Vespasian’s Camp Sensation

by Dennis on September 21, 2012

Vespasian’s Camp – “Cradle of Stonehenge” and “…evidence of 9,000 years of ritual and occupational activity, beginning three millennia before Stonehenge was built….”

Well, who on Earth would have thought it?

I particularly like this part “…the full archaeological potential of the 2,500 year-old hillfort only started to be appreciated recently”.

How recently, and by whom, I find myself wondering?

Post on the ancient Druids to follow shortly.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

ND Wiseman November 3, 2012 at 2:00 pm

3 November 2012

I missed this topic in the previous line-up for some reason …

Long overshadowed by Stonehenge and Durrington – particularly with the startling advances made in the last decade by The SH Riverside Project – Vespasian’s Camp is now coming to be recognized as a major archeological site, almost certainly in continuous occupation from around 9-K BP.
Even Julian Richards’ Coneybury Henge gets more airplay for some reason. Its importance downplayed by the highest echelons, it was only last week that Mike Parker Pearson himself ‘apologized’ for this oversight at his well-attended London Seminar. (There were also a couple of other anticipated clarifications and even a glaring omission – but these are topics for another discussion.)

A trove of late Mesolithic/early Neolithic artifacts, various parts of the Camp are – and have been – excavated by a team of archeos working quietly for some years. (I have a Mole planted deep within this unsuspecting team and receive periodic, sub rosa communiques regarding the more interesting finds.)

But after all this, the significance of the site shouldn’t be surprising. Near plentiful access to water, hunting, and at the time, forest, it’s coming to light that this location was a long-standing periodic, then virtually permanent, ‘Camp’ for thousands of years. Over-shadowed by subsequent developments at the Cursus, Durrington and Stonehenge, this ancient site fell into disuse until the Bronze and Iron Ages, layering those well-known deposits over the much older ones.

Another clue to its significance can be found in the so-called ‘Car-Park Totems’, as I call them. Another one just discovered under the ticket office, they are on par in age and demonstrate that the culture which raised them had arrived at a point in their society whereby it became necessary to exhibit their codified belief system tangibly.

As more information becomes widely available I think we’ll see Vespasian’s Camp coming to be recognized as a major crossroad within the landscape over time, and will help solidify this area as being among the reasons for its selection for the later famous sites.


John Witts November 4, 2012 at 7:06 am

As far as I know the ‘ticket office totem’ Neil refers to could be the palisade ditch?

This feature is in any case very interesting as source of the famous toy ‘hedgehog’ as well as another Iron Age burial. It is not convincingly dated and runs north-east from Stonehenge Down passing just north of Stonehenge and then terminating at Stonehenge bottom junctioning with the Avenue elbow. That seems a highly significant alignment and meeting point and highlighting what must have been a very important place in the Stonehenge landscape.

Once we start looking at the Mesolithc then we must also consider how the very much neglected Robin Hood’s Ball causewayed enclosure fits into the schematic. Such monuments are supposed to have great import in the transition from the Mesolthic to Neolithic.

John Witts November 4, 2012 at 9:22 am

I forgot about a fourth (and possibly fifth hole), one of which may be the one Neil is referring to.

The post holes were covered on EI and there is also an interesting article

This proposes some astronomical features for dating the avenue and hopefully they can be resolved by those with the requisite knowledge. Also Newham proposed alignments based on the Mesolithic post-holes which were apparently invalidated when they were found to be far older than Neolithic. Did those 4000 years actually completely invalidate the possibility of those alignments?

Chris Johnson November 5, 2012 at 10:51 am

Good to hear MPP is taking Vespasian’s camp seriously.

We sometimes forget that the Mesolithic immigrants likely had complex beliefs and mythology developed over thousands of years.

Dennis November 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm

It’s not an original observation, but I’ve often thought how the first earthworks at Stonehenge resembled a causewayed enclosure rather than a henge. This isn’t a lot of help, admittedly, when we don’t know what purpose causewayed enclosures served, but it interests me that the earthworks at Stonehenge so closely resembled one of these far earlier monuments, so it suggests to me that some ‘thing’ about the causewayed enclosure design lingered for long enough and was deemed valuable or suitable enough to be put into physical form on the site of what we now call Stonehenge.

I wrote about this some years ago in a post dealing with long barrows, but it fascinates me that the site of Stonehenge was unoccupied or avoided for so long, when other immense earthworks were being built all around. Clearly, Robin Hood’s Ball fits into the equation somewhere in a meaningful fashion, but I have to admit that nothing worth mentioning has occurred to me in all the years I’ve been thinking about it. If anyone else has any ideas, I’d like to hear about them.

John Witts November 7, 2012 at 8:06 am

Causeway camps or now enclosures remain a mystery. On first look (more or less brain storming) at Robin Hood’s Ball there seemed to be three possible connections. The date of its construction (early 4th millennium) and that of the ox skulls placed in the ditch at the much later Stonehenge seems interesting. The digging of segmented ditches at causeway enclosures is very similar to the segmented nature of the henge ditch. Robin Hood’s Ball shape – certainly the outer ditch and , I think, the “entrance” and the slope of the hill – focuses to the south east towards the lower lying more or less contemporary Cursus and also the site of Stonehenge.

All to be more carefully checked.

ND Wiseman November 7, 2012 at 1:46 pm

lol. I was once severely chastised for referring to SH’s original segmented Ditch as a Causewayed Enclosure. But other than its size and peculiar inner bank, it can only resemble one of these old, mysterious structures.
Robin Hood’s Ball is another edifice which has been severely overlooked in the larger picture, and as Mr Witts has said, I wonder at its time-thread connection to the later, more sophisticated builds.

