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About the Vale of Pewsey Project – University of Reading

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About the Vale of Pewsey Project

The University of Reading Archaeology Field School is digging in the Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire – the ancient land between the iconic prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, in the UK.

In 2008 English Heritage mapped a large section of the Vale of Pewsey using aerial photography. This provided almost continuous data for the area between Stonehenge and Avebury. It uncovered extensive and previously unknown archaeological landscapes. These new sites date from the prehistoric period through to the modern era.

Unlike the two more famous landscapes of Stonehenge and Avebury, the Vale of Pewsey is not protected within a World Heritage Site and many of the monuments are not designated. This project will raise the profile and build on our understanding of the Vale of Pewsey by investigating this archaeologically rich, threatened, and under-researched landscape.

The fieldwork will be directed by Jim Leary and Amanda Clarke in collaboration with Historic England (formerly English Heritage). It will trace the evolution of the vale from prehistory through to the development of medieval villages and post-medieval water meadows. The project will run from 2015 to 2017.

Excavations will take place from Monday 27 June to Saturday 23 July 2016 and members of the public are welcome to visit the site or even to take part through the Field School programme. Learn more about ways to visit.

Marden Henge

Marden henge is one of Britain's most important, but least understood, prehistoric monuments. Henge monuments, which feature a ring bank and ditch, are enigmatic features of late Neolithic Britain (around 2800 - 2000 BC). They were used for significant ceremonial or ritual activity.

The sheer size of Marden Henge is astounding. It covers an area of 15.7 hectares, making it the largest Neolithic henge in Britain. It also contains two unusual features – a large conical mound known as the Hatfield Barrow (now levelled) and an inner henge.

Hatfield Barrow

This mound was once 15m high, and said to be the second largest in Wiltshire after Silbury Hill. It collapsed as a result of a shaft dug in 1806, and by 1818 it had been completely levelled.

The inner henge and building

Another notable feature within the monument is an "inner" henge. Small-scale excavations in 2010 identified the remains of a well-preserved and internationally important Neolithic building. This highlighted the potential for significant remains to be found in this landscape.

Bone needles, flint flakes and decorated "Grooved Ware" pottery were found close to the building. The remains of a very large feast and two delicately crafted flint arrowheads were also recovered nearby.

Other Vale of Pewsey Sites

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.

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 include the Wilsford henge, a possible long barrow at Cat's Brain, a mortuary enclosure, barrow cemeteries, and later prehistoric enclosures.

Later sites include Roman settlements and enclosures at Wilsford and Charlton, the latter of which has a villa, a deserted medieval village at Marden and extensive medieval ridge and furrow, as well as post-medieval water meadows.

Many of these monuments and features will be investigated for the first time during this project.

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