Cranborne Chase : Field Diary Day 1

Today was my first day I was on site at Down Farm. The initial hour was spent mostly getting to grips with the site and talking over the logistics of the excavation. My lecturer Tim Sly was our guide and explained where Wessex Archaeology had excavated before. We looked through some of the previous discovery’s at the site including some fabulous pottery and flint work. It was really interesting to have a look at how excavated sites degrade, the previous pits having been left exposed.

The place on the farm that we are excavating over the next too weeks is called  Home Field –  thus our site code is HF17. In terms of Archaeological work it was fairly limited. I spent a few hours cleaning the surface of the trench by removing the top soil to expose the underlying chalk and making features visible. The majority of the top soil had been striped by machine the previous day but as predicted the stratigraphy is incredibly shallow.

For example post holes are very visible on the chalk and are displayed as dark circular features. We encovered a range of features other then post holes including tree fells, pits and and trenches. 

In the afternoon the owner of the farm and an almost legendary archeologist  Martin Green toured us around the site. We began by visiting his on site museum that displayed an amazing range of artifacts found on the farm and land that surround it. If you ever get the chance it is well worth a visit ! After this we walked around the perimeter of the farm and discovered the wealth of Archeology Martin had descovered. The most spectacular of which was known as the gateway to hell by everyone on site. The hole stretched 15-20 feet into the ground and was carved into the solid chalk. This mysterious feature was utterly astounding and rather took my breath away. 

All in all it was a wonderful start to our excavations.  


Cranborne Chase excavations

Sadly I am missing out on the first day of excavations at this site due a snazzy exam about Alexander the Great, but I thought I would introduce you to the area I will be excavating with the University of Southampton for the best bit of the next two weeks (06/06/17 -14/06/17).

Geographically, Cranborne is a chalk plateau that straddles the counties of Wiltshire, Dorset and Hampshire. The chalk landscape typically has very shallow stratigraphy therefore excavations here are not deep. Having taken a module in landscape archaeology I now have a newfound appreciation of the importance of underlying geology and the topography of the area in relation to its land use and habitation.

The location has long been of archaeological importance. It was here that Augustus Pitt Rivers developed what is now regarded as modern archaeological fieldwork during the 19th century. It boasts a wealth of archaeological sites from over 3000 years of human habitation. Neolithic and Bronze age monuments litter the landscape however what we are excavating is an Iron age settlement. Another notable example of excavation of the site was that carried out in  2004 by the television show Time Team (anyone who knows me knows my obsession with this show and my dedicated twitter following of @TheHardingHat)  who uncovered a Roman fort – the show is well worth a watch!

For Southampton this is their 5th season working here, and as a first year Archaeology and History student I am joining them to gain experience and be trained in the practical aspects of land based excavation. Teams from Bournemouth University and from Wessex archaeology have used similar locations at Cranborne as training.

The Site we are excavating is by Down Farm on lands owned by Dr Martin Green. I point out this land owner because of his notability as an expert on the prehistoric archaeology of the area. Dr Green has played a significant part in our understanding of Cranborne chase as a prehistoric landscape. Some notable publications of his, that I shall be reading during the course of our excavation include …

Barrett, John, Richard J. Bradley, and Martin T. Green. Landscape, monuments and society: the prehistory of Cranborne Chase. Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Green, Martin. A Landscape Revealed: 10,000 years on a chalkland farm. Tempus Pub Limited, 2000.


So for the final few weeks of my first year at university I am traveling back and forth from this fantastic site hopefully all the wiser and better skilled in the art of  excavation. It should be allot of fun despite the rain predicted to fall over the rest of this week at least. My aim is to complete a day by day field diary for the days I join the team.