Books, Prehistory, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Volume 43 Pages 48 58

Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine Volume 43 Pages 48 58 is in Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine 1925 V43.


Figsbury Rings, in the parish of Winterbourne Dauntsey, encloses within its roughly circular entrenchment an area of about 15 acres.

It stands in a conspicuous position on a promontory of the chalk downs nearly 500ft. above sea level. The area is level except on the western side, where the entrenchment is carried down below the crest of the hill.

Reference to the plan will show that the earthwork consists of a rampart with outer ditch, and a wide inner ditch some distance within, and roughly parallel to the rampart, but without any corresponding bank of its own.

There are two original entrances through the entrenchment, and corresponding causeways across the inner ditch, one on the eastern, the other on the western side. Outside the eastern entrance there are traces of a bank and ditch that once formed a horn-work, or outer defence. There is now wide gap in the rampart with causeway across the outer ditch on the southern side, but these are obviously not original features. Stukeley in 1723 does not show this gap (Itin. Cur., p. 137, Pl. 41), but Hoare in 1810 does (An. Wilts, 1., pp. 217—8), so apparently it was made between these years.

The purpose for which the inner ditch was made has given rise to much speculation. It has been suggested that Figsbury was a sacred circle somewhat on the lines of Avebury; that it was a place set apart for games and chariot racing; that it was a Roman amphitheatre; that it was an unfinished work; Stukeley suggested that it was enlarged by Constantius Chlorus, who moved the vallum from the inner to the outer ditch.2

[The Society is indebted to the generosity of Capt. and Mrs. Cunnington for the whole of the blocks of the accompanying illustrations. ED.]

Note 1. The work was done under the personal supervision of Capt. and Mrs. B. H. Cunnington in June— July, 1924, six men being employed for the whole time.

2 Stukeley suggested the name "Chloridunum," consequently it has sometimes been called Chlorus' Camp! Stukeley seems to have argued that Clarendon (a mile or so from Figsbury) once spelt Chlorendon, must be connected with Chlorus, and Figsbury being the nearest "Roman Camp," and near the Roman road, must have been Chlorus' camp. Stukeley seems to have borrowed this idea from Bishop Kennett's Parochial Antiquities, published 1695, where on p. 687 he states, "a good Governor he (Constantius) was, and was come as forwards upon the Downs as far as new Sarum; where upon the side of the Downs he built a fortification, the Rampers whereof still appear very apparently and is called Chloren after the name that the Britains gave him, by reason of his long train carried up after him; it standeth in Wiltshire upon the North corner of Chlorendon Park, now called Clarindon, which taketh his name thereof." In Aubrey's (died 1697) Mon. Brit., it is called Frippsbury, and the same in Gibson's "Camden," 1695, p. 108. Hoare; An. Wilts, I. , p. 217, by an error of transcription? says both these writers called it Fripsbury, and in his copy of Aubrey he spells it thus (see Wilts MS. in Devizes Museum Library). In Gough's Camden, vol. 1., Index, 1806, it is called Figbury, and Aubrey's plan that does not show the inner causeways is re-produced. On Andrew and Dury's Map of Wiltshire, 1773, it is called Clorus's Camp or Figbury Ring."

There can however, be no: doubt that the earthwork was designed primarily for defence. It is, on the other hand quite clear from the character of the inner ditch as revealed by excavation, apart from its indefensible position, that this ditch was never intended for defence. Excavation at five different points showed it to be of quite different character from the outer one. It was very irregularly cut, with a wide flat bottom, whereas the outer ditch was well cut and almost V-shaped. Humps or promontories of unexcavated chalk were left in the inner ditch, sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other, forming occasionally what were tantamount to bridges across it. By means of these irregularities it must always have been easy to get in or out of the ditch almost anywhere on either side. Moreover, for a length of 60ft. (d on plan) the ditch had never been completely dug out. We believe, as suggested by Hoare (An. Wilts, 1., p. 218), that the ditch was simply a quarry from which the material came to strengthen the rampart. By thus quarrying at an equi-distance all round the rampart, instead of at one spot, the distance over which the material had to be carried was reduced to a minimum.

