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Houses and other buildings


Only one building has been excavated so far, although more excavations on possible platforms are planned for coming seasons. Excavation of a small platform revealed evidence for a circular timber-built structure. The platform is bissected by the rammed surface of a trackway, cut on the orders of the Duke of Rutland during the 19th century. The track was associated with an irregular, upcast bank of stone derived from breaching the Neolithic enclosure bank. The upcast bank lay above a layer of dark, humic material - probably the result of stripping turf and peat from the line of the trackway itself.

Fortunately, the 19th century trackway had not destroyed all traces of earlier activity. Two postholes containing large, rectangular-cut posts defined a south-east facing entrance for a small circular building c. 6m in diameter. Sherds of prehistoric pottery and worked chert were present in the post packing. The wall of the building was defined by an arc of stake holes with evidence that at least one was repositioned. There were no internal posts, either in a ring or at the centre. Inside the building near its wall in the southern half was a small pit containing a human cremation with pyre debris placed on top, both of which appear to have been within some form of bag. Above the pit was a small beam slot which was itself above an offset drip gully and two small postholes. This may be the base of a house shrine. Charcoal associated with the cremation has yet to be dated.

Excavation outside and in front of the building revealed a dense concentration of artefacts, including over 500 sherds of prehistoric pottery, many pieces of worked flint and chert, fire cracked stone and saddle quern fragments. Fragments of polished shale bracelets, pieces of daub and small lumps of unbaked clay were also identified and retained for analysis. The area in front of the house had never been cleared or cultivated as it was exceptionally stony, with several earthfast boulders and many smaller stones. Much of this material was associated with an area of 'make up' or roughly cobbled ground immediately outside the structure, and with a semi-circular stone bank that was constructed once the house had fallen out of use but while its walls were still standing.

Analysis of the stone tools suggests a long and varied history for this location. A small percentage of the flintwork, notably a transverse arrowhead and a knife made on a flint axe thinning flake, attest to a Neolithic presence in the immediate area which lies just outside the large stone-built enclosure. However, the bulk of the worked stone comprises local cherts which vary in colour and composition from white to black and from coarse to fine grained. Much of this material may be later in date, and this possibility is supported by the results of pottery analysis. Work by Pauline Beswick suggests that the forms and fabrics of the pottery from this area have close parallels with the Later Bronze Age/Earlier Iron Age assemblage recovered during excavations at Mam Tor. Given the correlation between the entrance and the pottery scatter, it may well be to this chronological horizon that the building belongs. Buildings of similar design have been recognised at several sites in Britain, including Danebury and Moel y Gaer (Cunliffe 1991).

Our work confirmed initial impressions that we were dealing with a levelled prehistoric platform upon which the timber structure had been built. However, it proved impossible to follow the entire circuit of stake and post holes that must have originally supported the building. This is almost certainly a product of the later history of activity and soil processes in the area and perhaps the shallowness of stakeholes over much of the wall's circumference. Heavy podsolisation and leaching of the soils creates a mottled and altered matrix in which insubstantial features are not always that easy to detect, except at depth where the subsoil is cleaner. It may also be that the site of this building saw later use as a location for cultivation, a practice which is common amongst many small scale cultivators. Hopefully, our work on soil samples from this area will shed light on this question. Although artefact densities within the structure were low, perhaps as a result of sweeping, some finds of worked stone and pottery were recovered from the prehistoric soils beneath the peat. However, no trace of a hearth or associated spreads of ash and charcoal were identified. The absence of a hearth is also suggested by the results of a magnetic susceptibility survey across the interior of the building. No anomalies were identified that were consistent with intense or focussed areas of burning.

Our work on this building platform has raised important questions about the character of this structure and its associated features. The distributions of artefacts and fire cracked stone in front of the building certainly point to a range of activities being conducted in the immediate area, and these would be consistent with tasks undertaken around a dwelling. The overall character of the spreads of pottery, stone tools and fire cracked stone suggest that we are looking at an area where people worked, rather than a location which simply saw the dumping of debris generated elsewhere.

Excavation has also highlighted 'non-functional' dimensions to our interpretation of the low stone bank that runs along the south-east quadrant and in front of the entrance of the building. Given the lack of clearance in the immediate area, and the presence of other cairns adjacent to stone free areas nearby, it is difficult to sustain the view that this feature simply reflects the removal of stone for the purposes of cultivation. What we may be looking at is a feature resulting from a more deliberate and purposive act of sealing off the timber building at the time that it fell out of use. This idea gains further support from the fact that an unbroken saddle quern was placed upside down in the bank immediately outside the entrance. This act may have been part of the events associated with the 'closing' of the building.

Given these characteristics, it remains to be asked what purposes were served by the structure itself. Detailed analyses are currently underway, including the study of soil micromorphology and environmental samples. However, the absence of a hearth and the relatively low density of finds in the interior of the structure raises some interesting possibilities. Despite the presence of a cremation, which is by no means out of place in a Later Bronze Age domestic setting, it may be that we are dealing with a structure which was not lived in on a regular basis. Occupation may have been in buildings nearby, the structure being used for other activities. Alternatively, it may be that the absence of a hearth and the concentration of activities outside indicates a measure of seasonality in the use of the area. One thing, at least, is certain. Given the relative lack of excavation of settlements in the Peak District, it would be inappropriate to take this building as typical. More comparative work on other prehistoric buildings in the area must remain a priority for work in future field seasons and this will go hand in hand with the more detailed study of the materials already recovered.

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