Only Connect

The Sheltering Memory project was devised to look at the links between monuments and natural places in prehistory. We know a (comparatively) large amount about prehistoric monuments so we came to dig here in the hope of getting some good evidence from natural places, particularly from caves. Since then, it sometimes feels, we have done nothing but discover new prehistoric monuments.Peterson_figure_1

This is the location of all the sites on New Laund Hill – exported from the GIS and tidied up a bit in Adobe Illustrator to make a publishable map. The black things are ditches, pits and other assorted holes in the ground, the grey thing is the henge bank. As you can see, there is a fair bit going on. If we begin at the beginning then the earliest parts of the site are likely to be some of the pits on the same ridge as the Whitewell enclosure.


This is the big pit in trench N. At least some of the stone tools from this area look to be Mesolithic so I think that some of the pits were dug before the start of the Neolithic. Around about 4500 BC mobile bands of hunter gatherers may have camped on that bit of the hill. These pits were what they did with their rubbish after they moved onto the next site. They were also a way of marking this particular site and laying claim to it.


Here is the Whitewell enclosure from above. As I said last week, this is probably Early Neolithic. Of course, on January 1st 3650 BC everyone didn’t suddenly wake up and start farming. The enclosure here probably grew up from the earlier tradition of digging pits on the same site. People were still moving around, staying at this spot for part of the year or coming back at particular anniversaries. The outer circuit of ditches ran through trench Q, at the front left of the picture, back almost as far as the woods before turning and running back along the front edge of Fairy Holes wood, behind our gazebos and through trench P.


This is the outer ditch in section in trench P. As you can see, it is not particularly impressive. Its a bit deeper in trench Q but it would still have been quite ephemeral. I think that the reason there are three different, probably incomplete circuits in this enclosure is because, in a monument like this, what was important was not the finished banks and ditches, but just getting everyone together to dig around the hill.

New Laund reconstruction

Around 1000 years later, towards the end of the Neolithic, the much more substantial New Laund enclosure and timber circle were built on the next ridge up. Although we still think this was acting as a focal point for dispersed and mobile groups of people, it seems to have been a much more permanent structure.


This is the outer enclosure ditch in the rain at the end of our excavations in 2012. At four metres wide and cut deep into the limestone bedrock, this was clearly a visible permanent barrier.


Similarly, the timber circle posts in these holes in trench H  were obviously part of a monument which was designed to last. Despite this, there is still continuity with the earlier sites. The posts in were removed and there are outlying posts and double lines in some places which suggest that building and re-building was still an important part of how the monument was used.


One of the puzzles about all these, apparently Neolithic, monuments is the complete lack of any pottery. We do however have one Late Neolithic pot sherd from our excavations at Fairy Holes cave. This came from just behind where Dan is measuring in this photo. Why Late Neolithic people left pottery in the cave, but not apparently at the henge or timber circle is a bit of a puzzle. Especially as both Fairy Holes Cave and the timber circle seem to have been used for cremation burial.

Urn and Crem bone

In the cave, thanks the our finding cremated bone alongside this collared urn sherd, we know that this was happening in the Early Bronze Age. Presumably by this date there were clear connections between monuments and natural places at Whitwell.


  1. It looks like you could do with a UAV to survey the wider ditched earthworks, then get a good contoured plan (10cms intervals) of the whole site? 🙂

    • We need something like this, there’s no LiDAR for this bit of the Hodder Valley and the Environment Agency don’t have any plans to fly it anytime soon. There are more mystery earthworks to the north of New Laund Hill too along with the remains of lots of 18th century limestone extraction.

  2. I’m learning to fly our UAV’s here and it might be something I could have a look at/practice upon next year? We are getting good contour survey results, especially in pasture fields.

    • That would be fab if you could – most of our study area is pasture. I’ll give you a ring next week sometime if you are around and we could chat about how practical it would be/how it all works

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