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Landscape, location and loads of pots

Wessex Archaeology’s Survey Officer, Doug Murphy, came out to the site to show how modern GPS survey is used in the field by archaeologists. Course participants were given a chance to use the equipment to survey the archaeological features that they and the others had dug.

Martin Green led a second, longer tour of the surrounding landscape, allowing people to gain a greater understanding of the archaeological heritage of the area.

The afternoon pottery lecture was highly informative. Matt Lievers from Wessex Archaeology brought along a selection of prehistoric and later pottery. Everyone benefitted from the chance to see and handle a wide range of pottery while they listened to Matt.

Congratultions to all of the participants on week one of the course.


Ghosts of posts

As excavation continues on site, our knowledge about who built it, how and when, is growing. Several of the post holes that have been excavated revealed post-pipes. These occur where, in the past, a wooden post has been removed from a post hole and the resulting void has filled up with soil. The picture on the left demonstrates this: the dark vertical band is the ‘ghost’ of the post that once stood within the posthole, the lighter soil to either side of the dark patch is the original chalk packing that would have been used to keep the wooden post in place.

Chalk, however, is not the only type of prehistoric post packing to have been used on this site. This picture shows a postpit which was uncovered on site today. You can clearly see the large flint nodules which were used in the same way as the chalk, but probably to support a much larger wooden post. Hopefully further excavation will reveal more about the type of structures or buildings these posts would have formed part of.

The most exciting discoveries of the day have been several sherds of pottery. Those shown in the picture above are the first pieces of decorated pot uncovered this season. They show the two bands of decoration around what would have been a small bowl. The style of pottery appears at first glance to be what is known as ‘All Cannings Cross’ which dates to the Early Iron Age. This confirms our belief that this site was created during the Early to Middle Iron Age (700-100 BC). Slowly but surely we are beginning to piece together the history of the site. Below is another example of a post-pipe visible within a post hole.

Pounding, Pots and Pyromania!

Whilst the on-site recording continued apace, there were other activities on offer. Several people spent the morning learning about and processing pottery and other archaeological finds. Some of the finds were those uncovered on-site this week and others were a range of finds from different archaeological sites. This activity allowed participants to see and handle a wider range of artefacts.

Participants also took part in some real experimental archaeology, courtesy of archaeo-metallurgist Jake Keene. The aim was to take several kilos of iron ore and charcoal to produce a ‘bloom’ of iron. In order to do this participants pounded up lumps of iron ore and weighed out kilos of charcoal for the furnace. Then they took it in turns to pump the bellows, in order to maintain a constant temperature of 1,500 degrees centigrade.

Experiments like this improve our understanding of the complex processes of prehistoric metal working and make it easy to understand why ancient metal workers might be seen to be performing acts of magic.

The kiln is still burning, so log on again tomorrow to see if the experiment worked!

Relentless recording

Archaeological recording was the main task of the day. Once they had excavated their features, course participants began the task of recording what they had dug.

This involved learning new skills such as technical drawing, planning, surveying and filling in context sheets. These are all methods used by archaeologists to gain and record as much information as possible. Since any excavation is in fact a form of destruction, it is essential that one form of evidence - the soil/objects in the ground, is replaced by another - the written and illustrated record left for future generations to study.

In the afternoon Chris Stevens, an environmental archaeologist from Wessex Archaeology, led a workshop about geoarchaeological techniques. This included explanations as to how archaeologists are able to recreate entire landscapes and environments from the soil samples they take during excavation.



A first brush with archaeology

The Practical Archaeology Course for 2005 got under way on Monday. After a warm welcome, participants were escorted around the site by Dr Martin Green, the local expert archaeologist. They were shown the sites of previous excavations and given an introduction to the archaeology of Cranborne Chase. The fascinating tour ended at the museum, where everyone had the opportunity to see the many finds from the excavations.

After lunch the real hard work got underway! Participants began the exciting task of ‘cleaning’ the area to be excavated. This meant using hoes, trowels and brooms to literally clean the chalk. As they did so they got their first glimpse of the archaeological deposits that they will soon be excavating. So far they have uncovered a large number of postholes, several of which are almost certainly from buildings.

