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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

dave breiddin

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

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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 – the Neolithic

Nutbane Longbarrow

A Neolithic longbarrow near Andover, built and used about 3,500 BC

The Neolithic, or New Stone Age, roughly 4,000 BC to 2,000 BC, is marked by the  arrival of the first farmers and also the first monuments to survive in our landscape. The causewayed enclosure, linear ‘cursus’ and circular henge are complemented by the chambered tomb or longbarrow.

Faith de Mallet Morgan on site at Nutbane

Excavations in progress

Nutbane longbarrow, Penton Grafton, first identified in 1955, was excavated in 1957 by Faith de Mallet Morgan for the Andover History Group. Ploughing had reduced its height to only 0.75m but the tapering mound could be measured at 51m in length. Two ditches flanked the mound. At the east end a mortuary structure contained four crouched burials and to the east of this was a forecourt enclosure. This area underwent several alterations before the mound was built and extended over it.

All four burials, revealed by excavation

All four burials, revealed by excavation

The first timber structure contained three burials, placed on a layer of light brushwood and covered with soil. Later, a larger structure was erected and a fenced enclosure added. A fourth burial was then inserted and a chalk cairn built over all the burials. Following this the mortuary enclosure was blocked by a post and log fence, digging of the ditches began and the enclosure was filled with soil. The primary mound was constructed around the mortuary enclosure and round, but not over, the forecourt structure, which was then burnt.

All of the bodies were buried in a crouched position, a common practice in the Neolithic. The later burial was male, about 5’5” tall, aged about 30 – 40 years. Two of the earlier burials were also adult males, one 5’9”, aged 30 – 40 years, the other 5’6” aged 40 – 50 years. The fourth skeleton was that of a child, aged 12 -13 years. No grave goods of pottery or stone were found, although it is possible that perishable items could have accompanied the burials. There was no evidence for fastenings for clothing or a shroud and no personal items such as beads.

It’s clear that only a few people in the social group were given the sort of burial found at Nutbane, and the monument can also be seen as a ‘tribal marker’.

Artist's impression of Nutbane being built

Artist’s impression of Nutbane being built

About 40 Neolithic long barrows are known in Hampshire, but very few have been excavated.

Some of the finds from Nutbane are displayed at the Andover Museum. A1981.13

The report is published in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society for 1959.

A page from the dig diary

A page from the dig diary

 

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