Tag Archives: neolithic

The Dwarfie Stane

?Neolithic 4000 -> 1800 BC

Hoy

Beautiful Hoy

The Dwarfie Stane is an enigmatic rock-cut tomb located on the beautiful island of Hoy in the Orkney Islands.  Hoy is the second largest of the islands at 57 square miles and has a wonderfully unspoilt feel to it.  The north and west of the island are hilly and reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands and the landscape quite takes your breath away when you first encounter it, particularly on a sunny day when the light and colours look quite magical, as they did on the day I visited.  Hoy, meaning ‘High Island’ from the old Norse ‘Haey’, is reached by ferry from Houton on the mainland.  A short drive, taking in Betty Corrigall’s grave en route (see link below), brings you to a small, signposted area of off -road parking and across the road a short walk through the heather, much of it boarded, brings you to a large and conspicuous lump of sandstone.

 

The archaeology bit

The Dwarfie Stane

The Dwarfie Stane

The sandstone block measures 8.5 metres long by 4 metres wide and 2 metres high. It is potentially the only example in Britain of a rock-cut tomb.  I say ‘potentially’ because its actual origin and purpose is much debated, although the Historic Scotland interpretation sign in situ favours its Neolithic credentials. Unfortunately, there are no reported finds from the site and no excavation has been recorded. Typologically it resembles examples elsewhere in Europe of Late Neolithic rock-cut tombs, such as those in Portugal and Sardinia.  Equally though it is thought it could perhaps result from Bronze Age endeavours, and another possibility is that it was a much later Christian hermit’s retreat.  Location-wise it would seem to suit all of the above as it is situated alone within a valley amongst imposing hills and beneath a large rocky outcrop known as the Dwarfie Hammars. Its size and stony form stand out within the surrounding expanse of heathland and the Dwarfie Stane would have been easy to locate and impressive within the landscape in prehistoric times, as it is now.  Equally, its isolation would have served a hermit well.

Side chamber with 'pillow'

Side chamber with ‘pillow’

Whatever the original purpose of the chamber, it comprises an entranceway measuring around 1 metre square off which there are two chambers, one one either side. The one on the right-hand side notably contains a built-in stone ‘pillow’ resembling those seen in saints’ beds in Northern Italy.  It is not known whether all the features of the Dwarfie Stane are contemporary and it has been suggested that the ‘pillow’ was the work of a 19th century stonemason and geologist called Hugh Miller who carved his initials in the right-hand cell during a visit. There is also a large slab of sandstone outside the entrance which previously blocked it and indeed there are records of the tomb having been sealed in the 16th century. Of course, we can’t be sure when it was first blocked or how many episodes of sealing and unsealing there may have been over the centuries or millennia. It is certainly a sizeable block of stone though and moving it would not have been something undertaken lightly (as it were).

The Dwarfie Stane & Dwarfie Hammars behind

The Dwarfie Stane with the Dwarfie Hammars behind

If the Neolithic origins are given credence it would have been a hugely impressive feat to have hollowed it out with nothing but stone and antler tools. A supporting view for a Neolithic origin of the stone comes from Audrey Henshall who in the 1950s and 60s, in conjunction with Hampshire-born Professor Stuart Piggott (mentioned in my previous entry on Petersfield Heath), conducted an extensive survey of the chambered tombs of Scotland. She described the Dwarfie Stane as ‘the ultimate devolution within the Bookan sub-group of Orkney-Cromarty chambered cairns, rather than evidence for direct contact with the Mediterranean, where similar tombs exist’.

Historic graffiti

Over the years many people must have visited the Dwarfie Stane for one reason or another. As well as Mr Miller the stonemason, another known visitor was Major W Mounsey, a former British spy in Afghanistan and Persia, who spent a couple of days and nights there and left his mark in the form of Persian graffiti that can be seen to this day saying, ‘I have sat two nights and so learnt patience’ along with his name in Latin. The stone is even mentioned in Walter Scott’s novel The Pirate.

