Tag Archives: Archaeology

Foot of Avebury Down Dig – Day 1

We’re just coming to the end of Day 1 of our  first full- blown excavation in the Living with Monuments Project which is being directed by Prof. Josh Pollard (Southampton University), Dr Mark Gillings (Leicester University),  Prof. Alistair Pike (Southampton) and Dr Nick Snashall (National Trust) together with Dr. Ben Chan (Southampton), Dr. Ros Cleal (National Trust) and Dr Mike Allen (Allen Environmental Archaeology).  This year the team is based at a the foot of Avebury Down, in an area to the east of Avebury henge, where we will be for the next three weeks.

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Opening up the trenches at Avebury Down ©National Trust/Briony Clifton

The site is in an area where Rev. H.G.O. Kendall and W.E.V. Young began to collect Neolithic flintwork in the 1920s, and where a fantastic, dense scatter of early and middle Neolithic flintwork (c.4000-2900BC) was identified. Though Kendall’s collection is housed in the Alexander Keiller Museum in Avebury the exact location of the scatter remained a mystery until 2006 when  map detective work by Jim Gunter identified its probable location and shortly afterwards on the ground investigations by Josh, Ros and Nick established its exact position.

Today we began excavating this known Neolithic site, starting with the de-turfing of a series of trenches, and already we are revealing some worked flint flakes and cores, so watch this space…

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De-turfing with a view towards Avebury henge and the West Kennet Avenue  ©National Trust/Briony Clifton

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SQUARING THE CIRCLE: Archaeological detectives discover ‘secret square’ beneath world-famous Avebury stone circle

New archaeological surveys reveal unique square megalithic monument at the heart of the World Heritage Site.

Archaeologists have found a striking and apparently unique square monument beneath the world famous Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site, cared for by the National Trust, was built over several hundred years in the 3rd millennium BC and contains three stone circles – including the largest stone circle in Europe which is 330m across and originally comprised around 100 huge standing stones.

A research team led by the University of Leicester and University of Southampton used a combination of soil resistance survey and Ground-Penetrating Radar to investigate the stone circle.

Their work was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and supported by the National Trust, as well as archaeologists from the University of Cambridge and Allen Environmental Archaeology.

Dr Mark Gillings, Academic Director and Reader in Archaeology in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, said: “Our research has revealed previously unknown megaliths inside the world-famous Avebury stone circle. We have detected and mapped a series of prehistoric standing stones that were subsequently hidden and buried, along with the positions of others likely destroyed during the 17th and 18th centuries. Together, these reveal a striking and apparently unique square megalithic monument within the Avebury circles that has the potential to be one of the very earliest structures on this remarkable site.”

Avebury has been subject of considerable archaeological interest since the 17th century. The discovery of new megaliths inside the monument was therefore a great surprise, pointing to the need for further archaeological investigations of this kind at the site. The survey took place inside the Southern Inner Circle, contained within the bank and ditch and colossal Outer Stone Circle of the Avebury henge. Excavations here by the archaeologist and marmalade magnate Alexander Keiller in 1939 demonstrated the existence of a curious angular setting of small standing stones set close to a single huge upright known since the 18th century as the Obelisk. Unfortunately, the outbreak of war left this feature only partially investigated.

 

Model of square stone setting

A possible reconstruction of the stone settings within the southern inner circle incorporating  Keiller’s discoveries and those of the new geophysical surveys

 

Dr Joshua Pollard from the University of Southampton said: “Our careful programme of geophysical survey has finally completed the work begun by Keiller. It has shown the line of stones he identified was one side of a square of megaliths about 30m across and enclosing the Obelisk. Also visible are short lines of former standing stones radiating from this square and connecting with the Southern Inner Circle. Megalithic circles are well known from the time when Avebury was built during the late Neolithic (3rd millennium BC), but square megalithic settings of this scale and complexity are unheard of.”

Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist at Avebury, said: “This discovery has been almost eighty years in the making but it’s been well worth waiting for. The completion of the work first started by Keiller in the 1930s has revealed an entirely new type of monument at the heart of the world’s largest prehistoric stone circle, using techniques he never dreamt of.  And goes to show how much more is still to be revealed at Avebury if we ask the right questions.”

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The reconstructed ground plan of the Southern Inner Circle combining the results of the current survey with the 1939 excavation

The archaeologists who undertook the work think the construction of the square megalithic setting might have commemorated and monumentalised the location of an early Neolithic house – perhaps part of a founding settlement – subsequently used as the centre point of the Southern Inner Circle. At the time of excavation in 1939 the house was erroneously considered by Keiller to be a medieval cart shed.

If proved correct, it may help understand the beginnings of the remarkable Avebury monument complex, and help explain why it was built where it was.

The research team is currently compiling their research into a paper for academic publishing.

You can access a full technical report here http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/archaeology/people/academics/gillings/documents/avebury-obelisk-report-2017

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The work was part of the ‘Living with Monuments project’, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC).  The Living with Monuments project is five years (Sep 16 – Sep 21)  and AHRC funding amounts to £780,831. It is a collaborative project involving archaeologists from the Universities of Leicester, Southampton and Cambridge, the National Trust, and Allen Environmental Archaeology.

The survey was directed by:

Dr Mark Gillings,  University of Leicester

Dr Joshua Pollard, University of Southampton

Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust, Archaeologist for Stonehenge and Avebury WHS

Dr Ros Cleal, National Trust, Curator of the Alexander Keiller Museum, Avebury

 

 

 

 

Durrington Dig Nominated for Research Project of the Year Award

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

Didn’t they do well! Mike Parker and some of our Durrington Dig team in action this summer ©National Trust Abby George

This summer our Durrington Dig in the Stonehenge landscape revealed a major new monument that had been hidden from view for the last 4,500 years beneath the bank of Durrington Walls henge. The dig was a partnership project between the Stonehenge Riverside Project, the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project and our team here at the National Trust.

Now Current Archaeology have recognised our team’s achievements by nominating us for their Research Project of the Year Award 2017.

You can find out more about what we got up to and cast your vote by visiting the Current Archaeology website.