Saturday, May 30, 2009

Savage 1988 6: Interlude: Priest and People

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My thanks, as ever, to Richard Savage and the Crickley Hill Trust for permission to reproduce abstracts from his 1988 booklet  "Village  Fortress Shrine: Crickley Hill Gloucestershire 3500 BC -AD500".  Today the the section dealing with the Long Mound.

6 Interlude: Priest and People

c. 2500 - 1000 BC

The last Neolithic settlement was destroyed well before 2000 BC, and for more than a thousand years there was no permanent occupation of the hill.  But its use as a religious centre continue for at least part of that time; at present we have no means of establishing a certain date for its end.

The Neolithic shrine and the path approaching it were modified, the shrine being incorporated in a small stone circle whose centre, a burnt area, was almost exactly above the hearth which was presumably the focus of the old rituals.  Part of the path was covered with a stone cairn.  This supported very odd fence lines which defined cells, stalls or even short lengths of passage.  Later, in a final rearrangement, the circle was rebuilt, with a stone slab over its central hearth, and the slab itself was burnt on its upper surface, with many fragments of burnt bone scattered about it.  The cairn covering the approach road was covered and extended by a mound of turf and topsoil nearly 100 m long, with a pole erected at its eastern end and its sides marked out at intervals by large stone slabs, some covering butchered animal bones.  Cobbling and trampled stone suggest that processions moved beside the mound, outside its stones, and continued both inside and outside the circle.

We are looking at an important religious centre, whose rituals involve animal sacrifice with elaborate ceremonies.  We do not at present know where its priesthood or their congregation lived; it seems likely that it was not on the hill itself.

[Illustration: a beaker from Crickley Hill. The shape, decoration and fabric are characteristic of the transition from the Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age. Height about 15cm]

The sacred area may have been defined by a small trench, 40 cm wide and deep, which contained only burnt stone and earth, cut in the silt of the final Neolithic ditch.  The processional way, today visible as the long mound, lies at the bottom of the natural hollow which conceals it and the circle at its western end.  Outside the sacred area, only watchers standing in a small zone on the southern side of the hill could have a sight of activity on the mound, and their view was, it seems, interrupted by short fence held up by three posts to the east of it.  In fact, the whole ritual complex would have been hidden from anyone on the hill outside the boundary, although the smoke of the fire in the stone circle would have been visible throughout much of the Severn Vale.  One might guess that the occurrence of ritual practice was intended to be public, but its details were kept entirely secret. 

[Illustration: The shrine and its processional way in their first post-neolithic form K. Hajichristou]

It is likely that this final phase was a ritual site of the earlier part of the Bronze Age, perhaps in the centuries after 2000 BC, but it may be only a coincidence that the best place from which the initiated (discreetly removed well out of earshot) might see the ceremonies is 700 m due east of the long mound, on high ground, where there is a small group of early Bronze Age burial mounds.

[Plan: the relationship between the shrine, the processional way and the round barrows of Emma's Grove (on private ground)]

[Illustration: casting an axe head in the early Bronze Age. P. Saxby]

The use of this temple site came to an abrupt end.  The great slab in the centre of the circle was smashed.  The stones of the circle itself were pushed over.  All but one were driven inwards; those involved seem to recognize the power of the circle, and destroyed it while themselves standing outside.  The hilltop was now abandoned, and grass slowly covered its monuments.

[Photo: the shrine and long mound under excavation, and illustration: the shrine and its processional way in their final form. E.J.P. Wilczynska]

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