Neolithic enclosure

The Neolithic enclosure is feature A on the Main plan, and feature 1 on the Diagrammatic plan.

Overlain by later cairns and cutting off the cliff of Gardom's Edge lies a stone-built enclosure. Read about previous excavations undertaken on the enclosure.

The enclosure is situated on the highest part of the shelf. It is defined by a rubble bank between 5 and 10 metres wide, up to 1.5 metres high and over 600 metres long. Towards its southern end, the bank survives only as a low earthwork where it is cut by post medieval 'improved' fields.

The bank delimits one side of a large area at the crest of the edge, the other being the precipitous natural scarp. Much of the interior is heavily boulder strewn.

So far as we can tell, this massive stone enclosure was the first major monument to appear in the area. Associations suggest that it was probably constructed and used during the Neolithic.

Given present evidence, the significance of the enclosure is difficult to determine. The boulder strewn nature of the interior makes it unlikely that the immediate area saw continuous or permanent occupation. Shovel testing to date supports this view. More work will be undertaken in the summer of 1998, but for the moment, we are working with the idea that this was a place that was used periodically, probably for gatherings of small, dispersed communities.

Analogy with other Neolithic enclosures in Britain suggests that these gatherings may have served a variety of purposes. Meetings and feasts with kin or relative strangers meant the exchange of goods and gifts and the renewal of bonds between communities. The corpses of the dead were also brought to many of these places; exposed and stripped of their flesh during complex funerary and ancestral rites.

These events were probably tied into an annual round. At the time, much of the land remained heavily wooded and the roll call of many places was probably seasonal. Dispersed across the landscape, communities moved between the limestone and the uplands in step with the movement of their stock and the growth of their crops. Although they probably recognised a variety of extensive bonds of kinship and affiliation, many of these communities may have comprised no more than extended families. Periodic gatherings brought the more extensive qualities of the social landscape into sharp relief.