University of Bristol Spelæological Society

Charterhouse Warren Farm Swallet: Exploration, geomorphology, taphonomy and archaeology (UBSS Proceedings v.18(2))

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Audsley,A., Hawkes,C.J., Levitan,B.M., Moody,A.A.D., Moody,P.D., Smart,P.L., and Thomas,J.S., 1988. Charterhouse Warren Farm Swallet: Exploration, geomorphology, taphonomy and archaeology. UBSS Proceedings, 18(2) , pp 171-239 Download PDF.

Abstract: Excavations at Charterhouse Warren Farm Swallet first took place between 1972 and 1976 and led to the discovery of a deposit containing several horizons of archaeological activity. These terminated with Iron Age and Roman inhumations and the earliest deposits, though not yet absolutely dated, are probably Neolithic or Early Bronze Age. The failure to discover a cave system after excavating the deposit to a depth of twenty metres led to the abandonment of the venture, but renewed interest in 1984 resulted in the eventual discovery of the cave system late in that year. The discovery of the caves and of the bone deposits in the Upper Caves is described and detailed geomorphological and archaeological surveys are discussed and analysed. The former describes the formation processes involved including a discussion of the origin and development of the cave and an analysis of the sequence of sediment fills. The origin and development of the cave are discussed in terms of the structural control which is related to several near vertical fractures in some places and bedding planes in other areas of the cave. The sediment sequence is shown to be complicated and is divided into an initial siliceous allochthonous fill, followed by various autochthonous fills. The description of the sediment analysis also includes a detailed discussion of the emplacement of the bone-bearing fill. This is followed by a detailed analysis of the artefacts and bones. The artefacts, though not very numerous, are an important and, in some respects, unique assemblage with a Beaker, several 'sponge finger' stones and a flint assemblage including a fine dagger being among the prominent finds. The bone report considers the two deposits separately and concludes that the many similarities imply a broadly similar date. An important feature of the bone assemblage is the human bones: those with knife cuts from Horizon 2 of the Entrance Shaft and the infant human bones from Horizon 4 of the Entrance Shaft. These are likely to be ritual deposits and are related to the placement of the artefacts. Bones of aurochs are present in Horizon 1 of the Entrance Shaft and are the latest known survival of this species in Britain. Human and aurochs bones are also present in the cave and the distribution of these and other bones is analysed in detail. The non-human bones, in contrast to the human bones appear to relate to domestic activities, with husbandry centred on cattle and pig implying an open woodland environment. The report is concluded with a general discussion of the importance of the archaeology of the site in a regional context. The chronology of the Entrance Shaft sequence is considered and comparisons with Beaker and Neolithic sites indicate that the basal part of the sequence is Neolithic, the Beaker horizon possibly representing a desanctification of the Neolithic burial deposits in the Beaker period. The environment of the locality is also considered: the region may have been more extensively wooded than at present and the swallet provided a damp micro-habitat for shade/damp loving species of mollusca, amphibia etc.

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