24/01/2015 Annual General Meeting

On Saturday 24th January in Dorchester we held our second AGM. Chris Tripp said he wished to step down as chairman role but continue as technical advisor to the group and director of the Nether Compton project. David Northam was elected as the new chairman of the group.                 

Our new Chairman, David Northam, has lived and worked in Weymouth since 1976, he is married to Chris and they have two adult children who work abroad. He  joined Dorset Diggers in 2014 and helped with both phases of the Nether Compton dig, organised a walk for us above Portesham taking in the neolithic and bronze age monuments, and with Chris Tripp represented Dorset Diggers at the Dorset History Network. 

He is also a member of the South Somerset Archaeological Research Group.  Over the last 4 years he has worked as a volunteer on the Ham
Hill Fort dig, Sutton Montis 'Cadbury Environs' dig, Druce Farm 'Roman Villa' dig and the Sturminster Newton back gardens dig. In 2012 he
volunteered during the Olympics and worked in the Olympic village, in Portland, in the management team maintaining the houses, restaurant and other facilities.  He has previously been Chairman of his local Scout Group and Social Secretary and B Team Captain for Weymouth Tennis Club.

When asked to be Chairman David said he was honoured to be involved witha local group who had achieved so much in such a short time.  He 's looking forward to working with Chris Tripp, who remains our Archaeological Projects Officer, and the Committee to generate a full
programme of events, training, and engagement with the wider community.

David's contact details are djnortham@hotmail.com or 07801 714648


15/10/2014 School Visit

A class of year 5 children visited the dig and looked at our finds to date.


A Roman legionary in full uniform stopped by to tell the children all about life in the Roman army

26/07/2014 Our Open Day at Nether Compton, near Sherborne.

Visitors came along to the village Hall to find out about our project to investiugate the ancient landscape. As well as maps and
displays a Roman soldier was on hand to describe in vivid detail how the conquest of 43AD would have been experienced.


Context 1 Archaeology donated play-sand so that local children could dig for artefacts and experience the thrill of archaeology.


In talking to local people we also learned more about the history of this lovely village.

The metal-detecting club from nearby Yeovil showed a fascinating collection of finds from around the area.

Chris relates the geophysics to features uncovered




08/06/2014 Down Farm Visit

Dorset Diggers assembled at Down Farm on the Cranborne Chase to hear the farmer and esteemed archaeologist, Dr Martin Green talk about his findings there.  He began by showing us around his wonderful museum where we were able to see at close hand, and even handle, some of the artefacts discovered on and adjacent to his farm.





Braving the heat (in complete contrast to our previous visit here), we set off to where Martin has erected a safe viewing ‘bridge’ above
his extremely deep excavation of a natural swallow hole in the chalk. A subterranean chamber having collapsed left a hollow shaft that
had mostly filled in during the Mesolithic period but had also contained a well stratified sequence of later fills near the top.  It was
clearly of local importance in prehistory.

A short walk took us to another excavated site, this time of a pond barrow.  Unobscured by grass, its size could be appreciated.  In
the postholes discovered there, Martin has erected timbers which aid understanding the structure as a whole.  Particularly noticeable
was the alignment of posts leading away to landscape features on the horizon which would have been as prominent then as today.  He
has also marked out in concrete, the position of various burials, animal and human.

Martin led us through the summer flowers to a bowl barrow he had reconstructed (with spoil from the pond barrow) at its original
location, which had been ploughed flat over the centuries.  We could see from the peripheral concrete patches where secondary
burials had been found. Three together are probably a family group but it would require DNA testing to confirm this.  The terrain is not as steep as this view suggests.


Martin has generously allowed many seasons of excavation on his land which has provided training grounds for Wessex Archaeology
and currently for Southampton University.  We could admire the care taken in excavating each of several small pits, one of which still
had the remains of a sheep exposed at the time.

From the dazzlingly clean chalk we then returned to the shade of the Museum which could have absorbed us all afternoon but it was
Open Farm Sunday and there was an opportunity to visit the nearby Myncen Farm where excavations by the Channel 4 ‘Time Team’ had helped to investigate a large Roman building complex.




20/11/2013 Maiden Castle Walk With Chris Tripp

Dorset Diggers and guests scaled the northern ramparts of Maiden Castle on 24th November using convenient modern steps but we could see how the hillfort’s ramparts and deep ditches would have dissuaded Iron Age raiders, especially if under attack from the top.

Having reached the summit we assembled beside the stone remains of a Romano-Celtic temple and what was probably the priest’s house next door.  A coin found beneath the temple floor dates it to after 367AD but Chris outlined for us the earlier history on the hill top.

Unknown until the first archaeological excavations, this windswept spot had been the location of a Neolithic causewayed enclosure.  Throughout the Bronze Age the land was just used for agriculture but in the early Iron Age the site became one of many small hillforts in Dorset, enclosing 16 acres by a single bank and ditch.  Around 450BC the enclosed area was tripled and the ramparts enlarged to their present size but in later centuries the focus shrank back to the eastern end with some occupation outside the entrance.
Led by Vespasian, later to become Emperor, the skilled Roman army attacked many hillforts with relative ease as they conquered Southern Britain in AD43.  Despite resistance, within a few decades a town was being built where Dorchester stands today and any occupation of the hillfort had ceased.

Sheltering from the breeze at a gap in the rampart, we heard Chris explain how the smaller early hillforts nearby were abandoned when this one became enlarged, elaborated and presumably dominant.  The gateway was lined with stone and an adjacent one blocked in Roman times.  Just outside was a cemetery where victims of the Roman attack or of local skirmishes nearby were found.

At a plaque depicting Sir Mortimer Wheeler’s 1930s excavations here, his chequerboard technique was extolled as advanced although we later learned of its limitations and why sites are no longer dug in this way.  We walked along the rampart to the western end of the earlier hillfort where another plaque shows some of the finds from the excavations here. 

Passing a circular ‘hole in the ground’ where the chalk beneath has dissolved away Chris mentioned a theory which could explain the causewayed enclosure’s proximity.   A long Bank Barrow was built over the enclosure in the late Neolithic and visible along the ridge throughout the Bronze Age, possibly as a boundary marker but also perhaps aligned for astronomical sightings. 

We looked back across the ridge towards the simple early hillfort and then turned around to admire the later extension’s western entrance.   Here a complicated maze of ramparts would have allowed defenders plenty of time to gauge a threat and attack any invaders.  But with knowledge enhanced we were about to leave this amazing monument behind us, for now.

Walk to Martins Down Bank Barrow

Once again Chris Tripp has managed to find that window before the storm.  On Sunday 27th October a number of members and non-members met at Long Bredy Church in the dry for a walk up the hill in the sunshine.  Looking back we could admire a charming West Dorset view as the sunlight picked out man-made terraces along the hillside opposite.  Chris explained that these lynchets were probably of mediaeval origin but some could have been taken into cultivation post-enclosure.

We paused to observe two round barrows beside the A35.  Although generally considered to date from the Bronze Age, round barrows were being constructed in the Late Neolithic and until Saxon times.

We were soon able to get close to a bowl barrow which Chris said would normally have been built for a single burial, though they often attracted secondary burials, perhaps of people wishing to be buried with their ancestors.  Looking eastwards across the small valley Chris pointed out several more barrows and explained that the depressions in the hillside were probably natural sink holes in the chalk, though some nearby may be pond barrows.  He said these might have been seen as natural entries to the underworld as they were the site chosen for a barrow cemetery, which included a prominent disc barrow.  Chris mentioned that the large Clandon Barrow near Maiden Castle was examined by radar (unusually in elevation) and found to have been enlarged around a smaller barrow inside, and he wonders how many others were enlarged in this way.  Scheduled as Ancient Monuments very few have been excavated to modern


A short distance behind us was the longest barrow in England, not counting the one at Maiden Castle which was in two parts.  We stood at the edge of its western ditch which is still quite clear, but only a fraction of its original depth.  Rabbits had eroded the bank opposite in one place.  While long barrows usually contain Neolithic burials, bank barrows were not constructed for this purpose.

Chris thought the noticeable notch about a third of the way along this Bank Barrow was probably an original, or at least an ancient feature, although the ditches either side were not interrupted, which suggested that the barrow was all built at the same time.  He thought it might have been formed as a sighting aid to line up with a high point on the horizon.  

Leaving the Bank Barrow behind, but not the wind, we assembled at the nearby long barrow where Chris gave us some statistics on bank barrow sizes and construction.  We also heard his thoughts on long barrow construction and the possible significance of their internal features. 

Retracing our steps was easier downhill but the skies were thickening and within half an hour they had opened but we were on our way home by then, more informed and with new theories racing through our minds.

 Visit to the Ancient Technology Centre 12th October 2013

what a brilliant time we had! The visit to the Ancient Technology Centre at Cranborne was a great success.  There was such a lot to see and experience.  We started with coffee and cake in the Long House, they were delicious.  Then down to business, all of these fanctastic buildings to be investigated.  The Bronze House was first on the list. The entrance door was amazing, inside the amount of oak trees and the size of the building was a complete suprise, it was huge.


We came back later for the story telling, great fun and we now know not to go scrumping or Lazy Laurence will be after us.  He is a tiny pixie horse.

We visited the ladies making Jam and tried the fruit leather.  It was suprisingly tasty and was made from Hawthorn berries and stewed apples dried for 15 hours in a slow oven.  The Damson jam looked good too, sadly it was not ready for tasting.

In the Iron Age Hut 4 people were sat on the floor rubbing it with a wet pebble.  Not an occupation I was expecting.  The floor is made of pig dung, milk and clay.  The pebble was to fill in the cracks that were appearing.  Apparently the milk was added to the floor as it is a binding agent.

