Sunday 18 August 2013: the end of the fifth week

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Frankie Saxton, Ashley Tierney, Chris Hobbs, Christl Squires, Emily Abrehart, Frances Bourne, Graham Gardiner, Ivor Davies, Julie Martin, Keeley Hale’s spirit (she’s gone to collect the pot from pit [171] from the conservator), Laura Slack, Martin Jupp, Mervyn Evans, Nigel Harper-Scott, Rhiannon Gardiner, Tony Driscoll

Weather: mostly cloudy (some grey) with occasional sunny spells, almost constant stiff breeze

After five weeks on site, the story is beginning to come together in a coherent way. It’s not so much that the old story is changing as that the story is becoming more complex. This week we have discovered that the first phase of the henge is marked principally by the outer ditch (sections [288] and [289]) and the bank ((200)/(213)/(293)); it is possible that the ashy dump (305) and pit [318] also belong to this phase.

Phase two marks the transition from circular formative henge to oval classic henge, which, it is now clear, involved more than simply digging the inner ditch: it aso led to the reduction in width of the bank on its inner edge, at least around the southern and south-western side (was this perhaps done ony on the side opposite the entrance to make the space internally oval rather than circular?), and the material removed from it piled up inside the newly cut inner ditch to create an internal bank, (97). After the creation of the inner bank, the entire henge (including the inner edge of the inner bank) was “paved” with a chalk rich deposit, (207)/(355), that extended out through the entrance and may have formed a path or roadway leading to the henge; a square chalk platform, (88), was also constructed in the centre, more-or-less over the ash heap (305). Substantial burning, represented by deposit (29), took place on top of the inner edge of the new bank.

A third phase is marked by the digging of a large posthole, [84], close to the centre of the henge and (perhaps) a ring of posts set into the inner bank, (97), of which the L-shaped section revealed one, [330]. We have lost the deposits that formed the surface during this phase, so it is only the cut features that survive.

Finally, pit [171] and cremation burial [243] were deposited, making a fourth and final phase of the site; both these features contain material that is so different from anything from the earlier phases, that I regard them as closure deposits.

There are still elements of the story that need elucidation, not least the dates. At the moment, we are entirely dependent on the ceramics and the lithic typology, which only give vague indications of period. Nevertheless, the first phase appears to date from before about 3000 BC, possibly by some centuries. The second phase appears to pre-date the first use of Grooved Ware, so this would begin perhaps 2900 to 2800 BC; the third phase may date to a time when Peterborough type Ware was no longer current, so perhaps after 2500 BC; the final phase can be dated only by the unusual pot in pit [171], with its heavy collar, Beaker shape and Grooved Ware fabric, which would place it around 2200 BC.

Rhiannon and Graham do seem to have found a pit or posthole close to the outside of the henge bank. It may turn out to be very similar to the scoop [320], west of pit [318]. It encourages me to believe that [320] was indeed an artificial scoop, not a patch of natural wear.

Ashley and Ivor are ready to tackle structure [344]. I have asked them to remove a half-metre section from each terminal to define the edges of the trench at the ends of the visible element to ensure that they really are terminals and not simply places where ploughing has removed the material into which they were cut (which ought not to be an issue, as Ivor’s section was sealed beneath the bank, (213)).

Chris has started the removal of (360), the topsoil deposit sealed beneath the bank at the southern end of the L-shaped section. I thought that it was likely to be only a thin deposit, but it seems to have a reasonable depth. There is a rimsherd of Peterborough type Ware (with an apparently flat rim with oblique whipped cord “maggots” beneath it, perhaps suggestive of Fengate Style), which is a good indication of the Middle Neolithic date of the first phase of the henge. There were two pebbles, both of a maroon colour, next to each other: there have been no others of this character on site, so far as I know, so they have been collected as finds.

At the end of lunchtime, we had a visit by Pauline Gimson, who has not (yet) been able to come and dig. She is hoping to come along for a few days next week.

Frances and Julie have been investigating (306) and, contrary to expectation, it seems to be occupying a hollow in the top of (355). This puts it firmly within the second phase of activity in the henge, which is a pity, as it means that only the outer ditch and the bank are definitely early. On the other hand, the discovery of a concentration of pre-henge finds in (360) may well help provide a good date for the start of the first phase.

After five weeks, I feel that we have achieved a great deal but that there is still a lot more that could be done. Next week will prove crucial in answering the outstanding questions and also in finishing the excavation of the deposits in the L-shaped section so that we can get a complete section drawn through the henge.

Rhiannon’s feature, [372], is beginning to look more distinctly pit like. The chalk bedrock now appears to be diving down rapidly from its natural level, just as in pit [318] and she has a second fill, (374). Graham has joined her in its excavation. Like [318] and [320], it is not producing finds. I’m beginning to wonder if these features have nothing to do with the henge and if they are part of the pre-henge activity Chris is uncovering in (360). Of course, the pre-henge activity might all have taken place on the very day that construction began so, although it is stratigraphically (and chronologically) distinct, it is effectively contemporary with construction (at least in a radiocarbon chronology!). It is also the case that these three cut features are in the entrance to the henge; there is no sign of similar features in places where we have removed the henge bank.

There is some very fine débitage coming out from the inner ditch fill (3??). It’s from blade making, which probably puts it in the Middle rather than the Late Neolithic, when there is tendency for blades to become broader, squatter and more badly formed. Once again, this might be evidence for a date for Phase 2 before c 2800 BC. Martin has discovered a broken denticulated blade.

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

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