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Finds and discoveries – University of Reading

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Finds and discoveries

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Our first season of excavations focused 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 type building.

Bronze Age burial (C.2000 BC)

We also excavated the Wilsford henge on the other side of the river. This is a much smaller monument and 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.

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