Visit date: 5th May 2012

Weather: Cold and windy, bright but cloudy

Introduction

The field trip was conducted by Land Rover and was a discontinuous selection of sites, rather than a progression around a landscape. For this reason, the sites visited will be listed rather than the perambulation described.

  • Snail Down Barrow Cemetery
  • Fittleton Long Barrow
  • Lidbury
  • Chisenbury Warren
  • East Chisenbury Midden

 

Chisenbury Warren

Grid Reference: SU 1785 5380

Site Overview

Chisenbury Warren presents as a series of earthworks 500m long (Fulford et al. 2006 : 54) covering approximately six hectares (Short 2006 :78), with a trackway leading into, and across the length of the earthworks (McOmish et al. 2002 : 100).  It is on the side of a gently-sloping, south-east-facing hill at the eastern end of Rainbow Bottom on Salisbury Plain (McOmish et al. 2002 : 98).  Despite the presence of a medieval rabbit warren in the woods behind the settlement, there is no evidence of extensive damage to the site, and no record of previous excavation, just the occasional surface find (Fulford et al. 2006 : 54).

 

Figure 1: Chisenbury Warren from the south-east April 2011. Copyright K Bragg.

Figure 2: Trackway leading into Chisenbury Warren from the south west April 2011. Copyright K Bragg.

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1980 Accidental Discovery Fulford et al. reported that in the cutting of an infantry trench in the 1980s, an adult female was found, and an individual burial. It was not clear if this represented the location of a cemetery or just a single burial event (Fulford et al. 2006 : 54).
1993 Excavation Reading University excavated and a geophysical survey was done to confirm the earthworks, this also revealed pits and ditches. The object of the excavation was to establish whether what was visible as surface remains represented an entire village (i.e. all the builds were contemporary with each other) or whether what the earthworks represented was in fact a drift in settlement over time. Another objective was to determine if all the platforms represented dwellings or if a mix of uses was represented. As this is one of the best-preserved examples of its kind, it was also important to establish the state of the below-ground remains to inform the conservation of other sites (Fulford et al. 2006 : 54).

 

Chronology and Current Interpretation

Excavation showed that the earliest settlement on the site potentially dated from the Late Iron Age (Fulford et al. 2006 : 73) with evidence for continuation of the settlement into the late Roman period (McOmish et al. 2002 : 98).

The finds from the site are consistent with activities of subsistence, industrial and domestic natures and of a rapid expansion in the early Roman period from a smaller site (Fulford et al. 2006 : 73-74)

Figure 3: Chisenbury Warren settlement and fields, Wiltshire. Romano-British village. (Source Wilson 2011 Fig 1)

Chisenbury Warren is a ‘ladder-style’ nucleated settlement – so-called because its main axis is a single lane or street and the buildings are arranged around it (Wilson 2011 : 2).

 

East Chisenbury ‘Midden’

Grid Reference:  SU14605323

Site Overview

The site occupies a false-crested position on a spur overlooking the River Avon (McOmish et al. 2010 :37), just north-west of the village of East Chisenbury. From the site a good view in most directions is possible.

 

Figure 4: View of and from East Chisenbury Midden, looking east-ish May 2012. Copyright K Bragg.

The site itself consists of a mound of deposited material covering approximately five hectares and up to two metres deep (Wilts SMR SU 15 SW 154).

 

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
Late 1700s Visit Colt Hoare visited the site and was made aware of the fertility of the land, and made finds of ‘rude British pottery’ but did not, it seems, recognize the mound as being other than the natural slope of the hill (McOmish et al. 2010 : 37-38).
1945 Excavation Walls and Bray and then Bray alone excavated at a location probably on the northern edge of the mound, and found much pottery and bone (McOmish et al. 2010 : 38-39).
1992-1993 Rediscovery of site, then excavation As the site was under threat from the development of a routeway, and prior to the information from the 1945 excavation being unearthed, an augur survey and test pit strategy was proposed to establish the nature of the site. Some of the augur probes did not reach the bottom of the deposit, implying the ground level was not level beneath the mound (McOmish et al. 2010 :43).In both test pits a complex sequence of deposits was found, with similar content in each test pit. The excavators felt they could tell separate deposition events apart only when the materials were of different composition, but some events seem to have been ‘capped off’ with a layer of compacted chalk to form a surface (McOmish et al. 2010 :50).Beneath the mound, the excavators noticed a layer thought to be a buried land surface and possibly plough soil, with what looked to be evidence for settlement beneath this.

