3.2.3 Period 3. Iron Age

Commentary on the Site Description (2008)

Overview | Enclosure ditch (inner) | Inner ditch recutting | Bank | Inner annexe | Palisade I | Gateway | Palisade II | Outer ditch | Internal structures | Pits | Iron Age structural discussion Iron Age structural discussion (Davenport and Hunt 1979)

Within the Iron Age enclosure social arrangements and organisation are difficult, if not impossible, to assess. No indisputable house remains were found and so it was difficult to estimate the size of the population or its condition. Either these houses remain to be excavated in the unexamined areas (in which case they were few and small), or were not recognised, or had been totally destroyed by plough erosion. The remains of hearths in the north and west of the site might indicate domestic occupation in these areas, but their presence could equally well be accounted for by other activities.

Economically, the assumption would be that the wealth of the settlement was based on farming. No incontrovertible evidence for this was recovered, but plant remains and the minimal surviving animal bones (see Environmental Evidence) were all compatible with a normal lowland mixed farming system. No field systems, paddocks or other enclosures are visibly associated with the site, but the variety of local soils and topography would make such an approach an obvious one. The quern from the site also indicated the milling and consumption of grain. The existence of pits, usually taken to be primarily for storage of foodstuffs, might also argue cereal production, but they are relatively few in number. Produce might also have been stored above ground, as the many postholes provide ample possibilities for structures, though the small four-post 'granary', common at sites elsewhere, was not found at Blackstone.

Deriving figures from Startin (1976) it can be estimated that the first ditch and bank, and presumed wattle fence or palisade, would have taken about a month to construct (assuming four adults working a ten-hour day). The second ditch and associated works, however, would have required nearly four months' work, given the same resources and conditions. This potentially provided a fairly well-defended site in a reasonably defensible position, but it is noteworthy that this is not the best defensible position locally available, since Blackstone Rock with its sheer cliff edge is about 1km to the north and represents a much better position of military strength if such a criterion had been paramount in site selection. On the other hand the scale of the Period 3.3 enclosure works greatly exceeded the minimum necessary to delimit property, contain stock and exclude predatory animals and casual thieves. It might, therefore, be asked whether the Iron Age builders were seeking to imitate at a smaller scale the hillforts of the period, as, for example, it could be argued that medieval moated homesteads did by imitating the castles of that period.

However, any claim to its being a primarily defensible site seems to be undermined by a comparative lack of evidence for obvious internal domestic structures, while its internal area (c. 0.5ha) seems to preclude occupation by more than an extended family. There is also the question how in practice the occupants both raised the resources and carried out the construction of such an ambitious plan based, apparently, on a fairly limited household size. Paradoxically, such an achievement was not reflected in any prestige objects attested archaeologically, and the power and wealth may have consisted more in trading contacts that allowed a living to be made without being entirely dependent on agriculture.


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