Walks Through History – Part 1

It is absolutely no surprise that many of my walks involve some form of historic or archaeological location.  I do, after all, have a Masters Degree in Archaeology & Heritage, and it is, along with walking and amateur radio, one of my three great interests. A lot of our ancient monuments are well sign-posted and interpreted for the public through display boards yet most still go by unnoticed by the walking public.

There is hardly a walk in Great Britain where you will not walk past or close to some pre-historic monument or earth work.  The prehistory of our little island is vast and diverse, starting with the earliest hunter gathers from the Paleolithic and Mesolithic (Old Stone Age & Middle Stone Age. Through the age of the first settlers, the Neolithic (New Stone Age), the Bronze Age and Iron Age to the Roman Invasion in 43AD.

In order to demonstrate this, I have chosen one relatively small area close to where I live where I will explore the Neolithic Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman period.   The purpose is not to describe the walks but to show what can been seen when out walking.

Cissbury Ring

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Walk Details

Start/Finish–  Parking at Storrington Rise car park (BN14 0HT). OS Grid Ref: TQ 12905 07688 Explorer map OL10

Route – 3 mile circular walk plus detours within the hillfort area.

Archaeology

Neolithic – New Stone Age

A large proportion of the western end of the Cissbury Ring hillfort is ‘potted’ with the remnants of Neolithic flint mines.  Unlike the better known Neolithic flint mines at Grimes Graves in Norfolk this site was one of the first Neolithic flint mines in Britain and it was exploited throughout the period. It is part of a group of flint mines in Sussex which followed a rich seam of flint-bearing chalk.

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Pit marks from flint mines – courtesy Historic England

Some shafts went down as far as 40 feet (12 m) and were primarily excavated with antler picks.  Up to eight galleries extended outwards from the bottoms of the shafts, often interconnecting with one another.  Around 200 shafts were dug into the Cissbury Hill over around 900 years of use. 

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Artists impression – courtesy National Trust

The site is significant as it represents the switch from open cast flint extraction favoured previously by prehistoric people who exploited deposits of flint close to the surface, to deep shaft mining which required more effort but produced more flint of a higher quality.

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Overgrown Flint Mine Shaft – author

Flint was the common material used for making stone axes for felling timber and working wood during the neolithic period.  Axes and Blades (struck from cores) account for most of the tools produced at Cissbury and examples of Cissbury flint can be found as far as Italy.

Iron Age

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Cissbury Hillfort from the West – courtesy sarsen.org

Cissbury Ring is the largest hill fort in Sussex, the second largest in England, after Maiden Castle in Dorset, and one of the biggest in Europe.   The ramparts follow the contour of the hill and give the fort an elongated oval shape aligned roughly ENE-WSW which surround a massive 24 hectares of land.  The hill fort was constructed around 400BC and was used for around 400 years, becoming abandoned between 50BC and 50AD.

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Remains of Ditch with the main Rampart on the right with the ditch and the smaller outer bank to the left (with the footpath scar)

It is a univallate fort, having a single rampart and consists of a main bank with ditch on the outside with a smaller bank on the outside edge of this ditch .  The hill fort originally had only two entrances, one at the eastern corner and the other at the southern end.

The main bank is between 3-4 metres wide and stands today on average 1.3 metres in height, though it would have been much higher when originally built.  The ditch is on average 1.9 metres deep and 5 metres wide rising to 9 metres wide around the entrances.  The original depth would have been 5m lower than can be seen today.

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Eastern Entrance to Cissbury Hillfort

During its life the hill fort went through several changes of use.  After 100BC the interior of the fort was used for agriculture with rectangular fields being marked out with earthwork banks and terraces.

There is also archaeological evidence of a settlement at Cissbury during the later Roman period. The ramparts were heightened at this time possibly in fear of Danish attacks.  The discovery of two successive issues of coinage struck between AD1009 and AD1023 suggest that there was once a mint on the site during the Dark Ages.

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Survey plan of Cissbury hill fort

In Walks Through History – Part 2, we look at one of the best examples of a Bronze Age barrow formation in Sussex and a Late Bronze Age hill fort
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