Dig with a view: our Foot of Avebury Down site with the green banks of Avebury henge in the middle distance© National Trust / Nicola Snashall
One of the great privileges of working and digging in the Avebury landscape is that you become familiar with looking at it from some very different perspectives to the ones you’ll find in the text books. From our site at the Foot of Avebury Down you get a fantastic view of the henge which really shows how it sits on a plateau within a landscape bowl surrounded by hills.
Today we’ve opened up another trench in the pasture field (Trench 3) to see if we can spot any fall-off in the concentration of stone working waste that we’re finding. And so far the indications are that its continuing, though we’ll have to wait and see if we get the same quantities.
As a major strand of the Living with Monuments Project we’re exploring the make-up of the soils and the ancient environment in and around Avebury. This will help us work out what the environment was like in the past. Where were the trees? Where was the grassland? Did this change through time? Are their indications of ancient cultivation? Where were the palaeo-channels (ancient water courses)? But it will also help us locate areas where we might find well-preserved archaeology that may be masked by colluvium (soils washed down from hill-tops) or alluvium (soils dumped from rivers and streams overtopping their banks).
No prizes for guessing Mike’s specialist subject… © National Trust / Nicola Snashall
And today we had our two ancient environment detectors-in-chief out in the field (literally) with us. Dr Mike Allen (Allen Environmental Archaeology) knows everything there is to know about chalkland soils and snails. As Mike would tell you snails are fussy little critters, with particular species only living in very particular micro-habitats. Which is great for archaeologists working on chalk – where pollen doesn’t survive well – because it gives us a way of mapping the ancient environment.
The other half of our ancient environment tag team is Professor Charly French (Cambridge University). Charly is an expert in soil micro-morphology and mapping palaeo-hydrology (ancient water courses). Our hope is that, coupled with the Electro Magnetic Induction surveys being carried out by Dr Philippe de Smedt (Ghent University), in five years time our understanding of what different places in and around the Avebury landscape looked like at different times during the Neolithic and Bronze Age will have been transformed. And all this starts with two men in a wheat field…
Two men in a field: Charly and Mike get down to work © National Trust / Nicola Snashall