The great ceremonial and funerary monuments of the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age (EBA) have attracted considerable academic and public attention, but the wider social worlds of routine, subsistence and settlement within which they were created remain poorly understood and often elusive. Visitors to sites such as Stonehenge and Avebury often ask how and where the people who constructed and used these monuments lived. These have not been easy questions to answer. The scale and permanence of constructions like the Avebury henge, Stonehenge and Silbury Hill contrast markedly with the ephemeral character of everyday activity during the Neolithic and EBA (c.3800-1500BC), and for this reason archaeological narratives of social life during these periods have often been crafted around ‘goings on’ at highly visible monuments.
The Living with Monuments Project seeks to redress the balance by examining the record of settlement and related activities within a landscape that is famed for its prehistoric ceremonial monuments: the Upper Kennet Valley, Wiltshire, in the Avebury component of the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site (WHS). The project aims to identify the extent, scale, density, character and tempo of human settlement in the core of the region during the Neolithic and EBA; the relationship between people’s living within the landscape and its progressive monumentalisation, in terms of how monument building may have structured settlement (e.g. drawing people into the region); the way that settlement imparted a history to places that could lead to their subsequent conversion into monumental spaces; and to better define the environment within which such activity took place.
In order to explore these issues, a programme of targeted fieldwork will be undertaken on a series of sites in a range of topographic zones. Some are known locations of Neolithic settlement; others locations where good settlement and environmental evidence is suspected to be preserved under hillwash and flood sediments; and at the sites of monuments that look to have developed out of settlement locations. This work will variously involve gridded surface collection of artefacts to map traces of activity, geophysical survey, coring of deposits, test pitting and full excavation. Dealing with the ephemeral traces that routine activity of this date leaves will require new ways of investigating, theorising and interpreting the evidence; a challenge this project seeks to embrace, with the view of developing approaches which can then be applied elsewhere.
The project builds upon earlier fieldwork undertaken at Rough Leaze, to the immediate east of Avebury in 2007, and on the West Kennet Avenue ‘occupation site’ between 2013-15.