A team of archaeologists from London’s Kingston University has mapped a prehistoric temple complex at a Neolithic site near the village of Damerham – located about 15 miles from the iconic Stonehenge – and discovered a sink hole of material that may hold information about plants that thrived there 6,000 years ago.
“The site at Damerham is on chalk land, so we don’t often find materials like this that capture and preserve the plant remains – pollen or phytoliths – from a specific time period,” said Dr Helen Wickstead, head of the archaeological team. “It was evident that prehistoric people living in the area had also come across the sink hole and excavated the material during their own construction work. A pile of matching waste material was also seen at one of the other mounds.”
“We didn’t expect to find this and suspect it would have surprised the original architects of the site too. Moments of unexpected discovery could have had cultural significance for prehistoric people. The henge itself was a focus for rituals, life and death, so questions about the impact such a discovery would have had on their activity will be interesting to consider.”
Dr Wickstead said: “the prehistoric temple complex at Damerham is unusual because of the number of structures that are focused in one area. The diversity of burial architecture here is intriguing.”
“Once the field was clear of crops, we were able to walk across sections in search of items that will have been turned over by the plough,” added team member Mr Jack Bartley.
“This is important because it helps researchers understand how people used the land by examining what they left behind. We’ve been using GPS satellite technology to measure the search zones systematically. It’s been great to be out in the field experiencing a real archaeological dig, especially since my dissertation is examining communities of interest, such as those involved in archaeology.”
Evidence of archaeological remains at Damerham was first detected in 2003 when aerial survey investigators spotted crop marks in a photograph. The different colors visible in the crops indicated that there were historical earthworks just beneath the soil and Dr Wickstead teamed up with colleagues to begin the long process of trying to find out more about the site.
“During the six years since we first opened the site, we’ve not only involved the local community but also brought together expertise from a range of specialists from geochemical analysts to artists, to make sure we make the most of the opportunity while we can,” Dr Wickstead said.
“The clues to earlier human life are all around us in the landscape and I would love to return and undertake a larger-scale dig at Damerham.”
“For now, the team will be examining and compiling the data already gathered and, as well as analyzing the soil samples, plotting the artifacts and mapping the earthworks, we may also be able to undertake some gene sequencing on the bone fragments we found. All of this will help tell us more about how the people of this period lived and died in Damerham more than 6,000 years ago.”
Bibliographic information: Wickstead H et al. Damerham Archaeology Project 2013. English Heritage Highlight Report