Little Trees Hill (74m), part of the Gog Magog Hills, lies on Cretaceous Lower Chalk, having a glacial covering of boulder clay with underlying gravel currently excavated by badgers. A recent geological investigation into the glacial deposits exposed by the scrape on Little Trees Hill, concerns rhomb porphyry, a somewhat rare and distinctive rock brought, along with other rock deposits, by glaciers from the Oslo Rift in Norway and potentially deposited on the Hill. This was featured in a film by Marian Holness of Trinity College Cambridge and highlights the cobbles in the roadway at the entrance to Trinity College. The short film is available to watch here.
The region has been grassland probably since prehistoric times and was famous for extensive sheep walks until well into the 19th century. The Icknield belt of open heath stretched across relatively dry chalkland between the Fens and the Chilterns. It provided a well-used thoroughfare linking Cambridge to Norfolk and the South. Neolithic axes were taken from Grimes Graves to Wessex.
3000 – 2400 BC Middle Neolithic
Aerial photography from the 1950’s through to 1984 indicated the possible presence of a Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure coincidental with the 65 m contour of Little Trees Hill though partially eroded by ploughing, but generally in good condition. That on Little Trees Hill has the characteristic segmented ditch and is around 265m in diameter. This was constructed with internal and external banks with a 4m deep ditch in mostly 10 to 15 m segments. One longer ditch section of 30m has been identified. A trackway, NW to SE, on northeast side partially converges with the enclosure.
Aerial Photographs courtesy of University of Cambridge Unit for Landscape Modelling.
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2400 – 1500 BC Late Neolithic to Late Bronze Age
Further evidence of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age activity was revealed by surveys carried out by the Cambridge Archaeology Field Group in 1979/80 and 1990/91, which identified a distribution of flint tools and manufacturing debris. Summary reports are available here. A Neolithic flint arrowhead was found in 1970.
A Bronze Age Bowl Barrow is present near the summit of Little Trees Hill (formerly Clunch Pit Hill). As a result, this area was scheduled as an Ancient Monument by English Heritage in 1994.
During 2008 and 2009 the local Archaeology Research Group conducted Magnetometer Surveys of the area around the Bowl Barrow. Their findings indicated a possible ditch line.
This work led to English Heritage arranging a topographical survey of the scheduled area by Northamptonshire Archaeology. This has confirmed the presence of the enclosure and ditch surrounding the Bowl Barrow.
An interesting man-made feature of the landscape of South Cambridgeshire is the cluster of clunch pits dug into the sides of the low chalk ridges bordering the upper Cam valley and along the Fen edge towards the Suffolk border. These quarries were hewn by hand from the chalk outcrops. The extracted ‘clunch’ was used as a building material from medieval times up to the end of the nineteenth century often in the construction of churches and the Cambridge colleges.
A large quarry exists on Little Trees Hill though when it was started is unknown. A smaller one, known as Stapleford Parish Pit was the most recent to be used and is believed to have acted as a rubbish dump in the last years of its use and workings ended in the 1930s.
Latterly, restoration has taken place in this pit and it is now a haven for wildlife and flowers, many chalk indicator species. The Stapleford Pits are significant in the wider landscape as one of many former chalk quarries in villages across the county, that are now a network of chalk grassland fragments.