Combe Hill Causewayed Enclosure
Combe Hill
Map Ref : TQ575023

Subject ListArchaeology

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Name Derivation Name Derivation
From Cumb (OE, valley or hollow in the side of a hill)
Note: The combe (pronounced Coomb), or valley in question is on the north side of the hill, the bottom of which now used as pasture. It is marked on modern Ordnance survey maps simply as "The Combe" Stenton & Mawer (1930 p.424) list the place as being resident to a Robert atte Cumbe in 1296, though it is almost certain that the gentleman in question took his name from the hill rather than the other way round. The hill itself, which is named after the feature below it, is actually a long spur running east-west, with the eastern end slightly higher than the west.

From Cruc ([OWelsh,OE] a hill) or Crouche ([ME], a cross)
Note: Being a Downland hill, the adjective Cold is obvious, but Crouch is less so. Being a hill, the first suggestion of cruc makes sense, but is generally seen as a Celtic rather than English name, which is rare in Sussex, though there is an Old English form. Crouche (Smith 1956 p.115) is closer in spelling but seems to be less relevant until you look at the landscape. The hill itself is in the form of a wonky cross, with the western arm as a spur over Willingdon Bottom, the eastern arm as Butts Brow, the southern arm as the spur leading south over Babylon Down and the northern arm as the spur rising towards Combe Hill. Later authors (Gelling & Cole 2000 p.163) show the OE cruc was derived from the Old Welsh and lists Cold Crouch as deriving from this form.

From Tott (pers. name) and Camp (enclosed field)
Orig. Tottscampe (1261), Tottescompe (1279), Todescomp (1296), Totescompe (1322), Tottescombe (1564), Tascombe (1673)
Note: Tas Combe lies on the eastern end of Combe Hill, and though in form it is a similar combe shape to the feature on the north side of the hill, the name actually derives from the OE camp in this case (Mawer & Stenton 1930 p.425), meaning an enclosed field (Smith 1956 Vol. 1 p.79). At the bottom of Tas Combe there is indeed a field, enclosed by the Downs on three sides.

History History

This page is concerned primarily with the Neolithic causewayed enclosure on Combe Hill. For now, it is assumed the reader knows at least the basics about causewayed enclosures, as this page will concentrate on a description of this site alone rather than a general description of this class of monuments. A page on the function of these monuments in general, and especially considering those in Sussex, is planned for this site in the future.

The history of this site begins in the Neolithic with the clearance of the woodland on the hill and the construction of the causewayed enclosure, which will be described below. In the following Bronze-Age, three barrows were built on the hill near the enclosure, one to the west and two to the east. Early Bronze-Age beaker pottery was also deposited in one of the enclosure ditches. There seems to be little evidence of Iron-Age use of the hill, but in Romano-British times, a large quantity of coins and pottery has been found associated both with the Neolithic enclosure as well as the Bronze-Age barrows. Further on from that, there appears to be little, if any, agricultural use of the site, which has left the enclosure in very good condition considering its age.

The hill has hosted part of the Willingdon/Jevington parish boundary in two forms. The older line of the boundary came up from Willingdon Bottom to the spur between the summit of Cold Crouch and the eastern end of Combe Hill itself. It then took a sharp turn to the left up the spur and up to the summit of Combe Hill where it took a sharp turn to the right in leaving the hill. One of the old boundary stones can plainly be seen on the spur leading up to Combe Hill, it takes the form of a small squared off block of stone set in the grass. The current boundary as shown on the maps veers off to the left much sooner as it rises from Willingdon Bottom and passes the hill on the south-west side of the western summit.

The causewayed enclosure was protected in 1932 when it became a scheduled ancient monument, though it has been excavated twice since. The first excavation was carried out in 1949 by the Eastbourne Natural History and Archaeological Society when the terminals of two of the inner ditch segments were excavated (Musson 1950 p.105-116). The second excavation was a training dig led by Dr. V. Seton Williams (Drewett 1994 p.7-24)

Archaeology Archaeology

Form Of The Enclosure

Like all causewayed enclosures, Combe Hill is formed of several ditch segments, arranged in broadly concentric ovals. The soil from the ditches is thrown inwards with no noticeable berm between the ditch and the bank. There are two, and possibly three roughly concentric ovals, with the longest axis aligned along the saddle. The inner oval is the most complete of the three, measuring 90 by 70 metres and enclosing an area of 0.53 hectares (Oswald & Field 1995 p.5). The circuit is interrupted on the northern side when it meets the scarp slope of the northern edge of the Downs. Of the numerous causeways in the ditch and bank of the inner circle, two stand out as the widest. On the eastern side a causeway 10 metres wide may have been one of the original entrances to the enclosure. A further 11 metre wide causeway on the south side may be a second entrance, though disturbances in the ground may be evidence of backfilling of the ditch at some point in time.
Map of the Combe Hill Enclosure by Curwen
Map of the Combe Hill Enclosure by Curwen (1929 p.209)

The second oval is not as well defined as the first, with four ditch and bank sections on the western side and only one section to the east. Irregularities on the ground outside the inner oval may suggest the second oval has been levelled or backfilled at some point. The second oval is not perfectly concentric with the first as it comes closer to it on the eastern side as compared to the western side. It also seems that the second oval didn't get as close to the scarp slope as the first oval on either side.

