NOSTALGIA: Prehistoric gems discovered at dig near Eastbourne

This aerial shot of the dig was taken by Sussex Newspapers photographer Eddie Mitchell
This aerial shot of the dig was taken by Sussex Newspapers photographer Eddie Mitchell

As you read this a team of intrepid volunteers led by staff from Heritage Eastbourne will be continuing to try and solve a mystery that may date back 6,000 years, writes historian Jo Seaman.

Since Wednesday July 27, the team – 20 strong each day – has been investigating an intriguing earthwork that appears to surround the hilltop above the Butts Brow car park near Willingdon.

So far, six trenches have been opened and the site keeps on offering up tantalising glimpses of the distant past.

A ditch has been found to run around the hilltop with an associated bank made up of chalk, dug out of the ditch, but whether this barrier was complete or broken by openings is still unclear.

At this stage we believe that this was most likely created in the distant Neolithic era, around 5,000-6,000 years ago, when our ancestors were slowly starting to adopt a more settled lifestyle, beginning to farm and also clearing the Downs of trees.

It wouldn’t appear that this enclosure was defensive or that it contained settlement (the lack of many finds from daily life would support the latter) but perhaps it was built for more esoteric reasons.

The Neolithic was an era of monument building with the first major flourishing of organised, large scale ritualistic and religious behaviour.

It is very possible that what we have at Butts Brow is connected in some way to the nearby Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure at Combe Hill....time will tell.

What we do know with some certainty is that this excavation has uncovered an important site that may be revealed to be something unique and very, very special indeed.

Archaeologists began uncovering the secrets of the mysterious mound on the South Downs last week.

Heritage Eastbourne began the excavation at a possible prehistoric or medieval earthworks site on the edge of the South Downs National Park.

The downland dig on the outskirts of Eastbourne will determine the age of the mound, as well as investigating a possible ancient burial site nearby.

Located just above Willingdon at Butts Brow, the site – known as the Beehive Plantation – previously belonged to the Ratton Estate.

This is the first time it has ever been investigated.

Archaeological enthusiasts and walkers can explore the site on a daily tour or join in a guided landscape walk on Saturday August 6 to discover more archaeological stories, treasures and scenic sites.

Eastbourne Borough Council’s lead cabinet member for culture, tourism and enterprise, Margaret Bannister, said “We’re really excited to see what we find here.

“The location and shape do hint at prehistoric or medieval origin, although there is a possibility we could simply unearth some 18th Century landscaping of the Ratton Estate.”

The results of the dig will determine the future management of what could potentially be a historic monument.

The project runs until August 9 from 9am to 5pm each day, with free daily tours at 10am and 2pm (no booking required).

East Sussex County Council archaeologist Greg Chuter will also lead a free guided walk on August 6 at 2.15pm from Butts Brow to Coombe Hill, exploring the archaeology of the area and understanding the bigger picture around the excavation.

To book, email or call 07415 208458.

Keen historians can also monitor the dig via the daily site diary updated each evening on the Heritage Eastbourne Faceboook page, along with a timelapse video available at the end of the dig.

Heritage Eastbourne undertakes archaeological investigations and excavations in the Eastbourne area, examining our rich heritage from ancient Bronze Age Barrows to Victorian rubbish pits.

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