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Ascott Under Wychwood Barrow

Long Barrow


Details of long barrow on Pastscape

[SP 3001 1755] Mound shown but not described. (1) Excavations are expected to be completed this year on the site of a Neolithic long barrow near Ascott-under-Wychwood, soon to disappear under a road-widening scheme on the B.4437. Chalbury/Burford road. Starting in 1965, work by the Oxford City and County Museum on behalf of the Ministry of Public
Building and Works has revealed that the barrow seals a number of distinguishable phases of activity. Such a well-stratified
sequence has not been obtained from any site involving a long barrow in the country before, and samples taken for radio-carbon dating from each of the phases should provide an important reference date for many other British sites.
The earliest phase of activity is Mesolithic, suggested by finds of flint tools and other stone implements; these may date
to before 3,500 B.C., and are an important addition to our knowledge of the Mesolithic period in this part of England,
before the establishment of agricultural communities. The next phase is early Neolithic, with occupation on the site
demonstrated by pottery, stone and flint tools, and areas of burning, some possibly hearths, one of which was associated with
what may have been some kind of cooking pit. To this phase also may belong a series of post-holes, but more areas need to be
examined in detail before any definite structure can be identified. The pottery of this phase is as early and as finely
made as any in the British Neolithic, and comprises a most important assemblage.
The early Neolithic phase does not seem to have been immediately followed by the construction of the barrow itself, and there are indications that the site was under cultivation for a time. During this period, enough time elapsed for a soil profile to develop, and this is yielding valuable information about agricultural activity, vegetation and climate in Neolithic times. The most important discovery within the barrow last year was that of at least five discrete, burial deposits, three of which were contained inside stone cists defined by large stones, arranged in an unusual manner across the long axis of the barrow towards its narrower, western end. Provisional totals have reached a minimum of twenty individuals, many represented only by a few bones-a feature which is consistent in tombs of the same period in this country and which is generally attributed to a practice involving the burial or exposure of corpses elsewhere before final interment in the barrow. Preliminary examination of the remains has shown that their deposition took place when the bones were partially, and in some cases completely, free of tissue attachments.
Three of the cists contained undisturbed burial deposits. One cist did not contain burials and there is no reason to suggest
that it had originally done so. The provisional minimum total of largely disarticulated and incomplete inhumations includes two further burial deposits placed against the outer stone of the outer cist on each side of the mound, one being a single
inhumation. Adults and juveniles were recorded from each of the other burial deposits. One cist contained in addition, some
cremated bones. A number of anatomical anomalies have been recognised and a leaf shaped flint arrowhead was found solidly
embedded in the lower part of the spine of one individual. Grave goods comprised one leaf shaped arrowhead, and an incomplete
undecorated Neolithic bowl. The main periods of interest on the site may range from before 3,000 B.C. to 2,000 B.C., but samples recovered for Carbon 14 dating should provide absolute dates for critical phases. (2)
Ascott-under-Wychwood [SP 300 176]. In a final season the remainder of the long barrow was removed and the recording of
its external and internal structure was completed. Preliminary C14 results indicate a date of construction early in the 3rd
millenium B.C. The area between the two pairs of cists located in 1968 on either side of the long axis of the barrow was taken up by rubble packing; there was no central cist. On top of the packing, however, was an unaccompanied deposit of disarticulated bones. Mechanical stripping on the north side of the barrow mound revealed a line of quarry pits some IIm outside the outer wall. Irregular in plan and surface dimensions, these quarries had been dug to a depth of c. 8 ft 6 in. to 10 ft through extremely variable subsoil and had been severely undercut in places. Finds included flint flakes and antler picks, but no pottery. Any evidence for comparable quarry pits on the south side of the mound had been removed by nineteenth-century quarrying and the line of the present road. A combination of environmental and other evidence indicates
several pre-barrow phases including woodland clearance, occupation, possible cultivation and, finally, undisturbed grassland. More small hollows and other features were discovered, but no convincing pre-barrow structures were identified.
In the Roman period sections of the barrow revetment had been robbed out. In the area between the Neolithic quarry pits and
the north side of the mound, were numerous shallow quarries (probably for lime) of the first century A.D. These were sealed
by several ploughsoils of the Late Roman period. (Mr. D. Benson, Oxford City and County Museum). (3)
The barrow has been completely cleared and its site is marked by a patch of rough stony pasture. The anticipated road widening has not yet taken place. (4)
The soil profile beneath the Ascott under Wychwood long barrow is the most intensively studied local sequence and the environmental record stretches back to the early post-glacial times. At first the area had a light woodland cover that gave way to more closed woodland in the 4th millenium BC, and was then cleared in the early 3rd millenium BC. After a brief period as a settlement, the site became grassland until about 2,800 BC, when the barrow was built. A radiocarbon date suggests that the tomb was erected after 2943 +- 70 BC. (5)
Chance Posted by Chance
22nd May 2016ce

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