Mesolithic camp sheds light on the origins of Stonehenge
This article appeared in last Saturday's edition of The Times under the heading "Discovery of Mesolithic camp sheds light on the origins of Stonehenge". It relates to the exhibition held at Amesbury earlier in the year on the finds and work around Blick Mead. http://www.sis-group.org.uk/news/stonehenge-mesolithic.htm
WHILE internationally-sponsored archaeological work at Stonehenge and Durrington Walls has seized the public interest, Amesbury's very own project has unobtrusively continued just a short distance away... continues...
Not possible to visit this site as I was told it is on "very private property."
Today (yesterday now) I made the long bus journey to Amesbury - really worth the effort. The small exhibition in what appears to be an old scout hut grandly called Mellor Hall really captured my imagination. Lots of exhibits of flint arrow heads and auroch bones which have been found at Vespasian's Camp, also at the nearby site of a spring known as Blick Mead. Vespasian's Camp is located 1.5km between Stonehenge and Durrington Walls. It overlooks the Avenue and Bluestonehenge on its western side and the river Avon to the south and east.
Excavations on what was thought to be an Iron Age hillfort reveal the site is much older than previously thought. The finds date back to the Mesolithic period making it 8000 years old; 10,000 pieces of flint and bone have been found. It had previously been dismissed by archaeologists as is in the grounds of Amesbury Abbey which were subject to extensive landscaping in the 18th century. However, David Jacques, Open University students and volunteers undertook small scale field work between 2005-2011.
Blick Mead is a small open basin next to Amesbury Park and immediately south of the southern carriage way of the A303. There is a shallow water course running from it which is currently dry and an artificial drain which would take the water down to the river Avon in wetter conditions. Geologist, Peter Hoare, gave a short, very interesting talk about spring sapping and the effect of water tables rising and falling. He also reported that some dumping of materials had taken place during the building of the A303 which accounted for a layer of clay and flint below the chalk bed rock.
A univallate hillfort of probable Iron Age date, enclosing an area of circa 15 hectares situated on the southern end of a narrow spur within a meander of the River Avon. The hillfort has an entrance to the north and another probable entrance in the south. Road widening in 1964 showed the rampart to have two phases of construction, with pottery recovered from both phases (the first phase was associated with sherds described as Iron Age "A/B", the second with Iron Age "C"). The rampart survives to a maximum height of 2 metres on the west, north and south-east sides. Elsewhere it is present as a scarp with no surmounting bank. Part of the eastern rampart has been modified by 18th century landscaping, and a grotto (SU 14 SW 217) is incorporated within it. The interior was also landscaped during the 18th century when the hillfort was incorporated within the park of Amesbury House (SU 14 SW 261). The southernmost part of the hillfort is separated from the remainder by Stonehenge Road and has been built on.
The camp near Amesbury, between Stonehenge and the town, upon elevated ground, was, according to Stukeley, commonly called Vespasian's, and he endorses the name. It is locally known as "the ramparts". Sir R. Hoare considers that this was originally the stronghold of those numerous Britons who inhabited the plains around Stonehenge, an asylum in times of danger, for their wives, children, and cattle; and that like other camps of the same kind, it was occupied, as occasion or necessity required, by Romans, Saxons, and Danes.
"It occupies the apex of a hill, surrounded on two sides, east and south, by the river Avon, and comprehends within its area 39 acres. It extends in length from south to north, and terminates in a narrow rounded angle at the latter point. It was surrounded by a single vallum, which has been much mutilated on the east side in forming the pleasure grounds of Amesbury Park. The ramparts on the western side towards Stonehenge, are very bold and perfect. It appears to have had two entrances, north and south ; the former still remains perfect and undoubted. The area is planted and fancifully disposed in avenues, walks, &c., near the principal one of which, and on the highest ground, is the appearance of a barrow, but much disfigured in its form.'' The camp is divided by the high road which passes Stonehenge. In Stukeley's Common-Place Book, is the following mention of it: ''The walls, Vespasian's camp, as believ'd. The people of Amesbury say the area of it is 40 acres, single trench, one graff towards Stonehenge." In his " Stonehenge described," he describes the camp as "an oblong square, nicely placed upon a flexure of the river, which closes one side and one end of it. There is an old barrow inclos'd in it, which doubtless was one of those belonging to this plain, and to the temple of Stonehenge, before this camp was made"
Stonehenge and its Barrows by William Long, Esq., M.A., F.S.A. 1876
It seems curious that this large site so close to Stonehenge had not been already added to TMA? I guess it's fairly incognito.
But the scheduled monument record on Magic says Vespasian's Camp is the only Iron Age fortification in the Stonehenge area. They call it 'an outstanding example of its type' (ie a univallate hillfort) - probably because it's not been disturbed much. It was even fashionably incorporated into the grounds of the local big house in the 18th century, so it has got a few tracks across it. It's wooded now. There are older barrows inside its banks, that the later inhabitants must have deliberately preserved (or ignored).
The bank on the west (Stonehenge) side is huge, at 6.5m from the bottom of the ditch. Look on the map and you'll see how the fort on its hill nestles nicely in the 'neck' of a meander of the River Avon. The main road runs immediately to the north (where one of the entrances was) so if you've been to Stonehenge you may have seen the fort even if you didn't realise it was there. I don't think you can see the stones from the fort though. Might be wrong.
Why it should be attributed to Vespasian particularly is anyone's guess. The Stonehenge World Heritage Site website says that it was William Camden, in Elizabethan times, "that gave the hillfort its rather romantic name." Romantic?? Perhaps that's just a euphemism.