Archaeological Excavation in Higgins Field Tarrant Monkton

Thanks to those members who helped on site with the fantastic Tarrant Monkton henge during the second half of September, and indeed thanks to all members whose fees have helped fund this special excavation that has captured the interest of the local community as well as professional archaeologists and curators in the region. We are also very grateful to James Mallett, the farmer who so kindly allowed us to dig up his field. His interest could be seen to grow over the two weeks and his generosity and helpfulness was much appreciated.

The Higgins Field site potential as a Late Neolithic henge was known from a very clear aerial photograph taken by Steve Wallis in 1994 (published in Dorset from the Air, 1998 Pinder, Wallis, Keen). It was subsequently electronically surveyed in 2003 by members of EDAS working with Jeremy Webster, as part of his thesis while studying at Winchester University. Jeremy was comparing hengi-form monuments of Yorkshire and Dorset.

The excavation, directed by David Parry with Martin Green FSA as special advisor and Phil Roberts as tireless quartermaster, proved a great success. Not only was the archaeology significant, but some 20 volunteers gained valuable experience on a remarkable site and the local community is now enthusiastically learning more about the area's past. It also served as an Oxford University undergraduate's fieldwork placement (Sarah Morgan is now a paid-up member of EDAS).

The henge consists of a sub-circular ditch 3m wide and 1.4m deep, with an internal diameter of over 20m (by definition, therefore, a henge rather than hengi-form). There is a wide entrance from the north east. The possibility of there having once been a second, opposite entrance will hopefully be investigated in a future excavation of the site. If one did exist, it was subsequently closed by an additional segment of ditch. Some of the more significant finds came from the very base of the ditch (thus connected with the very first use of the monument) and from black ashy deposits higher up in the ditch fills. The main post hole group near the centre of the monument is unusual. The seven post holes are arranged in a V-shape, pointing towards the northern ditch terminal. There was evidence of post packing in all the post holes. Three other shallow pits/stone settings were revealed running about 1m within the northern arm of the ditch. It may be that the monument was developed in several phases.

Finds include large quantities of Grooved Ware pottery (some sherds with unusual decoration), several arrow heads (one worked from Portland chert), numerous flint tools, bones from boar and cow, deer antlers and a small number of marine mollusc shells (limpets, cockles and scallops). These shells and the chert arrow head may share a common geographical source. Of interest in the chalk side of one of the ditch sections were sets of what appeared to be badger claw marks, presumably left in a desperate escape bid some 4000 years ago! The star find has been a fragment of a decorated chalk block, with finely executed incised markings identical to the decoration found on some sherds of Grooved Ware. The chalk object (about 5cm long) is similar to the 'plaques' found in the Stonehenge environs and, more recently, at Durrington Walls. Peter Andrews of Blandford Museum is currently analysing the block to find out what tool might have been used to incise the lines.

The rest of the post-excavation work will begin shortly, with a preliminary report scheduled for publication in the Dorset Proceedings of 2006.

We thank Simon Meadon for his invaluable help with additional stripping and then backfilling at the end of the excavation. EDAS would like to thank James Mallett for generously and enthusiastically allowing us to carry out this work on his farm.

Please click on the links below to see photos of the excavation

Aerial view from cherrypicker

Aerial View of Excavation

Plan of site

Martin in Ditch Section

Steve Bungay surveying



Looking out of entrance

Ditch Section

Pot like chalk

Pot with cartouche

Chalk object