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

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

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

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

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

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Recording the Ravenstone segments

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

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

 

References:

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

Piggott, S, 1965, Ancient Europe

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

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

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

 

Buried in time – by Roman lamplight

On the shortest day of the year it seems appropriate to think of sources of light. We have the ability to turn night into day but it wasn’t so for our early ancestors. For the Romans, artificial light came in the form of oil-lamps or candles, or occasionally lanterns. In Britain oil-lamps were rare, because of the expense of shipping in olive oil from Gaul, Spain or Africa. It’s therefore good to be able to report that a complete example, found at the Dunkirt Barn Roman villa site, had a narrow escape. Peter Stone takes up the story.

The lucky lamp

The lucky lamp – the raised bump at the back is probably the vestige of a handle and the smaller bumps at the sides, echoes of decoration.

Some years ago I was working as a volunteer on Barry Cunliffe’s excavation at Dunkirt Barn. Along with two or three others I found myself assigned to an area close to the site of the winged corridor villa, where we were instructed to trowel off what appeared to be infill from the 19th century excavations. Wearying of this task my near neighbour decided to take a mattock into his hands and vigorously attack his area. At about the third or fourth stroke an object suddenly flew into the air and landed several metres away. On investigation it proved to be a complete Roman lamp. The down-stroke of the mattock must have been just a few centimetres from completely destroying it but it survived intact and is one of the best finds from the site.

The Dunkirt Barn Roman villa - a general view of the excavations

The Dunkirt Barn Roman villa – a general view of the excavations

The lamp would have been made in the second century AD or later, and is a copy of a ‘factory lamp’ (firmalampe), so called because the originals were mass-produced, bearing a stamp identifying a particular manufacturer. This lamp has no such mark on its base and although many were made in Gaul and the German provinces, some were made in Britain, notably the Verulamium area. Such lamps would have been fuelled by olive oil imported from the Mediterranean.

Not every excavated find has such a fortuitous life [confesses Peter]. I went on to volunteer for Dave Allen at Basing House and was delighted to find a complete clay tobacco pipe. A few years later, however, I was working in the Chilcomb stores when, during a sorting task, the same pipe came to light. Overwhelmed at being reunited with it I raised my hand to take it from a fellow worker only to knock it from her hand with the result that it is no longer a complete pipe. Sic transit gloria mundi.

(We stuck it back together – Dave).

Further reading: Cunliffe & Poole (2008) The Danebury Environs Roman Programme, Vol 2, Part 7, Dunkirt Barn.

A2005.50, archive held by the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

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

Buried in time – the Selborne Cup *

* The Selborne Cup is actually from Blackmoor – so ‘Blackmoor Beaker’ might have been a more appropriate name for it!

The area around Blackmoor House, Woolmer Forest, lying close to the line of the Chichester – Silchester Roman road, has seen a number of finds of Roman material. In 1741, as Gilbert White records in the Natural History of Selborne, Woolmer Pond dried up and several hundred coins, including some of Marcus Aurelius (AD 146-180), were revealed lying together, as though they had been in a sack. Thirty years later another hoard was discovered nearby, contained in a pottery vessel. This featured coins from Claudius (AD 43) to Commodus (AD 192).

The 'Sepulchral Urn' that contained the burial.

The ‘Sepulchral Urn’ that contained the burial; as illustrated in the VCH, Volume 1.

In 1867, when Blackmoor House was being rebuilt, more finds were made, including a human cremation burial in a pottery jar. It was this deposit that also contained the Selborne Cup, along with a bronze patera, and a worn coin of Lucius Verus (AD 161-69). The cup was in the possession of the Selborne family for many years, before being sold in 1975. In 1983 it was bought by Hampshire County Council and is now displayed at the Curtis Museum. When the cup came into the museum’s possession the two halves were stuck together with old stamp paper and there was evidence of corrosion. It was cleaned, treated and strengthened and an easily reversible adhesive was used to reinforce the base and stick the halves back together.

The Selborne Cup

The Selborne Cup

A report by the British Museum states that enamelled bronze vessels, as a class, are quite rare and that the pattern on this one is high quality work. It describes the beaker as 106mm in height, of barrel-shape; constructed from two matching cup-shaped sections. The base is a separate piece of metal and there is a plain band of copper alloy 17mm deep around the rim. An ancient repair around the base is somewhat clumsily formed of a bronze patch. The small handle is placed high on one side and would have been soldered onto the rim. Its lower attachment plate, now lost, would have been fixed at the point of maximum diameter, where the sections join. There is a scar on the opposite side of the rim, suggesting the former presence of a matching handle, but no mark on the body of the vessel. The existing handle appears to be a secondary addition, as does the plain rim-band.

Enhanced detail of the enamelled decoration - spots of corrosion are clearly visible.

Enhanced detail of the enamelled decoration – spots of corrosion are clearly visible.

