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Buried in time – Royal Blood bits, unions, rings and pins

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Bury Hill viewed from the west. The early fort touches the left hand side of the image, the later fort is dead centre. The ‘annexe’ occupies the harvested field to the right.

Bury Hill’s earthworks are quite prominent on the summit of a low rise at the confluence of the rivers Anna and Anton, near Andover. An Early Iron Age hillfort of 10 ha (24 acres) occupies the site but was superseded by a much stronger circular fort of half the size. The earlier enclosure, tested by geophysical survey and excavation, had no evidence of occupation, but it was a different picture in the later camp, which was densely packed with features.

What was striking about Barry Cunliffe’s work here in 1990 was the remarkable haul of horse harness and chariot fittings. The excavation produced six copper alloy terret rings, three strap unions, two small strap rings, a linchpin and an antler side piece capped with a copper alloy disc, as well as numerous iron horse bits and nave rings. Actual horse remains comprised 48% of the animal bones found, about ten times higher than at nearby Iron Age sites, suggesting highly specialised activity at Bury Hill.

Bury Hill horse gear

A selection of the Bury Hill harness and chariot fittings.

Calculations show an average height of eleven hands for a horse population aged between one and fourteen years. With less than 5% juvenile mortality it is likely that the animals were not kept for breeding and they may have been semi-feral, similar to New Forest ponies today. With peak mortality at age six or seven years it is also unlikely that they were exploited for meat. The probability is that the herd was carefully managed, with the emphasis on horses for riding and chariot use.

It seems clear that the community viewed the chariot as a symbol of prestige. It is likely that the vehicles were manufactured at the site and the necessary specialised metalwork made there by craftsmen working for the local elite. This was a group potentially more warrior-dominated than in previous Iron Age generations and ties in with Caesar’s descriptions from 54 BC, when the Late Iron Age forces ranged against him included up to 4,000 chariots!

Iron Age battle

Chariots in the heat of Late Iron Age battle – from a painting by Mike Codd.

The Wessex Hillforts Survey has identified an oval enclosure of approximately 1.6ha (4 acres) just outside the later camp at Bury Hill, with its largest entrance facing towards the fort.  Is this where the elite warriors – the royal house guard or comitates – strutted their stuff, leaving the artisans to their carpentry workshops and smithies inside the defences?

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The archaeological evidence: horse bones, nave rings and linch pins from chariot axles, and a variety of horse bits, terret rings and strap unions from the harness; plus a cluster of sling stones. In the Royal Blood exhibit at Andover Museum until 10 July, 2016.

The allegiance of this Late Iron Age ‘arms factory’ is not clear.  The local Atrebates tribe were pro-Roman, but suffered incursions from the Trinovantes and Catuvellauni.  Whoever it was they followed, there’s no doubt that the later 1st century BC and the early 1st century AD were turbulent times, if the importance given to the production of weapons of war is anything to go by.

Royal Blood Postscript: In later times Polydore Vergil (16th century) and Sir Richard Colt Hoare imagined Edmund Ironside and the Danish King Canute occupying Bury Hill and Balksbury respectively, as they slogged it out for possession of England in the early 11th century, but there is no hard evidence for this episode from either site.

Reference:

Cunliffe, B & Poole, C. 2000. The Danebury Environs Programme: The Prehistory of a Wessex Landscape Vol 2, part 2. Bury Hill, Upper Clatford, Hants, 1990. English Heritage and Oxford University Committee for Archaeology Monograph no. 49.

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

 

 

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Buried in time – a spot of self indulgence

To Dorset, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Hillfort Studies Group, a loosely connected band who have a particular interest in these striking, mostly hill-top, frequently monumental enclosures from our later prehistoric past (the Iron Age). The first annual field trip organised by the group took place in Dorset and we more or less retraced their steps.

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April showers on Maiden Castle – it was freezing!

Highlights included Maiden Castle, where Niall Sharples, who dug there 30 years ago, in the footsteps of Mortimer Wheeler, related how the fort sat on top of a Neolithic causewayed enclosure and how it had developed from small beginnings to become one of the most complex in the country. The latest theory is that additions to the rampart became all-important (think job-creation schemes) and the site grew and grew like an enormous bubble until the Roman army came along and burst it or not.

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Checking out some of the landslip at Eggardon.

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More Eggardon

Eggardon Hill is a brilliant site, but has a parish boundary, and a fence, running right across the middle. Half is looked after by the National Trust and half is in private hands, so never the twain shall meet. The south side has an extensive landslip with ramparts re-arranged by or respecting this natural phenomenon, depending on your point of view! It’s Thomas Hardy country (the ‘Trumpet Major’) or, if you prefer, the nearby Jurassic coast hosted ‘Broadchurch’.

