Category Archives: Stapleton’s Field Dig 2013

And another interim!

Just like ’buses, they all turn up at once! This one, published in Heritage Daily, an independent online academic magazine, dedicated to the heritage and history of the world, appeared today. It is completely up-to-date and, for the first time, publishes a proper plan of the excavated henge in relation to the geophysical survey results.

Heritage Daily front page 11 September 2013

Heritage Daily front page 11 September 2013


Wednesday 21 August 2013: Keeley is in charge

Blog post by Keeley in Keith’s absence.

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews (only until 10.30), Jan Turner, Christl Squires, Tony Driscoll, William Sidderly, Ashley Tierney, Ivor Davies, Pauline Gimson, Sid Rowe, Emily Abrehart, Phil Dean, Kit Carstairs, Frankie Saxton, Bernie Matthews, Priscilla Simmons, Isobel Simmons, Paul Browne, Steve Foulds, John Baskerville, Jean Andrews, Sylvia Duncan, Rick Kelly

Weather: very warm, reaching 27° C by half three.

Pauline and Sid are excavating the Neolithic topsoil (396) at the south western end of the “L” shaped area. They are finding pieces of daub, lots of flint and some pottery. They are coming down on to a deposit with larger pieces of chalk within the matrix.

Kit, Emily and Phil are continuing on the inner ditch (369) which is full of finds, although they are progressing well and have a good recording system in place. Once again Kit has possibly (Keith to confirm) found a very interesting artefact, a piece of worked bone with a very pointed end which could be a pin or needle.

Bernie and Frankie continued inside the inner bank to try to resolve the stratigraphy; however, it is proving very difficult to determine at present. They were joined by Jan in the afternoon to continue removing (29). A good amount of finds were recovered from this area.

John and Steve are continuing Rhiannon’s pit (372) in the entrance area and it is very similar to the pit located close by, excavated by Chris last week. There have been very few finds within the deposit (376) and (381).

Paul is excavating a small hollow on the northern side of the “L” shape excavation area which has very compacted chalk at the sides and base similar to Chris’ pit and the pit John and Steve are finishing today. Rick was cleaning back the area close to the area of burning at the corner of the “L” shape and confirmed that the bedrock is very irregular in this area with silted up patches which we will continue to investigate over the next couple of days.

In the morning Jean and Sylvia were working on the thick deposit overlying the natural by the outer ditch, although this is very hard work and digging down slope has a vertigo effect. This is a main area to target over the next few days. Jean helped enormously this afternoon tidying up the sections and cleaning back the northern leg of the “L” shaped area in preparation for the open day.

Ashley and Ivor have worked really hard today and have nearly completed excavating the slots (344) for the first structure we found on site. The sides are quite irregular but it is nearly completely excavated.

William has been all alone in the bottom of the outer ditch, and his first task was to clear up all the silt from last week’s deluge. He has nearly reached the bottom and is still recovering artefacts from (363)

Jan and Christl have been very busy today with a huge amount of finds and Tony has been extra busy but totally in control of distributing batch numbers and logging in the finds.

Isobel and Priscilla have been working on the ash pile in the corner of the “L” shape at the centre of the henge. They have been carefully excavating (306) which is proving to be a very deep regular deposit of dark brown loose silty soil. There is a very large amount of carbonised wood with some very large pieces which were recovered for later analysis. It is evident that there is a small oval pit cut into the chalk, which looks like it has been filled in quickly with one deposit. We will continue to excavate this tomorrow.

Sunday 4 August 2013: half way through the excavation

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Jim Skipper, Chris Hobbs, Christl Squires, Emma Winter, Ivor Davies, Jacky Winter, Jon Goodwyn, Martin Jupp, Mervyn Evans, Nigel Harper-Scott, Phil Dean, Priscilla Simmons, Sylvia Duncan, Tony Driscoll

Weather: cloudy with sunny spells and a stiff breeze; warm

By the time we finish today, we will be half way through the excavation. We’ve made reasonable but not spectacular progress. One reason for this has been that we have put most effort into the outer ditch section, [289], as we do need to complete a hand dug section through it and we have to maintain our target of removing a minimum of 4 cm a day from it. My aim to bottom the new section across the inner ditch is ambitious, but if we can remove a context a day, it ought to be achievable. The entrance is being sorted out, with the removal of (207) on to what is apparently a pre-henge deposit, while the extension to the sondage that runs across the bank is proving more complex than I had anticipated. It is the centre of the henge that has received least attention since Ashley and Frances went on holiday, so we will need to have a team working there next week.

