Undergraduate fieldwork bursaries 2016 - Justin Ayres and The Stones of Stonehenge Project

The Department of Archaeology offers its undergraduate students fieldwork bursaries to help fund their participation in archaeological fieldwork or work experience within the heritage sector. Successful applicants report back to the department about their experience. In his own words, part-time BA Archaeology student Justin Ayres writes about his experiences on the Stones of Stonehenge project.  This was my fourth year returning to the Pembrokeshire for the Stones of Stonehenge project "the aim of which is to explore the various reasons for bringing stones from Wales and from the Avebury area to Stonehenge; and to identify quarry sources and establish the likely routes along which the stone were brought" (Pollard 2016).

The project is a collaboration between numerous researchers from various institutes including Professors Mike Parker Pearson of UCL and Kate Welham of Bournemouth University. Two sites Carn Goedog and Pensarn were excavated between 4th and the 23rd of September 2016.

Carn Goedog

Cairn Goedog (SN128332; ~300mOD) has been identified as the main source of Stonehenge's spotted dolerite bluestones, it is a beautiful moorland location which is often sheathed within the clouds but when the weathers fair allowed for stunning views out to St Georges Channel.

The site is about a 35 minute walk depending on the equipment being carried, everything needed for the excavation had to be carried up which makes an interesting morning moorland hike with shovels, mattocks, buckets etc. The main aim of the excavation this year was to find the extent of the ditch which was uncovered last year; this intriguing feature separates the outcrop from the moorland, it is filled with stone and starts next to a large horizontal flat stone interpreted as a loading bay for the monoliths, beyond the ditch away from the outcrop there are very few stones.

I learnt how to take micromorphological soil samples, which involves cutting a column of earth the size of a large takeaway container for the pedologist to examine...

Justin ayres

The purpose of ditch was debated among the team over the following three weeks, with ideas ranging from a natural erosion feature which had been expanded; a deliberate ritual delineation between the outcrop and the wider Neolithic world; an engineering feature which aided with the extraction of the stones; and a drainage ditch.

Justin Ayres excavating at Carn Goedog

View of Carn Goedog

 I personally think it probably served several of these proposes. I spent my first day at this site and returned in my final week when the trench was extended and the terminal to the ditch located, the extension produced the only find from the site this year, a flint blade. I learnt how to take micromorphological soil samples, which involves cutting a column of earth the size of a large takeaway container for the pedologist to examine, from the alignment of the grains it is possible to understand if the soil has formed naturally or been disturbed. The backfilling was an immense task where we moved around 30 tons of soil in a day and a half!

Pensarn

The second site Pensarn was targeted as a potential initial location for the bluestone through the previous year's geophysics results which suggested it to be a Neolithic passage grave this was located between the two bluestone quarries Carn Goedog and Carn Rhos-y-felin, work on the latter quarry was completed the previous year. This site turned out to be a rollercoaster ride of interpretation; after the topsoil had been removed by mechanical digger the initial hand excavation on an outer ring of stones reviled a stone stump...a bluestone which had been snapped off?

As is inevitable with excavations just when a site is near to be finished the best discoveries emerge...

Justin ayres

Speculation about the nature of the Neolithic society was sparked: since the stone was broken maybe the blue stones weren't as precious as archaeologist imagined, could it be a clumsy Neolithic worker, was it a act of violence? This could radically change the idea of an egalitarian Neolithic society!

Unfortunately over the coming days what was thought to be a passage grave was revealed to be a Bronze Age cairn, which had been robbed of stone explaining the initial geophysics interpretation of a passage grave, proving that the only way to truly understand a site is through excavation.

I had a fantastic time at this excavation digging at the two very different sites...

Justin ayres

Excavations at Pensarn

Justin at Pensarn

But was this Bronze Age cairn built over an older Neolithic monument? Unfortunately not, although this was a disappointment the site was still intriguing, a beautiful flint arrow head was located at the centre of the cairn above a cap stone under which was a stone cist filled with cremated bone.

As is inevitable with excavations just when a site is near to be finished the best discoveries emerge, here it was a beautiful collared urn located close to the central cist, this had a zigzag pattern on the outside of the rim with dots on the inside and filled with cremated bone. The final discovery was that below the cairn the ground had been ploughed before the monument was erected.
I had a fantastic time at this excavation digging at the two very different sites, in the evenings over Durrington Dongs we looked over the days geophysics results, overall it was a real privilege to meet so many fantastic people both the archaeologists and the locals.

Bornemouth University: https://microsites.bournemouth.ac.uk/seeing-beneath-stonehenge/

UCL: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/research/directory/stones-of-stonehenge-parkerpearson

University of Southampton: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/archaeology/research/projects/stones_of_stonehenge.page#project_overview