Visit date: 14th October 2012

Weather: Sunny

Introduction

This field trip was intended to make us think about the different ways in which museums can tell a story about the objects they display, and to highlight any evidence for the archaeological theory we had been studying in the choices made as to how information is presented. Much of the material here is from my notes taken at the time as I recorded my impressions of the museums.

Pitt Rivers Museum

Site Overview

The display cases of the Pitt Rivers museum, October 2012. Copyright author

Figure 1: The display cases of the Pitt Rivers museum, October 2012. Copyright K Bragg

The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford was founded in 1884, based on the, largely anthropological, collections of General Augustus Land Fox Pitt Rivers of Cranborne Chase (Petch 1998 :77) and is known worldwide for its typological approach to the display of artefacts (Gosden & Larson 2007:107).  Pitt Rivers was keen to point out the relationship he perceived between Natural History and its long-recognised need to classify its subject matter, and the ethnographic specimens which he collected, which, he argued, should also be classifiable in a scientific manner (Gosden & Larson 2007:107). Underpinning his argument is an unspoken assumption that form and function are intrinsically related and a typology imposed upon the material is somehow internal to the objects and not external like the geographical distinctions he disdained (Gosden & Larson 2007:110).

The General was intent on displaying not only his collections, but his ideas about archaeology and anthropology; the negotiations regarding the opening of this museum set out clearly his intent and the conditions under which he would provide his collections (Larson 2007) and his stipulation of the appointment of a lecturer in anthropology greatly assisted the study of this subject at Oxford (Gosden & Larson 2007:38). His choice of destination for his collections reflected the desire to retain a degree of control over how the material would be displayed, and to achieve intellectual and political goals. He believed that the demonstration of the continuity of ideas and development would discourage revolutionary thinking amongst the Victorian poor (Chapman 1982 :266).

 

The majority of the collection was obtained at second hand, through auction houses or by procurement from other collectors (Petch 2006: 259), collecting being de rigueur in the 19th century (Petch 1998 :77). This has necessarily meant that information about the provenance of the artefacts is not generally complete and is in some cases restricted to the tags attached to the individual artefacts (Petch 2006 :259), as shown in Figure 2.

Sample of labels from the Pitt Rivers Museum. Source Pitt Rivers Museum Guide Book

Figure 2: Sample of labels from the Pitt Rivers Museum. Source Pitt Rivers Museum Guide Book

As can be seen in Figure 2, the Pitt Rivers Museum is a somewhat dimly-lit room, with additional galleries above, containing an array of display cases, closely-packed. This museum itself is tucked away behind the comparatively bright and airy Oxford University Museum of Natural History (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Oxford University Museum of Natural History. October 2012. Copyright author.

Figure 3: Oxford University Museum of Natural History. October 2012. Copyright K Bragg.

Each of the display cases in the Pitt Rivers Museum contains a collection of artefacts grouped together into themes such as textile working, or animal forms in art (shown in Figure 4 below)

Figure 4: Case containing examples of animal forms in art. Oct 2012. Copyright K Bragg.

Figure 4: Case containing examples of animal forms in art. Oct 2012. Copyright K Bragg.

Each of the cases makes no distinction between time and place, only the theme of the case, so that ancient artefacts sit alongside Victorian-era ethnographic material. Embedded in this is an assumption that people perceived as ‘primitive’ in Victorian times were equivalent to those exhibiting similar technological levels, no matter the time period. The idea of evolution and the gradual and inexorable progress from simple to more complex was a recent and influential idea (Bowden 2009 :48), and the Victorian antiquarians related this to the progression of societies from primitive to modern (Pettitt & White 2010). The slightly distasteful adjunct to this theory was that gaps in the knowledge of prehistory could be found in other cultures who had ‘fossilized’ their state of development, being unable to attain the dizzy heights of the Caucasian race as exemplified by Victorian achievements (Van Keuren 1984 :176).

