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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Visit date: 4th March 2012

Weather: Initially driving rain, then blizzard

Introduction

This field trip took us on a walk past Withy Copse and out onto the area within the enclosure. We did some random surface collection to demonstrate how much material was visible on the surface of a ‘black earth’ site. It then began to snow – really heavily –  and we retreated to Devizes Museum to look at the fabulous exhibits there (and thaw out).

Figure 1: Blizzard on Martinsell 4th March 2012. Copyright K Bragg.

Withy Copse

Grid Reference: SU17216429

Site Overview

The site itself is a low mound within a wooded area, on a slope to the north of Martinsell enclosure and was described by Maud Cunnington (1909 :125) as being no more than 0.75m  height above ground level, and covering just over 19m long and a maximum width of just over 13m. The mound is at a distance of about 91m from the rampart of the enclosure (Cunnington 1909a : 18) and is in a south-west to north-east orientation (1909 :125).

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1907-8 Excavation Maud and Ben Cunnington excavated the mound, which they described as consisting of “a fine black mould” (1909 :125). Within this were found animal bone (mostly sheep, pig and ox); large quantities of pot sherds (more numerous towards the surface) and a fibulae.  (1909 :127). Also discovered was a filled-in ditch that Cunnington speculated might have been associated with a structure on the site but did not excavate due to the extension this would cause to the current excavation and the vegetation cover (1909 :125).
1975 Finds Evaluation The Savernake Ware collected by the Cunningtons was reassessed by Swan and the interpretation of the site as a kiln was put forward again on the basis that whilst there were no vastly distorted vessels that Mrs Cunnington might have considered diagnostic of ‘wasters’, there were indications of firing irregularities, and of items that may have been kiln furniture (Swan 1975 :38). Swan also proposed a later, and post-conquest date for the pottery, but this has subsequently been proven uncertain by Timby demonstrating the origins of Savernake Ware pre-dated the conquest (Timby 2001: 73-84 cited in Tubb 2011: 101).

 

Chronology and Current Interpretation

Cunnington mentions that it had been suggested that the mound was the remains of a kiln site, as so much pottery was discovered, but she dismissed this on the grounds that no malformed ‘waster’ pots were discernable (Cunnington 1909a :18) and her previous excavations had included kiln sites at Milton Lilbourne (Tubb 2011 :100) so she may be assumed to have felt able to recognize such when seen. Her interpretation, based on the types of pottery found, and the date of the fibulae was that this was a Late Pre-Roman Iron Age midden (Tubb 2011 :100). She stopped short of associating it with the hilltop enclosure, as she pointed out that the date of this was unknown (Cunnington 1909a :18). Cunnington was especially careful to point out that the absence of Gaulish Samian ware (when other sites locally show a presence), coupled with the imported Arratine Ware giving a range of second century BC to early first century AD indicate that the site was earlier than the conquest and did not continue beyond (Cunnington 1909a :19-21). Having been vindicated in the dating by Timby’s work Cunnington’s assessment of the site as a rubbish heap rests on the validity of Swan’s assessment of whether or not there was evidence for a kiln, and this isn’t clear without further investigation.

 

Martinsell Hilltop Enclosure

Grid Reference:  SU 1766 6395

Site Overview

The hill on which the enclosure is sited is one of the highest points in southern England and the third highest point in Wiltshire (the other two occurring further west in the same range) (Tubb 2011 :99). The enclosure itself covers approximately 13 hectares (NMR SU 16 SE 6) and follows the contours of the hill (Tubb 2011 :118). The enclosure is formed of a single ditch and bank, with the ditch on the outside and where the topography provides less natural defence on the western side, the rampart is more pronounced (Corney & Payne 2006).

