Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Neolithic Period at Crickley Hill

Again, by kind permission of Professor Dixon: the Neolithic section of "Crickley Hill and Gloucestershire Prehistory":

"The first farming communities in Britain, which used no metals, are dated by radiocarbon to the years before 4000 B.C.  Their earliest settlements may well have been no more than a scatter of isolated farmsteads, but during the course of the next two millennia complex societies developed, trading in flint, and hard rocks from Wales and Cumbria, the raw materials for their tools.  In southern England, they manufactured and exported pottery over considerable distances. Remarkably little is known of their dwelling places, a mere handful of sites throughout the country.  More obvious their numerous earth or stone-built burial mounds, the largest several hundred feet in length containing dozens of bodies.  These clearly had a religious use, and some ritual function may have been served by another type of monument left by these early Neolithic peoples, "causewayed camps", enclosures marked out by rings of ditches and banks, whose continuity is interrupted by causeways.   

The first major occupation at Crickley was a causewayed enclosure of this sort.  Two lines of interrupted ditches cut off the low knoll in the centre of the promontory.  Behind each line ran a bank, built of the stone taken from the ditch, through which at least two entrances had been built.  The inner ditches had been filled in, and were then partially recut and backfilled several times, a process which implies a lengthy but perhaps intermittent use of the site.  Other activities were doubtless practised within the enclosure, and Neolithic pits and has been too obscured by later prehistoric occupation to reveal the site's first function.  

After the final filling-in of the older to choose a new and larger ditch was dug parallel to the inner causewayed line.  The old ditch was still visible, but was avoided, and the new bank was piled above it, faced with dry stone walls and surmounted by offence.  At least two entrances were in use.  Only the base of these structures survived, and the reconstruction is tentative.  

Whatever its precise form, the new work was defensive and presumably enclosed the settlement.  Flint arrow heads lying in the entrance passageway and against the burnt palisade imply a sudden end to the Neolithic occupation.  

Other sites to see 

The fortified enclosure at Crickley is so far paralleled in England only by the recently excavated defended site at Carn Brea near Redruth Cornwall.  Causewayed enclosures are more numerous, and examples may be seen at Windmill Hill, near Avebury, Wilts, or Hambledon Hill, near Iwerne Courtney, Dorset.  Neolithic burial mounds are common in the Cotswolds.  The nearest, on private land near the end of Greenway Lane, is less than a mile northeast of Crickley.  Similar Cotswold Barrows open to the public may be seen at Hetty Pegler's Tump, Uley, or Belas Knap, Charlton Abbots."
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