It’s only six weeks since I promised a more detailed post on the results of this summer’s excavations ‘in a few days’. Sorry about that. The life part of the work/life balance has been getting some much needed attention over the summer. However, now is the time to focus on work again, so I am going to go back to blogging instead.
I realise that I described the results of this summer’s work fairly thoroughly in my last post but one, so I will try to concentrate in this one on giving some interpretation and context. There are two main components to the archaeology we have been investigating this summer.
First, there are the medium and large bowl-shaped pits we excavated in trenches M and N. This is the big one in trench N. Pits of this shape are typical of the Neolithic period in Britain, many large clusters of them have been excavated all over the country, particularly on excavations in advance of quarrying. There is a very good summary of the archaeology of these pits in Regional Perspectives on Neolithic Pit Deposition, edited by Julian Thomas and Hugo Anderson-Whymark, which includes all the papers from a Neolithic Studies Group conference in 2010 ( I have put the full details of this on the reading list page).
As always in archaeology, there are lots of complex regional variations but the over-riding theme is that these pits mark areas where people lived. We believe that most of the population was still at least partly mobile at this date so these are unlikely to have all been permanent settlements (and the pits are often not found near houses). Where the soil conditions allow good preservation then archaeologists see complex patterns of associations between, stone tools and waste, animal bone and pottery. It is likely that these structured dumps of rubbish were put into the pits at the end of each temporary occupation of that particular part of the landscape.
Our soils are quite acid (despite the limestone bedrock) and so no animal bone survives from the pits but we have found a lot of stone tools and tool making waste. We also found lots and lots of charcoal but, surprisingly, no pottery. Despite the lack of pottery I am reasonably convinced that our pits are examples of this sort of thing: dating, if I was to stick my neck out, to the Early Neolithic.
The other big discovery of this summer was, of course, the series of shallow ditches running around this part of the hill. This is one of them after excavation in trench Q. They are nothing like as impressive as the Late Neolithic Henge ditch further up New Laund Hill. They are shallow, sometime discontinuous (at least they are on the gradiometer plot) and there seems to be at least two circuits one inside the other. If this ditched enclosure is also Neolithic (and that is what the finds from trench P seem to suggest) then it might be related to a kind of monument called a causewayed enclosure.
Actual causewayed enclosures are Earlier Neolithic circular sites which were surrounded by rings of non-defensive ditches with lots of gaps in them (hence causewayed enclosure). They are most common in southern England, where they seem to have been a central place for people to meet and exchange all kinds of things. There is another Neolithic Studies Group volume, also on the reading list, edited by Tim Darvill and Julian Thomas with some good papers on these sites. What we have is not a causewayed enclosure, it is the wrong shape, and in the wrong bit of the country, but it may have been used in a similar way.
Wildlife of the day has to be Toads because I have to go back into work tomorrow.