Phil Andrews, Jonathan Last, Richard Osgood, and Nick Stoodley.
Wessex Archaeology, £25
ISBN 978-1911137122
Review David Field

Excavations at Barrow Clump, Figheldean, by English Heritage in 2003–2004, were designed to ascertain the extent of damage to a round barrow caused by the activity of badgers. In this book, the illustrations alone, which depict the pre-barrow soil riddled with burrows, serve to emphasise that it was considerable. Further excavations, by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and Wessex Archaeology in 2012–2014, aimed to alleviate damage to a series of Anglo-Saxon graves set around the barrow and, given the circumstances, the results are remarkable. Reports on both difficult interventions have been expertly brought together in this volume.

The barrow, the surviving example of a cemetery of 23, saw initial construction on top of a spread of Neolithic surface activity during the Beaker period, before being enlarged in the Early Bronze Age and subsequently providing a focus for 70 Anglo-Saxon graves. The results are superbly described and illustrated, not least the detailed analysis of the burials and grave goods. There are excellent overviews of both prehistoric and Anglo-Saxon phases, in each case setting the monument within its landscape context.

With respect to the evaluation of animal damage, it is concluded that archaeology should be about animal as well as human impact on the environment; consequently, the damage is considered an important part of the monument’s history. Quite so. But when fragile and rare Neolithic surfaces are being destroyed by modern activity, it seems a little like a cop-out when Historic England considers the second-greatest threat to scheduled monuments to be from burrowing animals. They must surely find a better solution.

Here, also, the role of the innovative Operation Nightingale is recounted, with its provision of archaeological opportunity to assist rehabilitation for injured soldiers, including sometimes moving descriptions of the experience of ‘digging ‘oles’ in a manner unfamiliar to them, which all serves as a most heartening coda.


This review appeared in CA 363. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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