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Pattern and progress: field systems of the second and early first millennia BC in southern Britain

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posted on 2023-06-08, 13:53 authored by Judie English
Analytical survey of the above ground evidence has been undertaken on twelve areas of prehistoric fields in southern Britain. In all cases at least two phases were noted, one directly overlying the other; in ten of these areas the earlier phase comprised an extensive rectilinear grid and the later smaller areas of aggregated fields. The earlier field systems could be externally bounded and left little land unenclosed for open grazing and timber production, movement was only allowed along high ridges. It is suggested that the earliest of these fields date to the beginning of the 2nd millennium, on both sides of the Channel, where they were regarded as symbolic of status within a period of visible ostentatious possessions. The majority were created in the middle centuries of that period, possibly as a reaction to perceived land pressure. No settlements could be identified as coeval with these fields. The later fields represent a major contraction of enclosed land and their design is more suited to stock, rather than arable, production. Larger areas around the fields were marked by linear ditch systems or by cross ridge dykes. Settlements were frequently, and presumably deliberately, placed over the boundaries of the earlier fields, possibly in an act of incorporation; these settlements tend to date to the two centuries on either side of 1000BC, and it is likely, though not certain, that the later fields were contemporary with these settlements. The production of stock as evidence of wealth led to feasting, as exemplified by midden sites, and to a raiding culture within which aggression is more likely, but warfare not proven. The point is made that, with no structure visible at excavation across lynchets, analytical survey is the best method of recording phase differences. Also, given the lack of below ground evidence these sites, though widespread, are a diminishing resource and protection of the best examples is highly desirable.


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