3.1.1: How may radiocarbon and other scientific dating methods be applied most effectively to refining the period’s imprecise chronological framework?
3.1.2: How can we date more precisely the various regional styles of Neolithic and earlier Bronze Age pottery?
3.1.3: Can we further refine lithic artefact chronologies within the region?
3.1.4: Can we define more precisely the chronology of the major monument classes (causewayed enclosures, barrows and cairns etc), and how might this have varied spatially?
3.2.1: To what extent may hunter-gatherer subsistence traditions have continued into the Neolithic?
3.2.2: Can we discern continuities or discontinuities in the distributions of later Mesolithic and earlier Neolithic lithic scatters?
3.2.3: How may environmental sampling strategies assist in elucidating the transition from later Mesolithic to earlier Neolithic economies?
3.2.4: What light is thrown by isotope analysis on dietary change in the Neolithic?
3.3.1: When was the transition from nomadic to semi-sedentary and sedentary communities and to what extent did this vary in different landscapes?
3.3.2: Can we clarify the range of new crops, regional variations in the introduction of species such as spelt wheat, the relative importance of cultivated and gathered food and changes in diet?
3.3.3: What was the balance between domesticated animals and cultivated crops and how might this have varied within the region and over time?
3.3.4: When did the first field and boundary systems develop, how did this vary regionally and what processes may underlie their development?
3.4.1: How may the region’s remarkable variety of upland, lowland and coastal landscapes be surveyed in ways that would permit recognition of significant intra-regional variations in land use?
3.4.2: Can we identify locations with a high potential for elucidating variations in arable, pasture and woodland cover between ecological zones (e.g. palaeochannels; upland peats)?
3.4.3: Can we further refine our knowledge of the selective use of particular landscapes for ritual, agriculture and other activities?
3.5.1: How may we characterise more effectively the frequently ephemeral structural traces that might relate to settlement activity?
3.5.2: Can we obtain a clearer understanding of temporal and spatial variability in the duration of settlement activity?
3.5.3: How might settlement morphology and functions have varied regionally and over time, and in particular when, where and why may the first enclosed settlements have developed?
3.5.4: What may analyses of surface lithic scatters teach us about developing settlement patterns in the region?
3.6.1: Why may monument complexes have developed, why were some short-lived and others of longer duration, and why do these incorporate such a wide variety of monument types?
3.6.2: Why were some monument types, such as causewayed enclosures, long cairns and henges, constructed in some areas but not others?
3.6.3: What roles may henges, causewayed enclosures, cursuses and other monument classes have performed in contemporary society?
3.6.4: To what extent can we relate monument types to particular artefact suites, and can such information usefully inform fieldwork strategies?
3.7.1: When did burnt mounds develop, what functions may they have performed and how might they relate to contemporary settlements?
3.7.2: What ceremonial or ritual roles may rivers or other watery locations have performed and how may this have varied regionally and over time?
3.7.3: How significant were river-crossing or confluence zones as foci for monument complexes?
3.8.1: Can we identify intra-regional variations in the character of sites and artefacts and what might these signify in social or economic terms?
3.8.2: How far can studies of burials, grave goods, house and barrow/cairn structures contribute to studies of status variations within and between communities?
3.8.3: How far may DNA or isotope analysis of human bone shed light upon population mobility and in particular the Beaker population?
3.9.1: Can we locate flint, chert, igneous rock and other lithic raw material sources and identify exchange networks (e.g. Group XX Charnwood axes)?
3.9.2: How far may petrographic and other scientific analyses contribute to our understanding of systems of ceramic production and distribution?
3.9.3: How far may studies of grave goods from barrows and other burial monuments contribute to studies of trade and exchange within and beyond the region?
3.9.4: How can we further refine our understanding of the production and distribution of copper, bronze and gold items?