The weather today is better for excavation: it’s cooler and the cloud helps to prevent the soils from drying out too much. It’s amazing how just a little rain yesterday afternoon has improved what can be seen on site. Much as I enjoy hot sunny weather, I have to admit that it’s the worst weather for excavation.

In the outer ditch, the new rubbly context, (311), has trowelled away almost instantly. It appears to have been a stone line within the ditch fills and the material beneath it, (314), looks very similar to (291) above it. Presumably we are dealing with an episode of erosion (from the henge bank?) that marks a discrete phase in the infilling of the ditch. If the rubble does derive from the bank, it suggests that it occurred at a time when the chalk of which it was composed was still visible, either because vegetation had not yet colonised it or because it had been removed whether deliberately or accidentally (such as through a brush fire).

The section across the inner ditch is producing large numbers of finds, which probably means that my challenge to remove a context a day may well not be met. This is why it took three seasons to empty the original section, [81]. Nevertheless, this ought to be a priority almost as high as the section through the outer ditch. If we can identify a terminal of the inner ditch, it would be good to examine that, too, but at the moment is isn’t possible to identify it on the ground (although as I mentioned the other day, the worm casts seem to be offering us a clue).

I’ve been getting an itchy trowel for the last few days: I desperately want to get in the trench and dig. I just know that the moment I try, someone will need advice, then something that needs photographing will be found, then there will be a ’phone call… and I won’t be able to return to my patch.

Our little flurry of lithic artefacts appears to have been a flash-in-the-pan. Since first thing yesterday morning, there have been no more of them (although Chris did have a reworked flake from (207) earlier). We also have few ceramics (although Chris, once again, has had Peterborough type Ware from (207)).

In the centre of the entrance (at least, roughly in the centre), (207) is becoming much deeper and is filling a hollow in the underlying material. It remains to be seen if this is simply a variation in the level of the natural, an area worn in the entrance or slumping in the top of a cut feature. Perhaps there will be something interesting in the entrance, after all.

By late morning, the temperature had reached almost 25° C on site, although the breeze made it feel much cooler, so we called lunch break at 12.30. The rain showers are all passing by to the north of Bedford, over 25 km away, so we are escaping it. It can rain tomorrow and Tuesday instead.

The removal of (35) in the area extending the sondage to the north-west is coming down onto bedrock (as well as (293) to the north-west) and it is interesting to see how the natural suddenly dips immediately outside the henge bank. This has encouraged the formation of a greater depth of colluvium to the south-east than immediately around the henge. This reinforces my belief that the henge is located where it is because it occupies the flattest ground on the hillside, a little shelf that enabled the interior of the monument to occupy a roughly level space. By contrast, the outer ditch is at a much higher level to the north-west and a much lower level to the south-east, while the outer edges of the bank will have been slightly higher and lower in the same directions. This will affect calculations about the height of the bank and raises the question of whether the bank would have had a level top or one that followed the slope by being the same height all round. We will never know the answer to this sort of question.

As (207) gradually disappears, the contexts exposed beneath it are beginning to look more complex. As well as the “hollow” that Chris spotted earlier, there is another area further to the west where there is a soil matrix below the level of the bedrock, while further east there seem to be new deposits showing up. This is rather encouraging and suggests that there may be features hidden beneath (207), reinforcing my interpretation that it was laid deliberately.

Finds from the outer ditch section [289] seem to be restricted largely to lithics and animal bone. There has been one sherd of Peterborough type Ware from (314) and that has been it. I will be happy if this is the only type we have, as it would put the filling of the outer ditch in the Middle Neolithic rather than the Late Neolithic.

With fifteen minutes to go, Jacky found a transverse arrowhead in (293), which is the outer deposit on the henge bank ((213) now appears to be a more thoroughly consolidated core). Again, we have Early Neolithic evidence from the first phase of the henge, although it is clearly of Middle Neolithic date. Then, ten minutes later, Priscilla found a lump of daub in (313), the uppermost fill of the inner ditch. It had the impression of a wattle on one edge. Good finds to close a good day!

Saturday 3 August: more lithic artefacts

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Jim Skipper, Chris Hobbs, Emma Winter, Ivor Davies, Jacky Winter, Jon Goodwyn, Keeley Hale, Martin Jupp, Mervyn Evans, Nigel Harper-Scott, Paul Browne, Phil Dean, Priscilla Simmons, Sylvia Duncan, Thomas Burningham, Tony Driscoll

Weather: starting out sunny with occasional light cloud, becoming cloudier throughout the first hour but then returning to sunny spells by lunchtime; light cooling breeze but otherwise warm

We started almost straight away with the discovery of another scraper by Tom in in the inner ditch. This time, it was a horseshoe scraper, evidently used by a left-handed person (it had blunting along its left side rather than scraper retouch, suggesting that this edge would have been in contact with the skin); these types are more typically of third millennium BC date than yesterday’s end scraper. A little later, Chris discovered a side scraper on a flake in (207), the deposit in the entrance of the henge. This I am also happy to see as later fourth or earlier third millennium BC in date. Having said in previous years that the site produces only débitage, I am now eating my words: we have good evidence for artefact use as well as production and we were either unlucky or looking in the wrong places in previous years.

