Friday, July 24, 2009

'The Times' 20 August 1987

More from 'The Times' courtesy of Kate Dumycz:

'Archaeology: Evidence of forgotten ritual

Times, The (London, England)-August 20, 1987
Author: NORMAN HAMMOND, Archaeology Correspondent

Excavations at the Cotswold hillfort of Crickley Hill have revealed a set of curious features that may reflect a lost ritual more than 4,000 years old.

Consisting of bare polished rock platforms and several sets of pits, the features are almost devoid of finds, and thus difficult to date with precision.

The discovery came during the 19th season of excavations at Crickley Hill, which overlooks the Severn valley, near Gloucester. An area lying between those investigated in 1978 to 1981, on the 'central knoll' of the hilltop was stripped, and several features found in the 1978 investigations were found to continue.

The platforms consist of areas of the local limestone, possibly levelled up, which have been polished by the wear of innumerable feet over a period of years. The areas have no clearly defined edges, although fires were lit on them in places, and their density of finds was only 4 per cent of that in the neighbouring neolithic village area, suggesting careful sweeping.

Dr Philip Dixon, of Nottingham University, the director of the excavations, feels that this cleanliness makes them unlikely to be house sites. Phosphate testing is being carried out to see whether activities such as cremation were carried out on the platforms: several pits in the vicinity have yielded fragments of burnt human bone.

The fires were not lit in formal hearths, but were more like bonfires, Dr Dixon said. The problem with the phosphate survey, which detects organic materials, is that 'background noise' from medieval sheep grazing and later rabbit warrens needs to be filtered out to see if any prehistory activity is demonstrated.

Some of the platform surfaces overlie pits, although they are thought to belong to the same general period as the platforms. In them were found layers of tightly packed stone slabs, together with such objects as a calf's jaw and a horse's shoulderblade; both may have had meat on them when buried.

The filling of the pits may have occurred in two episodes, with a turf line developing in the interval; another turf line, separating the platforms and pits from the neolithic occupation of about 3000-2500 BC, demonstrates that these features are of a later date.

Dr Dixon surmises that they are of the Beaker period, around 2000 BC, or of Iron Age date, when the next major occupation of Crickley Hill begins with the impressive hillfort visible today.

He feels that the platform/pit complex may be coeval with, or slightly later than, the late neolithic shrine found two years ago at the end of the enigmatic 'long mound' a few metres down the hill (The Times, July 29, 1985).

Further investigation of the long mound this year has shown that it had an even more complicated history than initially thought, with three major periods of development in which the mound was progressively raised and lengthened. Stone settings at the ends and along the flanks of the mound were replaced as they became buried by erosion deposits.

Few parallels are known in Britain for this concentration of apparently ceremonial behaviour, although the circles of large pits found at the Irish megalithic site of Newgrange a few years ago, and also dated to around 2000 BC, may reflect similar preoccupations on the part of the ancient inhabitants.

Record Number: 1024671857
(c) Times Newspapers Limited 1987, 2003'

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