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Saxon Ring Ditch at Cowdery’s Down

The three Early Bronze Age circular ditches were close together and ranged in size from 15m to 20m across. During the 1978 season of excavation the ditches were sectioned and found to be filled with chalk rubble; they had trench-like straight sides giving no reliable evidence of the former presence of central mounds. The centres of the rings were examined but no features were discovered. The ring ditches may have originally surrounded round barrows (the standard funerary monument of the Bronze Age) which were later destroyed and ploughed-out, but the evidence was inconclusive.

Two of the rings were cut by field boundaries dating to the late Iron Age, proving that if barrow mounds had been present, then they must have been levelled before that period; ancient snail evidence suggests that the chalk rubble fill derived from the sides of the ditches rather than from a central mound. The original form of these circular monuments, like many other excavated ring ditches on chalk, remains problematic.

One of the ditch sections revealed a crouched inhumation burial cut into the bottom of the fill. This was of a female aged 30-40 years. She was facing towards the centre of the ring and was accompanied by grave goods which included a jet toggle and two ‘pestle pendants’, probably of shale. These were recovered from the beneath the neck area and have been dated to c.1700-1500 BC. Pottery representing a maximum of five vessels was recovered from the same ditch. It was stratigraphically later than the burial and in a tradition suggesting a Middle Bronze Age date (1400-1000 BC). At the end of the digging season, the remainder of ditch fill was removed, and one of the three rings was found not to have any pottery associated with it.

* ‘ring ditch’ is an archaeological term describing a circular ditch. They can vary in size and date and the same phrase can be used for a barrow ditch (mostly from the Bronze Age) or the gully surrounding a roundhouse (mostly from the Iron Age).

Image: Aerial view of excavation in progress – Barton’s Lane, the straight road on the left, is now a shady avenue. ‘Oliver’s Dell’ is the curving enclosure to the right of the dig.

A1978.1 Archive deposited with the Hampshire Cultural Trust

Fasham, P.J. 1982, Excavation of Four Ring-Ditches, Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society, Vol 38, pp. 19-56.

Millett, M. 1983, Excavations at Cowdery’s Down, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1978-81, Arch J, Vol 140, pp.151-279.

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

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