We have people working in all areas: two teams on the outer ditch section [289], continuing to remove (291) and exposing (311), a more rubbly deposit, to the north-east; a team continuing the extension of this sondage across the henge bank, currently removing a small patch of colluvium (35); a team on the inner ditch section, removing the last of (197) to expose the new (so far unnumbered) fill beneath; a team continuing to remove (207) in the entrance.

Mervyn has found a piece of shell tempered ware in (197) that has a deep groove in it, reminiscent of the horizontal decoration towards the top of Grooved Ware vessels. I haven’t previously seen this shelly fabric used for Grooved Ware (but I haven’t seen large quantities of Grooved Ware, I have to confess), so it is good to see that this material is a Late Neolithic type. I had worried that sherds we have found before might be Iron Age or Romano-British. I really ought to trust my own judgement more.

The entrance is beginning to look slightly more complex than I thought yesterday. The chalky deposit (207) is of very variable thickness and the underlying deposits (of which there are several) have an undulating surface. It is good to have found a lithic artefact among the chalk, as this area has otherwise been unproductive. Perhaps there are other artefacts lurking amongst the finds I have not seen.

There is not a great deal left to do on fill (291) in outer ditch section [289] as (311) beneath it is showing up in most areas now. This is similar to what was recorded in the machine cut section at Easter, which is encouraging as it suggests that we didn’t lose as much data as I feared we might have done by using a JCB to empty the ditch. There will have been some artefacts missed, although the sieving ought to have recovered a significant proportion of them, albeit in an unstratified way.

Mervyn, Jon and Tom have started on (313), the chalky fill that appears to underlie (197) in the top of the inner ditch section. It looks as if it may be a relatively superficial deposit, as it is not visible in section less than a metre to the north-west, where there is an machine overdug scoop.

The small patch of colluvium (35) in the extension to the sondage has now been removed. There was a considerable quantity of pea grit on the interface with (293) below, indicating that it was impermeable to worms. Visible in section in the sondage over the outer ditch, (293) appears to be quite a thick deposit (perhaps 100 mm or so), so its removal will probably take a day or two. It clearly overlies the henge bank (213) and presumably derives in part from it, as it contains a lot of chalk.

By the end of lunch, the temperature had risen to 23° C, which came as a bit of a surprise. It’s probably the breeze that is making it feel cooler. Although some of the clouds look rain bearing, we have had none of the threatened showers so far. The radar map of rain shows that it has been passing to our north and to our south as the bands make their way towards the east-north-east.

The lighter deposit beneath (207) in the entrance is very thin and has trowelled away in places, revealing that it sits immedately on top of the bedrock. This suggests that it is a pre-henge topsoil, drastically compressed beneath the material deposited in the entrance. I did wonder if (207) might have been deposited to make up the ground surface following erosion by traffic in and out of the monument, but this no longer looks likely (unless the thinness of the underlying soil is partly a result of erosion as well as compression). Coincidentally, the exposed patch of chalk bedrock lies exactly on the line where the inner ditch would have run had it been a complete ring rather than a horseshoe: this is part of the entrance causeway of the second phase, classic henge.

Excavation is now beginning on (311) in outer ditch section [289]. It has already produced a sherd of Peterborough type Ware, which is encouraging. There are also fragments of animal bone.

I am beginning to wonder if (293) is actually part of the bank rather than material that has tumbled from it. It is very compacted in most places and looks deliberately laid. There have been some fragments of highly mineralised bone from it.

Around 3.30, the rain that had been threatening finally arrived. We recorded the few remaining finds, packed away and were off site around 3.55.

Friday 2 August: a contrast in the weather

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Jim Skipper, Andrew Rylah, David Croft, Ivor Davies, Kit Carstairs, Paul Browne, Paul Eland, Steve Foulds, Thomas Burningham, Tony Driscoll, Ursula Scott

Weather: overcast, threatening rain, light cooling breeze otherwise warm; during lunch, there were sunny spells during which the temperature rose to 26° C and during the afternoon, the cloud began to break up into clumps of cumulus

What a contrast from yesterday! There is no danger that we might overheat today and the fact that we’ve already had a slight shower has made digging easier. The cloud cover also produces a flatter light that makes it easier to see things on site: I think that I can see a new deposit appearing in the outer ditch, beneath (291) and in the eastern arm of the L-shaped section through the henge, beneath (207).

