Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Article from Gloucestershire and Avon Life July 1983

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The following article, written by Richard Savage, was published in the now defunct "Gloucestershire and Avon Life" in July 1983.

" Fifteenth season at Crickley Hill.  Richard Savage issues an invitation to one and all to visit the Country Park that is the focal point of one of the region's most intriguing long-term archaeological digs.

On July 15 volunteers from all over the world will begin the 15th season of archaeological excavation at Crickley Hill, 4 miles south of Cheltenham.

The site is now a Country Park, a promontory of the Cotswolds Scarp with breathtaking views over the Severn Vale and into Wales.  Its prehistoric settlements are clearly marked, access and parking are easy, and visitors to the excavation of welcome during the hours of work 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, including Saturdays and Sundays, but not Thursdays.  Ask at the finds hut if you would like a guided tour.

The season runs until August 25, and visitors are particularly welcome on the open days, Saturday and Sunday, August 13 and 14, when extra attractions are provided. The trust's splendid new mobile exhibition coach will be there at weekends.

As before the team of volunteers will be led by Dr Philip Dixon of the University of Nottingham. All are unpaid - in fact most pay for their own food - and while their ages range from 14 to 70, the majority are between 16 and 25.  More than 2000 have now worked at the site, the archaeological importance of which has attracted them from most of the countries in the Western World, and several from the Eastern bloc was well.  

Since 1976 their work has been sponsored and organised by the Crickley Hill Trust, an educational charity which must find the difference between volunteers' contributions and the true cost of the excavations.  The trust believes that the project offers an invaluable experience of physically and intellectually demanding teamwork, with important scientific results.

The first 14 years of work has shown an extraordinary series of settlements on the site, with great deal of Gloucestershire's past represented there.  Its earliest occupants were neolithic (New Stone Age) farmers, about 3500 BC, using only stone and flint tools.  They built rectangular timber houses on the hill in an enclosure defended by stone walls and ditches.

Their successors - about 2000 BC - were protected by a far stronger and better planned defences, but these did not avail them: they were attacked by bowmen, whose flint arrowheads are found concentrated along the walls and in the entrance, giving a dramatic picture of a New Stone Age battle which is at present unique.  The attackers were victorious, and the walls were destroyed.

After their destruction, a long earthen mound was built, incorporating at regular intervals flat slabs of stone, some of which cover deposits - presumably sacrificial - of butchered meat.  The Long Mound seems to have been used as a source of processional way, perhaps religious.

There are only hints of human activity on the hill from then until the beginning of the Iron Age, when, about 600 BC, a substantial village of long timber houses was built and defended by majestic stone wall and ditch.  This, too, was destroyed after a battle, and replaced by a village of round houses, with defences rebuilt and strengthened.  In its turn, this was destroyed and abandoned about 500 BC.  Even in periods not notable for their tranquillity, Crickley Hill seems to have had more than its fair share of violence.

Until 1982, the destruction of this second Iron Age village seemed to mark the end of permanent occupation on the hill.  But last year excavation just inside the Iron Age wall at its southern end showed that a small village, probably of earth houses, had huddled there after the end of the Roman occupation of Britain.  It is one of the windiest and least sheltered parts of the hill, and there must have been a compelling reason for the villagers to avoid more comfortable areas. Perhaps they chose to place least visible from the Vale, at a time of lawlessness and hunger when a few hovels or even a wisp of smoke might have invited attack.

In the coming season Dr Dixon and his team intend to examine this post-Roman settlement further, to establish its date and nature.  They will also investigate the Long Mound, in the hope of finding out more about the date and purpose of this odd structure, at the point where it crosses the ditch and bank of the first New Stone Age enclosure.

With the help of sponsors, the trust has fitted out the mobile exhibition to make the results of the work easily available to schools and the public.  In scale models, photographs, drawings and finds from the site, the exhibition shows the successive occupations on the hill and the archaeological methods used to examine them.  It has proved very popular at schools, and is a big attraction at charity fairs, fêtes and similar events.  If you would like it to visit you, contact the author, Richard Savage, at Jarolen House, Old Rectory Close, Walkley Hill, Stroud, GL53 3TY."  

(The captions to the photographs read as follows: (Top) drystone walling two 2,500 years old dominates this picture of volunteers at work on the Iron Age defences of Crickley Hill; (above) new this season is a well equipped mobile exhibition aimed at spreading word of the project far and wide.)"

Alas, I fear that the yellow bus went to meet its maker long since, so cannot come to your fête ... 

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