Friday 9 August 2013: a revised strategy

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Ivor Davies, Ashley Tierney, Chris Hobbs, Emma Winter, Frankie Saxton, Ivor Davies, Julie Martin, Jon Goodwyn, Keeley Hale, Kit Carstairs, Molly Barron, Paul Browne, Paul Eland, Phil Dean, Rick Kelly, Sid Rowe, Steve Foulds, Thomas Burningham, Tony Driscoll, Tony Ireland

Weather: overcast, occasional very light drizzle, occasional sunny spells; two rain showers between 11.15 and 11.40, one heavy

With yesterday’s discovery of a probable structure, I have changed the site strategy somewhat. The section that was being dug to the north-west of the sondage over the outer ditch has been extended by five metres to the north-east in an attempt to define the extent and plan of the probable foundation trench. There is also a suspiciously similar linear patch of chalk against the north-western edge of the site, that we first identified last year and Caoímhin and I speculated might be structural. Keeley is investigating this.

Chris has returned to his hollow as, following last night’s rain, it looks as if he may have underdug it on the west. He has assigned a new context number, (335), to this possible second fill. As excavation progressed, it became clear that this is indeed a lower fill in the hollow. Quite what hollow [318] might have been is completely obscure: it is clearly not just a worn patch in the entrance, but something deliberately created. The near sterility of its fills does not help in interpreting it.

The rain showers helped (briefly) to show up the soil colours. Unfortunately, trowelling is removing the damp surface rapidly and everything is returning to the usual dry grey. Nevertheless, it has helped elucidate what’s going on in the inner ditch, where the dark material is clearly restricted to the northern part of the cut. It has also shown up the relatively subtle differences in the area east of the centre, where Frankie and Sid are excavating.

Outer ditch section [289] looks as if we may well bottom it by the end of this week. Fill (314) has been removed to reveal a thin and probably discontinuous layer with a higher proportion of gravelly chalk, which was unfortunately overdug in the south-eastern corner of the section because the material beneath it is identical to (314) above. I am hoping that the stone free material underneath this chalky layer will prove to be the primary silt.

It is very tempting to project what can be seen of the structural trench discovered yesterday into the five metre square being started today and I can convince myself that I can see its line. This is fantasy, as it lies beneath the henge bank, which hasn’t yet been removed.

I’ve been thinking about the chalk deposit, (97), that the inner edge of the inner ditch cuts and which is partly overlain by deposit (94). In the section being excavated through the ditch in the southern arm of the L-shaped section, it is evident that the chalk overlies a soil deposit, which appears to be part of the build-up in the centre of the henge. Originally, I had wondered if (97) was part of the henge bank, but this is clearly not feasible, as it would not have been practical to dig the inner ditch that far into the bank. I’m now wondering if it is material slumped from the inner edge of the bank and evidence for a period of abandonment; might this in turn tie in with (311), the deposit in the outer ditch that I had hypothesised might derive from material tumbling from the outer edge of the bank?

The chalk that Keeley has been investigating is, like the bit investigated by Kit, contained in a slot. This slot seems to have termini at both ends so, although we have traces of a second structure, we cannot define its shape or extent, at least at present. It seems a bit greedy to have two pre-henge structures, but that is what the evidence is currently suggesting. If the slots really are the foundations of buildings, then they seem to have had walls composed of planks, as so far there are no indications of postholes that might have supported a timber framework. This matches the recent discoveries at Kingsmead Quarry in Berkshire, where oak planks were set vertically into foundation trenches.

Where Frankie and Sid have been working, the deposits seem to be filling hollows. Two of the hollows (deposits (301) and (332)) look like worn patches, whereas the other seems deliberately dug. Rick is staring work on the deposit running south through the centre of the henge down to the chalk deposit (97); his posthole, [330], was cut into it. The inner ditch continues to go down slowly, while the outer ditch appears to be getting very close indeed to being bottomed. Topsoil (199) has now all but gone from the new five metre square where the first structure is extending, exposing the bank ((213) in the centre, (200) to the inside and (293) to the outside). We are making good progress, with twelve days left on site; we could always do with more, but I dread to think what additional discoveries we would make in that time!


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 9 August 2013, in Fieldwork. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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