Everything is continuing to run very smoothly and I feel almost like a spare part at times. My principal function is to make strategic decisions; next year, when I won’t be available to direct a summer excavation for the Group—I’ll be too occupied with the new museum—I am confident that there are people who will be quite capable of making these sorts of decisions. My other main purpose seems to be to worry about the nature of the site: even though I know that it is a henge, I still have odd moments of thinking to myself “What if it really is a round barrow?”. These are just silly neuroses: the only burial in the monument is late in its development, whereas in a barrow, the burial is deposited first, while we have a ditch dug through deposits in the centre and through the chalk bank.

A series of worm casts has appeared just inside the bank on the south-eastern side of the monument. They all appear to be in fills of the inner ditch and stop just by the gap in the chalk that marks the entrance to the henge. There are no worm casts anywhere else on the site. Clever worms…

The only material coming from (291) in outer ditch section [289] now is clearly prehistoric: hand made and somewhat coarse pottery that is unfortunately quite undiagnostic. I can’t recognise it as Peterborough Type Ware, Grooved Ware, Beaker, Collared Urn or any of the definite types that we have excavated from the henge. I wonder if it is a generic domestic pottery or if it belongs to the later Bronze Age (I am not familiar with local later Bronze Age pottery types), although it would be the first later Bronze Age material from the site, so this seems a less likely explanation.

I am wondering if (207) is a deliberately laid deposit in the entrance: it does not extend further into the henge than the gap in the inner ditch. It struck me yesterday that there is nothing else like it elsewhere on site, so my initial assumption that it formed from rubble that had fallen from the bank now appears to be unlikely. Could it be that it was deposited as a white surface to match the bank? It would not have been a comfortable surface to walk on, but if it were purely for appearance, perhaps people were prepared to put up with it; it is also possible, I suppose, that any finer chalk laid on top as a proper surface could well have vanished, falling into worm burrows or being worn away.

Although it is 21° C, I am wearing a coat because I feel cold. This is ridiculous: in any other summer, we’d be celebrating temperatures in the 20s! We had a few spots of rain after morning teabreak, but the weather has otherwise been dry despite the forecasts.

Ursula and Paul E are removing the fills of a plough rut before examining the structure of the bank. It particularly affects the more solid chalk, (213), and is more diffuse as it passes through (200), the looser material. I am concerned that we remove this fill before dealing with the bank deposits, as I do not wish to risk contamination. Material incorporated into the bank (if there is any) will be crucial to trying to date the construction of the henge, as will datable material from the soil beneath it. As excavation begins on (200), its relationship with (213) is unclear in this spit, although it appears to overlie it elsewhere on site.

There are still very few finds coming up today: the main clusters have been in the plough rut fill (308) and the inner ditch fills (still being removed as (197)). There is material, including prehistoric pottery and lithic débitage, in (291), in the outer ditch [289], but almost nothing in (207). This is curious, as it is accepted wisdom that the entrances of henges are where the most interesting things happen. Of course, accepted wisdom can be utterly wrong and I’m more than happy to ignore it when it is.

The Rain Alarm application on my ’phone (which shows a radar view of rain across much of northern Europe) is now indicating that we have escaped the likelihood of rain. There appear to have been (and continue to be) showers, some of which are heavy, not far to the east of us, as close as this side of Royston. We have been lucky.

Immediately after lunch, Andrew found a rather nice leaf-shaped arrowhead in (291). This is one of very few lithic artefacts to have been found on site and is of Early Neolithic date (c 4000-3400 BC); they are sometimes referred to as foliate points on the grounds that we can’t be certain that they were always used as arrowheads. The fact that it was found in ditch section [289] in an undamaged state suggests that it is in its primary context of deposition (in other words, not residual) and, more importantly, that the construction and filling of the outer ditch is earlier rather than later in the Neolithic. This is very significant as dating evidence; it makes me wonder if the pottery I don’t recognise is in fact a local Early to Middle Neolithic tradition.

Where Paul E and Ursula were beginning to remove what appeared to be the looser bank material, (200), soon resolved itself in the north-eastern corner of their section into what appears to be a fill of the inner ditch. This means that the material in the south-western corner is not actually (200) but material spread from it over the outer ditch, a phenomenon seen in section by cut [81] in the narrow trenches of 2010 and 2011. Its extent to the north-west is obscured by the remaining patch of (199). It has been assigned number (312).

Elsewhere on site, Ivor and Steve have planned a new deposit that was showing up yesterday, (310), which appears to lie beneath (119) and overlie (207). Most of the extent of this deposit lies outside the L-shaped section, unfortunately, but it is nevertheless clearly one of the deposits in the entrance to the henge. and extends northwards towards the remains of the bank. Kit and Tom are making progress on the inner ditch, although it is proving quite difficult to resolve the difference between (197) and a somewhat more chalky deposit that shows up only where Kit is working.

And another artefact puts in an appearance! In cleaning off (197), Tom has found a broken end scraper on a broad blade. It’s quite badly damaged except at the working end (it has evidently snapped during use) and I am less certain that it is in its primary context of deposition, as we know the inner ditch fills to be Late Neolithic in date and I am not convinced that we should expect scrapers on blades after the Middle Neolithic (if you know otherwise, do let me know!).

Ursula and Paul E have confirmed that the looser chalk (200) does indeed overlie (213): more evidence that this cannot be a burial mound, as mounds are built from the centre outwards, not the outside inwards. It also overlies what is either a fill of the inner ditch (unlikely) or a pre-henge topsoil. As this is the material visible under the plough rut fill (308), I am inclined to prefer the latter option.

It’s a pity that we have been rather short of people today: it has meant that we have been unable to make progress with the site plan. Progress today has been steady rather than spectacular, as we are fairly low on numbers, and I had been worrying that we wouldn’t achieve everything I had hoped from this season’s work (apart from a hand dug section across the outer ditch, which has been the priority since we started this year). Next week, we will have more people on site than this week, so we will no doubt make much better progress. We have actually made significant discoveries today without shifting a great deal of soil!

Thursday 1 August: another sunny day

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Jim Skipper, Andrew Rylah, David Croft, Frankie Saxton, Ivor Davies, Jan Turner, Jean Andrews, Kit Carstairs, Paul Eland, Phil Dean, Sara Gee, Steve Warner, Thomas Burningham, Tony Driscoll, Ursula Scott

Weather: sunny, hot (26½° C at 9.30 am), gusty breeze

It is very warm today and as the forecast suggests that we will reach 32° C during the afternoon, I suspect that we will have to stop early. I can feel the effect of the sun on my arm, even with Factor 50 sunblock, so people will need to be very carful on site.

We have opened up the extension from the arm of the trench containing the outer ditch section into the monument: it reaches up to the looser material on the inside of the henge bank and covers the two principal deposits visible in the bank, the rubbly material (293) outside it and a small patch of colluvium (35). The sequence seems clear enough (apart from the relationship between the consolidated and looser bank deposits): (35) overlies (293), which in turn overlies the bank. This seems a reasonable progression, given that (293) looks to be material derived from the erosion of the henge bank.

Excavation of the outer ditch ought to make reasonable progress, as the fill seems to have retained moisture rather better than the deposits on the henge. This is presumably a consequence of the depth of the ditch. It now seems to be producing only Neolithic finds (although I would need to see the ceramics properly cleaned to be certain).

We had our first break at 10.40, by which time the temperature had reached 28° C: we are now into half-hourly working with fifteen minute breaks between. The breeze is refreshing, but is not helping with the drying out of the site that is making everywhere inside the henge very difficult to excavate, as there is a hard crust over everything.

Frankie is making good progress with the site plan and ought to be finished either by the end of today (if we get a full day’s work today) or early tomorrow. This is good! We will then need to use the EDM to get the edges of the trench to tie her plans in to the National Grid.

Things are progressing well: people are getting on in their individual area and know what they are doing, meaning that direct supervision needs only to be minimal. The number of finds is relatively small, so there is no difficulty with keeping up-to-date with locating, lifting and processing them. Everything is running very smoothly this year and coupled with our (generally) good weather, this is keeping on site morale very high, so far as I can tell.

It was over 30° C by 12.30 and, when we left the site fifteen minutes later, had reached 31°: perhaps the hottest day of 2013 so far.

.Wednesday 31 July 2013: the start of the third week

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Jim Skipper, Andrew Rylah, Christl Squires, Frankie Saxton, Ivor Davies, Jan Turner (until 1 pm), Jean Andrews, John Baskerville, Kit Carstairs, Paul Browne, Phil Dean, Steve Warner, Thomas Burningham, Tony Driscoll

Weather: overcast, frequent light drizzle, occasional light breeze; sunny spells from 11 o’clock and dry after 2.15, with the breeze becoming a little stiffer and more constant during the afternoon.

