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Page 134 - West Kennet Palisades: The Pig Slaughter

At the great enclosure of Durrington Walls there was evidence for the ritual slaughter of pigs on a massive scale. Limited excavation of the West Kennet Palisaded Enclosures suggests that pigs were slaughtered there too.
What might this have been like, and what is involved in killing pigs?

Of the pig bones recovered from the Palisades, roughly 75% were from pigs that were only one year old; about 20% were two years old and only 5% were three years or older. Pigs breed prolifically - a sow may start breeding at a year old, producing a litter every six months and up to a dozen piglets a year. The animals will eat almost anything (including humans and each other) and can be turned out to forage for wild food such as acorns and beechnuts: the 'patchy woodland' of late Neolithic England would have been an ideal habitat for free-ranging pigs. If forest was being cleared for agriculture then pigs could also have performed a useful role in trampling the ground and digging out roots after the trees were felled. For people living a settled life in a house, it would be easy to keep a pig in a pen attached to the house, as the animals will happily live on scraps and human waste. In Goa, southern India, it was common until recently for homes to have a 'pig toilet' with an outlet that led directly into the pig's feeding trough. The practice has now been almost eradicated, as there are obvious health risks from eating the pig's meat.

By the late Neolithic, communal feasting was a well-established way of life, central to society. The enormous henges at Marden and Durrington Walls are broadly contemporary with the West Kennet Palisades and evidence from all three sites indicates that in the centuries around 2,500 BC domestic pigs were consumed in vast quantities. Cattle were eaten too, but the pigs remains at Durrington outnumber those of cattle by a factor of about 10:1. The pigs were butchered and eaten in a way that was conspicuously wasteful, just as the cattle that had been feasted on at Windmill Hill were, a thousand or so years earlier. At Durrington a vast quantity of flint arrowheads was found, some embedded in the pig bones; some pigs also had characteristic injuries that suggest they were shot from a distance, for sport or in some bloody ritual. To us the scene would have been nightmarish - as well as the blood and stench, the screams of a pig in agony sound uncannily human. Recent isotope analysis has shown that most of the pigs slaughtered at Durrington were not raised locally on chalkland, but had been brought in from areas of igneous rock such as Wales or northwest Scotland. (3) Though only a year old, many had rotten teeth, probably from being fattened on sugar; honey has been suggested, but it must always have been a comparatively rare and highly-prized commodity. Perhaps malt sugars made from cereals were used instead?

Neolithic pig meat was quite different to the pork we eat today. If the pigs were pursued in a ritualised hunt and killed with arrows, their flushed meat would remain bloody even after cooking. Today, all male pigs are castrated one month before slaughter and sows are not killed whilst in heat - their meat would otherwise have an unpleasantly musky or 'rank' smell and flavour. Neolithic feasters presumably built up a high resistance to the toxic bacteria of pig viscera, as not much attention can have been paid to hygiene. But a fundamental difference was the amount of wastage in a Neolithic feast. At Durrington, hundreds of pig and cattle bones were found fully articulated (joined together) so they must have been discarded still with a good deal of meat on them; most of the long bones had not been split to extract their nutritious marrow, which would be usual in a domestic context. Whole pigs may have been spit-roasted over a fire; a 5m-long hearth found at Durrington is thought to have been used for this purpose - so were four or five pigs roasted together in a line? Roasting may also have helped to sterilize the contaminated meat. If this method was used it may have been accompanied by ritual and ceremony: there would be plenty of time, as roasting a whole pig cannot be done quickly. We eat pork that is probably more evenly-cooked than our ancestors, but even so, a modern-day 'hog-roast' can take six to nine hours of cooking; it is reckoned to feed 100 to 200 people, depending on the size of the hog (a castrated boar). If Neolithic pigs were butchered so wastefully, with only the best cuts of meat used, then an awful lot of waste product had to be disposed of - much of it smelly and unpleasant. This may have been burnt, but wet, fresh viscera would require a great deal of heat to burn it. It may have been simply buried.

