Hambledon Hill, Dorset, England – Excavation and Survey of a Neolithic Monument Complex

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It is astonishing to think that this two-volume report, the definitive account of Roger Mercer’s excavations at Hambledon Hill between 1974 and 1986, has only just been published when the results of those excavations have in fact influenced the thinking of every archaeologist who has ever worked on a Neolithic causewayed enclosure over the last 30 years. That is partly because this isn’t Roger Mercer’s first account.

Many of us possess his 1980 book, Hambledon Hill: a Neolithic landscape, or the English Heritage monograph The Creation of Monuments (Oswald, Dyer and Barber, 2001), a study of some 69 Neolithic causewayed enclosures all over the British Isles. In fact, we have actually seen Hambledon Hill change status over this period of time from being the archetype of a Neolithic enclosure to being a spectacular example of a site type that exhibits such enormous variety as almost to defy categorisation: the post-processual mind is at work in the author’s conclusion that the assumptions that we might have been tempted to make 30 years ago about classification and order in relation to these enclosures now ‘offer only illusory security to the scholar’.

If Hambledon Hill was excavated in one archaeological era and published in another, what it has gained in the interim is a chronology far more refined than would have been thought possible in the 1970s. Thanks to Bayesian analysis of the 158 carbon dates from the excavation, the authors are able to propose pinpoint dates for the initial construction (3690—3640 BC) and various augmentation and reconstruction phases, and a 310 to 370 year duration for the floruit, or main use, of the site. That chronology is so new, and as yet has so little context to fit into in the form of comparably precise dates for other monuments of the 4th millennium, that it isn’t possible yet to appreciate the full significance.

As Roger Mercer concludes, the future lies not with the detailed study of single monuments, but with exploring the inter-relationships between monuments within the wider landscape.


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