There can be no doubt that the chalk taken from the inner ditch does now actually form by far the greater part of the rampart; the chalk that came from the outer ditch, i.e., an equal bulk, having gone back in to it. The quarry ditch is still comparatively empty, having had no bank to wear down and so to fill it up.

Great labour must have been expended in making Figsbury strong, but it never seems to have been occupied for any length of time. In the trenches cut across the interior very little evidence of habitation was found. On the plateau, i.e., the area within the quarry ditch, only eight pieces of pottery were found; the circular "pot-boiling" or cooking holes, if such they were, found there also suggest a temporary rather than a permanent occupation. Evidence of habitation under the shelter of the S.W. rampart and on the floor of the quarry ditch also points to such habitation having been of a temporary nature. It consisted only of a few fire sites and a small quantity of broken pottery and animal bones.

In the excavations as a whole only about one hundred pieces of pottery were found, and only three pieces of broken mealing stones; not a single storage or rubbish pit such as usually abound on prehistoric sites, not a single worked bone, spindle whorl, loom weight, no object of bronze or of iron, and not even a hammerstone. This absence of objects of domestic use, as well as the scarcity of broken pottery, shows that the site cannot have been regularly inhabited. It seems probable that the place belonged to some tribe or community that lived near by, and that the people came in here for refuge with their animals in time of danger. As an alternative it might be suggested that the entrenchment was merely a place of safety in which to pen the flocks and herds, and that the relics of human habitation are those of the herdsmen who came with them. The great strength of the entrenchment, however, and the fact that it was thought necessary to add to it on two separate occasions, as well as its exposed position, makes this less probable.

Water Supply. In the absence of wells or ponds the nearest water in prehistoric times, as it is to-day, would have been the river Bourne, in the valley about half-a-mile distant.

Comparison with other works. Figsbury has been compared with the three Nosterfield circles, and two on Hutton Moor, all in the neighbourhood of Ripon, in Yorkshire, of a superficially similar plan, but it appears that the resemblance is probably misleading, and they may have little or nothing in common.


Five fragments of Bronze Age pottery were found, but this can scarcely be considered to afford evidence that even the earliest part of the earthwork dates from that period; the fact that very few worked or flaked flints were found does not add to the probability.

Scanty though it is, the only decided evidence of habitation is that by a people in the Early Iron Age who used pottery of the All Cannings Cross type. These seem to have squatted, temporarily at least, on the open floor of the inner ditch, and under the shelter of the S.W. rampart, before the second, or last, addition, was made to it.

In the absence of evidence of a later occupation, it is probable that these are the people who made both additions to the rampart, and the quarry ditch. As to who made the first bank and its corresponding ditch there is no direct evidence available. It is probable that when the additions to the rampart were made that the outer ditch was cleaned out, if not deepened. There can be no doubt that whoever made the outer ditch as it is now, also cut out the deeper part of the quarry ditch at "d" (see p. 55). Both the shape of the cutting at "d" and the character of the work are identical with that of the outer ditch. It is probable on the whole that the original bank as well as the two additions fall within the same period, and were the work of the same people in successive years.

The site does not seem to have been inhabited in Romano-British times, only one piece of pottery of this period being found, and that just under the turf in the quarry ditch.

A bronze leaf-shaped sword, said to have been dug up in Figsbury in 1704, is now in the Ashmolean Museum (W.A.M., vol. 37. pp. 100, 129). This type of sword is regarded as of late Bronze Age date, and a "not very remote ancestor of the Hallstatt iron type" (Brit. Museum Guide, Bronze, 1920, p. 31). As Bronze Age types are known to have survived into the Early Iron Age, for example the bronze razor and socketed celt found at All Cannings Cross, it seems quite possible that this sword was contemporary with the pottery of All Cannings Cross type found in Figsbury.


