One of the more obscure consequences of the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany was the arrival in England in 1936 of Gerhard and Maria Bersu. Gerhard Bersu was an experienced German archaeologist who had been forced from office on account of his Jewish background.
In 1938 he was invited by the Prehistoric Society to excavate a site at Little Woodbury. The site was one of an increasing collection of ‘cropmark’ sites discovered through aerial photography since the First World War.
It is difficult to describe how prehistoric Britain was viewed in the 1930s. Suffice to say that in some quarters, though clearly not in all, it was thought that our ‘primitive’ ancestors, had lived in pits – literally in holes in the ground -- and were one step removed from cavemen. It is easy to mock ‘primitivism’, but archaeology was still a comparatively young subject, and not a great deal of good excavation work had been done in this country. The foremost British archaeologists had largely worked abroad, in the Empire, and had concerned themselves with the archaeology of former great civilizations. It somehow seemed appropriate that the Romans and their Empire had civilized primitive Britons. The Christian writers of our early history had also been keen to stress the mediocrity of the pre-Christian pagan world.
Bersu’s excavation of Little Woodbury, and his subsequent report  were a revelation on many levels, and set new standards for excavation, interpretation, and presentation of archaeological sites.
Crucially, he found two circular structures defined by concentric rings of postholes, which he interpreted as round timber buildings. These he reconstructed as having conical roofs and entrance porches. This was not the first timber roundhouse discovered. That credit should probably go to Thomas Wake and his 1936 excavations at Witchy Neuk in Northumberland , but Little Woodbury became the most important for the archaeology of Southern England.
Bersu's work on the finds, such as animal bones and charred cereal grains, set these buildings in an agricultural context. Other small structures comprised of two and four posts were seen as drying racks and granaries, respectively. Bersu interpreted some of the pits he found as being used for storing grain, and not as dwellings, as some earlier excavators had suggested.
Bersu’s Little Woodbury excavation gave us our first real glimpse of the prehistoric agricultural economy and its built environment, and it established the Iron Age population as competent farmers. This was a long way from primitive people living in pits, as conceived by an earlier generation of archaeologists, but as we will see, still some way from civilisation.
Subsequent excavations would be seen in the light of Bersu's findings, seeking to confirm and expand on these exciting new insights. Understanding a ‘posthole palimpsest’ becomes a lot easier once you know you are looking for circular buildings and four-post granaries. Subsequently, similar structures were found on other sites, with Little Woodbury cited as the parallel to support such identifications. That is not to suggest these things would not have been found elsewhere without the Little Woodbury report, only that its is the beginning of a chain of citations that support such identifications.