 

 

Figure 5: RCHME earthwork survey plan. (Source McOmish et al. 2010 Fig. 3)

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The mound at East Chisenbury contains a complicated sequence of deposits of varying compositions, including ashy material, waste products and LBA/EIA pottery. It is surely difficult to generalize from such a small sample from such a large site, but McOmish et al. consider the excavations to show that the mound consists of material collected and potentially stored elsewhere (little weathering is observed) and then transported to the site and deposited, a suggestion reinforced by the mixture of both late and early pottery forms in one deposit. The animal waste and bedding does not appear to have been produced in situ as the edges of the deposits are not consistent with trampling having occurred (McOmish et al. 2010 : 86-87).

The ‘settlement’ beneath the midden also contains pottery of the All Cannings Type but appears to have been short-lived and the area returned to agricultural production before the formation of the midden (McOmish et al. 2010 : 88-89).

The compacted chalk layers do not seem to be ‘pavements’ as suggested for the similar features discovered by Maud Cunnington at All Cannings, and particularly the upper layer of compacted chalk is interesting as it seems less localized and may have covered the entire mound. McOmish et al. therefore suggest that it is consistent with a ‘capping’ event that would have left the deposit white and very visible (McOmish et al. 2010 : 87). This idea seems similar to how modern humans dispose of their rubbish, it is collected up in a single place and then covered over with concrete. In the case of East Chisenbury, however, the midden deposits continued above this layer (McOmish et al. 2010 : 88), so it was not a process termination indicator. Tubb (2011b : 40) suggests that the chalk layers may be viewed as a deposit in themselves. It is pointed out that a chemical reaction between the midden deposits and the chalk would produce a fungicidal chemical (McOmish et al. 2010 : 88). It would be very interesting to see if there were evidence for exploitation of this in the form of extraction holes, or perhaps gaps in the chalk layer where the reacting mass was removed entire.

Tubb (2011) broadly agreed with the deposition mechanisms as posited by McOmish et al., namely that material was potentially transported to the site having been curated elsewhere; material was generated onsite as a result of specialised activity; or that the site was in fact both settlement and midden: a form of tell (McOmish et al. 2010 : 84-86). Where Tubb takes exception is with the classification of the midden material itself as an unwanted product; he would rather it be seen as part of a complicated process of social reproduction in a time of change and transition. He suggests that the primary purpose of All Cannings Ware is to do with feasting and display, and that the deposition of examples of this material, plus the byproducts and waste products of that feasting process are of importance to society. Instead of the municipal landfill site, this is instead a record of a society’s reaction to a change in how relationships are formed and renegotiated, and a visual statement of that process in a prominent landscape position.

Bibliography

Fulford, M.G. et al., 2006. Iron Age and Romano-British Settlements and Landscapes of Salisbury Plain, Salisbury: Wessex Archaeology Report 20.

McOmish, D. et al., 2002. The Field Archaeology of the Salisbury Plain Training Area First Edit., English Heritage.

McOmish, D., Field, D. & Brown, G., 2010. The Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Midden Site at East Chisenbury, Wiltshire. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 103, pp.35-101.

Short, B., 2006. England’s Landscape: The South East, Collins/English Heritage.

Tubb, P.C., 2011a. Late Bronze Age / Early Iron Age transition sites in the Vale of Pewsey : the East Chisenbury midden in its regional context. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Magazine, 104, pp.44-61.

Tubb, P.C., 2011b. The LBA/EIA Transition in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire, Oxford: British Archaeological Reports (British Series 543).

Wilson, P., 2011. Introduction to Heritage Assets: Roman Settlements, Swindon: English Heritage. Available at: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/publications/iha-roman-settlements/romansettlements.pdf.

 

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