6. Site Discussion

D. Hurst

Blackstone lies on the edge of a gravel terrace above the river and its floodplain, and so would have been at the intersection of different natural terrains, offering a broad range of natural resources from the river and the surrounding landscape, now the southern edge of Wyre Forest. That the river was once fordable near Blackstone is indicated by the nearby place-name evidence of Ribbesford on the opposite bank of the river – such fords were compromised by 19th-century building of locks on this stretch of the river. Some have also described a crossing point in the vicinity of Bewdley as part of the so-called Clee Hills-Clun prehistoric trackway into south Shropshire (Chitty 1963). The significance of sites close to the river may also have been enhanced if the river marked any territorial boundaries, either local or more major. The site, therefore, potentially occupied a key point in the landscape.

6.1 Earlier prehistoric

6.1.1 North-west Worcestershire

The bulk of the prehistoric sites in the vicinity of Blackstone tend to be of earlier prehistoric date, with the majority of these being stray find-spots, for instance flints from 0.9km to the north-east (SO798742; WSM 32014) although significant quantities of Mesolithic finds have also been a particular feature of the area, for which the best site so far is at Lightmarsh Farm (Bevan 1994), only 3.5km to the north. Flint was also the principal artefactual theme that emerged from the watching brief in 1991 carried out over a distance of 7km along a pipe-line from Blackstone southwards to Astley (Dinn and Hemingway 1992, 117-18). Part of the route was just to the east of the Blackstone site, with some flint being found in every field, and one site being particularly productive (about 1km north of Blackstone; WSM 5540), which was recorded as Mesolithic to Bronze Age.

An axe-hammer (WSM 8157) from dredging the river at Bewdley in 1872 (Smith 1957, 16), and several Bronze Age implements from the Bewdley area (Smith 1957, 18-19) have also been recorded as antiquarian finds. Such finds have been taken as a positive indication of an ancient crossing point, whereas others have ascribed them to ritual activity at a watery place, as known from sites elsewhere.

This pattern of finds reflects the broad and curious trend in Smith's 1957 Worcestershire survey for earlier prehistoric objects to be from north Worcestershire and for Iron Age objects to be from the south of the county. Judging from the current picture of this area, based on 15 years of site evaluation as part of the development process, the north-west Worcestershire sandlands do seem to be particularly well associated with earlier prehistoric activity, possibly because the light ground supports less dense woodland that is open enough for easier movement, and, therefore, hunting.

Comparison with other parts of Worcestershire where extensive fieldwork has been carried out indicates a possible contrasting history of land-use. For instance, at Hanbury in central Worcestershire, flint was regularly present but there were hardly any Mesolithic finds, while a relative abundance of Roman pottery was commented on (Dyer 1991, 12-15). This comparison between north-west Worcestershire and the land further south, therefore, shows some striking contrasts in the archaeological record and the possibility of commensurate contrasts in early land-use between these areas in the past, though clearly further evidence is needed before any firm conclusions can be drawn, and this would be best gathered by large-scale field survey.

It should be borne in mind, however, that in periods when settlement was unenclosed, archaeological detection may well prove difficult, and so settlement sites of earlier prehistoric date may well be under-represented throughout. Studies in the wider region have also revealed that the absence of sites, in this case of later prehistoric date, is especially the result of variability of fieldwork coverage rather than a real absence, as demonstrated in Worcestershire by the recent discovery during fieldwork of both small (e.g. Wychbold; Jones and Evans 2006) and large (i.e. Evesham; Edwards and Hurst 2000; and Pershore; Hurst 2000a) occupation sites. A similar situation has been posited for the wider region (e.g. central Welsh Marches; Wigley 2007).

6.1.2 Blackstone site

The earlier prehistoric features have only been tentatively identified at Blackstone, as in most cases there was no stratigraphic reason to confirm their pre-Iron Age date, and this relied mainly on artefactual association (i.e. usually flint). These were generally amorphous and irregular features of the type seen on other sites of this date (cf. Lightmarsh Farm; Jackson et al. 1994). In the Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age periods the character of the flint assemblage suggested occasional occupation, and so the Blackstone site might have been a convenient camping spot while hunting and foraging across the area. The small amount of Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery would be in keeping with this scenario, as heavy pots would have been less likely to be used by more mobile groups. The special convenience of this location may have also been determined by a short hollow-way (Fig. 49), possibly representing an ancient route-way from the river leading steeply from the river up and onto the more elevated position of the site. A similar feature has recently been noted on the southern edge of the City of Worcester where it also coincides with the presence of earlier prehistoric (and Roman) features (WCM 101457; Rogers et al. 2007).

It could not be determined in the 1970s whether all the earlier prehistoric activity was confined to the area later enclosed in the Iron Age, as there was little exploration beyond and, where features did come to light, they were all undated. The possibility remains, therefore, that this was also the site of an unenclosed earlier prehistoric settlement.

Figure 49

Figure 49: Trackway (possibly ancient) down to river from north side of the Blackstone enclosure.


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