A connection with prehistory: Artists create film about one of UK's first Neolithic ritual monuments

By Culture24 Reporter Published: 09 February 2016

A huge prehistoric monument overlooking Brighton, left unexcavated since the 1930s until a community dig in 2014, is the subject of a new film

A photo of a male archaeologist working in a field under a grey sky
© Red Earth
On the edge of Brighton, Whitehawk Hill is better known for football pitches and mud-covered dogs than it is for the remains of the city’s first residents.

Until March last year, archaeologists spent 12 months investigating Whitehawk Camp, a 5,500-year-old Stone Age monument of a Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure covering six acres in one of the first examples of an early British farming community set up 500 years before Stonehenge.

A photo of a male archaeologist working in a field under a blue sky
The landscape ridge of the monument© Red Earth
The first digs there took place during the 1920s, but Archaeology South East, who led this excavation, had spent several years wanting to properly re-examine the grounds. Now the story of the hill and the relationship humans have had with it has been turned into a three-screen installation.

“Excavations in the early 20th century revealed pottery, flint tools, animal bones and carved chalk,” says Caitlin Easterby, of environmental artists Red Earth, who shot the film over a year.

A photo of a countryside hill under a blue sky
A transmitter mast is one of the major features of the hill© Simon Carey, geograph.org.uk
“But it’s the human burials that bring our ancestors closest to us – a 40-year-old man, a young boy and two young women in their 20s.

"One of the women was buried with her unborn baby, a carved chalk pendant and fossilised sea urchins laid by her side.

A photo of a countryside hill under a blue sky
The hill looks over Brighton© Simon Carey, geograph.org.uk
"Imagine four huge white chalk walls encircling the summit of the hill. In low light some of these earthworks are still clearly visible.”

Red Earth worked with abandofbrothers, a “rites of passage” mentoring charity founded in Whitehawk for young men, and the parallels are personally drawn by the artists.

A photo of a series of prehistoric bowls
Neolithic pottery from the site© Royal Pavilion and Museums
“Life for a 20-year-old in Neolithic times would have been very different to young people’s experience today,” says Simon Pascoe, Easterby's co-director and lead artist, portraying the camp as a focus for gatherings, feasts and burials.

“Average life expectancy was around 30 and the young men and women who gathered here would have been skilled and respected members of their community.

A photo of a light brown or yellow piece of prehistoric bone
A piece of domestic cattle bone© Royal Pavilion and Museums
"In contrast, a 20-year-old in today’s society can feel alienated and marginalised, excluded rather than included. We wanted to explore this contrast, and give young people the chance to make a personal connection with the past.”

Having recorded the hill through its changing seasons, Easterby says the personal details left behind are the most poignant.

A photo of a series of prehistoric bowls
Neolithic pottery from the site© Royal Pavilion and Museums
“The hill pays homage to thousands of years of uninterrupted human interaction,” she says. “It is an extraordinary place, connecting archaeology, myth and contemporary life."

  • Whitehawk Hill, a film installation by Catlin Easterby, Simon Pascoe, Anna Lucas and abandofbrothers, is at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery from March 8 – April 10 2016. Fieldwork project carried out by Hilary Orange and Jon Sygrave, film team advised by Dr Matt Pope.

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Three museums to see archaeology in

Stewartry Museum, Dumfries
The museum holds an amazing collection of archaeology from the local area. Redisplayed, these ancient and important pieces will be given new life through highlighted displays and enlarged images. Get closer to your ancient ancestors through the objects they left behind.

Oriental Museum, Durham
Younger visitors can play with a toy pyramid and temple or try out a word search; adults can enjoy looking at amulets, animal mummies, and exquisite jewellery. There's also a giant game of senet, played by the ancient Egyptians.

National Museum Cardiff
The current exhibition, Treasures: Adventures in Archaeology, includes the hat, whip and jacket of Indiana Jones, crysta slkulls, Inca gold and early finds such as Egyptian Mummies.
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: