A complex of Iron Age and Romano-British settlement on Berwick Down centred 700m south east of Ashcombe Farm

Overview

Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1020964

Date first listed: 18-May-1951

Date of most recent amendment: 11-Aug-2003

Map

Ordnance survey map of A complex of Iron Age and Romano-British settlement on Berwick Down centred 700m south east of Ashcombe Farm
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Location

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Berwick St. John

District: Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Tollard Royal

National Grid Reference: ST 93853 20252, ST 94048 19627, ST 94118 19375

Summary

Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

Cranborne Chase is an area of chalkland well known for its high number, density and diversity of archaeological remains. These include a rare combination of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age sites, comprising one of the largest concentrations of burial monuments in England, the largest known cursus (a linear ritual monument) and a significant number and range of henge monuments (Late Neolithic ceremonial centres). Other important remains include a variety of enclosures, settlements, field systems and linear boundaries which date throughout prehistory and into the Romano-British and medieval periods. This high level of survival of archaeological remains is due largely to the later history of the Chase. Cranborne Chase formed a Royal Hunting Ground from at least Norman times, and much of the archaeological survival within the area resulted from associated laws controlling land-use which applied until 1830. The unique archaeological character of the Chase has attracted much attention over the years, notably during the later 19th century, by the pioneering work on the Chase of General Pitt-Rivers, Sir Richard Colt Hoare and Edward Cunnington, often regarded as the fathers of British archaeology. Archaeological investigations have continued throughout the 20th century and to the present day. Later Iron Age and Romano-British occupation occurred widely across Cranborne Chase and included a range of settlement types. The surviving remains comprise farmsteads, hamlets, villages and hillforts, which together demonstrate an important sequence of settlement. The non-defensive enclosed farm or homestead represents the smallest and most simple of these types. There are over 50 recorded examples within the area which are thought to date to this later Iron Age and Romano-British period. Most early examples are characterised by a curvilinear enclosure with round buildings, although these are sometimes superseded by rectilinear or triangular shaped enclosures with rectilinear buildings. On Cranborne Chase, many examples were occupied over an extended period and some grew in size and complexity.

Prior to this, by the end of the Bronze Age and into the Iron Age, settlements in Cranborne Chase were wholly or partially contained within ditched enclosures of varying form and size. Open settlements are not clearly visible from the air and very few sites are known. Cross dykes are features which are well-known in Wessex and a good number survive well on Cranborne Chase. Their construction spans the millennium from the Middle Bronze Age, although they may have been reused later. They were probably used as territorial boundary markers, demarcating land allotment within communities. Barrows are especially representative of the Bronze Age period and are a characteristic feature in the landscape of Cranborne Chase. The complex of settlement at Berwick Down provides a largely well-preserved and undisturbed sequence of occupation from the Bronze Age to the Romano-British period, in which, unusually, the focus of settlement appears to have shifted and developed in character with each phase of occupation. The visible earthworks include a rare survival of an open settlement, probably dating to the earlier Iron Age, which is unusual in the settlement pattern of Cranborne Chase at this period. The full excavation of the later Iron Age settlement has provided information which enhances our knowledge of this class of settlement type and its place in the development of this site. The cross dykes provide an unusual clustering and a rare association with settlement features. All the sites demonstrate a significant sequence of development throughout the later prehistoric and Romano-British periods and contain archaeological deposits offering an understanding of the economic and social activities as well as the contemporary environment within the area during the period of occupation.

