3 General Description

Itford Hill style settlements have been recognised as a class of later Bronze Age site since the last century, although their high archaeological profile is largely due to a series of excavations conducted during the 1930's and in the immediate post-war period, notably at Itford Hill, New Barn Down and Plumpton Plain (eg. Burstow & Holleyman, 1957; Curwen, 1934; Holleyman & Curwen, 1935). More recently, excavation and reassessment of earlier work (as at Blackpatch) has added further detail to our understanding of this class of site (eg. Drewett, 1980; Ellison, 1978).

Estimates of the area covered by these sites are problematic, since they lack a clearly defined enclosing perimeter, and are frequently directly associated with regular aggregate or coaxial field systems. However, if the fields are excluded from the calculations, sites in this class cover areas of between 1 and 3ha, the majority falling midway between these two extremes. On the basis of existing plans, it is difficult to determine whether or not these settlements were planned in their entirety, or whether they represent a more organic form of development over time.

The most distinctive components of sites in this class are the earthworks themeselves. These generally take the form of a single low bank, which marks the perimeter of each enclosure. The number of enclosures which comprise the settlement varies from between 7 to 12 at different sites. Excavations suggest that these banks (approximately 2-3m in width) were originally capped by fences and/or hedges (Burstow & Holleyman 1957; Ellison 1978). Evidence from a number of sites (eg. Itford Hill and Plumpton Plain A), suggests that enclosure banks on the periphery of the settlement may also form one side of a track connecting the site with arable fields and pasture.

Material for the construction of these banks appears to have been derived from the spoil created by the practice of cutting into the hillside to create roughly circular house platforms or terraces, as at Itford Hill and Blackpatch (Burtsow & Holleyman 1957; Drewett 1980). Variation can also be observed in terms of the scale and form of these enclosures at individual sites. In the case of Itford Hill itself, approximately five enclosures have been recognised, covering areas of between 10m x 12m to 25m x 40m. These vary from rough circles and oval forms to a more sub-rectangular layout. Similar variation can be seen at Plumpton Plain A (Holleyman & Curwen 1935), where a sub-square enclosure (c.30m x 20m) is associated with oval forms (c. 17m x 20m to 30m x 40m).

These enclosures generally possess either one or two entrances, although there is no evidence for elaborate gateways or outworks. These vary in size from 2m-3m. Small postholes suggest that simple wicker gates were employed.

Postholes attest to the existence of circular buildings on the platforms within these small enclosures or "compounds". The number of structures within individual enclosures also displays a certain degree of variation. Many of the smaller examples contain only one building, whilst larger enclosures may contain evidence for one major building and two to three subsidiary structures. The buildings vary in diameter from 3m-8m in diameter, although each enclosure is generally characterised by one building larger than the others. These are defined by rings of postholes approximately 0.25m in diameter, with depths of up to 0.75m depending upon the extent to which sites have been damaged by deep ploughing. Entrances to these structures are defined by porches, marked by two larger postholes, or by settings of four postholes.

Pits represent a further component of sites in this class. These are generally between 1m-2m in diameter, and are located both inside and outside of individual timber buildings. The recovery of carbonised grain from pits within a building at Blackpatch suggests that they were used for storage purposes (Drewett 1980).

Further postholes on sites in this class suggest that the low enclosure banks were capped by fences, whilst other alignments within the enclosures themselves indicate that small fences may have been employed to channel movements in from the gateways. Paired postholes within the timber buildings have been taken as evidence for the construction and use of vertical looms, an interpretation supported by the recovery of loomweights on a number of excavations (eg. Burstow & Holleyman 1957; Drewett 1980).

Tracks, sometimes marked by hollow ways, linking settlements with nearby field systems are a further component of sites in this class. The banks of these trackways often incorporate spoil generated during the process of platform construction.

Ponds have also been recorded within the small enclosures at a number of sites, varying from between 1.5 and 2.5m in diameter.

The material culture recovered during excavations on Itford Hill settlements supports the inference that they served as domestic settlements for (family) groups practicing a mixed economy. These include a wide range of pottery forms, including fine wares, together with bronze implements, querns, flintwork and animal bone. The presence of loomweights and carbonised grain at many sites reinforces the view that both animal and plant resources were exploited. On the basis of present evidence, sites with a number of circular structures are likely to reflect a sequence of construction and use rather than a closely contemporary pattern, although this remains a subject of some debate (eg. Ellison, 1978; Ellison & Harris, 1972).

On the basis of present evidence, two principal types of site can be recognised within this class (see Figure 1).

Type A: Sites which consist of a series of enclosures of circular or oval form, containing one or more circular timber structures (eg. Blackpatch).

Type B: Sites which are also characterised by the occurrence of one or more circular timber structures within low banked enclosures. Here however, a greater variety of enclosure forms can be recognised; ranging from the common oval and sub-circular forms to those which are clearly rectangular or sub-square in layout (eg. Plumpton Plain A).

It is important to stress that the suggested typology is based upon morphological characteristics. Further excavation and field survey is required to test the suggestion that sites on the downlands and those nearer to the south coast played different economic roles (Ellison & Harris 1972).

On the basis of present evidence, there is little to suggest that the locations occupied by these sites were reused to any great extent in subsequent periods. It seems as though they served as small domestic settlements, perhaps for extended families, practicing a mixed farming economy. There are no indications that these sites were regarded as being of any significant status within the contemporary settlement hierarchy.