The Museum today doesn’t really present much of the idea of this evolutionary progression of technology and culture, as there is no sense of time represented within the museum. In many ways, this mode of display seems useful to a student of archaeology or anthropology, not for the theoretical basis, but for the broad spread of examples of how a particular task can be performed. However, this may not be of use to the general public in understanding the material and risks being perceived as just an array of ‘things’ and becomes a selection of ‘curiosities’ rather than a means of obtaining information. The underlying culture-historical metanarrative is not perceptible to the general public, as this is never made explicit. There are no real explanations of what the artefacts might mean, nor why they are grouped together other than the obvious categorisation in the naming of the display case. In fact, there is a general impression that the objects stand only for themselves, and any context or biography that they might have had is stripped away, especially where the provenance is unclear. Most items seemed to be labelled but the labels were not always discernable and those that are provide little explanation e.g. Figure 5.

Figure 5: Example of labelling at Pitt Rivers Museum. Oct 2012. Copyright K Bragg.

Figure 5: Example of labelling at Pitt Rivers Museum. Oct 2012. Copyright K Bragg.


Ashmolean Museum

Site Overview

The Ashmolean Museum, like the Pitt Rivers, is based on a founding collection: a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ brought together by the actions of the Tradescents in the earlier 17th Century, and eventually bequeathed to the University of Oxford by Elias Ashmole. From this collection and later additions, the objects related to Natural History were relocated away to the Natural Science Museum (MacGregor 2001:125), and the ethnographic material was transferred to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1886 (MacGregor 2001b:48). Pitt Rivers himself rejected the Ashmolean as a destination for his collection, owing to the perception that it no longer focussed on Natural History and he wanted to tell the story of the Natural History of humanity (Larson 2007).

As the object of this field trip was to compare and contrast the different approaches to displaying archaeological material and to discern the theoretical framework underpinning the design of the museum, not much attention was paid to the individual objects within the museum, more to how they were displayed and what stories the museum was trying to portray to its visitors.

First impressions were that this was a far more formal experience, that the displays had ben carefully thought out and arranged just so, lending an air of authority to them. Walking into the museum was a bit like entering the front door of a stately home and seeing the wonders contained within: there was a sense of theatre to the experience.

 

Figure 6: The entrance gallery to the museum: elegant statuary and bold colours. Source: http://www.coolplaces.co.uk/system/images/2175/oxford-seedo-oxford-ashmolean-museums-galleries-2175-large.jpg

Figure 6: The entrance gallery to the museum: elegant statuary and bold colours. Source: http://www.coolplaces.co.uk/system/images/2175/oxford-seedo-oxford-ashmolean-museums-galleries-2175-large.jpg

Further into the museum, the displays became more verbose and more overtly ‘educational’. The museum is divided up into geographical and also temporal sectors, for example a section about ancient Egypt.

 

Figure 7: A photograph of one of the displays in the Ashmolean. Copyright: author.

Figure 7: A photograph of one of the displays in the Ashmolean. Source: K Bragg.

 

As can be see in Figure 7 above, compared to the Pitt Rivers museum, more care is being taken to draw the visitor to each artefact and describe what it is thought to be, and its provenance. Note the multi-media enabled display, increasing the accessibility and enhancing the information that can be transmitted. Note also how assured the description is and how little space is given to understanding the meaning of the artefacts: here were are seeing an attempt at an objective, processual, interpretation of these objects, stating just what is thought to be beyond doubt or question.

If we were to question further, we might ask how these ‘facts’ are known to be true and are there any other ways the material can be read. But herein lies the problem with a museum display: you are pitching your message at the general public, with the background knowledge of the general public, who are probably going to be perfectly happy to accept these facts at face value because they have no need to question them. Entering a museum is stepping out of the normal everyday life and looking at strange objects in strange contexts and motivations and levels of interest will vary wildly. Therefore to design a display for maximum benefit to the most number of people would naturally require careful tailoring of the message: consistency and clarity must needs prevail over multiplicity of interpretation and multivocality.

 

Figure 8: Another display from the Ashmolean. Source: author.

Figure 8: Another display from the Ashmolean. Source: K Bragg.

 

Figure 8 shows the description of a statue, from this we learn that it is a large specimen and one of several similar (in order to be the largest) and that we know the date and the ‘culture’ that produced it. We learn that it was probably found in a grave. We don’t learn what it might have meant to that culture, or whether these items are only found in graves, or if they are known from other contexts. It is a purely descriptive text, yet we feel we know something more about the artefact as we can assign a series of ‘facts’ to it. As far as the narrative we are given goes, we learn nothing about it beyond its form and apparent function.

