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The Trundle near Chichester, Sussex, is one of the first large monuments built in Britain

The Trundle near Chichester, Sussex, is one of the first large monuments built in Britain

Researchers have developed a new dating technique that has given the first detailed picture of the emergence of an agricultural way of life in Britain more than 5,000 years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

A new analysis of artefacts recovered from the first monuments built in Britain shows that the Neolithic period had a slow start followed by a rapid growth in trade and technology.

Scientists say the new approach can be used to unravel the detailed sequence of events of many more important moments in human prehistory.

It relies in part on radio-carbon dating – counting the amount of a radioactive type of carbon atom in decaying matter. But the methodology also incorporates many other dating sources, together with some powerful statistical analysis, to produce far more discrete timings for happenings in the past.

The Neolithic period in Britain occurred between 4000 and 2000BC.

It was when people took up agriculture as a way of life and stopped being nomadic hunter-gatherers.

It also saw the emergence of trade across the British Isles and the development of new technologies. But until now, we have had only a rather coarse picture of the chronology of events during this eventful period in our history.

The new analysis by Dr Alex Bayliss, an English Heritage dating expert, has brought the occurrences of that time into sharper focus.

“We can start to tell a bigger story and write a history for the prehistory of Neolithic Britain,” she told BBC News.

“What we thought before was very imprecise. We simply knew that all sorts of different sites and all sorts of new kinds of practices started to happen sometime in the 500 or 600 years of the early Neolithic in Britain.

“We’ve actually now been able to give a timetable, or story of what happened when, to disentangle these things so that we can start to see why certain things may have followed others.”

According to Dr Bayliss’s analysis, Neolithic farming practices began in south-east England probably a few decades before 4,000BC. But then they spread very, very slowly, taking about two centuries to reach western parts of England. And then, she says, there was a sudden increase in activity.

“Monuments, cattle, sheep, the whole farming way of life, bursts across Britain and suddenly – having taken 200 years from getting from Kent to Gloucestershire – it then takes 50 years to get from Cheltenham to Aberdeen.”

The new dating also indicates that by 3700-3800BC, early Britons had developed pottery with regional styles of decorations. Long-distance trading networks were also being established in stone axes and certain other types of pottery

Windmill Hill, a large Neolithic causewayed enclosure in Avebury, was previously thought to have been built around 3700-3100 BC. The new dating shows it was built in 3700-3640 BC
Windmill Hill, a large Neolithic causewayed enclosure in Avebury, was previously thought to have been built around 3700-3100 BC. The new dating shows it was built in 3700-3640 BC

Of particular interest are the first monuments that were built in Britain, called causewayed enclosures. These were made up of concentric rings of ditches and banks – the largest of which can span 300m (1,000ft).

It had been thought that they spread slowly across the country over five centuries. But the new dating approach suggests they spread rapidly within 75 years.

This revelation has been described by archaeologists working on the project as Britain’s first “building boom”.

Professor Alistair Whittle of Cardiff University said: “With more accurate dating, the Neolithic period is no longer the sleepy, hazy swathe of time where it is the default position to lump everything together.

“This research fundamentally challenges the notion that little happened among our Stone Age farmers. We can now think about the Neolithic period in terms of more rapid changes, constant movement of people and fast diffusion of ideas.”

Collective violence

One interpretation of these events is that once the initial “pioneer” phase of the Neolithic period was over, independent groups of people came over from the continent and set up villages across Britain and social structures began to form.

These social structures led to the construction of the enclosures for people to gather and possibly for chieftains to emerge and amass power.

The new dating suggests that there was more collective violence once the enclosures were built. Several of them, particularly in western Britain, were attacked by large numbers of people with showers of arrows, and enclosures’ ramparts were burned down.

This indicates that the enclosures created a hierarchy that was being contested in some way.

