The last day of uninterrupted digging this season: Friday 17 August 2012

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Caoimhín Ó Coileáin, Arlene Walker, Ashley Tierney, Bernie Matthews, Chris Hobbs, Eden Walker, Frankie Saxton, Ivor Davies, Jan Turner, Jim Skipper, Jon Goodwyn, Keeley Hale, Liz Hart, Lyall Watson, Nigel Harper-Scott, Pauline Gimson, Susan Richmond, Tony Driscoll

Weather: cloudy and very windy, cool; the cloud became more broken by lunchtime, with more frequent sunny spells and a warmer breeze

After today, we will have the disruption caused by the Open Day and, on Sunday, the task of putting the site to bed until next summer. This means that we will have to finish today the excavation and recording of everything that we won’t be returning to next year. Fortunately, there is not a vast amount left to do. Unfortunately, we have severely depleted numbers today. This attrition of numbers seems to happen on just about any excavation, even though the last few days are always the most exciting. Curious…

Tony is finishing recording the section of the central part of the western branch of the Roman enclosure ditch, while Keeley and Liz are excavating the bottom deposit in the westernmost section of the same branch. Lyall and Ivor are cleaning their section of the eastern branch of the ditch record for final recording (photograph, plan and section), while Bernie and Ashley have one (I hope!) last deposit to remove from the terminal on that branch and they will be ready for recording. Rachel is recording the south-east facing section of the sondage over the outer ditch at the northern corner of the site. This is all achievable today.

The weather is appallingly windy and it’s a cold wind. I am sitting writing in a parka: it’s not right for mid August! At least it’s not raining.

Progress is good today, despite the poor turnout. Keeley and Liz have just about finished their section, which will be ready for recording by lunchtime, while Ivor and Lyall are starting to record their section. The final deposit in the terminal, (268), is being excavated and, being so far devoid of finds, is coming up quickly. It’s always amazing what can be achieved by putting a bit of pressure on the team.

I’m currently reading Inside the Neolithic Mind: consciousness, cosmos and the realm of the gods by South African archaeologists David Lewis-Williams and David Pearce. They argue, rather contentiously, that Neolithic belief systems involved a “consciousness contract” by which altered states of consciousness were integrated into social norms of understanding (and it is the idea of artificially induced altered states that makes their hypothesis contentious). They view henges as microcosms of the cosmos, not just of landscapes as I was speculating yesterday (although they point out Julian Thomas’s observation that most henges are surrounded by “mountains” (I think it would be more sensible from an English perspective to use the term “hills”!)).

One of the criticisms of their book, by Chris Scarre, writing a review in Antiquity, is that they do not make enough of the abstract symbols widely used on the pottery found in Neolithic contexts. I was particularly struck by the zigzag lines on the “complete” pot deposited in the centre of the henge, as I thought at the time that it resembled some of their neurological data about altered perception and drug induced visions. I do wonder if there is any data about ecstatic visions, such as those experienced by Sufi dancers; that seems a more appropriate analogy for the types of activities I imagine to have taken place on this site.

Yet another different profile of the Roman ditch has been revealed by Keeley and Liz: where the ditch enters the baulk, it has a definitely V-shaped section. This contrasts with the rounded base seen in most other sections of the ditch or the apparently vertical sides and flat base at the western terminal. Yet again, this higlights the importance of digging more than one section through the ditch. We can now write off the (unexpected) Romano-British aspects of the site; this is something that I could probably get written up and published fairly quickly.

Tomorrow’s Open Day may be disruptive of the work on site, but it is an essential part of the outreach work that is one of the raisons d’être of Norton Community Archaeology Group. It is one of the Group’s best ways of communicating its aims, methods and discoveries to a wider audience than its membership alone. There is something so much more satisfying about seeing a site and learning about its history on the ground than just reading about it on a blog or attending lectures about it. This is especially the case where the landscape is so important to understanding the monument.

We had a visit by members of the East Hertfordshire Archaeological Society, during which Caoimhín discovered that all sections of the Roman ditch other than Keeley and Liz’s have been under dug. All the sections were V-shaped originally but the lowest fills consist of completely cemented chalk. They are archaeologically sterile and need vigorous hacking to shift, which has actually bent the tips of two of Caoimhín’s trowels. This is a pain to discover on the last proper day of excavation. At least we have one fully excavated section (and, as it’s the one against the baulk, it provides the section drawing I intended to publish, which is convenient). It’s too late now to do anything about the other sections, but at least we know.

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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 17 August 2012, in Fieldwork, Stapleton's Field Dig 2012. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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