Is there a henge in Norton?

Stapleton’s Field lies between Church Lane, in the centre of the historic village, and the A1 motorway. Aerial photographs have revealed the presence of several ring-ditches, the ploughed-out remains of round barrows, across this field and it is possible that one of them is mentioned in the Charter of 1007 as smeþan hlæw, the ‘smooth mound’. However, on an aerial photograph taken by Gil Burleigh in 1976, one of these ring-ditches is clearly double, with concentric ditches and an area between them that looks like the remains of something solid (such as a ploughed-away bank) with a gap to the north-north-east and what appears to be a ring of pits inside the inner ditch. A geophysical survey carried out by Geoquest in 1996 confirmed these details and showed that a pair of ditches run north-north-east from the point where the aerial photograph shows a gap in the possible bank.

These details make the monument look more like a henge than a burial mound. Henges were built in the third millennium BC and consist of an area surrounded by a bank with one or more entrances, and up to two ditches (internal, external, or both). They appear to have been used for religious purposes as they were not settlements, fields or burial grounds. Occasionally, a ring of uprights (wooden posts or stone pillars) would be set up inside the bank and sometimes there were more complex arrangements, as at Avebury in Wiltshire.

The pair of ditches appear to define a trackway running away from the monument, which is set inside a square ditched enclosure, open on the side of the probable track. Attached to the northern ditch, beyond a slight ridge and out of sight of the monument, is a small group of enclosures that look like a Bronze Age domestic site, probably a farm. South of the ditches are some rectilinear ditches that are rather more enignmatic but which may define small, rectangular fields of prehistoric type.

All in all, it looks as if we may have a complete Bronze Age landscape to the south-east of Norton village. A farm and its fields sit in a hollow, with a religious site over a low ridge and, beyond it, burial mounds for the community.

The location of the trenches in Stapleton's Field

We begin work on Wednesday 18 August 2010 to investigate this landscape. We have arranged to dig three trenches: one across the possible henge and the enclosure in which it sits, a second across the enclosures and possible trackway, and the third in the area of possible field boundaries. I will be keeping up this blog each day with details of progress and significant discoveries. This could prove to be the most exciting fieldwork yet carried out by the Norton Community Archaeology Group!


About Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

I'm the Archaeology Officer for North Hertfordshire District Council Museum Service. I was born and brought up in Letchworth Garden City, so I have a life-long connection with the area.

Posted on 13 August 2010, in Fieldwork, Stapleton's Field Dig 2010. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Really wish I was still there, I know all the interesting stuff is going to come out of the ground this week. I hope all goes swimmingly, and I will be following the dig’s progress with great enthusiasm and interest.

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