3,000-1,700 BC Developing Ways to Share the Landscape

A family buries a Grooved Ware pot during a ceremony in a woodland clearing, perhaps as an offering to the gods.
A family buries a Grooved Ware pot during a ceremony in a woodland clearing, perhaps as an offering to the gods.

Travel in time

Backwards in time to 8,500-4,000 BC

The new monuments of 2,600-1,700 BC

It is likely that the cursus and enclosure monuments continued to provide the architectural setting for the ceremonial ‘glue’ that held the community together for the next 500 to 800 years. Over this time the ceremonies would have changed and continued to evolve, and the monuments were altered slightly. During this period people started to hold ceremonies in the clearings that had been assigned to them, ceremonies which ended with the breaking of pottery and its deposition together with flintwork in pits. A distinctive style of decorated pottery called Peterborough Ware is often associated with these deposits. Along with this material, the wild fruits of the woodland edge were also deposited: hazelnuts, crab apples and sloes, suggesting that these ceremonies took place in the autumn in woodland clearings. This practice continued after the adoption of a new form of pottery, Grooved Ware, probably after 2600 BC. Sometime during the currency of Grooved Ware pottery, new monuments were constructed, the first in almost a thousand years. Once again these took the form of small circular enclosures of earthen banks and ditches, with one example aligned on the spring and autumn equinoxes. There was thus a renewed requirement for architectural settings for the representatives of the family groups to meet and maintain the cohesion of the community.

The mechanism with which the community was able to operate cohesively had been changing slowly since the construction of the cursus monuments up to 1500 years before, so it is perhaps not surprising that we see yet more changes between 2000 and 1700 BC. During this period, Beaker pottery and the associated burial rights seem to have been largely ignored in the Heathrow area. Instead pottery called Collared Urn appears to have been utilised in similar ways to Grooved Ware of earlier centuries, except that now it sometimes incorporates through funerary rituals the remains of the dead in making a claim to land. Sometimes, these cremation burials are marked by small earthen mounds or barrows. In many ways this marks the last gasp of the use of monuments, ceremonies and discrete artefact deposits to negotiate access to land and resources in an increasingly open landscape. In the next part of the website we will show how, around 1700 BC, the whole process was replaced by the physical division of the land by boundary ditches, banks and hedgerows, a process as revolutionary in terms of the community and inhabitation of the landscape as the construction of the cursus monuments almost 2000 years earlier

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7 Responses to 3,000-1,700 BC Developing Ways to Share the Landscape

  1. Adele W Thackray says:

    I find this image (the first one) very thought provoking, usually when we (archaeologists) think of a form of ritual ceremony we tend to think of this as a more formal event involving perhaps all or selected important members of the past community. Rather like the modern westernised equivalent of a baptism or even a ceremonial opening of a new supermarket. However this picture is surprisingly refreshing and thought provoking in its depiction of a more private ritual event.
    I see this representation as inclusive and another possibility to rethink our theories on what the excavational evidence could be implying. This opens the mind away from the idea that ritual in the Neolithic and the Bronze Age was ‘always’ done on a grander scale than this reconstruction shows.

  2. It is striking how adding a crowd in the distance changes the whole feel of the picture.

    I think if there was a crowd there then the main participants would be ‘dressed up’ for the occasion in some way – rather than being in work a day clothes

    I liked the original picture because the word ‘ritual’ conjures up images of heavily bedecked people being very formal – so this picture presented a different interpretation of ritual

  3. Ivo Melle says:

    I am nearly at the end of a PhD research- ‘Indigenous and Ecotourism in Muanenguba Cameroon’ at the London Metroploitan University.

    In my staudy area, the Bakossiland, the native Muanegoe society’s model excludes commoners during rituals. By virtue of bieng less likely to sell mbuog i.e. the society or culture and people protected by the sacrets, only elders or custodians who keep particular items used for such rituals (men-referred to by one of my ethnographic respondents as ‘cultural people’ or ‘enforcers of tradition’) take part to represent the rest. Such rituals are part of elaborate ceremonies that end up in worldly or secular parts whereby the whole community then joins in.

    If no onlookers were seen in the distance, I will agree that it is a family affair. But families have never been as big as the head count in this picture. The presence of two children at the frontline of this all important activity means to me that it could be a royal ceremony where the Princes were being initiated as commoners looked on. Otherwise only principal members of the community would have taken part in the ritual

    Ivo Melle, MPhil.

  4. Alan says:

    These were supposedly the people who were responsible for early stage of Stonehenge and other enduring cerimonal sites. It seems more plasable that they would have had a specialized preistly class that handled rituals, rather than a hodge-podge of family members gathered informally around, whehter in the presence of neighbors or not.

    Where would a sigle nuclear family unit (if there even was surch a social construct at that time) get the economic resources to afford such an expensive cultural item?

    I think this event would be part of a more formalized and comnunitarian rite involving specialized classes of performers.

  5. I like the social aspect of the ritual. Our present day perception of community is radically different from that of even 100 years ago. I believe that your ideas about the development of ritual should not ignore the environmental pressures of this time, and the fact that communities would be formed for mutual protection and benefit. Disease, weather influences, accidental injury, ‘coupling’ etc, would produce changes in a small community that would engender a sharing of land, resources and lifestyle experiences. The first picture gives an idea of a small family with an older member guiding the ritual and younger ones look on.. hence a feel of something being handed across generations. A more intimate and personal experience where all are essentially actively involved. The second picture intimates a more shared experience with a small group – possibly elected – to carry out the taks, on behalf of the ider community that take part in a semi-passive way. A bit like modern day ritual ..where even a single leader may carry out a civil activity on behalf of the entire local community, who are passive in the event.

    Regarding the visualisation, I like the way the shot is set, with the tree in the foreground framing the event, and as an observer would see .. the foreground in detail with the background slightly out of focus and misty … focus of attention spot on.

    Fascinating project …

  6. I am the Senior Graphics Officer working on the T5 website. The first image I produced of this event shows it as a family affair. I saw the act of depositing pottery as a ritual which could of been passed down from generation to generation. I believe such an event could have been a private family, an act between those living on a piece of land and their gods.

    Others have raised the idea of a more formal shared community experience. I have rendered out this image (click to see a larger version) of the same scene with a community looking on. I feel just adding the crowd has changed the whole feel of the event. We don’t know which interpretation is nearer the truth. Let us know your views.

    An alternative interpretation of the ritual

    An alternative version of the ritual showing a crowd of onlookers.


  7. Chrs Brayne says:

    I am part of the team developing the T5 website. This image was a surprise to me when it emerged from the rendering process but it certainly made me think.
    When we were writing the specification for the image I envisaged a much more “formal” ritual. I was not alone. Other people felt that such a ritual would almost certainly be performed in front of neighbours.
    The current image shows a very informal interpretation of the act. It shows rituals as embedded within everyday life. Perhaps as only really important to the old and the very young. Perhaps this is a reflection of the way we experience rituals in modern life.
    There is also discussion over the fact that our vessel is whole at the moment of deposition. Only shards were found during excavation.
    We are now rendering an alternative image. It will be interesting to see how the meanings are altered.

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