Visit date: 10th February 2013

Weather: Driving rain and hail at Crickley Hill, torrential rain at Belas Knap and then a blizzard at the Rollright Stones to finish the day.  Therefore not the optimum weather for field observations or photography!

Introduction

The field trip started at Crickley Hill and took in both the causewayed enclosure and the Iron Age ramparts. From there, we drove to Belas Knap Long Barrow, a stop at Stow on the Wold to dry out and warm up in a teashop, and then on to the Rollright Stones where we saw the stone circle and the supposed barrow in the field opposite, but did not have the will to visit the other monuments in that landscape owing to the blizzard that descended.

Belas Knap Long Barrow

Grid Reference:  SP 02110 25425

Site Overview

(for an excellent Kite Aerial Photograph, which I used in my original report, please visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/hamishfenton/6876149324/)

The barrow is sited on Humblebee How, near the parish boundary, and lies perpendicular to the contours that drop sharply away to the east, being aligned roughly north-south. It is approximately 55 metres long and trapezoidal in shape, and belongs to the class of long mounds known as the ‘Cotswold-Severn’ style of barrow, owing the geographical distribution of this group and is classified by Darvill (1982:6) as a ‘Lateral entranced tomb’.

 

Figure 1: Belas Knap Long Barrow from the west, March 2011. Source: Author.

Figure 1: Belas Knap Long Barrow from the west, March 2011. Source: K Bragg.

As can be seen from Figure 1, the top of the hill is reasonably flat (the sharp drop is the far side of the barrow, here). The current appearance of the long barrow is as a result of restorative work undertaken by the Office of Works in 1929 to amend the deleterious effects of previous excavations (NMR SP 02 NW 9) shown in Figure 2.

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Figure 2: The 1929 excavations. Source: Berry 1929: Fig.5. Photo by Messrs Martyn 28th July 1929.

Figure 2: The 1929 excavations. Source: Berry 1929: Fig.5. Photo by Messrs Martyn 28th July 1929.

Investigation History

 

Figure 3: The lettering of the chambers corresponds to the old published plans. Source: Hemp 1929 :Plate 2

Figure 3: The lettering of the chambers corresponds to the old published plans. Source: Hemp 1929 :Plate 2


Year
Investigation type Investigation Details
1863-5 Excavations Reports of ‘extensive excavations’ by Mr L Winterbotham, Mr Chamberlayne and others were published by Dr Thurnam and by Mr Winterbotham himself (Berry 1929 :273). These excavations are described in the NMR entry as of being “by methods not in advance of its time” (NMR SP 02 NW 9).A chamber was located at the south-east end of the mound and four partial skeleton, including two skulls, were found. Their attention then turned to the northern end of the mound, where they discovered the false entrance, ‘forecourt’ area and some enigmatic human remains by the lintel (Parsons 2002). These consisted of parts of skulls, one of which was a round-headed skull of the kind normally associated with much later Beaker burials (NMR SP 02 NW 9) and the bones of children and infants, associated with a bone pin and another bone implement (Bird 1865: lxvi). A local man, Charles Yiend recorded that before these excavations, the space between the hornworks (shown in Figure 4) at the north end was entirely blocked with stones, and the false entrance was not visible (Hemp 1929 :261-2).It is likely that at least one of the skeletons was articulated at burial, owing to a description of a skull found in chamber C (shown on Figure 3) as appearing as though the head was propped up using the hand of the corpse (Thomas 1988 :547).
19th Century Restoration Mentioned here as Hemp (1929 :261) expressed concern that the work undertaken to restore the drystone walling may have resulted in discoveries unknown and unrecorded, as well as blurring the boundary between original stonework and 19th Century conservation efforts.
1929-1930 Excavation Excavations by the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society took advantage of the desire of the Office of Works to reconstruct the barrow, taking the opportunity to re-examine the already-opened chambers and to search for any further chambers in the expanse of barrow where there may have been room for more chambers. Further chambers were not found, but interestingly the excavators found evidence which may show that some time around the Roman period, the barrow was altered to add a layer of oolitic small stones, and potentially also to cover the original stone roofing with further material (Berry 1929).

