Big crowds at Marden Open Day as time runs out for archaeologists working on the Cat's Brain long barrow

Written by Tony Millett on .


Six hundred and seventy-three people went to Marden for the Open Day on Saturday (July 15) to see Reading University's final explorations there - and to see the major discovery of a long barrow at nearby Cat's Brain.

Groups were given a tour of the Marden site by Dr Jim Leary and his co-director Amanda Clarke.  They could then take a mini-bus to the wheat field near North Newnton to see work in progress on the Cat's Brain long barrow site.

Dr Jim Leary explains the Marden project to a large crowd of Open Day visitorsDr Jim Leary explains the Marden project to a large crowd of Open Day visitorsThe story of the discovery of what may prove to be a 'House of the Dead' complete with human remains has made the national and international media.  Picked up by India's main news agency, it was, for instance, given some prominence by the Hindustan Times.

On Saturday students and volunteers where taking the dark soil that had filled the horseshoe of ditches that surround the central feature of the barrow.  They want to find out how deep the ditches were and whether there is anything of interest in the lower parts of each ditch - especially datable finds.

They were also working on the chalk surface that has been revealed below the farmed top-soil - signs of several post holes have been found.  And a quantity of charcoal and ash has been identified.

The teams now have only a few working days until the dig - the last one of Reading University's Field School three-year Pewsey Vale project - has to finish.  So finding significant signs of the interior of the barrow - including human remains - is now their main aim.


Cat's Brain: taking soil from a ditchCat's Brain: taking soil from a ditch  Detailed work on the chalkDetailed work on the chalk  A find?A find?
The Cat's Brain long barrow may be very similar in structure and purpose to the Fussell's Lodge long barrow in the parish of Clarendon Park on the edge of Salisbury Plain.  It has since been ploughed over.  A report of those excavations can be found here.

Like Cat's Brain, this too was discovered by aerial photography - during the 1920s - and was excavated in 1957.  The remains of about 55 individuals were discovered bellow the farmed top soil at Fussell’s Lodge - but none were in skeleton form.  There were also signs of cremation and some Neolithic pottery.

Back at Marden Henge Open Day visitors were shown work on the mini-henge (also known as the Hatfield Henge) that lies towards one edge of the major Henge - near the place where, in a previous year's Field School excavations, Dr Leary identified the floor of a Neolithic 'house' or structure.  

A trench has been dug through part of the remaining bank of the mini-henge.  The top of this henge is 4.1 metres above the surface on which it was built.  Dr Leary told that the stone-work within the bank is similar to that he found in Silbury Hill.  It is like dry-stone walling and was used to hold the earth of the bank in place.


Marden: the trench through the mini-henge bankMarden: the trench through the mini-henge bank  Taking cores through the bankTaking cores through the bank  Revealing stonework inside the bank of the mini-hengeRevealing stonework inside the bank of the mini-henge


Those working at the site have included a group of six formers studying for the A-Level archaeology exam - they will be the last to take this course as it has now been stopped by Mr Gove's restrictions on A-Level choices.

The many people - young and olfder - who came to dig and delve in the archaeologists' trenches may have wondered a little at a strange occurrence on the first day of this year's Marden explorations.  A student walking to the site of the new trenches, spotted something sticking out of a molehill.  It turned out to be Mesolithic flint blade.  Of course moles do not need trowels.

Click on photos to enlarge them...Click on photos to enlarge them...

Most frequently asked question of the Open Day: Why 'Cat's Brain'?  Hard to say.  Some say it refers to the look of the clay and stone mix of the local soil.  But how this relates to what a cat's brain looks like is even harder to say - or think about.