Wednesday 14 August 2013: bigger team, new faces, week 5

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Frankie Saxton, Ashley Tierney, Bernie Matthews, Christl Squires, Claire Briginshaw, Emily Abrehart, Ivor Davies, Jan Turner Jean Andrews, John Baskerville, Judy Flack, Kit Carstairs, Laura Slack, Manuela Jimenez, Phil Dean, Rick Kelly, Sara Gee, Sid Rowe, Steve Warner, Tony Driscoll, Tony Ireland, William Siddeley

Weather: sunny, occasional light cloud becoming cloudier by noon, occasional very light breeze, warm (about 21° C at the start of work and occasionally peaking above 23° C, but cooling rapidly under cloud cover); a couple of spots of rain around 2 pm

We start the fifth week of the excavation with more people than we have had on site for a couple of weeks. This means that we can tackle areas that I have been putting off as less important in addition to putting six people onto the area where Ashley is removing the henge bank to define the shape and extent of the first of the structures to be discovered. The inner ditch is an issue, as there is no-one on site today who was here on Sunday, so there is no continuity between excavators whatsoever (which is an issue that affects other parts of the site, too). I am hopeful that the outer ditch can be finished today, although recording the new rubbly context that is showing up beneath the current fill, (337), will slow things up slightly.

I have printed out a list of stratigraphic relationships as understood at the end of excavation last year to make sure that the context sheets record these data. Frankie will be checking this list against the records, although this is not a priority. I also need to add in data collected this year, including new context numbers; it will also be useful to add interpretative data to the list.

I am happy that we will achieve my original aims for this summer’s project. What I am less certain about is the extent to which we will be able to elucidate some of the new questions that have arisen, such as the nature of the pre-henge structures and the purpose of the pit in the centre of the entrance.

The site has made the front page of this week’s Advertiser. Although, as ever, the story contains a couple of howlers (a Neolithic dwelling at Stonehenge is the most egregious and there is a random mention of the pyramids of Giza), it’s always good to have some publicity. The main purpose of the story, of course, is to advertise the Open Day on Saturday 24 August.

Rick and Manuela are excavating a small area of (202), a reddish deposit similar to (94) that occupies much of the south-eastern quadrant of the henge. This is to check its relationship with (200), the inner chalk deposit forming the henge bank: last year it appeared to overlie it. It also clearly overlies the inner ditch, as the ditch fills are not visible in this area. It closely resembles (342), the reddish material overlying the fills on the inner ditch in the southern arm of the L-shaped section through the centre of the monument and is probably the same material. There is a patch of topsoil (199) lying between the two that masks the relationship. This is interesting, as it suggests that there is a period of activity on the henge after the inner ditch had completely filled; (202) is producing lithics and the occasional potsherd.

The eastern branch of the L-shaped section is progressing well. There is a patch of (207) to the west of the part that has already been removed that Sara and Claire are now removing: this may be comparable with (355), farther to the west, as both consist of dumped rubbly material (although (355) seems to have more large, angular flints than (207)). It sealed pit [318] in the entrance and is perhaps a primary deposit, part of the construction of the monument.

We are now (finally) making better progress on the southern arm of the L-shaped section. The area south of the inner ditch, where the core of the bank, (213), and the inner rubbly deposit, (200), are visible, is now being cleaned and the bank removed. There is a patch of pre-bank topsoil in this area, which needs to be exposed as it is close to where Keeley identified the second pre-henge structure. In the centre of the henge, (321) is continuing to come down onto (355): this gives us a stratigraphic link between the two arms of the section. The ceramics seem to be uniformly Peterborough type Ware, which puts us early in the history of the monument.

By mid-day, it was clear that (202) does indeed overlie (200) as well as the pre-bank topsoil, (312)/(348). This means that Rick and Manuela can move onto the removal of all of it within the area defined by Ashley for the examination of the bank. Once (293) has gone, people excavating on that side of the bank can move across to join in the excavation of (202) before starting on (200). Where the team in the southern arm of the L-shaped section is removing (342), this also overlies the bank material (200), so I think that it is a fair assumption that the two deposits are one and the same. Paul has found a rather nice thumbnail scraper in (342); given that this is probably the latest deposit on site (apart from last year’s pit containing the unusual vessel, [171], and the child cremation burial pit, [243]), I am not concerned that this implies a date later in the third millennium BC.

After lunch, most of (207) had been removed, exposing the pre-henge topsoil, (357). It seems to survive only in discrete patches, apparently lying in hollows in the underlying chalk bedrock. I am unsure what this implies about truncation during the Neolithic: could the original topsoil have been worn away during the use of the henge?

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

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