This paper explores and challenges some of the long standing and fundamental assumptions about the nature of the chalk downland that Neolithic communities observed and occupied. It will consider the ubiquity and composition of climax woodland and of the brown forest soils associated with it. But we explore the significance differences this made to the occupation and use of the chalklands, the nature, diversity and pattern of prehistoric activity of the familiar and well-studied chalkland that we believe are so well understood.
How much of the pattern of settlement and monument building was defined by human choice and landscape configuration, and how much was predetermined by variations in the natural ecology? This paper will demonstrate the importance of detailed palaeo-environmental studies to our fundamental understanding of the human ecology of prehistoric communities and their actions and activities.
The PRoSWeB project was set up to investigate the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic archaeology (c. 700,000–40,000 years ago) of the south-west region, particularly the stone artifacts associated with the Ice Age (Pleistocene) sands and gravels of the rivers to the west of the Devon/Dorset border, such as the Axe, the Otter, and the Exe. The project’s fieldwork investigations have generated new information about the south-west region’s rivers, including their development during the Pleistocene and the ages of their deposits, and the ages of the stone artefact archaeology associated with them. Apart from producing the first chronology for rivers south west of the Axe Valley the project has demonstrated shown how much wider floodplains were formed by more powerful palaeo-rivers during the Pleistocene predominantly in response to climate change. It is upon, and around, these floodplains, or most commonly braid plains, that Lower and Middle Palaeolithic hominins moved and acted. The vastly different topographies and resources of these environments have yet to be fully appreciated. This paper presents new thinking on the implications of new models of terrace formation on archaeology and particularly the ecology of hominins.
During 2005 a team of archaeologists from Cambridgeshire County Council’s CAM ARC (formerly Archaeological Field Unit) undertook an investigation at an Iron Age and Roman site lying on heavy clay soils at St Neots, near the western boundary of Cambridgeshire within an area of 60 ha, over half of which was stripped during the course of the excavation.
The Love’s Farm project will permit a detailed archaeological examination of the later prehistoric and Roman agricultural landscape on a previously unprecedented scale within Cambridgeshire. Investigations revealed evidence for the exploitation of the landscape in early prehistory and the origins and development of an agricultural community from the colonisation of the claylands in the later Iron Age through to the end of the Roman period and beyond.
The surrounding landscape was previously thought to owe its current appearance to post-enclosure agricultural practice. As a result of excavation it is now possible to trace many boundaries within the site back at least to the time of Cunobelin. A regular pattern of similar extant boundaries has also been identified within the surrounding landscape and appears to extend over several parishes.
Evidence for monuments, gravel extraction, road building and boundary maintenance was unearthed, with the potential to enhance current understanding of social organisation and the evolution of the countryside.
This paper will seek to raise awareness of this major development-led fieldwork project, illustrate the unique character of the site, speculate on the significance of some of the findings and demonstrate how the results of this work have changed current understanding of the evolution of Cambridgeshire’s western claylands.
A crucial element missing from any attempt to categorise, interpret or understand the world that later prehistoric people inhabited is a record of their own experiences written from their own distinct perspective. The absence of such an account has meant that, in an attempt to comprehend the lifestyle, belief systems, monuments, landscape, social systems and political structure of Iron Age communities in Britain, historians have had to rely upon Classical Greek and Roman authors such as Strabo, Caesar and Tacitus, all of whom had the decency to write things down. Such texts, although magnificent works of literature in their own right, unfortunately tell us more about the tastes and (rather bigoted) world view of a Roman audience than the reality of prehistoric life.
If only the Britons had themselves recorded their experiences in a more meaningful way. If only some form of ‘British History’ had survived from the late Iron Age, then a modern audience could more readily comprehend the world that the Britons created for themselves, their relationship to nature, the role of monuments and material culture, and the experiences they had whilst living in these lands.
But, of course, all these things were recorded. Eyewitness accounts from the Late Iron Age do survive. The forensic examination of these British testimonies can provide a very different outlook on the past, a period that some people still insist on calling “pre-history”.