More recently, the Dwarfie Stane has been included in a study of the acoustics of Neolithic monuments by Dr Aaron Watson and the Monumental Creative Heritage Interpretation team with some interesting results. People listening on the roof of the stone perceived the stone itself to be shaking at some sound frequencies generated within but it is thought this was illusory. Furthermore, loud sounds produced outside the stone echoed ‘like thunder’ in the surrounding landscape. These findings open up fascinating possibilities for how such experiences may have been understood and exploited in the Neolithic and their role within their surroundings. More information on the project can be found via the link below.

Folklore

Legend has it that two giants were imprisoned in the Dwarfie Stane by a third one who wanted to be master of the island of Hoy. However one of the imprisoned giants ate his way out (and in fact the roof has been repaired with concrete, it is thought following a break-in rather than break-out) thus foiling the third giant’s plan. The name Dwarfie Stane has parallels with ‘dwarf stones’ in Iceland and Norway.

Further reading

http://www.caithness.org/caithnessfieldclub/bulletins/1977/april/scottishtombs.htm

http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertydetail.htm?PropID=PL_113

http://www.hoyorkney.com/VisitHoy/betty_corrigall.html

http://www.monumental.uk.com/site/research/proj/acoustics/dwarfie/html

http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/tombs/dwarfiestane/

canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/1597/details/hoy+dwarfie+stane/

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Wideford Hill

Neolithic 4000 -> 1800 BC

The chambered cairn on Wideford Hill is situated a little way outside Kirkwall on the Orkney mainland, just off the Old Finstown Road. It is clearly signposted and easy to find, particularly if you have your resident Orcadian brother with you, as I did (he regularly walks his dog past the cairn; even more enviably the other place they walk is the Ring of Brodgar).

Entry hatch

Entry hatch

The cairn is a distinctive sight as the original earthen covering was removed when the cairn was taken into the care of the state in the 1900s, exposing its stonework terraces. There is a nice Historic Scotland interpretation board outside and also a sign pointing out the entry hatch along with a box usefully containing a torch to take with you as there is no lighting inside other than the daylight from the open hatch. Descent is via a metal staircase down 2.7 m to the floor.  The space is rather restricted although this has the advantage of making it difficult to fall as you are fairly wedged-in as you climb down.

The archaeology bit

Inside looking up (with graffiti)

Wideford chambered cairn consists of a  main chamber measuring 3 m by 1.5 m at ground level (although this narrows as it goes upwards) with three side chambers.  Its form and construction make Wideford, in effect, a mini-Maeshowe and both monuments were built at around the same time, c.3000 BC and, along with a further eight cairns in Orkney form the so-called Maeshowe-type. Wideford was excavated in 1849 when it was found to contain only rubble representing deliberate, perhaps ritualistic, end-of-use infill along with some animal bones and teeth which are now thought to have resulted from more recent mammal incursion. It is probable that Wideford was capped with clay as a form of weatherproofing.  Interestingly, it also contains a chimney-like structure which was likely to have been the conduit for the infill and it has also been suggested that, prior to this final act of deposition taking place, it may have functioned as a ‘light slot’ for communicating with the dead. Further reading about this, Wideford cairn and Orkney archaeology generally can be found on the excellent Orkneyjar website (link below).

Would you trust these three not to close the hatch?

Wideford Hill is also notable as the location of one of three Neolithic habitation sites recently investigated by Professor Colin Richards of Manchester University and Dr Richard Jones of Glasgow University.  Settlement at Wideford has been traced back to the Early Neolithic period and evidence has been found here of timber roundhouses with central scoop hearths.

It has been noted that the entrance passage of the cairn on Wideford Hill faces the nearby cairn on Cuween Hill; a similar observation has also been made regarding Taversoe Tuick cairn on Rousay and the cairn on Gairsay, as well as the cairns of Eday Church and the Holm of Huip. It is suggested that these alignments may indicate a ‘community of the dead’ or perhaps symbolise claims to the land (Garnham, 2004). This certainly seems feasible when you consider the monumental landscape of the Orcadian Neolithic farmers but, as with many aspects of prehistory, there are many and varied possible explanations for apparent patterns and observations in the archaeological record and it is unlikely a definitive explanation will ever be arrived at – which is what makes it so endlessly fascinating!

