Countryfile Explore the Stonehenge Landscape

Durrington Walls at the Stonehenge Landscape, Wiltshire.

Durrington Walls, Stonehenge Landscape ©National Trust Images/John Miller

Tonight (Sunday 28 August) Countryfile explore the Stonehenge Landscape, one of the most important prehistoric landscapes in Europe. We care for 2,100 acres of grassland, woodland and farmland around the famous stone circle which is packed with prehistoric monuments and wildlife. Tune in to BBC1 at 7pm and discover the supersized secret that’s been unearthed and how our tenant farmers have helped to protect wildlife and archaeology through one of Europe’s largest grassland reversion projects.

You can find out more about their adventures in the Stonehenge Landscape here.

 

 

Durrington Walls 2016 – Thursday 11 August

The last two weeks have flown by and we can’t believe the final day of digging is here. There is almost always a sense of frenetic urgency on site towards the end of a dig – making sure all the boxes are ticked, everything is in order, photographed (especially in this case with the photogrammetry), drawn and meticulously recorded . And in this case putting on our ‘camera-best’ for Countryfile who were here filming at the excavation… watch this space.

Throughout the last fortnight there have been scores of visitors every day, perhaps brought here by our blog or simply passing by and noticing us, local people interested in what’s happening in their ‘back garden’, people who have followed this Durrington story for months, or people tracking down the Pokémon Gym at Woodhenge. No matter who you are it’s been wonderful seeing all of the fascination with what we’re up to.

What the team has discovered in the last couple of weeks is a new, previously unidentified Late Neolithic phase here at Durrington Walls – the beginnings of a great timber circle that curved around where the henge bank would later be constructed.

There is still a lot to discuss, investigate and hypothesise, among which is:

  • the completion, or not, of the timber circle
  • if the posts were lifted vertically how they did this, and why?
  • the dating of raising and dismantling these posts (we await radiocarbon dates for the very handy antler in the posthole fill and the scapula at the bottom of the posthole for this)
  • the idea that a decision was made to replace the timber circle (complete or not) with a great henge monument
  • what happened to the timber posts after they were removed?
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Steve from UCL recording the easternmost posthole

An interesting discovery that came later this afternoon was a series of concentric rings at the base of the easternmost post hole. Discussion flourished over the cause of these, but one thought is that rotating the post in the posthole breaks the vacuum and enables the post to be lifted out vertically in the first place.

The teams working here are highly experienced specialists and have been working on this project for a long time, collaborating and gathering data to begin the excavation. However, the excavation is only Act II of all the hard work.

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Brett from UCL recording the westernmost posthole

After this comes all the post-excavation work including the radiocarbon dating, and the Hidden Landscapes Project team will be using what the site team has found here, including all the data from laser scanning, to interrogate their original geophysics results in order to further understand the data that is produced prior to excavation. By taking and analysing a lot of samples from the site and by mapping the pre-excavation geophysical results over the laser scanning data of the excavation, the Hidden Landscapes team can see how accurately these type of features can be defined and interpreted prior to excavation.

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Lisa from the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute recording the westernmost posthole

There is so much more to come out of the work from this incredibly exciting fortnight, but the team here has already changed the way we interpret the Late Neolithic landscape at Durrington Walls with a new monumental phase, and also our ideas of the people who were here raising and pulling down great timber posts within such a short time frame. As is so often the case, the more we uncover, the more questions we have.

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.

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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