The hill on which the causewayed enclosure sits has been a focus of activity during many periods, but it is the causewayed enclosure that will be addressed here, as the other uses of the site perhaps represent re-use of the land, rather than of the site. That is not to deny the possibility that the Bronze Age barrows were placed where they were because the existing monument was there, merely that their purpose is at a distance from the intention of the builders of the causewayed enclosure.
Situated on the South-facing scarp at the Northern edge of the Vale of Pewsey, the hill is connected to the adjacent Golden Ball Hill via a saddle-shaped ridge overlooking a deep coombe. There is then a gap before the land rises again to form Walkers Hill, topped by the Adam’s Grave long barrow, and the start of the Milk Hill-Tan Hill range.
The causewayed enclosure covers an area of 17 hectares (Wiltshire County Council 2011) and consists of a series of (now silted-up) ditches and banks, separated by causeways (undug sections of ditch with a corresponding gap in the bank). It seems that Knap Hill is unusual in the way that this circuit follows the contours of the hill, whereas other causewayed enclosures pay scant regard to the topology and their ditch-and-bank sections fall across contours (Smith 1971, 111). Another unusual feature is that the line of ditches and banks does not complete a full circuit of the hill, there being a gap on the side that faces South East into the Vale. This side of the hill faces down into a steep coombe which may offer an explanation for the lack of earthworks on this side. Combe Hill Camp near Eastbourne also seems to show a gap in the circuit where it encounters the coombe edge, but also has a secondary (and incomplete) circuit (Curwen 1930, 14), implying that the completion of the circuit was not necessarily required.
This photo was taken from the footpath ascending Milk Hill, facing South-East. The row of banks that encircle the top section of the hill can be clearly seen, as can a modern trackway steeply ascending the hill between two banks.
From the footpath to Golden Ball Hill (the transverse track visible in the photo above), the banks of the causewayed enclosure can clearly be seen, but the top of the hill is not visible (see photo below).
Whatever was going on, on the top of the hill, would only be visible to those within the circuit, or at a considerable distance away. Again, this might explain the lack of earthworks on the side facing the coombe, as this effectively provides the same visual shielding of the hill.
Adam’s Grave was investigated in 1868 by Dr Thurnam, yielding human remains from several individuals and a leaf-shaped arrowhead (Knowles 2007, 3), but the dating is unclear. Bradley and Edmonds suggest that the two monuments may have been in use at the same time (Bradley & Edmonds 2005, 176). The close association between the monuments may be an indication that the use of Knap Hill was altered and the introduction of the barrow may be how that change was effected as it has been suggested that one of the uses for causewayed enclosures may be connected with the rites required to deal with the dead (Thomas 1999, 43).
Knap Hill is on the Middle Chalk (Crowley 1980, 187) overlooking the Vale of Pewsey with its Upper Greensand and Gault Clay geology (Geddes 2000). This situation on an ecotone may be a clue to at least part of the use of the site: it is on the edge between one type of land (the Vale with its heavier soils) and another (the chalk downland) and may reflect an involvement with the seasonal movement of cattle to the higher ground (Thomas 1999, 43).
Evidence from Golden Ball Hill suggests a Mesolithic use of the area for flint acquisition (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 23). Bradley suggests that the location of flint mines may have been selected due to their landscape situation, and that intervisibility of flint mines from causewayed enclosures may be of symbolic importance (Bradley 2005, 103). A more practical explanation may be that the use of Golden Ball Hill led to a tradition of gathering in that area (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 55), naturally progressing into a formalisation of that gathering with a monument and creating a known Place within the landscape (Thomas 1998, 89).
Environmental evidence from Knap Hill indicates that the area was open scrubland at the time the monument was constructed, but with increasing thickness of scrub as the ditches filled (Connah 1965,3), possibly indicating the decline of use of the hill. In contrast, Windmill Hill, several miles further North of Knap Hill, produced environmental evidence suggesting that the landscape was heavily wooded (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 55). The idea that the earliest monuments of the Neolithic represented a taking control over nature and making space for man-made works may not therefore apply consistently to these monuments (Austin 2000, 73).
