Category Archives: Foot of Avebury Down

Foot of Avebury Down Dig – Day 7


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).

MA Snail box

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


Foot of Avebury Down Dig – Day 5

We’ve finished our chequerboard excavation of Trench 1! Now it needs a clean back to really bring out the features we’ve identified. We’ve had a Middle Bronze Age day today, with a pottery sherd in the top fill of a feature, found by two delighted students, and it looks like a few post holes have been revealed! More on this to follow…


Trench 1, almost finished! ©National Trust/Briony Clifton


We started our excavation of Trench 2 in the late morning, using the same method as Trench 1. Tomorrow is the team’s day off so they will be unwinding tonight, ready for the start of the second week on site on Sunday.


The first excavators of Trench 2 ©National Trust/Briony Clifton

Foot of Avebury Down Dig – Day 4

It’s Day 4 and we have begun excavating the remaining squares in Trench 1, taking samples from some in order to recover micro-debitage (tiny flint chips or flakes which are by-products of flint-working). This material from the chosen squares goes into sample sacks which are tied up and labelled with the square’s number; this allows us to see any spatial patterns that may emerge in the post-excavation analysis.


The team collecting samples from the ‘chequerboard’ ©National Trust/Briony Clifton

Our find of the day was another lovely barbed and tanged arrowhead, found by Dave who said it was the second arrowhead he’s found in 30 years of digging!



The barbed and tanged arrowhead from Dave’s square ©National Trust/Briony Clifton