Another thought that struck me about the Ashmolean was how each culture and time period was summarised in terms of the main political events, or rulers, or systemic actions that happened. There seemed to be little to say about the detail of everyday life and it felt like a ‘kings and queens’ view of history with no space for ordinary people, only the great and the famous.

The obvious difference between the two approaches to display is that the intent of the Pitt Rivers museum was ostensibly to allow the visitors to make up their own minds and not to point out some fundamental truth (Gosden & Larson 2007:233).  In this way, although the PRM is perhaps culture-historical in its premise, it also has post-processual credentials also, in that multiplicities of interpretations are allowed; although the museum provides a taxonomic framework for the artefacts, the meanings within this are still negotiable, there are no grand narratives writ large as at the Ashmolean.


Bibliography

Bowden, M., 2009. Pitt Rivers: The Life and Archaeological Work of Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, Cambridge University Press.

Chapman, W.R., 1982. Ethnology in the Museum: A.H.L.F. Pitt Rivers (1827–1900) and the Institutional Foundations of British Anthropology. Unpublished D.Phil thesis. University of Oxford.

Gosden, C. & Larson, F., 2007. Knowing Things: Exploring the Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum 1884-1945, Oxford University Press.

Van Keuren, D.K., 1984. Museums and ideology: Augustus Pitt-Rivers, anthropological museums, and social change in later Victorian Britain. Victorian Studies, 28(1), pp.171–189. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/3826763 [Accessed November 16, 2012].

Larson, F., 2007. Anthropological landscaping: General Pitt Rivers, the Ashmolean, the University Museum and the shaping of an Oxford discipline. Journal of the History of Collections, 20(1), pp.85–100. Available at: http://jhc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/doi/10.1093/jhc/fhm020 [Accessed October 14, 2012].

MacGregor, A., 2001a. The Ashmolean as a museum of natural history, 1683 1860. Journal of the History of Collections, 13(2), pp.125–144. Available at: http://jhc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/doi/10.1093/jhc/13.2.125 [Accessed October 14, 2012].

MacGregor, A., 2001b. The Ashmolean Museum: A Brief History of the Museum and Its Collections: A History of the Museum and Its Collections (Ashmolean Handbooks), Oxford: Ashmolean Museum.

Petch, A., 2006. Chance and certitude: Pitt Rivers and his first collection. Journal of the History of Collections, 18(2), pp.257–266. Available at: http://jhc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/doi/10.1093/jhc/fhl028 [Accessed October 14, 2012].

Petch, A., 1998. “Man as he was and man as he is”: General Pitt Rivers’s collections. Journal of the History of Collections, 10(1), pp.75–85. Available at: http://jhc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/doi/10.1093/jhc/10.1.75.

Pettitt, P.B. & White, M.J., 2010. Cave men: Stone tools, Victorian science, and the “primitive mind” of deep time. Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 65(1), pp.25–42. Available at: http://rsnr.royalsocietypublishing.org/cgi/doi/10.1098/rsnr.2010.0100 [Accessed April 28, 2013].

 

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Leave A Comment, Written on October 14th, 2012 , Diploma Year One

I’ve finally got round to looking at the July 2012 issue of Past (available low-res http://www.prehistoricsociety.org/files/PAST_71_LowRes.pdf)

During my research on the Stonehenge Environs for last year’s field notebook, I had become a bit obsessed with Stukely’s description of the Avenue:
“..For at the bottom of the valley, it divides into two brances. The eastern branch goes a long way hence, directly east pointing to an ancient ford of the river Avon, called Radfin, and beyond the visto of it bears directly to Harradon hill beyond the river. The western branch, from this termination at the bottom of the hill 1000 cubits from the work at Stonehenge, as we said goes off with a similar sweep at first but then it does not throw itself into a strait line immediately, as the former, but continues curving along the bottom of the hill, till it meets, what I call, the cursus.”

