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