Log on again tomorrow to track their progress and discover the site as they do!

Can you dig it!

After yesterday’s hard work cleaning the site, participants today got their chance to do some real excavation. For most people this meant digging their first posthole. They learnt all about the archaeological techniques of half sectioning. This entails digging out one half of an archaeological feature so that you are left with a section or slice through the middle of it, showing all the different layers of soil. Kevin was the first person to discover not one but two artefacts - sherds of Iron Age pottery. Animal bone and worked flint have also been found.

Some people even got so far as to begin to draw and record their postholes. As if all this wasn’t enough excitement for one day, participants also had an afternoon workshop on ‘Animal bone in archaeology’ led by Stephanie Knight from Wessex Archaeology.

Dig Blog! Training excavation online

The blog on this years annual training excavation run by Wessex Archaeology is now online at

As 15 beginners experience excavation for the first time, the blog will chart their story.

The excavation runs for two weeks, until Friday 16th September.

Recent discoveries at Avebury

The South (West Kennet) Avenue at Avebury is part of one of the greatest surviving concentrations of monuments from the Neolithic (4000-2000 BC) and Bronze Age (2400-700 BC) in Western Europe.

British Telecom cables, running alongside the road parallel to the Avenue, need updating. So Bob Davis of Wessex Archaeology was asked to work with the BT engineer to record any significant finds uncovered during the maintenance work.

While digging under the cable trench to the north end of the Avenue, Bob uncovered a small pit containing cattle bones and fragments of pottery. Similar pits had been discovered in the 1930s when Alexander Keiller carried out investigations between the stones of the Avenue and within the great henge itself.

The exact date and function of these pits has remained a mystery. The deposits follow a similar pattern, with cattle bones and pottery sherds placed deliberately within the pits, suggesting that a ritual has taken place.

The pottery in this pit, as in many others in the area, is of a type known as Mortlake pottery, dating between 3400-2500 BC.

The cattle bones are being sent for radiocarbon dating which will give useful information not only about this newly discovered pit, but also about the ones dug some 70 years ago when such precise dating tests were not available.

School children from three local primary schools were at Avebury taking part in an education project with Wessex Archaeology and World Heritage Sites. They had an unexpected treat when they were invited to handle objects fresh from the ground where they had been buried for more than 4,000 years.

See the full story at

National Archaeology Day

Saturday’s National Archaeology Day was a resounding success. Six hundred people enjoyed the many free activities on offer at Salisbury Museum organised by staff from Wessex Archaeology, the Wiltshire Conservation Centre, the Cathedral Stonemasons and the Museum. Phil Harding’s demonstration of flint knapping drew the crowds throughout the day and the Stonehenge lecture by Dr Julie Gardiner was well attended. Mike O’Leary’s ‘tall stories, short, fat and thin stories’ were very popular with the younger visitors who also proudly carried home more than 100 clay gargoyles, pebble monsters and decorated goblets at the end of their busy day.

Archaeology Rocks!

Once again Salisbury Museum is playing host to this year’s free National Archaeology Day on July 16th. Staff from Wessex Archaeology, the Wiltshire Conservation Centre and the Museum are joining forces to make this the biggest and best opportunity for everyone to enjoy archaeology at first hand. This year the theme is ’stone and glass’, so as well as the ever popular mini-digs and the chance to find out more about marine archaeology, there will be other activities with stone and glass in mind, from making a gargoyle to decorating a medieval goblet. The fun will begin at 10.00am when Phil Harding of Time Team and Wessex Archaeology opens the event. Phil will be demonstrating flint knapping throughout the day, and there will also be a chance to see the Cathedral stonemasons at work. There really will be something for everyone - from the gripping tales of storyteller Mike O’Leary to the Stonehenge lecture given by Dr Julie Gardiner.

Eight hundred people came to last year’s event, and this National Archaeology Day promises to be more popular than ever.

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