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A Henge Too Far? Reinterpreting the Neolithic Monument Complex at Milfield, Northumberland

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 December 2014

Benjamin Edwards
University of Durham, Department of Archaeology, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE,
E-mail address:


This paper reinterprets the archaeological evidence from the Neolithic monument complex in the Milfield Basin, Northumberland; a palimpsest landscape of earlier Neolithic enclosures, later Neolithic henges and Early Bronze Age burial monuments. Recent interpretative accounts of the Early Neolithic use of this complex have stressed economic factors as the driving-forces behind enclosure construction, whilst the six major later Neolithic henges have been integrated into a scheme of ritual processions. These interpretations are critically evaluated and the sites are placed in their regional and national context in an attempt to provide a new framework for the use and development of the complex. It is concluded that, far from having simplistic economic functions, the earlier Neolithic enclosures could be unique to the area. Representing the formalisation of a community's attempts to ensure social reproduction in times of change, through the articulation of the difference between circular and linear monumental forms. The re-examination of the later Neolithic evidence raises interesting questions as to how far we can ‘read’ monument complexes, and critically evaluates the extent to which we can argue a unity of purpose for these enigmatic accumulations of the past. Importantly, the reinterpretation of the Neolithic activity in this area exposes how readily archaeologists export social models from other regions, such as Wessex, and attempt to fit very diverse evidence into their framework. This paper concludes that we must continue the definition of the British Neolithic on a more regional basis and accept that core-periphery models, even if not explicitly articulated, have no place in archaeological explanation.

Research Article
Copyright © The Prehistoric Society 2004

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