (mirror and handle) was estimated to be about 263 mm.
Basket engraving on the reverse side of the mirror plate was found to be in the form of a whirligig or triskele, with the lower arms extended at right angles to the axis of the plate in pelta (or shield-like) loop patterns, giving the impression of a pair of eyes.
This elaborate style of decoration, known as ‘irregular oblong block’, is not unlike that of the 1904 ‘Colchester mirror’ and other similar finds and is thought to date from the late 1st century BC to the early 1st century AD, while the plate area links the mirror with the south-eastern group* of mirrors, centred on East Anglia and the London Basin. Up to 60 mirrors of the period are now known, and many of these finds have been made over the past three decades.
Samples of metal taken from the handle and plate of the Latchmere Green mirror consisted wholly of ~88% copper and ~12% tin with a trace of phosphorus, which showed that the mirror was not of Roman manufacture. Roman mirrors always contain more than a trace of lead and a lower proportion of copper with tin.
Following the initial discovery, a small controlled excavation (5 x 5 m) unearthed a late Iron Age pedestal jar, lying on its side in a shallow pit. The jar contained a quantity of cremated bone and the evidence suggested that the mirror had been placed as a ‘lid’ closing the jar. Also present were fragments of iron pin and other pieces associated with brooches. These latter were found to be comparable with finds at Silchester and Thetford and again can be dated to the very late 1st century BC and the early 1st century AD. The wheel-thrown jar, although in a very fragmented condition, is of a type identifiable with the pre-conquest period.
The cremation was unusual, in that the small fragments proved to be very probably of a female, aged 30 or more, with a child who was not newborn or an infant. That the adult was most likely to be female is evidenced by the fact that such mirrors have never been unambiguously associated with Iron Age male burials. The small fragments of cremated animal bone present were found to be of pig – again an occurrence consistent with animal bone finds in other Iron Age burials.
In summary, the evidence points to a late pre-conquest or early post-conquest date for this Late Iron Age high-status burial, possibly of a mother and child (but see below). As to the triskele design with loops it can only be said that this is of unknown origins but no object associated with it has been datable to earlier than 1st century BC. The ‘masterly’ and ‘mature’ embellishments, as they have been described, would appear to be unique to Britain.
*As the Latchmere Green discovery is an outlier to the south eastern group, it was included in the Dating Celtic Art programme of radiocarbon dating (Garrow et al, 2009). The dates realised (360 – 50 and 360 -110 cal BC) seem too early (2nd century BC) for the associated brooches and pottery vessel, and there is the intriguing possibility that one of the individuals (the one dated) had been cremated some decades before the double burial was actually made.
M Corney (1984) A Field Survey of the Extra-Mural Region of Silchester, in M Fulford, Silchester Defences, 1974-80.
M Fulford & J Creighton (1998) A Late Iron Age Mirror Burial from Latchmere Green, near Silchester, Proc Prehist Soc, Vol 64, pp331-342.
D Garrow et al (2009) Dating Celtic Art: a Major Radiocarbon Dating Programme of Iron Age and Early Roman Metalwork in Britain, Arch J, Vol 166, pp 79-123.
Archive A1994.26, held by Hampshire Cultural Trust
The Latchmere Green mirror is currently on display at the Museum of the Iron Age, Andover.
Series by; Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.
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.
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’.
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.
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 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.
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.