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A Fareham flint

Westbury Manor Museum at Fareham has just closed its doors for three or four months to allow a redisplay project to take place.  The past few weeks have seen the Curators of Art, Archaeology, Hampshire History and Natural Sciences – and the Conservation team – retrieve many items from the displays. Now that the site is secure, dismantling of some of the cases can take place.

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Flint handaxe: cortex lower left corner – natural fossil hole dead centre.

165mm in length; weight 750 gm

One of the objects removed from the archaeology ‘time line’ display was this ovate handaxe from the Old Stone Age (Palaeolithic). Its Hampshire Cultural Trust number is A1992.25/3 and it belongs with another two axes, a cleaver and a knife, all made of flint. There are no real details of where they were found, but they are from the Fareham area.  In this the axe is in good company, as many of these distinctive tools, dating from anything up to 500,000 years ago, have come from Hampshire’s coastal fringe.

The handaxes – and a few other tool types – are generally discovered ‘re-deposited’ in gravel terraces and many have an orange or brown patina, the result of the iron staining produced in that environment. What makes this particular tool stand out is the large natural fossil hole at the centre of the axe.  The person who made it must have chosen the flint nodule deliberately and decided to make the hole a feature of the finished article.

Those who study the Palaeolithic, and the activities of the ‘first humans’, marvel at the longevity of the handaxe as a tool-type, and wonder what they were actually used for! They are generally accepted as the Old Stone Age equivalent of the Swiss Army knife. They fit the hand easily, often – as in this case – having some cortex or smooth flint surface to protect the palm.  They have a sharp or chisel end and a cutting long edge. But there is a also a theory that they conveyed social signals, and that the best axe-makers would make the best mates!

axe

What can you do with a holed flint? Well, you can make it shine!

If this was the case then the manufacturer of this axe has produced something strikingly original, by incorporating the fossil hole.  Who knows what sort of reception his (or her) creative talents received!

Modern flint knappers – after years of practice, can produce a handaxe in 15 to 20 minutes.

Further reading: Chris Stringer (2006) Homo Britannicus; The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain.

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

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Buried in time – Mesolithic picks and ‘tranchet axes’

Oh dear! For many years I’ve been telling people that the ‘tranchet axe’, typical of the Mesolithic period (10,000 to 6,000 years ago) was so named because ‘tranchet’ was the French for ‘cross-blow’ and it was this action that produced a chisel-like cutting edge. Not so; a ‘tranchet’ is a hunting or paring knife and puts a slightly different slant on things, if you see what I mean.  ‘Trancher’, the verb, means ‘to slice’, so I’m probably just splitting hairs, but I’ll go with that in future.

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Tranchet axe from Whitehill, Bordon.

Tranchet axe from Whitehill, Bordon.

Tranchet axes are comparatively numerous in Hampshire. J J Wymer, in his gazetteer of Mesolithic sites, describes how they vary considerably in size (anything from 100mm to 200mm in length) and that they are often referred to as ‘Thames Picks’, as so many have been dredged from that river.  They would originally have been hafted in wooden shafts, but these rarely survive.  The real ‘picks’ are more crudely manufactured, and often have a distinctive ‘banana’ shape. They can also be larger – the example from Privett is 270mm in length.

Primed for action: a pick from Privett with a replica handle

Primed for action: a pick from Privett with a replica handle

At Broom Hill, Braishfield, near Romsey, 113 axes and adzes were found and, in 1982, this could be claimed as the largest number from any single site in the United Kingdom. Michael O’Malley put this down to the good local supply of quality flint and that the inhabitants may have been making dug-out canoes. This number contrasts with the twenty tranchet axes recovered from Star Carr and neighbouring sites in Yorkshire.

A typical selection from the Willis collection

A typical selection from the Willis collection

George Willis (centre) and companions out searching for flints.

George Willis (centre) and companions out searching for flints.

