Thursday 16 August 2012
On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Caoimhín Ó Coileáin, Ann Pegrum, Ashley Tierney, Bernie Matthews, Connie Andrews, Eleanor Betts, Frankie Saxton, Ivor Davies, Jan Turner, Jean Andrews, Jon Goodwyn, Liz Hart, Lyall Watson, Nigel Harper-Scott, Pauline Gimson, Rachel Mills, Sara Butler, Shona Nash, Steve Warner (from 12.30), Susan Richmond, Tony Driscoll
Weather: cloudy (some grey) with occasional sunny spells; stiff and near constant breeze
Today feels very quiet as we have fewer people on site. The Roman ditch sections are slowly nearing completion, the sondage close to the centre of the henge is coming down on to new material (as well as confirming that (94) overlies (88)), while a second sondage is being excavated through the postulated entrance to the monument. This new sondage covers a former ploughsoil, (199), that contains what appears to be chalk from the henge bank, sealing a less thoroughly disturbed henge bank, material evidently spilling through the entrance to the monument and undisturbed bank material. While not as complex stratigraphically as the sondage in the centre, it nevertheless gives us a complete sequence from construction through to destruction. We may even get that sequence this year!
There is a team from the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation filming a promotional video of the site to illustrate the community grants it awards to local causes. They are setting up over lunch to begin shooting during the afternoon.
Work is progressing smoothly, if slowly. There have been no unexpected discoveries and, since the human burial of last week, no nasty surprises. Nigel did find a Roman coin (Tetricus I, AD 271-4) on the site, but we have had a number of them over the years and now understand something about their context.
The Roman ditch section that has consistently been the most intractable of understanding (the section being dug where the alignment changes to avoid the barrow) is finally beginning to make sense. Having reached the base, it’s become apparent that the south-western edge has either been underdug or that there is a single fill uniquely surviving a recut that removed the rest of it; I think that the former is more likely, as there is a very visible (but quite different) recut that can be seen particularly clearly in the north-east facing section.
There is a slight sense of winding down. It may be because there are fewer people on site, because the Roman ditch is almost finished or because we really are coming to the end of the season, although I don’t actually think that it is for the last reason. While the end of this year’s work is now in sight, we know that we will be back next year to resume exactly where we will be leaving off on Sunday. We haven’t been in this position before: working to a two-year project design has allowed me to take a longer term view of what we are doing and what needs to be done. Full excavation of the henge has never been an option as it is neither desirable (we need to leave elements for others to examine in the future) nor feasible (it would take decades!). Now that I have seen the site in plan, it makes it so much easier for me to make decisions about areas to target.
One of the things that I find most intrguing about the site it its landscape context. We know a fair amount about neighbouring monuments, both contemporary and of other dates, which help to frame the henge in an historical setting. There is also the topography of the Baldock Bowl, which is mirrored in the layout of the henge: was this something that its builders and users were aware of, or is it just me imposing an over-analytical postmodern mind onto it? I am sure that the Late Neolithic people of the area were perfectly aware of the shape of where they lived, but did they really conceptualise the henge as a microcosm of their world? This will be an interesting line of research to pursue.
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