 

Figure 4: Belas Knap: the false entrance c 1864. Source: Hemp 1929: fig.1

Figure 4: Belas Knap: the false entrance c 1864. Source: Hemp 1929: fig.1

Chronology and Current Interpretation

Dating evidence obtained by Rick Schulting, gave a date of approximately 4000 to 3700 BC which fits with dates from other Cotwold-Severn tombs in the region (NMR SP 02 NW 9), although Thomas (1988 :542) pointed out that dates obtained from material inside these structures may not share the date of origin of the structure itself, especially as concerns skeletal material.

Neolithic chambered tombs such as Belas Knap are usually interpreted as being the communal grave for a community or kinship group, but with the suggestion that this was not intended as final resting place in all cases. It seems likely that bodies were allowed to become defleshed and then the resulting bones interred, but also removed and redistributed. Thomas draws a distinction between transepted Cotswold-Severn tombs and the lateral-chambered examples, such as Belas Knap, where the lateral-chambered tombs have bones removed again from the chambers (Thomas 1988), possibly accounting for the few remains found. This process was considered risky and required segregating from the world of the living, hence the location of these barrows in liminal places, safely apart (Thomas 1988 :551). Thomas goes on to suggest that this liminality allowed other risky actions to take place, such as exchange between communities.

Fleming (1973) argues that these monuments are more than just places for dealing with the practicalities of corpses: the elaborate ‘forecourt’ arrangements such as has been uncovered at Belas Knap speak to an arena and focus for ritual activities to take place. This is more about the activities of the living, than the dead.

 

Rollright Stones

Grid Reference:  SP 2960 3087 (Kings men stone circle), SP2994 3084 (Whispering Knights), SP 2963 3095 (Kings Stone)

Map

 

Figure 5: 'The King's Men' stone circle in a blizzard, February 2013. Source: K Bragg.

Figure 5: ‘The King’s Men’ stone circle in a blizzard, February 2013. Source: K Bragg.

Site Overview

The site of the Rollright Stones is on the border between Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, which runs down the ‘Cotswold Ridgeway’ following the line of the modern road.

The Rollright Stones are actually three separate megalithic monuments: a portal dolmen known as the Whispering Knights; the King Stone, a monolith; and the King’s Men, a stone circle (Figure 5) (Lambrick 1988 :1). The area around has been a focus for activity with Lambrick listing ten archaeological sites:

“1. Roman Settlement; 2. Megalithic Barrow; 3. Round Barrow; 4. Round Cairn; 5. Ring Ditch; 6. Iron Age Cemetery; 7. Saxon Cemetery; 8. Iron Age Trackway; 9. Iron Age Ditch; 10. Pair of Ring Ditches” Lambrick 1988: 1 (punctuation of list, mine).

 Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
Late 17th C Excavation Excavation by Ralph Sheldon, but no records were left of what was discovered (Lambrick 1988 :1).
1882 Restoration Using various antiquarian drawings of the King’s Men, and records from the time, Lambrick was able to show that many stones have been restored from where they had fallen or been removed, so the present state of the circle is not necessarily accurate (Lambrick 1988 :35).
1926 Excavation Excavation of the mound adjacent to the King’s Stone provided no evidence for it being a long barrow as was previously suspected, and therefore it looks likely that the feature is entirely natural (Grinsell 1977 :5).
1970 Excavation The laying of a pipe trench to the north of the King’s Men provided an opportunity to investigate any below-ground remains, but this showed little more than periglacial features, and an undated pit (Lambrick 1988 :24)
1983 Excavation A trial excavation at the Whispering Knights was undertaken to establish whether, as the antiquarians had suggested, there was a mound beneath the megalithic remains and whether it would be possible to establish with any certainty whether the Whispering Knights was a Portal Dolmen, or was the end chamber of a ‘terminally-chambered cairn’ (Lambrick 1988 :28).This led to the conclusion that Portal Dolmen was the most likely interpretation, owing to the lack of quarries to form ditches or a mound as might be expected at a long barrow. No direct dating evidence was found but Neolithic and Beaker pottery was discovered in a ditch nearby, and a Mid-Neolithic date seems likely (Lambrick 1988 :32-34).
1986 Excavation A trench was put across the stone circle to facilitate the removal and restoration of the broken stone 61 (Lambrick 1988 :1). The stones were found to be set into a low bank, which had been enhanced on at least two occasions including during the Romano-British period. Evidence was found that the stone circle was intended to be of touching stones, to form a solid, smooth wall, with the circular shape being defined by the inner faces of the stones, which have been noted as being smoother than the outer (Lambrick 1988:41-46).

