The start of the fourth week
Wednesday 17 August 2011
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, David Sims, Caoimhín Ó Coileáin, Maddy Turner, Lisa Waldock, Pauline Gimson, Laurie Elvin, Oscar Farley, Jon Goodwin, Nick Smith, Christina Farley, Tony Driscoll, Philip Dean, Nigel Harper-Scott, Siân O’Neill, Christl Squires, Ann Pegrum, Jackie Iredale
Weather: light cloud, occasional sunny spells, dry and warm, light breeze
Today promises to be reasonable weather (there is a possibility of a shower later in the afternoon); tomorrow’s forecast, by contrat, is terrible. We need to press on today with getting as much done as possible if we risk losing time on site tomorrow. As ever, I’m concerned with getting the outer ditch defined and a section put into it. We are so close to it, I’m getting frustrated by the lack of substantive progress.
I’m also continuing to worry about the shell-tempered material from (35) and the burnished sandy ware that I’ve been identifying as Grimston/Lyles Hill ware. This has been intensified by Chris’s discovery of some rim sherds that look distinctly Iron Age or Romano-British. An alternative identification of the “Neolithic” pottery would be as Harrold Shelly Ware (first to fourth centuries AD) and something like a Late Iron Age burnished sandy ware. That would account for the thin walls of the sherds, but it would mean that the sherds of Impressed Ware (and I am in no doubt whatsoever that this identification is correct) would have to be residual. If this is the case, we are left with the curious circumstance that no Grooved Ware has made it into this deposit although it occurs inside the henge. I need to get specialist advice about the identity of the dubious material!
There is a full team of six working on what’s left of (35) and I really hope that it will all be gone by lunchtime. If there is Romano-British material in the deposit, there is always the possibility that we’ve missed seeing a cut into it; the 3D finds recording system will enable us to see if it is restricted to a single area or is more widespread.
The inner ditch ought to be bottomed this week: the sides have a very shallow slope, although the edge to the west is not yet clearly defined. There may have been some under-digging on that side, which needs to be sorted out. It’s slightly annoying that there has been virtually nothing of diagnostic date bar a single potsherd. The quantity of bone, though, means that we will be able to get some decent radiocarbon dates.
Work is also continuing on the central posthole. Because this contains ceramics in its upper surviving fills, I’m hopeful that we will get a decent indication of its date. Carbonised wood would also be useful for radiocarbon dating. It would tell us whether the post was contemporary with the ditch or belongs to another phase; it’s clearly considerably later than the primary phase.
Philip and Christina are continuing to clean back to the east of the posthole. It’s concerning me slightly that we’re into the fourth week of the excavation and have still not cleaned this area well enough to get a decent plan. We need this to define the inner ditch on this side. Christina has found what appears to be a sherd of Beaker with cord-impressed decoration, the first I have seen on the site. This means that activity is continuing into the second half of the third millennium BC, which is what I would expect from a henge. It would be good if it turns out to be in the inner ditch… Oscar has found another really horrible potsherd, with a very corky texture, which just has to be Early Bronze Age. As it’s from the inner ditch, I’m delighted, horrible as the sherd is!
Caoimhín thinks that it may be several days before (35) has been removed completely. This is disappointing and worrying, given that it has been a priority since the first week and it means that little more than 20 mm of the deposit have been removed in all. We must find a way of speeding up the process of excavation and recording, otherwise it will take decades at this rate to excavate a single section through the ditch. Getting datable material from it is crucial to understanding the monument and I am very unhappy that we may not do so this season, especially as it was one of the principal research aims of the project.
The discovery of more Bronze Age looking material is encouraging. By bringing the use of the henge into the later third millennium BC, we now have a more definite overlap with the occupation at Blackhorse Road. It will be interesting to see how the material culture overlaps; the scarcity of Beaker pottery makes me suspect that the henge is earlier. Certainly, some of the dates from Blackhorse Road are later than I suspect from the pottery at Stapleton’s Field, extending into the second millennium BC.
I’m intrigued by the contrast between last year and this with the volume of finds from the centre of the henge. Last year, there seemed to be huge numbers of finds, while this year, there seem to have been fewer. That may be due in part to the fact that we concentrated our efforts on the centre in 2010, while this year, we have barely cleaned these deposits. A scan of last year’s records will soon show if I’m mistaken in my recollections.
There were still patches of (35) left after lunch, so Caoimhín was right. Even so, there’s perhaps not too much left and it may be gone tomorrow morning. So it’s not necessarily as bad as I originally feared.
Christl, Ann and Jackie are bringing in the blue flags that had been used to mark the ‘anomalies’ detected by dowsing. Most are in the area that will need to be strimmed before the Open Day on 27 August. None were located over anything we’ve been excavating and the main concentration was somewhat uphill from most of the monument. Without casting aspersions on the technique, the flags do not appear to correspond to anything visible in the archaeology.
I am getting concerned about the inner ditch to the east. Progress is slower than I would like and it is worrying me that we do not have a defined eastern edge. In neither section is it clear what is going on and I am beginning to doubt its status as a ditch, even if it does correspond in position to the geophysical anomaly that is supposed to be a ditch. What if it underlies the chalk of the bank? If that were the case, then we would have to revisit the idea of a burial mound, which makes no sense in terms of the posthole at the centre. We need to focus on understanding whether we do have an eastern edge to a ditch rather than on emptying its supposed fills.
More industrial residue type material has turned up in (35) close to where Chris found a similar lump and the potentially Romano-British rim sherds the other day. This rather strengthens the case for believing that we are looking at a discrete area of later disturbance. I would certainly feel happier with this explanation than with a sudden discovery that the lower part of the deposit is so much later than it originally appeared.
It’s been a slightly odd day on site. Everyone, me included, has seemed a bit subdued today for no apparent reason.