With the exception of one piece of Romano-British, one of a bead rim bowl, and five of Bronze Age type, all the fragments of pottery found were such as occurred at the Early Iron Age site at All Cannings Cross. Considering the small number found it was fortunate that so many pieces belonged to the distinctive type of red-coated bowls. Only sixty pieces of pottery were found in the inner ditch, thirty-five at the edge of the S W. rampart, including the burnt layer under the bank, and only eight on the plateau.1

Note 1. It is interesting that while pieces were found of several red-coated cordoned bowls with ornament characteristically incised after baking (of All Cannings Cross type, Pl. 28, figs. 3—4), no fragment was found of the furrowed bowls (Pl. 28, fig. 1), a type much more common at All Cannings than the cordoned. In the Early Iron Age pits on Fifield Bavant Down described by Dr. Clay ( W.A.M., xlii., 457), Pl. vi., fig. 5) a bowl of the cordoned type was found but none of the furrowed. From the character of the pottery as a whole the pits at Fifield are thought to be rather later than the site at All Cannings. It appears probable, therefore, that the cordoned bowl as a type is rather later than the furrowed boWl. Another point, not without significance is that the bowls from All Cannings have actual raised ribs at the angles, while the vessel from Fifield is without them. Some of the pieces from Figsbury have raised ribs, others are without them. It appears, therefore, that as time went on the type deteriorated, and the bowls were made without raised ribs. Pottery with finger tip ornament was not found at Fifield or at Figsbury.


No animal bones were found on the plateau, but a few were found along the side of the S.W. rampart, and a few in the inner ditch, more especially at "b" They were for the most part very fragmentary and included those of sheep, oxen (three horn cores of the bos longifrons), pig, pony (jaws and hoof, and dog (parts of two jaws). Of the red deer only one piece of an antler was found, and that was on the plateau in Ex. D.


The broken and scattered condition in which the human remains were found is remarkable. With the exception of fragments of a skull and a collar bone found about a foot deep in accumulated soil at the edge of the S.W. rampart, they were all found scattered promiscuously with animal bones, etc., in a layer of rubble mixed with soil on the floor of the inner ditch. They were for the most part found broken, but some of the scattered pieces have been fitted together; teeth from the jaws were also scattered. At "b" there were two separate pieces of a lower, and one of an upper jaw, an ulna, and a radius, both incomplete, and two other fragments of limb bones. At "a" two pieces of limb bones. At "f" parts of three lower jaws, several loose teeth, in one instance thirteen were found lying close together, part of an ulna, a radius, a humerus, and another limb bone; it has been possible to restore one of the jaws to a fairly complete condition.


(1) A lower jaw marked D. f.1 of a man probably 40—50 years of age. All the teeth are sound and apparently all had been in place at the time of death. The chin is not prominent—not shelf-like. When placed base down on the table the point of the chin projects only 7mm. in front of the recess below the incisor teeth. The symphysis is only 31mm. in depth. I mention these facts because they seem to be characteristic of the pre-Roman people—a knob-like chin, not prominent, and not deep. The bigonial width was 101mm., the bicondylar 120.

To this lower jaw may belong the shaft of the right humerus marked D. f. If this is so, then the man (No. 1) was about 5ft. 8in. in height, and fairly strongly built.

(2) Much splintered lower jaw, D f. 1, the bone having been broken at or not long after death. The chin is missing. As in D. f. the enamel has been worn off considerable areas of the chewing surface of the first and second molar teeth, more so in D. f. l, than in D. f. This jaw is part of man aged about 50. There is a most remarkable display of caries, which has attacked the outer (buccal) surface of the last or third molar, the disease has progressed further on the left molar than in the right. The disease has also attacked the buccal aspect of the neck of the second molar, the left tooth suffering more than the right. Pyorrhoea has been rampant in this man, the roots of the teeth being exposed in consequence of the absorption of their sockets. Probably this man had still all his teeth—diseased as they were—at the time of death.

(3) Imperfect lower jaw of a woman, D. f. 2, probably aged, and of slight and small make. In her the wisdom or third molar teeth are absent—never been developed. This seems to have been frequently the case among English women of the Roman and pre-Roman periods. Her lower jaw at the chin is shallow (depth 29mm.); the chin is knob-like and not prominent. Before death she had lost one of her molar teeth from disease, and was about to lose another. The molar teeth were deeply worn.

The fragment of the left humerus (marked D. d.) and a fragment of the left tibia also belonged to a woman of small size.

(4) D. b. Left half of upper jaw and two parts of lower jaw of a woman. The characters of the jaw are very similar to those of No. 3 (D. f. 2). She has wisdom teeth and had lost only one molar (first left). Aged 60 ?

