Keith Parfitt and Stuart Needham
British Museum Press, £40
Review Peter Clark
The discovery of the exquisite and iconic gold cup of Early Bronze Age date at Ringlemere, Kent, in 2001 prompted a small-scale excavation by the Canterbury Archaeological Trust the following year to establish the archaeological context of this internationally important find. What they found was most unexpected: a previously unrecorded Bronze Age burial mound, which itself sealed a complex of Late Neolithic and Beaker features, including the vestiges of an early enclosure dated to the 3rd millennium BC. This unprecedented discovery led to a further series of excavations over the next four years, as reported in CA 208.
Here, for the first time, we have a detailed, technical report on the long and rich story of occupation on the site, stretching from the Mesolithic/ Early Neolithic up until the post-medieval period. A mass of features characterised by Grooved Ware and Beaker pottery were uncovered, some of which have been interpreted by the authors as a group of 12 wooden structures. The recognition of structural groupings in such a maze of features has long been recognised as problematic, and here the justification for identifying structures is set out in some detail, based on holistic and sophisticated criteria and, in some instances, offering a range of alternative interpretations. The interpretations are by and large plausible, if not always compelling. These structures are interpreted as ‘ceremonial’ rather than ‘domestic’ features, which gives the foundation for an important discussion on ceremonial activity in the 3rd millennium BC. In the Early Bronze Age, the vestiges of these features were sealed by a turf mound, latterly capped with clay. It was enclosed by a penannular ring-ditch with external bank, cut on the line of the earlier enclosure ditch. This appeared not to be a ‘typical’ barrow mound, but perhaps had a ‘ceremonial’ function.
This is an important and abundantly illustrated, data-rich report, which is critical in allowing the reader to assess the authors’ interpretations. It is not for the faint-hearted, however: there is a lack of cross-referencing throughout that often forces one to hunt for relevant information. But the story is worth the effort.