‘Between the Monuments’ at Avebury

The dig in the West Kennet Avenue, August 2013

The dig in the West Kennet Avenue, August 2013

It’s been almost a decade since I was last digging at Avebury as part of the ‘Negotiating Avebury‘ project, so it was lovely to be invited along with my Avebury Archaeological and Historical Research Group (AAHRG) colleagues to visit the latest excavations at this amazing place, part of the current ‘Between the Monuments‘ project and following the team’s 2012 geophysical survey. This latest project features two of the site directors from the Negotiating Avebury Project, Dr Josh Pollard (University of Southampton) and Dr Mark Gillings (University of Leicester), joined this time by Dr Nick Snashall (National Trust) as co-director.

Looking back in time: Alexander Keiller's trench reopened

Looking back in time: Alexander Keiller’s trench reopened

This years dig has opened up two trenches in the area of the West Kennet Avenue where Alexander Keiller identified what he described as a settlement site. Indeed, one of the trenches has been opened up over one of Keiller’s trenches to see what remains and how he dug the site. The excavations are being blogged by the project team as work progresses.

I was amazed to see the deposits in this section of the Avenue. There is a virtually untouched soil going right down to the chalk, soil which looks to have never been ploughed or otherwise interfered with. There are also no major cut features one might expect to find in the chalk around Avebury and elsewhere. Instead, artefacts reside pretty much where they were deposited, helped into their final resting places by the usual range of natural processes such as worm action.

The deposits being excavated

The deposits being excavated

The nature of the deposits has led to the adoption of a slightly different excavation strategy. Single context style recording is not ideally suited so the site has been gridded and then excavated in spits down through the fairly homogeneous soil to the flinty layer and ultimately the chalk beneath. This will allow for fine horizontal and vertical spatial resolution in the excavation data, ideal for the intended GIS based analysis.

The nature of these deposits also raises questions about the often employed strategy common in commercial fieldwork where the ‘topsoil’ is machined off to reveal cut features in the chalk below; such an approach used here would have revealed nothing yet the site is demonstrably rich in information.

Spatial Data

The level; essential bit of archaeological survey kit

The level; essential bit of archaeological survey kit

With Mark Gillings involved, there was always going to be extensive (and exemplary) use of GIS. To support this, other data is being gathered including photogrammetric data captured using pole mounted cameras (courtesy of Adam Stanford and his amazing Aerial Cam landrover) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). The data it is possible to capture using UAVs combined with photogrammetric techniques is highly detailed and most useful for archaeological investigations.

GSTAR

Another reason for my visit was to discuss possibilities relating to my GSTAR project and given that the Between the Monuments project is right in the middle of my study area and data from this site will be extensively digitised, the activities indexed by the HER and Oasis and artefacts lodged with the Wiltshire Heritage Museum, my intention is to look at using some of the data for one of my case studies. This case study will involve the application of Linked Data techniques to (spatial) data from excavations, heritage inventories and museums; more on this to follow later this year, but for now, many thanks to the project directors and the aforementioned organisations for their kind permission to reuse their data.

Trench 2 being excavated, with the megalithic avenue in the background and the Aerial Cam landrover

Trench 2 being excavated, with the megalithic avenue in the background and the Aerial Cam landrover

Photos, Panoramas and PhotoSynths

As usual, I took quite a few photos during my visit! A selection of the best are shown below, taken from my Flickr photoset. I also took the opportunity to create a panoramic image from atop the spoil heap and used all the images to create a PhotoSynth.

Flickr Gallery

[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157634971425709″]

Panorama

Photosynth

7 thoughts on “‘Between the Monuments’ at Avebury

  1. girlwithtrowel

    Hey Paul! You might want to check my colleague Gary Noble’s PhD research here in Groningen: Dutch sites are often excavated as you describe above and he’s developing methodologies for GIS spatial analysis of data collected in this way for 3 Neolithic settlement sites here in NL. I can put you in touch, but you probably already know him from his time at the ADS?

    Reply
    1. paul Post author

      Hi Kate, and thanks!
      Yes, I know Gary and am familiar with his work. Good idea; I’ll give him a tweet, see if he has any input.

      In this case, I won’t be doing any GIS based analysis, Mark will have that covered. My interest is in re-use of the data collected, particularly expressing it as Linked Data, linking it to other related resources and investigating the potential for the spatial component in such an environment.

      This style of excavation is not all that unusual and can be used as the primary strategy or a supporting strategy for particular features/areas within a larger site. Very common in places like North America, Egypt, Turkey, etc or for ephemeral early prehistoric sites where there often aren’t clear stratigraphic units as such (ie discreet ‘contexts’), rather more ‘continuous’ deposits of gradually changing archaeological deposits potentially containing artefacts and/or ecofacts.

      The data from the Between the Monuments project is of particular interest to me due to the recording strategy; to date, I’ve largely been working with what could be described as ‘single context’ recording systems, where each stratigraphic unit can be seen to be the result of one or more events and is recorded as a discreet record. I am keen to see how other strategies can fit into the kind of ontological models being developed. Whilst single context style systems are most commonly used across commercial and academic sectors in the UK, they are certainly not the only way to dig and record a site and, in particular, such systems are very much the exception in other parts of the world.

      Reply
  2. Pingback: Between the Monuments, Avebury, 2014 | archaeoINaction

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