Proposition 3

that 3rd millennium religious foci continued to be used into the second millennium, some developing into tribal centres after hill forts had been built within them

The third calendrical millennium referred to here is covered approximately by radiocarbon years 2395-1660bc (=CalBC 3010-2010). The second millennium is covered by 1660-904bc (=CalBC 2010-1010), and the first by 904-60bc (=CalBC 1010-10). These periods respectively cover (1) the major part of the Neolithic-Bronze Age interface, (2) the later part of that period and the major part of the Bronze Age, and (3) the Late Bronze Age into the Iron Age (see section 3).

Hastings (1910, 662-3) towards the end of his discussion of definitions of religion states: 'Thus, as opposed to any efforts to set religion in a water-tight compartment by itself, there is evidence which represents it as belonging to so many phases of life that religious data are, so to say, only a special form of otherwise non-religious data'. He goes on to say that observers differ in their perceptions of the meaning of data as religious, as the perception of religion is of supreme personal significance 'whether it concerns the self (1) alone, or (2) in its relation to others, or (3) in its relation to a higher Power.' The types of data that unequivocally provide evidence for religion are 'beliefs, practices, feelings, moods, attitudes, etc'(p.662), and the effects are 'emotional and intellectual, leading to practical, social, aesthetic, speculative, and other efforts' (p.663). Data for the former are scant in the period (see Section 8), and thus interpretation depends almost wholly on an assessment of the material survivals as expressing the latter through acts leaving traces. Hastings makes one other point particularly relevant in the prehistoric context: that anthropological work has found that among 'rudimentary or backward peoples' distinctions that we draw between religion and law or ethics are less often found. Thus, returning to the hypothesis, it would appear that a religious focus may occur on any site used for any purpose, and that it is a matter of identifying the signs correctly.

Then, what is a 'focus'? If a general definition of 'that on which attention is centred' is accepted, then it probably needs qualifying in this context by adding more specific attributes such as 'distinguished by its size, design, location by, on, or at a distinctive natural feature, long timespan of use, apparent inter-connection with other monuments, structures or natural features, and the multiplicity of ritual evidence or distinctiveness of such evidence or both at the site'. It also may be the case that a collection of neighbouring monuments may constitute a focus. Indeed it is assumed that all groupings of contemporaneous barrows, of which there are many in the third millennium, probably represented religious foci for the community. However, that instance does not serve the ultimate purpose of this hypothesis, which is to trace the tradition of use of a location through time from religious origins to test continuity and merging of social functions into those of eventual tribal centres at the same location.

The third millennium falls within the Neolithic-Bronze Age interface (2500-14/1300bc). This period has provided the largest number of sites with disposals, some 1023. The search for evidence should perhaps begin by re-identifying the likely population foci for the period. In the south west they were in Scilly and the Lands End Peninsular, in the south Cotswolds, the north Cotswolds and in south Glamorgan. In the south they were the Hambledon Hill-Windmill Hill oval, and around Dorchester. In the south east they were on the South Downs, in east Kent, north Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire, and in the Oxford-Newbury oval (see Sections 6.9-11).

The sites meeting the suggested criteria (see above) which together suggest a religious focus might include: in the south west area, 225 Gwithian, (?)313 Brean Down, and 283 Gorsey Bigbury; in the south area, 407 Marden, 940 941, 942 and 943 Hengistbury Head, 1198 Danebury, 400 Avebury, 403 Durrington Walls, 406 Stonehenge, 408 Woodhenge, 496 The Sanctuary, 731 Mount Pleasant, Dorchester, and sites 60, 61, 1190 and 1333 on or by Maiden Castle; and in the south east 1119 Chanctonbury. There are many groups of barrows in the period with much evidence for ritual held in common within the group, but these do not satisfy the qualifying criteria set above. The sites proposed as meeting the criteria only serve the following population foci: the Lands End Peninsular, the Hambledon Hill-Windmill Hill oval, Dorchester, and the South Downs. The majority are in the south area.

The hypothesis appears to be slightly supported, but the incidence of such foci (barrow groups apart) is very concentrated in the south area, the western and eastern areas of southern Britain having little evidence for such.

Only 313 Brean Down, 1198 Danebury and 1190 Maiden Castle Fort (and associated sites) appear to exhibit such use, the others having no discernible disposal evidence for continuation into 14/1300-8/700bc or later. Indeed 1198 Danebury has no disposals in that period and should be strictly excluded from this small list, but provides evidence for many in the period 8/700-100bc.

The hypothesis is only very slightly supported: the examples are much reduced and from a small base.

All three general locations (Brean Down, Danebury and Maiden Castle) had hill forts built on them in the first millennium BC, and 1198 Danebury has been demonstrated as a likely location for such 'central place' activities (Cunliffe 1984b; 1995, Cunliffe and Poole 1991). There is no evidence for 313 Brean Down being such, and its size and location may make it a less likely candidate to fit the general theory that some Iron Age hill fort communities developed such a function. However, 1190 Maiden Castle from its characteristics and excavation evidence is a more likely candidate for such a role.

The hypothesis is only very slightly supported: examples appear to be confined to two sites in the south area.

The general Proposition 3 therefore does not appear to be well supported, taken in the context of tests of the hypotheses, disposal evidence and the whole geographical area being covered. It seems to have some very slight application to the south area, but not to hold for the south west or south east areas.

The proposition cannot be rejected outright, however. It should be retested using hypotheses concerning non-disposal religious practices such as use of shrines, and bone and domestic refuse curation through the periods in question on all hill fort sites, with or without disposals.


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