The weather today is quite unlike any we have had so far this year: it’s cool and damp, which is great for seeing the colour differences on site but not so pleasant for people working. At least it will clear during the day, although it is supposed to get very humid later.

Frankie is beginning to plan the north-western half of the site, so we ought to have a complete hand-drawn site plan in the next few days. With the colour differences being so much clearer today, it ought to be a relatively simple task.

Kit and Tom are working on the southern arm of the L-shaped section, removing a last little patch of topsoil (199) before tackling (197), the reddish deposit in the top of the inner ditch (described on last year’s sketch plan as “light grey”). In the damper conditions today, it is clear that (197) overlies (196) and that (97) is the material through which the inner ditch has been cut in this area. It is also likely that (197) is the same material as (195) to the north-east of the excavated section of inner ditch.

Ivor, Jean and Steve are working on what remains of (119). Fortunately, it seems to be quite superficial and is coming down rapidly onto (207), a much stonier deposit underneath, that also spills out through the gap in the bank.

Phil, Andrew and Paul are working on the outer ditch, [289]. On Sunday, progress on the south-eastern part of (291) was much more rapid than to the north-west, leaving a step almost 0.25 m high between where different teams had been working. It is today’s priority task to get everything back to the same level, otherwise we risk exposing new deposits in one half of the ditch much earlier than in the other, which is quite unacceptable.

By the end of morning tea break, the drizzle had come to an end and temperature shot up by two degrees to 20° C. The sun is even coming through breaks in the cloud, so we may see an improvement in the weather rather earlier than the forecasts have been suggesting.

It seems to be quite a slow day for finds: there have been a few in (119) and (291), but (199) was without any. Kit and Tom have now removed the last patch of (119) and are on to (197), which does have material in it. We need to collect 20 litres of bulk sample from this deposit, as it is a fill of the inner ditch. The section excavated since 2011 has been assigned context [81]; we do not yet have a cut number for this section.

It’s fortunate that (291) has fewer finds as it becomes deeper, which means that progress can continue to be rapid in the outer ditch. We need to keep up our average of 4 cm a day to get to the bottom: should we lose any time to bad weather or extreme heat, we will need to increase the daily target. Comparing what we have this season with the section excavated through the outer ditch at Easter 2013, it is clear that (291) and (290) are identical with (285), which was removed entirely be machine; it was almost a metre thick at its deepest part.

The rain returned at lunchtime and was quite heavy for about forty minutes. By the time we were back at work, it had lightened and almost stopped, finally stopping again around 2.20 pm. The temperature has risen now to just touching 23° C; it drops as the wind increases, so we won’t be invoking the hot weather policy just yet.

The inner edge of the outer ditch is now showing up where (291) is being removed and is parallel with the opposite side, as one would expect. This shows that the point previously chosen as the mid point from which the two teams have been working back to the edge is too far towards the inner edge. Now that we know where the edges are, we will be able to set a more equitable starting point.

The rain over lunchtime has helped to show up the colours once again, helping to redefine areas where (119) has not yet been completely removed and to show up the loose rubbly material of (207) beneath it. The relationship between (207) and the rubbly deposits to its west is unclear: they appear to have less soil matrix, so I am inclined to regard them as something quite different.

There have been a number of sherds of shelly pottery again today, all coming from securely Neolithic deposits (both (197) and (119)). I wonder if they are made from the same Jurassic clays as the Romano-British shelly wares of North Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire; if this is the case, presumably they are part of a regional trade in ceramics. This is something I need to investigate further, as I am not familiar with this idea outside south-west England, where Gabbroitic Ware is “traded” over a wide area (scare quotes as we have no idea of the mechanisms by which goods moved from areas of production to areas of consumption).

One additional area we need to investigate is an extension to the sondage over the outer ditch. I would like to extend the edges to cross the remains of the bank, examine the relict topsoil beneath it and determine its relationship with the colluvium (35). This can then be added to the section drawings that will be made of ditch [289] when its excavation is complete, tying the outer ditch in stratigraphically to the henge proper.

Kit and Tom feel that they have found a new deposit under (197). Although the same colour, it has a higher proportion of chalk flecks and is somewhat firmer to trowel. Given the complex stratigraphy found in the section dug 2011-13, [81], it is unsurprising that they should find a new fill after only a little work.