Folklore

Wideford Hill chambered cairn

Orkney abounds with folklore and it is believed that much of that which has been passed down through the ages survives as a combination of Norse beliefs merged with those of the earlier inhabitants of these mystical isles.  ‘Hogboons’ or ‘mound dwellers’ were the spirits of the dead believed to inhabit the ancient mounds.  They were thought to provide a protective presence and hence dwellings have long been built alongside these prehistoric monuments. Offerings were made by inhabitants of farming settlements to appease their resident ‘mound-dwellers’ and comprised such things as milk from the first cow that calved or the first beer that was brewed and these were poured over the mound. Such beliefs continued into the 19th century and beyond.

Refreshments

After my somewhat gusty and soggy underfoot walk across the heather-clad hill to Wideford Cairn I partook of a coffee at my brother’s house just down the road. However, later in the day I sampled a Raven Ale or two from the Orkney Brewery. This 3.8% quaffable bitter is refreshingly palatable and comes highly recommended.

Further reading

Garner, T. 2004 Lines on the Landscape, Circles from the Sky Stroud: Tempus

http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/tombs/wideford/index.html

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Tinkinswood & St Lythans

Early Neolithic 4000 BC -> 3300 BC

I was in Cardiff this weekend for the Europa Conference on People, place and time in Neolithic and Chalcolithic Europe and took the opportunity to visit two burial chambers I had been wanting to see for some time, Tinkinswood and St Lythans.  They are about two and a half miles apart and easily accessed from Duffryn Lane not far from St Nicholas, six miles west of Cardiff ( OS map references ST 092733 and ST 100722, respectively).

 

DSC09158

Both monuments are managed by Cadw and have rather fun wind-up interpretative audio guide units on site that give a decent background summary in a choice of Welsh and English covering the topics The Neolithic Period, The Tomb Builders, Building a Tomb and Explore and More. Be warned though: the audio content is much the same at both sites with just a few subtle detail differences in the second topic.

The archaeology bit

Tinkinswood

Tinkinswood burial chamber

Tinkinswood was constructed in the early Neolithic period around 6000 years ago and when it was excavated in 1914 it was found to hold the remains of more than 50 people along with pottery fragments and worked flint.  The capstone (more of which in a moment) weighs around 40 tons, which is around the same as an articulated lorry, apparently.  It poured with rain during my visit and naturally I sought shelter within the chamber which gave me chance to marvel at the vast roof and how it could have been raised into its position all those years ago without the help of modern machinery – and to be grateful that after the excavations a supporting pillar was added.   At that time also the outside walls were re-clad in a herringbone style which I also saw a few weeks ago at Stoney Littleton (see previous entry).  Outside the chamber is a stone-lined pit, the function of which is unknown although it has been suggested that bodies were collected or processed there, perhaps excarnated (defleshed), prior to deposition in the chamber itself.

St Lythans

St Lythans burial chamber

I found St Lythans to be the more photogenic of the two monuments although it was challenging in the heavy downpour that persisted pretty much until I left.  It is known locally as Gwal-y-filiast which translates rather wonderfully as ‘the kennel of the greyhound bitch’ and it does have a bit of a doghouse-like feel to it.  In fact, in the 19th century it was used as an animal shelter and I can testify that it was quite fitting as a human shelter on the day of my visit.  The chamber, which also dates back to the early Neolithic, is only a small part of the original monument, some of the remainder of which is just visible from the gate to the field and apparently measures around 24 metres long by 11 metres wide.  The capstone here weighs 35 tons and the chamber as a whole has a pleasing dolmen appearance even though it would originally probably have looked more like the earthen-clad Tinkinswood tomb. Similarly, human remains and pottery were recovered from the site during antiquarian investigations.  Whereas Tinkinswood is situated on a level and fairly unobtrusive location within the present day landscape, St Lythans is more impressively and visibly located on a hill top and its lack of mound has the effect of making it stand out all the more.