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Heading up to Hambledon

A site which conjured up particular memories for me was Hambledon Hill. This is another monumental enclosure with impressive earthworks, but like Maiden Castle it sits on top of and beside a Neolithic encampment. Forty-two years ago I dug here for Roger Mercer in the first year of his long campaign. We camped on top of the hill and it was ‘eventful’. I can’t remember how many times the tent blew down, but I do recall waking to see a sky full of stars it must have been before the days of sewn-in groundsheets!

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Warm, dry, beer on tap – The Cricketers

Solace was provided by The Cricketers at Iwerne Courtenay, and the locals who invited us in to have occasional baths!

My reason for digging at Hambledon was to gain first-hand experience of working on a Neolithic causewayed enclosure. They exist in some number in Dorset, Wiltshire, they turn up in Sussex, the Thames Valley all over the place in fact but no-one has yet found a proven example in Hampshire. Theres still time Im still searching.

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Inside South Cadbury; Christopher Musson, deputy director in 1966 (in yellow) tries to recall where they put the trenches. Glastonbury Tor sits on the horizon

Finally, we celebrated another half century by visiting South Cadbury (Somerset). It was here that Leslie Alcock dug between 1966 and 1970, looking for traces of ‘Dark Age’ reuse of the Iron Age site which might give some credence to John Leland and William Camden’s 16th century assertions of the link with the legendary King Arthur. Arthur resisted all attempts to pin him down, but the excavation was a turning-point for British Archaeology, capturing the public imagination and ushering in an era of large scale digs as well as the creation of a crack team of dedicated professionals, who dug the whole year round.

Incidentally, the Red Lion, which was to Cadbury what The Cricketers was to Hambledon, is now called ‘The Camelot’.

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

Hillforts: Danebury, near Andover, is perhaps the best studied hillfort in Europe. Visit the Museum of the Iron Age to learn more.  A ‘Hillforts Atlas’ including over 4,000 sites is currently being compiled.

and now the indulgence

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My first hillfort dig! Y Breiddin near Welshpool…somewhere around 45 years ago!

 

 

 

Buried in time – Woolbury’s fort and fields

Woolbury hillfort viewed from the northeast - the 1989 excavation in the foreground

Woolbury hillfort viewed from the northeast – the 1989 excavation in the foreground; Stockbridge Down with its Ancient Fields, middle left.

Above Stockbridge, on the eastern side of the Test Valley, stands a two-mile long irregular ridge; an Iron Age hillfort – Woolbury – occupies the summit, its single rampart and ditch enclosing 7.5 ha.  The wider area had seen some small-scale excavation, notably of a Late Saxon execution cemetery in the 1930s, but in 1989, Professor Barry Cunliffe examined the hillfort and its defences, as part of the Danebury Environs Programme.

Crawford & Keiller's vertical air photograph (taken 1924)

Crawford & Keiller’s vertical air photograph (taken 1924)

Crawford & Keiller's interpretation

Crawford & Keiller’s interpretation

The ridge had been sporadically used during the second millennium BC when at least 15 Bronze Age barrows were constructed.  In addition, an extensive system of linear earthworks was created, probably before or during the early centuries of the first millennium BC.  These features were revealed in a dramatic air photograph published by O G S Crawford and Alexander Keiller nearly ninety years ago.  They include a regularly laid out field system on gently sloping land to the south-east of the ridge; this is separated by a linear boundary from an area of unploughed pasture, which is where the barrow cemetery survived.

Worm's-eye-view at Woolbury. The hill is capped with clay-with-flints, a more difficult subsoil to work with than the Danebury chalk.

Worm’s-eye-view at Woolbury. The hill is capped with clay-with-flints, a more difficult subsoil to work with than the Danebury chalk. At least there’s not a cloud in the sky – well, almost.

Subsequent surveys and excavation have demonstrated that the linear boundary bank running along the shoulder of the ridge was of two phases; the first pre-dated the hillfort ditch and the second diverged from the original to skirt it.  Barry Cunliffe stated that his overall impression was that a major phase of land allotment occurred in the Middle to Late Bronze Age, extending from Woolbury to Stockbridge Down.

One of the main aims of the Environs Programme was to improve the understanding of the settlement and economy of the communities inhabiting the chalkland landscape of the Danebury region in the first millennium BC.  The evidence that an earlier field system continued in use after the hillfort was built meant that Woolbury was a good candidate for the study of an agrarian regime juxtaposed with unploughed pasture.  A trench was dug across the hillfort ditch to test its relationship to other features (a linear slot and quarry) which were found to pre-date it.  Pottery evidence suggests that the ditch had been originally dug in the Early to Mid Iron Age before being abandoned.  Silt accumulated during the Late Iron Age, and the remaining hollow filled gradually during the Romano-British period.  The ramparts appeared to have been ‘dump-constructed’, lacking vertical timbers and internal supports.

