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To Petersfield, to see the third year of excavation at the ‘People of the Heath’ community project, and an opportunity for Hampshire Cultural Trust conservator, Claire Woodhead, to discuss the processes involved in dealing with their latest Bronze Age find (for an update on the project see their excellent bulletins).
The twenty or more burial monuments on the Heath were first put on record in a comprehensive fashion by a youthful Stuart Piggott, a native of Petersfield. Several small diameter circles were evident among the larger barrows and the project has now examined four of them. George Anelay who along with Stuart Needham is directing the project, told me how they all differed and that they hadn’t revealed an obvious similarity of purpose, with no central burial feature present. It put me in mind of one of Stuart Piggott’s own memorable passages (in ‘Ancient Europe’ – he went on to become Professor of Archaeology at Edinburgh) about ‘the unique qualities of human actions’ and their inability to create identical sets of circumstances – all this in a pre-industrial age of course!
It took me back to my own adventure with an early Bronze Age burial site – in Buckinghamshire – which found a remarkable parallel in Hampshire – with, it goes without saying, differences in detail. We’ve already visited Stockbridge Down in this series to view an execution cemetery and the hillfort at Woolbury, but in the late 1930s, J F S Stone and N Gray Hill excavated a round barrow, which ‘although small…was found to possess some unusual features’. The main occupant was a Beaker period crouched female burial, accompanied by one of the distinctive vessels and a bronze awl, but the rarity was the surrounding ditch, which was composed of five segments – they are usually continuous. In 1978 I had the good fortune to dig a ring ditch threatened by quarrying at Ravenstone, Bucks, and this monument was composed of four ditch segments with, at the centre, a Beaker period crouched female burial, accompanied by a pot and a bronze awl.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. At Ravenstone, the female burial was a secondary interment; beneath her was a deep burial pit containing a coffin – but no body – it was presumably a cenotaph. At Stockbridge Down there were cremation burials later than the main burial, dug into the ditch. This has only now got me scratching my head for a point of process I’d missed before. At Stockbridge the excavators were content that the ditch was dug to surround the burial – so female crouched burial, Beaker, awl, causewayed ditch were apparently contemporary.
At Ravenstone the causewayed ditch surrounded a deep grave-pit with a coffin (generally an attribute of a male Beaker burial). So the female crouched burial, pot and awl were interlopers – and the depth of her grave suggested that it was indeed dug through a barrow mound (the actual mound had been subsequently ploughed flat). Therefore two very similar plans are perhaps not as similar as they seem. They’re certainly not identical, are they Professor? It’s one of the joys of being an archaeologist.
Allen, D, The Excavation of a Beaker Burial Monument at Ravenstone, Buckinghamshire in 1978, Arch J Vol 138 for 1981.
Piggott, S, 1965, Ancient Europe
Stone, JFS & Hill, N G, 1940, A Round Barrow on Stockbridge Down, Hampshire, Antiquaries Journal, Vol XX
Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Jane King, Lesley Johnson, Peter Stone
In the autumn of 1994 a metal detectorist found a Late Iron Age decorated bronze mirror, the first from Hampshire, at Latchmere Green, near Silchester. It was associated with the cremation burial of a woman and a child, and tells of a tradition of high status metalwork ‘reflecting the British nobility’s contacts with, and travels in, Italy in the late 1st century BC and early 1st century AD’.
The mirror was unearthed just within Bramley parish, at the southern edge of a known Roman site close to the junction of the Roman roads from Silchester to Winchester and Chichester. This settlement had been previously surveyed (Corney, 1984) and had yielded pottery finds of the late 1st to early 2nd century, through to the 4th century AD.
The mirror itself was badly corroded, with the handle and plate separated, and was in generally poor condition. Assuming circularity, dimensions were estimated as 170 mm diameter, giving a 227 sq cm surface area; it was 1.1 mm thick. The overall length (mirror and handle) was estimated to be about 263 mm.
Basket engraving on the reverse side of the mirror plate was found to be in the form of a whirligig or triskele, with the lower arms extended at right angles to the axis of the plate in pelta (or shield-like) loop patterns, giving the impression of a pair of eyes.
This elaborate style of decoration, known as ‘irregular oblong block’, is not unlike that of the 1904 ‘Colchester mirror’ and other similar finds and is thought to date from the late 1st century BC to the early 1st century AD, while the plate area links the mirror with the south-eastern group* of mirrors, centred on East Anglia and the London Basin. Up to 60 mirrors of the period are now known, and many of these finds have been made over the past three decades.
Samples of metal taken from the handle and plate of the Latchmere Green mirror consisted wholly of ~88% copper and ~12% tin with a trace of phosphorus, which showed that the mirror was not of Roman manufacture. Roman mirrors always contain more than a trace of lead and a lower proportion of copper with tin.
Following the initial discovery, a small controlled excavation (5 x 5 m) unearthed a late Iron Age pedestal jar, lying on its side in a shallow pit. The jar contained a quantity of cremated bone and the evidence suggested that the mirror had been placed as a ‘lid’ closing the jar. Also present were fragments of iron pin and other pieces associated with brooches. These latter were found to be comparable with finds at Silchester and Thetford and again can be dated to the very late 1st century BC and the early 1st century AD. The wheel-thrown jar, although in a very fragmented condition, is of a type identifiable with the pre-conquest period.
