Radiocarbon dates from 10 castle mounds – results of year 1

After all the trials and tribulations of fieldwork over the autumn and winter of 2015/2016 followed by months of lab work, logging the core samples and extracting datable material, at last we have the results of the radiocarbon dates from the first ten study sites!

multiple samples of organic material from all ten study sites were sent for AMS radiocarbon dating, allowing us to provide objective dates for all of these mounds for the very first time

In total we were able to extract almost 50 sub-samples of material from the 155m of core samples we collected last year; these were then sent to our colleagues at SUERC, in East Kilbride, for AMS* radiocarbon dating. Thankfully, we managed to extract multiple samples of datable material from each of the ten study sites, allowing us to produce objective “absolute” dates from these mounds for the first time.

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Hiding in plain sight: Skipsea Castle, East Yorkshire

On the low-lying plain of Holderness in East Yorkshire lie the impressive remains of Skipsea Castle. The site was investigated by the Round Mounds Project team during our first season of fieldwork with quite extraordinary results…

Holderness is a rural, gently undulating landscape bounded by the dip slope of the Yorkshire Wolds to the north and west, and the large expanse of the Humber Estuary to the south. To the east lies the soft boulder clay cliffs of a coastline being rapidly eroded by the power of the North Sea. Skipsea Castle is situated 12km south of Bridlington, in an area formed primarily from glacial deposits of clay, sand and gravel which carpet the underlying Cretaceous Chalk strata.

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Holy Mounds, Sacred Springs. Prehistoric mounds and their landscapes.

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.

Silbury Hill: The largest prehistoric mound in Europe

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

Introducing: The Round Mounds Project

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.

Castle Hill, Thetford.

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