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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Savage 1988: 7. The Long House Village




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65 years ago this morning were the Allied landings in Normandy, warfare on a scale unimaginable to the men and women who inhabited Crickley Hill more than 2500 years ago. Doubtless war then was as terrifying but necessary to endure as it was for our parents and grandparents.  The destruction of the Iron Age ramparts of the longhouse village described in the following section from Richard Savage's 1988 booklet must have been a frightening sight. Thanks, as ever, to Richard and the Crickley Hill Trust for permission to reproduce the abstracts from his booklet.

"7 The Long House Village 

The First Hill-fort c. 700 - 600 BC 

At a time when the climate had deteriorated - it seems to have become very like our own - the hill was permanently occupied again in the 7th or 6th centuries BC.  This was the time of the development of a full iron-using economy in Britain; indeed we cannot at present be certain whether the new community at Crickley was iron- or still bronze-using.  It is hard to see any continuity of tradition between the builders of the hillfort and the worshippers who had gone before.  Even the final Neolithic wall, almost as far in the past to them as they are to us, was scarcely visible. 

The newcomers built long timber houses, aligned upon a street running east west along the top of the saddle at the eastern part of the hill.  Four-post structures, some of them at least for grain storage, lay in a ring outside the houses.  The bridge was defended by a stone wall, reinforced with timber lacing, which ran right around the promontory enclosing 9 acres.  The wall was most substantially built to the east, where attackers could approach across level ground, and an imposing appearance would have most effect.  Here it may have reached 4m high, with the ditch outside it, from which the stone was quarried, adding to its effective height.  A walkway along the top, with a bridge across the entrance, allow the defenders to keep watch, to parade their valour, and to cluster where they were most needed during an assault.  Deposits of sling stones lay near to hand, useful for discouraging animal and human predators alike.  Timber towers, arranged at intervals behind the rampart, seem to have provided viewing or fighting platforms for the slingers. 

[Photograph: the largest longhouse.  Part of the roof is unthatched to show the construction.  There is a smoke hole in the gable. J Eltham] 

[Illustration: The long house village, c 700 - 600 BC K. Hajichristou] 

The village housed, perhaps, a hundred souls.  We can imagine them a little more clearly than their Neolithic predecessors, because in later centuries Greek and Roman writers describe barbarian societies like theirs, which shared much with the literate Mediterranean world; a cart made in Greece or Italy could be mended without difficulty -- perhaps improved -- in Gaul or Britain.  They are likely to have thought of themselves as members of the great family, with relatives in other settlements, and many of them will actually have been more or less closely related to one another, although there are likely to have been "foreigners" among them.  The power structure of their society may be guessed at.  They were probably governed by the dominant member of a single kindred.  Such a man or woman must decided the arrangements of the settlement at Crickley; the site has very long and strong defences in comparison with a few houses inside it, and the granaries are too numerous merely to hold the produce of the occupants of the houses.  The site seems to be a citadel for the elite of the society most of whose members lived outside, some of them perhaps in the Vale. 

We do not know what language they spoke.  It is possible that it was already one of the Celtic family of languages, to which modern Welsh and Irish belong. 

Like most hill-forts, Crickley lacks an internal water-supply.  The spring line is 60 m below the settlement, and there is no evidence for well-digging or pond making on the site.  The cattle will have been watered at springs outside, where also the human community will have done most of its washing and only a minimum of water needed to be carried up.  The village could not have stood a siege; sieges are almost unknown in primitive warfare, which is centred about the raid and the short campaign, even when it is set reassuringly within a hereditary feud. 

The new community farmed the surrounding land, probably in small squarish fields whose boundaries, obliterated by modern agriculture, we do not now know.  Their animals and crops were fundamentally those of their Neolithic predecessors - wheat, barley, cattle, sheep, pigs - though in improved breeds and probably using improved methods. 

It is likely that there were undefended Iron Age settlements nearby; they are not always easy to find.  A sight of this kind in the lowland is suspected Sandy Lane, Cheltenham, that we do not yet know certainly of any near Crickley. If we knew how these undefended sites and the adjacent hillfort worked together, much of the character of late Bronze Age and Iron Age society would be clear.  At present we do not know whether they were occupied by members of the same rank in society nor how far their functions were different.  In most cases we do not even know whether they were in strictly contemporary use. 

The settlement was attacked, captured, then thoroughly and expertly destroyed.  In a strong west winds the rear facing of its wall was torn down and brushwood piled against the expose structured to fire the reinforcing beams.  So intense was the heat is that much of the limestone of the wall was turned to quicklime. 

[Illustration: section through the final Iron Age defences: the core of burned and slaked limestone, with the remains of vertical timbers just visible, and the new wall, in two tiers, built over and in front of it]"

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