Skip to main content
Read page text

Page Text

number of Beaker sherds in and around the cremation area. There were some 95 in all, and Richard Bradley, who examined them, came to the conclusion that they belonged to about the middle of Clarke's Southern British style, and so they would not be earlier than about 1600 B.C. At first the excavators thought that they must be dealing with a reused Beaker barrow or that the site of a known Beaker habitation had been deliberately chosen for the cemetery. The answer may be that the whole of the chalk may have had earlier material on it and the pottery only survives where it is sealed by another feature fairly soon.

Parallels

The obvious parallel to this site is the platform cremation cemetery found at Kimpton, near An¬ dover, by Max Dacre and discussed in CA. 11. At Kimpton there was no trace of any barrow, and the platform was much more deliberately built, with interlocking flints and gaps left for cremations to be inserted which were never in fact filled. Kimpton lying in the heart of Wessex can be assigned to the Wessex branch of the Deveril Rimbury Culture, and Itford Hill provides an extension of this platform burial rite into Sussex. Indeed, there are other possible similarities as to the extensive use of flints. E. C. Curwen recorded (Sussex A.C. vol. 63 (1922)

p. 16) that in the 19th century 180 tons of flints up to 4 ft. thick were discovered in a barrow cairn at Burpham, below which was what appeared to be fragments of a collared urn. Similarly in 1889 (Sussex A.C. 37 (1890), 193-4) flints were removed from a barrow at Alfriston. These covered six inverted pots with cremated bones inside, some of which are similar in description to those found at the Itford Hill Barrow (no illustrations). They are said to have been ". . . all placed below the natural level of the earth, in an excavation made in the chalk rubble, with large quantities of flints lying upon the rubble".

Itford Hill is particularly important in enabling us to combine the settlement with its cemetery—a feature which makes it very nearly unique in British archaeology. It is also closely dated, both culturally with its link with the Itford Hill pottery, and in absolute terms with the Itford Hill radiocarbon date. Thus it would appear that here we are seeing a burial rite that is indubitably Middle Bronze Age: there is a backward look at the barrow burial rites, a strong element of the 'secondary insertion' and at the same time a tendency towards urnfield burial which was arising simultaneously (and independently?) in central Europe. The report of the excavations, completed within four months of the end of the excavation, will be appearing early in 1973 in the forthcoming volume 110 of the Sussex Archaeological Collections.

W HAT is wrong with prehistory today? Now that radiocarbon dating is reaching maturity, chronological problems should be fading into the background: now, for the first time, there is a firm chronological framework for most areas, so we should be trying to put flesh on the bones, to concentrate on building up an overall picture of the past. Yet in all too many books today, the pre­ dominant impression is that of dullness: there is no excitement, no attempt to take the broad overall view. Instead far too often there is still a prosaic insistence on artefact typologies.

An illuminating illustration of the prevailing feeling can be found in PPS 1969, p. 367, where Professor Grahame Clark is reviewing Sir Mortimer Wheeler's book on 'The Indus Civilisation':

"Sir Mortimer rounds off his new account by giving extended treatment to the topic of 'Decline and Fall', and by attempting some measure of the achievements of the Indus Civilisation. It is possible that here an element of illusion—even of moralising—is liable to creep in. We become attached to a particular pattern of culture in a particular region and find it necessary

• • • books to sit in judgement when it undergoes a change. . . . It is tempting to play the headmaster when surveying the achievements of whole civilisations, to sit back and assess them in terms of originality. . . . Yet the humbler role, that of seeking to understand the circumstances that gave rise to a particular pattern of culture and those that brought about a change, is liable in the end to be more rewarding. A parallel nearer home to the supposed decline and fall of the 'Indus Civilisation' is that of the Mycenaean: if we prefer bronze to iron, or pictographs to the alphabet, we are entitled to wring our hands over the change, just as we are free to moralise over the fall of Rome if we happen to prefer the Classical to the Medieval, or even the Modern world. But hand wringing over the course of history is surely a waste of time . . .". It is an illuminating passage. Apart from anything else, the examples are, to say the least, curious. When we talk of the 'Dark Ages' in Greece, or the 'Decline of Mycenaean civilisation', we are not surely comparing Mycenae with the succeeding classical civilisation, but with the 'dark ages' of the 9th and 10th centuries, when all knowledge of writing was lost: when literacy revived, it was not

235

Skip to main content