Strategic Objective 3A
Compile database of scientific dates and extend application of Bayesian modelling for radiocarbon dating
Reviews of radiocarbon dates for the Neolithic and Bronze Age have been prepared for some areas of the East Midlands, but there is a pressing need for an up-to-date database for the entire region that could be employed as a springboard for prioritised dating programmes. These should take full account of progress in Bayesian modelling, which rests upon the acquisition of multiple radiocarbon dates and their analysis in the context of the excavated evidence. Existing archives should be reviewed to identify those most likely to contain data appropriate for Bayesian analysis. These techniques offer exciting new opportunities to refine the chronology of excavated sites and to provide reliable cross-referencing to dated sites from elsewhere in the country. The method is particularly useful for periods such as the earlier Neolithic, which offers complex monument sequences and lengthy phases of conservatism in the manufacture of ceramic and lithic items, and could usefully be applied to such poorly dated monuments as the chambered and long cairns of the Peak District. Successful applications of the technique in the East Midlands include a Neolithic funerary cairn at Whitwell, allowing it to be placed firmly within the continuum occupied by the Cotswold-Severn chambered tombs, burnt mounds at Willington and the Raunds monument complex.
Agenda topics addressed: 3.1.1-3.1.4; 3.3.1-3.3.4; 3.5.2; 3.5.3; 3.6.1; 3.7.1; 3.7.2
Strategic Objective 3B
Assess the fieldwalking resource
There is a long tradition of fieldwalking across the region, but there has been comparatively little synthesis at the regional scale of the results of these surveys. Some of this information has been published but most resides in museum collections or in Historic Environment Records. In neither case is the detail of the information always readily accessible. A review of the results of fieldwalking surveys is recommended as a means of highlighting intra-regional contrasts in the spatial distribution of artefacts, combined with further study of museum collections. Such work may contribute in turn to the development of future programmes of investigation. In Leicestershire and northern Northamptonshire, for example, lithic scatters indicate activity areas, many of them in clayland environments, at slightly lower elevations than Mesolithic lithic scatters but at much the same distance from water sources. In contrast, surveys in Derbyshire on the uplands and in some valley locations indicate a close correlation between the locations of earlier Neolithic and later Mesolithic lithic scatters. Debate continues on the interpretation of artefact distribution patterns, but the potential of fieldwalking for developing our understanding of early settlement is illustrated by a number of intra-regional synthetic studies and by excavations of several scatters recorded during fieldwalking. These include Rothley, Leicestershire, where excavations of a clayland lithic scatter revealed domestic activity associated with Peterborough ware, Grooved Ware and an unusual carved stone plaque, and Mount Pleasant, Kenslow, Derbyshire, where excavations of several lithic clusters revealed a group of four small pits and Grimston, Peterborough and Grooved Ware deriving probably from separate phases of occupation. Close analysis of fieldwalking assemblages should, therefore, enable excavation of finds scatters to be better targeted.
Agenda topics addressed: 3.1.3; 3.2.1; 3.2.2; 3.3.1; 3.4.1; 3.4.3; 3.5.2; 3.5.4; 3.6.4; 3.8.1; 3.9.1
Strategic Objective 3C
Develop fieldwalking strategies and guidelines for landscape zones
Synthesis of the results of fieldwalking (3B) should enable the development of more refined strategies for locating and interpreting the lithic scatters that provide crucial evidence for early prehistoric activity. There is a pressing need to investigate further the lithic signatures of monument types, as this may assist the interpretation of finds scatters. In addition, building upon projects in areas such as the Fens, the Nene and Ouse catchments around Raunds and the Peak District, and upon smaller-scale surveys such as Elmton in Derbyshire, it would be useful if further surveys could be conducted across a wide spectrum of landscape zones. This would permit a more informed assessment of variations in the density and character of settlement and comparison of the lithic evidence with earthwork, cropmark and other remote sensing data across a wide range of geological and topographic zones. It should also provide a secure foundation for the development of guidelines specific to particular landscape zones and aid identification of methodologies capable of detecting sites that are not easily located. A review of the excavation record may also illuminate the nature of lithic assemblages recovered by fieldwalking.
Agenda topics addressed: 3.2.1; 3.2.2; 3.4.1; 3.4.3; 3.5.4; 3.6.4; 3.8.1
Strategic Objective 3D
Assess the regional air photographic and lidar resource
Many of Britain’s principal Neolithic and earlier Bronze Age monuments, which in the East Midlands include round and long earthen barrows or cairns, funerary enclosures, henges, timber or stone circles, cursus monuments and causewayed enclosures, may be distinguished from the air by merit of their highly distinctive morphology. Significant parts of the region are characterised by pasture or woodland, or are otherwise unsuited to cropmark formation on account of the underlying geology or the presence of masking deposits such as alluvium, colluvium or coversands. With this proviso, however, and with reference to English Heritage’s National Mapping Programme, review of the region’s air photographic resource should permit identification of many of the principal monument complexes, confirmation of their landscape settings and an initial indication of the range of components (Objective 3F]). Significantly, all but one of the eight known Neolithic causewayed enclosures in the region have been revealed by air photography, emphasising the effectiveness of this approach. The contribution of lidar, which may identify monuments preserved in pasture or concealed in dense woodland, bracken or heather, and of other airborne remote sensing methods should also be considered.
