Sunday 28 July: the end of the second week (and a third of the way through the dig)

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keeley Hale, Ashley Tierney, Chris Hobbs, Christl Squires, Deborah Curtis, Frances Bourne, Ivor Davies, Martin Jupp, Mervyn Evans, Nigel Harper-Scott, Paul Browne, Tony Driscoll

Weather: occasional cloud, breezy, warm (21-22° C, which actually feels quite cool in the breeze!) and getting warmer after lunch

The rain that had originally threatened to stop play yesterday did not materialise until after 8 o’clock; instead, it was the heat and humidity that put an end to work on site. Today is a lot more comfortable by contrast, although it is a shame that there wasn’t more rain, as things are drying out very rapidly in the sunshine and breeze.

Within the outer ditch, the south-eastern half of (291), where Chris and Martin are working, has ceased to produce more than the occasional flint. They originally thought that it had come down on to a deposit that feels quite different (although there is not a huge difference in its colour or quantity of chalk), but on reflection, believe that this is to do with differential drying after last night’s rain. To the north-west, where Paul and Nigel are working, there is a rather chalkier deposit showing up against the north-eastern baulk that is not visible elsewhere; they are still finding Roman material in this area.

Mervyn and Debbie are doing a sketch plan of their plough ruts, which will have to be removed before excavation can continue in this area. At least we now know that there is a potential for contamination in this area and what the mechanism of this contamination ought to be. Yesterday, a large piece of a Neolithic shelly ware turned up in topsoil (199); I use the term “shelly ware” in a general sense, as there is other temper as well as shell, but it is a fabric distinct from Grooved Ware and Peterborough-type Impressed Ware. A similar sherd has turned up today in (291) in the outer ditch.

Ashely and Frances are finishing off Frances’s plan; after the rain, things look slightly different from yesterday, so Frances has had to make a few changes to it. Ashely then needs to return to the area under (88), (295), which he was digging with Bernie a week or so ago. The archaeology in this area looks very complex, with burnt deposits, patches of carbonised wood and patches of chalk. As this is the very centre of the monument, it is unsurprising that the activities here appear to be more complex than elsewhere.

Today is a quiet day, with a small team but with everyone getting on with their tasks. The outer ditch is progressing well, especially to the south-east, where there are many fewer finds. I suspect that (291) is a largely Neolithic deposit and that the Roman material in the top of it has arrived through worm action working on material dropped into the slight hollow left in the top of the largely infilled ditch. The prehistoric date of the ditch—which I had never really doubted, despite the radiocarbon date—is being confirmed by what is being found (or, to be more precise, what isn’t being found) in the fills. I had been speculating that the outer ditch might have been cleaned out in the Roman period to explain the odd radiocarbon date, but this is looking very unlikely.

All my old worries that this might turn out to be a burial mound, after all, have now gone completely. The material coming from the activity deposits, the stratigraphic sequence in the centre of the monument and the relationship of the activity deposits to the chalk bank all make it clear that everything (except the relict topsoil buried under the chalk bank and the cutting of the outer ditch) post-dates the construction of the bank. It’s good practice always to question one’s interpretation of the data, but I have been verging on neurotic at times! It’s all down to a relative lack of familiarity with Neolithic archaeology, I suppose.

The plough ruts in the southern branch of the main section proved to be very superficial and trowelled away without even being able to define their bases. I hope that this means that the potential for contamination is lower than I had feared. To the south, a large animal tooth that turned up yesterday in trowelling across (201), the less compacted interior element of the bank, has been lifted this morning.

There is a considerable difference between the southern and northern parts of (295): Frances, who is excavating the southern side, is making plenty of finds, whereas Ashley, who is on the northern side, is finding many fewer. It will be very instructive to see the finds plotted out in three dimensions, once we have the CAD data drawn up. Are the patterns I think I can see now genuinely part of the data, or will they change once all the data are assembled? This is one of the reasons for recording everything in three dimensions.

By the end of lunchtime, the temperature had risen to 25° C, putting us on to hourly water breaks. Because of the breeze, it actually feels rather cooler than that. In fact, there have been times when I wish I had a pullover with me…

Ashley and Frances are now planning the two distinct patches that are either showing through (295) or are on top of it (or, perhaps, even occupy cuts into it). One is a patch of carbonised material, (305), that lay directly beneath (88), while the other resembles (88) with a quantity of burnt material in it (and the chalk that forms its principal component also appears to be burnt), (306). Both deposits will need to be sampled once their excavation is under way.

At the north-western end of the outer ditch, the chalkier material beneath (291) is beginning to look very like bedrock with a thin deposit on top of it, (307), rather than a new ditch fill. Only further excavation will sort this out, but trowelling it does produce quite a different sound from the known ditch fills.

As we come to the end of the second week, I am very happy with what has been achieved this year. We have been doing proper archaeology all this week; half the site has been planned; about 25 cm has been removed from most of the outer ditch section; the inner ditch section is all but complete; progress is being made on an L-shaped section across the centre of the henge and through the entrance; we have identified a pre-henge relict topsoil; and we have found just how fragile the remains actually are. Given the proposal to create allotments and an orchard on this part of the field as well as extending the industrial area at the end of Blackhorse Road, the highly significant prehistoric landscape of Stapleton’s Field deserves either to be properly protected from devastation by development or else fully excavated to the highest professional standards.

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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 28 July 2013, in Fieldwork, Stapleton's Field Dig 2013. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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