Returning to the capstones and the Europa conference, a project is currently under way by Dr Vicki Cummings of the University of Central Lancashire with Professor Colin Richards of the University of Manchester looking into Building the Great Dolmens of Britain and Ireland.  It seems that a dolmen can be defined as ‘a careful way of displaying a big stone in a distinctive way’ that ‘sometimes also creates a burial space’ and one thing that has been found in sites investigated so far is that the capstones may have originated at the location of the dolmen and been raised above supporting stones in situ rather than being transported in from elsewhere. Examples of this are Pentre Ifan and Carreg Samson in Pembrokeshire which, when excavated, were found to lie within big pits thought to have been the original location of their capstones.  As well as in west Wales there are concentrations of dolmen in Cornwall and much of Ireland and it will be very interesting to see how this research pans out particularly in terms of the potential interpretations concerning the significance of special locations and monuments in the Neolithic.

Folklore

As the rain was setting in at Tinkinswood I did wonder if I would end up having to spend the night there.  Had I done so and it had been the night preceding May Day, St John’s Day or Midwinter Day, according to folklore, I would have either died, gone raving mad or become a poet.  Also, had I danced there on the Sabbath, I could have ended up being turned to stone like the other poor women who now stand silently as boulders south of the tomb.  At St Lythans meanwhile it is said that the field it inhabits is cursed and nothing grows there (this certainly doesn’t affect the grass however which was knee-high and thriving when I visited). Had I visited on Halloween I could have wished for anything and had it granted by the stones so I must remember to return on 31 October to do that. Meanwhile on Midsummer’s Eve the capstone is said to spin three times, which I would love to see.  This is my favourite bit of folklore for St Lythans, another Welsh name for which is Maes-y-Felin which translates as ‘The Mill in the Meadow’.

References

http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/stlythansburialchamber

http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/daysout/tinkinswoodburialchamber

 

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Stoney Littleton

Early Neolithic 4000 BC -> 3300 BC

Route to the barrow (with photobombing dog)

Route to the barrow (with photobombing dog)

Stoney Littleton is a well and truly accessible chambered long barrow on a hilltop in Somerset surrounded by fields and – currently – lambs.  It is just down the road from the village of Wellow which itself is only six miles from Bath.  It is well signposted and a drive down a single track lane (halfway down which you start to think, ‘this can’t be right’) brings you to a small parking area beside a stream where a wooden bridge bearing the sign ‘Stoney Littleton Long Barrow. Ancient Monument’ guides you across, over stiles, and on a ten minute walk uphill through a couple of fields to the one containing the barrow (OS grid reference ST 735572).  The property is managed by English Heritage and I was disappointed to find there was no interpretation board present – I would love to see this rectified at some point.

 

The archaeology bit

Stoney Littleton long barrow

Stoney Littleton long barrow

The long barrow is thought to have been constructed around 3500 BC.  At 30 metres long it is only half the length of Bevis’s Thumb in Sussex and Combe Gibbet in Berkshire (see earlier entries) but size isn’t everything and it has plenty of other things going for it.  For one thing, the location of Stoney Littleton is rather pleasant and peaceful in the heart of rural Somerset making it possible to go back in time in your mind and get a feel for how it might have been in Neolithic times when the barrow was in use. The barrow has a dry stone wall running around it and its entrance is also paved, all of which is impressive enough.  Most excitingly, however, it can be entered and explored, albeit by crouching or crawling at first as the height ranges from 1.2 m to 1.8. It is also dark and a torch or Flashlight app is very necessary.  Inside the slabbed interior there are seven burial chambers arranged in three opposing pairs to the sides, like the transepts in a church, with a single one at the north-west end, noteworthy as this is the only barrow known to have this particular layout.

Inside

Inside

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, investigations of the barrow took place in the 18th and 19th centuries when anything went and quite literally in this case when in 1760 the landowner, a farmer, raided the it for building stone. Subsequently whatever the barrow contained was pilfered and in 1816 an antiquarian, a Reverend John Skinner, carried out excavations and is reported to have recovered burnt and disarticulated human remains, sadly since lost. Wouldn’t it be wonderful in these instances if some descendent of the original excavator discovered the missing remains in amongst inherited family belongings and handed them over to a friendly osteoarchaeologist to study?

