Accepted Paper:

Setting Fires: Beginning to Reexamine Read's Cavern and Iron Age Cave Use in the Mendips   


Ruth Briggs
Allison Marcucci

Paper short abstract:

Recent excavations at Read's Cavern have raised questions about the cave's use. Reassessment of the fourteen Iron Age cave sites in Somerset will look at varied use between sites and periods. This will draw on results from Read's Cavern, focusing on evidence of fire, to reexamine this archaeology.

Paper long abstract:

Recent excavations at Read's Cavern have raised questions about the cave's use. Excavations of the cave in the 1920's suggested a number of possible uses including periodical occupation and manufacturing. Evidence from recent work at the cave, in particular the somewhat anomalous deposition of burnt material, disproves these possibilities, but leaves the actual use of the cave in question.

There are fifteen caves within Somerset that contain Iron Age material. Most of these have not been extensively excavated and only show fragmentary evidence. The material from these cave sites would suggest random deposition, however, we know that in Read's Cavern and a few others this is not the case. At least six of these cave sites show evidence that indicates intentional use. Drawing from the recent excavation of Read's Cavern this paper will begin to reexamine the use of these Mendip caves during the Iron Age. The limitations of the information collected during previous excavations will be examined, and the relationship between the caves and contemporaneous surface sites will be highlighted.

The region that Read's Cavern and these other Iron Age cave sites are located within is the boundary between the Durotriges and Dubunni tribes. It is littered with springs and pock-marked with caves and swallets. The recent excavation at Read's Cavern allows us to begin reexamining the use of the caves within this potentially tense and meaningful landscape. This reexamination will explore the role of Read's Cavern in comparison to the other Iron Age cave sites, and the possibility that the use of Read's Cavern is directly related to the performance of order and control of relationships within this space.

Panel S20
Going underground: caves, science and theory