Despite the rain, which was only really heavy at lunchtime, when we were sheltered under the gazebos, and the relative lack of people today, we seem to have made good progress today. The ‘step’ left in the outer ditch section where the two teams had been working at vastly different speeds on Sunday has now gone and we have the edge of the cut on its inner side. All of (119) has been removed, revealing that (207) lies directly beneath it, while the last remaining patch of topsoil (199) in the L-shaped section has also gone, enabling the team in this area to concentrate on the archaeological deposits of the inner ditch. It would be really good if, over the next four weeks, we can complete another section through the inner ditch, which would give us two sections through both ditches. We may have to make some compromises in how we plan each deposit to enable this to happen, for instance.

Sunday 28 July: the end of the second week (and a third of the way through the dig)

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keeley Hale, Ashley Tierney, Chris Hobbs, Christl Squires, Deborah Curtis, Frances Bourne, Ivor Davies, Martin Jupp, Mervyn Evans, Nigel Harper-Scott, Paul Browne, Tony Driscoll

Weather: occasional cloud, breezy, warm (21-22° C, which actually feels quite cool in the breeze!) and getting warmer after lunch

The rain that had originally threatened to stop play yesterday did not materialise until after 8 o’clock; instead, it was the heat and humidity that put an end to work on site. Today is a lot more comfortable by contrast, although it is a shame that there wasn’t more rain, as things are drying out very rapidly in the sunshine and breeze.

Within the outer ditch, the south-eastern half of (291), where Chris and Martin are working, has ceased to produce more than the occasional flint. They originally thought that it had come down on to a deposit that feels quite different (although there is not a huge difference in its colour or quantity of chalk), but on reflection, believe that this is to do with differential drying after last night’s rain. To the north-west, where Paul and Nigel are working, there is a rather chalkier deposit showing up against the north-eastern baulk that is not visible elsewhere; they are still finding Roman material in this area.

Mervyn and Debbie are doing a sketch plan of their plough ruts, which will have to be removed before excavation can continue in this area. At least we now know that there is a potential for contamination in this area and what the mechanism of this contamination ought to be. Yesterday, a large piece of a Neolithic shelly ware turned up in topsoil (199); I use the term “shelly ware” in a general sense, as there is other temper as well as shell, but it is a fabric distinct from Grooved Ware and Peterborough-type Impressed Ware. A similar sherd has turned up today in (291) in the outer ditch.

Ashely and Frances are finishing off Frances’s plan; after the rain, things look slightly different from yesterday, so Frances has had to make a few changes to it. Ashely then needs to return to the area under (88), (295), which he was digging with Bernie a week or so ago. The archaeology in this area looks very complex, with burnt deposits, patches of carbonised wood and patches of chalk. As this is the very centre of the monument, it is unsurprising that the activities here appear to be more complex than elsewhere.

Today is a quiet day, with a small team but with everyone getting on with their tasks. The outer ditch is progressing well, especially to the south-east, where there are many fewer finds. I suspect that (291) is a largely Neolithic deposit and that the Roman material in the top of it has arrived through worm action working on material dropped into the slight hollow left in the top of the largely infilled ditch. The prehistoric date of the ditch—which I had never really doubted, despite the radiocarbon date—is being confirmed by what is being found (or, to be more precise, what isn’t being found) in the fills. I had been speculating that the outer ditch might have been cleaned out in the Roman period to explain the odd radiocarbon date, but this is looking very unlikely.

All my old worries that this might turn out to be a burial mound, after all, have now gone completely. The material coming from the activity deposits, the stratigraphic sequence in the centre of the monument and the relationship of the activity deposits to the chalk bank all make it clear that everything (except the relict topsoil buried under the chalk bank and the cutting of the outer ditch) post-dates the construction of the bank. It’s good practice always to question one’s interpretation of the data, but I have been verging on neurotic at times! It’s all down to a relative lack of familiarity with Neolithic archaeology, I suppose.

The plough ruts in the southern branch of the main section proved to be very superficial and trowelled away without even being able to define their bases. I hope that this means that the potential for contamination is lower than I had feared. To the south, a large animal tooth that turned up yesterday in trowelling across (201), the less compacted interior element of the bank, has been lifted this morning.

There is a considerable difference between the southern and northern parts of (295): Frances, who is excavating the southern side, is making plenty of finds, whereas Ashley, who is on the northern side, is finding many fewer. It will be very instructive to see the finds plotted out in three dimensions, once we have the CAD data drawn up. Are the patterns I think I can see now genuinely part of the data, or will they change once all the data are assembled? This is one of the reasons for recording everything in three dimensions.

By the end of lunchtime, the temperature had risen to 25° C, putting us on to hourly water breaks. Because of the breeze, it actually feels rather cooler than that. In fact, there have been times when I wish I had a pullover with me…

Ashley and Frances are now planning the two distinct patches that are either showing through (295) or are on top of it (or, perhaps, even occupy cuts into it). One is a patch of carbonised material, (305), that lay directly beneath (88), while the other resembles (88) with a quantity of burnt material in it (and the chalk that forms its principal component also appears to be burnt), (306). Both deposits will need to be sampled once their excavation is under way.

