Friday, March 13, 2009

Cunliffe on Crickley Hill

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I remember being taught to sing a ditty by David Southwood with the following lyrics: "When this bloody dig is over, no more trowelling for me: I will go and put my feet up and watch Barry Cunliffe on TV."  I'm afraid that I can't provide a TV clip of Professor Cunliffe on the blog but I am grateful to the Secretary of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society for permission to reproduce this extract from the presidential address that Barry Cunliffe gave the Society in 1984:

"Gloucestershire and the Iron Age of Southern Britain

By Barry Cunliffe

Presidential Address Delivered at the Council House, Bristol, 24 March 1984

But these hilltop enclosures, whatever their function, were not the only defended sites of the Earliest period.  The excavation of the strongly-fortified promontory fort of Budbury just over the border in Wiltshire has produced a mass of contemporary occupation material including highly-decorated pottery of All Cannings Cross type.  In Gloucestershire, Crickley Hill with its substantial stone-built and timber-laced rampart (Crickley period 2) must belong to this period, for it has produced three radio-carbon dates suggested of construction in the eighth century BC (Dixon 1972; 1976).  Philip Dixon's large-scale excavation here is an outstanding importance for the evidence it is providing of the Earliest and Early phases of the Iron Age in Gloucestershire. Inside the gate of the period 2 fort he has discovered a number of four-post buildings together with several long rectangular structures which are either houses (as the excavator prefers to see them) or rows of four-, five-, and six-post "granaries", some of them in fenced enclosures.  At any event the massiveness of the Crickley 2 defences and the density of buildings within, combined with a comparatively small area closed, serves to distinguish Crickley from the broadly contemporary hilltop enclosures, suggesting that the fort was occupied by a community of some status.  Thus we can begin to see a pattern emerged with a few very strongly-defended forts like Crickley and Budbury possibly representing the residences of the elite, while the larger hilltop enclosures may have been pastoral structures serving larger communities.  That the period was one of some stress is shown by the destruction of Crickley 2 by fire and its partial rebuilding in period 3a.

It was during the Early period in Wessex that hillforts seem suddenly to have proliferated.  This may well have been the case in Gloucestershire but the evidence is rather less clearly defined. At Crickley however, in period 3b, there is dramatic evidence for the massive rebuilding of the defences with complex outworks to protect the entrance.  A single radiocarbon assessment suggests the construction date may have been in the sixth or fifth century BC.  Excavations within the fort showed that the layout of the settlement had changed, the exclusively rectangular structures giving way to a new layout dominated by a very large roundhouse sited just inside the gate.  The nearby hillfort of Leckhampton, defended by a timber-laced rampart with stone fronting-wall, is thought to have been built at about the same time; it too could boast an entrance of monumental proportion."

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