6.2 Iron Age

The Iron Age settlement seems to have emerged on a site where minor traces of earlier activity may have been apparent, though already of some antiquity (e.g. earlier Bronze Age). The enclosure appears to mark a new, though temporary, expansion of settlement sites towards the end of the Iron Age (Wigley 2007), which can also be seen in other parts of the Midlands (i.e. Trent Valley; Knight 2007). There was no categorical evidence at Blackstone for an earlier Iron Age unenclosed settlement later becoming the site of an enclosure, as has been noted, for instance, at Frocester (Gloucs; Moore 2007a, 269) and more widely in Warwickshire and in the north Welsh Marches (Wigley 2007, 182). Despite further features being defined beyond the outer ditch, these remained broadly undated (see above) because of a lack of finds, and seemed similar to features which elsewhere on the site were assigned an earlier prehistoric date wherever associated finds were present. While an earlier unenclosed settlement, therefore, remained possible, there was no clear evidence at Blackstone for an earlier unenclosed Iron Age site, which was later enclosed.

6.2.1 Blackstone enclosure in its regional context

In a draft report mainly compiled in 1979 Davenport and Hunt wrote:

Blackstone can only be very tentatively set into a regional framework since excavation has hardly touched non-hillfort settlement in the area, and what has been done has not yet been fully published. Aerial photography and fieldwork have shown that the major river valleys of the west Midlands were quite heavily occupied in the pre-Roman and Roman periods, while settlements on heavier soils are found to an extent which suggests positive, though less extensive, development of these areas. In particular many enclosures of the same general kind as Blackstone have been discovered in the Avon and Severn valleys (Webster and Hobley 1964, sites 1, 2, 4, 11, 17, 47; Woodhouse 1972). Some of these have been dated to the Roman period, but others are sure to be earlier. As Taylor (1975; 1983) has pointed out, aerial surveys produced a limited and distorted sample (of populations whose size we cannot begin to estimate), and most of the 'sites' traced by these surveys are undated. Since we cannot construct or discuss patterns of Iron Age settlement in the west Midlands on this kind of evidence, though the few dated settlements are likely to be but the tip of a large iceberg, there is a need to turn to the few excavated sites for comparisons.

Hints of Iron Age open settlement have been picked up at Astley (Walker 1958) and Barford (Oswald 1966-7); and at Beckford, with the exception of the 1st-century AD enclosure (Oswald 1970-2), the series of enclosures are not in any sense defensive (Britnell 1974; 1975). There seem, therefore, to be several modes of settlement organisation in the region, but their functions and inter-relationships cannot yet be ascertained.

It is tempting to assume that a strongly enclosed site such as Blackstone would be higher up the socio-economic scale, and that a certain prestige element can also be identified there, but without a better understanding of the settlement pattern such assumptions cannot really be substantiated.

Thirty years on (2008), excavated Iron Age sites are still not well represented in this part of Worcestershire, and the only explicitly dated sites within a c. 5km radius of Blackstone are quite old discoveries: a large jar and two glass beads from Dowles, Bewdley (SO782761; WSM 1174), reckoned to be of Iron Age date, and an Iron Age coin from Greygreen Farm, Kidderminster (SO791774; WSM 5545). A hillfort has been posited slightly further south on the opposite bank of the river on Stagborough Hill (SO788723; WSM 3908). A further hillfort has been postulated at Wassell Wood Camp (SO795777; WSM 3884), 3.5km to the north and on the east side of the river. In both cases there is insufficient information to determine whether these sites exist and, if so, whether they are being correctly described. The lack of new discoveries since the 1970s, except for a small number of finds reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, is also quite striking, and suggests that Iron Age occupation sites in this area are indeed rare.

Elsewhere in Worcestershire the later Iron Age has been revealed in some detail at Droitwich (Woodiwiss 1992; Barfield 2006), including the excavation of a nearby farmstead at Wychbold, north of Droitwich (Jones and Evans 2006), and remains have been sampled or salvage-excavated at Throckmorton (Griffin et al. 2005) and Norton and Lenchwick (Jackson et al. 1996). At Conderton Camp there was evidence for site desertion in the early to mid-2nd century BC (Thomas 2005, 256; 200-80 cal BC), and at Beckford it is not clear where settlement went after the desertion of the middle Iron Age. The available evidence seems, therefore, to indicate significant settlement dislocation and change towards the late Iron Age, at least based on a conventional reading of the pottery dating (Moore 2007b, 47). The Blackstone enclosure may have been created in response to this change (see below). Across the area generally, other evidence still relies on aerial photographic and geophysical survey data, which provides only limited information on its own.


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