Pits, Settlement and Deposition during the Neolithic and Early
Bronze Age in East Anglia, by D. Garrow
Excavations at Kilverstone, Norfolk: an Episodic Landscape History.
Neolithic pits, later prehistoric, Roman and Anglo-Saxon occupation, and later activity,
by D. Garrow, S. Lucy, S. & D. Gibson
This review covers two related reports: Garrow’s study of 1556 Neolithic and Early Bronze Age pits (148 excavations) from East Anglia and the excavation report on Kilverstone, Norfolk (Garrow et al. 2006) that includes an account of the Early Neolithic pit site of the same name. The region is of course well known for its major pit sites of this date.
Pits, Settlement and Deposition ... is a slightly altered version of the author’s PhD awarded in 2005. It is divided into nine chapters with a catalogue of selected pit sites and data presented as appendices. Chapter 2 follows a short introduction and provides a useful summary of the history of pit interpretation. Chapter 3 sets out the scope of the regional study. One minor niggle concerns the chronology used, which could have been more critically constructed for the region. Similarly the study would have been strengthened if the earliest type of pottery, Grimston/Carinated Bowl had been separated out, like wise the various styles of Peterborough Ware and Grooved Ware, while given the title some readers may find it odd that Beaker is included but not Food Vessel and other styles of contemporary Early Bronze Age ceramic.
Chapters 4-7 present four case studies based on associated pottery styles and within each study sites were selected for detailed analysis. The selection of sites is generally representative of the region despite some inconsistencies. Spong Hill (Healy 1988), for example, also has an important early group of Grimston ware, some Peterborough Ware and Grooved Ware but only appears in one of the four chapters. One surprising and disappointing omission from chapters 4 and 5, because of insufficient detail despite full publication, is the site of Etton (although included in the discussion) with its relatively large assemblages of Mildenhall and Fengate Wares. Each chapter presents detailed case studies and ends with a short conclusion. For the Early Neolithic it is argued that the majority of pits were filled with dumps of soil rich in cultural material with little evidence for arrangement, placing or selected of individual artefacts. Etton may well have contradicted these findings. The work also highlights interesting trends- pit clusters in the Early Neolithic were replaced by pit pairs in the Middle Neolithic, while pit digging possibly declined in relation to settlement. In the later Neolithic there is more evidence for the deliberate selection and arrangement of material. Chapter 8 considers the place of pits within their wider context and their relationship to other types of feature (monuments, mines and find scatters) and provides a useful albeit short overview. Chapter 9 presents a concluding discussion and considers Britain as a whole. One point that could have been considered in more detail is the possible pre-Neolithic origins of pit digging and the deliberate utilisation of tree-throw holes.
The text is complemented by a good range of figures and plates, although in a few cases reproduction could have been better. Comparative plans of pits some showing refits are one on a number of highlights as is the high standard of the analysis of the sites of Kilverstone and Over. The spatial configurations of pits (isolated, paired and clustered) is clearly depicted. Despite a few minor quibbles the work represents a welcomed regional study of pits and an understanding of settlement based on sound contextual analysis.
Excavations at Kilverstone, Norfolk: an episodic landscape history (Garrow et al.) presents the results of a developer-funded investigation into an 18 hectare site on the outskirts of Thetford. Almost half of the volume (chapter 2) is given over to the prehistoric, in particular the Early Neolithic pit site. The site (or sites, four areas were excavated) is another example of an ‘East Anglian’ pit site and is not far from the classic site of Hurst Fen (Clark 1960). The chapter starts with a short overview of the approach to settlement and how perceptions have changed over the decades since Hurst Fen was excavated. It ends by presenting a thematic statement on current themes concerning pit research (the effect of pit digging on a particular place, the creation of memory, the act and temporality of pit digging etc...).
In total 236 pits are described in 16 pages of text and tables with some analysis supported by graphs. Pit data is presented in 7 pages of tables and supported with selective plans, sections and plates. One figure illustrates in detail the method of excavation and the spatial distribution of selected material within one of the pits and usefully supports the point that material occurred within deposited soil and not as placed material. In other words demonstrating that pits were dug to receive ‘midden-like’ material rather than individual categories of finds. This is an important point that comes through the wider discussion and some of the individual specialist reports. It is also a reminder of how formulaic archaeological reporting can be and how the current practice is to break everything down by material category. Here to be fair the authors tried to be different by presenting a critique of pit sites and approaches up front and by focussing on the formation history of deposits and the various materials and objects that they contained. They could possibly have been bolder and inverted the layout of the various sections of the report and by so doing would have shifted the emphasis onto the composition of the pit deposits and pit assemblages and illustrated their typical composition in a more meaningful way. It would have been informative to see illustrated the breakage pattern and therefore the fragmentation history of at least one of the more complete pots. Such information could reveal the pattern of breakage and how many episodes of fragmentation were involved (eg, Plate IVA which could show up to three separate breakage events). Analysis could have made greater use of sherd size, in particular whether a background of pottery crumbs was present, which could have a bearing on where pottery was used and how the residue was deposited. Surprisingly there is little analysis of the actual pit soils despite the recognition that artefacts and ecofacts had been deposited within a soil matrix (p. 13). It would have been good to know more - see description of pit 19. Analysis of the flint and pottery did reveal important facts about the site and the temporal relationships of the various pit clusters and possible sequence of infilling. Perhaps most surprising is the near absence of placed and/or arranged deposits a fact that can only be stated because of the careful and thoughtful excavation. The discussion moves beyond the ‘dynamics of deposition’ and focuses more on settlement, place and landscape as well as the wider regional context. They emphasise the fact that there were several types of pit dominated site at Kilverstone, which reflects the region as a whole. They also conclude through analysis that the site was a place of impermanent settlement. One striking feature of site E is the regular arrangement of some of the pits at the cluster and site levels with empty areas in between.
Chapter 3 covers later Neolithic activity at Kilverstone, which appears less visible possibly as the result of a decline in the practice of pit digging. The site produced a rare example of a non-collared Fengate style bowl (fig 3.2:P168) and a surprisingly early date for a Beaker pit, although the illustrated pottery does bear some resemblance to Clacton style Grooved Ware.
The Kilverstone report raises the issue of how best to publish and synthesise large bodies of data. This volume has 26 pages of specialist tables (Appendix 1-2), and while their inclusion is commendable, consideration could have been given to the use of digital media- either in the form of a CD-ROM or by making datasets accessible through a website or the ADS. Others are trying new formats (eg, Framework Archaeology) and in so doing are making information more accessible to those wishing to access the data and research the site (applicable also to Etton).
Garrow’s book is a must read for anyone interested in how to approach the excavation and analysis of pits and settlement and also provides an up to date synthesis of aspects of the Neolithic of East Anglia. It is hoped that the book’s appearance will encourage other regional studies of pits, the dynamics of deposition and settlement. On the whole the Kilverstone report is a good example of intelligent excavation and analysis within the constraints and indeed opportunities provided by developer-funded archaeology.
Review Submitted: September 2007
The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those
of the Society or the Reviews Editor.
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