This weekend saw me visit to 3 excavations of some importance in the story of our past. In terms of British prehistory the Neolithic is perhaps the most striking as it is the period when we begin to see, quite literally, traces of people in the past. The Neolithic is the time when monuments, some to the dead and others we still do not understand, appear in the landscape. The 3 sites visited were Avebury, Marden henge (also in Wiltshire) and Dorstone Hill in Herefordshire. Each of them is a research excavation – that is they are undertaken by researchers based in University Depts of Archaeology as opposed to a commercial unit as part of a development such as road building. As such they are aiming to answer specific questions about the past and hope to find answers in the ground and news reaches us this morning of the team finding what they believe to be a house!
At Avebury, the team led by Dr’s Josh Pollard, Mark Gillings, Nick Snashall, Ros Cleal and Mike Allen are looking for evidence for the daily life of the people who built the monument. This is the third year of the project and the team were anticipating finding more artefacts to shed light on the construction of the Avenue at Avebury. The Avenue consists of two rows of upstanding megaliths which stretch from the henge at Avebury to a monument called the Sanctuary some 2.5km away. As you approach Avebury from the A4 you will see the Avenue and the excavation quite clearly.
The team had opened two trenches as part of this years work and it was still early days when we visited on Friday. As you can see in the images below, the turf had been removed and they were in the process of cleaning the surface to reveal what was hoped to be the original ground surface. The Avenue has been excavated before – by Alexander Keiller in the 1930s and if you look carefully in the image of Dr Gillings talking to the students you will see an area of soil with white speckles of chalk. This is the backfill of Keiller’s old trench.
When we were there Dr Gillings expressed the hope that they would find exciting things, as archaeologists always do, but it seems they really have hit the jackpot this time! We’ll keep in touch with the team on the Avenue and pass news on as we hear it!
Ian Parker Heath