(5) E. R. Imperfect frontal bone of young man (?): metofsic suture has persisted. Forehead wide—minimum width 103mm.

(6) Set of teeth of a child aged about 10; not a trace of caries in them.

(7) Left clavicle (marked E. R.) of a youth of about 12 years. There is also a piece of ulna which may belong to the same individual.

(8) Shaft of right femur of a child about 10—12 years. May be same as No. 6. With this femur shaft of left radius and perhaps part of a left ulna, all marked I). f. l.

(9) (D. a.) Upper part of right femur of a man.

(10) (D. am) Upper part of right femur of a man about 5ft. 6in. The femora No. 8, 9, 10 show a flattening (platymeria) on their upper third, particularly No. 10, in which the front-to-back diameter is only 59% of the side-to-side diameter. This flattening is commoner among pre-Roman British than amongst post Roman.

(11) (D. f.) Shaft of right humerus Of a man about 5ft 8in. ? if goes with No. 1.

(12) D. d. Left humerus of a small slender woman—may well be No. 3 or No. 4. Piece of tibia goes with it.

(13) D. 6. Proximal of ulna of strong man. Proximal of radius of same individual. Piece of lower end of fibula: may be of No. 13 individual.

Note 1. 1 The letters refer to the section of the inner ditch in which the bones were found.


An interesting find was that of some two hundred worked flints scattered over a space of some 4ft. to 5ft. in diameter in a layer of soil and rubble on the floor of the inner ditch at "e." Their condition is fresh and sharp, and they appear to have been worked on the spot; two or three large unbroken flints found may represent the raw material intended for working into implements. About half the number of broken flints belong to a type that has been found on a few sites in the neighbourhood, and that has been illustrated and described by Heywood Sumner in "The Ancient Earthworks of the New Forest," p. 85—6, Pl. xxiv. a. The discovery of these flints in situ "in a ditch that dates in the Early Iron Age is interesting, because this type of worked flints had already been regarded as of late date (as compared with other flint implements) on account of the surroundings in which they had been found elsewhere. In the same layer with these flints was found a single fragment of the rim of a wheel-turned bead rim bowl, that dates probably in the 1st century A.D., or only slightly earlier. This was the only fragment of this type of bowl found. This part of the ditch had been much disturbed and was infested by rabbits, indeed the cutting was not carried so far as had been intended on this account.


Trenches on the plateau (i.e., the area within the inner ditch) and berm (i.e., the area between the rampart and inner ditch) were cut down to the undisturbed chalk; there is very little soil on this exposed hill top, and, owing to recent cultivation, hardly any turf; along the inner edge of the rampart the soil is a little thicker than elsewhere. At F.H. (i.e., fire hole) numbers I to 6, circular holes were found full of charcoal and burnt flints, varying in size from Ift. in diameter and depth, to l*ft. in diameter and 2åft. deep; the walls of the holes were not discoloured by fire, and in view of this and the number of burnt flints or "pot boilers," in and around them, it is suggested that they were temporary cooking places. The method of cooking by means of pot boilers is well known as having been practised by primitive peoples in modern times, as well as by prehistoric people. A description of the various ways of cooking by this means, with references and general information on the subject, will be found in a paper by T. C. Cantrill in Archæologia Cambrensis, July, 1911, p. 253. He thus describes the process of boiling as practised by some North American Indians. A hole is dug in the ground about the size of a common pot, a piece of raw hide is pressed down with the hands close around the sides, and filled with water. The meat is then put into this "pot" and stones heated in a neighbouring fire are successively dropped or held in the water until the meat is done. It seems that meat can be cooked with similar apparatus without the addition of water by packing with hot stones and covering; in fact treating the hole as an oven instead of a boiler.1 Similar cooking holes are found in hut circles on Dartmoor, (Trans. Devon Ass., 1896, vol. xxviii.,p. 177).

Note 1. Reference may also be made to an address by Miss Layard to the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia, on June 10th, 1922. It appears that the pot boiler method of heating water was in use in the Highlands until about the beginning of the 19th century; see A Hundred Years in the Highlands, p. 15, by Osgood H. Mackenzie.