The new dating technique involves comparing carbon dates with other markers in the archaeological record. On its own carbon dating is imprecise, but when it is cross-reference with documented events it allows researchers to more accurately date artefacts.

Researchers say this new methodology could in principle be used shed further light on any significant event in our prehistory, such as the emergence of farming in China and the collapse of the Mayan civilisation in the Americas.

 

A reconstruction of the Whitehawk causewayed enclosure in the South Downs, Sussex
A reconstruction of the Whitehawk causewayed enclosure in the South Downs, Sussex

Why not visit Windmill Hill and nearby Avebury and learn more about Neolithic Britain?

Stonehenge and Avebury stone Circle Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours of Ancient Wiltshire

 
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Chalk from Hampshire is used to re-chalk the ancient Wiltshire hill figure

Chalk from Hampshire is used to re-chalk the ancient Wiltshire hill figure

A restoration group is appealing for volunteers to help re-chalk one of Wiltshire’s oldest hill figures.

The Cherhill White horse, cut into the Marlborough Downs, is owned and maintained by the village of Cherhill.

The 232-year-old hill figure underwent a major facelift in 2002 after losing both its whiteness and its horse shape.

Since then the 18th Century landmark, the second oldest in the county, has required a “re-chalking” every two years.

“It had been continuously scraped to reveal fresh chalk but that left a three foot cliff at the top of the horse,” said the restoration group’s chairman, Rob Pickford.

“Now we top it up with extra chalk to level it with the surrounding ground.”

Yellow horse

The horse, one of nine such monuments in the county, requires up to 10 tonnes of chalk to restore it to its former splendour.

The chalk, funded by donations from visitors to the Downs, is being “brought in” after the last chalk quarry in the county at Mere closed down.

“The first top dressing we did we got the chalk from Somerset,” said Mr Pickford. “It was very yellow with bits of grey flint in it so we ended up with a yellow horse with grey spots. This year we’re getting it from a quarry in Hampshire.”

Natural erosion from the weather is normally responsible for the discolouring of the ancient monument.

However, this year’s unusually dry and sunny conditions have “bleached the chalk”.

“It’s looking quite white at the moment but in February it was looking particularly grey,” said Mr Pickford.

“And some of the boards used to hold the chalk in place have become exposed, so it does need top dressing.”

The re-chalking is due to take place on Saturday 14 May and is expected to take up to six hours.

Volunteers are being asked to meet at the Black Horse car park at 9:30 am “armed with spades.”  I am taking the kids and a picnic – see you there ?

Wiltshire’s White Horses

The Wiltshire Countryside is famous for its white horse chalk hill figures. It is thought that there have been 13 white horses in existence in Wiltshire, but only 8 are still visible today.

The oldest, largest and perhaps the most well known white horse is carved into the chalk hillside across the border in Oxfordshire. Little is known of the history of the Uffington White Horse, but it is believed to have influenced the cutting of the subsequent Wiltshire horses.

The first of the Wiltshire white horses to appear was at Westbury in 878AD, although this figure is no longer visible as a new horse was cut on top in 1778. The most recent horse was cut on the hill above Devizes to celebrate the Millennium.
Links:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-13294489

http://www.wiltshirewhitehorses.org.uk/
http://www.StonehengeTours.com
http://www.visitwiltshire.co.uk/site/things-to-do/attractions/history-and-heritage/white-horses
We continue to offer private guided tours of Wiltshire that include ‘Chalk Hill Figures’

Wiltshite Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours of Ancient Wiltshire

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Start: Avebury |Finish: Old Sarum
Distance: Approximately 42 miles

Wiltshire is a county of history and mystery set in a dramatic landscape. The combination of heritage and scenery provides a truly memorable day out. So come with us on a journey through the countryside and across the ages as we go back to the time of our prehistoric ancestors. Hundreds of thousands of years may have passed but all over the county there’s evidence of human activity from the end of the Ice Age through the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages right up to the invasion of the Romans in AD43.