We know for certain that pigs were shot and eaten at Durrington, but were they also shot at the West Kennet Palisades? Very few flint arrowheads have been found at the Palisades, but excavation has so far been very minimal and mostly limited to cuttings across the ditches, with almost no excavation inside the two great enclosures where the shooting may have taken place. Durrington Walls, as well as being a henge monument, was also a settlement of several hundred square houses; there are many similarities with the Palisades, which seems potentially to have also been an area of habitation. Durrington has five inner circles - two of them are timber circles like nearby Woodhenge and Avebury's Sanctuary. When excavated, two of Durrington's circles were found to have been built over the site of former square houses - perhaps once the homes of revered ancestors? Durrington's largest inner circle measures around 40m in diameter, very roughly the size of Structures 1, 2 and 3 within Palisades Enclosure 2, and also the possible timber circle inside Structure 5, to the south.

So what were the West Kennet Palisades built for? As well as the three structures we are aware of, Enclosure 2 may well have many more hidden features such as houses, waiting to be discovered. The perimeter ditch is enormous, encompassing (assuming it was once complete) an area of about fifteen acres. Mike Parker Pearson's interpretation of Durrington Walls is that it was a "place for the living" symbolised by its wooden constructions; nearby Stonehenge was a "place for the dead" symbolised by stone. Wood is warm and grows; stone is cold and does not. There is an obvious parallel here with the wooden Palisades and the stones of the Avebury henge: if Durrington was occupied by the people who built Stonehenge for their funerary rituals, did the builders of Avebury and Silbury live in the Palisades?

By the time of the Palisades' construction (roughly 2,300 BC) the great, dense forests of the Mesolithic would have been largely cleared for agriculture, or reduced to 'patchy woodland' by human exploitation, surviving only as a folk memory. So were the Palisades a 'virtual forest' evoking some golden ancestral past? Their vast curtain-like walls were constructed from the trunks of oak trees up to 80cm in diameter; an oak must live around 120 years, or five Neolithic generations, to reach that size. We only assume that the trees were stripped of their branches and turned into poles - some may have been left entire. To be inside the Palisades would have been a very eerie experience. The walls, up to 8m high, would have blocked out much of the light; in sunshine or by moonlight, their dense shadows would be shot through with brilliant parallel lines produced by the narrow gaps between posts.
Wood is very reflective to sound and trees can produce strong echoes in a forest. The closely-spaced posts, forming an almost continuous wall of timber, would have reflected any sound made within the space as unearthly echoes. From certain positions within the enclosure, some sounds may also have produced 'ricochet' effects: a wall of large posts will produce a separate echo from each post, the delay time increasing with distance. To a listener, a handclap will be followed by a long, extended echo that descends in pitch - we know it well, as the sound of rifle shots in a Western film.

Perhaps the inner circuit of Enclosure 1 (if it really was a complete circuit) represented an idealised great forest clearing, with a river flowing through it. Was the site of an actual forest clearing being commemorated?

The builders of the Palisades and the great henges of Marden and Durrington Walls are identified as Grooved Ware People by their distinctive pottery. From around 2,500 BC though, a new pottery style came to Britain, brought by the Beaker People, who moved into the Avebury area and seem to have lived peacefully alongside the people already there. Their characteristic earthenware beakers were part of an imported 'cultural package' which likely included metallurgy, but did they also introduce animal slaughter as a spectator sport? The Beaker Culture originated from the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) where ritualised animal slaughter, presented as public entertainment, still survives as bullfighting. The 'spectacle' takes place in a circular enclosure, albeit a far smaller one than West Kennet: the largest bullring in Spain is 60m across.

All of this of course, must remain conjecture, until there is at least some excavation inside the Palisades' enclosures. An important point is that we do not yet know whether pigs continued to be slaughtered at the Palisades after they were built - almost all the pig parts so far recovered were excavated from the ditches, so had been deposited during construction. No pig remains have been recorded with obvious arrow or spear injuries and few even show marks of butchery, indicating that consumption of the pigs was wasteful and indicative of large-scale feasting, either prior to, or during, construction work. Organising, or even providing a feast would certainly be an effective way to assemble the large workforce required for such massive engineering projects as those around Avebury. There are though, enough similarities to Durrington Walls to suggest that ritual pig slaughter also went on at the Palisades.

