Bayesian analysis provides new chronology for Dorstone Hill

Bayesian statistical modelling of a series of radiocarbon dates from the Neolithic site of Dorstone Hill, in south- west Herefordshire (recently published in Antiquity:, suggests that it may represent some of the earliest Neolithic activity in the West Midlands, highlighting its importance in the spread of new ideas and practices into the region.

Dorstone Hill is a triangular promontory, located between the valleys of the rivers Wye and Dore. Excavations carried out there between 2011 and 2019 as part of the ‘Beneath Hay Bluff Project’, a joint initiative by the University of Manchester and Herefordshire Council, found that three long barrows on the hill had actually been built on top of the remains of three large timber halls, which had burnt to the ground (see CA 285).

Image: Adam Stanford

Radiocarbon dates from the hall layers suggest that, despite having different architectural characteristics, they may have been broadly contemporary with each other. The construction of the central hall (3870-3760 BC) may have slightly pre-dated the western hall (3850-3710 BC), which in turn might have been built a bit earlier than the eastern hall (3805-3730 BC). Unusually, a timber mortuary structure was found between the eastern and central halls, and while it generated a number of dates – suggesting that it was used over decades – its main use was contemporary with the lifespan of the halls.

It is believed that the long mounds were built soon after the halls were destroyed by fire. Radiocarbon dates from these layers indicate that the central mound was constructed sometime between 3825 and 3650 BC, the western mound 3785-3670 BC, and the eastern mound (below) 3765-3660 BC. If these mounds were built at the same time, it is most probable that it was during the 38th century BC (3770-3705 BC). These were not the only prehistoric features located on the promontory: a causewayed enclosure was found on the south-east side of the hill, dated to 3770-3640 BC.

So, how do these dates fit within the surrounding Neolithic landscape? Penywyrlod, a long barrow west of the Black Mountains (see CA 395), may have been built slightly earlier, but on the whole the Dorstone mounds appear to pre-date the majority of other cairns in the region. These early dates could indicate that it was important to the identity and spread of Neolithic practices in the region.

The results of this project were recently published in Antiquity: