Some later Bronze and Iron Age settlements in Britain are characterised by enclosing features. Particularly on sites occupied continuously for considerable lengths of time, these features were re-configured ever so often. Some of the old banks and ditches seem to have become disused, while others were newly erected right next to them.
The construction of new, additional, banks and ditches – a process usually referred to as ‘multivallation’ – has often been interpreted as an expression of social competition. By investing in conspicuous consumption of labour, communities would express their social and economic potency. Grandiose displays of monumentalised settlement architecture – often ‘useless’ in terms of defence or any other ‘practical’ purpose – would show that a community had resources to spare.
But why, then, let some of the old banks crumble? In this paper, it is argued that letting some banks crumble was at least equally significant as building new ones, because it demonstrated other, even more important qualities of a community: pedigree and permanence. New walls can easily be built by anyone, if he be sufficiently determined, including any social upstart. Old, crumbling banks, on the other hand, cannot easily be faked: they demonstrate that a community has been important since time immemorial, and thus has been, and can be, relied upon, not just today, but forever.