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Vespasian’s Camp

19 February 2014

The earthwork known as Vespasian's Camp, named after a Roman general, is situated on a hill with wide views over the surrounding countryside. It is a fine vantage point to see across the general Stonehenge landscape and the winding river Avon. The camp is actually an Iron Age hillfort and has been in private hands since the Tudor dissolution of the monasteries and great religious land holdings. Formerly, it was associated with an abbey. Blink Mead, to the NE of the site, was chosen as a first look location, and it emerged it was an ancient spring (identified by geologist Peter Hoare) and is in fact part of a complex of springs. As such, it became a focus of Mesolithic activity, and the excavations are due to be expanded in order to come up with more information. Lots of artifacts were found and some of these ended up in Amesbury museum. See www.buckingham.ac.uk/research/hri/fellows/jacques/stonehenge-discoveries

Until David Jacques started to look at old estate records to get a handle on the camp nothing was known about the site. This is not surprising as Iron Age hill forts have never excited the archaeological world – there are just too many of them. People write about them – but much digging has been done. They usually cover a large area of land, usually at the top of a hill, and the general feeling is that they will still be around for years to come. This situation is currently being rectified as all the hillforts across southern Britain are in the process of being surveyed – go to www.arch.ox.ac.uk/hillforts-atlas-survey.html

One of the reasons why Vespasian's Camp was ignored was because it was assumed that it been subject to landscaping by a succession of owners – but this proved unfounded as far as Blink Mead was concerned. Also, archaeologists were traditionally more interested in the Roman period rather than the previous Iron Age, which was regarded as a pretty 'savage' period of history (as in backward). Until recently archaeology was even less interested in the Mesolithic people and regarded them as little more than grunts. This may reflect on the gentlemen worthies that became the antiquarians that first took up an interest in the past – and from whose early strivings archaeology developed in the 20th century. One can't imagine them having an interest in poking around peasant hovels – and our Mesolithic forebears were regarded as even lower on the human tree. Rather, digging down from the top of a barrow in search of gold and other goodies was what their research centred on – but this changed in he 19th century, and improved even more in the 20th. Now, it seems, the Mesolithic is about to see the light of day, as more and more sites are explored.

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