Click here for audio / visual tour

This driving tour will take you through the heart of Wiltshire. En route you’ll discover more about how our enigmatic and mysterious ancestors lived, worked, fought and died.

This tour can be undertaken in a variety of ways; as a day-long journey, in short sections or you can use the information as a guide to individual visits.

You might also consider embarking on the tour using public transport but keeping up to date with bus service and timetable changes will require plenty of preparation.

Before you set off make sure that you’re properly equipped. Nothing beats a really good Ordnance Survey map, marked with contours and ancient monuments. A compass and a torch would also be useful. Some of these historical gems are in fields and away from roads or footpaths, so good walking boots are a must. Some sites have few or no facilities and it’s also worth noting that mobile phone coverage can’t be guaranteed in parts of rural Wiltshire. For news of road works or route closures, check BBC Local Radio and bbc.co.uk/travelnews

This guide has been produced with the generous assistance of Phil Harding, Wessex Archaeology, English Heritage, Wiltshire Council Archaeology Service, Bob Clarke, Martin Kellett, David Dawson and the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes.

Stonehenge and Avebury Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Wiltshire

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When we thing of chalk hill figures in Wiltshire we all immediatly think of ‘chalk horses’, however Britain has many other chalk hill figures scattered across the British Isles – some new, some old.
Just west of Salisbury and close to Stonehenge is the Fovant Badges:

The Fovant Badges, Wiltshire
The Fovant Badges, Wiltshire

History of the Fovant Badges
When the 1914-1918 war broke out, there was a need to find accommodation for the New Army. In many areas, training and transit camps were established for troops leaving for, and returning from, the battlefields in northern France. One of these areas was the village of Fovant, in Wiltshire and its neighbours Compton Chamberlayne and Sutton Mandeville. The villages and the fields in the shadow of the chalk downs became a military camp, complete with barracks, a hospital, parade areas, shooting practice ranges, a camp cinema and YMCA huts. A military railway was constructed to serve the camp, branching off the main line railway from London to the southwest

Thousands of men from all parts of Britain and overseas lived for a while in the area, passed on to the Western Front and returned from it. Many never returned but gave their lives on the battlefields in France. Others died of their wounds in the hospital or from disease. Rows of silent War Graves in Fovant and other nearby churchyards are testimony to their presence. In remembrance of their colleagues, many of the regiments carved into the hillside replicas of their cap badges. Many of these no longer survive, but by the end of WW1 there were some twenty discernible badges.

Local workers from Fovant and the surrounding villages, supported by Regimental Associations maintained the Badges after WWI. During WWII, the badges became overgrown in order to disguise landmarks, which might assist enemy aircraft. Weather and time, as well as the effects of grazing cattle, caused decay. After the end of WWII, the Fovant Home Guard platoons formed themselves into an Old Comrades Association and undertook the task of restoration. It was in the period of 1948/51 that the two Wiltshire regimental badges were cut and in 1970 the Royal Signals badge was added.

In 1961, the Old Comrades Association was reformed as ‘The Fovant Badges Society’ with redefined, more positive objectives related to the maintenance and preservation of the Badges and the holding of the annual Drumhead Service. The Society became a charitable organisation and in 1994 adopted a new constitution, which governs its operation and objectives; these are the preservation and maintenance of the Regimental Crests cut on the chalk downs.

The Society was determined, aided by much public and international interest, that the Badges should remain an historic, fitting and truly visible memorial to the soldiers who passed through Fovant and its neighbouring villages on their way to the Great War, many never to return.

 

By 2000, there were only twelve discernable badges on the downs. A new management structure was put in place and, in consultation with professional civil engineers, a survey of the condition of the badges was made. It appeared that the Fovant Badges were unique in their detail and posed difficult restoration problems relating to the slope of the hill, the complexity of design, and their sizes. These vary; the Australian Badge, the largest, measures 51m x 32m, which is just under half the area of a football pitch.

