The Prehistory Section

Prehistory Section Update given to the Hebden Bridge Local History Society AGM on Wednesday 24th October 2012

As usual we have attended a number of lectures and seminars, mostly at the University of Bradford, but also York and Huddersfield: (For brevity I have left off the academic titles and posts of the speakers described below. Most are national and international figures. It isn’t really possible to summarise these talks. If you want to know more please ask.)

  • Mike Parker-Pearson described the latest thinking on the Stonehenge/ Durrington Walls complex, where phases of construction may relate to before and after the arrival of the Beaker People. And there was the suggestion that many of the stones used at Stonehenge were actually being reused, as a stone circle elsewhere was dismantled and moved to a more auspicious site.
  • Jane Kenney discussed latest views of the Neolithic in North Wales where revised carbon dates and reinterpretations of some features have cast doubt on the current model of Neolithic spread from the south-east. Movements around the coast seem to offer a more coherent account.
  • Chantal Conneller described continuing work at Star Carr, where agricultural drainage is rapidly drying out the archaeological layers and compromising the preservation of wood, bone and antler artefacts. We made a visit to other excavations around the former Lake Flixton later in the year, guided by the director Nicky Milner.
  • At York, Paul Preston outlined his work on the Mesolithic use of flint and chert in the South Pennines. This has led to a potentially very useful contact and we hope to be involved in future work with him and Penny Spikins.
  • Going a hundred times further back into the past, Nick Ashton described the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain Project which is working on sites at Happisburgh in Norfolk, dated to seven and eight hundred thousand years ago. He described the methods of dating using paleomagnetism, pollen and the remains of beetles and voles. Differences in the flint assemblage seem to indicate a change from homo antecessor to homo heidelbergensis, but there is no evidence that fire had been controlled at that time.
  • Janet Montgomery outlined her work on a large sample of Neolithic teeth - using oxygen and strontium isotope analyses - in an attempt to determine the origins of the Beaker people. She discussed some of the anomalies thrown up by this method.
  • Wolfgang Neubauer described the Neolithic fortified enclosures of Lower Austria as they relate to continental movements of people, resources and ideas. There is a very ambitious experimental archaeology programme getting underway with CGI drawn from the film industry.

We were invited to attend a day conference at Jerusalem Farm called by ‘Moors For The Future’, and involving Yorkshire Peat Partnership, the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the Peak District National Park, English Heritage, West Yorkshire Archaeology and Archive Service, Calderdale Council, Pennine Prospects and major moorland contractors. This arose essentially from the difficulties attending brash-cutting which we had highlighted previously, when a Scheduled Monument was damaged by brash-cutting plant. Conflicting aims were well aired and a provisional protocol for future contracts was outlined. We led a walk over Midgley Moor in the afternoon so that discussion of the problems could take place in front of evidence.

One useful outcome of this conference was that our credibility with West Yorkshire Archaeology and Archive Service has increased considerably. The head of WYAAS, Ian Sanderson, admitted that he had largely ignored the West Yorkshire uplands because ‘anything there would be fairly safe’. However it had become clear to him that because of issues such as brash-cutting, and the increase in planning applications for wind turbines, the West Yorkshire Historic Environment Record, the statutory database, was urgently in need of updating. We are presently occupied in examining and correcting such records as are on the HER and submitting a large number of new ones. The substantial body of data we have passed on previously is now finding its way onto the official record.

A meeting of Treesponsibility was attended by invitation, and we explained that tree planting might compromise below-ground archaeology, something that they had not considered. In actual fact most of the charity’s sites are in cloughs where archaeology is unlikely to exist or have survived. One area of upland rough pasture, White Slack above Walsden, was field-walked and two possible burials and an area of clearance were identified. This was passed on to WYAAS and Treesponsibility.
The weather has curtailed much fieldwork this year; formal planning and the monitoring of reservoir shores could not really take place, although further traces of Mesolithic activity were found on the moors above Todmorden on short walks. Members of Halifax Scientific Society were provided with an archaeological perspective on their walk on Black Hameldon and Bridestones.

