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Dating Causewayed Enclosures - Background

The fourth millennium BC in Britain is coming into sharper chronological focus. Change and sequence are visible within what was even recently seen as an almost undifferentiated earlier Neolithic hundreds of years long. The period from 3800 to 3600 BC in particular is emerging as one when, following a probably rapid initial introduction of Neolithic practices and beliefs, monumental, artefactual and depositional traditions were developed and elaborated against a more and more clearly defined timeframe. This is the result both of the overall accumulation of radiocarbon dates and of research projects which have targeted chronological questions.

Gains in precision have, however, been uneven. It is possible to date a few events in the fourth millennium to periods of 50 years or less, but it remains difficult to relate them to the bulk of the record, which still floats between far wider limits. Precision of this order has been achieved for some long barrows and cairns (Bayliss and Whittle 2007). It has also been achieved for some components of the Hambledon Hill causewayed enclosure complex in Dorset (Bayliss et al. 2008), in an exercise which prompted the present project. Hambledon was dated successfully because it provides both a sound stratigraphic sequence and a stock of samples which were securely related to that sequence and suitable for radiocarbon dating. Since both these factors stem from the ways in which causewayed enclosures were built and the kinds and quantities of material that were deposited in them, it was clear from the Hambledon experience that other monuments of the same class would repay similar treatment.