Tantalisingly there is mention of the human remains at Stoney Littleton having been arranged by skeletal elements within the different burial chambers (Bulleid, 1941, 57) rather than in apparently random piles as is seen more usually.  Although it is not always straightforward to be sure that spatial arrangement is by design rather than accident there are certainly cases where it can only have been deliberate, such as when multiple skulls are placed away from the rest of skeletons (Smith & Brickley, 2009, 65).  Unfortunately the people whose remains were buried within the chambers at Stoney Littleton are likely to remain an enigma but at least their monumental resting place can provide a tangible glimpse of mortuary practices in the Neolithic.

Edit: I have since discovered that some of the human remains at least are still in existence in a museum archive, which is good news!

Ammonite in situ

Ammonite in situ

Folklore

Interestingly there is a fossilised ammonite built into the bottom left-hand side of the entrance to the long barrow.  It is thought that the large Lias limestone containing this ammonite could have been transported from as far as five miles away by the barrow’s Neolithic builders, suggesting that they felt it was worth the effort of doing so for some reason important to them.  In historical times ammonites were often thought of and referred to as ‘snake stones’; perhaps there was a comparable belief concerning ammonites in prehistory.

References

Bulleid, A, 1941 ‘Notes on some chambered long barrows of North Somerset’ in Proceedings of the Somersetshire Archaeological and Natural History Society 87, 56-71

Smith, M & Brickley, M 2009 People of the Long Barrows, Stroud: The History Press

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/stoney-littleton-long-barrow/, accessed 29.04.14

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/earth/fossils/fossil-folklore/themes/decoration03.htm, accessed 29.04.14

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Whitehawk

Early Neolithic 4000 BC -> 3300 BC

Atop Whitehawk Hill in Brighton, overlooking the city, the racecourse and the South Downs, is the Neolithic causewayed enclosure formerly known as Whitehawk Camp (OS grid reference TQ330048).  It’s easy to find once you know where it is (it took me longer this time than the previous occasion when I visited the site and had a pair of local archaeology enthusiasts with me). Fortunately, the recently-added concrete bollards on Manor Hill, which were put in place to solve a traveller trespass problem, also serve as effective location markers.

Whitehawk (and bollards)

View from Whitehawk (and bollards)

Unlike the causewayed enclosure at the Trundle, near Chichester,  (see earlier entry) which occupies a fairly idyllic location surrounded by fields and downland with views of aesthetically pleasing villages and Goodwood racecourse, Whitehawk’s locality has a much more urban feel to it. Alongside the racecourse itself and the nearby allotment gardens, the site overlooks the sprawling Whitehawk housing estate to the east, has residential roads around it and is surprisingly close to the centre of Brighton itself.  It is therefore a bit more difficult to picture the site as it would have been during the Neolithic when it must have dominated the landscape. Having said all that, there are some great views over the South Downs on the other side and the surviving sections of the enclosure in evidence today indicate the impressive size of the monument and with a little imagination its former glory can still be envisaged and marvelled at.

 

The archaeology bit

Excavated in the 1920s and 30s by Cecil Curwen, ‘Whitehawk Camp’ was so-called because these mysterious monuments were often interpreted as camps or settlement sites in those days, hence the original nomenclature, but this has since been superseded by the more descriptive ’causewayed enclosure’, leaving the actual function or functions very much open to debate.  Whitehawk comprises a maximum of five interrupted circular rings of ditches enclosing up to 7 hectares of land between the transmitter mast to the south and the racecourse to the north.  We know that Whitehawk causewayed enclosure and its Sussex contemporaries were built around 5600 years ago, more than 1000 years earlier than the stone circle enclosures of Stonehenge and Avebury. Thanks to the recent Gathering Time early Neolithic dating project conducted by Cardiff University and English Heritage, we now know that Whitehawk itself was probably built between the middle of the 37th century and the end of the 36th century cal BC with the major period of construction likely to have taken place in the second half of the 37th century cal BC.  Its main phase of use has been identified as having lasted for between 75 and 260 years.  Following the Mesolithic era typified by nomadic hunter gatherer people, Whitehawk would have been part of the probable first  wave of British Neolithicisation which began in the south-east of England around 4050 cal BC, from likely origins in continental Europe, and spread throughout the rest of the British Isles over the following two and a half centuries or so as Neolithic practices and culture, such as farming and the construction of monumental structures, were adopted by British people.

