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Coate, Possible Cursus / Coate, Monument Group
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I would like to post information regarding a possible cursus at SU 18665 82630.

[ @ADMINS Could I get some new 'Sites' added to the Coate area, to sit alongside the Circle and Mound entries, and get some of this information added/pasted there instead? ]

The interpretation of a potential cursus was rejected by the planning consultants working for the client who has now finished developing the site. Instead the feature is claimed as a prehistoric field boundary, and now lies nearly entirely under nice looking new homes. At best it is an unusual and apparently very early land boundary, but taken as a whole the evidence from several interventions does not prevent further consideration of this feature as a potential cursus, especially when other long-lived monument complexes elsewhere are considered.

The north-west end of a nw-se rectilinear enclosure was shown by geophysics in 2005 (c.100m wide -, at least 300 m seen via geophysics)(see links for OA/WA under Coate Stone Circle)
In 2006 and 2007 trail trenches demonstrated that worked flint, bronze age cremation urns and an extensive charcoal layer were present in the middle and upper portions of the north-west corner part of the northern section of ditch.

Geophysics and evaluation in 2017 to the east of the 2006/7 evaluations and 2014 excavation (SU 18710 82671) located Roman settlement, but is equivocal in regard of the extension of the potential cursus ditches. There are however some problems and inconsistencies with the 2017 report findings - it may well be that the northern possible cursus ditch was infact found, but badly excavated as a shallow feature (as had been the case at the western end) - a photograph strongly suggests the base of a cremation urn is present in the unexcavted fill, but no mention is made of this in the report text.
The eastern extension of the southern ditch of the possible cursus could also have been overlooked in 2017, in what are suspiciously shallow trenches. Problems of underexcavted and 'missed' features were quite common during the 2014 excavations to the west also. Extending the line of the southern ditch, it is also quit possible that the 2017 trenches failed to intersect it.

The ditch at this is point is demonstrated to be substantial, c. 2.2m wide and cut over 1.4 meters into the soft rock, where the minimally weathered lower portion shows a flat base and original very steep sides. Middle bronze age ceramic (large fragment of bucket urn), flecks of cremated bone, struck flint, and fragments of shattered sarsen stone are found c.60cm above the base of the ditch, in a stabilized horizon which could represent a significant hiatus in accumulation of the ditch fill.

Further probable urn fragments of a different vessel/s, struck flakes, and shattered sarsen fragments are also present in the overlying fills, representing gradual silting, and at least one further significant stabilization horizon, associated again with quantities of wood charcoal.

In this north-west 'corner' the ditch is particularly deep, and intersects a perched water-table such that hand dug intervention slowly and continually filled with water. The groundwater is due to the bands of weak sand/weak sandstone forming the substrate - the ground around this area is permanent damp, and this can be seen on areal photos and google maps > nb this near at the top of the slope leading down to the Dorcan Stream (also originating as a natural spring from a small hill at Bradbury Wick to the south). This part of the ditch would almost certainly be full of water for parts of the year (maybe just wet years like 2014 when excavated) - though the fills suggest regular drying as well - if not a natural spring itself, the ditch cut would resemble one in wet seasons, as the water likely over-toped the ditch and spread down slope to the west. It is near this area that the first clear stabilization horizon, at least 0.4m above the base of the ditch, contains the fragmented sarsens, charcoal and urn fragments.

At the base of the subsoil in the area to the western end of the possible cursus, c. 15-20m north west of the possible Bowl Barrow (see below), and around the 'wet area' described above, an assemblage of Mesolithic and possible Neolithic flints was recovered. This cluster is one of two in this field > the other is c.150m further south, apparently denser, and more clearly dominate by Mesolithic character flint work (small blades, small blade cores made on pebbles, retouch items on pebbles). This is an interesting co-incidence of archaeology, and also links this area closely to the large Late Mesolithic scatter (ie a Mesolithic 'special place') located across the valley, just to the south west of coate stone circle, and immediately adjacent to the coate mound (see Coate Mound entry on this site)

On the south side of the north-west end of the potential cursus, a substantial ring ditch was located and excavated (SU 18607 82581). It has a diameter of c.25m with rock-cut ditches (c.2.2m wide, c.1.2m deep, flat base, originally very steep sides). There appears to be not internal features, and no entrance to the ring ditch (as shown by excavation)

The ring-ditch is filled by gradual ditch silt, with struck flint, and multiple stabilization horizons. Ceramics might be absent, and shattered sarsen stone fragments and charcoal layers also are not noted.

The ring ditch abuts the exterior of the possible cursus - in fact ring ditch partially truncates the cursus ditch where it abuts. The interface suggests that the ring-ditch postdates the the potential cursus, and that some fill had already accumulated in the potential curus by this time.

Assuming the ring ditch to be broadly of late-neolithic to bronze age date, it is interesting to note the lack of evidence of secondary interments (eg of cremations)- it seems as if this is nearly always the case with in the later period. The potential cursus must have clearly visible, albeit with some infilling, when the ring ditch was dug. Moreover given that Iron age and Roman sherds are present in the surrounding area, no are present in the fills of these two features, suggesting that both were very substantially filled before the end of the 1st millennium bc. This would be consistent with upstanding earthworks elsewhere in Wiltshire - in fact the both these ditches are very similar in size, profile and fill-sequence to the teh Great Cursus, which still survives today as a shallow wide ditch and slight mound-this might give some idea of slowly fill accumulates once a point of stability has been reached;


A short distance ( if not placed, then it likely was a natural stone of interest in prehistory, before it was fully buried in Holocene soils > there maybe be connection with Coate Stone circle here...combined with the shattered/heated sarsen and the sarsen hand-axe there is much to think about here.

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Posted by GnK
27th September 2017ce

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