Magog Down

Archaeology on Magog Down

At the Magog Trust AGM on Oct 6, 2011 Adrian Scruby, an archaeologist until recently with Cambridgeshire County Council, gave a talk on the ancient monuments found on Magog Down.

Visible from aerial photographs from the 1950s and since is a causewayed enclosure dating from the Middle Neolithic (middle stone age) period, 3000 - 2400 BCE, encircling Little Trees Hill. In 1954 only 13 were known in the UK but with the advent of aerial photography many more have been identified. They are found in a variety of locations: on hilltops, slopes and valley bottoms, many being situated on areas of local raised ground.

That on Little Trees Hill has the characteristic segmented ditch and is around 265m in diameter. Constructed with internal and external banks with a 4m deep ditch in mostly 10 to 15m segments. One longer ditch section of 30m has been identified. The tools used for this construction would have been fashioned from bone; for example, the shoulder blades of larger animals were used as shovels.

The site is thought to have been used on a seasonal basis for corralling animals. Some sites suggest the presence of inner villages with stock areas and cemeteries.

In addition to the ditches being used for the disposal of rubbish, animal sacrifices and human skulls have been found. Other items, such as pots of food, suggest ritual offerings to the ancient gods.

During the Bronze Age, 2400 - 1500 BCE, a Bowl Barrow was built on the top of Little Trees Hill. Such funerary monuments were formed by the piling of soil over the tomb from a surrounding ditch. The almost pure chalk of the site would have ensured the monument was visible from many miles around. These are the most frequent form of barrow with 10,000 nationally and were used for the burial of important members of the community.

The site is undergoing restoration and is not accessible to the public.

An article published by the Prehistoric Society on further archaeological investigations nearby at the Babraham Road P&R site highlights the ancient history of this area.

Evidence of pre-WWI activity

The Army Manoeuvres of September 1912 were one of the last peacetime military exercises before the outbreak of war. Advancing from Cambridge to Linton, the Red army, under the command of General Haig, were defeated by the defending Blue army directed by General Grierson. Borrowing Marshal Bosquet’s comment of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the New York Herald described the 1912 manoeuvres as ‘magnificent, but it was not war’, although lessons learned from this mobilisation later crucially informed Haig’s first wartime encounters.

In 2008, the community group Archaeology Rheesearch carried out a geophysical survey of a reported crop mark on the Magog Down. They identified a vertically sided deep square feature, about 15m across. They have postulated that the feature may be a temporary structure associated with pre WWI military exercises and possibly the 1912 Army manoeuvres. The geophysical survey has determined the location and dimensions but an archaeological excavation could resolve the date and purpose of this feature. Read their full report.