Only a very small proportion of Whitehawk has been excavated so far and, apart from the original excavations over three seasons in 1929, 1932-3 and 1935, there has only been some small scale investigation carried out in the 1990s since.  The 1920s/30s excavations resulted in a sizeable archive of archaelogical evidence comprising large numbers of flint tools, pottery, bones of ox, cattle, sheep/goat, pig and deer,  and the complete skeleton of a roe deer deposited at the base of a pit.  My personal interest in Whitehawk centres around the human remains found there, which include a number of disarticulated bones, including skull fragments, and four complete burials including an eight year old boy and a young woman buried alongside her newborn baby. Rather grimly intriguing also is Curwen’s account of a hearth in one of the ditches containing human brain-pans in amongst the animal bones and pottery vessels. ‘Brain-pan’ incidentally is not a name you hear very often these days; it’s more usual for ‘cranium’ to be used now, more’s the pity.  Anyway, given the volume of finds from the little area that has been excavated so far it is very exciting to think what could potentially be recovered in the future and what this could tell us about the enclosure itself and the people who used it and those who were buried there.  I was therefore delighted to hear that Heritage Lottery funding has been granted to the sum of nearly £100,000 to carry out further work on the Whitehawk archive and at the site itself this year.

http://www.ucl.ac.uk/caa/whitehawk-hlf

References

Bayliss, A., Healy, F. & Whittle, A., 2011 Gathering Time: Dating the Early Neolithic Enclosures of Southern Britain and Ireland, Vol 1, Oxford, Oxbow

Curwen, E.C. 1934 ‘Excavations in Whitehawk Neolithic Camp, Brighton, 1932-3’ in The Antiquaries Journal 14, 124-128

Curwen, E.C. 1936 ‘Excavations in Whitehawk Camp, Brighton, third season, 1935’ in Sussex Archaeological Collections 77, 59-92

Ross Williamson, R.P. 1930 ‘Excavations in Whitehawk Neolithic Camp, near Brighton’ in Sussex Archaeological Collections 71, 57-96

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=402382&sort=4&search=all&criteria=whitehawk%20camp&rational=q&recordsperpage=10, accessed 22.04.2014

 

 

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Cissbury Ring

Early Neolithic 4000 BC -> 3300 BC

Iron Age 800 BC -> 43 AD

Bottoms up

Having covered earthen long barrows and causewayed enclosures I thought it was time to pay a visit to the third major monument type of the early Neolithic: a flint mine.  Cissbury Ring is actually an Iron Age hillfort – the largest in Sussex – and occupies a fantastic location on the beautiful South Downs with extensive views across Sussex and Hampshire.  Within and without the hillfort are more than 200 flint mine shafts dating back to 5000 years ago, visible now as distinctive circular depressions in the ground.

Cissbury Ring Hillfort

Cissbury Ring Hillfort

It’s a straightforward site to find by following the road through Findon village off the A24, past the two pubs (slightly more of which later) and all the way to the end at which point  there is a car park, and then it’s a short (but steep) walk up to the hillfort.

The archaeology bit

There are fifteen known Neolithic flint mines in Britain, ten of them in the south, two in East Anglia, two in Scotland and one in Ireland.  Their locations, not always where the best quality flint seams are found, suggest that other factors were considered important by the Neolithic people who dug them laboriously with antler picks and other primitive tools.  Furthermore the recovery of human remains and other items apparently deposited deliberately in the mine shafts as well as carvings on the walls of the galleries, suggest that there was more than simply mining for resources involved and that the mines, in common with other aspects of the Neolithic world, were part of a wider and considerably more complex environment.

