Causewayed enclosures are the most complex of the monuments which characterise the first part of the Neolithic in southern Britain. It was suggested that at Windmill Hill practically every dimension of early Neolithic existence was represented, including dealings with the dead but overwhelmingly relations among and key concerns of the living: people’s concept of and place in nature, the remembered or mythical pasts to which people were attached, the value placed on live and dead animals, the social roles of feasting and sacrifice, and negotiation of position among and between communities (Whittle et al. 1999). They thus have an unique capacity to contribute to a history of the period. The present state of knowledge is admirably compiled by Oswald et al. (2001), a work which has prompted many of the questions which the project hopes to answer:
When did this kind of monument begin to be built? Were all enclosures begun at much the same time? Do the first traces of a Neolithic presence, the first long mounds and cairns, and the first causewayed enclosures split into successive horizons or are they inextricably contemporary? Was enclosure construction synchronous in areas where such sites are clustered, such as Wessex, the Cotswolds and the east Midlands, and on the apparent periphery, in Kent, Wales and Ireland?
Use and development
Were they used for the same length of time? How quickly were they constructed, and can we see in detail how their use developed and changed through time? Can we achieve a generational timescale? Could better dating contribute to greater understanding of the episodicity of their use?
Implications for contemporary society
At spatially complex sites like Whitehawk or Windmill Hill it was impossible to separate the histories of individual circuits. If all three earthworks at Windmill were built in a single generation the human and material resources entailed would reflect a level of population and of social organisation and control beyond what is often envisaged for the period. If construction was intermittent over centuries, as at Hambledon, the human and material budget for any one episode of construction would reflect a quite different society.
The collection of stable isotope values will add to a growing body of data on human and animal diet. The human results promise to be particularly interesting. Where human remains occur in causewayed enclosures they tend to be demographically balanced, which is not always the case with those in long barrows, so that there is a higher chance of their representing the whole population. Already available results show that individuals from enclosures can range from those who may have obtained almost all of their dietary protein from animal sources to those whose diet included both animal and plant protein, while long barrow populations tend to have consistently high levels of animal protein (Richards 2000). There are potential implications here for variations in status, or for the coming-together at enclosures of groups with different dietary habits, in contrast to the use of long barrows by smaller, more homogeneous social units.
An interpretation by Alasdair Whittle and Joshua Pollard of the distinct depositional signatures of the three circuits on Windmill Hill. Do these reflect progressive changes in its use or a single perception of the whole complex? Click image to enlarge.
To what extent did possible patterns in animal carbon and nitrogen isotopic variation at causewayed enclosures reflect environment and/or husbandry practices? How did the average range of human δ15N values from causewayed enclosures to compare with the existing data from chambered tombs? What did the difference in human and animal δ15N for the same sites reveal about trophic level?