Author Archives: ntabbygeorge

Durrington Dig – 10th August 2016

Some answers, but a lot more questions.

Our penultimate digging day has been the busiest yet for visitors.

We’ve had large specialist groups of visitors as well as individuals visiting today – some people were just passing and stopped to see what all the fuss was about, while others heard about the dig on social media.  Everyone was keen to get a look in the trench and hear about the discoveries from the experts.

More than one parent has commented that they are delighted that their children have been allowed inside the fencing to see what we’re doing.  It’s been a real pleasure to see children watching, asking questions and totally engaged – future archaeologists in the making?

Visitors have also offered plenty of theories of their own about Durrington Walls and it’s been a delightful experience chatting to everyone and listening to their ideas about what they think Durrington Walls was about. I’m not sure what our archaeologists would make of some of the more unusual theories we’ve heard today but it’s wonderful that people feel relaxed enough to share their ideas with us.

So onto the archaeology … the excavation of the two main post pits continued today and at last we’ve managed to reach the bottom, much to everyone’s relief as we only have one more day of digging time left.

Mike Parker Pearson celebrating finding the base of the western post hole © National Trust Abby George

Mike Parker Pearson celebrating finding the base of the western post hole ©National Trust Abby George

In one of our pits at the very base of the post void we found an animal scapular (shoulder blade), probably used as a shovel.  This must have been placed here after the timber post was removed but before the pit was filled in (otherwise it would have been crushed by the timber as it thudded into place).

We know that a deposit of animal bone together with a small lump of sarsen stone had also been placed in a small pit cut into the ramp belonging to the western post pit.  And in the ramp fill of the other post pit, there was a similar deposit, this time in the form of animal bone accompanied by a lump of iron pyrites.  All of these deposits seem to have been deliberately placed here, presumably as some form of votive deposit or offering.

pit bottom

We’ve reached the bottom © National Trust Abby George

We’re now pretty certain that our post pits did contain posts. But there are still some puzzling questions.  Firstly, where did the timbers come from?  If there were timbers in all of the anomalies showing in the Ground Penetrating Radar survey beneath the bank then there could have been as many as 300 mature, very straight trees to be harvested.  The Stonehenge landscape is not thought to have been heavily wooded during the Later Neolithic when the posts were erected– so where did they come from and how did they get here?

Secondly, the timber posts seem to have been removed by vertically lifting, not rocked and pulled over before being removed, so how exactly did they manage this and why? It’s possible that the careful extraction of the posts may have been to allow their reuse when the Southern Timber Circle was reworked into its later form.

The very good news is that because we have the antler pick from the packing material for the eastern post hole (so from the time when the post was put up), and the scapula from the bottom of the post hole from when the timber was removed, we should be able to obtain radio carbon dates for the construction and dismantling of the timbers.

Finally, the find of the day goes to our first British Oblique flint arrowhead of the dig, found in the buried soil in the centre of the trench.

Oblique arrowhead © National Trust Abby George

British Oblique flint arrowhead ©National Trust Abby George

Durrington Dig – Monday 8th August

There is a lovely, relaxed atmosphere here on our Durrington Walls dig and we’ve had a steady stream of visitors coming along to see what we’ve been doing, it’s been really interesting to chat to some of you today. If you haven’t dropped in yet, there’s still time as our last day digging is Thursday this week.

The exciting news is that we’ve now definitely got a late Neolithic house. This is not entirely unexpected as some were excavated by Mike and the Stonehenge Riverside Project when they were digging further to the east on the site between 2004 and 2007. The fact that we’ve found another one here tends to confirm our working hypothesis that there may be as many as 1,000 houses on the site.

Neolithic house at Durrington Walls

Neolithic house floor with the eastern post pit just visible cutting through it on the right. The hearth can be seen as the darker area and where the planning frame is lying there is part of the collapsed wall.

The house is identified by a clean, chalk plaster floor area with a clearly defined hearth. The ashes of the last fire are still visible in the hearth, as is part of the collapsed chalk cob that we know from houses excavated previously seems to have been used as a sort of protective collar around the base of the walls.  Just after the hearth was used for the final time someone sat knapping flint, depositing a scatter of flint waste flakes into its ashes.

Hearth and flint scatter © National Trust Abby George

Hearth in the Neolithic house, with flint scatter visible. The large lump is another piece of chalk cob from the collapse / destruction of the house.

The house is the earliest visible part of the sequence in our trench and there’s a large midden (rubbish) deposit associated with the settlement visible across much of the surface of the surrounding area. This contains substantial amounts of cattle and pig bones (the remains of more than a few meals). After the house was abandoned the eastern post pit was dug, cutting into the house floor and through the midden. This post pit and the one on the western side of the trench held large timbers. Judging by the depth of the post pits the posts may have stood as much as four to six metres high.

There’s much debate among the team about whether the timber posts rotted in situ or were removed. At the moment it looks as if the timber post in the western post pit may have rotted in situ, but it’s possible that the post in the eastern post pit was removed before the hole was covered by the bank.  The question is – how did they get it back out again?  A large post like this would not be easy to lift and one would expect the chalk at the edge of the post hole to be crushed and there to be a signature shape to the bottom of the post hole indicating the post had been rocked to loosen it. The remainder of the fills of both post pits are yet to be removed so watch this space.

The final part of the sequence in our trench was the construction of the henge bank which was built over the top of the post pots ensuring that they disappeared from view for over four millennia.

And one final bonus find before the end of the day. An antler pick was discovered in the eastern post pit.

Antler pick © National Trust Abby George

Antler pick found in the eastern post pit

Avebury Dig 2015 Day 15

Only two more days to go!

Timber post hole and with Josh for scale.

Timber post hole and with Josh for scale.

The posthole mentioned in the blog yesterday has turned out to be quite exciting as it would have held a very large timber post, with good-sized sarsen stones packing around it – see the picture with Josh and yellow bucket for scale.  The post of course is not there, just soil where it would have been but the sarsens and packed chalk around it are testament to it’s existence.  No firm date yet but the general gut instincts of those digging it are putting it at Late Neolithic.  Finds from the post hole are few, with a couple of scrapers and a small sherd of Neolithic pottery so far.  It’s still not fully excavated with quite a depth to go.  Was this post on it’s own, or was it part of a larger structure or timber row?

Chisel arrowhead, scraper, scraper.

Chisel arrowhead, scraper, scraper.

Despite getting to the last stages of the excavation we are still getting a steady flow of finds – lots of debitage (waste flint flakes) and a few arrowheads and scrapers.

The archaeologists are working hard now to get down through the last remaining deposits so that this site can give us as many secrets as possible before the excavation ends.  The spoil heap is getting higher and higher, demanding quite a substantial run up to get the spoil to the top.   Watch this space to see what tomorrow brings.

Group picture Day 15