At the north-western end of the outer ditch, the chalkier material beneath (291) is beginning to look very like bedrock with a thin deposit on top of it, (307), rather than a new ditch fill. Only further excavation will sort this out, but trowelling it does produce quite a different sound from the known ditch fills.

As we come to the end of the second week, I am very happy with what has been achieved this year. We have been doing proper archaeology all this week; half the site has been planned; about 25 cm has been removed from most of the outer ditch section; the inner ditch section is all but complete; progress is being made on an L-shaped section across the centre of the henge and through the entrance; we have identified a pre-henge relict topsoil; and we have found just how fragile the remains actually are. Given the proposal to create allotments and an orchard on this part of the field as well as extending the industrial area at the end of Blackhorse Road, the highly significant prehistoric landscape of Stapleton’s Field deserves either to be properly protected from devastation by development or else fully excavated to the highest professional standards.

Saturday 27 July: written after the event

On site: Tony Driscoll, Deborah Curtis, Frances Bourne, Ivor Davies, Jean Andrews, Julie Martin, Keeley Hale, Martin Jupp, Mervyn Evans, Nigel Harper-Scott, Paul Browne, Phil Thomas, Chris Hobbs

Weather: hot and sunny

I wasn’t here, so I did no blogging about the site. Progress was made on the outer ditch, to the point where a level was reached on the south-eastern side where no more Roman mateiral was turning up and the edge of the cut is visible. To the north-west, there is still a little Roman material. On the eastern branch of the section through the centre of the henge, Frances has almost completed her sketch plan, with a number of previously unrecorded contexts showing up. On the southern branch, topsoil (199) was almost completely removed and it has become obvious that there are a couple of plough ruts running up and down the slope (north-west to south-east) that contain topsoil. A start was made on trowelling across the area with the mixed deposit of human and animal bone; another fragment of human tibia was found together with a human premolar, but the remainder was animal. This is a curious (but very Neolithic looking) deposit.

Friday 26 July 2013: my birthday

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Mick James, Amy Brown, Amy Saunders, Bernie Matthews, David Croft, Frances Bourne, Isobel Simmons, Ivor Davies, Molly Barron, Muriel James, Paul Eland, Priscilla Simmons, Sylvia Duncan, Tony Driscoll

Weather: sunny with light wispy cirrus clouds at the start of the day, clouding over after 10 o’clock, warm (23° C at the start of the day, climbing to 27° C by morning tea break, then falling again)

Today is the Day of Archaeology, so I will be tweeting with the hashtag #dayofarch throughout the work on site. One very positive development has already happened: the Licence to remove the disarticulated human bone from site has arrived by email today (number 13-0150), so we can get underway with the investigation of the area where it turned up (and where there is still a piece of human tibia embedded in the ground).

All of (255) has now been removed from the inner ditch, revealing what is clearly the primary silt, to which the number (298) has been assigned. It contains a large rimsherd of Grooved Ware, which is good. Any organic material should be considered for radiocarbon dating; nothing from the ditch seems to be later than Neolithic in date. Apart from last year’s bizarre collared vessel, there is nothing from the site that appears to be of Bronze Age date. It will be interesting to see what the vessel looks like reconstructed: Keeley will be collecting it from the conservator in a couple of weeks, so we can have it for the open day.

It is horribly dry today. Yesterday morning’s rain made everything soft, but I think that a day of baking sun has made to soil very crusty because there is so much clay in it. Tomorrow’s forecast is for rain in the afternoon, with the possibility of a shower on Sunday morning, so I hope that this will soften the soil once again. It’s also proving to be an issue for the excavation of (119), which showed up as a distinctly red colour yesterday but which has dried into the general greyish colour that all soils tend towards as they dry out.

Mick is finishing the plan of the north-eastern end of the site, drawing the strip that Frankie couldn’t fit on her plan. That leaves the south-western half still do to, which I hope we can have completed early next week.

Fill (291) in the outer ditch is still producing Roman material, albeit not in huge quantities. What is interesting is to contrast this material with what came out of the trapezoidal enclosure ditch last year, where more than half the finds were of tegula. Although there have been a few fragments in the henge ditch fills, they are much less common. This makes me wonder if this ditch fill (which is presumably third century in date, based on the coin that was found two days ago) either post-dates or pre-dates the fills of the enclosure ditch. It’s too early in the excavation of this section to know.

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