As part of the research for the gallery, Grant Cox of ArtasMedia created several 2D digital stills reconstructions of the key archaeological sites in the Brighton area.
Old Steine during the Ice Age
In the cliff line behind the ASDA superstore at Brighton Marina, a seam of beach pebbles can been seen which belongs to a 250,000 year old ‘raised’ beach surface which has since been shifted up and inland by movements in the earth’s crust and then covered in chalky rubble slowly eroded down over the beach during later cold stages.
At the time that the beach was being formed, Brighton was in an environmental warm stage when it is possible that Neanderthals were hunting big game in the area; tracking horse, red deer and even bison and mammoth.
Signs of the activity of ancient man around the ancient Raised beach are pretty rare. Only one hand axe has been found at Black Rock, which probably dates to perhaps hundreds of thousands of years early than the formation Raised beach. However, the South Downs, must have provided good hunting grounds, not only because of the presence of big game, but also because of the easy availability of flint to make the stone tools used to butcher these animals.
Whitehawk Causewayed Enclosure
Whitehawk Causewayed Enclosure was constructed around 5,600 years ago about 1,000 years before the construction of the major stone circles at Stonehenge. It consists of a series of at least four concentric rings of ditches and banks which cover a total area of around 6 hectares. The Whitehawk Enclosure must have been a major monument in the landscape with the white chalk banks clearly visibly from afar.
Causewayed Enclosures become very popular in Southern England about 5,700 years ago and many were constructed rapidly at around the same time although some only remained in use for a few decades. They appear to act as large arenas where communities gathered, celebrated, feasted and possibly worshipped. Whitehawk was also chosen as the final resting place for some of these prehistoric peoples. The remains of four complete burials have been found in the ditches including the bodies of an eight year old child and a young woman buried alongside the remains of her new-born child.
It would seem that Causewayed Enclosures were created when societies were becoming more settled and the huge amount of labour and resources involved in their construction may indicate that they were visible symbols of local communities with their own leaders and their own identities. The fact these enclosures went out of use so quickly must show how fast society was changing at this time.
Whilst constructing Palmiera Square in Hove in 1856, workmen cut into a huge burial mound and discovered an oak coffin, about nine feet below the surface, which was apparently carved from a single tree trunk. Within the coffin, fragments of human skeletal remains were found, along with a complete cup made from one block of amber, a perforated whetstone, a bronze dagger and an axe hammer. Based upon the results of the radiocarbon dating of a piece of the oak, it is most likely to belong to the period c.1650-1450 BC, which is the Early to Mid Bronze Age.
This group of grave finds is exceptional within south-east England. The amber cup itself is one of only two such Bronze Age vessels surviving in Europe and is by far the best preserved and the stone battle axe and perforated whetstone are also rare objects. This suggests that the Hove Barrow was a very important burial monument at the centre of an elite Bronze Age group in Sussex, part of a complex society with trading links that stretched as far as the Baltic.
Iron Age Farmstead
About 2,600 years ago, in the Early Iron Age, a hill-fort was constructed at Hollingbury on the site of a small collection of earlier Bronze Age burial barrows.
A single ring ditch about 2-3 metres deep was dug enclosing an area of about 300 x 400 metres. The chalk rubble from the ditch was then deposited between a double row of parallel posts creating a ‘box rampart’ behind the ditch. These posts and their chalk infilling would have supported a formidable palisade and walkway with a large timber gateway. Within the fort, traces of at least five round-houses have been uncovered.
It appears that occupation of the site was fairly short-lived because a few hundred years later, the site is unoccupied and local communities appear to be building bigger more complicated fortifications focussed further into West Sussex.
The purpose of these hill-forts is not always clear. Although the ditches and ramparts were pretty substantial, they were often not built in the most suitable defensive positions. In addition, although in a number of cases the hill-forts appear to be used for storage and social gatherings, there does not seem to be much evidence of full time occupation of these sites.
What seems clear however is that the local populations were making clear statements of their status and identity in the landscape and that, as communities became more centralised and tribal, inter community competition and conflict probably became more common.
Building works near the present Springfield Road in the 1870’s first uncovered the foundations of what appeared to be a Roman villa.
It appears that it was a corridor villa of about 20 x 15 metres with painted plaster walls and mosaic floors, pointing to it being a fairly substantial building of reasonable status. Finds from the villa would indicate that it was possibly in occupation from the early Roman Occupation to the end of the 3rd Century AD.
Around the villa, several burials have also been uncovered, ranging from cremation urn burials to full inhumations. Many of the burials are accompanied by the deposit of local pottery, bronze metalwork and fine glasswork. Perhaps the most famous of the finds was a funerary box with bronze fittings and two late 2nd Century cremation burials which were uncovered in 1962. Apart from some local pottery, the box itself contained amongst other things some Samian Ware, a pair of pipeclay figurines from Gaul, a fine glass flask, some Bronze jewellery and a rare iron oil-lamp holder held by an iron spike.
A lot of the surrounding area remains unexplored and there is a possibility that there are further Roman burials and/or buildings that are as yet to be discovered. What we do know is that this area would appear to have been settled for the majority of the Roman occupation, and that those occupying the area were probably local Britons living a reasonably comfortable existence, making use of all the benefits that came with being part of the Roman empire.
In 1884, during building works for St Luke’s School (now the church hall), the burial of two adult males was uncovered along with grave goods that included shield bosses and spear heads. Later, in 1893 three further shield bosses and a sword found in Stafford Road, were presented to Brighton Museum. All this evidence pointed to the existence of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery being in this area possibly near to an as yet to be located Saxon settlement.
In 1985, building works at a private house off Stafford Road triggered an archaeological rescue operation when the workmen uncovered more bones and finds. Over the course of a Bank Holiday weekend, bones from three skeletons were uncovered, two male, one female all dating from around the 6th Century AD. The first male, aged about 30, had died from a large sword cut wound to the head although his skull showed signs of an earlier healed serious head wound from which he had survived. He was buried with his shield, spear and possibly an iron knife. The female skeletal remains had been badly damaged and disturbed by the workmen. She would have been around 40-45 when she died (comparatively old for this period) and from the little evidence available looked again to have had poor dental health. She had been buried with those objects which probably had most value to her – two copper brooches, two copper rings a pair of copper tweezers.