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1821 (pub’d) Survey and excavation Colt-Hoare excavated but without finding any evidence for habitation (Goddard 1913 :307).
1970s Surface Collection Late Bronze Age – Early Iron Age pottery found on surface of interior after ploughing (Tubb 2011 :116)
1996 Geophysical Survey The Wessex Hillforts Project surveyed the interior of the enclosure with a magnetometer, which showed a few anomalies, but the results were such that no evidence for occupation could really be proposed (Corney & Payne 2006 :120).

 

Chronology and Current Interpretation

Cunliffe (2005 :422) gives Martinsell as an example of an early hilltop enclosure associated with an extensive system of linears, which he interprets as to do with cattle management (2005 :424). Tubb ( 2011 :118) rejects Cunliffe’s comparison of Martinsell with other Iron Age sites such as Balksbury and Walbury and suggests that a more reasonable comparison would be Liddington Castle, visible from Martinsell itself.

Despite the reported finds of LBA/EIA pottery from within the enclosure, Tubb considers them to be residual and unconnected with the construction of the ramparts, an activity he attributes to the Early Iron Age. He also notes an absence of evidence for Middle Iron Age activity on the hilltop, a gap that continues until the end of the Iron Age, stating that any activity may have been less archaeologically perceptible, rather than absent (Tubb 2011 :122).

The results of the Wessex Hillforts Project’s geophysical assessment lead Payne et al. to suggest that Martinsell was unlike many of the hillforts in the region and had perhaps been used as a temporary camp or for seasonal gatherings (Corney & Payne 2006 :120). The question as to what activity may have occurred inside hillforts has been the subject of much discussion, with Hill roundly rejecting Cunliffe’s view of Iron Age society, which he claims is based on Irish Medieval Society and the opinions of classical writers, and which requires hillforts to be central places supported by a strict hierarchical society (Hill 1996). Hill points out that much of what Cunliffe claimed made Danebury a central place, could be found in other Iron Age settlements (Hill 1996 : 96-99). Perhaps because hillforts are highly visible to archaeologists, their importance has been overstated and a greater knowledge of unenclosed settlement patterns may redress the balance.

It may be that the landscape position and the nature of the hill-form itself determined that an enclosure would serve a purpose; Tubb suggests that the visibility of Martinsell from quite a wide area around would make this a prominent place. He also points out that the LBA/EIA activity, in the form of Black-earth sites in the locality would have already marked out the place as a location of importance in the local “landscape mythology”. Therefore meaning that the transition in activity between that which required/created the Black-earth sites and the creation of the hill-top enclosure, may be seen as a continuity (Tubb 2011 :122).

Bibliography

Corney, M. & Payne, A., 2006. The Monuments and Their Setting. In A. Payne, M. Corney, & B. Cunliffe, eds. The Wessex Hillforts Project: extensive survey of hillfort interiors in central southern England. London: English Heritage, pp. 39-130.

Cunliffe, B., 2005. Iron Age Communities in Britain: an account of England, Scotland and Wales 4th Editio., Abingdon: Routledge.

Cunnington, M.E., 1909a. 11. Notes on a Late Celtic Rubbish Heap Near Oare, Wiltshire. Man, 9, pp.18-21.

Cunnington, M.E., 1909b. Notes on a Late Celtic Rubbish Heap Near Oare, Wiltshire. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, XXXVI(CXI), pp.125-139.

Goddard, E.H., 1913. List of Prehistoric, Roman, and Pagan Saxon Antiquities. The Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine, 38, pp.153-378.

Hill, J.D., 1996. Hill-forts and the Iron Age of Wessex. In T. C. Champion & J. R. Collis, eds. The Iron Age in Britain and Ireland: Recent Trends. J. R. Collis Publications, pp. 95-116.

Swan, V.G., 1975. Oare Reconsidered and the Origins of Savernake Ware in Wiltshire. Britannia, 6, pp.36-61.

Timby, J., 2001. A reappraisal of Savernake Ware. In P. Ellis, ed. Roman Wiltshire and After: papers in honour of Ken Annable. Devizes: Wiltshire Archaeological And Natural History Society.

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

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