Research Themes


A very broad research aim is to gain an understanding of the area’s long-term history and landscape biography (the sequential impact of human activities and natural processes and how these influence people’s perceptions of the meaning and use of places). The intention is to investigate the impact of the construction and the reasons for the survival of features such as Bronze Age Barrows or ridge and furrow fields, in order to understand how wide regional changes in social, economic and ideological concerns are themselves constrained and developed within the specificity of the locality.

Material Worlds

A central feature of the project will be the study of the materials and techniques used for the construction of artefacts, buildings, boundaries and monuments and how this affects people’s experience of place and landscape over time (e.g. the digging and moving of soil, the role of woodland management and timber extraction, quarrying, the use of stone, brick and glass and how this relates to the use of lighting, decoration, cooking, craft activities, etc.). This can be considered in relation to the different rates of deterioration as constructions collapse, and the scars of mining and deforestation, are covered by later activities, soil formation and plant growth, or as artefacts are chipped, break or rust. We also intended to develop a small range of experimental archaeology projects that will build upon our research at West Dean, focusing on the use of local materials and the inter-relationship between different technologies (e.g. where the product of one activity or technique becomes the raw material or tool for another).


Bronze and Iron Ages

There is strong evidence for occupation during the Bronze Age and Iron Age, consisting of Bronze Age barrows and occupation sites (e.g. Devil’s Humps and Devil’s Jumps) and Iron Age hill forts (Trundle, Harting Beacon). However the dating of many of these sites is ambiguous (e.g. Goosehill camp, many of the cross ridge dykes and ‘celtic’ field systems) and there is a particular problem in the lack of any recognisable Late Iron Age sites. The project will seek to identify, describe, date and characterise sites and landscape features relating to the Bronze and Iron Age with a view to clarifying both the chronology of occupation and changes in the social use of the landscape from the early Bronze Age to the Late Iron Age.


A significant strength in the surviving evidence is the identification of a fairly large number of Roman villas. Several of these have been excavated and published, although further fieldwork is need to find the precise location of others mentioned in the SMR. The relative density of identified sites encourages us to believe that we will be able to combine this with a careful study of the field boundaries and environmental data in order to evaluate the size of villa farms/estates and what agricultural activities were carried out there, thus contributing to wider discussions about the Roman economy. Through a detailed comparison of the construction methods, building materials and artefact assemblages from these sites we intend to explore how people selected their material culture from what was locally available and the degree to which this reflects the economic position and cultural identity of the households. In this regard the difficulties of identifying and/or dating Late Iron Age sites would be particularly significant as we would like to consider how the local population were affected by activity closer to the coast such as the construction of the major Chichester dykes/defences (possibly reflecting the emerging power of the Atrebates) and subsequently the role of Roman Chichester and Fishbourne Palace. Similarly there is a need to gain a better understanding of Saxon sites in the area, such as the role of early Saxon churches, in order to place the evidence for the decline and eventual abandonment of the Roman Villas within a wider context for later changes in the West Sussex landscape and economy.

Bow Hill Monument Complex

The sequence of archaeological sites on Bow Hill, incorporated within the dense tree cover of Kingley Vale Nature reserve, forms a monument complex of national importance. It is quite likely that during several periods this area was somewhat separated from the more subsistence orientated aspects of the Downland economy. The presence of the Neolithic and Bronze Age barrows may have influenced later conceptions of this site including the placing of the Roman Temple and possibly Saxon and medieval activities. Much of the present day yew forest has regenerated in the last two hundred years, but it may have been the placing of the barrows and later the Roman temple within a wooden glade which protected part of the hill from complete deforestation. During the Second World War allied troops assembled in Kingley Vale before the Normandy landings and it was prepared as a hideout for resistance in case of German invasion. It is intended to undertake a complete survey of Bow Hill.


Saxon, Medieval and later

Changes in landscape division and use will be a theme for earlier periods (through the study of cross dykes, field boundaries, roads etc.) but this will be a particular focus for our study of the development of medieval and later estate ownership and land improvements in relation to the changing fortunes of farmsteads and villages in the area. For later historic periods the opportunity to compare documentary and archaeological evidence permits a clearer understanding of contested ownership and improvements . For instance in 1680 Thomas Smyth began to rebuild the old manor house at Binderton and removed the Norman chapel erecting a new one ‘at a more convenient distance’ without the consent of Bishop John Lake who refused to consecrate it so that the ‘new’ Chapel fell into decay.

Bookmark and Share