Figsbury Ring
Figsbury Ring is a 11.2 hectare
The hectare is a metric unit of area defined as 10,000 square metres , and primarily used in the measurement of land. In 1795, when the metric system was introduced, the are was defined as being 100 square metres and the hectare was thus 100 ares or 1/100 km2...

 biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...

, notified in 1975. It is owned and managed by the National Trust
National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty
The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty, usually known as the National Trust, is a conservation organisation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland...


Within the wider SSSI mentioned above, the earthworks of Figsbury Ring are sub-circular and enclose 6.4 hectares of grassland on a chalk ridge to the north east of Salisbury, in the parish of Firsdown, Wiltshire at NGR SU188338. It is yet to be fully investigated.

Small portions of the site were excavated in 1924 by Ben and Maud Cunnington
Maud Cunnington
Maud Edith Cunnington , was a Welsh-born archaeologist, most famous for her pioneering work on the prehistoric sites of Salisbury Plain....

 as it was their belief that the site was the remains of an Iron Age Hillfort. Superficially this description of an earthwork with exterior ditch would seem appropriate, however the presence of an enigmatic inner ditch has led many archaeologists to doubt this interpretation. This ditch is separated from the outer rampart by a berm
A berm is a level space, shelf, or raised barrier separating two areas. Berm originates in the Middle Dutch and German berme and came into usage in English via French.- History :...

 of up to 30 metres in width and, to many, it seems likely that the site actually began as a late neolithic Henge
There are three related types of Neolithic earthwork which are all sometimes loosely called henges. The essential characteristic of all three types is that they feature a ring bank and ditch but with the ditch inside the bank rather than outside...


A small geophysical survey was carried out by Anthony Clark and John Gator in 1981 to determine whether or not an earth bank was ever associated with the inner ditch. The results of this survey were inconclusive.

In 1982 the finds from the Cunningtons' excavations where then reappraised by Margaret Guido and Isobel Smith. This reappraisal established that several artefacts, (most notably Grooved Ware
Grooved ware
Grooved ware is the name given to a pottery style of the British Neolithic. Its manufacturers are sometimes known as the Grooved ware people. Unlike the later Beaker ware, Grooved culture was not an import from the continent but seems to have developed in Orkney, early in the 3rd millennium BC, but...

 and Beaker pottery) established that there had been occupation at the site much earlier than the period proposed by the Cunningtons.

A further reappraisal of the artefacts was then carried out in 2003/04 by Philip Dunn, a student at Bournemouth University. This confirmed Guido and Smith's findings and went on to identify a number of flint
Flint is a hard, sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz, categorized as a variety of chert. It occurs chiefly as nodules and masses in sedimentary rocks, such as chalks and limestones. Inside the nodule, flint is usually dark grey, black, green, white, or brown in colour, and...

 artefacts that were diagnostic of Neolithic occupation at the site. Following on from this study a large scale geophysical survey
Archaeological geophysics
Geophysical survey in archaeology most often refers to ground-based physical sensing techniques used for archaeological imaging or mapping. Remote sensing and marine surveys are also used in archaeology, but are generally considered separate disciplines...

 was conducted which involved the coverage of 46% of the interior using a Fluxgate Gradiometer
Magnetic survey (archaeology)
Magnetic survey is one of a number of methods used in archaeological geophysics. Magnetic surveys record spatial variation in the Earth's magnetic field. In archaeology, magnetic surveys are used to detect and map archaeological artifacts and features...

. The results of this survey were, again, inconclusive although no evidence was detected for the existence of an inner bank. Traces of possible structures were detected and it was proposed that the site may have particularly early origins.

When Figsbury was considered within the context of the wider landscape and a range of other nearby monuments it appeared possible that the site may have begun as a Causewayed enclosure
Causewayed enclosure
A causewayed enclosure is a type of large prehistoric earthwork common to the early Neolithic in Europe. More than 100 examples are recorded in France and 70 in England, while further sites are known in Scandinavia, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Ireland and Slovakia.The term "causewayed enclosure" is...

. This may then have been modified into a Henge monument in the later Neolithic or Early Bronze Age. There is certainly sufficient evidence to state with some degree of confidence that the site was occupied, (albeit temporarily or intermittently) towards the middle of the third millennium BC. Further modification of the site appears to have taken place during the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age.

A programme of excavation would provide answers to the many questions raised in the 2003/04 study. Details of this study are currently awaiting publication.

Further reading

  • Collis J. 1977 Iron Age Henges? Archaeologia Atlantica, (2) 55-63
  • Cunnington M. 1924 Figsbury Rings : An Account of Excavations in 1924. Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine 43, 48-58
  • Darvill T. & Thomas J. 2001 Neolithic Enclosures in Atlantic Northwest Europe : Some Recent Trends. In T. Darvill & J. Thomas (Eds) Neolithic Enclosures in Atlantic Northwest Europe : Neloithic Studies Group Seminar Papers 6. Oxford : Oxbow
  • Gator J.A. & Clark A.J. 1981 Figsbury Rings : Geophysical Survey Autumn 1981, Photocopy report available from English Heritage : Fort Cumberland, Fort Cumberland Road, Eastney, Portsmouth, PO4 9LD
  • Guido M. & Smith I.F. 1982 Figsbury rings : A Reconsideration of the Inner Enclosure. Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine 76, 22-25
  • Hamilton M. and Whittle A. 1999 Grooved Ware of the Avebury Area : Styles, Contexts and Meanings. In R. Cleal & A. MacSween (Eds) Grooved Ware in Britain and Ireland. Oxford : Oxbow (36-47)
  • Harding A.F. with Lee G.E. 1987 Henge Monuments and Related Sites of Great Britain. Oxford : B.A.R.
  • Oswald A. Dyer C. & Barber M. 2001 The Creation of Monuments : Neolithic Enclosures in the British Isles. Swindon : English Heritage
  • Payne A. 1996 The Use of Magnetic Prospection in the Exploration of Iron Age Hillfort Interiors in Southern England. Archaeological Prospection 3, 163-184

External links

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