In a heavily wooded Nadder Valley, before any established settlements, there were many prehistoric visitors to the area we now refer to as Fovant parish. These were hunter gatherers who followed seasonal but well-trodden paths, in pursuit of deer but also supplementing a varied diet with fish, wild fowl, nuts and berries and even aquatic plants.
The illustration of a hunter-gatherer family camping in a temporary shelter is by Alan Sorrell from the book ‘Prehistoric Britain’ by Barbara Green.
Within the current Fovant parish boundary where Fovant Brook joins the River Nadder there is an area where family groups from the later Mesolithic period of perhaps 7,500 years ago once returned year upon year. In the knowledge that they could source food here and build shelters from an abundant supply of hazel, they also brought with them the all-important flint that was so vital to sustain life throughout prehistory. Flint provides a means of creating fire and making essential tools such as knives, projectiles, points and scrapers. These early toolmakers would be seated as they carried out this everyday task with the flint waste dropping to the floor about their feet. Occasionally the finished tools can be retrieved from the soil at these locations but more usually it is the knapping waste that provides the evidence of life here all those years ago. Maps in the Local geology or Maps sections of the Geography menu will help you to see where flints have been found.
At Fir Hill and indeed across the broad belt of upper greensand in Fovant and the neighbouring villages there is a huge amount of this flint knapping debris and also discarded tools manufactured from imported flint laying in the soil. Importantly, due to variations in flint knapping technology, the successive eras of prehistory can be identified with some accuracy. The evidence here reflects a continuity of occupation from the seasonal Mesolithic visitors through to the establishment of early farming and settlement in the Neolithic period. The widespread clearance of trees continued into the Bronze Age as more land was made available for farming. Microliths are small flint tools. The very small ones, like those shown on the right, were probably used as barbs on certain types of arrows, spears or other composite tools. They were found on Great Ground Hill.
Also found on Great Ground Hill was a beautifully worked arrow head, accompanied by what appear to be parts of other implements that have been shaped for a specific purpose. It is shown on the left.
With an abundance of spring water, in combination with the well-drained upper greensand soil which is ideal for cultivation and the nearby pastoral chalk downland, there is little wonder that life prospered here.
As the prehistoric population expanded, inevitably the pressure on land use increased. Local strongholds became necessary and in the Early Iron Age small circular defensive structures were built, such as Chiselbury. Situated on the crest of the chalk ridge, although exposed to the elements, this lofty vantage point would have offered a retreat in times of unrest. However, sturdier tools were needed in its construction and objects such as the axe head pictured on the right would have been a useful addition to the tradesman’s tool kit.
During the unsettled years towards the end of the Iron Age larger tribal units were formed and smaller hill forts such as Chiselbury were replaced by vast and heavily defendable regional hill forts such as Old Sarum, Yarnbury and Whitesheet Hill. These became the nuclei for settlement, grain storage and trade. The nearest large hill fort in the area that we are concerned with is Castle Ditches near Tisbury although, at the time of the Roman invasion, the northern tribal boundary of this region was the Grovelly ridge.
Far from causing a great upheaval, it was very much in the interests of sustaining the Roman economy to preserve the status quo in Southern Britain. After a few demonstrative skirmishes in the first decades of Roman occupation, many existing tribal chiefs remained in place and life went on as before. The cost of this now peaceful continuity was the bleeding of taxes and produce to their Roman masters.
With the well-documented and conspicuous prehistoric monuments such as Stonehenge and Durrington Walls not so very far away to the east, it is easy to forget that everyday life went on here in the Vale of Wardour. It is a place where ordinary people lived, worked and died over many millennia and there is every reason to believe that they inhabited some of the same sites that we occupy today. So the next time that you are digging over your vegetable patch look out for any unusual flint work because it will probably be the only remaining evidence of prehistoric life here in Fovant.