10 Aug 2018

A previously undiscovered 6,000 year old monument between Windsor and Slough – but what was it used for?

Roland Smith, Berkshire Archaeology

A rare and previously unknown Neolithic (New Stone Age) monument is the centrepiece of Berkshire Archaeology’s latest newsletter for 2018 which is now available on our website. This exciting monument has been discovered at a gravel quarry just south of Slough and it has generated considerable interest and national press coverage.

The monument is a so-called ‘causewayed enclosure’, a series of short lengths of ditch with narrow gaps or ‘causeways’ between them, which define a large enclosed space (image below). The monument encloses an area the size of at least a football pitch! There was no physical trace of the monument above ground. No-one knew it existed before archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology discovered it as they monitored the work of the gravel quarry.

Less than 100 ‘causewayed enclosures’ are so far known in Britain. They were built in the Early Neolithic period, around 3,700 BC, or nearly 6,000 years ago. They are some of the earliest monuments in Britain and represent the earliest evidence for the enclosure of land or space at a time when society was transforming from hunting and gathering to farming communities.

causewayed enclosure near Slough
The west end of the ‘causewayed enclosure’ under excavation with the adjacent gravel quarry, looking towards Windsor Castle ©Wessex Archaeology

So these monuments are very significant at a time of great social change and yet the purpose for which they were built remains obscure. They have been interpreted as meeting places, places for feasting or shared activities and as defensive structures. At this monument, the bottom of the ditches surrounding the monument were covered in broken pots, the bones of animals and stone objects, perhaps the residue of communal feasting (see image at top). More sinisterly, the bones of humans have also been found, a skull in one ditch and a headless torso in another…but not from the same person!

The challenge, excitement and joy of being an archaeologist is the opportunity to excavate such a rare site and discover new evidence of what these enigmatic monuments might have been used for six millennia ago. It is the nature of our business that there will always be an element of supposition about it…unless, of course, we discover a way to travel back in time!

Our newsletter also contains items about other recent discoveries and projects in Reading and throughout east Berkshire, including an update on the University of Reading’s Round Mounds project that investigated Forbury Hill in the Abbey Quarter. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Berkshire Archaeology

Berkshire Archaeology is part of Reading Museum and we provide archaeological advice to Reading Borough Council and the other Unitary Authorities in east Berkshire. If you live in Reading or elsewhere in east Berkshire and want to know what archaeological remains have been found near where you live, just get in contact with us and we will be happy to help.