Archaeology plant puzzle: Dr Helen Wickstead on 6,000-year-old finds at Damerham

| 16 December 2013

An unexpected, 6,000-year-old trench of orange sand and clay has left archaeologists hopeful of finding Neolithic plant material at a dig site in Damerham, Hampshire

A photo of a female archaeologist standing in a field of hay smiling and holding a board
© Lis Parham / Kingston University, London.
Experts are using scientific techniques to investigate their finds in the sixth year of the project at Damerham, about 15 miles from Stonehenge, where four areas of a temple complex were excavated during the summer.

"We didn't expect to find this and suspect it would have surprised the original architects of the site, too," said Dr Helen Wickstead, of Kingston University.

"We are very hopeful that, within this material, there will be evidence of plant life which will help us continue to piece together the puzzle of human habitation on this significant site.

A photo of a female archaeologist taking measurements on sandy ground in a field
The team searched carefully for items turned over by the plough© Lis Parham / Kingston University, London.
The materials are thought to have preserved pollen or phytoliths from ancient plants. Such a discovery is unusual for a chalk site.

"The henge itself was a focus for rituals, life and death," says Dr Wickstead.

"The diversity of burial architecture here is intriguing. What is special about this place that meant generation after generation returned to the site to live, hunt, build and commemorate life?

"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 site while we can.

A photo of a female archaeologist digging in a large hay-filled field during broad daylight
The prehistoric templex complex has been at the centre of a fascinating six-year investigation© Lis Parham / Kingston University, London.
"Doing the dig is only a tiny portion of the work required to document these important sites, but it is the more urgent part because erosion by farming and other environmental factors will gradually diminish what's there."

Dr Wickstead says clues to early human life in Britain are "all around us" at Damerham, and admits she would "love" to embark on a "larger scale" dig there.

"As well as analysing the soil samples, plotting the artefacts 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."

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