Category Archives: Durrington Walls

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

Durrington Dig 2016 – Sunday 7 August

Hi Tech & Low Tech Lowdown

A few days ago we posted a feature on how Aerial Cam’s Adam Stanford is using photogrammetry to record the site. But its not the only method we’re using to record our discoveries.

Something Old Something New

Record keeping has always been fundamental to making sense of what we unearth as archaeologists. Its something of a truism in archaeology that excavation is destruction and so we must record what we’ve found so that others can see what was once there.

Of course excavation is also discovery but many of the discoveries  we make come after the end of the dig in post-excavation. And its only by meticulous recording of everything we find that we – and future generations – can make sense of it all.

Our aim is to be able to recreate the position and composition of every feature, layer and find in three dimensions long after the dig has finished. Producing a visual record of the different features that we excavate is an important part of this. The traditional way of doing this is by hand drawing plans (you can see what these look like and how its done in the photos above).

Laser Scanning

Recording the 21st century way: laser scanning our easternmost pit and its ramp

But in addition to the traditional plans and sections and Adam’s photogrammetric record we’re using another decidedly 21st century technique – laser scanning.

This is a technique that’s becoming familiar to archaeologists in the recording of buildings but here we’re using it in an innovative and radically different way. Our colleagues from the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute  are laser scanning every individual feature and layer that we excavate.

They’ll then virtually stitch these scans back together providing a 3-D record of every part of every feature on site. This will enable them to create virtual sections (cake slices) through  any part of the site at any angle we want. They’ll also be able to mesh this with the Ground Penetrating Radar data from the survey that brought us to the site in the first place to help develop our understanding of what the individual components of the GPR responses are caused by in this particular landscape. And this in turn will feed into the interpretation of the data from the wider Stonehenge landscape.

So we’ll  be able to interrogate the physical relationships between all of the contexts on site in a way that has never previously been possible. Simples!

Durrington Dig 2016 – Friday 5 August

Another day another conundrum. This time its all about our pile of material that was sitting just to one side of our easternmost pit. What’s in it? Where did it come from? And what’s underneath it?

We know from the Ground Penetrating Radar survey that discovered the two large anomalies in the trench (our pits) that there is another much, much smaller anomaly lying beneath one edge of our pile. So we want to know what this is and how it relates to our pits. We don’t have the answer yet but we’ve been working our way through the pile and in the next couple of days we hope to have the solution.

Pile sectioning

Our pile being excavated

 

Where did it come from? Well its hard to be totally sure just yet but there’s some blocky chalky material in it which may  have come from pit digging.

But our pile holds many secrets and possibly the biggest surprise was the large lumps of chalk cob that we’ve found close to its base.  This material is similar to that which Mike (Parker Pearson) found when he and the Stonehenge Riverside team were excavating the Neolithic  house. Around the base of house  851 and also its outhouse there was a ‘collar’ or foundation layer of chalk cob at the bottom of the walls. Its a traditional building material used for making walls that you’ll see across Wiltshire even today.

But what is it doing at the bottom of our pile? At the moment the working theory is that it may have come from a house that was sitting on what was due to become the henge ditch which was demolished to make way for the henge and some of the material dumped here.

Chalk cob

The large lump of chalk cob with the flint scatter sticking to its base.

 

The largest block of cob held a final surprise. When it was lifted, sticking to its base were the remains of a substantial flint working scatter, and more lay beneath it. That’ll keep Josh (Pollard) out of mischief for an hour or two trying to refit it!

Saturday is our dig day off so there won’t be an update tomorrow but swing by the blog on Sunday. Or better still pop by the site and see us, you’ll find us just off the A345 about half a mile north of the A303 Countess Roundabout. Just follow the signs for Woodhenge.