A Woolbury ditch being cross-sectioned.

A Woolbury ditch cross-sectioned.

Although 2 per cent of the area within the defences was excavated, no postholes or other evidence of structures of certain Iron Age date were found.  The only evidence for Iron Age activity within the defences was from the contents of six pits, only one of which produced Early Iron Age pottery.  The single identifiable entrance through the ramparts had retained a very simple form and the implication is that the fort was not intensively occupied and its defences were not developed.  Its function appears to have been entirely different from that of Danebury which served as a centre for activity and influence.

Barry Cunliffe describing the latest findings to members of the Danebury Trust.

Professor Barry Cunliffe describing the Woolbury findings to members of the Danebury Trust.

Barry Cunliffe has suggested that hillforts such as Woolbury, Quarley, Figsbury, and the early fort at Bury Hill, saw little occupational use and acted as the boundary markers for a core territory with Danebury as its focus.

Archive: A1989.25    held by the Hampshire Cultural Trust

References:

Barry Cunliffe, 2000, Introduction, Volume 1 of The Danebury Environs Programme, the Prehistory of a Wessex Landscape.

Barry Cunliffe and Cynthia Poole, 2000, Woolbury and Stockbridge Down, Stockbridge, Hants, 1989, Volume 2 Part 1 of The Danebury Environs Programme, the Prehistory of a Wessex Landscape.

OGS Crawford and Alexander Keiller, 1928, Wessex From The Air.

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

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 – 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.

Buried in time – an unfinished hillfort and an English Earl

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Ladle Hill on an April evening in 2008 – a Bronze Age ‘linear’ links the camp to the scarp, and the ‘saucer barrow’ describes a perfect circle to the north.  The many dumps inside the fort are ditch spoil waiting in vain to form the rampart.

One hundred years ago Dr J P Williams-Freeman felt that Ladle Hill was a prehistoric camp caught in the process of being flattened by early 19th century farmers, desperate to break-in new agricultural land to make a quick profit in the troubled times resulting from the Napoleonic Wars. It was aerial photography, in 1930, that gave Stuart Piggott the opportunity to look at its layout more objectively and, with O G S Crawford, come to the conclusion that it was a hillfort that had been started, but never finished.

The existence of an apparent palisade (visible between the segments of ditch) leaves open the possibility that there was already an enclosure in existence before fort construction began, but in the absence of excavation, this cannot be proven. It may, for example, have been a deeply cut ‘marking out’ feature.

What is clear, however, is that the west side of the fort picks up the line of a Bronze Age boundary ditch – a ‘Wessex linear’ – which runs along the edge of the scarp, and there is also a fine Bronze Age disc barrow just to the north of the defences.    airb131

Beacon Hill viewed from the south.  The inturned entrance is clearly visible, but the blocked gate in the long west side, is difficult to distinguish.  Lord Carnarvon’s grave, in the pointed angle at the western end, is also hard to make out.

Beacon Hill (3.8 ha) is one of the finest hillforts in the county. It has never been ploughed, or excavated to any extent, and it contains quarry scoops, hut circles and pit hollows in abundance. The Royal Commission made a masterly contour-survey of these features, published in 1991, and English Heritage followed with a varied menu of remote sensing techniques, published in 2006 as part of their Wessex Hillforts survey.

Williams-Freeman noted numerous ‘hut circles’, some large, some small (pit hollows) within the fort. He was not aware of the probable blocked entrance on the west side of the site, or the subtle, centrally-located folds which have been considered as possible traces of a much earlier Neolithic enclosure.

Nor would he have seen the Trig Point, near the site of which Leonard Woolley and Lord Carnarvon, owner of Beacon Hill and nearby Highclere Castle, excavating in August 1912, found a brick hearth, clay tobacco pipes and other evidence of the manning of the eponymous beacon.

Lord Carnarvon's resting place.

Lord Carnarvon’s resting place.

The enclosed grave was also a thing of the future. It was while in Egypt, just four months after Howard Carter had summoned him there to view the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb, that Lord Carnarvon cut an infected mosquito bite while shaving, contracted blood poisoning, and died of pneumonia. His body was brought home to Highclere and interred in his lofty tomb on the last day of April, 1923.

 

Further reading:

J P Williams-Freeman (1915), Field Archaeology as Illustrated by Hampshire.

S Piggott (1931), Ladle Hill – an unfinished hillfort, Antiquity 5, 474-85

Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone for Hampshire Cultural Trust

with thanks to pilot extraordinaire, Ginny Pringle.

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.

Beaker burial

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.