It’s certainly been a while since we last posted on the Round Mounds Project blog but the last few months have been really rather busy, so we hope you’ll excuse us…
Since we last posted on this blog we’ve all but completed the field and laboratory work for our second (and final!) batch of sites, with only one more site left to go – the “enigmatic” Forbury Mound on our own doorstep in Reading – very soon we’ll be posting updates on the results of this fieldwork…
But we haven’t just been surveying mounds, drilling boreholes and staring down microscopes these last few months (not all the time, anyway), we’ve also been busy with another essential part of any academic’s job: getting out there and talking about our work.
To put the Round Mounds Project in context, Dr Jim Leary describes some previous work on Neolithic round mounds in Wiltshire and how those sites might give us some clues in the search for other similar mounds elsewhere…
One way of identifying mounds with potential for prehistoric origins is to look at the landscape settings of known prehistoric mounds and target sites in similar settings. Recent work on three huge mounds in Wiltshire has proved invaluable.
Jim Leary, David Field and Gill Campbell. 2014. Silbury Hill: The largest prehistoric mound in Europe.
On the chalk massif in Wiltshire, near the famous Avebury henge, is a huge pudding bowl-shaped earthen mound called Silbury Hill. It dates to the later Neolithic period, and at 31m high is the largest prehistoric mound in Europe. Recently it was the focus of a multi-million pound archaeological and conservation project after a cavity opened up on the summit in 2000. Although many have suggested that it could have acted as an elevated arena, one of the most striking aspects of the mound is its setting – occupying a low-lying position surrounded by high terrain. This precludes the desire for height and visibility as the main reason for construction. It was not meant to be a prominent feature within the landscape; in fact it is relatively hidden when viewed from afar. Its associations are low down in the landscape – with water. Indeed, Silbury Hill occupies a springhead location and is situated at a confluence of springs and winterbournes of the River Kennet, effectively marking the river’s source. Continue reading
Castle mottes are large earth and stone mounds, often coupled with a bailey, and are a characteristic component of the British landscape. Ask most people and they will have a favourite castle. It may be a local landmark which forms a familiar part of daily life or a more distant memory of a cherished past experience.
The motte and restored shell keep of Arundel Castle, West Sussex
There are around 900 mottes or motte and bailey castles recorded from across England. So how did the Round Mounds Project team narrow this down to just 20 mottes for detailed study? Perhaps not surprisingly the first stage involved a review of existing information. The aim of this work was to identify castle sites with the potential for prehistoric origin. Continue reading
Extending Histories: from Medieval Mottes to Prehistoric Round Mounds (‘The Round Mounds Project’ for short) is a three-year research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Reading and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC).
The Project, led by Dr Jim Leary, seeks to unlock the history of monumental mounds in the English landscape. Neolithic round mounds, such as Silbury Hill – the largest prehistoric mound in Europe, are among the rarest and lest well understood monuments in Britain. Recent work by Jim Leary at the medieval Marlborough Castle motte, Wiltshire, has shown it to be a Neolithic round mound which was reused in the medieval period, and raises the possibility that other castle mottes may have prehistoric origins. This research project therefore seeks to uncover prehistoric mounds that were adapted for medieval defence or have been misidentified as later mottes – a previously unrecognized phenomenon that could re-write our understanding of both the Neolithic and Norman periods.
Castle Hill, Thetford.