The possible remains of a third circuit lie on the east and west sides of the main enclosure. The eastern portion is a vague rise in the level of the earth and appears to start from underneath the disc barrow and heads NNW until it meets the scarp slope, turning slightly to the west on its journey. The western section likewise starts from the barrow on the western side and heads SSE, turning slightly to the south. Neither section has been confirmed by excavation.

Construction Of The Enclosure

The chalk was excavated to around 1 metre in depth in places to construct the ditches and thrown inwards to make a bank without revetment or palisade. In the excavated sections there is a natural silting process in the filling of the ditches but it is possible that the southern section of the outer ditch has been deliberately backfilled. According to the environmental evidence found in the ditches, the enclosure was constructed on a newly cleared piece of land (Thomas 1994 p.17), probably cleared for the purpose of building the monument.

Neolithic Artifacts

Before the Neolithic Pottery, it is worth discussing the other Neolithic artifacts found on Combe Hill. One of the most interesting is an incised chalk block found near the centre of the camp. 5.8 cm high and in the form of a rough square cone, the object was inscribed on 2 sides with parallel incised lines, 8 on one and 7 on the other (Thompson 1984 p.216). The object was found at the centre of the enclosure, which is unusual for causewayed enclosures. Excavations in the area of the find produced no other archaeological evidence, though it is interesting to note that the excavation happened before the discovery of the artifact by a passer by, which might indicate that it was made by one of the excavators (Drewett 1994 p.10), though in all likelyhood, one of the excavators missed it and it was left near the surface when the trench was backfilled.

Within the ditches of the enclosure, other Neolithic finds were represented mainly by animal bones and flintwork. The 1949 excavations revealed several fragments of Ox bone along with the tooth of a pig (Trench X). Charcoal from the same place came from Ash, Hazel and Hawthorn and two fragments of sandstone grain rubbers were also present.

Flintwork was found in both excavations with flint flakes found in A, C, E & X. Trench C showed evidence of flint knapping having taken place on the entrance causeway into the enclosure (Drewett 1994 p.10). The most interesting flint find in the enclosure was three polished flint axes sat close together in trench E. A flint arrowhead found in trench A was unfortunately lost.

Neolithic Pottery

The Neolithic pottery sequence at Combe Hill is dominated by Ebbsfleet Ware, a form of Peterborough Ware, named after the type-site in Kent. Ebbsfleet Ware in Sussex is restricted to the east of the county, and Combe Hill has the largest collection found so far. Apart from Combe Hill, Ebbsfleet has been found in Sussex at Whitehawk (Piggott 1950 p.112) and the outer ditch of Offham (Drewett 1977 p.221) causewayed enclosure. The rock shelters at High Rocks in the Weald have produced another small collection (Frere & Smith 1960 p.207). The pottery would suggest a mid-Neolithic date, and a secondary silt from the outer ring produced a calibrated date of 3400 BCE (Drewett 1994 p.18) to support this. This would make Combe Hill one of the more recently built enclosures in Sussex, but the dating isn't conclusive. Professor Piggott later suggested that the enclosure actually dated from the early Neolithic and the Ebbsfleet ware represented a later use of the site (Piggott 1954 p.17-32).

Barrows And The Bronze-Age

The two bowl barrows near the enclosure are quite large for the South Downs. The western barrow is 21 metres in diameter and 1.6 metres high. The eastern barrow, which is situated on the highest point of the hill is 15.5 metres in diameter and 1.2 metres high (Oswald & Field 1995 p.7). Both barrows have been dug into from the top by early antiquarians so they were probably higher when originally built. No records exist of these excavations, but 3½ bronze axes were removed from the western barrow in 1908 by the then owner of Friston Place (Curwen 1940 p.108). A verbal recollection of the time tells us that the axes were found under a heavy stone within the mound and three of the four were already broken. This breakage is probably deliberate, to 'kill' the objects in a ritual manner so they can be used as votive offerings.

Bronze Axes from Combe Hill Barrow
Bronze Axes from Combe Hill Barrow

A further disc barrow lies to the east of the enclosure but closer than the bowl barrow. It is 20 metres in diameter and may have had a central pit, though this may be evidence of later unrecorded excavations.

The placing of these barrows in relation to the enclosure may be significant as Beaker pottery has been found in the upper fill of one of the ditches. This may represent a continuation of use in the early Bronze-Age, or at least some form of superstition regarding the site.

