Friday 23 August 2013: I’m back on site (and have a lot of catching up to do!)

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keeley Hale, Bernie Matthews, Chris Hobbs, David Croft, Emily Abrehart, Frankie Saxton, Ivor Davies, Jim Skipper, Kit Carstairs, Mervyn Evans, Paul Browne, Paul Eland, Pauline Gimson, Phil Dean, Sid Rowe, Tony Driscoll, Ursula Scott

Weather: sunny, breezy, warm

Having missed two days on site, I feel very out of touch with what’s going on and can now sympathise with those who are only able to dig occasionally: reading a blog about the excavation is no substitute for being here. That said, there have been no new amazing discoveries apart from the way that (306) has turned into a cremation burial pit. That was completely unexpected; it also contained the remains of two separate infants. This site becomes more and more intriguing!

Where William was cleaning the deposit, (307), at the edge of the outer ditch yesterday, he seems to have revealed a shallow ditch cut by the henge ditch. This might be related to the Middle Neolithic activity that preceded the henge (Mike Parker Pearson was quite happy to see it as domestic: he referred to our complete structure, [344], as a “house”, which is gratifying to hear), perhaps enclosing the site. Is it beyond the realms of possibility that the formative henge was preceded by a causewayed enclosure? We have only this one little bit of pre-henge ditch, but the profile looks right for one.

Ursula’s hollow is beginning to look more pit like. This is good, as it means that we have three of the six pits that appear to line the entrance of the henge, showing as anomalies on the magnetometer survey of 1994. What it does mean that my idea that they might have been massive posts is wrong, as each is different in character and none has held a post. Ursula’s contains burnt chalk, something that I haven’t spotted elsewhere on site.

In the centre of the henge, Bernie and Emily have now almost removed (29) and (355) is beginning to show through beneath it. On the eastern side of the section they are excavating, (355) definitely rises up to meet the chalk bank, (97), but to the west, there is no trace of it. It looks almost as if this part of (355) was cut away before the formation of (29); might it have been intended as a posthole, like [330] to the east, that was accidentally overdug? In this area, (29) definitely continues up to (97) and the interface appears to be vertical.

In the inner ditch, Kit has found another piece of worked bone (more precisely, tooth) that makes it only the second bone artefact from the site, although now that I’m alerted to their existence, it will be worth scanning the rest of the animal bone to see if any more of it is worked. It’s an incisor whose root has been cut to form a point; there is also polish on the surface by the enamel. It may have been used as an awl or, more tentatively, as a tool for decorating pottery with dots or incisions.

Mike Parker Pearson’s visit yesterday was both timely and reassuring. He commented that the outer ditch has exactly the same proportions as the ditch at Stonehenge, confirming what I had previously suggested. A ceramic type that had been puzzling me (it has cord-impressed decoration that made me think of Peterborough Wares but lacks the heavy flint tempering that is characteristic of it) he identified as Collared Urn: it’s only found in the latest deposits on site, confirming that we have activity after 2200 BC. He also confirmed that Grooved Ware can be made in a shell-tempered fabric.

The base of the cremation deposit, (394), consists of a mass of cremated bone that is clearly adult in character; there have also been some barely burnt and very thin child skull fragments, including a piece with unfused sutures. As a burial pit, it is quite distinct and is almost precisely in the centre of the monument. The issue of its stratigraphic position is currently a bit unclear. It evidently cuts (355), unless our original impression that its top was more domed than flat is correct and it stood proud of the chalk rubble surface. Its location was almost certainly known when chalk platform (88) was constructed above it (unless this was placed in the centre of the henge with no knowledge that there had previously been a burial there).

The section of the inner ditch in the L-shaped section has a completely different profile from the section started in 2011, cut [81]. It is much more V-shaped, whereas the first section was more of a flat-bottomed U. The base also does not seem to be cut into chalk bedrock; this is quite surprising, especially given its greater depth than [81]. Perhaps there is some redeposited chalk. At the very bottom of the fill, Phil found a sherd of what appears to be the shelly fabric of Grooved Ware.

Chris and Jim have been drawing the section across the outer ditch, [289]. It carries on right up to the lynchet on which the henge was constructed, which gives us a complete stratigraphic view across the monument. It also incorporates the pre-henge ditch section.

There is a bit of a feeling of winding down on site, which is slightly unfortunate. There is still a lot more that could be done: excavating out the inner bank, excavating the part of the outer bank in the southern arm of the L-shaped section, looking for further pre-henge structures, excavating the remainder of fill (307)… However, tomorrow is the Open Day (and the weather is predicted to be foul) and the day after will be out last day, so there is a reason why everything now seems a bit down beat. We just need to remember what a fantastic site this is and what a good excavation this has been.

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

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