The tracking down and recording of local, private flint collections has continued, with one significant assemblage being deposited with HBLHS for safekeeping. This might well be the best place to securely archive more local collections, given the difficulties of Calderdale Museum Service.

David Shepherd 3/10/12


Other News

Widdop

There is now evidence of a settlement at Widdop revealed by potsherd finds dating from the Medieval Period Circa 1200 to 1500 AD. Potsherd and other finds were taken to the Portable Antiquity Officer for identification and recording on the PAS database. Post Medieval artefacts were also identified.

Cistercian ware potsherds were among the finds dating to the four hundred years of the Medieval Period. The dating of the potsherds compliments the important research work that John Shackleton has carried out in the Widdop area which can be found at www.widdop.moonfruit.com

Norland Vaccary Walling
The 100 metre section of orthostatic walling is considered to be one of the finest examples of surviving Medieval Vaccary Walling in England. English Heritage has received both photographs and a digitized scale drawing of the walling. A full survey was carried out by Dave Shepherd and Brian Howcroft in August 2011. The local population of Norland have been aware of the orthostatic walling for many years. For some strange reason the antiquity of the wall has never been realized. There has never been a publication of the walling or any record lodged on the WYAAS database. English Heritage (York) is now preparing an urgent listing of the monument. The local Norland residents would like to see the walling repaired to prevent any further damage by erosion. Pennine Prospects are preparing to post photographs of the ancient walling on their web site.


Sept 2011: A new late Neolithic/early Bronze Age site has been located adjacent to Mount Skip Golf Club, and a new Mesolithic site has been found below the normal water level at Withens Reservoir. See diagram

Above: Stanbury time-lapse video

A lot of time has been taken up with the Stanbury Hill Project on the southern side of Rombalds Moor. We have participated in the geophysics, the field walking and, latterly, the first season of excavation - of two cairns a linear feature and a possible dwelling site. Scheduled Monument consent arrived too late to allow excavation around the panels of rock art and this has been held over until next summer. We expect to be involved in the post-excavation work at Bradford University this autumn.

The growing need to centre our activities on a local base and to work from a more established and ‘official’ footing led to the creation of the HBLHS Prehistoric Section. Whilst we have been described, misleadingly and somewhat ungenerously, by one member’s partner as ‘Last of the Summer Flint’ our very real intention is to explore, describe, record and disseminate with sufficient accuracy and rigour for other archaeologists to be able to use our findings with confidence.

Miller's Grave

Linear feature, Widdop

See gallery for more images, and extended captions

It must be stressed that there is no exclusivity or possessiveness here, anyone is welcome to join the Prehistoric Section, and the sites, features and artefacts located belong to everyone - they represent the past of us all.

Until recently the South Pennines were regarded as something of an archaeological desert. Although some fieldwork had been carried out, notably on Midgley Moor, few features were known, access was difficult and the moors were remote; there was an assumption amongst prehistorians based elsewhere that very few traces of prehistoric activity existed. Brian Howcroft’s tireless field-walking, producing a museum-quality assemblage of flint artefacts, from mesolithic through to bronze age, has shown this assumption to be false. Work to identify features in the landscape has complemented Brian’s work with the location and description of over fifty standing stones, around a dozen burial areas, a variety of circular and linear features, and some eighty examples of rock art.

We have sought to publicise our interim findings by giving talks, writing articles and conducting field visits. Aspects of our work have been seen and endorsed by John Barnatt, senior archaeologist with the Peak District National Park, Dave Weldrake of West Yorkshire Sites and Monuments Record, and Keith Boughey and Edward Vickerman, the authors of the definitive work on rock art in West Yorkshire. We have consulted and been advised by academic archaeologists and geologists and by personnel involved in the English Heritage rock art recording project. We also have useful associations with a number of bodies listed below under Links.

At present we are mainly occupied in identifying and describing the carved rocks of the South Pennines. There seem to be significant differences from those found in other areas both in terms of style and complexity.

We intend (hope) to eventually produce a coherent account of the first people who lived here - simply because there should be one.

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