The cremation was unusual, in that the small fragments proved to be very probably of a female, aged 30 or more, with a child who was not newborn or an infant. That the adult was most likely to be female is evidenced by the fact that such mirrors have never been unambiguously associated with Iron Age male burials. The small fragments of cremated animal bone present were found to be of pig – again an occurrence consistent with animal bone finds in other Iron Age burials.
In summary, the evidence points to a late pre-conquest or early post-conquest date for this Late Iron Age high-status burial, possibly of a mother and child (but see below). As to the triskele design with loops it can only be said that this is of unknown origins but no object associated with it has been datable to earlier than 1st century BC. The ‘masterly’ and ‘mature’ embellishments, as they have been described, would appear to be unique to Britain.
*As the Latchmere Green discovery is an outlier to the south eastern group, it was included in the Dating Celtic Art programme of radiocarbon dating (Garrow et al, 2009). The dates realised (360 – 50 and 360 -110 cal BC) seem too early (2nd century BC) for the associated brooches and pottery vessel, and there is the intriguing possibility that one of the individuals (the one dated) had been cremated some decades before the double burial was actually made.
M Corney (1984) A Field Survey of the Extra-Mural Region of Silchester, in M Fulford, Silchester Defences, 1974-80.
M Fulford & J Creighton (1998) A Late Iron Age Mirror Burial from Latchmere Green, near Silchester, Proc Prehist Soc, Vol 64, pp331-342.
D Garrow et al (2009) Dating Celtic Art: a Major Radiocarbon Dating Programme of Iron Age and Early Roman Metalwork in Britain, Arch J, Vol 166, pp 79-123.
Archive A1994.26, held by Hampshire Cultural Trust
The Latchmere Green mirror is currently on display at the Museum of the Iron Age, Andover.
Series by; Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Oliver’s Battery, an enclosure on the south west side of Winchester, or ‘Oliver Cromwell’s Battery’, as it sometimes appears, was thought in local folk-lore to date from the English Civil War. In 1930 W J Andrew, acting on behalf of the Hampshire Field Club, determined to put this to the test. A Mr Talbot had recently leased the site and its surrounds from the County Council, and it was from him that Andrew obtained permission to dig. In late August he examined a tumulus just to the north and sank trenches at the southwest and northeast corners of the enclosure. The barrow produced an ‘extraordinary confusion’ of bones and other finds, including buckles and clay pipes and the southwest corner was unrewarding, but in the northeast corner he hit the jackpot.
The trench had been moved a couple of feet during laying out and this minor adjustment brought to light the 6th century burial of a young male, accompanied by a beautifully decorated hanging bowl (placed upside down on his chest), an iron hunting knife or scramasax, and a short spear. News of the discovery was soon filling the pages of the Hampshire Chronicle, and it was now that a ‘difference of opinion’ between Hampshire County Council and Mr Talbot arose. Who could give permission to dig? Who owned the artefacts that had been found? Counsel was instructed and advice taken as both sides dug in their heels. Sir William Portal, Chairman of the Council ‘specially [hoped] that any legal action taken with regard to Oliver’s Battery will be of quite a friendly disposition’.
September appears to have been a tense month, but by mid-October Mr Barber, Secretary to the County Council, was in possession of the bowl. It was placed on exhibition at the Castle (the Council Offices) with a Police Constable in attendance, but the arrangements were not ideal for all, as a letter to the Southern Daily Echo, dated 2.12.1930, clearly shows.
Sir, I was informed that a Saxon bowl, an ancient relic of a bygone age, was on view at the Castle, Winchester, so I took a party of friends to see it on Saturday afternoon, only to be informed that the bowl was put under lock and key at 12 o’ clock and could not be seen; further it can only be viewed on other days between the hours of 10 and 4 o’clock. Might I suggest that these are the hours of the leisured class and that some consideration should be given to those that work? DISAPPOINTED (Southampton).
In spite of the difficulties more than 3000 people managed to see the bowl. By this time, agreement had been reached about the longer-term future of the find and a long period of loan to the British Museum was soon to begin. The bargain struck was that a replica would be made and there was debate about whether this should faithfully copy the bowl or ‘look new’. In the event the pristine look was chosen, although the argument that a worn specimen would be ‘unintelligible’ to the public, seemed to forget that a few thousand had already seen it and, one would hope, marvelled at it.
Despite all these complications, Andrew and his crew were back at the Battery in 1931 and the County Council gave them permission to dig. Work took place in mid-June but the results were disappointing – how could they possibly compare with what the British Museum had dubbed, in 1930, ‘the outstanding English event of the year’.
An interesting postscript to the dig was provided by Christopher Hawkes in 1953, when trying to answer the City Museum’s query about the date of the barrow and Battery. ‘…it was a real old Victorian dig’ he wrote, ‘done by old Mr Andrew and old Mr McEwen with their gardeners and Williams-Freeman, Karslake and Warren (to say nothing of Crawford)’. Clearly Hawkes was impressed by the venerable nature of the team, if not the quality of the interpretation.
