Archaeology SW Day 2014: Hambledon Sunset

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.

The tithe barn at Court Place Farm beside the new NT office at Tisbury.

The tithe barn at Court Place Farm beside the new NT 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.

The view of Hambledon from the Childe Okeford road. It looks a bit like a great green whale.

The view of Hambledon from the Childe Okeford road. It looks a bit like a great green whale.

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.

Friday's sunset through the SW gateway into Hambledon Hill. The photo is taken from a large oval terrace cut into the slope of the hill. This was the site of a significant round house in the Iron Age.  This thatched timber framed building would have been the most prominent structure if you were to enter the hillfort over 2000 years ago. The entrance track splits in two in front of the building. The way forward either NW or SE of it. You would have entered the fortified settlement through double-leaved timber gates. Now the gateway is a grassy gap between banks as shown in the picture.

Friday’s sunset through the SW gateway into Hambledon Hill. The photo is taken from a large oval terrace cut into the slope of the hill. This was the site of a significant round house in the Iron Age. This thatched timber framed building would have been the most prominent structure if you were to enter the hillfort over 2000 years ago. The entrance track splits in two in front of the building. The way forward either NW or SE of it. You would have entered the fortified settlement through double-leaved timber gates. Now the gateway is a grassy gap between banks as shown in the picture.

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.

The view south from the southern rampart across the hillfort interior. Middle top left is the SE entrance. It is thought that it was here that a charge by Cromwell's cavalry was driven back by musket fire from the Dorset Clubmen who had occupied the hillfort in 1645. Top left is the central dome of the hill which is the site of the causewayed enclosure dated c.3600 BC.

The view south from the southern rampart across the hillfort interior. Middle top left is the SE entrance. It is thought that it was here that a charge by Cromwell’s cavalry was driven back by musket fire from the Dorset Clubmen who had occupied the hillfort in 1645. Top left is the central dome of the hill which is the site of the causewayed enclosure dated c.3600 BC.

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.

A plan of Hambledon. The top northern part of the hill probably contains the earliest part of the hillfort. The remains of its southern limit can be seen as a cross-rampart just north of the narrow neck of the hillfort. Later, this neck was included within the defences and a second east-west rampart was constructed on its south side. This new area included the long barrow aligned north to south on the summit of the neck. It is thought that the southern part of the hillfort with its SW and SE entrances was the last part of the hillfort to be enclosed.

A plan of Hambledon. The top northern part of the hill probably contains the earliest part of the hillfort. The remains of its southern limit can be seen as a cross-rampart just north of the narrow neck of the hillfort. Later, this neck was included within the defences and a second east-west rampart was constructed on its south side. This new area included the long barrow aligned north to south on the summit of the neck. It is thought that the southern part of the hillfort with its SW and SE entrances was the last part of the hillfort to be enclosed.

“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.

Steep climb to the wow!

It’s easy to take for granted the archaeology in the landscapes we work in, those special sites we can visit when ever we need to replenish our souls. All the archaeologists in the National Trust are spread across all the different places and landscapes in the Trusts holdings, each with a range of sites and wow’s.

Hambledon Hill

Hambledon Hill

We try to all meet up a few times a year to discuss common issues and share new discoveries and ways of working. The last gathering was down in Dorset here in the south-west, and we managed to do a whole day in the field, working on site management issues. The ‘fields’ we choose were  the adjacent hill forts of Hambledon and Hod. Two of the 7 and a half  hill forts we look after in Dorset. The climb up and down and up and down again was helped by a stop mid way for tea and biscuits provided by the Rangers who manage the sites and had joined us for the day.

A welcome break thanks to our wonderful rangers

A welcome break thanks to our wonderful rangers

As we reached the top of Hod Hill we got our first glimpse of the size of the ramparts and scale of the area inside them. Hod Hill even has room for a Roman fort in one corner!

Standing on top of one of the ramparts at Hod Hill

Standing on top of one of the ramparts at Hod Hill

Group exercise  on Hod Hill

Group exercise on Hod Hill

With colleagues from areas of the country that don’t have many hill forts or any at all,  commenting on how lucky we were in Dorset to have such magnificent monuments in our landscapes, I saw these sites with fresh eyes.

Stood on Hambledon Hill with Hod Hill in the background across the valley

Stood on Hambledon Hill with Hod Hill in the background across the valley

On the next sunny winters day do it, make the climb to the wow. Once on top of these hill forts you feel like a giant and you can touch the sky.

The snaking lines of ramparts, a giant sculpture from the Iron Age

The snaking lines of ramparts, a giant sculpture from the Iron Age

Dorset jewel adds to the National Trust’s hillfort crown

National Trust Press Office

The spectacular Hambledon Hill, one of the finest Iron Age hillforts in Dorset, has been acquired by the National Trust.

Hambledon Hill in West Dorset is a site rich in human and natural history. Credit: National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott Hambledon Hill in West Dorset is a site rich in human and natural history. Credit: National Trust Images/Ross Hoddinott

Built over 2,000 years ago, the massive earthwork defences overlie one of the most significant early Neolithic landscapes in Western Europe, dating back almost 6,000 years, and is a place that half of British butterfly species call home.

Standing at almost twice the height of the White Cliffs of Dover and taller than the Gherkin in London Hambledon Hill occupies an area of land the size of 50 football pitches. From the summit of the hillfort you can see across three counties – Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire – and get a real sense of its prehistoric strategic importance.

Jerry Broadway, a National Trust volunteer working on Hambledon Hill, said: “When I…

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