Cobb Digital’s Managinng Director, James Dempster returns to our pages here in our Janauary issue to bring you the first of his monthly columns. This month in particular focuses on the history of one of the most well-known sites in West Sussex…

I’m very excited that with the New Year I’m going to be adding a monthly article bringing historical aspects of Sussex to the business community. Some of them will be relatively well-known, some will be obscure and some will be on your doorstep – but hopefully all of them will be entertaining.

To begin with, we’re going to start with one of the oldest known sites in West Sussex (East, don’t worry you’ll get some historical love as well, just not this month).

For those of you who like a walk, love the outdoors and like to imagine Sussex before A roads; Cissbury Ring is for you. Known as “The most historic hill on the South Downs,” its pedigree is clear. Situated in the borough of Worthing at a height of 602 feet, the “Ring” encloses 24 hectares and has history dating back to Neolithic (later stone age) times.

Although it’s arguably better known for being an Iron Age hill fort, the focus for the article is its flint mining days of circa 4000 BC.
My favourite bogus fact about the hill is that it was known as “Caesar’s hill”, from a rumour that the man himself set up camp there. I love that thought, but sadly there is no evidence this happened at all. Too bad. The thought that one of the most influential leaders was able to look at the site where the Brighton and Hove training ground would one day be built is entertaining but extremely unlikely.
Roughly a third of the area of the “ring” provided the Neolithic inhabitants with over 270 mine shafts. With this volume of shafts and evidence left behind still visible today (flint debris such as chippings), there is no doubt that Cissbury Ring was at the heart of tool production in Neolithic Britain. Pretty exciting!

Surface flint would have been identified, but this was brittle and not much use for crafting or providing defence, so shafts were dug to extract the deeper lying stones. This does beg the question: “what was used to dig these shafts if they needed stronger material for tools?” Luckily, the plucky Neolithic Worthing-ites had the answer – animal bones. These shafts had a diameter of up to 36 metres, so were pretty serious projects to undertake. Archaeologists have found evidence of deer antlers being used as picks and ox shoulder blades used as crude shovels. Pretty creative, hey?

Over six thousand years have passed and we’re still seeking ways to make life easier, I find that strangely comforting.
Once back on the surface, the flint would be processed and “made good,” which is exactly why we have evidence of flint chips today. The flint would have been used both locally and throughout trade routes to make weapons, prestige ornaments and other useful tools. Sussex has continued to export great products both nationally and internationally since.

As mentioned earlier, the ring has gone on to be used as an Iron Age fort along with a potential Saxon Mint but one thing that hasn’t changed is the peace and tranquillity enjoyed atop the hill. In a world of noise, deadlines and instant replies, treat yourself to a walk to the top of one of Sussex’s most loved hills. It’s easy to picture yourself away from the hustle and bustle of modern life, instead foraging for flint like our Sussex ancestors.

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