Now this fascinated me, and as I look at the geophys on p14 of Past, I fancy I can see a continuation of the straight section of the Avenue, running up as far as the Cursus. As the authors so obligingly point out on p16, this is on a solar alignment. I can’t help but wonder if the original path was straight, and the diversion off to the river was an alteration. I was also fascinated by the idea that the avenue continued *beyond* the river crossing, as this would mean that the idea of the connection from Durrington to Stonehenge via the means of the river and Avenue wasn’t necessarily correct, if the avenue had other plans. I’m not sure I believe the idea of there being a direct use-connection between the monuments, and such can never be proven. I would go as far as saying both monument have a pathway down to a river (and the same may be true at Marden, so perhaps this is a henge thing rather than a Stonehenge thing).

I haven’t got very far pursuing this yet, as although I can see a linear feature heading towards Harradon hill, this doesn’t look terribly convincing. I would have to potter around and have an actual look I think.

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Leave A Comment, Written on August 18th, 2012 , Musings Tags:

While we mostly used triangulation to delineate interesting rocks on our drawing, we found that the results worsened as we approached the edge of the trench, as the inaccuracies of the method became a high percentage of the measurement taken. Therefore, for the rocks around the centre of the trench, we decided to use offsetting and ‘swinging the tape’ in order to record these rocks.

Having pegged a tape horizontally along an edge of the trench, a second tape was used to measure horizontal displacement from this edge. In order to do this accurately, an angle of 90 degrees must be obtained between the two tapes. Rather than measure with a compass or optical square, we opted for the quicker method of holding the end of the tape firmly on the rock corner and then adjusting the tape so that it read the lowest reading possible, as the lowest reading would be obtained when there was a 90 degree angle between the rock-point and the baseline tape.

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Leave A Comment, Written on August 8th, 2012 , Diploma Year One, Techniques

Whilst this technique obviously has many applications, it was encountered in the process of recording significate rocks within a trench otherwise full of rocks so is written to demonstrate this scenario.

You will need two surveyors tapes, preferably of different colours as that makes it much easier to record and minimises errors (proven by experimentation!). Secure each tape at a corner of the trench. At the start of the recording, we had a white tape and a yellow tape, so labelled the trench corners as W (for white) and Y (for yellow).

Taking care to keep the tapes horizontal (not parallel to the ground as we were on a crazy slope) bring the loose end of the tapes together at a corner of a rock. Note the readings on both tapes. Take readings at all interesting points of the perimeter of the rock, as these will describe the outline when you come to draw it.

Nicky demonstrating the multi-colour tape technique. July 2012. Copyright K Bragg

Once your rock has been described as a series of Y and W readings, it is time to draw! Drawing as soon as possible enables you to see if it has come out at all reasonably-shaped. Remember here that you are interpreting where the edge of a rock is, and the scale at which it is to be drawn will not allow much accuracy of depiction, so even when you do this carefully it is perfectly possible to end up with something preposterous.

You will need to have prepared your drawing with a scale outline of the trench (in our case we used 1:20 as a scale) with your Y and W points (or whatever you want to call them) marked on the drawing. You will need a pair of compasses with which to mark out the distance from Y or W – put the point of the compass against the scale rule and measure out the appropriate reading. This gives you the distance scaled to match the drawing. If you dislike using the scale rule constantly, it is much easier to draw out the scale as a reference on your drawing. We drew the 1, 2 and 3 meter points, and then another metre with finer subdivisions so that you can put the point of the compass at the correct number of metres away and then adjust for the sub-metre fraction. Which is harder to explain than to do. If you want 2.24 metres, you put the point of the compass at the 2 mark and then add on the 0.24. This avoids the need to mark in graduations for every metre, and stops you wearing a hole in the zero point!

Scale for drawing.

Using the compasses, draw arcs of the appropriate length from the appropriate corners and where they cross is the point on the rock that you measured (hopefully!). Repeat for all the points you recorded and then freehand draw the appropriate outline. For the more interesting rock shapes this was aided by a sneaky vertical photo of said rock.

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Leave A Comment, Written on August 3rd, 2012 , Diploma Year One, Techniques

Today started with half an hour spent backfilling the site of last year’s excavation: light-coloured limestone was moved from the spoilheap to the excavation (the light colour denoting lack of exposure and therefore was from the excavation, whereas the darker limestone was a clearance cairn) and then a covering of soil tipped on top. As this was quite tiring, there was a break immediately afterwoods so we could recover!

Site Reconstitution: backfilling last year’s excavation. July 2012. Copyright K Bragg.

As I’d turned up a week after the start of the dig, the trenches were already open and being cleaned, so my first task (and one that was to take several days to accomplish) was to produce a drawing of significant rocks within a trench. The reason for this is that we are looking at potential stone-built structures and amidst the mass of visible stones, we wish to pick out any that could be meaningful.

First significantly-large rocks plotted. July 2012. Copyright K Bragg

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I am troubled by the use of the concept of fashion to explain change. Fashion relies on communication, not only of the idea of the new thing, but surely also how it is to be reproduced. Fashions imply contact of a regular and sustained sort if the fashion is to spread in anything like the timescales implied by some of the chronologies I read.

This is more of a note-to-self to have more of a think about this at a later date.

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Leave A Comment, Written on June 19th, 2012 , Musings

Visit Date: 16th June 2012

Weather: Today was extremely windy, with a shower of rain. This made it quite hard to determine the shape of the land surface as the long grasses were being blown about, and the rain prohibited many of the photographs I would otherwise have taken as well as limiting visibility.

Introduction

Burghclere Beacon, or Beacon Hill, Hampshire is a site I’ve visited quite a few times, almost always, it seems, in vile weather. We were going to attempt some kite aerial photography, but it was just too windy for that..

We parked in the carpark to the east of Beacon Hill, having followed the brown signs from the A34 to get there. The ascent is fairly steep and, where the underlying chalk is exposed, can be slippery in wet weather.

The view back down Beacon Hill May 2010. Copyright K Bragg

The ramparts are very well defined still, and the curve of the hour-glass shape of the enclosure is really remarkably smooth. It was at this point I decided that the ditches were for you to shelter in when the windy was this strong, as it was quite hard to stand up.

The curve of the ramparts at the northern section. June 2012. Copyright K Bragg

As one does, we walked around the ramparts as far as the original south-east-facing entrance and then walked down the southern spur of the hill. The 5th Earl of Caernarvon has his tomb on the south-western point of the hillfort and I note from the Ordnance Survey maps that there is a field boundary that cuts off this point from the rest of the hillfort, which is interesting as the rest of the field boundaries go round the hillfort not through it. You can just about see it on Google Earth, as a line that cuts off that point.

Entrance to the hillfort, looking towards the southern spur. June 2012. Copyright K Bragg

 

To the west of the path is a strange square thing, shown on the Ordnance Survey map as a disused pit. I have not yet discovered what kind of pit it is. It is shown on old Ordnance Survey maps as just square earthworks and the later ones as a disused pit, so someone must know!

Disused pit on southern spur of Beacon Hill May 2010. Copyright K Bragg

Walking further down the spur, we came to a low bank, perpendicular to the path. There did not seem to be a ditch associated with it (although it was hard to see the actual ground surface), and a look at some old Ordnance Survey maps shows a field boundary at approximately that position, so my best guess is that it is an old hedgebank.

 

Linear bank, possibly an old field boundary June 2012. Copyright K Bragg

As we walked down the hill, we could see ‘steps’ in the path where the ground level changed height suddenly but because the grass was so long and the wind so strong, it wasn’t really possible to get a good view of what was going on *off* the path.

Having reached the bottom of the hill and faced a gate saying ‘private land’, we turned and climbed the hill again. Facing uphill, we could see clearly that there was an edge running parallel to the path (so running north-south) which was apparent even in photographs. Looking at Google Earth, it can be seen from the air, as can some similar earthworks on the eastern side of the southern spur. At one point they appear to form a square shape and could possibly be said to be parallel. However, I then looked at the 1999 images from Google Earth (what a wonderful feature!) and they showed my edge (and a section of earthwork to the north of it) as forming the boundary of an area of different-coloured land – the hill was pale green but the area downhill of this edge was dark, lush green implying something different was happening there. I cannot see a field boundary on this alignment on the old Ordnance Survey maps so it doesn’t seem to have been a permanent thing. I shall have to see what else I can find out.

The Edge, as visible from downslope June 2012. Copyright K Bragg

There is apparently the remains of a barrow near to the path, but I’m afraid I didn’t manage to spot it.

Entering the hillfort again, we followed the ramparts to complete the circuit and then descended the hill back to the car.

 

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I’m now at the end of the Certificate stage of the degree and I confess I have been struggling a bit with the idea of such malleable truths. The last essay I wrote dealt with the use of analogy in archaeological interpretation. I saw immediately that interpretation cannot avoid analogy so the question of whether it is valid to use analogy struck me as problematic. From that immediate reaction to the question, my reading then caused me to realise that archaeological theory is just applied anthropology and has no connection to the actual past. As the theoretical side was always my interest (I love to think) this caused me somewhat of a crisis. To the extent that I seriously considered not continuing with the course.

A chat with Hannah wherein I confessed my loss of faith helped enormously and I’ve decided to continue. But I need to do some practical fieldwork, something tangible to remind myself why I want to do this. I think a bit too much about things and if I don’t get out and about, it’s quite easy to collapse in on myself.

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Leave A Comment, Written on June 14th, 2012 , Musings

Visit date: 6th May 2012

Weather: Initially chilly but bright, warm sunshine by the afternoon, wind negligible

Introduction

The route went from Martin Green’s farmhouse across Fir Tree Field to the Great Shaft, then over the field to see the excavated causewayed ring-ditch and the reconstructed round barrow. Leaving Fir Tree Field, the route then followed the footpath (somewhat intruded upon by oilseed rape) up the hill to the top of Gussage Hill to see the long barrow that is included in the Cursus and to view the settlement earthworks. Walking along the top of the ridge, the route then turned left onto the Ackling Dyke Roman Road and followed that as far as the road. Turning left, the next destination was the Wyke Down Henge and associated monuments. The highlight was then to see Martin Green’s museum and see the artefacts he has discovered on his farm.

Figure 1: Location of Wyke Down Henge and the Shaft in relation to other sites on Down Farm. After Green & Michael J Allen 1997 Figure 1

Fir Tree Field ‘Shaft’

Grid Reference:  SU 0016 1467 (NMR SU 01 SW 163)

Site Overview

The Shaft is 10m wide at the top of the 3m-deep weathering cone, tapering to 5m across at the beginning of the vertical section. The entire depth is unknown, as when the water table was reached at 13.2m in 1992, and an augur put in to determine further depth, the bottom was not reached at 25.2m (Allen 2000 : 41).

 

Figure 2: Fir Tree Field Great Shaft showing the view into the weathering cone August 2009. Copyright K Bragg.

Health and Safety demands that such a dangerous hole must be fenced off, so access to the site is via key only.  (Unfortunately on the day of the field trip, the key was not forthcoming, so photos are from previous visit.) A bridge is provided so that a view may be had down the shaft, but as this is mostly filled in, the view is not as dramatic as might be thought.

Figure 3: Fir Tree Field Shaft from viewing platform August 2009. Copyright K Bragg.

When excavated, a sequence of layers was discovered (as shown in Figure 4): the first layer revealed Beaker pottery and flints, lower down was a layer containing Peterborough ware from the mid-late Neolithic. In this way a sequence of layers dating back to the late Mesolithic was obtained.

 

Figure 4: Section of the Fir Tree Field shaft with radiocarbon details. (Source Green 2000 Fig 23)

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1990 Discovery Lush cropmark discovered in Fir Tree Field that when excavated turned out to be the Fir Tree Field Great Shaft (Green & Michael J Allen 1997 :121)
1992-1994 Excavation Careful excavation provided a sequence of layers trapping environmental information in the range 5500-3775BP therefore providing key environmental information about the critical Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in this area (Green 2000).

 

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The shaft itself is now thought to be entirely natural and a result of water acidified by dissolved minerals causing the chalk to dissolve, although initially considered by geologists to be of anthropogenic origin (Green & Allen 1997 :130). Similar features can be found elsewhere in the area and such solution holes are a common feature of limestone and chalk geologies. The importance of this particular feature, in archaeological terms, is not just for the retrieved artefacts themselves, but for the rich environmental data that has been obtained that can then be used in the interpretation of the high density of archaeological sites in the area (Green & Allen 1997 :130-131).