Animal sacrifice, the notion of ritually killing animals as food offerings to the gods, is an ancient practice found all over the world. Sometimes the meat is burned, as on Biblical alters, indicating a belief that the gods live above us in the sky, and that the offering ascends to them as smoke. It is interesting then, that in Neolithic Britain so much effort was put into digging holes in the ground and carefully depositing offerings - this strongly suggests a belief in the sanctity of the earth, or even a deity such as an 'Earth-Mother Goddess'. The sacrificial victim was not always animal but sometimes a prized object such as a stone axe, ritually broken. Even today there are cultures practicing animal sacrifice; often, although the meat is 'offered' to the gods, this is merely symbolic and it is actually eaten by humans. Pigs resemble humans in many ways and their meat is said to be very similar, so pig slaughter may well have symbolised or replaced human sacrifice, even cannibalism.

Proto-Indo-European (PIE) was a single language thought to have been once spoken over a vast area of Europe and beyond, from Iceland to north India and eastern China. In today's carefully-reconstructed lexicon of PIE words there are only a few words relating to religion, but sacrifice is among them. Many ancient myths survive that are common to the Indo-European cultures descended from PIE culture: it would be reasonable to expect that in them, may be elements of religious beliefs and practices that existed before writing. Some may even offer clues as to why pig slaughter was practiced in late-Neolithic Britain.

Sacrificial boar-gods feature in the mythology of the Middle-East and Scandinavia, but are believed to originate from the cult of Vishnu, an Indian god who in his self-sacrifice, created the world. This was only possible because in his boar-incarnation, Vishnu's blood acquired a creative power that only the Mother's menstrual blood previously had. (4) In this myth, we once again see the theme of feminine power being appropriated by men, who cause themselves to bleed in imitation of female menstruation. This is one possible origin of circumcision - another is that it symbolises ritual castration, something that features in the boar-god myths of the western Indo-European countries. Several mythical characters met their ends by being gored by a wild boar - often in the groin, in a symbolic castration. They include Tammuz, the Syrian demi-god of annual vegetation, who was known to the Greeks as Adonis. The killing was often done by a rival in the guise of a boar: the Irish hero Diarmuid was killed thus by Finn mac Cool, as was the Egyptian god Osiris by Set. The Cretan Zeus was killed by a boar; so were Ancaeus of Arcadia (helmsman of the Argo) and Carmanor of Lydia (a son of Dionysus). (5)

Instead of the boar, some IE myths feature a sow with crescent-shaped tusks - a lunar, and therefore feminine, symbol. The death-aspect of the Great Mother was represented by a white corpse-eating sow in the cults of Astarte and Demeter; the Celts had Cerridwen the 'White Sow' and the Teutons the death-goddess Freya - also known as Sýr or 'sow'. Cerdo is the Spanish for 'sow'. The Greek destroyer Demeter-Persephone was also known as 'Phorcis the Sow' - her daughter Circe could turn men into sacrificial pigs. (6) Orc is the Irish for 'pig' and the boar-god of IE myths, synonymous with death and the underworld, has various names such as Porcus, Phorcus and Orcus, 'Lord of Death'. The Orkney Islands, or Orcades were believed to be the home of the death-goddess sow. (7) It is interesting the Grooved Ware style of pottery that is found in such quantity at Wiltshire sites such as Durrington, Marden and Avebury, originated in the Orkneys. Tolkien named his invented Orcs after an Old English word for 'demon' or 'evil spirit' which is found in the epic poem Beowulf.

Pigs were sacrificed in the secret rites of the Eleusinian Mysteries of Classical Greece by initiates of the mystery cult of Demeter - literally 'Barley Mother'. One of Demeter's festivals, the Thesmophoria, re-enacted part of the myth of Persephone's abduction by Hades, Lord of the Underworld, by the throwing of pigs into a chasm; the rite was believed to promote fertility. In Athens, the Thesmophoria lasted three days and could be attended only by married women. Demeter and Persephone, as well as being mother and daughter, are both aspects of the same goddess; pigs play a rather minor role in their mythology and it seems likely that in the sacrifice, the pigs actually represented the goddess herself. (8) In customs such as this we see a direct connection between a triple-aspected goddess (virgin, mother and crone) and agricultural soil, fertilised by the blood of sacrificed pigs, which may have supplanted an earlier practice of human sacrifice. Similar customs have been recorded all across Europe, linking the death and blood-letting of pigs to femininity, the underworld and the fertility of the soil: there is a deep and ancient connection between the growing of crops (particularly cereals) and the pig-sacrifice.

(1) Sacred Mound Holy Rings
(2) " p 57
(3) Guess who's coming to dinner - Feeding Stonehenge
(4) The woman's book of myths and secrets - Barbara Walker p 112
Detailed account of a traditional family pig-kill in Slovakia: http://www.52insk.com/2011/zabijacka/
(5) Robert Graves - The Greek Myths 1, 18.7
(6) The woman's book of myths and secrets - Barbara Walker p 956
(7) Robert Graves - The White Goddess p 230
(8) Sir James Frazer - The Golden Bough p 469


Page 134 - Radial Lines of the Palisades

The Palisades plan features several intriguing radial lines than span enormous distances. Considering the effort involved in constructing them, could the orientation of the lines have had some purpose or significance?

The Palisades plan features several intriguing radial lines than span enormous distances. Considering the effort involved in constructing them, could the orientation of the lines have had some purpose or significance?

Four lines are oriented broadly northwest/southeast. If they were designed to point somewhere, we have no way of knowing whether to look in the northwest or the southeast. Other of the Avebury monuments are aligned to the winter solstice sunrise at about 130º in the southeast, and one of the Palisade lines is close to this. But if the other three lines are projected southeast across the landscape they do not seem to pass through any significant features, man-made or natural.

However, if we project the four lines northwest, all point to major areas of springs. This may, of course, be just coincidence. In the southeast corner of the Palisades area, just east of Feature D, are two short lines that meet as an upside-down V. If projected northwest, one line points to the Waden Springs - actually to the centre of the mound of rubble that covers the springs. The other line points to the centre of the Pan Springs; in the opposite direction it points to 131.6º, close to the position of winter solstice sunrise.

Two lines extend from Enclosure 2. The western one, Outer radial ditch 3, if projected northwest, again points to the mound of rubble covering the Waden Springs. If the eastern line Outer radial ditch 1 is projected northwest it passes north of Silbury and eventually reaches the centre of the Oslip Springs, southwest of Windmill Hill. Although the Oslip Springs are two-and-a-half miles away, their position can easily be determined from the Palisades, as the ground between is virtually flat.

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Page 137 - Other Enclosures

The West Kennet palisaded enclosures have much in common with Hindwell, Durrington and other sites:

How unique are the West Kennet palisaded enclosures? A dozen or so similar structures have so far been identified, widely distributed across the British Isles. All date from the late Neolithic, between about 2800 and 2300 BC.

The enclosures share common features, though there is considerable variation. Almost all were eventually destroyed by fire and only appear as occasional crop-marks, produced by the stone packing that is still in place below ground. Most examples have been discovered by chance from aerial photographs: there may be more, as yet unknown.

Palisaded enclosures may have been built in phases and their various circuits need not have existed simultaneously. For instance, what appear to be double-concentric rings may have been single rings that were later enlarged - not unlike us building a house then adding an extension.

The commonest factor is the choice of site: generally this is a low-lying, flat and marshy area next to one or more meandering rivers. Confluences are favoured; these are often, though not always, east and south-flowing. Almost all of the known sites have springs around, or inside, the enclosure.

Not all palisaded enclosures used posts spaced as closely as West Kennet's: some had significant gaps between. The aim was perhaps to limit the visibility of activities inside the structure, rather than entirely block it. Entrances were often few and surprisingly small, considering the immense size of some enclosures. The palisaded area of Mount Pleasant in Dorset measured some 245m by 270m, yet it had just two entrances, each only a metre wide. Encircling the palisade was a henge earthwork with four entrances, rather like Avebury; the henge was already about 500 years old before the palisading was added. Although close to the river Frome, Mount Pleasant is unusually sited on a low hill; significantly, an avenue connected the enclosure to the river.

