The end of the dig means that the obsessive monitoring of the weather forecast can now stop. I was at Brockholes Nature Reserve this afternoon (saw some coots and a very small frog, but the main purpose of the exercise was to go on the play area) and it rained fairly constantly but, hey, we’re not trying to dig in it. It also means that it is time to think in a bit more detail about what we found. Proper analysis of the records and finds will have to wait until I am back in the office later on in August but we can already pull out some important general points from this season’s work.
I thought I would work through the trenches in alphabetical order. We dug trench H to get more detail about the timber circle on the north-eastern flank of New Laund Hill which first showed up in a geophysical survey carried out by Olaf, Mike and Jess in the summer of 2011. This plan shows the features we uncovered last summer. There is a curving ditch, which used to contain at least three large timber posts, with three other outlying postholes.
Trench H was 1 metre to the north of trench D. This year we found the end of the curving ditch as it continued into trench H. It was deeper and would have contained at least two very large posts. This photo shows the toolmarks on the side of the ditch and the packing stones for those posts. The one on the left is a re-used quern (corn grinding stone). Between trench D and trench H we can see a good section of what we assume is a timber circle – like a stone circle but made of wood – more about timber circles in a minute.
The rest of trench H gave us a very valuable view across the entrance and part of the interior of the timber circle. Here we can see evidence for repeated use of the monument over time. This is the cobble surface which was built to stabilise the entrance into the circle after many prehistoric feet had worn the original entrance surface into a deep and probably quite often boggy scoop.
This photo is looking in the opposite direction across the layers of different deposits inside the circle. These layers are all earlier than the cobble path. There are at least three different layers here, some of which have other small postholes cut into the top of them before they were sealed by the formation of the soil above them.
In other words, here we are looking at evidence of lots of human activity over a long time, some of which has partially erased evidence for what went before. Archaeologists often refer to this kind of mess as a palimpsest. (This is one of those metaphors which was once quite useful among people who all knew that a palimpsest is a technical term for an ancient manuscript which had been repeatedly partially erased and re-written, but may be less so now). A detailed translation will have to wait until we have pulled all our notes and finds records together but the general drift is clear, people were busy here for a long time.
In amongst all these features we have found three main kinds of things. There are lots of pieces of chert and some flint. We have found both the waste from making stone tools and the tools themselves. As last year these are probably both Neolithic and Early Bronze Age, with some background, much earlier, Mesolithic evidence. There are also lots of pieces of charcoal. Hopefully, it is this charcoal which will ultimately give us a good radiocarbon sequence for all the different features. Finally there were a scatter of pieces of cremated human bone. Sam hasn’t had a chance to have a look at these yet but my guess is that they will turn out to be more parts of the same disturbed cremation burial we found in trench D last year.
Archaeologists love to qualify all their statements but it I was to stick my neck out at this stage I would say that the results of the last two years of excavation and research show that this monument is a Late Neolithic timber circle which continues in use into the Early Bronze Age. Relatively small timber circles are a well-known feature of this period. The first one ever discovered in Britain is only a few kilometres away at Bleasdale and there is better understood example from Oddendale near Shap in Cumbria which definitely dates to the Late Neolithic. I have put the excavation reports for both of these circles on the reading list, along with Alex Gibson’s very useful book on timber circles throughout Britain.