KS2 British prehistory – summer of action pt 4

The busy summer of activity continues, and while some projects such as those at Dorstone, Marden and the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project have finished their on-site work others, such as the Between the Monuments, are continuing and new excavations are about to begin.

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A nice chisel shaped arrowhead attached to Dr Mark Gillings. Courtesy Dr Mark Gillings.

Dr Mark Gillings of the University of Leicester and Between the Monuments has been tweeting about the project and some of the finds made (and not made on occasion), and you can follow him on Twitter via @mgprolix. There is also a blog by Dr Nick Snashall detailing the project and some interesting updates on Between the Monuments. Some of finds so far include a very nice ‘chisel’ arrowhead and some scrapers which Mark was enthusing about!

The excavation has also been visited by members of The Prehistoric Society. The Society is open to anyone interested in the archaeology of prehistory and is well worth joining! One of the members, Dr Tess Machling has kindly allowed us to share some of her pictures of the excavation. They show how much things can change in the space of just a few days!

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As you can see in the final image, the trench has been divided into metre squares and in the plastic bags are the finds from each square. This helps the team plot finds density throughout both the dig and the project – indicating where activities took place thousands of years ago!

While I was down in Wiltshire, I visited the excavations at Marden henge. One of the things the team there had discovered was a platform made of crushed and compacted chalk. It must be artificial as chalk does not occur naturally at the site. Of course, immediate parallels were made with structures found at Durrington Walls, another giant henge, near Stonehenge almost 10 years ago.

As you can see from the images, the structures do have significant differences. They are different sizes, with the Marden floor being larger at some 7×5 metres. It also has a sunken floor, which Dr Jim Leary believes is intentional on the part of the builders. The hearth in the centre is larger, as it is actually 2 hearths, one on top of the other, and suggests long-term usage. Most significantly, there are as yet, no identified stake or post holes to offer clues as to its construction and support. The houses at Durrington Walls had clearly defined stake holes which pointed to the existence of walls, and by inference a roof. Close to the structure the team from the University of Reading found an area of intense burning and a midden, or rubbish dump, where fragments of burnt stone were common.

At present, it is difficult to give a firm idea on whether the Marden structure was roofed, but it may be that its construction used techniques which left more ephemeral traces. Dr Leary suggested that one type of structure it bought to mind from ethnographic sources was a sweat lodge. It may be that stones were heated in fires and when they were hot enough they were carried to the ‘lodge’ and immersed in water. We know people in the Neolithic used this method for cooking, and it isn’t too much of a leap to imagine them using the same way to make steam. There are many examples from around the world and through history of cultures using the ‘cleansing’ power of steam in religious and social rituals.

The dig at Marden has produced some really exciting finds and a great deal more is yet to come. Below is a gallery showing some of the work going on at Marden, and the extent of finds being made. We’ll keep you posted on these as we get more news.

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Last, and by no means least, we have just seen some amazing footage taken by a drone camera of the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project – just have a look at this tremendous footage! If this doesn’t inspire children to take up archaeology, nothing will!

Ian Parker Heath

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