Digging Whitehawk: a volunteer’s account of exploring Brighton’s Stonehenge

Posted On 07 Aug 2014 at 11:32 am
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An archaeological dig of Whitehawk Hill,  home to some of Brighton’s first ever residents 6,000 years ago, begins on Monday.

Picture by Myfanwy Nixon

Picture by Myfanwy Nixon

The Time Team-style project, funded by a £99,300 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, will focus on objects found in the 1920s and 1930s at the Neolithic site, where archaeologists believe ritual ceremonies were held 500 years before Stonehenge was created.

It starts on Monday and runs for an intensive 18 days until 29 August.

Spacewords Brighton

There will also be an open day on Saturday, 23 August from 11am to 5pm with stalls, demonstrations, walks and talks on the theme of Stone Age living 

One of the volunteers, Myfanwy Nixon, blogged about her impressions of the first volunteers’ meeting.

She said: “I’ve been vaguely aware, since we moved to this area 10 years ago, that there was a neolithic site at the top of this hill – but to be honest, I rarely thought about it.

“My impressions of Craven Vale and Sheepcote Valley have been much more shaped by my experiences there: blackberry picking, running further and harder, and discovering the seasonal variety in the wild flowers, birds and animals as I did so – and enjoying the view as the swathe of rough ground slopes gently to the sea.

“If I thought much about its history, it was more about its use as a landfill site before it was resurfaced and returned to the downland it is now. But, as our convener Jon Sygrave, of Archaeology South East was to explain to us, its history goes back much, much further.”

A reconstruction by Ian Dennis of the Whitehawk causewayed enclosure c. 3,600 cal BC (reproduced from Whittle, Healy and Bayliss 2011; fig. 1.3)

A reconstruction by Ian Dennis of the Whitehawk causewayed enclosure c. 3,600 cal BC (reproduced from Whittle, Healy and Bayliss 2011; fig. 1.3)

She added: “We have to be prepared to find some gruesome remains. I guess we were all thinking about that after Jon mentioned the earlier finds; someone came out and actually asked. “If that worries you…”, Jon began – but no, apparently he was looking forward to it…according to his friend, anyway.

“I’m really, really excited now. I’ve been thinking what an amazing thing archaeology is – it’s like a mixture between a giant lucky dip, and a game where you (hopefully) find clues that tell us things we never understood before.

“And to think that people enjoyed the same views (ok, without the buildings and radio mast and Roedean school… but you know what I mean) *6,000 years ago*.

“It’s almost too trite to say, but at the same time… they were people, just like us in some ways. What were they thinking? What were they doing? Maybe we’ll find something that helps answer that.”

Jon Sygrave said: “The people who lived there could be considered some of Brighton’s first residents. We think that the momument is fantastic and important. It’s on lots of people’s doorsteps and they don’t know anything about it.

“We hope this dig will change that, and help people take pride in it.”

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