Maud and Ben Cunnington were the first to excavate the causewayed enclosure and to determine that it was a type of site previously unrecognised (Cunnington 1909). Their excavations, conducted in 1909-10 are shown on the plan below, and take in an area of the later plateau settlement as well as the ditch and bank arrangement. (Cunnington 1911)
Her report also indicates that she tested each causeway to prove the ditches terminated, although this is not indicated on the plan. She established from this that the causeways were an intentional part of the design. She came to the conclusion that the arrangement was not intended for defence as the causeways would weaken the perimeter whilst not affording any benefit to the defenders. She also noted, however, that the slight offsetting of the bank from the causeway, gave limited visibility into the interior from the outside.
Although there is no clear indication which of the ‘relics’ was found in which ditch, the report is clear that the objects were found in groups, the implication being that they were deposits rather than accidental losses. Interestingly, she states that most of the artefacts came from a layer 30cm above the ditch bottom (Cunnington 1911, 61), perhaps implying that the deposits were not the primary intention. Some of the worked flint found in the ditch appears fresh and perhaps was worked in-situ on the floor of the ditch (Cunnington 1911, 62), but it is not evident how this can be determined, as the recording is not comprehensive. Other important evidence from the ditches includes pottery now identified as being of the Windmill Hill type, bone identified as being that of a domestic (rather than wild) ox, and remains of pigs (Cunnington 1911, 61), implying consumption of animals.
It was Graham Connah’s excavations, in 1961 that provided radiocarbon dates for the construction of the ditches: antler fragments from layer 6 in Cutting i gave a date of 4710 +- 115 BP or 2760BC (Connah 1969). However, a more recent paper, using Bayesian analysis, gives the rough date of construction of Knap Hill as 3530-3375 cal. BC (91% probability) (Bayliss et al. 2008) which is much earlier.
Richard Bradley traces the tradition of interrupted ditch and bank systems back as far as the Linearbandkeramik culture of Europe (Bradley 2007, 71) and perhaps the idea of such constructions was a connection to the old homelands of the first farmers. But causewayed enclosures weren’t necessarily the first monuments to be built by the early farmers (Whittle 2003, 151) and were perhaps the product of the maturing Neolithic lifestyle (Evans 1988, 93).
In cutting i, Connah also found evidence that perhaps the ditch started life as a series of pits (Connah 1965, 5). Given that deposits in causewayed enclosures tend to be in the ditch terminals (Evans 1988, 89), perhaps deposits were originally made in pits, and then these pits joined up to make a continuous ditch.
Connah exercises caution owing to uncertainty in the stratigraphy, but is willing to confirm the presence of ox in a safe Neolithic context. Sheep, goat and pig are slightly more doubtful and may not be adding to the Neolithic picture, but may be later (Connah 1965, 17).
In general, Connah considers the lack of finds from Knap Hill to be an indication of a short period of use (Connah 1965, 21), although perhaps the usage did not leave material evidence to be found.
Causewayed enclosures, while superficially affording an easy classification into a type of site, seem to have had multiple uses, which may have varied over time. Whilst there is clearly a common idea of ditches separated by causeways and accompanied by banks, it is by no means clear that the space within the enclosure, or the world outside, meant the same thing at each site.
Knap Hill has its own peculiarities that require explanation: the ‘missing’ section of the circuit; the proximity of Rybury; the relationship with Adam’s Grave long barrow; the limited period of use. More work will be required to determine the answers to these questions.
Given that the feeling seems to be that Knap Hill went out of use fairly quickly, and that Rybury is nearby and roughly contemporary (Pollard & Reynolds 2002, 55) it is plausible that perhaps Knap Hill turned out to be unsuitable (it is fairly exposed and inhospitable owing to its landscape position) and that affairs were then conducted at Rybury, which is far more sheltered. As this may have been a rapid change, the lack of resolution available in current dating evidence is unlikely to answer this.
Overall, the lack of finds at Knap Hill do not allow us to say much about the use of the enclosure; there is evidence for animal bone, human remains, pottery and flints but on the basis of this evidence alone, it is difficult to get an idea of the meaning of the place. What we can say only is that people in the Neolithic chose Knap Hill as a special place.
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