Another pioneer archaeologist who made the most of the southern distribution was George Willis of Basingstoke. In the 1920s, he and his companions were dedicated ‘flinters’ in the fields of North Hampshire and found scores of artefacts. Their tally for 1928, for example, includes over 70 chipped or flaked axes and adzes and is typical of their endeavours.  They did more than their bit in picking the fields clean – so much so that you’d be hard-pressed to find such a tool in the ploughsoil today.

A more typical discovery would be that made by Adam Carew, in the roots of a tree at Whitehill, Bordon, (top) another area generally rich in evidence of the Mesolithic period.

References:

CBA Research Report 20, (1977) Gazetteer of Mesolithic sites in England & Wales, J J Wymer (ed).

O’Malley, M, (1982) When the Mammoth Roamed Romsey, A Study of the Prehistory of Romsey and District. LTVAS.

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

Willis Archive held by Hampshire Cultural Trust

Digging deeper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Allen, Curator of Hampshire Archaeology, Hampshire Cultural Trust

References;

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

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

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

Buried in time – Tom Walls’ flints

RAF pilot Tom Walls was stationed in Hampshire during World War II, flying from  airfields such as Middle Wallop. He had a keen interest in Stone Age archaeology and when airborne sought out gravel pits which he could later visit on the ground. One was Goodwilley’s Pit at Yew Hill, Kings Somborne and another was Marshall’s Pit in Harewood Forest. In later years he investigated a number of sites in Surrey with the Surrey Archaeological Society, and this connection led to Jon Cotton arranging for the Hampshire finds to be returned, via the Kings Somborne Society, following Tom Walls’ death in the early 1990s.

Pages from Tom Wall's notebook describing his 'summer 1944' investigations at Goodwilley's Pit.

Pages from Tom Wall’s notebook describing his ‘summer 1944’ investigations at Goodwilley’s Pit.

Goodwilley’s Pit boasted a rich seam of material which, although geologically ‘haphazard’, contained many Palaeolithic tools. Tom Walls paid the quarrymen 6d (2½p) for each one they discovered and made notes about the circumstances and location of their finds. An eagle-eyed Mr Day, of Moss Lane, aided by his son, found the majority, many of which they rescued from the conveyor belt between the hopper and the grinder.

Three fine ovates

Three fine ovates

In all, Tom Walls obtained about sixty implements from Goodwilley’s Pit. The most common types were flint handaxes. There are a variety of tool sizes and shapes which would have had different purposes such as cutting, scraping and hammering. It is even thought that some of these ubiquitous objects may have had a symbolic function. In southern Britain handaxes date from at least 500,000 years ago (although the ‘starting date’ is constantly under review) but they are scarce between 400,000 and 60,000 years ago, possibly due to the severity of the Ice Age climate affecting the human population (Stringer. 2006).

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Between 60,000 and 30,000 years ago, Neanderthals were living in southern Britain and there may be evidence for this at Goodwilley’s Pit. Neanderthals produced a distinctive type of handaxe – the bout coupe – a slender ‘rounded triangle’ shape, with the cutting edge all the way round, and there is a possible candidate in the collection.

Pointed handaxes, with cortex retained to provide a more comfortable grip.

Pointed handaxes, with cortex retained to provide a more comfortable grip.

Many of the remaining handaxes are not flaked all over, leaving some of the original surface (cortex) to fit comfortably in the hand and improve the grip. These multi-purpose pointed tools may have been used to dig up edible roots, as borers and awls, or as weapons.

The Marshall's Pit 'cleaver'.

The Marshall’s Pit ‘cleaver’.

One of the most intriguing flints in Tom Walls collection is a remarkably large example from Marshall’s Pit in Harewood Forest, to the east of Andover. It measures 280 mm in length but is comparatively slender, and weighs 1.25 kg. A handaxe from Furze Platt, Maidenhead, measuring 306 mm, but weighing 2.8 kg, is generally considered to be ‘too large for practical purposes…perhaps (having) a symbolic meaning.’ The Marshall’s Pit tool might just have made an effective (two-handed) cleaver!

