The Neolithic monuments of Wiltshire are among the most famous archaeological sites of Southern Britain. The Museum collections dating to this period are perhaps surprisingly small, yet are extremely significant, with assemblages relating to a number of key sites throughout the county. Amongst the earliest Neolithic assemblages in the collections are the unpublished contents of early Neolithic pits excavated beneath the Early Bronze Age Bishops Cannings G61 and G62a round barrows on Roughridge Hill by Edwina Proudfoot in 1964. These pits produced an assemblage of 610 Early Neolithic ceramic sherds, including carinated bowl forms and with a composition which closely resembles that seen in the Conybury anomaly (Barclay et al. 2018), implying a very early date. Unfortunately, it is unclear what proportion of the human and animal bone assemblage was retained, and that which is recorded in the museum collection management system could not be found in time for inclusion in Barclay et al.’s (2018) project. A comparably early Neolithic site has also been identified at Oliver’s Hill Field, Cherhill (Smith and Evans 1983), discussed above for its Late Mesolithic occupation. 210 early Neolithic sherds were recovered, in addition to a slightly larger Middle Neolithic Peterborough ware assemblage. A sizable assemblage of flint is also recorded from Neolithic features at the site, but as has previously been noted, the animal bone assemblage from this site is now held by the Natural History Museum.

Figure 3.1: The Breamore Axehead

In addition to these site assemblages, 59 Early Neolithic stone axeheads are held by the museum, including the exceptional Breamore axehead, made from Alpine Jadeitite (Figure 3.1).

Other Early Neolithic sites assemblages in the collections include a substantial collection of ceramics from Windmill Hill, excavated by Rev. H.G.O. Kendall in 1924 (Cunnington and Goddard 1934: 83), and a small assemblage of ceramics, flint and animal remains relating to both Cunnington’s and Conah’s excavations at Knap Hill (Cunnington 1911; Conah 1965). Unlike many other Neolithic enclosures, Knap Hill appears to have only been occupied only briefly in the Neolithic (Conah 1965), an interpretation recently reinforced by radiocarbon dating (see below). The most famous of the Early Neolithic assemblages held in the Museum collections derives from Stuart Piggott’s excavations of West Kennett Long Barrow, in addition to the human remains, a small assemblage of early Neolithic pottery and flint was also recovered, but the archive also contains a sizable assemblage of Middle Neolithic Peterborough ware. Much smaller assemblages of Peterborough ware are also associated with the excavations of the Millbarrow, Winterbourne Monkton, (Whittle 1994) and Beckhampton Road, Avebury, long barrows (Ashbee et al. 1979), the former was much disturbed however, the excavations of the latter were able to reconstruct the construction sequence of the barrow in relative detail. Beckhampton Road (Bishops Cannings G76) is of particular interest as the monument contained no human remains, and appears to have been built around three partially articulated cattle skulls placed along its central axis. Although the onsite recording is inconsistent, with a few exceptions which appear to have been removed at the time of the initial report’s preparation, the entire animal bone assemblage is extant.

The principal Late Neolithic assemblage in the collections relates to Wainwright’s 1969 excavation of Marden Henge, in the Vale of Pewsey (Waingwright et al. 1971). The excavation of this henge monument, comparable to the more famous site at Durrington Walls, produced a large assemblage of 602 Grooved ware sherds, mostly in the Durrington style, as well as a small but important collection of animal bone, dominated by cattle and pigs, and flintwork. More recent excavations on the site have also produced further artefacts, including a pair of exceptional oblique arrowheads (Bishop et al. 2011), although the bulk of these archives still await deposition. The Museum also holds the archives relating to St. George Gray’s 1908-1922 excavations of Avebury, and the sizable Grooved ware assemblage from the Cunnington’s 1926-8 excavations of Woodhenge, as well as numerous assemblages from other, smaller sites from across the period not mentioned here.

Human remains

The most substantial assemblage of human remains dating to the Neolithic period belong to the excavation archive of West Kennett Long Barrow, with the Museum holding all of the post- cranial elements recovered during Stuart Piggott’s excavations. Unfortunately, the cranial elements are held separately by the Duckworth Laboratory in Cambridge. As would be expected, the majority of Neolithic human remains in the collections date to the early Neolithic; with smaller assemblages of material from historic excavations of long barrows such as Bowl’s Barrow (Cunnington 1889), and Lanhill Barrow (Cunnington 1910). A more recently excavated assemblage of human bone belongs to the archive associated with Whittle et al.’s (1994) excavation of Millbarrow, Winterbourne Monkton, although the barrow had been leveled in the 19th century, meaning the remains were largely from disturbed contexts. In addition to these groups, a number of isolated burials are also held in the collections: including an unpublished juvenile burial from the ramparts of the Knap Hill causewayed enclosure, and late Neolithic remains from Marden Henge (Wainwright et al. 1971) and a cist near Millbarrow, recently radiocarbon dated by the Beaker People Project to 2880-2630 cal BC (see Parker Pearson et al. 2019: SK132). A substantial quantity of cremated human remains of probable Late Neolithic date were also recovered in a pit below West Overton G44 in association with Late Neolithic pottery, but is not published.

Figure 3.2 Map showing the distribution of key sites mentioned in the text. Image contains Ordnance Survey data, crown copyright 2022.

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