Both the bowl barrow to the west of the enclosure and the disc barrow to the east were part of the survey by the RCHME (Oswald & Field 1995). They noted that both barrows had 'tails', i.e. a very low earthwork bank that extended south from the western bowl barrow and north from the eastern barrow. These tails were one of the reasons that a resistivity survey was done on the site of the causewayed enclosure.

Romano-British Artifacts

Romano-British pottery has been found in many of the upper ditch layers of the enclosure. While some might suggest this is the result of agricultural activity on the hill, there is little sign of this. Also, to get the volume of pottery required into the ditches from a random spread, there must have been a very large quantity of pots broken on the hill, little of which have been found outside of the ditches. It is most likely that these deposits are the result of some form of superstitious belief on the part of the Romanised Britains, continuity of practice is unlikely due to the difference in time between the building of the monument and the later depositions, even though the placing of the deposits in the ditches is the same. Trench B on the map contained a shallow hole dug into the ditch fill during Romano-British times, dated by its fill of pottery.

Further Romano-British material was discovered on the eastern side of the combe to the north of the enclosure (TQ577025). 144 coins along with a Bronze ring were found on the hillside, most within a 2 metre radius. The hoard contained coins dating to near the end of the 3rd century AD (Rudling 1984 p.218).

Due to the tracks of army vehicles churning up the ground during the second world war, a quantity of Romano-British pottery and Roman coins were found near the western barrow. The six coins dated from the middle of the third to the beginning of the fourth centuries CE (Burstow 1946 p.55).

The Landscape

The fact that Combe Hill causewayed enclosure is built on a hill is significant in itself. All of the Sussex causewayed enclosures found so far have been sited on or just below the summit of a hill. Combe Hill is on a saddle of land with the summit rising gently to the east. The enclosure is roughly in the centre of this elongated hill, with one of the suggested 'entrances' (Oswald & Field 1995 p.9) point towards the east, where a lower spur connects the hill with the neighbouring hill of Cold Crouch. Being on a saddle of land, the layout of the enclosure is not flat. The enclosure curves down the hill to the south, while to the north, where the hill drops away sharply to the weald below, the enclosure seems to be cut off. The is probably deliberate rather the result of erosion and the focus of attention outside of the enclosure would have been to the north, over the forested weald, especially as analysis of land snails has shown that the enclosure was constructed on a newly cleared piece of land (Thomas 1994 p.17), perhaps restricting the view in other directions.

The nearest Neolithic monuments to Combe Hill are on Windover Hill near the Long Man of Wilmington where there is a long barrow and a small collection of flint mines.

Resistivity Survey August 2003

The earthwork survey by the RCHME (Oswald & Field 1995) raised a few questions about the nature of the site, so it was decided to answer a few by performing a resistivity survey on the site of the enclosure and two adjecant barrows. The purpose was to locate the outer enclosure ditch and discover the nature of the 'tails' on the two barrows. The results of the survey were interesting and disappointing in equal measure. The definition of the outer enclosure ditch was poor to non-existant, but the 'tails' showed up well and an additional linear earthwork was discovered south of the enclosure. The most interesting features were internal to the enclosure, with an additional enclosure circuit and two possible palisades associated with the eastern and southern entrances. A copy of the final report can be downloaded in PDF format by clicking Here.

Bibliography Bibliography
  Burstow, G.P. : Finds on Coombe Hill, Jevington, SNQ Vol. 11 1946
Curwen, E. : The Combe Hill Hoard of Bronze Axes, SNQ Vol. 8 1940
Curwen, E.C. : Neolithic Camp, Combe Hill, Jevington, SAC Vol. 70 1929
Drewett, P. : Neolithic Enclosure on Offham Hill, Proc. Prehist. Soc. Vol. 43 1977
Drewett, P. : V. Setton Williams Excavations at Combe Hill, SAC Vol. 132 1994
Frere, S.S. & Smith, I. : The Pottery, In Money 1960
Gelling, M. & Cole, A : The Landscape of Place-Names, Shaun Tyas 2000
Mawer, A. & Stenton, F.M. : The Place Names of Sussex (Parts I & II), Cam. UP 1929 & 1930
Money, J.H. : Excavations at High Rocks, Tunbridge Wells, 1954-1956, SAC Vol. 98 1960
Musson, R : An Excavation at Combe Hill Camp near Eastbourne, SAC Vol. 89 1950
Oswald, A. & Field, D. : A Causewayed Enclosure on Combe Hill, RCHME 1995
Piggott, S. : Comment on the Pottery, In Musson 1950
Piggott, S. : Neolithic Cultures of the British Isles, CUP 1954
Rudling, D. : A Hoard of Roman Coins from Combe Hill, East Sussex, SAC Vol. 122 1984
Thomas, K.D. : Evidence for the Environmental Setting..., in Drewett 1994
Thompson, A. : Carved Chalk Object Found at Combe Hill..., SAC Vol. 122 1984

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