Visit date: 6th May 2012

Weather: Initially chilly but bright, warm sunshine by the afternoon, wind negligible

Introduction

The route went from Martin Green’s farmhouse across Fir Tree Field to the Great Shaft, then over the field to see the excavated causewayed ring-ditch and the reconstructed round barrow. Leaving Fir Tree Field, the route then followed the footpath (somewhat intruded upon by oilseed rape) up the hill to the top of Gussage Hill to see the long barrow that is included in the Cursus and to view the settlement earthworks. Walking along the top of the ridge, the route then turned left onto the Ackling Dyke Roman Road and followed that as far as the road. Turning left, the next destination was the Wyke Down Henge and associated monuments. The highlight was then to see Martin Green’s museum and see the artefacts he has discovered on his farm.

Figure 1: Location of Wyke Down Henge and the Shaft in relation to other sites on Down Farm. After Green & Michael J Allen 1997 Figure 1

Fir Tree Field ‘Shaft’

Grid Reference:  SU 0016 1467 (NMR SU 01 SW 163)

Site Overview

The Shaft is 10m wide at the top of the 3m-deep weathering cone, tapering to 5m across at the beginning of the vertical section. The entire depth is unknown, as when the water table was reached at 13.2m in 1992, and an augur put in to determine further depth, the bottom was not reached at 25.2m (Allen 2000 : 41).

 

Figure 2: Fir Tree Field Great Shaft showing the view into the weathering cone August 2009. Copyright K Bragg.

Health and Safety demands that such a dangerous hole must be fenced off, so access to the site is via key only.  (Unfortunately on the day of the field trip, the key was not forthcoming, so photos are from previous visit.) A bridge is provided so that a view may be had down the shaft, but as this is mostly filled in, the view is not as dramatic as might be thought.

Figure 3: Fir Tree Field Shaft from viewing platform August 2009. Copyright K Bragg.

When excavated, a sequence of layers was discovered (as shown in Figure 4): the first layer revealed Beaker pottery and flints, lower down was a layer containing Peterborough ware from the mid-late Neolithic. In this way a sequence of layers dating back to the late Mesolithic was obtained.

 

Figure 4: Section of the Fir Tree Field shaft with radiocarbon details. (Source Green 2000 Fig 23)

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1990 Discovery Lush cropmark discovered in Fir Tree Field that when excavated turned out to be the Fir Tree Field Great Shaft (Green & Michael J Allen 1997 :121)
1992-1994 Excavation Careful excavation provided a sequence of layers trapping environmental information in the range 5500-3775BP therefore providing key environmental information about the critical Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in this area (Green 2000).

 

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The shaft itself is now thought to be entirely natural and a result of water acidified by dissolved minerals causing the chalk to dissolve, although initially considered by geologists to be of anthropogenic origin (Green & Allen 1997 :130). Similar features can be found elsewhere in the area and such solution holes are a common feature of limestone and chalk geologies. The importance of this particular feature, in archaeological terms, is not just for the retrieved artefacts themselves, but for the rich environmental data that has been obtained that can then be used in the interpretation of the high density of archaeological sites in the area (Green & Allen 1997 :130-131).

Wyke Down Henge

Grid Reference:  SU 0065 1528 (NMR SU 01 NW 113)

Site Overview

The Wyke Down Henge presents as a penannular enclosure consisting of 26 chalk-cut pits approximately 2m deep (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 :26), although with some notable variety in depth (Barrett et al. 1991 :92), with a 3m entrance causeway (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 :26). After excavation, the site was left exposed so that the arrangement of pits can be seen. The site is located on a low hill and is close by part of the Dorset Cursus, and also a Peterborough Ware site in Chalkpit Field (Barrett et al. 1991 :105) (the field to the south-east of the field the henge is in). As well as being close by to other archaeological sites, the henge is close to the source of the River Allen, especially to a Pleistocene river cliff marking a paleochannel (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 :26). The section of the Cursus at this point is known to have been reused, and also would be most visible as it travels over the river cliff (Barrett et al. 1991 :105).

Figure 5: Wyke Down Henge looking south-west May 2012. Pits show as green circles in a ring against the chalk. Photo copyright P Bragg.

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1983-1984 Excavation and environmental analyses Excavated by Bradley, Barrett and Green, the pits were found to have been cut and then recut at a later stage and then a central pit cut where the axes of the monument cross. Among the finds were carved chalk objects in the primary cuts, and grooved ware in the secondary cuts.

 

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The initial pits that were dug silted up again quite quickly and from all sides (i.e. no evidence for external bank collapsing) (Barrett et al. 1991 :92). Brown (1991) suggests that the nature of artefacts found in this primary fill indicated that in the early stage of the henge, the deposition was pragmatic, rather than with any ritual/symbolic overtones. The environmental samples from this first phase indicate that the area was open but with the possibility of denser woodland nearby, with the evidence consistent with the environment external to the pit not just recording an internal micro-environment (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 : 26).

 

Figure 6: Outline plans of the Wyke Down hence monument, showing the distribution of deposits belonging to the primary phase. (Source Barrett et al. 1991 Fig 3.20)

The pits were then recut (more shallowly than the original) and material from these has been radiocarbon-dated to 2190 ± 80 bc (BM 2396) and 2200±50 bc (BM 2397) (Barrett et al. 1991 :92). These recut pits also contained grooved ware pottery and at the time of this deposit, environment conditions were more shaded: suggestive of scrub rather than woodland cover (Entwistle & Bowden 1991 : 28) and that the monument was left untended (Allen 2000 :48). The final stage was the insertion of a central pit, with a deposit that has been dated to 1510±90bc (BM 2394) (Barrett et al. 1991 :96).

Barrett et al. (1991 :105) require that the henge be interpreted as an enclosure rather than the alternative of a causewayed ring ditch (an example of which can be seen excavated in Fir Tree Field) but reject the (then-commonplace) interpretation of the pits as a communal and collective cremation cemetery. They point out that cremated remains were a small fraction of the total deposits, and were in a secondary phase and therefore not consistent with the original design and purpose of the monument.

Bibliography

Allen, M.J., 2000. Soils, Pollen and lots of snails. In A Landscape Revealed: 10,000 Years on a Chalkland Farm. Stroud: Tempus Publishing Ltd., pp. 36-49.

Barrett, J.C., Bradley, R. & Green, M., 1991. Landscape, monuments, and society: the prehistory of Cranborne Chase, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, A., 1991. Structured Deposition and Technological Change among the Flaked Stone Artefacts from Cranborne Chase. In J. C. Barrett, R. Bradley, & M. Hall, eds. Papers on the Prehistoric Archaeology of Cranborne Chase. Oxbow Monograph 11, pp. 101-133.

Entwistle, R. & Bowden, M., 1991. Cranborne Chase: The Molluscan Evidence. In J. C. Barrett, R. Bradley, & M. Hall, eds. Papers on the Prehistoric Archaeology of Cranborne Chase. Oxbow Monograph 11, pp. 20-48.

Green, M., 2000. A Landscape Revealed: 10, 000 Years on a Chalkland Farm illustrate., The History Press Ltd.

Green, M. & Allen, M.J., 1997. An Early Prehistoric Shaft on Cranborne Chase. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 16(2), pp.121-132. Available at: http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/links/doi/10.1111%2F1468-0092.00029 [Accessed May 20, 2012].

 

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