Tag Archives: Burghal hidage

CAGG on tour: Chisbury, Wiltshire

At the request of Andrew Reynolds and Stuart Brookes, medieval archaeologists at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, members of CAGG headed out on tour to Wiltshire.  The site we were asked to survey was the Iron Age hillfort of Chisbury, near Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire.  One may ask why Chisbury is of interest to early medievalists?  An early 10th century document called The Burghal Hidage records a site called Cissanbyrig (Baker and Brookes 2013, p. 228) which may be Chisbury.  The Burghal Hidage records the defended settlements (burhs) of the Kingdom of Wessex set-up after the defeat of the Vikings in the late 9th century.  The Historic England Scheduled Monument listing notes that:

Although no formal excavations have been carried out within the hillfort, observation of 20th century disturbances has produced evidence of urns, bronze swords and of storage pits containing Late Iron Age and Romano- British pottery.

The site also has a well preserved 13th century chapel under HE Guardianship.

Fig. 1: the chapel at Chisbury.

The interior is quite plain but has some interesting details.

Fig. 2: the interior of the chapel at Chisbury.

One of those details is a surviving consecration cross painted on the back wall.  Apparently these were painted on the wall when the church was dedicated.

Fig. 3: The consecration cross.

Peter Alley’s high-level photograph from the UAV shows how the chapel lies right across the defenses of the hillfort.  Maybe this position was significant in somehow slighting the earthworks?

Fig. 4: high level photo showing the location of the chapel.

The defenses are very well preserved around most of the circuit but they are covered in trees so hard to see and photograph.  From the satellite image the site is an extended oval of trees.

Fig. 5: Chisbury from Google Earth.

Jim West took a good image showing part of the defences to the west.

Fig. 6: Chisbury defences from the west (photo: Jim West).

The weather was wonderful and we all got a bit sun burnt.  The bluebells and primroses were out in force.

Fig. 7: bluebells on the defences.

The theme of the week was, however, definitely “horses”!

Fig. 8: Nosey horsey.

Unfortunately, horses are quite magnetic due to their ferrous footwear.

Fig. 9: Horseshoe alert! (Photo: Mike Smith).

Those horses are also a bit careless with their shoes…

Fig. 10: Missing footwear.

The plan was to complete as much of the inside of the fort as we were able with the magnetometer, and to do some selected areas with the GPR and the Earth Resistance meter. Right from the beginning we were beset with problems. We arrived at lunchtime on the Thursday, and managed to complete quite a few squares in the first afternoon, but the odometer started to over-run, eventually by four or five meters.  I swapped a few emails with Pat Johnson from Foerster, and the next day we managed to cure the problem.  A couple of days later, one of the pins in the “spider” — the cable that joins the sensors to the control box — snapped so we were down to three sensors.  On the last full day, the odometer started slipping again…  We did manage to survey the whole available area of the fort, but only just and without much time to try the other methods.  Fig. 11 shows the overall survey.

Fig. 11: magnetometry survey.

Although some of the major features can be seen at this scale, I have created two images with the north and south parts of the survey and some annotations.  (You might like to look at these downloaded and at full size.)

Fig. 12: the mag survey of the northern part of the site.

In Fig. 12 we can see a series of parallel linear features which have been annotated in cyan. These look like field drains to me.  Very faintly, however, there are some circular features.  These may well be the “drip gulleys” of Iron Age circular round houses.  I have marked some of the possible ones in red.  The problem with these is that the more one stares, the more one invents!  I am sure you can spot a few more possibles if you look long enough.  There is a great deal of ferrous noise, especially around the edges from fences, gates and water tanks, but also in the field from old nuts and bolts, horse shoes and the like.  Looking carefully and the little blobs and measuring the minimum and maximum values in nanoteslas (the unit of magnetism), one can start differentiating between bits of old iron and possible pits.  I have marked a small number of the possible pits with green arrows.

Fig. 13: the mag survey of the southern part of the site.

In Fig. 13 the red line is the pipe which joins the main water tank in the middle of the field.  I have marked just one piece of ferrous rubbish with a red arrow, there are lots more.  The cyan lines mark the possible field drains.  The dark blue line is a negative-magnetism feature which runs from the edge of the water tank to the pond.  This can also be seen in the GPR data (below).  I am guessing this is some sort of drainage / outflow from the water tank to the pond. There are some areas with such high ferrous noise it is impossible to see anything, for example the north end of the eastern field.  There are, however, quite a few pits once more, and I have marked just a small selection.  What is curious, however, is how much of this area seems devoid of any features at all.

Although the mag results are not exciting in the sense of being able to clearly see a building, as we often do at Verulamium, there is quite a bit of detailed information buried in the data.

We managed just a couple of days of GPR survey thanks to some local help.

Fig. 14: the GPR survey underway. (Photo: Mike Smith.)

I used the GPR Process and Surfer programs and created 3ns time slices.

Fig. 15: GPR time slice 3 from 10.5 to 13.5ns.

Fig. 16: GPR time slice 4 from 13.5 to 16.5ns.

Fig. 17: GPR time slice 5 from 16.5 to 19.5ns.

Fig. 18: GPR time slice 6 from 19.5 to 22.5ns.

Fig. 19: GPR time slice 7 from 22.5 to 25.5ns.

Fig. 20: GPR time slice 8 from 25.5 to 28.5ns.

To be frank, not a great deal shows.  The last time slice shows the suggested pipe from the tank to the pond.  The southern area has more high reflections, especially in slice 5 (Fig. 17) which one could try to make into buildings, but I find myself suspicious that these features are close to the water tank and they may be something to do with the tank’s construction.

Giving the billing this site has, the results are not all that stunning.  There are, however, features which would be worth investigating further, and hopefully we will get to “ground truth” some of these features as part of Andrew Reynolds and Stuart Brookes’ wider project.

Many thanks to those CAGG members who came all this way to do the survey: Ellen Shlasko, Ruth Halliwell, Peter Alley, Jim West, Nigel Harper-Scott and Mike Smith.  Many thanks too to the members of the local group who came to help: Shaun Wilson, James Kay and Lynn Amadio. Lastly, but certainly not least, thanks to the stud and the farm for allowing us to play on their land.