Some archaeological sites are instantly striking and live long in the memory. An excavation near Andover in advance of new housing for Persimmon Homes certainly falls into this category. On stripping the topsoil, the surface of the underlying natural white chalk was exposed, and clearly visible in this were the contrasting dark backfills of the ring ditches defining a group of Bronze Age ritual monuments which dated to approximately 2200-1800 BC.
It is too easy to forget just how superstitious past populations were, but as archaeologists we are aware of the massive effort expended in the construction of monuments which outwardly appear to have been of little functional use in the day to day business of prehistoric farming societies. People obviously believed that the collective building of large circular barrows within which the remains of important people were buried was both necessary and worthwhile.
These remains speak to us of the power and influence that some people exerted over others, and the need for small social groups to demonstrate their place in the landscape –this doesn’t seem to have been a very egalitarian society. This cemetery remained an important focus until the Roman period, when large quantities of pottery were deposited in barrow ditches.
The work involved in constructing some of the barrows was considerable – in two cases, the ditches were 5m wide. The high mounds of freshly-excavated white chalk from the ditch, located on a prominent ridge, were designed to be visible in the landscape and provide a significant backdrop to the everyday lives of local communities. For me, however, the discovery that remains freshest in my mind was an incomplete circle of fifty stake-holes, arranged around a central cremation burial. These tiny features formed by pointed stakes being driven into the ground were wonderfully well- preserved in the surface of the chalk – they could almost have been made yesterday.
Read more about this fascinating site here.