Sunday 4 August 2013: half way through the excavation

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Jim Skipper, Chris Hobbs, Christl Squires, Emma Winter, Ivor Davies, Jacky Winter, Jon Goodwyn, Martin Jupp, Mervyn Evans, Nigel Harper-Scott, Phil Dean, Priscilla Simmons, Sylvia Duncan, Tony Driscoll

Weather: cloudy with sunny spells and a stiff breeze; warm

By the time we finish today, we will be half way through the excavation. We’ve made reasonable but not spectacular progress. One reason for this has been that we have put most effort into the outer ditch section, [289], as we do need to complete a hand dug section through it and we have to maintain our target of removing a minimum of 4 cm a day from it. My aim to bottom the new section across the inner ditch is ambitious, but if we can remove a context a day, it ought to be achievable. The entrance is being sorted out, with the removal of (207) on to what is apparently a pre-henge deposit, while the extension to the sondage that runs across the bank is proving more complex than I had anticipated. It is the centre of the henge that has received least attention since Ashley and Frances went on holiday, so we will need to have a team working there next week.

The weather today is better for excavation: it’s cooler and the cloud helps to prevent the soils from drying out too much. It’s amazing how just a little rain yesterday afternoon has improved what can be seen on site. Much as I enjoy hot sunny weather, I have to admit that it’s the worst weather for excavation.

In the outer ditch, the new rubbly context, (311), has trowelled away almost instantly. It appears to have been a stone line within the ditch fills and the material beneath it, (314), looks very similar to (291) above it. Presumably we are dealing with an episode of erosion (from the henge bank?) that marks a discrete phase in the infilling of the ditch. If the rubble does derive from the bank, it suggests that it occurred at a time when the chalk of which it was composed was still visible, either because vegetation had not yet colonised it or because it had been removed whether deliberately or accidentally (such as through a brush fire).

The section across the inner ditch is producing large numbers of finds, which probably means that my challenge to remove a context a day may well not be met. This is why it took three seasons to empty the original section, [81]. Nevertheless, this ought to be a priority almost as high as the section through the outer ditch. If we can identify a terminal of the inner ditch, it would be good to examine that, too, but at the moment is isn’t possible to identify it on the ground (although as I mentioned the other day, the worm casts seem to be offering us a clue).

I’ve been getting an itchy trowel for the last few days: I desperately want to get in the trench and dig. I just know that the moment I try, someone will need advice, then something that needs photographing will be found, then there will be a ’phone call… and I won’t be able to return to my patch.

Our little flurry of lithic artefacts appears to have been a flash-in-the-pan. Since first thing yesterday morning, there have been no more of them (although Chris did have a reworked flake from (207) earlier). We also have few ceramics (although Chris, once again, has had Peterborough type Ware from (207)).

In the centre of the entrance (at least, roughly in the centre), (207) is becoming much deeper and is filling a hollow in the underlying material. It remains to be seen if this is simply a variation in the level of the natural, an area worn in the entrance or slumping in the top of a cut feature. Perhaps there will be something interesting in the entrance, after all.

By late morning, the temperature had reached almost 25° C on site, although the breeze made it feel much cooler, so we called lunch break at 12.30. The rain showers are all passing by to the north of Bedford, over 25 km away, so we are escaping it. It can rain tomorrow and Tuesday instead.

The removal of (35) in the area extending the sondage to the north-west is coming down onto bedrock (as well as (293) to the north-west) and it is interesting to see how the natural suddenly dips immediately outside the henge bank. This has encouraged the formation of a greater depth of colluvium to the south-east than immediately around the henge. This reinforces my belief that the henge is located where it is because it occupies the flattest ground on the hillside, a little shelf that enabled the interior of the monument to occupy a roughly level space. By contrast, the outer ditch is at a much higher level to the north-west and a much lower level to the south-east, while the outer edges of the bank will have been slightly higher and lower in the same directions. This will affect calculations about the height of the bank and raises the question of whether the bank would have had a level top or one that followed the slope by being the same height all round. We will never know the answer to this sort of question.

As (207) gradually disappears, the contexts exposed beneath it are beginning to look more complex. As well as the “hollow” that Chris spotted earlier, there is another area further to the west where there is a soil matrix below the level of the bedrock, while further east there seem to be new deposits showing up. This is rather encouraging and suggests that there may be features hidden beneath (207), reinforcing my interpretation that it was laid deliberately.

Finds from the outer ditch section [289] seem to be restricted largely to lithics and animal bone. There has been one sherd of Peterborough type Ware from (314) and that has been it. I will be happy if this is the only type we have, as it would put the filling of the outer ditch in the Middle Neolithic rather than the Late Neolithic.

With fifteen minutes to go, Jacky found a transverse arrowhead in (293), which is the outer deposit on the henge bank ((213) now appears to be a more thoroughly consolidated core). Again, we have Early Neolithic evidence from the first phase of the henge, although it is clearly of Middle Neolithic date. Then, ten minutes later, Priscilla found a lump of daub in (313), the uppermost fill of the inner ditch. It had the impression of a wattle on one edge. Good finds to close a good day!

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

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