Wyke Down Henge

Grid Reference:  SU 0065 1528 (NMR SU 01 NW 113)

Site Overview

The Wyke Down Henge presents as a penannular enclosure consisting of 26 chalk-cut pits approximately 2m deep (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 :26), although with some notable variety in depth (Barrett et al. 1991 :92), with a 3m entrance causeway (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 :26). After excavation, the site was left exposed so that the arrangement of pits can be seen. The site is located on a low hill and is close by part of the Dorset Cursus, and also a Peterborough Ware site in Chalkpit Field (Barrett et al. 1991 :105) (the field to the south-east of the field the henge is in). As well as being close by to other archaeological sites, the henge is close to the source of the River Allen, especially to a Pleistocene river cliff marking a paleochannel (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 :26). The section of the Cursus at this point is known to have been reused, and also would be most visible as it travels over the river cliff (Barrett et al. 1991 :105).

Figure 5: Wyke Down Henge looking south-west May 2012. Pits show as green circles in a ring against the chalk. Photo copyright P Bragg.

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1983-1984 Excavation and environmental analyses Excavated by Bradley, Barrett and Green, the pits were found to have been cut and then recut at a later stage and then a central pit cut where the axes of the monument cross. Among the finds were carved chalk objects in the primary cuts, and grooved ware in the secondary cuts.

 

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The initial pits that were dug silted up again quite quickly and from all sides (i.e. no evidence for external bank collapsing) (Barrett et al. 1991 :92). Brown (1991) suggests that the nature of artefacts found in this primary fill indicated that in the early stage of the henge, the deposition was pragmatic, rather than with any ritual/symbolic overtones. The environmental samples from this first phase indicate that the area was open but with the possibility of denser woodland nearby, with the evidence consistent with the environment external to the pit not just recording an internal micro-environment (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 : 26).

 

Figure 6: Outline plans of the Wyke Down hence monument, showing the distribution of deposits belonging to the primary phase. (Source Barrett et al. 1991 Fig 3.20)

The pits were then recut (more shallowly than the original) and material from these has been radiocarbon-dated to 2190 ± 80 bc (BM 2396) and 2200±50 bc (BM 2397) (Barrett et al. 1991 :92). These recut pits also contained grooved ware pottery and at the time of this deposit, environment conditions were more shaded: suggestive of scrub rather than woodland cover (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 : 28) and that the monument was left untended (Allen 2000 :48). The final stage was the insertion of a central pit, with a deposit that has been dated to 1510±90bc (BM 2394) (Barrett et al. 1991 :96).

Barrett et al. (1991 :105) require that the henge be interpreted as an enclosure rather than the alternative of a causewayed ring ditch (an example of which can be seen excavated in Fir Tree Field) but reject the (then-commonplace) interpretation of the pits as a communal and collective cremation cemetery. They point out that cremated remains were a small fraction of the total deposits, and were in a secondary phase and therefore not consistent with the original design and purpose of the monument.

Bibliography

Allen, M.J., 2000. Soils, Pollen and lots of snails. In A Landscape Revealed: 10,000 Years on a Chalkland Farm. Stroud: Tempus Publishing Ltd., pp. 36-49.

Barrett, J.C., Bradley, R. & Green, M., 1991. Landscape, monuments, and society: the prehistory of Cranborne Chase, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, A., 1991. Structured Deposition and Technological Change among the Flaked Stone Artefacts from Cranborne Chase. In J. C. Barrett, R. Bradley, & M. Hall, eds. Papers on the Prehistoric Archaeology of Cranborne Chase. Oxbow Monograph 11, pp. 101-133.

Entwistle, R. & Bowden, M., 1991. Cranborne Chase: The Molluscan Evidence. In J. C. Barrett, R. Bradley, & M. Hall, eds. Papers on the Prehistoric Archaeology of Cranborne Chase. Oxbow Monograph 11, pp. 20-48.

Green, M., 2000. A Landscape Revealed: 10, 000 Years on a Chalkland Farm illustrate., The History Press Ltd.

Green, M. & Allen, M.J., 1997. An Early Prehistoric Shaft on Cranborne Chase. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 16(2), pp.121-132. Available at: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/links/doi/10.1111%2F1468-0092.00029 [Accessed May 20, 2012].

 

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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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