If you are a Key Stage 2 history teacher/co-ordinator, this summer sees some really important excavations on famous and less famous sites. Right now there are excavations in Wiltshire and Herefordshire which are hoping to shed further light on life and death in the Neolithic (or New Stone Age) between 4,000 and 2,000 BC. We hope you can get to visit some of the excavations we will feature over the summer, including those we highlight today!
The much eroded ditch and bank at Marden henge.
At Marden in Wiltshire, a team from the University of Reading are trying to add to what little we know about the largest henge monument in the world. A henge is a monument which dates to the Neolithic and typically consists of a ditch with a bank on its outside. They are relatively rare monuments, with there being about 50 henges in England, and fewer in both Wales and Scotland. They are only found in Britain and range in size from just a few paces across to over 500m in diameter. Marden is the largest and covers an area of 35 acres or 15 hectares.
View of a house floor at Durrington Walls. The two dark areas in the foreground are the floor and in the centre of this is a hearth. Scale = 2m
The University of Reading team is led by Dr Jim Leary, who excavated at Marden in 2010. Among the features found then was the remains of a chalk floor, similar to those found in the houses found at nearby Durrington Walls. The excavation was lucky enough to find animal bone which was then radiocarbon dated to 2,450 BC. Archaeologist Mike Pitts wrote of the find and has some very nice images on his blog. As you can imagine, such a large site will still have many secrets for archaeologists to uncover. Marden is close to both Durrington Walls and Stonehenge, and it is hoped that the new excavations might shed some light on the relationship between the three sites. There’s a short snippet of video of Dr Leary introducing the project here Marden Introduction.
Another excavation is going on at the moment in Wiltshire, over at Avebury. There, the Between the Monuments project is looking for evidence of the daily lives of the people who built the complex at Avebury, including The Avenue and West Kennet barrow. This is a joint venture between the National Trust, Universities of Leicester and Southampton and Allen Environmental Archaeology. The project has revealed more about both how the monuments were built and the relationship between the monuments of the World Heritage site.
Over in Herefordshire, the investigations on Dorstone Hill in the parish of Dorstone in the Dore Valley, continue. The project is investigating a Neolithic settlement in the area just to the south of the chambered tomb of Arthur’s Stone. The project is led by Professor Julian Thomas of Manchester University and Dr. Keith Ray, formerly County Archaeologist with Herefordshire Council, in association with Professor Koji Mizoguchi, of Kyushu University, Japan, and Tim Hoverd of Herefordshire Council. The excavations have been very exciting!
The Neolithic tomb of Arthur’s Stone.
The hilltop at Dorstone Hill, thought to contain a Neolithic hilltop enclosure, has a low earthen bank that extends east-west for 120m. The first excavations by the project didn’t reveal too much. In 2011, a trench was dug across the bank and it was found to comprise large stone slabs on its north-facing side, and burnt clay on its crest. The team also found a pit containing sherds of Neolithic pottery.
However, things became more interesting in 2012, when excavations revealed that the bank was covered on both northern and southern sides with a capping of stones, and a stone-lined cist or burial chamber, with a broken leaf-shaped arrowhead, was uncovered on the northern side. In addition to this, a burnt deposit was found within two parallel lines of palisade slots. This palisade would have been made of timber posts. In 2013, this trench was further investigated and the burnt deposit was seen to cover the remains of a timber aisled hall. The team found a number of elements to support this interpretation – including structural timbers and woodwork.
Last year, the team found a third mound with a similar history of burning – a burnt deposit had been capped or covered by turf. The big difference here was that the mound had been retained behind a stone wall, most of which has been lost die to bulldozing of one side. The team believe that this had originally formed the basis for a particular type of burial mound from the Neolithic period which archaeologists call ‘Cotswold-Severn’. This summer, the team will be hoping to complete the investigation of this western mound/cairn.
All three of the excavations are on-going and finish around the 25th July. The Marden excavation welcomes visitors to see the excavation in progress every day, except Fridays, between 10:00am and 5pm. Groups must book in advance. There will also be an Open Day on Saturday 18th July. To visit the excavation follow Sat Nav SN10 3RH. Visits are also encouraged at the other sites. To visit Dorstone Hill the post code is HR3 6BY and the site is at the very top of the hill.
In a busy summer schedule, as always, we hope to visit these and other excavations and will bring you news and pictures as we get them!
If you like to know more about henge monuments and stone circles, Historic England (formerly English Heritage) have a free publication Prehistoric henges and circles you can download.