Windmill Hill

Grid Reference: SU08657145

Site Overview

Windmill Hill is the site of a Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure and a selection of later Bronze Age round barrows, one of which seems to have the indentation caused by the eponymous windmill in it. The site itself is currently surrounded by open grassland, and agriculture has erased some of the site on one side of the fenceline, as we observed. The site is part of the World Heritage Site of Avebury and part of the wider ritual landscape that includes the extant monuments at Avebury, West Kennet, Silbury Hill and sites such as The Santuary on Overton Hill.

The Causewayed Enclosure is formed of three oval circuits of interrupted ditches with causeways in between the ditches. The area covered by the site is approximately 20 acres and is on the lower and middle chalk (Wiltshire SMR 2011).

Environmental evidence points towards a wooded environment at the time of construction of the causewayed enclosure (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 55), and the viewshed observable today would not have featured in the prehistoric use of the site. The site would still have been in a prominent position and therefore the woodland would not have entirely concealed its presence (Whittle et al. 1999, 347).

The site ‘faces’ North and Smith notes that it is common for causewayed enclosures to fall across contours of hill rather than following them (Smith 1971, 111).

Investigation History

William Stukeley was perhaps the first person to record the existence of the site, in the 1720s and excavations by HGO Kendal in the 1920s provided a Neolithic date for the site (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 28). This was a decade after Maud Cunnington had suggested a Neolithic date for the causewayed enclosure at Knap Hill, some miles to the South (Cunnington 1909).

Excavations of all three circuits was carried out by Alexander Keiller, after he purchased the site (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 49), and published posthumously by Isobel Smith (Thomas 1999, 40). Evidence for various activities included pottery, worked stone and fragments of animal bone (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 49).

 

Later excavations by Whittle et. al shed light on the chronology of the site, demonstrating that the three circuits were probably all of a similar date (as far as the resolution of the dating techniques can determine) and probably in use at the same time (Whittle et al. 1999).

The excavation also discovered a burial that predated the causewayed enclosure (Wiltshire SMR 2011), possibly evidence for the importance of the site even before the causewayed enclosure was constructed.

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The causewayed enclosure provided radiocarbon dates from the Early Neolithic, about the middle of the 4th millennium BC.

It is difficult, however, to categorise what precisely the site was in use as, but perhaps this is not necessary, or appropriate. Excavation has revealed artefacts relating to all facets of daily life, perhaps indicating that the site could be used for any or all activities (Whittle 2003) and provides evidence for domesticated animals, non-local clay sources in the pottery fabric, treatment of the dead, farming and potentially exchange of goods (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 50).

If we interpret the silting up of the ditches to mean that the site went out of use, then even after this point, the site was still an important place, and deposits still made (Bradley 2000, 106). But the site demonstrates that the area was still in use, at least occasionally, well into the third millennium (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 50).

West Kennet Long Barrow

Grid Reference: SU10456774

Site Overview

West Kennet Long Barrow is a 100m-long mound of earth with a megalithic core at the Eastern end comprising five chambers used for interment of human remains during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. It is generally given as an outlier of the Cotswold-Severn style of megalithic chambered tomb, similar to Waylands Smithy in Berkshire (Piggott 1962, 58).

It is false-cresting the end of a North-facing spur of land, above Swallowhead Springs, and so appears on the skyline to people at the foot of the hill. It is aligned East-West and facing East, that is to say that the facade and entrance are at the Eastern end.

The facade of the site as visible today is a reconstruction and not representative of the original state of the barrow before excavation in 1955 (Paul Tubb pers. comm.).

Investigation History

There is evidence to indicate that a 17th Century doctor Dr Toope had potentially raided the West Kennet long barrow looking for human skeletal material for a ‘medicine’. Certainly Piggott records disturbance to the Eastern end of the monument, and the introduction of later material into the disturbed areas (Piggott 1962, 4).

