Monday, 16 January 2012

The Neolithic in Dorset

Sunday was the second session on Dorset Archaeology in Bridport. We looked at the various monuments, sites and artefacts in the county and pondered what they were used for.

The earliest monuments are the causeway enclosures, henges, bank barrows and long barrows, along with the very mysterious cursus monuments.

Bank barrows I have posted about previously and the similar long burial mounds. Both are related to the Earth Mother; the former is the EM in the landscape and the latter is the place where the dead and the ancestors reside, within her body.

CE examples
Causwayed enclosures are the earliest monuments we have from the Neolithic, the era of farming, pottery and monuments. These enclosures are made up of one or more roughly circular arrangements of elongated pits situated on high ground. Due to the gaps they were not defensible and various theories of use relate to trade, meetings, ritual, burial and simply enclosures for animals, with no evidence for houses or domestic refuse. High status finds indicate a place of importance to the community with only a few human burials located, mostly in ditches, with animal bones too, especially ox skulls. Massive timber palisades indicate control of high numbers of animals and humans and set close together, restricting the view into the interior of the monument.

Henges and cursus monuments are being associated with each other in the latest theory of use. Dorset has the longest cursus in the UK (10.2kl), this type of prehistoric feature being unique to the British Isles.

Stonehenge ritual landscape (Francis Pryor 'Britain BC')
In this theory prehistoric people divided up the landscape into the realm of the living and the realm of the dead, or the ancestors. The connection was through a journey, in the case of Stonehenge along the river Avon, travelling from the monument of Durrington Walls, along the river, landing at the Stonehenge Avenue of parallel ditches, until they arrived at the henge for their rituals. Then using the cursus to process into the land of the dead itself. Avebury in Wiltshire also has a similar landscape and the new finds on Orkney, at the Ness of Brodgar, show that the stone circles facing each other across the isthmus are connected by the discovery of a massive temple complex, set in between them on the narrow land bridge. The temple would have acted in a similar fashion to Stonehenge, as the place of transition. All very fascinating, but just one more theory among many postulated over the last 100 years and more.               

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