Agenda topics addressed: 3.3.4; 3.4.1-3.4.3; 3.6.1-3.6.3; 3.7.2; 3.7.3; 3.8.1
Strategic Objective 3E
Target sites with Late Mesolithic and Early Neolithic organic remains
Environmental remains attributable to the Late Mesolithic or Early Neolithic have been retrieved from a variety of contexts across the region, including rare examples of settlements spanning this transition period, upland peat bogs and organic palaeochannel deposits, notably along the Trent Valley at Bole Ings, Girton and Staythorpe in Nottinghamshire and in the Nene Valley at the Northamptonshire sites of Wellingborough, Wollaston and Stanwick. However, significantly more organically rich contexts of this period need to be targeted for environmental analysis and radiocarbon dating to elucidate patterns of landscape change during this key transitional period. Particular attention should be focused upon sites preserving organic remains that may be threatened by de-watering, while the information gained from sites under threat from development should be maximised. Discoveries of organic remains from sites such as Aston-on-Trent, Derbyshire, where Early Neolithic Grimston Ware sherds and prolific emmer wheat seeds survived beneath a much denuded Early Bronze Age barrow, and the nearby site at Potlock, where the lower fill of a cursus ditch yielded wheat and barley grains as well as seeds of blackberry, sloe, elder and hawthorn, emphasise the potential for environmental analysis. However, more sites of this period with the potential for preserved organic remains need to be sampled and carried through to publication if we are to unravel the transition from nomadic to semi-sedentary and sedentary communities and the impact of these changes upon the landscape.
Agenda topics addressed: 3.1.1; 3.2.1; 3.2.3; 3.3.1-3.3.3; 3.4.1-3.4.3
Strategic Objective 3F
Identify monument complexes and prioritise for curatorial action
Neolithic and Bronze Age monument complexes are poorly known by comparison with areas such as Wessex, but there is compelling evidence nonetheless for landscapes of equal complexity. Impressive earthwork complexes survive on the Derbyshire uplands, notably around the henge at Arbor Low and on Stanton Moor, but lowland complexes must be deduced principally from cropmarks. It is important to identify surviving examples, establish the variety of monuments and ensure that appropriate curatorial decisions can be made concerning their preservation. This is particularly urgent in lowland areas such as the Nene Valley and Tame-Trent confluence, where quarrying and other pressures pose major challenges for the management of landscapes that in terms of their complexity rival the great Wessex monument complexes. Much remains to be done on establishing the chronology and components of monument complexes, locational preferences and intra-regional variability in monument associations. Spatial variability is particularly difficult to demonstrate, but is indicated, for example, by the tight focus of cursus-based complexes in the Middle Trent and Soar Valleys and a propensity in the Lincolnshire Wolds for long funerary enclosures to be associated with mounds of various shapes.
Agenda topics addressed: 3.4.3; 3.6.1-3.6.4; 3.7.2; 3.7.3; 3.8.1
Strategic Objective 3G
Conduct additional investigations of earlier Neolithic funerary traditions
Funerary traditions involving the construction of timber chambered barrows, as at Skendleby in Lincolnshire, and outside the region at the Cambridgeshire site of Haddenham, clearly relate to practices that are found extensively along the eastern side of England and Scotland. Cropmark evidence from Leicestershire and Northamptonshire suggests that similar monuments may be found in these areas, but Derbyshire presents a very different picture. Here, there is seemingly a very wide range of stone-built monuments. Some of these, including the excavated monument at Whitwell, bear comparison with the mainstream of cairns of western England. Others, however, are characterised by a confusing variety of poorly recorded evidence. There is a need for further excavation to elucidate the details of cairn construction and to retrieve coherent skeletal assemblages, artefacts and samples for scientific dating and stable isotope analysis (see Objective 3H). It is recommended that this be undertaken in conjunction with fieldwork designed to identify associated activity areas and other related monuments.
