Sunday 23 June 2024

Geomorphological and Archaeoastronomical Analysis of a Neolithic Landscape, Cranborne Chase, Southern Britain

Burley, Paul. (2024). Geomorphological and Archaeoastronomical Analysis of a Neolithic Landscape, Cranborne Chase, Southern Britain


Cranborne Chase in southwest England is a well-known area of Neolithic archaeology where a nexus of population growth, cultural evolution and resource extraction during the 4th millennium led to development of one of the highest densities of earthen monuments, including numerous long barrows, the largest and longest cursus in Britain, and many other structures. Natural physiographic characteristics of the study area in tandem with anthropomorphic modification of local vegetation patterns on the downs since the Mesolithic provided a distinctive setting where the Early- to Middle-Neolithic cultural landscape developed. However, reasons for siting monuments at certain locations within the complex chalkland landscape, the purpose of specific and unique architectural forms and features of the earthen structures, and spatial relationships between the pattern of monuments and elements of the surrounding environment as a whole remain largely enigmatic. Are there special features of the natural landscape that the Neolithic population valued for earthen monument development, and why was such a high density of earthen monuments developed there? This thesis describes geological and paleo-environmental characteristics and cultural features of the study area c. 4th millennium, evaluates similarities and differences associated with Neolithic and Bronze Age earthen and chambered burial sites located across Britain, and presents methods and results of an astrometric analysis of topographic position, monument orientation, and viewscape from earthen monuments at Cranborne Chase. Results of this study demonstrate that spatial and temporal relationships between the earthen structures and elements of the surrounding landscape, seascape, and skyscape are key to recognizing and understanding the symbolism and signification expressed by the monumental architecture. The cultural landscape – including the pattern of both natural features and earthen monuments at Cranborne Chase, the South Hampshire Lowlands, and surrounding region – expresses spatial and temporal unification by alignment between Earth and sky, and the living and the dead. In that way, the cultural landscape is related to a Neolithic cosmology emphasizing features of the landscape and skyscape.

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