The Winchester Hanging Bowl is now displayed in the City Museum while the ‘young male’, described by some authorities as a ‘sentinel burial’ still guards this side of the city – the excavators left him in place!
Hants Field Club Newsletters 47, p 2-4; 48, p 5-7.
Hants Field Club Proceedings Vol 12, p 5-19
Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.
* 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
During the winter of 1984/5, trial excavations on the site of an Iron Age enclosure at Brighton Hill South, Basingstoke, revealed an unexpected find – the foundations of a medieval church and part of an associated settlement. Further investigations and study of the pottery finds eventually identified three phases of occupation, ranging from the mid 11th to the late 15th century.
The church, of simple nave and chancel form, was built of flint and mortar and stood at the centre of a large graveyard. It was a two-phase structure, the second phase involving the enlargement of the chancel. The date of construction is not certain (partly because the preservation scheme agreed with the developers meant that no in situ walls or floors were removed). It may be pre-Norman Conquest (1066) in origin, but is perhaps more likely to be an early Norman structure.
There were nine graves within the church building, two of which were cut through by the eastern and western walls. Five of the graves were excavated, producing six burials. One of them (Grave 0369) was of a mature adult male accompanied by a pewter chalice and paten and an iron buckle, and this was presumably the grave of a priest. Another, earlier grave, of an immature male, was accompanied by two silver farthings of Edward I (minted 1280-1300). Two of the burials from inside the church were of infants, one of whom had been buried in a coffin.
The churchyard enclosure was found to contain at least 258 graves of which 37 were excavated, revealing at least 46 burials. There were a number of double burials, several graves had been re-used and inter-cutting was common. More than half the burials were of children. This is a high ratio, but the infant mortality rate would have been high in the medieval period (100 per 1000 live births) compared with current UK figures, where the rate is just four.
The village buildings were of timber construction and the later examples made greater use of sophisticated framing techniques, in contrast to the more substantial foundations of the earlier phase.
Documentary evidence shows that this was the ancient manor and church of Hatch, probably quite a high status settlement in the 12th and 13th centuries, when high-class imports such as pottery from Saintonge were being used. By the time of Edward III (1327-77) however, 300 acres in the parish were recorded as ‘untilled and unsown’ and by 1380 it was exonerated from paying tithes and merged with Cliddesden. The name survived – in Hatch Warren Farm – and was later adopted for the development, but the location was lost, until Basingstoke expanded in this direction and the archaeologists got to work.
Further reading: Fasham & Keevill (1995), Brighton Hill South (Hatch Warren) Wessex Archaeology Report No. 7.
Series by Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone, with help from Stacie Elliot.
Christchurch got its name because of the important Priory, built in the late 11th century. One hundred years before, a small settlement named Twynham (for the two rivers) had grown up on the site and was one of King Alfred’s fortified burhs. About 100m to the north of these defences is an area known as Bargates; here in 1977 trial excavation revealed a Bronze Age ring ditch and seven Saxon inhumations. The following year the main dig uncovered a pagan Saxon cemetery of at least 30 burials and four cremations. The grave goods indicated a date of late 6th to 7th century. Subsequent excavations in the town failed to find evidence of 5th to 9th century date, so it is not possible to suggest how the cemetery might relate to any early ecclesiastical foundation preceding the priory.
The Bargates site was located on fertile river gravels in an area of lowly-populated heath. Because of the acidic soil conditions bone did not survive, but teeth and ‘body stains’ could sometimes be traced. Three of these were complete outlines and seven partial. Metalwork did survive, however, and eleven of the 30 graves were most probably armed males, which is an unusually high proportion. Other graves contained knives and buckles, which do not help to determine sex. Female ornaments were rare: there were no brooches and only one bead was found on the site. The four cremations were probably of adults, one of whom was probably a young female.
The grave goods which indicated male burials were shields (usually associated only with adult males) and spears (not necessarily indicative of an adult). Grave 5 had evidence of a shield showing that it had contained an adult male. The shield boss was cone-shaped, like others on the site. Some of the graves contained evidence of organic material preserved in corrosion products in the form of negative casts. Corrosion-preserved wood present in Grave 5 was identified as alder, a species used for shields. An iron spearhead with a leaf-shaped blade was also found, its haft made of hazel, again identified from corrosion products. Traces of textile survived on one face of the spearhead. As spearheads were usually placed away from garments, this suggests that the weapon had been placed on woven cloth or that cloth was draped over both the weapons and the body. Grave 5 was one of the richer graves in the cemetery, and like 22 of the other graves it contained a knife.
From the graves with reasonably complete skeletal stains it was possible to determine several different modes of burial and the position of the grave offerings also revealed some patterns. The spearhead in Grave 5, for example, pointed south: this suggests that the head looked south. The wider context of the Saxon cemetery suggests a settled community with established burial procedures, but the location of the settlement site remains unknown.
Further reading: Excavations in Christchurch 1969-1980, Jarvis (1983) Monograph 5, Dorset Natural History & Archaeological Society.
Some of the Bargates finds are displayed in the Red House Museum.