Cissbury flint mines

Cissbury flint mines

Cissbury was first excavated in the 19th century and then further investigations took place in the 1950s under the direction of John Pull, a Post Office employee and archaeology enthusiast.  He tended to publicised his findings in the local press due to his falling out with the local archaeological society when they rejected his written account of the Cissbury excavations and published one of their own.  He spent many years excavating Sussex flint mines and other sites but met a tragic and premature end when he was shot in a bank raid, leaving much unwritten investigation.

The flint mines at Cissbury are mainly situated at the western end of the later hillfort, with more outside the ramparts.  They are easily identifiable craters in the ground, measuring up to six metres in diameter with a depth of up to three metres.  Although human remains are unusual finds in Neolithic flint mines three skeletons were recovered during the Cissbury excavations: two females in the base layers of the mines with no obvious care afforded to them and a male in the upper fill in a crouched burial position.  The apparently different treatment of the sexes in life and death in terms of location and perhaps burial rites can be contemplated in this case.  With our modern day perspective, flint mines have often been regarded as male domains but an alternative view is that women would have been more suited to working in confined spaces due to their smaller stature.

Folklore

There is said to be a tunnel below Cissbury leading to nearby Offington Hall in which there is supposed to be treasure, unfortunately well guarded by serpents.  Cissbury itself is said to have been created by none other than the Devil while he was digging his Dyke near Brighton (actually the longest, deepest and widest dry valley in Britain), throwing earth around the general area.  And at the time of the midsummer solstice fairies are said to dance around Cissbury Ring.  A return in June to check this out could be on the cards on the basis that it must be a lovely place to watch the sun go down even if it turns out there aren’t any fairies and maybe a UFO will fly past, as others have claimed.

Refreshments

The two pubs in Findon, The Gun Inn and The Village House Inn, look very promising from the outside but on this occasion the refreshments were sampled in a hostelry nearer to home.

The Halfway Bridge, Lodsworth

The Halfway Bridge, Lodsworth, at dusk

The Halfway Bridge at Lodsworth is a pub I’ve driven past numerous times over the years but never stopped at before.  It’s a nicely updated, comfortable pub with unfailingly friendly staff and good beers including Doombar from the West Country and Langham’s from just down the road in West Sussex.  The classic and highly recommended Hip Hop was on offer but my personal favourite was Halfway to Heaven, 3.5% and goes down very nicely.  The food is good too and both the Caesar salad and fish and chips can be highly recommended.

References

Barber, M., Field, D. & Topping, P. The Neolithic Flint Mines of England 1999, Swindon, English Heritage

Lewis-Williams, D.P. & Pearce, D. Inside the Neolithic Mind 2005, London: Thames & Hudson

Russell, M. Rough Quarries, Rocks and Hills: John Pull and the Neolithic Flint Mines of Sussex 2001, Oxford: Oxbow

https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/south-downs/explore/chanctonbury-cissbury/, accessed 07.03.14

http://www.sussexarch.org.uk/saaf/cissbury.html, accessed 07.03.14

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Combe Gibbet

Early Neolithic 4000 BC -> 3300 BC

The clue’s in the name with this one.  Combe Gibbet is a Neolithic long barrow on Inkpen Hill (aka Inkpen Beacon, aka Gallows Down) around four miles south of Hungerford in Berkshire, not far from the borders of both Hampshire and Wiltshire. It is reached via a short, steep, somewhat bumpy track and you can park right by the access gate.

National Grid Reference: SU 36474 62235    Postcode: RG17 9EL

 

The archaeology bit

'Information board'

Once an information board

The barrow is around 65 m long and 20 m wide and its height ranges from 0.5 m and 1.5 m.  It is orientated east-west and has surviving full-length flanking ditches to the north and south with a depth of 0.5 m.  Of the 500 or so long barrows in England, Combe Gibbet is one of only three known in the county of Berkshire and geographically it is likely that these have connections to the more dense concentration of these monuments in Wiltshire and Dorset.  There is no record of the barrow having been excavated at any time and, unfortunately for my research, no record of any human remains having been found there, or any other finds for that matter with the exception of two probable Neolithic flint flakes from the surface handed in to Newbury Museum. The information board has seen better days and it would be nice to see this rectified.

