Wobbly Ditches and Splodgy Banks

The next season of excavation at Butts Brow starts on Monday 13th July until 2nd August. The excavation will be socially distanced but visitors are welcome to pop by and find out about the latest discoveries. We will be posting regular updates and live streaming from the site to our social media channels.

Aerial photograph of site from 1942

We will be returning to investigate this site to uncover more about our Neolithic ancestors at Butts Brow and explore our Downland heritage. In 2016, we started investigating an intriguing earthwork that appears to surround the hilltop there. A ditch was found to run around the hilltop with an associated bank made up of chalk, dug out of the ditch, but whether this barrier was complete or broken by openings is still unclear.

What is it?

It wouldn’t appear that this enclosure was defensive or that it contained settlement (the lack of many finds from daily life would support the latter) but perhaps it was built for more esoteric reasons. The Neolithic was an era of monument building with the first major flourishing of organised, large scale ritualistic and religious behaviour.

Flint blades from Butts Brow

Our Neolithic ancestors would have used antler picks to dig the ditch through chalk around this hill top. This would not have been an easy task and might have required lots of people to complete. We think these ditches were kept clean for perhaps 100 years but then purposefully backfilled. There are also at least two pits that were dug through the backfilled layer that contain bits of pottery and flint from the early Neolithic.

We don’t know when people stopped using the monument at Butts Brow but we do have some evidence of Bronze and early Iron Age/early Romano British people here.

During the 1940s Allied Infantry and artillery military were present at the site, with a tank road running across the earthwork. The road has visibly and notably disturbed some of the prehistoric contexts.

How old is it?

Neolthic Pottery from Butts Brow

At this stage we believe that this was most likely created in the distant Neolithic era, around 5,000-6,000 years ago, when our ancestors were slowly starting to adopt a more settled lifestyle, beginning to farm and also clearing the Downs of trees.

What are you looking for?

We are hoping to find out more about the enclosure in order for it to become a Scheduled Monument. 

Prehistoric Pottery from Butts Brow

We’d like to find out whether what we have at Butts Brow is connected in some way to the nearby Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure at Combe Hill (the next hill over). That enclosure has two concentric non-continuous ring ditches with earthen banks on the inside, and it is broadly contemporary with the other causewayed enclosures in East Sussex, such as Whitehawk (Brighton) and Offham (Lewes).

We are also looking for evidence for termini and causeways, the existence of more outer earthworks, activity within the enclosure itself and potentially finding organic material to gain C14 dating from, such as an antler pick.  

Have you found any treasure?

Everything we find adds another page to the story of this mysterious site but as it is a Stone Age monument, we haven’t found any pots of gold!

Neolithic Pottery from Butts Brow

We have uncovered small sherds of early Neolithic pottery which was identified as being Plain Bowl ware. This kind of pottery has also been found at other enclosure monuments in Sussex.

There are a lot of flint flakes here, most of them are quite large so could be evidence of people making axes here. We think the flint was mined or gathered from elsewhere and brought here to make into tools.

We also found this sandstone block which was probably used to polish stone axes. Although it would have taken a long time to do, polishing axes often made them stronger.

Before we got to the Stone Age archaeology, we discovered this small badge as well as evidence of Victorian and early 20th century picnics buried just underneath the topsoil.  We’re not the first people to find this spot perfect for exploring!

One of the most surprising things (so far!) was 100 rounds of live ammunition buried in a pit – possibly put there by the Home Guard in the Second World War.

Site Safety

Due to the Covid-19 Virus we will be implementing more stringent safety measures than usual. All visitors to the excavation must remain at least 2 meters away from any of the team working or volunteering at this excavation.

If you are unwell, we ask that you do not engage with the team at the excavation and that you stay at home – you can keep up to date through our social media channels.

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