A Probable Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure in Northern England

By Horne, Peter D.; Macleod, David et al. | Antiquity, March 2001 | Go to article overview

A Probable Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure in Northern England


Horne, Peter D., Macleod, David, Oswald, Alastair, Antiquity


Routine aerial reconnaissance by English Heritage has identified what appears to be the first Neolithic causewayed enclosure to be discovered in northern England (FIGURES 1 & 2). In view of the potential importance of the monument, an analytical field survey was undertaken by English Heritage in the wake of the discovery (FIGURE 3).

[Figures 1-3 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The enclosure survives as well-preserved low earthworks, describing an elongated oval 132x56 m internally and 0.6 ha in area. The segmented nature of the bank and surrounding ditch are immediately apparent; six or seven main elements to the single circuit of the bank can readily be seen on the aerial photograph. Field survey and closer examination of the photography reveals further subtle segmentation of the bank, and additional causeways in the surrounding ditch.

The enclosure lies on Green How, a prominent hill on Aughertree Fell, near Uldale in Cumbria. The fell is unimproved moorland pasture on Carboniferous Limestone and bears many structures characteristic of glaciated areas (Swift 1998); an elongated mound which the circuit respects and encloses is probably a glacially modified feature. The hill commands panoramic views, with a particularly impressive prospect northwestwards to the Solway Plain and the Solway Firth. Although just taking in the highest point of the hill (321 m OD), the enclosure is mainly situated on the slope facing northwest. This `tilt' of the circuit across the contours, dipping away from the summit, is a trait common to nearly all other upland causewayed enclosures (Oswald et al. forthcoming).

Some 700 m to the northeast lies a group of three earthworks of presumed Iron Age or Roman date (Bellhouse, 1967), surrounded by an extensive embanked field system (Higham 1978). No clear relationship between these features and the probable causewayed enclosure has been observed but it is worth noting that the earthworks of the former are much `crisper' than those of the latter.

In the north of England a handful of sites have been claimed to be earlier Neolithic enclosures, but none bear close comparison with the site on Green How. The plough-levelled sites at Hasting Hill, Sunderland (Newman 1976; Horne 1998) and Plasketlands on the Solway Plain (Bewley 1993) do not show clear evidence of segmented construction. At least two enclosures of rubble construction in northwest England have a superficial similarity with the fortified earlier Neolithic enclosures in southwest England, such as Carn Brea, but there is as yet no firm evidence that their unusual form equates to a Neolithic date (RCHME 1997; Pearson & Topping forthcoming; Oswald et al. forthcoming).

Causewayed enclosures were built between c. 3700 BC and c. 3400 DC, probably to serve as arenas for episodic communal gatherings; they are among the oldest and rarest field monuments known in the British Isles.

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