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Balksbury Plateau Enclosure

When the much-needed Andover bypass swept around the southern reaches of the town in the late 1960s it sliced through the southwest corner of the 18 ha (45 acre) plateau enclosure of Balksbury. From that moment on, the earthwork’s days were numbered. Housing developments eventually arrived and now carpet nearly all of the interior, but at least the disappearance of the archaeology was well-documented, and six episodes of excavation are on record.

In 1939 the southern side of the defences was examined by Jacquetta Hawkes, while husband Christopher was busy excavating at nearby Bury Hill. Twenty years later the northeast corner of the enclosure was looked at during house-building. More substantial opportunities came in 1967 with the arrival of the bypass and again in 1973, when the same excavator, Geoff Wainwright, undertook one of his celebrated ‘big digs’, uncovering 10 ha of the interior. The Central Excavation Unit investigated a further 2 ha in 1981. Finally, between December 1995 and April 1997, another 5.5 ha of the interior was examined, additional work took place outside the enclosure, and a section of bank and ditch was looked at in detail.

Viewed as a whole, the site produced evidence from Neolithic to Late-Roman date, although the earliest activity is represented only by stray finds, including a Beaker burial of an adolescent female.

Around the 8th-9th centuries BC (Late Bronze Age) large-scale clearance of woodland preceded the construction of the enclosure. A single entrance was found to the southeast as well as three phases of bank and ditch, some involving timber strengthening. If there was any occupation at this period, it apparently took the form of a few four and five-post structures, scattered around the periphery. In the Early Iron Age the evidence is more substantial, with three round houses and 27 storage pits identified. Pits also dominated in the Middle Iron Age, with 90 attributable to this phase, but there were no recognisable structures.

In the Late Iron Age and Early Roman periods a number of pits and gullies were dug but the type of activity they represent is elusive. It does, however, appear to merge into the later Roman occupation which involved a substantial building with ovens (and painted wall plaster), a corn-drier, small enclosures, pits and burials. Finds included both local and imported pottery, worked bone and stone, coins and jewellery, including 11 brooches, four bracelets, five rings and a buckle plate. Part of a scabbard for a La Tene 1 type dagger, a rare find from a settlement site, is of Middle Iron Age date.

In the mid-1990s, the final phase of excavation concentrated on the nature and economy of the enclosure, rather than its wider landscape setting. The enclosure, at 18 ha, was too big to be defended effectively and its description as a ‘hillfort’ is wrong. It probably marked out an important place in the landscape, a focal point for communal activities, which may have included feasting, exchange of goods, and the means to build social relationships. Later activity took place in the centre of the site and the impression is of a succession of small farming settlements taking advantage of an existing, but redundant, enclosure.

Image: General view of the 1973 excavations

A1978.12 Archive held by the Hampshire Cultural Trust.

Balksbury Camp, Andover, Excavations 1973 & 1981, Wainwright & Davies (1995), English Heritage Archaeological Report 4.

Excavations at Balksbury Camp, Andover 1995-97, Ellis & Rawlings (2001), Hants Studies Vol 56.

Series by: Anne Aldis, Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone

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