Another distinctive item found in the river bed at Yew Hill is made of greenstone. It is a pestle mace-head which dates to the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age (c 4,000 years ago). This example is polished with tapering sides and a perforation for a handle. There is some debate regarding the use of these beautifully-crafted artefacts. It is possible that they too had no practical function and were a symbol of an individual’s status in the community.

The pestle mace-head.

The pestle mace-head.

The Tom Walls’ collection was donated to the Hampshire County Museums Service in 1994 and is now in the care of the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Accession number A1994.18.

References:

Allen D. 1994. Fifty Years Ago – Squadron Leader Tom Walls. Hants Field Club & Arch Soc Newsletter 22 pp 14-15

Stringer C. 2006. Homo Britannicus: The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain. Penguin:London.

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

Buried in time – Broom Hill, Braishfield

 The Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) in Britain covers the period from 10,000 to 6,000 years ago (8,000 to 4,000 BC). It was the time of the last hunter-gatherers.  It is characterised by changing flint tool technology, involving the composite use of small, sharp artefacts (microliths). On the other hand, large adzes and ‘tranchet’ (from the cross-blow sharpening flake) axes are also a feature. In Hampshire there are many prolific sites, such as Oakhanger, Wakefords Copse, Broom Hill, where the flints can be numbered in hundreds and thousands. They must represent seasonal camps, returned to year after year by small nomadic bands.

Michaeol O'Malley and the three-tier sieve.

Michael O’Malley and sieve.

At Broom Hill, Braishfield, near Romsey, in 1971, Michael O’Malley found large quantities of Mesolithic flint. The discovery set in motion a seven-year excavation programme, in conjunction with the Lower Test Valley Archaeological Study Group, covering 125 sq m and recovering, with innovative sieving techniques, over 89,000 struck flints.

unmarked 14

Mike O’Malley was an Ordnance Survey Surveyor and aligned the site with the National Grid, laying it out in metre squares. The sieve, built by Nicholas Johnson, used a tiered system, with meshes of 1/2, 1/4, and 1/8th of an inch, and the device allowed recovery of an average of 27 microliths from each 1m transect.

Mr M Palmer and another helper, 1973.

Mr M Palmer and another helper, 1973.

The site is located on a patch of Eocene sands, on the southern slope of the hill close to a strong permanent spring with good views to the south. Radiocarbon dates suggest that it was in use for about two thousand years from 6500 to 4500 BC, making it a Later Mesolithic site.

The pit during excavation

The pit during excavation

O’Malley felt that one of the four pits he excavated, surrounded by 14 post and 34 stake-holes, could have been a dwelling. At the centre of the feature was a substantial, deeply embedded posthole and near to that, a hearth. The contents of one 1m square from inside the dwelling was bagged up in 62 layers and sent to the University of Cambridge for analysis. Carbonised hazel nut shells were evident throughout, suggesting autumn and winter occupation at the site.

Samples bound for Cambridge

Samples bound for Cambridge

The site has not seen definitive publication and it may be difficult now to interpret some of the structural evidence. What is not in doubt is the remarkable collection of flint, including more than one hundred core axes and adzes. Study of the sharpening and intermediate flakes from these artefacts suggests that they were being made on site for use elsewhere. High grade flint is found in the local chalk, but the presence of Portland chert, slabs of Purbeck rock, and burnishing tools made of fine-grained slate hint at contacts, if only at exchange level, with groups further west.

unmarked 2 226 217 214 213 212 211 210

A cascade of flints – including (from bottom to top) tranchet axes and sharpening flakes, piercers, cores and blades, arrowheads,cores, adzes or picks and small blades (microliths), including an O’Malley reconstruction.

A1984.17

Further reading

O’Malley & Jacobi, 1978. The Excavation of a Mesolithic Occupation Site at Broom Hill, Braishfield, 1971-73, Rescue Archaeol Hampshire, 4

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

 

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.