Prehistoric building frenzy revealed as vast number of enclosures are precision dated with new technique
Posted by Xeno on June 7, 2011
Until now, the history of early Britain – when a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence gave way to a settled agricultural way of life – has been sketchy.
But thanks to a new radio-carbon dating technique, scientists have begun to unravel the past.
It shows the nation experienced a frenetic period of monument building that lasted just 75 years after 3700BC.
The method has allowed researchers to date prehistoric features – built more than 1,000 years before Stonehenge was created – down to a margin of decades instead of centuries.
It was previously thought that huge monuments, including Windmill Hill in Wiltshire and Maiden Castle in Dorset, spread slowly across the country over five centuries during the Neolithic period from 4000 to 2000BC.
But researchers now believe that causewayed enclosures, a type of early Neolithic earthwork, were rapidly erected all over southern England in just 75 years.
Some of these were attacked and burnt down, and the people inside killed.
By 3630BC, the building of new enclosures had slowed down to a trickle, suggesting the turmoil of the preceding three-quarters of a century had drawn to a close.
The construction started in the Thames Estuary, then moved through Kent and Sussex, and then west on an intense scale that was not apparent before.
The study, carried out by scientists from English Heritage and University of Cardiff, promises to revolutionise the way prehistory is understood and studied – not only in Britain, but around the world.
Dr Alex Bayliss, of English Heritage, said: ‘By dating these enclosures more accurately, we now know that something happened quite specifically some 5,700 years ago.
‘The speed with which it took place has completely overturned our perception of prehistory. …