Avebury dig in the West Kennet Avenue uncovers evidence of very early occupation
On the last day (August 7) of a three week archaeological dig in Avebury’s West Kennet Avenue more than fifty people from the surrounding parishes visited the site, were given a tour and heard descriptions of what was going on from archaeologists leading the excavations.
For the first time in seventy-nine years, they have reopened part of the trench dug by Alexander Keiller, the marmalade heir from Dundee who bought part of the Avebury site so it could be preserved and pioneered new archaeological techniques at the stone circles and avenues. (Keiller's trench can be seen in the foreground of the photo below of Dr Mark Gillings.)
In 1934, part way along the West Kennet Avenue, Keiller and his colleagues discovered a Neolithic midden or rubbish dump that contained more than a thousand worked flint tools and much else besides. This was a sure sign that the area had been occupied.
It has not been an easy dig. The days when they were lifting off the turf were about the hottest of the year. Then came heavy rain and lightning – and work had to stop to let the rainwater drain away.
A third trench – slightly further towards the village – will have to wait for another year. Before that there will be months and months of careful analysis of the finds and seeing what evidence comes from the soil samples.
This summer’s dig is part of a long-term project called Between the Monuments which is designed to discover where and how the people who built the monuments lived. And to find out what they did when they were not building monuments.
It is a collaborative research project between the University of Southampton (Dr Josh Pollard), University of Leicester (Dr Mark Gillings), Allen Environmental Archaeology (Dr Mike Allen) and the National Trust (Dr Ros Cleal & Dr Nick Snashall.)
Nick Snashall, who is the National Trust’s archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site, introduced the dig to the visitors. And Mark Gillings and Josh Pollard explained what was happening in each of the trenches.
Mark Gillings said they were working in unique circumstances as they had found soil undisturbed by deep ploughing: “It’s a unique pocket of dirt” which was giving up “intact pieces of pottery and beautiful flint work.”
Some finds had pre-dated the creation of the Avenue by as much as seven centuries: “People were living here before they decided to set up the Avenue.”
Other finds were from the time the Avenue was being built – and some were from the early mediaeval era. And they had found a Roman coin in Keiller’s 1934 trench: “He’d probably thrown it back in as he was only interested in Neolithic finds.”
Examples of the finds can be seen on the dig’s blog – including a wonderfully complete flint arrowhead.
Tiny white markers near the edge of one of the trenches show where ancient stake holes have been found – given away by different colouring in the soil caused by decayed wooden posts. Stake holes like these usually belong to some kind of home or living quarters.
Digging the third trench and pursuing these post holes beyond the present trenches – always hoping to find a hearth – will almost certainly bring the team back next year.
The interim results from the dig will be posted on the blog.
Click on photos to enlarge - then > & <.