Sunday, April 12, 2009

Savage 1988 5: The Last Neolithic Fortress

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My thanks to Richard Savage and the Crickley Hill Trust for permission to reproduce abstracts from Richard's 1988 booklet: here the Neolithic section as an Easter treat. Note the chilling last sentence.

A defended Neolithic village c.  2500 BC  

About 2500 BC the last Neolithic defence at Crickley was built following the line of the inner causewayed enclosure to the east but extending the defended area by 40 m to the west, to include the flat shelf above the tip of the promontory.  The new ditch was continuous, except where broad causeways gave three entrances -- north-east, south-east, and west - and provided the stone for a low wall, at most a metre high, carefully built with the internal walls packed with rubble in a cellular structure.  At the rear of the wall stood a wooden palisade.

The new ditch was built outside the ditch of the old inner enclosure on the east, following its line and so close to it that the quarriers of the new ditch twice broke through into the old one.  Each time, they re-sealed the gap with a miniature wall of stone, as though they were anxious not to release some force or entity believed to lurk in the old pits -- which they felt about strongly enough to undertake the tremendous labour of making a wholly new ditch in the living rock, instead of clearing the old one and re-using it and its stone.  The new wall in this sector was built over the old, filled pits.  Apparently their influence could be confined, and would not weaken it.

[Illustration: Bowman. C. Clark]

This new defence, and the settlement it protected, had much in common with its predecessors.  It east an entrances coincided with those of the causewayed enclosures, and the southeastern one gave access to a fenced road along which were aligned at least to two rectangular wooden houses.  60 m inside the entrance, the road turned north to the settlement on the high point of the hill which is marked by dense clusters of pottery, flint, post holes, stakeholes, and a flint-working area, to which the north-west entrances also gave access.  But where it turned north, a gate now controlled access to a narrow path continuing along the road's original westward axis but leading only towards a fenced area with no other entry, on the shelf above the tip of the promontory. 

[Illustration: Conjectural reconstruction of the last Neolithic fortress. The positions of the central houses are not yet known. R. Morgan]

On this shelf stood the  settlement's shrine, the entrance to its precinct guarded by diminutive upright stone and a wooden gateway or arch.  Although the stone is in the middle of the path, and only a few centimetres high, the wear of the cobbling shows that all the traffic passed to the south of it.  The rituals of the shrine involved fire, the burning of bone, perhaps in animal sacrifices, and apparently the gathering of pottery, flint, bone and antler in special places away from the centre of the precinct but overlapping its edges.

[Illustration: The shrine. C. Clark]

The position of the shrine is remarkable.  It is hidden from watchers on the main body of the promontory to the east by the swell of the highest point, unless they are placed exactly in the line of the natural hollows leading to it, while had overlooked a panorama of the Severn Vale and will have been visible from great distances to the north, south and west.

Access to the tip of the promontory and the path down to the Vale by this route was specifically denied, and a traveller entering the settlement from the south-east could only gain it by turning north outside the shrine, passing through the central settlement area and going out through the north-west entrance, from which the shrine was isolated by its fence.

This last Neolithic settlement ended in violence.  It was burnt - houses, gateways and all -  after an attack by bowmen whose flint arrowheads hungrily crowd the palisades and entrances.  Four hundred have been found at Crickley so far; they are the remnants are one of the first known battlefields.  To judge from examples preserved at waterlogged sites, the bows were large and powerful, not very different from the longbows of Crecy and Agincourt.  Flint arrowheads penetrate flesh better than steel ones, and are more likely to break off in the wound.

[Photographs and plan: Neolithic flint arrowheads (length 40, and 40mm), and their find-places in a 100m length of the neolithic defences]

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