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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 – 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,

Buried in time – a Roman amphitheatre

At the southern entrance to the amphitheatre

At the southern entrance to the amphitheatre

The best surviving and most upstanding Roman remains in the north of Hampshire are the walls surrounding Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester), a civitas capital.  Just outside them, at the northeast corner, stands the oval form of the town’s amphitheatre.  It escaped examination a century ago, when much of the site was sampled as it did not lie within the Wellington Estate.  It was only when it was taken into Guardianship in 1979 that a programme of seven years excavation took place, led by Mike Fulford of Reading University, at the request of the former Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments.

 

Ian Stewart, Inspector of Ancient Monuments, Michael Hughes, County Archaeologist, and Mike Fulford inspect progress during the dig.

Ian Stewart, Inspector of Ancient Monuments, Michael Hughes, County Archaeologist, and Mike Fulford inspect progress during the dig.

British amphitheatres tend to be smaller than those found on the Continent and generally have three characteristics in common: they are always outside town walls, are variable in orientation to street grids or defences and consist of local material that supports the cavea (seating) with no record of purely masonry support.  The amphitheatre at Silchester displays all these characteristics.

The first timber phase at Silchester was constructed to a circular plan probably between about AD 55-75 on land that had been in prior use, as evidenced by two substantial ditches, which it truncated, and by a pottery-making site beneath the western seating bank from which coarse-ware wasters were found among pre-Flavian finds.

Plan of the amphitheatre at the 'First Stone-built phase'.

Plan of the amphitheatre at the stone-built phase.

Seating was not free-standing and was supported on material excavated from the site. The overall capacity is estimated to have been about 3600 to 3700 although if spectators stood on wide terraces more than 7000 may have been accommodated.

The second timber phase, difficult to date but perhaps of the mid -2nd century AD when masonry was the preferred building material, did not fundamentally change these arrangements. The original entrance layouts were retained and it seems very likely that there was no disturbance to the recesses on the east-west axis but efforts were focused on adapting the arena plan to give it an oval shape.

Another view in through the south entrance.

Another view in through the south entrance.

The arena wall of the second timber phase was replaced in the 3rd century by one of stone which consisted mostly of flint with some use of greensand and sarsen. Flint was also the preferred material used in the re-construction of the passage walls, while brown ironstone was used in the refurbishment of the arena surface. The dimensions of the arena were slightly increased to about 45.5 by 39.m with its oval shape unchanged. It has been found difficult to date the stone re-construction phase although a plausible suggestion is the time of arrival in Britain of Septimius Severus in 208 AD. Such an event may well have justified the considerable expenditure incurred – estimated to be comparable with the cost of the original construction.

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The arena at Pompeii with its posh front seats, separated by a moat. Vesuvius broods in the background.

The amphitheatre at Pompeii - Vesuvius broods in the background.

The amphitheatre at Pompeii – here we go!

About the time that the Silchester  amphitheatre was being constructed, the monument at Pompeii on the Bay of Naples was being overwhelmed by the eruption of Vesuvius.  This froze in time an arena which had been built 150 years before, when the name given to them was ‘Spectacula’. The term amphitheatre (‘double theatre’) came later.  The Pompeii seating could accommodate over 2000 in the best seats (separated by a deep moat from those behind!) and about 25000 overall, more than six times Silchester.  There were also special boxes on the top tier for ladies – as Augustus thought it wrong for them be too near the action…and action there certainly was.  Supporters at a gladiatorial show in AD 59 got out of hand and a riot took place between the Pompeiians and visiting Nucerians.  This resulted in a 10-year ban for such shows at Pompeii, and exile for those who had staged it.

The remains at Pozzuoli

The remains at Pozzuoli

If Pompeii had not been buried in ash and lava, the amphitheatre would almost certainly have been improved, with the provision of an under-floor level, as at nearby Pozzuoli.

Positive evidence for the use of the Silchester amphitheatre is too sparse to draw any firm conclusions. Animal remains, predominantly horse, were retrieved from all three construction phases and it may be that there were equestrian displays, possibly animal hunts (venationes) or even beast fights. There is no evidence of gladiatorial contests and Nemesea, serving some religious purpose, seems to be the most acceptable explanation for the recesses on the east-west axis.

It is quite likely that the amphitheatre fell into disuse and eventual abandonment sometime in the mid – 4th century as evidenced by the finding of two coins of that period. It has also been suggested that the robbing-out of the stone wall could have occurred not much later, although the construction of the parish church of St. Mary 1125-1250 AD may be a more probable cause.

There is as yet no evidence that the amphitheatre may have been used in the post-Roman period until at least the 11th century when a single-aisled hall was built and a number of pits were dug within it. Pottery finds indicate a short period of occupation and the other contemporary structural changes do not preclude the use of the site as a castle during the ‘Anarchy’ of the reign of King Stephen (1135-54).

Thereafter from the 15th century until the 1970s the arena served as a yard for a nearby farm with late-17th to early 18th century pottery, glass and building material from the south entrance vicinity indicating the presence of a long-vanished cottage.

The amphitheatre has an evocative atmosphere and is well worth the short walk from the Church should you be visiting Silchester Roman Town.

References:

Fulford, M (1989) The Silchester Amphitheatre, Excavations of 1979-85.  Britannia Monograph Series No. 10.

 Archive; A1980.65 held by Hampshire Cultural Trust

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

To the arena and the baying crowd...

To the arena and the baying crowd…

Buried in time – reflections on the Late Iron Age

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’.  

'generally poor condition' the Latchmere Green mirror.

‘generally poor condition’ the Latchmere Green mirror.

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 decorative motifs - as drawn by Steve Allen, University of Reading, Dept of Archaeology.

The decorative motifs – as drawn by Steve Allen, University of Reading, Dept of Archaeology.

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.

For a number of years a replica of the Holcombe Mirror (Devon) was on display at the Museum of the Iron Age, courtesy of Nicholas Riall, who found the original on an excavation in 1970.

For a number of years a replica of the much better preserved Holcombe Mirror (Devon) was on display at the Museum of the Iron Age, courtesy of Nicholas Riall, who found the original on an excavation in 1970.

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.

Mirror, mirror in my hand, Who is the fairest in the land?

Mirror, mirror in my hand, Who is the fairest in the land?

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.  

References:

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

 

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 – 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.