Less than a mile west of Mount Pleasant was Greyhound Yard, an enormous palisaded enclosure sited conventionally on the lowest ground next to the river. Little is known about the structure, since most of it lies beneath the town of Dorchester.

This 'clustering' of monuments is found elsewhere. Forteviot, in eastern Scotland, had a large palisaded enclosure sited on low ground close to a meandering river with a nearby confluence. In and around this were several small henge-like features. An avenue of posts led into the enclosure's northern side: post-defined avenues were a feature of other palisaded enclosures. Intriguingly, Forteviot also had a large clay-lined pool, sited where the avenue met the enclosure. The palisading used around 200 oak trunks, up to a metre in diameter, so its construction required a great deal of time and effort. It is odd then, that a little over two miles away was Leadketty, another large palisaded enclosure, with a small henge inside it and a possible avenue. Leadketty was also sited on low ground, next to a confluence of three rivers.

A number of palisaded enclosures are associated with mounds that are sited close to rivers and springs; some may have been built directly on top of springs. Dungragit, a coastal site in western Scotland, has a triple-concentric palisaded enclosure. One of its entrances was aligned to a nearby flat-topped, conical mound dated to about 2500 BC.

Finally, there are enormous 'henge' sites that share many of the features of palisaded enclosures but have no posts, such as Marden and Durrington Walls. Within its earthwork, Durrington had many houses and two small timber circles; nearby was Woodhenge. Marden also showed signs of occupation, with traces of buildings. One has been interpreted as a 'sweat lodge' like those of the Native Americans.

A recent geophysical survey of the Durrington enclosure detected a feature just inside the northwest bank that may have been a spring, now run dry. Within the Marden enclosure was a henge and a huge mound, the Hatfield Barrow; probably built on top of a spring, it was encircled by a ditch five metres deep. Both sites were low-lying, close to springs and near rivers with confluences. Durrington, like Mount Pleasant, was sited on higher ground. Both enclosures had avenues leading to the river. Did these two sites perhaps not have palisades because there was not a sufficient supply of local timber?

Walton Basin

The Walton Basin in Powys, mid-Wales (also known as the Radnor Valley) is one of Britain's richest ritual landscapes. There is little to be seen on the ground; most of its monuments were discovered from the air as crop-marks. At the complex's heart are the vast Hindwell palisaded enclosures. Dating from between 2800 and 2400 BC they are older than the West Kennet palisades and there are enough similarities to suggest that West Kennet may have been modelled on Hindwell. However, the Hindwell palisades were not of solid timber like West Kennet - the posts, up to 1m in diameter, were spaced about 0.8m apart.

Like West Kennet, Hindwell has springs within the enclosure. Today they rise into a pond, which feeds a canalised river. The pond is thought to be recent but it could be an original feature or a remnant of one - particularly since Forteviot had a clay-lined pool. Did other sites also have pools? The map (opposite) shows only modern river courses but Hindwell's prehistoric waterscape has been investigated by boring and its paleochannels mapped; it appears that the enclosures were partly defined by the river's former course, as we also see at Marden. A similar study of the West Kennet area is badly needed.

Hindwell's largest enclosure was a flattened oval more than twice the size of West Kennet's Enclosure 2, though of a very similar shape. It partly overlaid the Hindwell Cursus, an earthwork almost three miles long that may predate the enclosure by a thousand years. To the east was a double-palisaded enclosure, again, like West Kennet. Overall, comparing the shape and layout of the West Kennet and Hindwell enclosures shows that there are striking similarities.

Above: Hindwell, in the Walton Basin

Above: Durrington

Above: Forteviot

Above: Marden

Above: West Kennet

For direct comparison, the five sites above are shown to the same scale: each map is 1.2 miles wide. Note that not all the spring positions shown have been confirmed by fieldwork: some have been surmised from mapping information. All springs shown on the West Kennet map are confirmed, as are those under the Hindwell pond. Springs shown inside the Durrington and Marden enclosures are suspected but not confirmed.

