Defensive enclosure, enclosed settlement and round barrow at Belle Tout, 650m south-east of Birling Gap Hotel.
Reasons for Designation
Promontory forts are a type of hillfort in which conspicuous naturally defended sites are adapted as enclosures by the construction of one or more earth or stone ramparts placed across the neck of a spur in order to divide it from the surrounding land. Coastal situations, using headlands defined by steep natural cliffs, such as that found at Belle Tout, are common.
Bowl Barrows are funerary monuments dating from the Late Neolithic period to the Late Bronze Age, with most examples belonging to the period 2400-1500 BC. They were constructed as earthen or rubble mounds, sometimes ditched, which covered single or multiple burials. They occur either in isolation or grouped as cemeteries and often acted as a focus for burials in later periods. Often occupying prominent locations, they are a major historic element in the modern landscape and their considerable variation of form and longevity as a monument type provide important information on the diversity of beliefs and social organisations amongst early prehistoric communities.
Small enclosed settlements of Bronze Age date are often located on the chalk downland of southern England. Enclosures of both sub-rectangular and curvilinear plan are known; the sites are wholly or partly surrounded by a ditch, bank or palisade, or by a combination or succession of all three. Where excavated, sites have usually been found to contain a small group of domestic buildings sufficient for a single or extended family group, although a few larger enclosures are known. In addition to pottery and worked flint, large quantities of burnt stone and metal working debris have been found in some enclosures.
Despite partial excavation and although subject to cliff erosion, the defensive enclosure, enclosed settlement and round barrow at Belle Tout survive well. It represents an area of multi-period occupation, which saw abandonment and re-occupation over a broad period of time. The small enclosed Late Neolithic or Bronze Age settlement is closely associated with the bowl barrow and provides an insight into the relationship between secular and ceremonial activity. The importance of the site is enhanced by the range of archaeological features and their associations, which provide an insight into land use and settlement in the prehistoric period.
This record was the subject of a minor enhancement on 27 November 2014. The record has been generated from an "old county number" (OCN) scheduling record. These are monuments that were not reviewed under the Monuments Protection Programme and are some of our oldest designation records.
The monument includes a defensive enclosure, enclosed settlement and a round barrow surviving as earthworks and below-ground archaeological remains at Belle Tout. It is situated on a hilltop next to a cliff edge of chalk headland between Beachy Head to the east and Birling Gap to the west. The site includes a small enclosed settlement of Late Neolithic or Bronze Age date, now represented by a L-shaped earthwork 120m by 60m, within a larger defensive enclosure, thought to be an Iron Age promontory fort. The defensive enclosure is denoted by a single bank with outer ditch, which runs from west to east, arcing to the north, for a distance of approximately 1.1km. The bank varies in height from about 1.2m to 4.6m and the ditch is up to 0.9m deep in places. It is possible that the bank and ditch could originally have been continuous round the top of the hill, having been destroyed to the south, in which case it would not be a promontory fort.
The bowl barrow is situated on the northern side of the defensive enclosure and measures 12m in diameter and 0.7m high. A slight depression is considered to be the result of an unrecorded excavation.
The defensive enclosure or Iron Age promontory fort was partially excavated in 1975, 1979-80 and 1995 although this provided little securely datable material. The small enclosed settlement of Late Neolithic or Bronze Age date is situated at the cliff edge on the south-west side of the defensive enclosure. It originally included two overlapping rectangular enclosures, but has been truncated by cliff erosion. Only the larger of these two enclosures now survives as an L-shaped earthwork denoted by a bank and internal ditch with a counterscarp surviving in places. The north and east side of this enclosure were partially excavated in 1909 and 1968-69. This revealed a sequence of successive or overlapping domestic complexes including seven occupation areas with post-holes and trenches for huts, a large number of pits and hearths. Beaker pottery and a flint-working industry were associated with the site. In 1971, a cliff fall exposed a hand-cut shaft or ritual well of Iron Age or Romano-British date near to the settlement but this has since been destroyed.