The history bit

Long Barrow with added gibbet

Long Barrow with added gibbet

However what makes this long barrow fun is the presence of a gibbet on top of it. It is a double gibbet, that is one designed to hang two people simultaneously. I had never previously considered the possibility of a gibbet-for-two, not even when playing Hangman, but I can see now that this would have been useful in certain situations.  The Combe Gibbet gibbet stands 7.6 m tall, 25 m from the east end of the barrow.  The gibbet you see today is the seventh one to stand on the site, the original one having been placed there in 1676, more of which in a moment.  The subsequent gibbets were erected in the years 1850, 1949, 1950, 1970, 1979 and this one in 1992.  The original gibbet rotted and in turn the replacement met its demise at the hands of a lightening strike.  Two of the following gibbets were felled by vandals, reportedly in protest at the practice of hanging, one was blown down by high winds and another burned by vandals.  The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act of 1965 suspended capital punishment for murder in Britain and, of course, the punishment subsequently ceased permanently so the gibbet’s continued existence for the past 48 years has been symbolic, and rather strikingly so as it can be seen from quite some distance away.

Combe Gibbet

Combe Gibbet

The 17th century gibbet was erected to hang married George Bromham (possibly Broomham) from the village of Combe and widow Dorothy Newman from the nearby village of Inkpen who were found guilty of the murder of Bromham’s wife, Martha, and their son, Robert Bromham.  The trial at Winchester Assizes heard that George Bromham and Dorothy Newman beat Martha and Robert to death with staves very close to where the gibbet now stands, having been caught in the act of infidelity.  Apparently, the local ‘village idiot’, Mad Thomas, witnessed the event and reported the crime, leading to their conviction.  Based on these facts alone it can be wondered how safe the conviction was.  Anyway, the ‘hanging in [iron] chaynes’ took place on 3 March 1676 on the double gibbet erected on top of the barrow which was neutrally situated due to the parish boundaries of Combe and Inkpen stopping at the previously mentioned ditches, thereby enabling the cost of the gibbet and the ‘chaynes’ to be split equally, which seems only fair. The dead bodies were reportedly taken down the hill to Inkpen where they were kept in the barn at the Crown and Garter Inn before being returned to the gibbet for their ‘final hanging’ on 6 March.  I must say that the view from Combe Gibbet is wonderful and far reaching and today there were sheep grazing all around and several buzzards flying very low overhead.  I’m sure there are worse places to meet your maker.

Folklore

The method used by the convicted murderers to do away with poor Martha and Robert Bromham varies in different accounts. Some say they were killed by poisoning and/or drowning in a dew pond (incidentally, according to some accounts, Dorothy Newman’s own two children were murdered).  Alternatively, and rather horrifically, it has been said that Martha was killed by having her face thrust into a hornet’s nest by her husband.

Refreshments

Crown and Garter, Inkpen

Crown and Garter, Inkpen

Rather excitingly, the Crown and Garter Inn is still in Inkpen and still a pub and still has its barn in situ (now B&B accommodation called Gibbet Barn).  This would have been the perfect refreshment stop for today’s outing but, disappointingly, the pub is currently closed for refurbishment and not due to open again until August, according to a gentleman overheard talking about it in the The Swan Inn, a little further down the road.

The Swan Inn, Inkpen

The Swan Inn, Inkpen

Meanwhile The Swan is a nice, quiet pub and twice the West Berkshire CAMRA pub of the year.  It stocks Butt’s organic ales and the Jester was a pleasant, quaffable beer; the Traditional a little stronger. The barman was very friendly and helpful and the beef (from Inkpen itself) and onion pie is highly recommended.

 

References

http://www.hungerfordvirtualmuseum.co.uk/Places/Combe_Gibbet/combe_gibbet.html, accessed 27.02.14

http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle_print.aspx?uid=1013198&showMap=1&showText=1, accessed 27.02.14

http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/berkshire/ancient-sites/combe-gibbet-and-walbury-hillfort.html, accessed 27.02.14

http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=228788&sort=4&search=all&criteria=combe%20gibbet&rational=q&recordsperpage=10, accessed 27.02.14

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