 

 

 

 

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Page 137 - West Kennet Palisades: The Excavations

Faith Vatcher, of the Keiller Museum in Avebury, recorded the first physical evidence of the Palisades in the early 1970s, when a pipe trench was cut through the area. Vatcher and her husband Lance made notes and drawings of ditch-like features exposed in the sides of the trench, and postpipes with sarsen packing stones and patches of charcoal. They also found cattle bones, worked flints and a single sherd of a Grooved Ware bowl. The Vatchers' ditches were later found to correspond with marks seen on aerial photograph, so a trial excavation was undertaken in 1987, led by Alasdair Whittle. Most of what is currently known about the Palisades comes from Whittle's fine recording and interpretation of the excavation. His first five trenches, dug in as many weeks, produced an enormous body of detailed information, which continues to be built on and refined. The work continued over several seasons until 1992 (Sacred Mound Holy Rings).

Excavations in the Palisades area began in 1987 with the digging of five trenches to locate features seen in St Joseph's aerial photograph and in the 1970s pipe trench. The two concentric ditches of Enclosure 1 were found, along with a finely-crafted arrowhead and some pieces of antler that produced radiocarbon dates of 2317-2142 BC and 2032-1890 BC. In 1989 the course of the northern arc of Enclosure 1 was confirmed by Wessex Archaeology, as part of a planning proposal to develop West Kennett Farm. As a result, the proposal was dropped and the arc scheduled; the farm was bought by the National Trust. Enclosure 1's southern concentric ditches were explored further in 1990, and a trench dug west of the northern end of Gunsight Lane, close to its junction with the A4 - just where the northern arc of Enclosure would be expected to continue. This should have determined whether the arc was part of an inner or an outer ring, but nothing was found.

All of the ditches excavated were found to be between 2 and 2.7m deep; they had been dug through the Coombe Rock subsoil into the underlying chalk. Sockets for the individual posts of the palisade had been dug beyond the ditch bottom - some to a depth of 3.1m. The width of the ditches also varied. Enclosure 1's inner ditch, at up to 3m wide, was consistently wider than its outer ditch, which in places measured only 1m across. Sarsen packing stones, some quite large, were found grouped around the closely-spaced postpipes which had formed where the posts once stood in the ditches and had rotted in position; a great quantity of charcoal fragments in the postpipes suggests that the posts above ground had eventually been destroyed by fire. 88% of the charcoal was identified as oak; the remainder represented another ten species that are still common in the area. Alder, beech, ash, elder, field maple, hazel and hawthorn were found, with several fruit-woods - apple/pear and sloe/cherry/plum. It may be that the heavy oak palisading was augmented by wattle or fencing made of these smaller species; or perhaps they were simply used as brushwood in the final destruction, piled up at the base of the palisades to set fire to them?

From these excavations, the method of the palisades' construction became clear. The posts had been erected in sockets cut into the chalk bottom of the ditches and secured by packing with pieces of sarsen and rammed chalk; the ditches had then been backfilled with the excavated material. It was this that eventually produced the revealing cropmarks, as the backfill consisted of subsoil mixed with pieces of shattered chalk, flint and sarsen, so restricting plant growth. Most of the ditches had one steep side and one side with a gentler slope that may have been helpful in guiding the posts into position.

Very few worked flints were found in the two large enclosures' perimeter ditches, but there was a considerable quantity of animal bone - mostly of pig - some of it charred and burnt; pieces of antler were also found. Bones of other animals included cattle, sheep/goat, deer and dog; some, notably those of cattle and dog, bore marks of butchery. But it was domestic pig bone that predominated: it was found in every cutting made by the archaeologists. The bone was almost all grouped closely around the posts rather than scattered amongst the infill, indicating that it had been deliberately deposited when the posts were erected: in one instance, bones had been deposited vertically against a post. Two pieces of bone from the outer ditch of Enclosure 1 were carbon-dated to 2457-2197 BC and 2446-2280 BC. As with other late Neolithic sites, the deposits were structured. In Enclosure 2 there was a higher proportion of tibiae (shanks, or shinbones) and calcanea (hocks, or heels) than in Enclosure 1. There were subtle variation in the distribution of certain types of bone over different parts of both enclosures, and a distinct bias towards depositing parts from the right side of the pig - particularly the pelvis and femur (thigh bone). This was most pronounced in Enclosure 1, where over 80% of the bones were from the right side; in Enclosure 2 around 70% of the bones were from the right side. As we have already seen, right has long being associated in many cultures with 'good' and the masculine; left is associated with 'bad' and the feminine.