The intricate design in polychrome enamel incorporates cells of distinctive leaf-like shapes. There appear to be five colours; red; yellow; dark blue; turquoise and light green, although the last two are very similar in their present condition. The enamel is in a good state, though the base metal is damaged in places and there is considerable iron corrosion over the surface, presumably from the conditions of burial.

There are no close parallels. Moore (1978) lists 14 enamelled vessels from Britain, the majority being small hemispherical cups, with or without handles. (The existence of the Selborne Cup was not known to him).

The vessel containing the burial was a bead-rimmed jar produced locally by the Alice Holt/Farnham potteries (Lyne & Jefferies, 1979). It represents a type of vessel which was less important to the industry after the mid 2nd century.

References

Lyne, M & Jefferies, R, 1979. The Alice Holt/Farnham Roman Pottery Industry, CBA Research Report, 30.

Moore, C N, 1978. An Enamelled Skillet-Handle from Brough-on-Fosse and the distribution of similar vessels, Britannia 9, 319.

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

Buried in time – late Iron Age ‘prints’.

Bokerley Dyke, where it divides Hampshire from Dorset

Bokerley Dyke, dividing Hampshire and Dorset

The digging of an industrial-scale pipeline is not the ideal manner in which to investigate archaeological sites. The first few pages of the British Gas ‘Southern Feeder’ volume, published in 1984 and describing work along a 220 mile (350 km) project undertaken in the mid 1970s, make no bones about the difficulties encountered in trying to retrieve information in this way.  One good thing about such enterprises, however, is that they invariably throw up new and unsuspected sites, and such was the case near Martin, a small village in the westernmost parish of Hampshire, close to the sinuous contours of Bokerley Dyke.

Bokerley Dyke snakes away to the south, and the gap on the skyline.

Bokerley Dyke snakes away to the south, and the gap on the skyline.

Bokerley Dyke is a substantial linear earthwork with origins in the Bronze Age and a later call-to-arms, in all probability, to contain Saxon westward expansion after the fall of the Roman Empire. A plan was mooted to dig a section through the bank and ditch to accommodate the gas pipe, but this was vetoed by the DoE, possibly because General Pitt Rivers had excavated a substantial part of it just to the north, near the Ackling Dyke Roman road (he reconstituted the dyke after the dig). In the event a hole for the pipe was bored beneath the monument.

Ackling Dyke - the Roman road near 'Bokerley Junction'.

Looking along the Roman road near ‘Bokerley Junction’.

Just 2 km east of the dyke the pipe trench sliced through a rich area of Late Iron Age occupation. The Avon Valley Archaeological Society investigated the site, but harsh winter weather (1976) and earlier than anticipated back-filling limited their efforts.  Nevertheless, they were rewarded with ditches, possible house sites and twenty storage pits, some of which produced large quantities of pottery and other domestic debris.

The Durotrigian tankard

The Durotrigian tankard

The main period of occupation seems to have taken place in the first half of the 1st century AD, followed by a temporary abandonment and a limited reuse.  The majority of the pottery was late Iron Age Durotrigian ware, including a near complete ‘tankard’.  The forms and fabrics of Durotrigian pottery were looked at by Brailsford in 1958 and the tankard was one of the definitive vessels described. Fragments were known from Mill Plain, near Christchurch, but most examples came from sites in Dorset – heartland of the Durotriges – to the west of Bokerley Dyke.

The clay 'collar' - probably part of an Iron Age oven.

The clay ‘collar’ – probably part of an Iron Age oven.

In addition to the pottery, several fragments of quern (grinding stone) were found, as well as animal bone and one or two metal objects.  Perhaps the most intriguing finds were pieces of a carefully worked fired-clay ‘collar’.  This had been burnt to a bright red, almost glazed, finish in places and contained obvious thumb and finger prints.  The most likely interpretation is that it was part of an oven.  In looking at the finger and thumb prints, you can’t help but wonder if they were made by the hand that grasped the tankard, two thousand years ago.

Fingers and thumbs - Iron Age fingers left their marks in the clay.

Iron Age prints  – prehistoric fingers left their marks in the clay.

Brailsford, 1958, Early Iron Age ‘C’ in Wessex, Proc Prehist Soc 24, p 101

Catherall et al, eds, The Southern Feeder, The Archaeology of a Gas Pipeline, British Gas, 1984, p172, Site BS/M 65

RCHAM(E) 1990, The Archaeology of Bokerley Dyke, (H C Bowen), London HMSO.

A1988.40

Visiting Bokerley Dyke – and the Ackling Dyke – is made easy by virtue of the Martin Down Nature Reserve which has a good car park off the A354 (Salisbury to Blandford Forum) but take care crossing the road if you want to see the Roman agger.  Also here, hidden in the long grass, is a Bronze Age enclosure excavated by General Pitt Rivers and a myriad of other monuments, but it is Bokerley Dyke that most demands attention, and rewards effort!
Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.