The next recorded investigator of the barrow, was Dr Thurnam, in 1859, who tunnelled into the Western chamber and cleared it. Thankfully, Dr Thurnam did not realise the full extent of the megalithic structure and concluded that this Western chamber was the only one and so left the rest of the chambers for later excavation and recording (Piggott 1962, 5). He did, however, discover human remains, of which four skeletons appeared articulated (Piggott 1962, 6). Also discovered was late Neolithic and Beaker pottery, adding greatly to the confusion that the misleading diagrams and plans of the excavation caused (Piggott 1962, 5).

The most recent investigation was performed by Stuart Piggott and Richard Atkinson in 1955, undertaken to try and explain Dr Thurnam’s findings and establish the true extent of the megalithic structure (Piggott 1962, 7). The findings from this excavation were that there were more than 40 individuals represented within the barrow, with 30 adults or adolescents (Piggott 1962, 24). Not all skeletons were complete, with evidence for sorting of skeletal material into long bones and skulls after the bodies had decayed being the fact that the small bones are present, which may be assumed shows the body was intact when deposited (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 66). This implies that the chambers were open or at least accessible during the period that this use continued. Radiocarbon dates suggest that the earliest burials introduced into the monument are those still in an articulated state, which contradicts this theory somewhat (Pollard & Reynolds 2002,66), but it may be there was a reason that some bodies were not required to be sorted into components.

Chronology and Current Interpretation

From the radiocarbon dates obtained from the primary interments, a date of 3670-3635 cal. BC is obtained, with the last deposit dated to 3640-3610 cal. BC giving a surprising short period of primary deposition (Bayliss et al. 2007).

Whilst the period of primary interment may be short, the duration suggested for the use of the site for secondary interment (for introducing and removing of skeletal material) (Pollard 2005, 109) was much longer.

Thomas suggested that the role of the long barrow in the treatment of the dead may be one of transformation: articulated (fleshed) corpses introduced to the monument and allowed to decay before being ‘sorted’ and distributed appropriately within the monument. He argues that the secondary deposits that include broken pottery were also subject to this process and broken and separated much as the skeletons had been (Thomas 1999, 206).

Thomas also suggested the idea of the circulation of skeletal material being a kind of economy in which ancestral remains could be transferred and gifted between communities (Thomas 2000).

It is clear that burial practice in the Neolithic was about much more than simply disposing of the dead, and the mortuary rituals were complex and extended.

Bibliography

Bayliss, A., Whittle, A. & Wysocki, M., 2007. Talking About My Generation: the Date of the West Kennet Long Barrow. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 17(S1), p.85. Available at: http://www.journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0959774307000182 [Accessed February 11, 2011].
Bradley, R., 2000. An Archaeology of Natural Places 1st ed., Routledge.
Cunnington, M., 1909. 28. On a Remarkable Feature in the Entrenchments of Knap Hill Camp, Wiltshire. Man, 9(1909), p.49–52. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2839810 [Accessed January 11, 2011].
Piggott, S., 1962. The West Kennet Long Barrow excavations, 1955-56, H.M.S.O.
Pollard, J., 2005. Memory, Monuments and Middens in the Neolithic Landscape. In G. Brown, D. Field, & D. McOmish, eds. The Avebury Landscape: Aspects of the Field Archaeology of the Marlborough Downs. Oxford: Oxbow Books Limited.
Pollard, J. & Reynolds, A., 2002. Avebury: Biography of a Landscape illustrate., The History Press Ltd.
Smith, I.F., 1971. Causewayed Enclosures. In D. D. A. Simpson, ed. Economy and settlement in Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Britain and Europe. Leicester University Press, pp. 89-112.
Thomas, J., 2000. Death, identity and the body in neolithic Britain. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 6(4), pp.653-668. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/1467-9655.00038.
Thomas, J., 1999. Understanding the Neolithic 2nd ed., Routledge.
Whittle, A., 2003. The Archaeology of People: Dimensions of Neolithic Life 1st ed., Routledge.
Whittle, A., Grigson, C. & Pollard, J., 1999. The harmony of symbols: the Windmill Hill causewayed enclosure, Wiltshire, Oxbow Books.
Wiltshire SMR, 2011. Windmill Hill, Avebury [online]. Available at: http://history.wiltshire.gov.uk/smr/getsmr.php?id=8864 [Accessed May 11, 2011].

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