Metalwork, Burnt Mounds and Settlement on the West Sussex Coastal Plain: A Contextual Study

Article excerpt

The burial of bronze artefacts during the Later Bronze Age in Britain is well known (Bradley 1990: 97-154), but there has been little attempt to investigate the find spots by systematic field survey.

Recent fieldwork on the West Sussex Coastal Plain has revealed some preliminary results. The data have been obtained by investigating the positions of known metalwork sites by fieldwalking. The initial phase of this investigation has involved systematic work at three locations (FIGURE 1) where the areas were walked on a 20-m grid. The evidence indicates that the burial of Later Bronze Age metalwork deposits (single finds and hoards) can be directly related to the locations of burnt mounds, watercourses and settlements.

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The West Sussex Coastal Plain is a fiat region (FIGURE 2) framed by the Chalk Downs and the sea. Much of the area is covered by fertile loess soils (`brickearth'). Large areas to the south of the Plain are characterized by former marsh areas and braided streams (the Rife system). The region would have had great potential for resource utilization by past communities.

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The sites for investigation were chosen because of their proximity to present-day or former watercourses. At Bilsham the Ryebank Rife and its alluvial edge lie less than 50 m to the south of the study area. The Ferring Rife borders the southern margin of the field containing the metalwork hoard site (FIGURE 3), and at Lyons Farm, Sompting, the alluvial arm of the former `Brodewater' inlet lies less than 100 m from the southern boundary of the study area. All three sites produced significant assemblages of late prehistoric flintwork. Subsequent analysis has shown that the major component of these assemblages may be assigned to the Later Bronze Age. Characterization of the flintwork was based on the earlier work of Ford et al. (1984) and is confirmed by recent analysis by Dr Julie Gardiner of Wessex Archaeology (the Bilsham assemblage). The identification of dense concentrations of fire-cracked flint on, or close to the alluvial edge of these water features, strongly suggests the presence of burnt mounds (FIGURE 4) which are also attributed to the Later Bronze Age. …