The summer of 2010 saw the digging of our first trenches, alongside continuing geophysical survey. These were not large area excavations, but relatively small trenches aimed at enhancing our understanding of some of the results from the aerial and geophysical surveys. Below is a brief summary of what we did and what we found – a longer account can be found in the April 2011 issue of Past, the newsletter of the Prehistoric Society’.
The barrow mound lies on a deposit of Undifferentiated Head capping a low, broad chalk ridge. The composition of the soil – clay with sometimes plentiful quantities of gravel – was clearly contributing to unusual geophysics results. However, earth resistance suggested a mound that contrasted in character with the surrounding soil, and also indicated the presence of a line of three substantial high resistance anomalies along the mound’s northwest-southeast axis.
Two offset trenches, each 6 metres by 4 metres, were placed across the slighter southern end of the mound, at right angles to its long axis and well away from the higher northwestern end. The excavations showed how much the mound had suffered from ploughing in the past – only a narrow band of mound material was visible, deeply scored with plough furrows, and there was no surviving pre-mound land surface.
A single pit containing sizeable blocks of oak charcoal was found beneath the mound, while two small post holes cut into the mound also contained smaller fragments of oak charcoal. Soil samples containing the entire fills of these features, plus selected samples from the mound itself, were collected for [flotation] [ie link to new ‘flotation’ page]. Hopefully this will yield further samples better suited to radiocarbon dating than the oak charcoal, and allow us to construct an outline chronological framework for this part of the mound.
Artefacts were few in number – some waste flakes and a flint core from the topsoil, and a few potsherds unlikely to be contemporary with the mound – while the acidic soil conditions mean that any human or animal bone will not have survived.
In 2009, geophysics had revealed extensive traces of archaeological features in the pasture fields which lie in the middle of our project area: to the east of our cropmarks, west of Pegasus Barrow and north of Dampney Barrow. Interestingly, these features were of a very different character to the predominantly Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial and funerary monuments seen from the air. Instead, the geophysics seemed to show a landscape of linear land divisions, possibly boundaries of Bronze Age or Iron Age date.
A single trench was placed at a point where some of these linear features seemed to converge. This excavation was aimed at understanding the sequence of ditch construction and establishing some idea of their date.
The earliest feature was a long, straight ditch (Feature 5) running east-west across the top of the trench. Two lengths of curving ditch entered the trench from the east and south (Features 1 and 3). A post hole (Feature 2) was subsequently cut by a shorter length of ditch which connected Features 1 and 3. It seems that sometime after Ditch 5 was dug, and while it was still visible as a boundary or earthwork feature, some kind of re-organisation of land boundaries led to the digging of Ditches 1 and 3, with Post Hole 2 perhaps representing some kind of gate structure that once occupied the gap between these ditches. Another, subsequent re-organisation led to this gateway being blocked off by a further episode of ditch digging.
In advance of processing of soil samples, dating relies on a few key finds. Nothing diagnostic came from the primary fills of the ditches, but some pottery from upper fills suggests that the arrangement of land boundaries began to be laid out in later prehistory, perhaps the Iron Age or even Late Bronze Age and elements were still in use in the Roman period.