The Trustees, faced with a potential bill of £350,000 upwards for restoration and large annual sums for increased maintenance thereafter, realised that the task facing them had to be brought to realistic proportions. They decided, with much sadness, that the objective should be the restoration and maintenance of the military crests on Fovant Down. These are clearly visible from a lay-by in Fovant whilst passing along the A30 road between Shaftesbury and Wilton. There is also a public footpath from the road to the village of Broad Chalke, which passes by the area of the Badges. This inevitably meant that the Map of Australia on Compton Down and the crests of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and the 7th Battalion, City of London Regiment on Sutton Down would continue their decline. These badges would, in addition, have posed intractable problems because of the nature of the ground and their more advanced state of decay. Also, the YMCA badge on Fovant Down would be allowed to fade away.

Since the badges lay on open private farmland, with the movement of cattle unrestricted, it was clearly essential that large expenditure had to be used with good effect. A crucial first step was, therefore, to ensure the long lasting protection of the Badges. In co-operation with the farm owners, application was made to English Heritage to have the Badges scheduled as Ancient Monuments. Scheduling was granted in 2001 by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport placing all twelve badges, including those not being restored, under the protection of the government.

The estimated cost of the more limited objective was £220,000 and a national appeal was formally launched at the annual Drumhead Service in July 2001. The response to this was very positive and sufficient sums were assured by the end of 2001 to allow work to commence in 2002. Work experience by contractors, Dean and Dyball Construction Ltd, Ringwood, and favourable weather in 2002 allowed more work than anticipated to be done. This led to five badges being restored in 2002 and the remaining three (including the Royal Signals Badge who undertake their own maintenance and restoration) were completed in 2003.

The appeal has been successful. We are enormously grateful to our many benefactors – too large to name them all – but special mention must be made of the significant support given by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Daily Mail And General Trust, the Pilgrim Trust, the Clothworkers’ Foundation, the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Salisbury District Council. And also to the very many private donations from throughout the country.

The Badges were originally constructed by cutting outlines into the rough tussocks of grass down to the underlying soil using such tools as were available in 1916. Chalk from external sources was then hauled manually from chalk dumps and used to fill in the areas exposed.

SLOPE PROBLEMS
profile before restoration – section through large chalk areas

Restoration problems involved work being carried out on a hillside that sloped at about 30 degrees and where a combination of grass, chalk and rain makes for a hazardous working environment. All chalk hills suffer from surface soil movement or ‘creep’. This causes ridges to develop above and below the horizontal chalk outlines and distorts the view of the badges from the A30 road. These so-called ‘eyebrows’ had to be removed.

Existing chalk on the Badges was removed to a depth of 150mm, stabilising the slope where necessary using geotextile materials together with one metre long metal rods, and replacing the excavated areas with compacted new chalk. On a large badge this required handling about 50 tonnes of chalk out of and into the site. As each badge is restored it is fenced to prevent cattle damage which had occurred in previous years.

The restoration of the eight military crests on Fovant Down was completed by the end of June 2003.However that is not the end of the story. The annual cost of maintenance is above the current, and projected future, income level of the Society. If we cannot achieve the necessary level of funding to carry out effective annual maintenance work then the long-term existence of these memorials as visible emblems on the Downs must be in doubt.

External links:
WW1 military badges – Fovant Badges Society
http://googlesightseeing.com/2009/08/the-fovant-badges/
The Stonehenge Tour Company
The Fovant Regimental Badges in Wiltshire England UK

Fovant Badges – Fovant History
Wiltshire Heritage Museum Home Page
Related post Chalk Hill Figures – :
Needless to say we offer guided tours of all the chalk hill figures in Wessex (some dating back to 3000BC) and can include other tourist attractions including Salisbury, Stonehenge, Bath, Avebury and Dorset

Wessex Tour Guide
HisTOURies UK – The Best Tours in Wiltshire and Dorset

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