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Womaston Neolithic Enclosure


Introduction

air photo

Aerial photograph taken in 2006 showing the enclosure as a cropmark in ripening cereals.
© Crown RCAHMW photo 2006-2198

The recent discovery of an important early Neolithic 'causewayed' enclosure led CPAT to conduct a programme of geophysical survey and trial excavation during the summer of 2008, with funding provided by Cadw.

The enclosure, which is near Womaston in the Walton Basin, first came to light as a result of aerial reconnaissance by Chris Musson in 2006. Photography taken in July of that year clearly showed a circuit of two roughly concentric interrupted ditches, visible as cropmarks in a field of ripening cereal. Although the enclosure itself was previously unrecorded, a number of flint artefacts have been recovered from the general area.

The Walton Basin has long been recognised as an area of considerable significance with regard to the concentration and variety of prehistoric monuments. The earliest evidence of activity is provided by Mesolithic flint scatters, which are recorded at some 16 locations in the area, mostly along a low ridge. A similar distribution is presented by flints from the Neolithic period, a time when we see the construction of the first, and most spectacular monuments, the earliest of which is likely to have been the 'causewayed' enclosure, perhaps dating to around 3500 BC.

geophysics

Left: Geophysical survey results and cropmark evidence.

Although the 'causewayed' enclosure may be the first significant monument to be built in the area, the most impressive monument in the Walton Basin would have been the very large palisaded enclosure at Hindwell, which is only 400m further west. Defined by closely set posts, the palisade enclosed an area of around 34ha, having used some 1400 mature oak trees in its construction, which has been dated to around 2700 BC. To date, this is the largest Neolithic enclosure in Britain. A similar, although smaller site, lies further to the south, near Walton, which is possibly associated with an avenue of pits. The other major Neolithic monument in this area is the Walton Cursus, which lies to the south-east of Hindwell. The cursus is 660m long and 60m wide, with square terminals at either end.

Bronze Age activity in the area is represented by monuments on a much smaller scale, and largely comprises numerous round barrows, or their ploughed-down remains as ring ditches. A number of barrows appear to have been deliberately placed along the sky-line on the north-western rim of the basin. There is also a single stone circle, the aptly named ‘Four Stones’, as well as several standing stones.

The recently discovered Womaston enclosure can therefore be seen as part of a much wider prehistoric landscape.

Survey and excavation 2008

Ditch terminal: &copyCPAT photo 2627-126

Right: Excavating the terminal on the inner ditch circuit. © CPAT photo 2627-126

As part of the present project a magnetometer survey was carried out in two pasture fields during May 2008 in an attempt to identify the remainder of the enclosure which had not been apparent from cropmarks. Unfortunately, the survey results were not as clear as had been hoped in the western field, although sufficient information was recovered to confirm the line of the ditches. In the north-eastern field, however, the survey was more successful, identifying both circuits of interrupted ditches, as well as other features, such as later field boundaries.

Following on from the geophysics a single trench was excavated, which was positioned to include both ditches and an area of the interior, together with a small extension to investigate one of the ditch terminals.

A machine was used to remove the topsoil, which proved to be very shallow, immediately revealing the position of the two ditches, which had been cut into the underlying gravel. The ditch sections were carefully excavated over a period of more than three weeks, eventually revealing two impressive features: the inner ditch measured around 2.5m wide and up to 1.7m deep, while the outer was around 2.8m wide and 1.5m deep. Both ditches had evidence for later, shallow recuts, and Early Neolithic pottery was recovered from the upper fills.

Enclosure ditches. © CPAT photo 2627-103

Left: The enclosure ditches. © CPAT photo 2627-103

The analysis of soil samples from a number of key contexts has provided a series of radiocarbon dates. Charcoal from the base of the inner ditch produced a date of 3658-3384 cal. BC, while the later recut of the ditch gave a date of 3625-3360 cal. BC. Unfortunately, there was no dateable material from the lower fills of the outer ditch, although charcoal from a later feature cut into the top of the ditch have been dated at 3621-3342 cal. BC. Taken as a group this suggests a fairly intensive period of activity between around 3650 and 3350 BC, during which time both ditches were excavated, infilled and, in the case of the inner ditch, recut. This confirms the Neolithic origins of the site, although evidence from a small pit in the interior indicates a possible period of reuse during the Iron Age. The fill contained a number of weed seeds and poorly preserved cereal grains, as well as hazel charcoal which produced a date of 750-390 cal. BC.

The full results from the excavation will be published in Archaeologia Cambrensis


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