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Learn and discover – University of Reading

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  • The Archaeology Field School

Learn and discover

You'll come away from the Field School with a variety of skills and experiences while contributing to our growing list of finds and discoveries.

For example, you'll learn:

  • knowledge of archaeological field techniques and site recording methods
  • the ability to distinguish between individual archaeological contexts prior to excavation
  • the ability to record archaeological contexts (in both written and drawn form)
  • surveying skills
  • environmental sampling
  • on-site handling and processing of artefacts
  • how to work as part of a team.

You'll also have training sessions on topics such as site etiquette, site and finds recording, care and use of archaeological equipment, and site photography, and we offer a variety of specialist talks to discuss things such as environmental work, pottery spot-dating, and post-excavation techniques.

Practical skills

You'll learn a comprehensive set of practical skills as you excavate, as well as skills specific to the various areas on site, including:

In the finds hut

Wash general finds, treat small finds with specialist care, dry and sort finds, mark pots, make entries in the finds book, and bag and identify finds.

In the environmental/science area

Fill in an environmental sample sheet, float samples, sort residues, identify finds and their reintroduction back into the finds system.

In the computer hut

Practice database entry and use an Integrated Archaeological Database.

In the visitors' area

Give general site tours to visitors, prepare Open Day displays and exhibitions, and work with visiting schools.


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FindS and discoveries

Our excavations focus on two prehistoric henge monuments (Marden and Wilsford) and, with Historic England, a Roman settlement. We also surveyed part of medieval Marden village.

The area around Marden henge has seen very little archaeological work, particularly compared to the famous sites of Avebury and Stonehenge to the north and south. However, we now know that there are many other monuments preserved in the Vale of Pewsey, particularly along the upper reaches of the River Avon. These monuments will all be investigated over the coming seasons.

Neolithic building (c. 2400 BC)

Marden henge is a truly huge monument, enclosing an area of 15.7 hectares, making it the largest Neolithic henge in Britain. Our excavations focused to the south end of the monument and we uncovered an extraordinarily well-preserved Neolithic building surface.

The complete surface was rectangular with a central sunken area, which was dominated by a large hearth. This chalk surface was enclosed within a circle of post holes and stake holes, approximately 8m in diameter, which we assume are all that remains of a timber superstructure for the building.

On the floor were flint flakes and a bone needle, still lying untouched in the same position they had been left in, and this is one of the best preserved Neolithic buildings in England. Close to the building were spreads of Neolithic rubbish, which incorporated elegant bone needles, as well as flint flakes and decorated "Grooved Ware" pottery. In one area was an assemblage of bones from numerous pigs, clearly representing the remains of a feast.

Analysis of the building is ongoing and we do not yet know what it was used for, although we have suggested that it may have been a sweat lodge building; these were often used for purification ceremonies.

Bronze Age burial (c. 1300 BC)

We also excavated the Wilsford henge on the other side of the river. This is a much smaller monument that has been completely flattened by ploughing over the centuries. We excavated through the end of the ditch, next to the entrance of the henge, and discovered that the ditch was amazingly deep  over three metres!

Near the bottom was a very well preserved early Bronze Age crouched burial of a teenager wearing an amber spacer necklace. This suggests that the Wilsford henge continued to be used into the Bronze Age and perhaps retained a sacred function.

Medieval farmstead

We also undertook, with colleagues from Historic England, a detailed topographic survey of an earthwork site located within Marden village.

The grass-covered site comprises a series of enclosures of varying size, within which a number of building platforms and a network of tracks or hollow-ways have been identified. The enclosures clearly represent multiple phases of activity, with some of the enclosure banks overlying or reusing earlier features.

At the eastern end of the site, two small terraced building platforms were recorded associated with a number of small compounds; these earthworks probably represent the remains of a small deserted medieval farmstead.

Scientific analysis

A full sampling programme of all deposits was carried out. Once analysis by the specialists at Historic England is complete, the results will give a unique insight into the lives and activities of the people living in the Vale of Pewsey.

We also undertook coring and test pits as part of the geoarchaeology investigation of the area of the river, in order to help us provide a context for the wider prehistoric and later settlement.


​Want to participate in our virtual field school?

Chart the progress of an archaeological excavation from dig to lab and beyond.

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