Avebury Dig 2015 Day 18

Well it’s finally here. Our last day on site. Trenches backfilled and turf replaced. I always have mixed feelings at the end of any dig. But this one doubly so.

Cheerio Trench 4 and thanks for the memories...

Cheerio Trench 4 and thanks for the memories…

Its been a real privilege to be able to dig here over the last three years. I first visited Avebury as a teenager and my abiding memory is of standing on the West Kennet Avenue, watching the great stones reluctantly revealing themselves out of the autumn mists.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d one day be digging on that very spot. So there’s more than a touch of sadness that it’s all over.

But there’s also a real sense of achievement. This year’s team were simply fantastic.

A more enthusiastic, dedicated, fun bunch to dig with would be difficult to imagine (thanks guys). And we’ve had the most amazing support from our Avebury National Trust team (staff and volunteers). From our meet and greeters and dig tour guides, to our dig support team, Rangers, Facilities and Visitor Services teams all of whom have made it possible.

We’ve answered many of the questions we’d posed ourselves at the start. But there have been huge surprises along the way (not least our mega-posthole).

One last look: Trench 6 with its mega- posthole and giant tree-throw-hole

One last look: Trench 6 with its mega- posthole (far left) and giant tree-throw-hole

There are months of post-excavation analysis to come. Our specialists will get to work on our soil and phosphate samples, the pottery, flintwork and of course that beauty of a polished stone macehead. And then we’ll draw all of this together to try to make sense of what was happening here.  So really this is only the beginning.

 

Avebury Dig 2015 Day 17

Well, here it is, our final day of digging on the West Kennet Avenue Occupation Site. I can barely believe its less than three weeks since we started digging.

There’s an air of focused freneticism (the spell check tells me that’s not a word but it seems to describe what’s happening) on site. In Trench 6 the tree-throw hole that is right next to our giant posthole has turned out to be simply enormous; so big in fact that we have more than a sneaking suspicion that the post may have been erected to in some way commemorate (or  replace) the giant of a tree that had once stood there.

Dr Pollard (Josh) and Professor Pike (Alistair) ponder on the subject of the enormous tree throw hole. The part  Shannon is standing in is about a third of the whole thing,

Dr Pollard (Josh) and Professor Pike (Alistair) ponder on the subject of the enormous tree throw hole. The part Shannon is standing in is about a third of the whole thing,

We were joined by Prof. Mike Parker Pearson who returned to give us a hand with his favourite pursuit of seeking out stakeholes in the bedrock of Trench 6. When we join the dots and analyse the finds and samples we’ve taken this may help us to work out whether a structure once stood here.

The team have been cleaning down (for the last time) and recording in both trenches.Without recording archaeology is (literally) just a pile of (very) old rubbish!

Trench 4 was a hive of recording activity. Planning, surveying in levels and ensuring we have all the necessary points on our site grid (courtesy of  Digital GPS).

Trench 4 was a hive of recording activity. Planning (Mark in the red t-shirt), surveying in levels and ensuring we have all the necessary points on our site grid (courtesy of Digital GPS).

And to complete our recording we had Adam Stanford of Aerial Cam who it would be an understatement to say is a bit of a whizz with airborne archaeo-photography.

Adam Stanford of Aerial Cam setting up to take our aerial shots of the trenches

Adam Stanford of Aerial Cam (head in the back of the Land Rover) setting up to take our aerial shots of the trenches. While George and Josh enjoy their break from the mega-posthole.

And that was that. Or nearly. Tomorrow we backfill the trenches.

 

 

 

 

Avebury Dig 2015 Day 16

We’re on the countdown now, with only one day of digging left before we backfill the site on Friday. And as ever at the end of any excavation the pace is hotting up.

For most of today we were thronging with visitors. This morning we welcomed Avebury World Heritage Site residents to take a look at where Avebury’s past  residents chose to spend their time. And this afternoon we were joined by members of the WHS Steering Committees, the WHS Partnership Panel and the Avebury & Stonehenge Archaeological and Historical Research Group,

Meantime the team are working like Trojans (did Trojans work particularly hard? Maybe a classicist out there could enlighten me). And today was a tale of two holes. In Trench 4 we have Emily’s pit (the one which produced no less than eight chisel arrowheads, three flint scrapers and some Peterborough Ware pottery).

Emily's pit in Trench 4

Emily’s pit in Trench 4 has been giving up its secrets

Its clear now that there are two phases to this pit. It’s definitely Middle Neolithic in date – possibly being dug towards the end of the occupation of the site. But then a short while later – still in the Middle Neolithic – someone re-dug the pit. So it obviously continued to have some significance. In the 1930s  Keiller found some rather strange features  that he initially thought were postholes because they had a dark middle that he thought was the post-pipe (the dark soil where a rotted post once stood) but then he discovered they contained fragments of brushwood (not a good solid timber post). We think now that what he actually found were more pits like this one that were dug and then recut at a later date. So eighty years on mystery solved!

Our other star hole of the day is over in Trench 6. Josh and George have been ploughing down, and down, and down for several days now and have finally just about reached the bottom.

George delving deep into the underworld in the posthole in Trench 6

George delving deep into the underworld in the posthole in Trench 6

What we have is an absolute whopper of a posthole. Its getting on for 1.5 metres deep and originally contained a post approaching 0.6 metres in diameter.

George and Josh's Mega-posthole, with its sarsen packing stones removed

George and Josh’s Mega-posthole, with its sarsen packing stones removed

The post it contained is likely originally to have stood something in the region of 6 metres or more tall. It had been packed in place with large sarsen stones (some of which were as much as 0,5 metres wide). Then chalk had been rammed in between the gaps and water added (possibly deliberately) creating a concrete hard mixture that would have ensured the giant timber was going nowhere.

We’ve had a few pieces of charcoal from the interface between post and fill which we’ll be radio-carbon dating in due course. And tantalisingly it produced one incredibly small piece of pottery that from its fabric may just be Grooved Ware (we need to get Ros to cast her expert eyes over it).

If that’s the case it would mean that this is Late Neolithic (it could be later, but not earlier) when we know they had a penchant for creating enormous timber monuments such as the West Kennet Palisade Enclosures.

If you want to see this monster of a posthole for yourself, and checkout the rest of what our team have unearthed you’ll need to hurry. Tomorrow is our last day digging on this site. So pop along and see a once- in-a-lifetime dig that none of us are going to forget in a hurry.