This is the time to review the year and say thank you. The Christmas Archaeology Day is a good time to meet up, celebrate and share SW conservation work and discoveries.
We met at our new office at Tisbury.
Nancy organised lunch and talked about two Gloucestershire sites. Crickley Hill, which has had its archive and finds assessed this year (Crickley is a hillfort overlying a causewayed enclosure excavated 1969-93) and Chedworth Villa (analysis of the finds from the museum have highlighted some important new information about its Roman owners.. watch this space).
Nick (see FragmeNTs) talked of developments at Stonehenge and Avebury. Results from geophysical survey beside the great Avebury henge indicate an early settlement there and she also gave the latest on the plans for a dual carriageway tunnel under the line of the present A303 beside Stonehenge.
Jim brought a ‘Jamaica Inn’ style atmosphere to the room as he spoke of the wreck of the frigate’Royal Anne’ on Stag Rocks south of the Cornwall’s Lizard peninsula. In 1721, a naval ship, bound for Barbados was driven onto the rocks during a storm. The locals picked over the remains to remove valuables. The bodies of the crew are thought to lie in a narrow valley above the cliffs known as Pistol Meadow. Bournemouth University have geophysed the field and a scatter of trench and pit-like anomalies suggest the locations of mass graves.
Mid afternoon and we piled into cars and headed for Hambledon.
Last year we went to Whitesheet Hill on the Stourhead Estate, it rained hard and we got soaked but a good experience. The year before, a windswept bitter day. Cley Hill near Warminster circled by a war of showers, rumbles and shafts of sunlight. This year looked very promising.
We set out late. A squadron of 5 cars. The route rather convoluted between Tisbury & Childe Okeford. Out of the Nadder valley, over NT’s Win Green Hill, along the brink of the chalkland valley bordering the NT Fontmell and Melbury Estate and down into the Blackmore Vale. 3 cars made it to the lay-by. A phone call spoke of a traffic jam at Fontmell Magna so we climbed the hill. Meg who’d completed the Hidcote Estate Archaeological Survey this year, Carol researcher of Westbury College Gatehouse, Alice fellow Chedworth archaeologist and an astrophysicist from English Heritage.
The sun was setting as we neared the summit. The sky cloudless and clear. The SW entrance was protected by a funneled corridor approach between banks. There was a gap between the ramparts which once held massive double-leaved gates. We passed through.. and in front of us was a raised platform cut into the slope. We stood on it and looked back towards the sun. This terrace must once have held a large timber round house and as we continued up hill, smaller hollows and platforms could be seen all around us. There had been 100s of buildings here over 2000 years ago.
At the top of Hambledon’s chalk ridge we found the remains of a Bronze Age burial mound.The low winter sunlight was showing up the faint earthworks beautifully and traces of narrow ridge and furrow here were evidence that the summit had been ploughed briefly during the Napoleonic wars. Now the long concentric circuits of massive ramparts and ditches could be better appreciated.
We walked north towards the middle. Here, a cross rampart blocked our way. We climbed it and looked back. The inturned SE entrance was clear and beyond it the dome of the hill top where the great causewayed enclosure had been excavated in the 1970s. Dated to c.3600 BC, the people of Hambledon hillfort lay mid-way in time between us and them…. but in 1645 Oliver Cromwell fought the clubman here. Back then, a mere 370 years ago. Volleys of musket fire from the Dorset ‘clubmen’ (who supported neither King nor Parliament) drove back a cavalry charge from Cromwell’s besieging forces.
The Wiltshire rangers arrived from Fontmell. Ben, who has recently led the repair of erosion scars at Figsbury Ring and Cley and Mike who’s formidable work on the Stonehenge Estate has led the conservation of the earthworks on the World Heritage Site.
We continued to the long barrow and wondered what this long ridge on the summit was. A 5,500 year old communal burial place or something else? It had been dug into in two places. Perhaps the work of Edward Cunnington who excavated here before 1894.
Two more silhouettes approached. Dave and Gill had found us at last. Dave had geophys mapped the whole of Hambledon and nearby Hod Hill. Gill monitors and records the Brownsea industrial archaeology as the sea gradually erodes the island’s shoreline.
One more stop at the northern cross-ditch. Some think the hillfort developed over time. First the northern third, then the middle section including the long mound.. and then the southern third was finally enclosed. The pottery from the northern ditch is Early Iron Age.. All Cannings about 500 BC.
“Look!” said the astrophysicist, ‘the last before solstice’ and as small dots on the whale-back of Hambledon, we felt the ancient world turn. We watched… and the bright full moon erupted from Melbury Beacon as the vivid orange sun plunged below the Childe Okeford horizon at our backs.