Wednesday 13 November 2019

Inter-visibility of Causewayed Enclosures

(Original post from 2016) I am puzzled why the Causewayed Enclosure of Rybury Camp, which is above where I live, is skewed off the top of the hill. Because of the later Iron Age banks, which are centred on the top of the hill, it is hard to immediately see this. It means that the camp would have been invisible from the Pewsey Vale. But it struck me that it also means it faces Milk Hill to the east. Knap Hill to the east of Milk Hill also faces Milk Hill. Early Ordnance Surveyors used the sight line from Milk Hill to Neath Barrow, as Robin Hood's Ball was then called, to the south. And Windmill Hill by Avebury is just down the valley to the north.

Alastair Oswald is investigating "A sense of place: sensory perceptions of Neolithic causewayed enclosures in their landscape contexts"and notes : "The observation that many causewayed enclosures ‘tilt’ across the contours, with the result that their viewsheds are restricted by higher ground, was first made by Isobel Smith more than forty years ago (Smith 1971, 92). Smith interpreted this phenomenon as evidence that each monument was designed to be intervisible with a specific lower-lying area, perhaps equating to a 'territory' exploited by its builders. Despite a subsequent increase in the number of known upland sites, the observation still holds good for many, so Smith’s inference has been amplified (Oswald et al. 2001, 91-102) and is now accepted by key authorities (Healy 2004, 31; Mercer 2009, 766; Whittle et al 2011, 12)."

I have Anquet's OMN on my system which allows me to plot route elevations, which give sightlines and it seemed that at the very flat summit of Milk Hill there was a possibility to find a place where all four were visible, though Robin Hoods Ball being 18 km away the visibility of it may be considered more theoretical to the naked eye.

There is, it is a very small area, there is permissive public footpath across the field to the summit so I urge you to find it for yourself, and with the right camera a much better photograph than my panorama may be possible.

(2019 Update) - Since this was first published another causewayed enclosure has been discovered at Larkhill and checking the elevations it appears that it too would have been visible from the same spot. Five causewayed enclosures visible from one place.

Click to enlarge


  1. Why would Rybury Camp be on the exact top of the hill? ALL other 'causewayed sites' are also not "on the top" are are to one side of the apex. The reality is that if you find the reason they are not centred on top of their associated hills (nothing to do with line of sight) you will find out their rather obvious original function.


  2. I consider the causewayed enclosure to have been the starting point for a long process of evolution, one that culminated finally and spectacularly in Stonehenge.

    Intermediate stages were (a) the henge, whether non-defensive (exterior bank, internal ditch) or, as with proto-Stonehenge the reverse (internal bank, exterior ditch), then addition of timber posts, then standing stones and finally those stone circles with lintels perched between uprights etc. (perch being the operative word...)

    The initial causewayed enclosure was generally situated on hilltops for the purpose of visibility - not so much from the ground as from the air (!). So it comes as no surprise to learn that there was limited ground-based visibility between a particular causewayed enclosure and ones relatively nearby. The enclosure was not designed for people, at least not living ones...

    Then the CURSUS was introduced, effectively sign-posting the enclosure and/or its evolved versions, again from the air. The Dorset Cursus, a 10km scar across chalk downland, has proved especially interesting and informative, situated as it is approx halfway between (a) the Avon estuary at Christchurch on the English Channel coastline and (b) Stonehenge, with an approx SW to NE orientation . (No, now't whatsoever to do with summer or winter solstices).

    Visible to what, one might reasonably ask?

    I'm in the process of composing a new posting, stating precisely the manner in which I believe the cursus functioned, both as regards orientation, length, underlying subsoil geology etc etc.

    I hope to have something ready by the start of next week.

    Suffice it to say that it was all about aerial, not ground-based visibility.

    I placed a comment well over 3 years ago (30 April, 2016) on another site, flagging up the the germ of the above thinking in connection with the Stonehenge Cursus.

    Response - zilch! One can only guess at the reasons...

  3. Brief PS: Looking at that photograph of your, Tim (is that your dog in the foreground?) with the four labelled sites (Knap Hill,"RHB", Rybury Camp and Windmill Hill) might one be a little mischievous, as ask whether your meaning of the word "visible" might differ from that of most folk perusing this post?

    None of the four listed sites could be called prominences on the skyline. Indeed, I'm not even convinced that binoculars would show up anything that stands out as especially noteworthy.

    Am I missing something?

  4. My big (nay mega-) posting, still scheduled for this coming Monday, has hit on some gold dust, re-discovered on re-reading Mike Parker-Pearson's book ("Stonehenge") after gathering dust in the bookcase for some 7 years.

    It's in Chapter 18, toward the end, interestingly entitled "Stonehenge:the view from afar".

    It's to do with the sites in Britain at which cremated bones (Stonehenge included, Stonehenge espicially have been discovered.

    There's a map showing locations of cremated bone, all close (would you believe it?) to the sea, bar one. The latter is at Barford , but close to the Severn Estuary (so still close to the sea, even if not immediately obvious).

    Here's the crucial passage that appears on Page 322:

    "Another question concerns the shape of these cremation burial cemeteries - why do so many of them employ circular geometry in their plans? Archaeologists have been aware for some years that the digging of enclosures with perfectly circular plans started only after 3400 BC, thereafter diversifying into a wide range of ellipses, ovals and sub-circular shapes. It is a peculiarly British phenomenon."

    This retired PhD scientist now knows with 99% certainty why sites with cremated bone were relatively close to the sea, or easily accessible deep inland up river estuaries .

    Cremation was seen as a final means of disposing of what was left after "sky burial", the 'unmentionable' latter (dinner parties especially!) mediated for the most part by seagulls encouraged (via landscape signposting read the CURSUS ) to venture inland for a dependable free meal...

    Comments invited, hopefully this side of next Monday...

    Colin Berry (aka sciencebod)

  5. Is it too much to hope that a Timidity Thaw will make its presence felt (here in the Comments on Timothy Daw's site)? ;-)


    Colin Berry

  6. Final comment to this, a largely talk-to-oneself unresponsive site (whether via poster or commentators!).

    I've now decided that the time has some to set up a new internet forum.

    It will be one that posts, invites AND publishes views on the continuing Stonehenge enigma (studiously ignoring all the continuing 300-year knee-jerk guff about "solstice celebration").

    I'll also be setting up another site on my "Shroud of Turin" interest, if only to show I'm not obsessed with a single topic.

    What matters to me is unearthing the truth, albeit via that long, slow, tortuous route called the "scientific method" (but proven time and time again to uncover the real salient facts, not to say "credible explanations" too!).

    Here's looking forward to your next posting Tim (hopefully with some new topic-updating comments, other than my own that is ...!).


    Colin Berry (PhD, retired biomedical scientist, 7 years of experience in testing the internet as a (mixed experience!) online learning curve

  7. As interim step to that new Stonehenge internet forum, I have just this minute posted the first draft of a new posting, summarising ideas developed over some 7-8 years:

    Monday, November 18, 2019
    Forget all those cosy assumptions about Stonehenge (solstice celebration etc). Think pre-Bronze Age SKY BURIAL on growing industrial scale. Think signposting for long-haul coastal gulls. Think uprights and lintels serving as (shhh!) megalithic BIRD PERCHES!


    Colin Berry



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