Plymouth Archaeology Society

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3rd November 2008

Dr Andy Jones

Dr Jones is a Senior Archaeologist with the Historic Environment Service, Cornwall County Council.  His main research interests range from the Neolithic to the Bronze-Age and he has worked on the uplands of the South West for the last 13 years.

Andy described the results of three seasons of excavation work between 1998 and 2000, carried out on Stannon Down by the Cornwall Archaeological Unit (CAU); as it then was.  The work was commissioned by Imerys Ltd, In advance of the expansion of the Stannon china clay works.  The actual sites excavated were dominated to the north by a waste tip, and to the south by a large dam!

Earlier excavations in the area by Roger Mercer (Cornish Archaeology 1970), Daphne Harris et al. (Cornish Archaeology 1984), and more recent surveys by the Royal Commission and the CAU had disclosed a complex landscape - broadly a ceremonial area to the north on Northern Downs with many cairns, and a settlement area to the south, with a number of Middle Bronze-Age round houses and an agglomerated field system.  

Andy’s excavations focused on an Early Bronze-Age cairn group, comprising of three ring cairns and two “tailed” cairns, with Middle Bronze-Age and Iron-Age settlement activity.  Finds and radio-carbon dates showed re-use of the cairns, for example, by insertion of a Middle Bronze-Age cist-like pit in one, and transformation into an Iron-Age house in another.  Middle Bronze-Age dates were confirmed for the round houses and for the field system.  Test excavations on Northern Down confirmed Early Bronze-Age dates for the large cairn group.

Extensive environmental sampling was carried out and radio-carbon dated pollen profiles allowed a reconstruction of the contemporary vegetation.  GIS 3D computer modeling of the landscape was clothed with the appropriate vegetation for the aspect and elevation.  This showed that above 300m altitude there were no trees - Rough Tor would have been widely visible.  The Neolithic landscape (c. 3500-2500 BC) was mainly wooded with clearings linked by pathways; the clearings increased with time and the cairns appeared towards the end of this period.  In the Early Bronze-Age (c.2000-1800 BC), there was still much woodland, but Stannon Down was now largely clear and there were more cairns, but not yet any houses or fields.  By the Middle Bronze-Age (c.1500 BC) there was little woodland left, the cairns were respected but houses and fields had appeared; there was no evidence for cereals in the pollen records, therefore a mainly pastoral economy.

We all ended up very impressed with what could be concluded from the excavation evidence and were grateful to Andy for the visual demonstration.

See Jones, A., 2004-5, Cornish Archaeology 43-44, 1-140 for a very comprehensive account of this work.

Bob Bruce


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