The Experimental Earthworks Revisited

By Ashbee, Paul; Jewell, Peter | Antiquity, September 1998 | Go to article overview

The Experimental Earthworks Revisited


Ashbee, Paul, Jewell, Peter, Antiquity


Our prehistoric monuments, the barrows, enclosures, hillforts and the like are, for the most part, earthen in that their material sources were engirdling ditches. Significant numbers are on the chalklands which have largely cradled present-day prehistory. It is only during the past century that there has been attention to the fact that such monuments are, as they appear today, a product of complex natural processes, weathering and denudation, in other words change and decay. From the outset of systematic archaeological excavation it was realized that these mounds and banks were spread, smoothed and rounded while their attendant ditches and pits, beneath their mantle of turf and mould, were infilled with chalk from their reduction and erosion. Appraisals of the timescales involved in these processes were, despite enlightened incidental observations, inexact, although it was tacitly agreed that initially they may have been speedy. Experimental controls, or contrived replication, that would give precision to interpretation was clearly a necessity. To this end two experimental earthworks were built, the first on chalk downland and the second on a gravel heath. They were planned by a committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science that was named the 'Committee to Investigate by Experiment the Denudation and Burial of Archaeological Structures'. A detailed description of the initial endeavour was published by the British Association, entitled The experimental earthwork on Overton Down, Wiltshire, 1960 (Jewell 1963). The cover of that manual reveals the enterprise's basic theme [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. It is in white and green, the colours of chalk downland, and it bears E.C. Curwen's depictions, published in ANTIQUITY in 1930, of the silting of old military trenches on Thundersbarrow Hill, in Sussex; superimposed in black is the precisely measured profile of the experimental earthwork. This montage epitomizes the range of the approach that the founding Committee encompassed: a backward look at prescient observation and a forward leap into scientific experimentation. This publication came to be known as the Basic Manual.

The notion of an experimental earthwork, designed for the study of silting and denudation, was proposed in a lecture delivered by one of us at the 1958 Darwin Centenary Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Jewell 1958; 1993). Section H's recorder, John Hurst, took up the idea with enthusiasm, strongly supported by Bruce Proudfoot, one of the Secretaries, and the British Association's Committee for Archaeological Field Experiments came into being. An extended meeting of the Committee was held at the Institute of Archaeology, Gordon square, London, on 28 October 1959 and was chaired by Prof. W.F. Grimes. This meeting was memorable for its searching, interdisciplinary, discussion and, for a time, the notion of a simple structure was lost sight of for it was manifest that many barrows and earthen banks had been timber contained and laced. More intimate meetings with some six or seven colleagues, who rapidly became valued friends, led directly to an appreciation of the value of a simple bank and ditch, as well as a time-scale for its investigation. Quantification of the process to a timescale, it was felt, could bring about a new order in the excavation of prehistoric chalkland sites. We may note that in December 1957 O.G.S. Crawford had anticipated the Darwin Centenary year by publishing a special 'Evolution' number of ANTIQUITY that included Richard Atkinson's seminal paper on 'Worms and Weathering' celebrating Darwin's observations on earthworms. Evidently, thoughts of denudation and biological processes in prehistoric archaeology were current.

Besides the present writers, the Committee comprised Geoffrey Dimbleby, well known for his palaeobotany and appraisals of ancient soils, Richard Atkinson [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED], notable for his work on the Oxfordshire gravels (Atkinson et al. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Experimental Earthworks Revisited
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.