The Neolithic Enclosure

Two trenches have so far been excavated along the line of the large enclosure that cuts off the cliff of Gardom's Edge itself. The first concentrated on what appeared to be a blocked entrance, the second on a length of the bank itself.

The entrance to the enclosure consisted of a simple gap between earthfast boulders, which ran diagonally between two offset stretches of bank. The excavated portion of the bank was only 4.0m wide and 0.5m high. Originally it would not have been that much higher, and in this particular area, it appears to have been a simple rubble dump rather than a rampart with retained faces. Outside the entrance were two massive, flat topped earthfast slabs of gritstone. The entrance to the enclosure had been blocked with a low, flat topped layer of stones, presumably at some time in the Neolithic while the enclosure was still in some form of use. Later still, probably during the time when the field systems were in use, a clearance cairn was superimposed upon the blocking.

A section was also cut through the enclosure bank to the south of the excavated entrance. Designed to explore the character of the bank, this trench was also placed at a location which included a cairn and what looked on the surface to be a sub-circular stone structure. Both appeared to abut/overlie the bank.

The cairn was an oval mound of stones approximately 4m long and 3m wide which overlay the top and inner edge of the bank and was apparently the result of clearance. Half of the cairn was excavated to leave a cross-section at the trench edge. The cairn extended from the bank onto ground inside the enclosure and lies close to a stone free area of ground in the interior which appears to have been cleared in prehistory. The lower stones in the cairn were smaller than those lying above, and between the cairn and the enclosure bank was a deposit of soil which had built up over the time between the construction of the bank and the cultivation of the surrounding area. A column sample taken from the soil trapped between the cairn and the bank will help us to identify the length of time over which it developed and the nature of the surrounding environment.

The cairn is likely to be Bronze Age to Iron Age in date and contemporary with activity in the surrounding field system. By this time, the enclosure bank was still visible, but appears to have been regarded differently than when built, perhaps as no more than a convenient space to dump clearance stone. The presence in the cairn of smaller stone below larger ones suggests that the adjacent land had already been cleared of larger surface stones during the construction of the Neolithic bank and before later cultivation brought smaller stones to the surface. The presence of an upper layer of large stones on the cairn may reflect further soil loss from continued cultivation in the immediate area.

Excavation of the structure to the east showed that its' sub-circular form on the surface was a product of tumble. It was, in fact, a rectangular feature approximately 5m x 4m across attached to the outer edge of the bank. Two roughly made low stone banks ran at right angles out from the bank, linking earthfast boulders. They `joined' a third, better constructed, wall which was aligned parallel to the bank. This was widened at some point by the addition of further stones to the outside, making it similar in character to the two end banks. The banks were interrupted by two possible entrances, one near each corner, both of which had been subsequently blocked. No diagnostic artefacts were associated with the structure but its' situation on a soil below the peat suggests that it is prehistoric rather than medieval or later in date. Pollen within soil samples taken immediately below the structure may help to date its construction more closely, and will be contrasted with material from beneath the cairn and bank.

The bank was constructed with a façade of massive boulders close to its' outer edge, with a narrow apron of small stones placed in front, creating a sloping outer edge to the bank and giving support to the façade itself. Large boulders were placed on the ground behind the façade and smaller rounded and angular stones were then piled on top. The construction was designed so as to form a flat-top to the bank lying just below the top of the façade. Protruding from the top of the bank was an upright stone which, on excavation, proved to be half of a much larger slab that had broken, presumably during construction. The other half was prone and lay directly on soil buried by the bank.

The character of this particular portion of the bank was very different from the portion excavated around the entrance. The deliberate creation of a façade and the levelling of the bank suggests that care had been taken to create a particular, even dramatic, visual impression. Variations in building style along the whole bank were observed during survey, and a more detailed surface characterisation is currently being undertaken to identify further variations. This will also lead to the excavation of further sections through the bank, including a much longer one to document localised variation in construction style. In the light of what we have learned from excavation, it may be that this variation finds echoes in the so-called 'gang-dug' character of many Causewayed Enclosure ditches in southern England. Shovel testing and other future work in the interior will help us to establish whether those parallels extend further.

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