Update on second year dig at Avebury WK Avenue
Archaeology students mostly from Southampton and Leicester universities have re-opened one trench from last year’s dig and opened another major area of investigation in West Kennet Avenue. This involves moving tons of turf and soil and getting down to a level of soil that has never been ploughed (“intact soil”) and so holds flints and other artefacts such as pottery shards, where they were dropped.
This part of the Avenue was chosen because it had been investigated by the marmalade millionaire Alexander Keiller in the 1930s and he had located a gap in Avenue’s stones. Such a gap must have been left for a reason – perhaps because there was a building or other special structure that had to be preserved.
Among these finds are several flint arrowheads – including one miniature barbed and tanged arrowhead (photo left) which the project's experts say is deliberately miniaturised. Whether it was made as a gift, a toy or for a ritual purpose is another matter altogether. Whatever the reason for making it, the workmanship is extraordinary.
This dig is part of the long term Between the Monuments programme which aims, as National Trust archaeologist Dr Nick Snashall puts it, “to put the people back into the Avebury site.” Finding out more about the routine lives and residence of the people who built and used Avebury’s henge and avenues should help understand why these monuments were made and why this site was chosen.
It is a collaborative research project between the University of Southampton (Dr Josh Pollard), University of Leicester (Dr Mark Gillings), Allen Environmental Archaeology (Dr Mike Allen) and the National Trust (Dr Ros Cleal & Dr Nick Snashall.)
On Tuesday (August 5), with only two full days to go before the dig had to finish and with some rain showers during the morning, people from the surrounding villages were shown over the site and heard about the project’s progress.
Despite the buckets, wheelbarrows and spades (there was even someone spotted wielding a pick axe – albeit on the upper layers of soil), archaeology makes use of all the latest technology. This year laser measuring equipment has been used on the site.
Dr Mark Gillings & soil samplesDr Mark Gillings & soil samplesAnd those plastic bags behind Dr Gillings (photo left) contain soil samples which will be analysed and may reveal tell-tale signs of plant life, what animals were about and so on. This is important as the soil is so acidic that snail shells and bones are not found – but pollen and chemical residues will be preserved and identified in the analysis.
Another recently available technique allows scientists to tell what different sizes and shapes of flint cutting tools were used for. This high-magnification process has shown one tool found last year was used to cut nettles – from which string and cords were made.
Another exciting find in one of last year’s trenches is what looks to the experts like the remains of a ‘possible hearth’. It was nearby in this trench that they discovered in 2013 twelve certain or probable stake-holes in a pattern that could justify the theory that they were part of a dwelling of some sort: it is very tempting to add two such finds together to make a dwelling.
And then, just when the students thought they had unearthed some really good and significant finds from many centuries BC, someone finds a mediaeval coin. Mind you, this coin far smaller than our five pence piece and paper thin, so spotting it amidst the soil and recognising that it was anything at all worth keeping from the spoil heap, is a testament to these students’ growing expertise and enthusiasm.
As ever, it is a matter of funding being available to allow a third year’s dig to reveal even more of the evidence of the human lives that flourished in between Avebury’s stones.
Extension To Salisbury Museum opens
A £2.4m extension to Salisbury Museum housing more than 2,500 rare artefacts has opened.
The Wessex Gallery of Archaeology, which was partly funded by a lottery grant, is home to to a large collection of Stonehenge-related pieces.
These include the skeleton of a wealthy and powerful Bronze Age man dubbed the "Amesbury Archer" discovered in 2003.
The gallery also includes the Wardour Hoard containing 4,000-year-old sword fragments, spearheads and chisels.
Bus service to be withdrawn
A friend in the Ramblers sent me this earlier today - am a bit gutted as have been known to use this service to walk up to Wayland's Smithy.
"Thamesdown Transport's route 47 between Swindon and Lambourn, via Bishopstone and Ashbury, is to be withdrawn. This will leave several villages without a bus service and make it more difficult to do linear walks along that part of the Ridgeway. At the time of writing it is unclear whether the Ridgeway Explorer bus X47, which runs only on Saturdays, will continue."
Bronze age mound at Ogbourne St Andrew being investigated
Small fry compared to the West Kennet Avenue dig but I found this quite at exciting.
Started a walk today from the church at Ogbourne St Andrew - a couple of archaeologists from Cranfield University were in the church-yard undertaking a geo-phys and mapping exercise of the Bronze Age mound which is in the churchyard. Apparently a small history group in the village had invited them in. I do hope the results will be published.
Archaeology walk with Dr Nick Snashall on 8th May
Was over at WK long barrow today when I bumped into a rather large but very well behaved group of people (inside the barrow). Dr Nick Snashall was leading a 'walking through the landscape' guided walk on behalf of the National Trust. The little bit of the talk I caught about WKLB sounded informative and, yes, I did learn something in a few short minutes.
Dr Snashall told me there is another such walk on 8th May (see her blog).
Mesolithic camp sheds light on the origins of Stonehenge
This article appeared in last Saturday's edition of The Times under the heading "Discovery of Mesolithic camp sheds light on the origins of Stonehenge". It relates to the exhibition held at Amesbury earlier in the year on the finds and work around Blick Mead.
(Source: "Current Archaeology" No 271:28-33)
This government has a lot to answer for. Flying in the face of strong local feeling and the decision made last year by Swindon Borough Council to finally reject the development at the land surrounding Coate Water Country Park (with all its archaeological and historical associations).
I received this email last night from the Chair of Wiltshire Ramblers Association.
"I had a letter from this morning advising that the Secretary of State had granted planning permission for the development of the land at Commonhead! It says the decision is final unless it is successfully challenged in the High Court and what would that cost?!!!"
PS: Commonhead is the name the developers have given the site to disguise its associations.
Nature; stone circles and all ancient sites that involve walking through unspoilt countryside/being near the sea; islands around the the British Isles, especially those with ancient monuments.