In F.H.I. a small piece of slag was found; in F.H. 2 a fragment of a bowl of All Cannings Cross type, and several small pieces of burnt clay; in F. H. 5 a piece of the rim of a hematite coated bowl of All Cannings Cross type; in F.H. 6 a fragment of indefinite dark pottery and a small piece of bone, not burnt. It appears therefore that these holes are not earlier than the period of All Cannings Cross pottery.

It will be seen that holes 2, 3, 2a, 3a, form approximately a rectangle this gave rise to a suggestion that these might be post holes of a hut; but this is improbable on account of their contents of charcoal and burnt flints, and the fact that other holes similar in every respect were found singly.

A.—An irregular hole, 7ft. long, 3ft. wide at one end, 2ft at the other, 2ft. to 3ft. deep, with sloping sides; below the general level of the floor a hole 9 inches deep, låft. in diameter. Among the rubble filling in was a piece of the base of a Bronze Age "beaker," and a small sherd of red-coated ware of All Cannings Cross type.

B—A large irregular hole, 8ft. by 7 ft., 2½ft. deep. Among the chalky filling in there was a little charcoal, two pieces of sarsen stone, and a piece of rather coarse sandy pottery of a kind common at All Cannings.

C.—An irregular hole some 7ft. by 6ft., 2½ft. deep. Chalky rubble filling.

D.—An irregularly shaped hole or pit, 6ft. by 4½ft., 2½ft. deep; on the west side there was a semi-circular enlargement, 2ft. in diameter, full of charcoal and burnt flints, with sides discoloured by fire. At the bottom of this very roughly made pit-dwelling were found a small fragment of a mealing stone, a piece of deer horn (the only piece found in the whole camp), and piece of red pottery with impressed lines, of All Cannings Cross type.

E.—A roughly circular hollow about 16ft. deep, full of burnt flints among them was a piece of a sarsen mealing stone, and part of a base of pot of sandy ware of a kind common at All Cannings Cross.

F.—An irregular hole some 8ft. by 5ft., and 2ft. deep,

G.—A basin-shaped hole, 2¼ft. by 1¾ft. and 1¼ft. deep, containing burnt flints but no charcoal; perhaps this was a cooking place like those described under F.H. above.

H.—An irregular hole 6ft. by 2½ft., and from 2ft. to 3ft. deep; a piece of ornamented pottery that may be of Bronze Age date was found near the bottom.

I—An irregular hole some 4ft. in diameter, 21ft. deep, containing among the rubble filling-in many burnt flints and a small sherd of Bronze Age pottery.

These holes, A to I, were all filled with chalky rubble mixed with a little brown surface soil. The absence of dark soil or humus, such as is usually found on sites that were inhabited for any length of time, was very noticeable. The scarcity of remains will be appreciated when it is said that all the objects found are notified above; no animal bones, except a small fragment in F.H. 6, were found either in the holes or in the surface trenches in the plateau area.


Note a. (See plan). A space, 14ft. by 10ft., was cleared out here. Original depth of ditch 10ft., depth of filling at centre 41ft. Only a few pieces of coarse pottery was found in the rubble.

Note b.—A space, 30ft. long by 13ft. wide, was cleared here. The floor of the ditch was level, from 10ft. to 12ft. wide; original depth 9ft.; depth of filling 2åft.; width from bank to bank 44ft. A number of burnt flints, fragments of pottery, and broken animal and human bones were found strewn in a layer of earthy rubble on the floor of the ditch. On the same level close under the inner wall, extending along it for about 8ft., was a fire site consisting of charcoal and quantities of burnt flints.

Note c.—A cutting, 37ft. long by 13ft. wide. Original depth of ditch I0ft.; silt 3ft. On the level floor were found a few animal bones, many burnt flints, and fragments of pottery, including pieces of at least two red-coated cordoned bowls, and part of the base of a Bronze Age beaker.

d. Fig. 1. Length of cutting 60ft. In this cutting the floor was reached at 5½ft. from the surface level, except along the outer or berm side, where in a comparatively narrow, almost V-shaped trench, the ditch had been dug down to about its normal depth, 11½ft. That part of the ditch dug only to a depth of 5½ft. runs up into and ends at one of the buttresses, or promontories, described before (p. 49) as having been left unexcavated in the ditch at unequal intervals. It seems that the ditch was at first dug to a depth of about 5ft. all over, then deepened as more material was required for building the rampart, and that this section of the ditch was left only partly cleared out.