Agenda topics addressed: 3.1.4; 3.2.4; 3.4.3; 3.6.2-3.6.4; 3.8.1-3.8.3; 3.9.3
Strategic Objective 3H
Recover and analyse human remains
Rare discoveries of human bone in Mesolithic contexts and more frequent discoveries on Neolithic to Middle Bronze Age sites highlight both their potential for analysis and the inadequacies of the current data set. Mesolithic material is especially sparse, and is best represented in the region by the discovery of a female femur associated with animal bone preserving evidence of butchery in the fill of a palaeochannel at Staythorpe in Nottinghamshire. This remarkable find was dated by radiocarbon to 5740-5620 cal BC (Beta-14401; 95% probability) and was shown by stable isotope analysis to derive from an individual heavily reliant on animal protein, with a surprising dearth of plant foods and no influence of coastal food resources. Neolithic and Bronze Age remains have been retrieved more frequently, particularly from funerary and watery contexts, but interpretation is seriously restricted by the limited scope of most analyses. It is recommended that more emphasis be placed upon appropriate sampling strategies and analyses, with the development of further ground-breaking programmes such as the isotopic analysis of Beaker skeletal remains that is currently being undertaken at the University of Sheffield, alongside detailed studies of burial contexts, dentition and skeletal remains. Radiocarbon dating of human remains should be conducted as a matter of routine, with appropriate application of Bayesian modelling (Objective 3A).
Agenda topics addressed: 3.1.1; 3.1.4; 3.2.4; 3.3.2; 3.7.2; 3.8.2; 3.8.3
Strategic Objective 3I
Investigate the development and intensification of agriculture
Although traditionally seen as a period of agricultural innovation, evidence for a transition from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural economy has proved stubbornly absent. Current interpretations assume a variable conversion in southern Britain to an agricultural economy that may have focused initially on cattle herding, with arable agriculture developing more slowly at a smaller scale. Within the East Midlands, there is some evidence to support this hypothesis, notably from north Derbyshire peat bogs preserving pollen that may indicate small-scale disturbances to vegetation in response to early animal herding. In addition, sites of this period generally yield very limited evidence for domesticated crops and animals, reflecting perhaps a slow conversion to an agricultural economy. There are indications on some sites of a greater abundance of animal bones and botanical indicators of cultivation from the later Neolithic, while studies of upland peats and palaeochannel deposits have yielded evidence for accelerating woodland clearance towards the end of the period. To clarify further the development of farming communities, additional targeted sampling of palaeochannels, peat bogs and other locations likely to preserve environmental remains of these periods is recommended. It is suggested that this be combined with studies of soil micromorphology and geochemistry, which may provide valuable information on the extension of cultivation and agricultural intensification. Special emphasis should be placed on the recovery of large assemblages of animal bone from excavations.
Agenda topics addressed: 3.2.1; 3.3.1-3.3.3; 3.4.2; 3.5.3
Strategic Objective 3J
Foster relevant artefact studies
Considerable advances in artefact studies have been made in recent years, but further research would be particularly welcome on the dating of ceramic and lithic artefacts, the production and distribution of pottery, stone tools and metalwork, and residue analyses of pottery. Resources could usefully be focused upon radiocarbon dating of carbonised accretions on pottery and of stratified lithic assemblages associated with pots preserving accretions datable by radiocarbon or short-life carbonised material. Petrographic analyses of lithic artefacts and pottery have demonstrated complex exchange networks, exemplified by a distinctive suite of stone axes and other artefacts around Arbor Low in Derbyshire, Group XX polished stone axes derived from unlocated quarry sites in Charnwood Forest and Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery tempered with granitoid inclusions derived from Mountsorrel and other Charnwood sources. Further scientific analyses are recommended to refine our understanding of the production and distribution of these materials. There is also significant scope for investigating further the exchange networks fossilised in the distribution of pottery and other artefacts of the Beaker ‘package', while studies of Bronze Age metalwork may elucidate production and distribution systems extending far beyond the East Midlands. Particular attention should also be paid to analyses of the surface and absorbed organic residues preserved in pottery, as these may provide important insights into vessel functions, the materials processed in pottery vessels, and the wider economy. This potential is illustrated by analyses of Neolithic pottery from Willington in Derbyshire, where lipid analysis revealed traces of ruminant dairy and porcine fats.
Agenda topics addressed: 3.1.2; 3.8.1; 3.8.2; 3.9.1-3.9.4