Sunday 11 August 2013: “Mutiny, Mr Christian!”

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews (set adrift in a Neolithic ditch), Keeley Hale (wearing the captain’s hat after hoisting the Jolly Roger), Ivor Davies, Ashley Tierney, Chris Hobbs, Christl Squires, Emma Winter, Frankie Saxton, Jacky Winter, Julie Martin, Martin Jupp, Mervyn Evans, Nigel Harper-Scott, Phil Dean, Phil Thomas, Tony Driscoll, Tony Ireland

Weather: broken cloud with sunny spells, becoming increasingly broken throughout the morning; a stiff breeze

The day began with Keeley staging a mutiny: she took charge and put me on digging duties. It was actually a conspiracy, hatched when Nigel read my blog post about having an itchy trowel, so I have been in the outer ditch all morning, finding only one nasty little scrap of lithic débitage and a lump of sandstone.

It’s actually a good sign that Keeley is able to take control: it’s an indication that she is on top of things, that the site is running smoothly with no personnel issues, that we have a good team that is able to get on with work without needing constant advice. I’m pleased by this (not least with being able to do some real excavation work); I’m not so pleased with finding out that my digging skills are horribly rusty…

Things are making good progress across the site. Chris’s pit, [318], has turned into a chalk cut sub-square conical feature. There is still one deposit left to remove from the base. Given the near sterility of the other fills, it would be good to find something in the bottom, but for once I am not optimistic.

After removing the chalky deposit (343), Frankie has found that the hollow visible at a higher level (fill (301)) is visible once again. I wonder if the previous “fill” was actually material that washed into a patch where the fill of an underlying feature had slumped. Deposit (343) contains a lot of animal bone and feels very ashy. It may not be coincidence that it lies to the east of (306), which appears to be the base of a fire, when the prevailing winds in this area blow from the west.

In excavating (321), south of the centre, Emma has found the butt end of a polished stone axe. It appears to be one of the very triangular and relatively short types; it has been heavily burnt, to the extent that one surface has become very crackled and the stone has turned pink, making it impossible to tell which stone group it derives from. This part of the country is on the interface between a zone dominated by Group I (Cornish) and Group VI (Great Langdale, Cumbria), so either of these types is likely.

The inner ditch fills are finally resolving themselves into a darker material to the north, which appears to underlie a more reddish material to the south. Although this has been visible on occasion since we started to excavated the section, problems with seeing it have meant that the entire width of the section has been excavated as a single context since we started. At least it is getting sorted out now.

Keeley and Ivor are investigating the features beneath the southern part of the henge bank, where the second probable structure is located. She has at least one feature cut into the chalk bedrock, [351], which looks as if it probably was a structural element.

Ashley has finished his plan, so excavation of the little patch of (35) can start after lunch. Then it is a matter of removing the various elements of the bank: first (293) on the outer edge and (200) on the inner, before starting on the core, (213). After this, it ought to be possible to define other elements of this structure.

In the outer ditch, (344) is becoming smaller and smaller as the bottom of the ditch gets closer. There is a looser, more gravelly feeling deposit beneath it that overlies the chalk along the edges of the ditch. I am unclear whether or not this is the primary fill of the ditch. I hope to get back to digging it this afternoon!

By the end of lunchtime, it was 25° C, although the breeze means that it certainly doesn’t feel that warm. This means that we will need to break again at 2.45 pm in line with the Hot Weather Policy.

Pit [318] turned out to be virtually devoid of artefacts: apart from a few scrappy bits of débitage, there were two scrapers in the very top. It is useful that it was sealed by the rubbly deposit that I speculated might have been laid as a chalky pathway into the henge, as it means that it is either earlier than the henge or dates from an early phase in its construction or use.

The small patch of (35) in the area planned by Ashley vanished upon trowelling, as I had expected. He is now able to start work on the removal of (293), the material on the outside edge of the bank.

The outer edge of the inner ditch, where it cuts into the henge bank, is proving very difficult to define. The reason for this is visible in section: recent ploughing has spread the chalk from the bank across the ditch fills (it is clearly contained in a topsoil matrix where it does this) and has thereby loosened the material making it up, creating a ragged inner edge. As the team gets deeper into the excavation of the ditch section, the bank material ought to become more consolidated as they get below the level of the worst depredations of ploughing.

We are now two thirds of the way through the excavation and I feel that we have achieved more in the past four weeks than in all three previous seasons put together. Okay, we only got to dig the site for three and a half days during the 2010 season, but we had five weeks in 2011 and six in 2012. Getting (almost) to the bottom of the outer ditch in three weeks this year is a remarkable achievement; in the two weeks that remain, we can achieve an awful lot more. I am confident that we will have answered most of the questions posed in the Project Design and will have generated a lot more.

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

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