The deeper or trench-like part of the ditch seems to have been intentionally filled in. Being comparatively narrow and steep-sided it was likely to prove dangerous to cattle, and possibly for this reason was filled in up to the 5½ft. level. In re-excavating, it seemed at first that the bottom had been reached all over at the 5åft. level, the hard compacted chalk in the trench appearing so much like the undisturbed floor, and quite distinct from the silt and rubble of the upper filling in. Pottery of All Cannings type was found on the 51ft. level and at the bottom of the trench.

e.—A cutting 15ft. square. Original depth 12½ft., width 54ft., silting 3ft. deep in centre. For worked flints and fragments of bead rim pottery found here see page 53.

f.—Cutting 48ft. by Original depth width 46ft. In a layer of earthy rubble on the floor were found a few animal ones and pieces of pottery including fragments of red-coated bowls of All Cannings Cross type, and the piece of a rim of a Bronze Age urn of the over hanging, or moulded rim, type.

d. 1.—A narrow cutting was made across the ditch at this point to test whether it was normal, or only partially dug out as at d. It proved to be normal with the usual wide flat bottom.


Three cuttings were made through the rampart in each of which two old turf lines were found, representing, it is believed, additions at two different times.

The original bank as shown by turf line No. 1 (Fig. Il.) was a comparatively small affair, and had become thickly clad with turf before the first addition was made. This in its turn seems to have become or to have been covered with turf when the second addition was made.

In the material of the first addition there were dark streaks that looked like thin lines of turf running out through the bank from the regular turf line. The meaning of these streaks of turf in the body of the rampart was not at first clear, but as similar ones were 'found in all the rampart sections it is thought that they probably indicate layers of turf laid during the construction of the bank to give it stability and to prevent it slipping.

The first bank was composed of finer and more compacted chalk than that of the additions, both of these latter being to a great extent built up of large lumps of chalk with occasional large flints.


It was proposed to clear at least 20ft. of this ditch but as it proved unexpectedly large and deep only 8ft. were cleared to the bottom. An indefinite piece of pottery was found at a depth of 5ft. in the silt, and two more with snail shells practically at the bottom (Fig. II).


The berm trench showed a thickening of soil with a few fragments of bone and pottery close to the bank, so a cutting was made as shown, parallel with the bank. At the spot shown traces of fire with charcoal and numerous burnt flints were found at the foot of the rampart extending along it for 10ft., and spreading back under it. It was clear that there had been a big fire here at two successive times, one before and one after the first addition to the rampart.

The lower layer under the rampart 'was on the ground level, but the upper one was on the slope of the bank, having been made after the first addition to the rampart. Distinctive sherds of red-coated bowls of All Cannings type were found in both layers.

Beyond this first fire site for 14ft. there was no sign of burning, and then the firing began again and extended for a length of 27ft., parallel with the bank and spreading back under it as in the first patch, but only on the ground level. Trenching along the edge of the bank for a length of 122ft. south of this showed no further signs of burning. The signs of burning ended abruptly at the old plough line at the foot of the bank, so it is probable that further out they have been destroyed by cultivation. A barn or some such building seems once to have stood at this spot, for a few feet out from the foot of the rampart a line of squared malm stones (Greensand rock) were found with pieces of modern bricks and mortar.


The turf was taken off the northern half of the western inner causeway in search for post holes; and for a length of 30ft., 4ft. wide, along the inner and outer edges of the quarry ditch, but none were found. From appearances outside the western entrance it seemed not improbable that a sunken way led through the rampart as at Casterly Camp (W.A.M., xxxviii., 69); a trench cut between the two ends of the outer ditch proved, however, that there is a solid causeway of undisturbed chalk. The nature of the defence of this entrance remains therefore unknown.

The pottery, human bones, flints, etc., found in the excavations have been placed in the Society's Museum at Devizes. We are indebted to Sir Arthur Keith, M.D., F.R.S., for kindly examining and reporting upon the human remains, and to Mr. C. W. Pngh for drawing the plan and sections, and assistance during the course of the excavations.