Tag Archives: pit

Foot of Avebury Down Dig – Day 9

Today we have a guest blogger, Emily Banfield, a researcher from University of Leicester, who is a core team member of the excavations that have taken place at Avebury over the last 5 years:

‘Today we started to excavate some of the features that were revealed after the removal of the soil. In Trench 1, a small circular feature has proved to be a pit containing cattle bones, small lumps of sarsen – the same stone that forms the megalithic element of Avebury henge – and pottery, including Grooved Ware. This suggests that the pit dates to the late Neolithic.’

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The Grooved Ware pit, half sectioned, which includes Grooved Ware pottery, sarsen stone and animal bone ©Josh Pollard

‘This find is keeping spirits up despite the weather. Apropos of appalling summer weather, whilst sheltering behind the portaloos we also realised that our transit van lined up perfectly with both a notch in the Avebury bank and the back stone of the Avebury Cove! A perfect alignment for a great day on site, getting into the features for the first time.’

 

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Durrington Dig – 10th August 2016

Some answers, but a lot more questions.

Our penultimate digging day has been the busiest yet for visitors.

We’ve had large specialist groups of visitors as well as individuals visiting today – some people were just passing and stopped to see what all the fuss was about, while others heard about the dig on social media.  Everyone was keen to get a look in the trench and hear about the discoveries from the experts.

More than one parent has commented that they are delighted that their children have been allowed inside the fencing to see what we’re doing.  It’s been a real pleasure to see children watching, asking questions and totally engaged – future archaeologists in the making?

Visitors have also offered plenty of theories of their own about Durrington Walls and it’s been a delightful experience chatting to everyone and listening to their ideas about what they think Durrington Walls was about. I’m not sure what our archaeologists would make of some of the more unusual theories we’ve heard today but it’s wonderful that people feel relaxed enough to share their ideas with us.

So onto the archaeology … the excavation of the two main post pits continued today and at last we’ve managed to reach the bottom, much to everyone’s relief as we only have one more day of digging time left.

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

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

In one of our pits at the very base of the post void we found an animal scapular (shoulder blade), probably used as a shovel.  This must have been placed here after the timber post was removed but before the pit was filled in (otherwise it would have been crushed by the timber as it thudded into place).

We know that a deposit of animal bone together with a small lump of sarsen stone had also been placed in a small pit cut into the ramp belonging to the western post pit.  And in the ramp fill of the other post pit, there was a similar deposit, this time in the form of animal bone accompanied by a lump of iron pyrites.  All of these deposits seem to have been deliberately placed here, presumably as some form of votive deposit or offering.

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We’ve reached the bottom © National Trust Abby George

We’re now pretty certain that our post pits did contain posts. But there are still some puzzling questions.  Firstly, where did the timbers come from?  If there were timbers in all of the anomalies showing in the Ground Penetrating Radar survey beneath the bank then there could have been as many as 300 mature, very straight trees to be harvested.  The Stonehenge landscape is not thought to have been heavily wooded during the Later Neolithic when the posts were erected– so where did they come from and how did they get here?

Secondly, the timber posts seem to have been removed by vertically lifting, not rocked and pulled over before being removed, so how exactly did they manage this and why? It’s possible that the careful extraction of the posts may have been to allow their reuse when the Southern Timber Circle was reworked into its later form.

The very good news is that because we have the antler pick from the packing material for the eastern post hole (so from the time when the post was put up), and the scapula from the bottom of the post hole from when the timber was removed, we should be able to obtain radio carbon dates for the construction and dismantling of the timbers.

Finally, the find of the day goes to our first British Oblique flint arrowhead of the dig, found in the buried soil in the centre of the trench.

Oblique arrowhead © National Trust Abby George

British Oblique flint arrowhead ©National Trust Abby George

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.