The Extensive Iron Age Settlement on St. Annes Hill by Anna Doherty

A Report on the February meeting written by Helen Warren

Anna explained that since the 1990s extensive fieldwork had been done on this site. Initially it was undertaken by ENHAS under Pat Stevens, followed by Archaeology South East with Chris Greatorex. Anna knew that some present had first hand experience being involved with the ENHAS excavations. Her remit was to look at the Iron Age site records and prepare a report for publication. The environmental evidence from the 1997/98 excavations had been recorded by handwritten paperwork, not digitally; consequently Anna’s first task was to create a digital record making a simple register for the different finds.

Although the site had been known about since Victorian times it was Lawrence Stevens in the 1980s that firmly established that it was Prehistoric. When building work was proposed, Pat Stevens (ENHAS) found further finds including a barrow ditch, quern stone, spinning whorl, possible oven and Iron Age pits together with Saxon graves.

In 1996, with the vacation of ECAT from the site, Chris Greatorex and his team excavated a large area finding many more Saxon graves and 114 discreet features that were storage pits. There was no convincing evidence of structures but there was a large open space that might have been the position of a round house, or a ploughed out Bronze Age barrow, or possibly a space kept for ceremonial gatherings. However, people were visiting the site if not living there during the 1st and 2nd centuries as coins, animal bones and pottery sherds were found in abundance.

The most interesting discoveries are the storage pits, which have been interpreted as grain stores; grain kept in a sealed pit for ten years is still viable to germinate, proving very useful in years of famine. The pits have straight sides, flat bottoms and flat tops, the deepest is two metres, and shallowest pits were c.0.1-0.2m (on average they were c.0.5-0.75m). Beehive shaped pits have been found elsewhere in West Sussex and it is believed that this keeps the grain better, but none were found here. The finds from the pits included fifty kilos, or 5,000, pottery shards, spinning whorls, a honestone and much animal bone, mostly from sheep but a few pig and dog, and much shell. These finds could be interpreted as ritualistic objects but they could equally well be domestic waste, making the pit a midden. One theory is that ritualistic deposits were made after the grain had been removed.

The grain-drying oven, Lodsworth-style rotary quern, and reaping hook, show that this was a community that relied upon agriculture. The quern, imported from West Sussex, could have symbolic properties of life and death, as there is evidence of a repair using pitch. Querns and mills turn up in folk law e.g. The Ballad of John Barleycorn! Other significant finds are the antler-handled iron saw, and the coins, which include copper alloy potins and a Roman gold stater. Fragments of human bone were also found, relating to one infant and two adults. These bones showed signs of violence but the cut marks could have been made after death.

What evidence is there that the deposits were ritualistic? Both the quern and antler-handled saw were found at the base of pits. In the base of another pit, c.25000 grains of spelt wheat, i.e. four kilos, of burnt wheat grains was found although other pits had no finds. Depositing these goods may have been a custom learnt over the years, the later midden layers might have just been following the tradition. The location was used for between 100 and 200 hundred years. A similar site, which was in existence for a longer time was Mount Caburn with 130 pits; here the pits contained broken weapons of war. Like St Annes Road this is on the summit of the hill and would have been visible from a distance. At both places excarnation by exposure was probably practised. It is interesting that recent early Iron Age discoveries at Pococks Field have a deposition of animal bone; maybe some places were more concerned with husbandry rather than arable agriculture. Pococks Field could have been a site of settlement with a religious, ceremonial site at the top of the hill.

The Romans were certainly aware of this site as amongst the finds were sherds of grog-tempered Roman pottery and Samian ware, plus a first century Roman brooch found on the Roman track way. This track way runs parallel to St Annes Road, crosses the site, and may have linked the Roman villa near the pier with the area of Poplin Marsh and Pococks Field, where it is suspected another Roman building was located. There are several medieval windmills that appear to be on the line of this ancient road. The northeast alignment of the Saxon graves may also indicate a road north of the graves; Saxon graves are quite often found in proximity to Prehistoric barrows.

There were several questions and some discussion following the talk. The audience of about sixty-three really appreciated the research, drawings and maps, which made up this excellent presentation.