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Wittenham Clumps -  Nash Ford PublishingWittenham Clumps
Little Wittenham, Berkshire

The tree-covered heights of the Iron Age Hillfort on Sinodun (or Castle) Hill and its twin, both in Little Wittenham, are a well-known beauty spot known variously as Wittenham Clumps, the Berkshire Bubs or Mother Dunch's Buttocks! The name Sinodun is pure Celtic. Seno-Dunum means 'Old Fort'. This may indicate it was abandoned quite some time before the Romans arrived in Berkshire or, more likely, that it was so-named in the post-Roman period, before the Saxons arrived.

Excavations have shown that a late Bronze Age sub-circular enclosure surrounded the first hectare of settlement on the site. It had a 2.5m deep U-shaped ditch and associated bank, possibly with a palisade on top. The early Iron Age saw the building of the banks and 7.5m deep V-shaped ditches forming the hillfort of today. There was a rampart with both timber palisades and revetment. No round houses have been discovered so far, but the inhabitants, who were largely resident in the middle Iron Age, are known to have eaten fish from Thames and wild boar from the woods, whilst farming some cattle, but mostly sheep. Barley and some wheat was grown in the surrounding fields and stored here in huge pits. Other activities in evidence include sewing (with bone needles) and spinning (with spindle whorls). Unusually for the Iron Age, a number of burials were discovered - one in a grave, the others in pits. The most significant consisted of a large male buried in the foetal position at the bottom of a pit, a charred grain deposit at his feet and joints of meat under his arm. After a covering of earth, the better part of a dismembered Sinodun Hill, Little Wittenham -  Nash Ford Publishingfemale was placed on top of him. The final covering included the body of a sheep. All were deposited at one go and it has been suggested that the cut marks on the female bones indicate she was a human sacrifice, as described by Roman writers. There appears to have been no occupation in the late Iron Age, but Roman rubbish dumping corresponds with the establishment of one, if not two, Roman buildings in large enclosures, to the south-west. Rectangular features, upwards of 3m wide, also date from this period. They appear to be water storage tanks associated with nearby springs. No evidence of Saxon occupation has been found, but King Offa of Mercia apparently built some sort of look-out post at Sinodun, after defeating the West Saxons at the Battle of Benson in AD 772.

The Clumps are the home of the Victorian 'Poem Tree' and an old oak on the Wittenham estate was said to have been the one under which Matthew Prior wrote another poem, his famous 'Henry & Emma'. Also at the clumps is the 'Money-Pit' where a vast treasure, guarded by a large black raven, is said to be buried. The clump of trees on Round (or Harp) Hill, adjoining Sinodun, are sometimes called the Cuckoo Pen. The locals believed that if you could trap a cuckoo within its branches, summer would never end.


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