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Stonehenge in the Mesolithic

8 September 2012

The previous article only concerns Stonehenge in a peripheral manner and was perhaps used to garner some publicity as anything involving Stonehenge is hoisted higher in the media hype tables. However, Current Archaeology 271 Oct 2012 has a definite story involving Stonehenge (see www.archaeology.co.uk). There is an article (not online) on a site known as Vespasian's Camp, which refers to an Iron Age hill fort. It is unlikely to have had anything to do with the Roman general of that name – although he was involved in military activity in the west country, and went on to become emperor. I've noticed this site when pouring over maps of the Stonehenge landscape but apparently it has never been investigated – until now. It squats on a hill overlooking the Avenue and commands a clear view of the loop of the Avon river that appears to play an important role (between Durrington and the newly found bluestone henge at the riverside point at the bottom of the Avenue). It is surrounded by prehistoric and historic sites and incredibly, not until some Open University people decided to contact the landowners for permission to poke around on the hill and its immediate environs, it has been ignored. In fact, the more you learn of the situation the more incredible it becomes as so much of the landscape around Stonehenge has been barely touched by an archaeological trowel – let alone a JCB. For example, a huge site at Ogbury to the south of Amesbury, again on private land, is mostly untouched, and various barrows, opened in the 19th century by antiquarians, have not been subject to update. In the case of Vespasian's Camp a number of assumptions were made – or excuses, if you like. It was known to have an Iron Age fort and was perhaps secondary to the overriding interest in the Neolithic, when Stonehenge, below, was built. Since Tudor times, and the Dissolution, the hill has been in private ownership following the sale of the Abbey and its grounds. In the 18th century the Marquis of Queensberry commissioned large scale landscaping and it was thought this included the entirety of the hill, including the hill fort. The article goes on to describe the discovery of an ancient spring, or series of springs, in a hollow and what might once have been a small lake, but an important aspect as it continued to attract human attention and settlement over a very long period of time. The spring is known as Blink Mead and a large number of Mesolithic flints were subsequently dug up as well as Neolithic and Bronze Age tools and implements.

Blink Mead is, it seems, one of several springs, possibly associated with the spring line of the hill (where water seeps down through the chalk). Thousands of flints have been found, some in pristine condition suggesting they were deposited in the spring, or lake, shortly after manufacture, and the deposit is thought to extend for hundreds of metres and has only been tickled at for the moment. Also found were Horsham points. These are known from Sussex where they date back to the 9th and 8th millenniums BC, shortly after the beginnings of the Holocene. It is not known why they are found on a hill above Stonehenge Avenue but it might be asked, did people travel from afar to the vicinity of Stonehenge, and if so what was it that attracted them?

The presence of auroch bones and teeth (wild cattle) have been used to supply some C14 dates and these suggest the site was most active between 6250 and 4700BC, the period leading up to the introduction of farming. However, a linear series of huge post holes found in the car park at Stonehenge have been dated as early as between 8800 and 6600BC, so an early interest in the area is uncontested. In addition, the bluestone henge found recently on the river at the bottom of the Avenue was also closely associated with a spring, it has been said, and that spring seems to have a similar geological origin to the one at Blink Mead.

Vespasian's Camp was in use through the Mesolithic, the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages, and even in the Roman period (a villa is thought to have existed where the Abbey was built and the spring became a shrine). It remained in use during the Saxon and Medieval periods, the Abbey making use of the springs as a water source, and the situation presumably continuing from the Tudor times until the invention of piped clean water.

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