Gathering Monuments

The trouble with excavation is when you are doing it you are often so busy keeping on top of all the tasks that need to be done you forget to think about what it all means. This summer we had some fantastic results, lots of worked stone from the pits we were digging and a mass of geophysical data from the big survey that Mike and his team carried out. Now I have had half a day to do some basic analysis it is clear that, as we suspected a few weeks ago, we have found another important prehistoric ritual monument. (This is a project, remember, that is supposed to be about the use of natural spaces and landscapes).

NL14 gradiometer screenshot

Here are the results of the gradiometer survey as they were plotted out in QGIS. This is the processed data from the survey but it has not otherwise been interpreted. Consequently we are looking at a mish-mash of archaeology, geology and spikes caused by iron objects in the topsoil (usually old horse-shoes and bits that have fallen off tractors). What I have been meaning to get around to doing since late July is to use the results of our digging to try to distinguish between the different kinds of response in this plot.

NL14 gradiometer interpretation screenshot

Ta Dah!

The red things in this image are responses that looked similar to the ones in trenches P and Q. Based on what we found in those two trenches these should be relatively shallow ditches. The blue spots are the ones that looked very similar to the pits in trenches M and N, and therefore it is likely that they are the remains of pits too.

As soon as I had done this, I got everyone into my office to look at the pretty pictures on my computer screen. Straight away, entirely unprompted by me, Vicki said ‘That’s a causewayed enclosure’. We then had a bit of a poke about on our bookshelves looking at possible comparisons.

Other causewayed enclosures

This image of known causewayed enclosures from southern England comes from Alasdair Oswald, Carolyn Dyer and Martin Barber’s book on the subject (which is on the reading list). With a bit of Photoshoppery I have added the outline of the new Whitewell enclosure on at the same scale.

If we are right then the Whitewell Enclsoure should be Early Neolithic. It probably dates to between 3700 and 3500 BC (there has recently been a massive AHRC funded project reanalysing the dates of just these kinds of monuments, published as the two volume book Gathering Time – also on the reading list). It is likely to be about 1000 years older than the henge and timber circle of the New Laund Enclosure that we were digging in 2012 and 2013.

Whether we have got the date right or not there is an important lesson here. In an area where not much previous research has been done then it is not safe to assume that no evidence equals no archaeology. Since we started digging in 2011 we have found two prehistoric enclosures within 500 m of each other. Next summer we need to go back and dig more of the interior of the Whitewell Enclosure and find out about those inner circuits of ditches and more of those pits.


  1. Very exciting! I like that line ‘its not safe to assume that no evidence equals no archaeology’… it sounds reckless and untypical of people who work with fact and science- I think its called gut instinct! Good for you!

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