Tag Archives: Henge

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

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Durrington Dig 2016 – Thursday 4 August

Progress is being made on what is turning out to be a fascinating narrative here at Durrington Walls Henge. The two pits the site team uncovered at the beginning of the dig gave off very different signals in the geophysics and, as it turns out, have conceivably been dug for very different reasons.

So what were these pits for? The answer is curiously complicated.

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This pit/ramp gave off a strong, well-defined signal in the geophysics. Here it has been half-sectioned, with a ramp leading down to the pit, perhaps originally dug to guide in a timber post.

The pit in the photo above has led the team to ask, ‘was a post ever erected here?’ The archaeology had so far indicated two main theories:

  • one is that the pit and ramp were dug, a timber post was intended but never erected in the pit, and the henge bank of Durrington Walls was constructed over the pit as it was left, or
  • the pit and ramp were dug, a timber post was erected, then removed, then the henge bank was constructed over the top.

The team needs to continue working on this feature to see if the form of the ramp at the pit edge is sharp or crushed (by a timber post), if there is any packing material and if the base of the pit has a ‘kick back’ as the post was removed. Only then might we be able to see if the intended post was ever put up.

The other pit tells a different story.

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Again, further work needs to be done, but one theory is that this pit (photo above) may have contained a post that decayed in situ. When this happened, material fell into the void and formed what is known in archaeology as a post pipe. Normally this material would be soil, but because the henge bank was constructed over the pits, it is possible that the bank material has formed the post pipe.

There is a lot more that this pit can tell us – possibly even about the construction process of Durrington Walls henge. More on that intriguing theory later in the blog.

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The two pits being excavated. Bottom right – the pit and ramp which may or may not have contained a timber post (the other half of the fill has been removed). Top left – the pit which may have contained a post that decayed in situ in the henge bank.

 

 

John Aubrey: The Man who ‘Discovered’ Avebury

On 7 January 1649  John Aubrey  wit, raconteur and sometime antiquary was out hunting with friends when he chanced upon a north Wiltshire village. What he stumbled upon there – and more importantly recognised – were the remains of an ancient earthwork containing a series of stone circles and settings.

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John Aubrey

 Today travellers from across the planet have little difficulty in recognising Avebury henge and stone circles as ancient. But it was far from easy in Aubrey’s day. A thriving village had grown up around and between the stones.

Fields, houses, gardens and even inns had been laid out within the bank and ditch and many stones that we see upright today lay buried (it would be another three hundred years  before Alexander Keiller revealed and re-erected them).

If truth be told John Aubrey wasn’t actually the first person to recognise the antiquity of Avebury. John Leland in his, ‘Itineraries,’ based on journeys he made through England and Wales between 1535 and 1543 made a passing reference to both Avebury and Silbury Hill.

And of course there had been a settlement at Avebury since Saxon times – and some at least of the generations of its residents must have pondered  the origins of the gigantic stones and earthworks that framed their daily lives.

But Aubrey went further than Leland, he not only recognised Avebury’s significance he was  captivated by it, famously declaring that Avebury, ‘does as much exceed in greatness the so renowned Stoneheng (sic) as a cathedral doeth a parish church.’

Avebury by John Aubrey 1663 plan

Aubrey’s Plan of Avebury

In fact he was so smitten that  in 1663 he produced the first plan of the henge and stone circles in his Monumenta Britannica . The plan was created using a simple surveying device known as a plane table and its an astonishingly accurate record of the monument as it  then was.

Its a lasting and fitting tribute to the painstaking work of the man who, ‘discovered,’ Avebury that three and a half centuries after Aubrey drew his plan (now housed in the Bodleian Library in Oxford) researchers endeavouring to unravel Avebury’s secrets continue to consult it.