 

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The Rollright Stones have not been dated directly by any evidence found by excavation, so any chronology is based on the dates that would be expected for such monuments, rather than evidence (NMR SP 23 SE 14). The earliest monument in the landscape would appear to be the Whispering Knights as this is interpreted as being a Portal Dolmen and may be important in the development of the Cotswold-Severn tradition of megalithic chambered tombs, with the false entrance of Belas Knap an echo of the front of portal dolmens (Lambrick 1988 :25). An aerial photograph showed a pair of parallel ditches to the north-west of the Whispering Knights, previously interpreted as a cursus, but this interpretation has been rejected (Lambrick 1988 :25).

The King’s Men is compared by Burl to the Cumbrian stone circles, and this transmission of ideas he claims is related to the trade in stone axes to north Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, where the majority originate in the Langdales (Burl 1993 :41). He draws a contrast between the size of area enclosed within the circle, and the narrowness of the apparent entranceway and suggests this has a ritual, processional purpose (Burl 1993 :39). This suggestion of the entrance being of importance is reinforced by the enhanced size of the stones directly opposite to the entrance (Lambrick 1988 :42), and the ritual purpose of the circle possibly suggested by the evidence that the ground surface had been deliberately pared back to the bedrock to form a hard, cobbled surface (Lambrick 1988 :47). The evidence for Roman remodelling of the bank beneath the stones may suggest a Roman reuse of the site as a small arena, possibly for activities involving animal-baiting, for which a circle of touching stones, would form a suitable site (Lambrick 1988 :47).

Bibliography

Berry, J., 1929. Belas Knap Long Barrow, Gloucestershire: report of the excavations of 1929. Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 51, pp.273–303.

Bird, H., 1865. An Account of the Human Bones Found in the Round and Long Tumuli, Situated on the Cotswold Hills, near Cheltenham. Journal of the Anthropological Society of London, 3, pp.lxv–lxxiv. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3025307.

Burl, A., 1993. From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press.

Darvill, T.C., 1982. Megalithic Chambered Tombs of the Cotswold-Severn Region (Vorda research series), Highworth: Vorda Archaeological.

Fleming, A., 1973. Tombs for the Living. Man, 8(2), pp.177–193. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2800845.

Grinsell, L. V., 1977. The Rollright Stones and their folklore, St Peter Port: Toucan Press.

Hemp, W.J., 1929. Belas Knap Long Barrow, Gloucestershire. Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 51, pp.261–272.

Lambrick, G., 1988. The Rollright Stones, Megaliths, Monuments, and Settlements in the Prehistoric Landscape, Swindon: English Heritage.

Parsons, J., 2002. Great Sites: Belas Knap [Online]. British Archaeology, 62. Available at: http://www.archaeologyuk.org/ba/ba63/feat3.shtml [Accessed April 5, 2013].

Thomas, J., 1988. The Social Significance of Cotswold-Severn Burial Practices. Man, 23(3), pp.540–559. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2803265.

 

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Written on February 10th, 2013 , Diploma Year One Tags: , ,

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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