One of the early explanations of a ditch of both Henges and an Enclosure is that it performs a separation between the ‘Sacred Domain of [Your Definition]‘, and the Real World.
I think this continues to be the most likely explanation.

The ancient, carefully placed animals skulls positioned at segment-ends in the SH ditch are certainly baffling – some of which are several hundred years older than the ditch itself. But if nothing else, they lend a tantalizing peek into the animist creeds of an older belief-system and perhaps act as a bridge between the old and the new.

I would be interested to learn what they find in the bottom layer at Vespasian’s Camp and if there’s any correlation with those and what we have found of a similar age elsewhere.


Jonathan November 7, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Talking of Causewayed enclosures, Combe Hill is different from the rest because it can not enclose anything: The northern segment falls away too steeply. Would have worked as an enclosure if they had built it 50 yards further south. (you knew I would have to put my two penneth in)

John Witts November 8, 2012 at 6:14 am

From what I have read causeway camps seem to be different in one respect or another suggesting that they were very much a local response to a general theme. In their general distribution I can see a possible analogy with the modern fair – a ‘seasonal meeting’ which differs in detail from place to place and, nowadays, recalls different aspects of the past.

In the early Neolithic with borderline pastoral communities putting down some more definite roots it could have been a way of saying we are here – come and visit us and as such regonise our claim to this land as ours.

One important clue seems to be in the fact that the causeways do not necessarily correspond wth gaps in the banks as that would seem to rule out some of the more obvious functional ideas about corrals but is very suggestive of ritual. Is there again a modern analogy – perhaps not in meaning but in idea – in the maze?

These sites have been very useful

As for the criticism Neil received I see no reason for it. Essentially the original Stonehenge ditch was a series of ditches with two causeways. As such it may have been developing on the idea at causeway camps reflecting a development, perhaps the formalising, of the rituals.

ND Wiseman November 8, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Thank you Mr Witts.
I had this idea in my head that in order to perform even the most rudimentary get-together, a Causewayed Enclosure would be required.

So then, when Steve-The-Dustman felt the time was right to hold the bi-annual Society of Dustman’s Fish & Goose Soiree and Ladies-Aid Rummage Sale, they first had to build an Enclosure.

The ‘Entrances’ are not always aligned to anything and in many cases who knows where the Entrances are actually supposed to be, there’s so many breaks in the ditches. Some have midden holes, others nothing at all. No Stones, no Posts … Just sort of sitting out there being separated from the regular landscape.

Now, let’s be honest … The august, mighty, mysterious, enigmatic and awe-inspiring, world-renown monument we call Stonehenge has a ditch & dike system that’s something … less than perfect. Hardly ’round’, the 8-odd segments of the circuit are pretty rough & ready, of different lengths and breadths, and are clearly dug by generational gangs who may have been in friendly competition.

Yes, yes – there were the Aubrey Holes and all that ’56 Stars’ and other mystical malarkey … but that was all a little bit later.

Essentially it was a rather large Causewayed Enclosure just like many others. It aligned to the Solstice and had a misplaced Southern Entrance, sure – but so did a lot of others of the era.

Personally, I think it was Neolithic Party-Time. These were carried out over a very long period, eventually becoming a codified part of the Culture.

Now we need a bigger venue, so let’s build a bigger Circle.

The next thing you know a whole Religious Cult has arisen around this theme and they start dragging pine-posts, then Bluestones into the Circle.

(Keep yer mouth shut or the next thing you know they’ll have us hauling them gawd-awful Sarsens, like up at Avebury!)

Naturally I’m being slightly cavalier here, but the thesis is that not into the Realm of Mysticism does every Enclosure dwell.

In the beginning, I don’t believe there was a great sense of History In The Making at Stonehenge.
Steve-The-Dustman was simply looking for a venue to host the mid-winter get-together.

Then they cut down all the trees in the area and noticed the Ice Striations.
(Then things really started to get interesting!)


Jonathan November 9, 2012 at 1:57 pm

Could well be Neil

If you’ve already made an enclosure to keep livestock in, maybe a guard with too much time on his/her hands started to think about what else it could be used for over the course of a long night: Makes sense, they would be the only ones up at that hour and have lots of spare time on their hands?

ND Wiseman November 10, 2012 at 2:06 am

To: Mr Witts
Those links are truly informative & very helpful – thanks for those!

John Witts November 10, 2012 at 7:39 pm

The Megalthic Portal reported on this

AHanna October 23, 2013 at 11:31 am

A sensational recent Vespasian’s Camp update with lots of sensational photos.

Austin October 23, 2013 at 7:08 pm

At the Blick Mead project today (23 October 2013) the lead archaeologist announced that at the foot of one of the trenches, a number of sharp flint cutting tools in the style of Paleolithic implements have been found. He indicated that as they had been found in a Mesolithic pit they are not necessarily indicative of Paleolithic activity and could have been constructed in Mesolithic times in a Paleolithic style. My first thought were of the Creswellion culture which have been proved to have been present at Hengistbury Head around 10 500 BC…37 miles south where the Avon runs out into the English Channel. There is the tantalizing possibility that proof of man’s activity in this area could be on the verge of being pushed even further into prehistory .

Dennis October 23, 2013 at 7:23 pm

That is quite amazing, Austin, so thank you very much indeed for writing in and letting us all know. As far as I’m personally concerned, we’re getting into Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the Dawn of Man and the Monolith territory, although I’ve written about all this before now on EI – somewhere, regarding the bluestones.

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