Sunday most definitely wasn’t a day of rest for our diggers. Part of the team are working their way through a substantial amount of hill wash in Trench 1. Mike (Dr Mike Allen) dropped in along with his wife, fellow archaeologist Dr Julie Gardiner and took a look at it for us. The good news was that there was a bottom to the deposit. The bad news was that we still had another 50+ cm to go! But nothing daunted our hardy troops picked up their mattocks and ploughed on through it.
Finds of the Day came from Trench 2: Two chisel arrowheads (on the right) and a sherd of Neolithic pottery (top right)
In Trench 2 we’re beginning to come down to the level at which we found Middle Neolithic material in Trench 3 last year. There’s a general smattering of flint waste flakes (known to flintophiles as debitage) across Trench 2. But the finds of the day undoubtedly came from Dr P. Josh found a brace of chisel arrowheads (a classic Middle Neolithic form). In the same one metre square he also found a sherd of what is almost certainly Middle Neolithic pottery (though to be sure we’ll be asking Dr Ros to take a look at it). It seems to be more evidence of finds, and flint tools in particular, occurring in clusters here. This is something we saw last year in Trench 3 and we weren’t the first to notice it. Alexander Keiller also noted a similar phenomenon when he discovered the site in 1934. What we seem to have are little discrete dumps of material; so now all we have to do is work out what it means…
We’re making good progress in Trench 2 (the trench we first opened in 2013). So, refreshed from their day off, yesterday the team set to work on Trench 1.
The team get to work revealing the secrets of Trench 1
This lies just to the north of Trench 2, and we suspect from the results of Mike’s (Dr Mike Allen) auger survey last year, may contain a substantial depth of hill wash. Hill wash (or colluvium as its called) is produced when intense rainfall cause soil from upslope to wash down hill. There seem to have been several episodes of in the Avebury landscape, particularly in the Bronze Age and the Medieval period, both of which suffered sustained wet weather at times.
Hill wash can be a fairly localised phenomena, if its deep it can mask archaeology that lies beneath from the view of most geophysical techniques and aerial photography. It can also show as blanks in fieldwalking, as the finds and features lie untouched below the hill wash. On the upside though the reason for this is that the deep layer of soil protects the archaeology lying beneath from damage by the plough (or other random human intervention). So it may cost our team a few thousand calories to get to it but if there’s archaeology in Trench 1 we’re hoping it could be well preserved.
It was day off on the dig today but that doesn’t mean all work stops. Step forward Dr Mike Allen (Allen Environmental Archaeology) and Professor Charly French (Cambridge University). Mike is our guru on all things relating to chalkland soils and land snails and Charly is the expert on using micromorphological techniques to interpret buried landscapes (or our super-guru as Mike describes him.)
Our soils guru and super-guru in action in Trench 3 – Dr Mike Allen (scribing) and Professor Charly French (head in hole)
Mike has been out augering this morning. You’ll hear more about augering and what it tells us in a later post. So suffice it to say it involves pushing a long metal tube into often very hard ground to learn about the development of soils and map the history of land use.
Charly has taken soil samples from both our Trenches. I’m pleased to say that both he and Mike think preservation is so good that we’re likely to get a really detailed picture of soil development and past land use. That could prove critical for understanding what people were doing here in the Neolithic and Bronze Age (other than building enormous monuments!).
Professor Charly French taking soil samples in Trench 3
Charly and Mike are also rather fond of our periglacial stripes in Trench 2. These chalk stripes, which formed when areas further north were glaciated, are really well preserved. In fact Charly and Mike have rarely seen their like before on the chalk. What does this mean? Well for a start it means that the area we’re looking at hasn’t been deep-ploughed for centuries. And that’s very good news when it comes to being able to trust the spatial resolution of the finds in this area. We’ve noticed that even the finds that don’t appear to be within features have been popping up in clusters so this will help us work out what activities people were carrying out where here during the Neolithic.
Our particularly splendid periglacial stripes in Trench 2