As the three year Pewsey Vale investigation of Neolithic Marden ends - the Cat's Brain site still holds many secrets

Written by Tony Millett on .


The excavations trenches have been filled in and the Reading University Archaeology Field School have left Pewsey Vale to future generations of investigators after three years of summer digs - and a host of amazing finds and discoveries.

This summer - under the university's Dr Jim Leary and Amanda Clarke - they continued investigations at Marden Henge and made new discoveries at the nearby Cat's Brain site.  And they have had to contend with days of very hot weather - and days of trench-filling rain.

Theories about the Cat's Brain discovery have undergone some basic changes as excavation work continued.  After preliminary work, the first idea that it was a long barrow or 'House of the Dead' - and might contain buried human remains - turned out to be unlikely.  

The centre of the site had a solid chalk floor with a number of pits and post-holes and must have been the site of an Early Neolithic building or structure.  Dr Leary told "One thing is certain - the building was a proper building constructed with proper beam-slots and postholes, rather than simply a nod to the shape of a building."

"Combined with the lack of human remains, it makes me wonder if it might have been constructed as a long house rather than a long barrow. The two aren't mutually exclusive though."


Cat's Brain Neolithic finds...Cat's Brain Neolithic finds...  ...another tool......another tool...  ...& the antler pick...& the antler pick
The excavation of the ditch along the sides and apex of the site and of the features within the central section have provided enough signs - like the Early Neolithic Mortlake Pottery - to mark the site's importance.  And the find, towards the end of the dig, of an antler pick will, it is expected, provide more accurate dates for the 'building'.  


Early Neolithic 'Mortlake' pottery from the Cat's Brain excavationsEarly Neolithic 'Mortlake' pottery from the Cat's Brain excavations  One of the carefully fashioned pits... One of the carefully fashioned pits...   ...and a post hole...and a post hole


Investigations in the laboratory will be vital - including analysis of some burnt bone deposits, which may be human.  Digging down into some of the pits in the central area has revealed definite structural features.

The last year of excavations around the Marden Henge have concentrated on the mini-henge that lies within the main henge - the largest such monument in Britain - over towards the river.   A major trench through one part of this smaller henge has revealed important evidence of how the henge was constructed with supporting 'dry-stone walling'.


Working in the trench through the Marden 'mini-henge'Working in the trench through the Marden 'mini-henge'  It really looks green:  greensand from under the mini-henge's moundIt really looks green: greensand from under the mini-henge's mound  Some of the rainwater was two metres deepSome of the rainwater was two metres deep

Digging deep into the bank of the henge reached some of the underlying greensand. And back at the lab, the evidence from this trench will give the archaeologists fresh information about this site.

They have also been using ground penetrating radar and other geophysical techniques in the surrounding area.  A test pit closer to the river where it is known there was a Saxon settlement revealed some interesting finds.

Drone photo of excavations at the Cat's Brain site is by Andy Burns.