Whittle's team made one small cutting across Outer Radial Ditch 1, quite close to where it joins Enclosure 2: there a row of postpipes was found, indicating that the ditch-line had also once held a row of closely-spaced wooden posts. These may have been smaller posts, as they extended only 1m into the ground; the postpipes were around 25-30cm in diameter, and 20-30cm apart. Animal bone, antler and pieces of Grooved Ware pottery were found amongst the flint and chalk packing material; two pieces of bone were carbon-dated to 2489-2313 BC and 2450-2142 BC.

Within Enclosure 2, at its eastern side, three double-concentric circular features visible on aerial photographs were confirmed by geophysics and partially excavated. Structure 1 is around 40m in diameter, with an inner ring of some 18m. Today the feature is bisected by a hedge-line; at the ring's centre, now just east of the hedge, a "substantial magnetic anomaly" was seen on the geophysical survey but was not excavated, as the field was under crop at the time - it may have been a centre post. A small cutting was made west of the hedge to encompass portions of the inner and outer rings - the usual closely-spaced postpipes and stone packing, animal bone and sherds of Grooved Ware were found. Three pieces of sandstone were also found deposited above some of the bones; this seems to be an echo of an earlier tradition, a respect for the sanctity of 'foreign' stones, as evidenced at earlier sites such as Windmill Hill.

Structure 2 consists of two concentric rings with diameters of about 30 and 8 metres
but cropmarks suggest it may have been more complex, with a possible extra concentric arc at its western side. A north-south cutting made through the centre of the structure revealed the expected postpipes, packing and deposits, with the addition of struck flint. Some flint was found deposited around bases of the posts, some at higher levels; two flint knives were recovered, and a finely crafted arrowhead. The structure's inner ring was found to have an opening at its southern side of about 90cm wide; extending from this was a rectangular setting of nine posts in the form of a porch or façade, roughly 3.5m square. Its southern wall had a gap in the centre resembling a doorway. Was this a roofed building? Flint-knapping is an exclusively masculine activity, so maybe this was a 'cult house' for male initiates?

Structure 3 is also double-concentric, with an outer ring that was at first thought to be elliptical with a diameter of 40-45m, though more recent information from aerial photography shows its western side to be almost straight, and running south into the interior of Structure 2. Within Structure 3 is a circle of about 15m across; excavation revealed a large posthole slightly offset from its centre. It is from the exact position of this posthole that the Silbury sun roll was recorded. Structures 2 and 3 are connected, appearing to even share a section of perimeter ditch; not surprisingly, stuck flints were also found around the postpipes of Structure 3. All three structures excavated were also found to have charcoal flecks in amongst the material forming the postpipes, indicating that they also came to a fiery end.

In all the excavations, sherds of Grooved Ware pottery were found - though curiously, they were of a distinctly different type to those found in the West Kennet long barrow, which is only a short distance away and conspicuously visible from the Palisades. The pottery appeared fresh, as it had been buried usually 2m below ground and was not damaged by ploughing. Most of it had been deposited around the bottom of posts when they were erected; there was also a selective distribution of different parts of the broken pots, such as rims and bases being deposited in different locations, something noted at other Neolithic sites. It seems that pots had ritual importance, and that each different part of the pot had a specific meaning or purpose - though whatever these may have been, we are unlikely to ever understand. Several sherds had a thin white coating on their outside; one sherd was analysed and the coating declared to be calcium hydroxide and calcium carbonate, or slaked lime and chalk - this is Iimewash, known more commonly as 'whitewash'. Whittle's report notes that the coating was easily washed off, and that limewashing pots may have been "more common than appreciated" (until quite recently, it was usual to wash all excavated pottery on archaeological digs to remove soil). The 2010 excavation at Marden also turned up pottery with a thin white coating: it has been positively identified as ground up bone - possibly human.

 

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