History

Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Details

The monument lies in three separate areas of protection. It includes a Late Iron Age farmstead in a kite-shaped enclosure, a circular enclosure overlain by Romano-British house platforms and a road, a settlement of unenclosed pits and at least one round house, three cross dykes, and a Bronze Age bowl barrow, located on a promontory in an area of about 14ha. Most of the earthworks were surveyed by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments for England in 1965, the two northern cross dykes being recorded by the Ordnance Survey in 1974. H S Thomas made a plan of the earthworks of the Iron Age farmstead in 1913 for Heywood Sumner. A trial excavation of this site was carried out by Greenfield in 1962 and was followed by full excavation by Wainwright in 1965; both were carried out for the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works. The Iron Age farmstead lies at the southern end of the monument within a kite-shaped enclosure, about 0.4ha in size, defined by a ditch and an internal bank with an entrance, 6.7m wide, in the south western corner. The excavation exposed a V-shaped ditch with an average width of 1.83m and depth of 0.76m. The bank, recorded by Toms in 1913 as being only 0.3m high, was no longer visible in 1965 and the excavators concluded that it had never been very substantial. The enclosure contained one round house, 8.23m in diameter, 34 storage pits and three or four granaries, as well as a large open area which may have been used to keep stock. The crouched burial of an adult male, wearing a shale bracelet, was found in a shallow oval pit close to the outer north western edge of the enclosure. An arc of bank and ditch surrounds the enclosure on the southern, downhill, side at a distance of about 46m. On the southern side the ditch overlies an earlier lynchet of a field system where it was V-shaped in profile, 2.29m wide and 1.07m deep, with a drainage channel at the bottom. On the western side it was found to be shallow and rounded in profile, 0.5m deep and 1.42m wide with the suggestion of an inner bank about 6.26m wide, much reduced in height by ploughing at the time of excavation. The pottery, bronze and iron objects found at the site suggest a short-lived occupation in the first half of the first century AD, predating the Roman conquest. A circular pit lying near the western edge of the outer enclosure ditch, previously recorded as having a bank on its southern side, is possibly a quarry of relatively recent origin. The site has been reduced in height by ploughing and is now visible only on aerial photographs. About 100m to the north west a circular enclosure, about 0.94ha in size, is visible as an earthwork with banks up to 0.5m high. The enclosure ditch is about 1.5m wide, and on the western side there is a bank on both sides of it. This site is unexcavated but surface finds suggest that it was abandoned in the Romano-British period as a contemporary road bisects it and the eastern side was overlain by rectangular platforms of Romano-British form. About 80m to the north is a concentration of pits, covering an area of about 1ha, visible as nettle-filled depressions, up to 3m in diameter and 0.3m deep, with two possible round houses, defined by penannular gullies. The site is divided into three parts by slight banks and ditches, running east-west, and the eastern edge is defined by a scarp, up to 0.4m high, which gradually fades to the north into a small field plot. The western extent of the site cannot now be clearly defined because the earthworks have been reduced in height by years of ploughing. The site is unexcavated, but towards the northern edge the earthworks appear to be cut by a cross dyke, and this might suggest a date in the earlier part of Iron Age. To the north of this settlement two cross dykes, 260m apart, are visible. The northern one has a bank, 7m wide and 1m high, with a ditch, 7m wide and 1m deep, on its northern side, extending for about 128m across the ridge, and continuing westwards as a ditch a further 74m to the bottom of the combe. Towards the eastern end the dyke has been truncated and disturbed by later trackways, including the modern by-way, where it curves slightly to the south, ending at the top of the combe. The southerly cross dyke, cutting through settlement features, is visible as a bank, 7m wide and 1m high, with a ditch on its southern side, 5m wide and about 0.75m deep, extending for about 170m across the ridge. A third cross dyke lies in a separate area of protection about 650m to the south. It is visible extending part way across the ridge for 150m, ending in the east near the top of a steep combe. The dyke has a bank, now visible as a lynchet, up to 0.9m high from the south, and about 8m wide, with a possible ditch on the downhill, southern, side visible as a slight depression in places, up to 5m wide. A Bronze Age bowl barrow lies near the southern edge of the outer ditch of the kite-shaped enclosure. It has been reduced in height by ploughing and is now only visible on aerial photographs but, when recorded by the Ordnance Survey in 1954, it had a mound 11.5m in diameter and 1m high, surrounded by a quarry ditch, about 2m wide, from which material was quarried for its construction, and possibly an outer bank. It lay within a field system, extending across the southern part of the promontory. This has been levelled by ploughing and is also only visible on aerial photographs. Two rectangular depressions with banks on their southern edges, visible as slight earthworks and clearly visible on aerial photographs, lie in the south western corner of the monument and are probably relatively recent chalk quarries. The northern one, roughly 45m square, truncates the outer earthwork surrounding the kite-shaped enclosure and both have been degraded by ploughing over the years. All fence and gate posts, water troughs and telegraph poles are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

Legacy

The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 35382

Legacy System: RSM

Sources

Books and journals
Sumner, H, The Ancient Earthworks of Cranborne Chase, (1913), 44
Wainwright, G J, 'Proceedings of the Prehsitoric Society' in The Excavation Of A Durotrigian Farmstead, (1968), 102-147
Wainwright, G J, 'Proceedings of the Prehsitoric Society' in The Excavation Of A Durotrigian Farmstead, (1968), 102-147

End of official listing