Thursday, December 25, 2008

Fourth Report 1972, part II : the Neolithic Enclosures

Thanks again to PWD for permission to post these extracts from his 1972 Fourth Report - click on the images to enlarge:

"The Neolithic Enclosures (Figures 2 – 4)

Two cuttings, CIII and CIV, were placed adjacent to the areas excavated in 1971; they confirmed the phasing established in 1971.

The two period bank identified in CII (Dixon, 1971) continued across cutting CIII (see figure 2).  In its latest phase, now called 1d, the bank was surmounted by a fence, the burnt traces of which were visible without a break as far as the north section of CIII. both phases of bank contained quantities of Neolithic pottery and worked flint, of types comparable to those found in 1971.

In the flat area behind the bank two hearths were uncovered.  These, and another in CII, are perhaps to be associated with post holes which may have supported screens, for no enclosed structures here can yet be identified.  At the southwest corner of CIII a pit contained only heavily burnt slabs similar to those of the hearths, which resemble in their construction the hearths, possibly of Period 3, found near the roundhouse and the hearth in CIV.  The design, however, is rudimentary, and in the absence of dating evidence any period ascription would be unwise. It is thus still unclear whether any of the structures behind the banks can be attributed to a Neolithic occupation.

The Period 1d ditch in CI continued without interruption across CIV (Ditch 304/603).  Some 45 m of this ditch have now been examined; the material from it and its bank is Neolithic throughout, including a fragment of a polished stone axe, but there is by now some doubt that it is in fact segmental, and the description "causewayed enclosure" seemed inappropriate for phase 1d.  Below the 1d bank ditch 853 (of Period 1b) formed a further section of ditch segment 384; at the northern side of the cutting the 1d bank has not yet been removed, and may conceal a causeway, but it is still possible that 853/384 is the same ditch segment as Ditch 319 which was exposed in cutting CI; thus the causeways uncovered in 1971 remain the only causeways across the two inner ditches.  From the primary silt of 853 came two decorated sherds kindly identified by Mr Humphrey Case as similar to material from the causewayed enclosure at Abingdon.

Towards the eastern end of CIV two segments of the ditch line (ditches 612 and 699) continued the outer ring of ditches excavated in 1971.  The broad causeway between 612 and 699 was matched by gap in the bank on their west sides. Through Across this area ran a structural weakness in the hill (a "gull"), filled with eroded limestone which had the consistency of concreted sand.  Unlike the normal oolite laminae elsewhere on the site, the material in the gull retained the impressions of stake holes, but the interpretation of the structures represented here and in the corresponding part of CIII was complicated not only by the continuing leaching of limestone into the gull but also by the activity of tree roots and rabbits which had taken advantage of the softer rock.  At least two phases were distinguishable (see figure 4).  The latest consisted of a hearth (628) set in a hard-trodden floor (629) of gull material mixed with earth and charcoal dust.  To the south and east the floor merged into a layer of clean yellow dissolved limestone; to the north it had been eroded by activity in the gull.  As a consequence it could not be established which postholes within the gull had been sealed by the floor.

Postholes 879, 615, and 880 can be associated with the hearth and floor, and a further small posthole between 615 and 880 was only doubtfully sealed;  within the gull postholes 640 and 621 resembled the former postholes in size; to this group posthole 860 seems an obvious addition, but this was larger and shallower than the others, similar in fact to postholes 861 and 858; posthole 858 predated 640 and it is possible 861 and 858 were earlier postholes in the group, replaced during a renewal of the structure by the adjacent postholes 640 and 621.  In either case the resultant plan would be a small boat-shaped house with a slightly eccentric hearth.  Daub was found in a hollow, 877, and some of the stake holes may have supported wattled screen wall.

Floor 629 merged eastwards into clean material ultimately derived from the gull.  This stratum overlay the edge of ditch 699, and a laid stone platform, 622, perhaps paving outside the house, similarly overlay the edge of bank 697 but neither ditch nor bank can confidently be placed in the overall phasing of the site; the absence of the causeway in 1d ditch 304/603 to the west perhaps would make otiose a gap here in the outer ring unless the latter pre-dates Period 1d, and ascription of the outer ring to 1b, or even as a single ring to the so far unenclosed period 1a and 1c, may be strengthened by consideration of the extreme erosion of the outer bank, which survived to a height of only 10 cm.  But with no general agreement about the function of causewayed enclosures the argument is weak.  The house itself could well belong to the hillfort occupation, and may be compared with the structures to the south of House 4, and perhaps should be associated with occupation debris, including a shard from a pot with a rounded shoulder decorated with finger tipping, in the upper levels of ditch 699.

Seal below floor 629 two large post holes, 878 and the complex around 884 and 879, can be linked with the ditches.  They sit midway between the bank terminals and were substantial enough to serve as supports for double or triple posts of a small gate; to the north postholes 894, 895 and 898 would then form a fence, but no corresponding postholes were found to the south, beyond the line of the gull.

The group of postholes cut pass into the sides of ditch 603 and part into the infill certainly belonged to the hillfort occupation of the site.  No posthole was found as a pair to posthole 654 but it should have lain entirely within the ditch and could easily have been overlooked in the rubble infill.  Spacing of posts exactly corresponded with that of the Period 2 longhouses and the house and its hearth, centrally placed at the top of the ditch infill, should be attributed to Period 2.  Beyond the crest of the bank in CIII four postholes of similar size and spacing to those of House 7 cut through the 1d bank, and perhaps formed a slightly trapezoidal structure of Period 2.  Immediately to the east of House 7 lay a palisade trench (617) from which the only find was an intact Neolithic arrowhead.  It lay parallel to the Period 1d ditch; equally, therefore, it aligned with the Period 2 house, and its date is uncertain.  A similar slot (682) to the east of ditch 612 belonged to the phase of the outer ditches.

Thus the inner bank excavations, in addition to producing problems about the interpretation of the Neolithic enclosures, have shown that the longhouse settlement, and perhaps the Period 3 settlement, continued at least 130 m within the rampart on the line of the hillfort entrance."

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