We made our way to the Blacksmith shop and managed to squeeze in to see what was going on.  It looked like an hand made nail being made and what a lot of effort was going into this.  It was too smokey to stay for long.

We looked at what we thought was any old log cabin only to be told it was a Neolithic Hut.  It was amazing and so were the joints on the corners.  This was so strong and would last a long time. Really quite a suprising building.

This stone house which is being built at present, is based on those found at Grimspound on Dartmoor.  Next time we visit it will be finished and we will be able to look around it.

It was Apple Day at the centre and the pigs were doing their bit eating all the apple pulp.


October 5th 2013 DRIFTING OFF ...
The end has come to the Drift Road excavation and we have reinstated the site leaving the tops of the walls showing for visitors to see.

Ben, Dave Vaughn and Richard wack into the spoil heap

Alison and Angela tipping and tapping

The Flint Knapping and Soil Tapping Social Club outing!

The Drift has been an excellent first project for us and a great success for the village of Maiden Newton.  We have had a village hall exhibition and now we have a small exhibition in the village cafe coming up, with photos and text.

Our next project is the training dig in the Vicarage garden and then the BIG ONE in the Spring of 2014.

Keep looking for more Dorset archaeological news.

Eggardon Hill Walk
Sunday 29th September 2013

The sun came out for our walk, and the views were beautiful.
 Our first stop on the walk was at the barrows in the adjacent field, enabling us to experience just how big they are. We discussed the various types of barrow and how lucky we are in Dorset to have so many. We stood on the Bowl Barrow looking across to the Disc Barrow, then walked to the centre of the Disc Barrow experiencing just how big it is. It seems barrows contain only one burial, and with this thought we discussed how much work went into producing them. 

Eggardon is a multivallate hill fort.  The entrance has a complex entrance system of in-turned ramparts to channel people through a narrow gap to make defence of the site more effective. The ditches are much shallower than when it was built, but even so it is possible to understand how difficult it would be to attack to site successfully.

These sites were not necessarily lived in all the time. They could have been used for ritual purposes, for production of goods, such as metal work and working Kimmeridge Shale, or as trading centres.  Eggardon has a lot of grain storage pits.  These holes in the ground were lined with clay, filled with grain and then sealed.  The gases given off preserved the grain for later use when needed. Grain pits vary in size and can be 6 – 9 feet deep and up to 6 feet in diameter.

Chris can be seen in the photo standing in the remains of the in-filled grain pit.

On the western side of the hill there is an area where building the ramparts went wrong and it collapsed.  This fact is not obvious until it is pointed out. The rampart comes to a sudden end.
See photo below.

Our very interesting walk finished on the remains of a Flint Cairn that was excavated in  1965. This was 6 – 7 feet high and contained pottery vessels, lots of sherds and 3 Bucket Urns and the cremations of 1 adult and 1 child. Without Chris and his undoubted knowledge this would be completely overlooked on a walk.

Caught Knapping - Flints

14th September 2013

Saturday 14th  saw about a dozen members bashing rocks !  No, we hadn't been given hard labour but were trying our hand at flint knapping.  Antony Whitlock from Exeter University demonstrated the manufacture of a range of tools from flint cores and flakes.  This followed on neatly from Robert's lecture of a fortnight earlier.

He began by breaking a pebble to make a chopping tool such as would probably have been made on the spot for immediate use by early man.  Later humans made more sophisticated hand axes in advance by chipping away flakes until they had made the core into a pre-determined shape.  The flakes had useful sharp edges and some would be used for making other tools.

Our tutor talked us through the knapper's thought process, showing us how he would search for or form edges with angles of less than 90 degrees and then strike a blow of just the right weight onto a convex surface where it's energy would most easily remove a long flake, such as at the end of a ridge.  This he demonstrated with aplomb.  He showed us some he'd made earlier and like a magic trick, lifted a flake from what had appeared to be a solid rock, then another from beneath it.

In later Palaeolithic times, cores were prepared especially to get more of the suitable flakes with less waste and Antony showed us a Levallois core he had made and the several layers of long flakes he had removed from it, all good blades, fitting them back like reconstructing an onion.  We saw how smaller flakes were made and used during the Mesolithic. Some of his bifacial hand axes were passed around, one being so slender as to be translucent.  By then we could see how much thought and work had gone into its production.  We also saw some examples cast in porcelain which were used as teaching aids and to study impact fractures.

Using smaller hammerstones and a soft hammer of deer antler Antony demonstrated more gentle flaking techniques, abruptly retouching an edge to form a scraper.  Still one of the most common tool types during the Bronze Age, we have found some on our Drift Road excavation.  He also demonstrated pressure flaking, for which by then bronze tipped ‘awls’ were probably used.  With its serrated edge, the hafted knife he had made would not look too out of place in a modern cutlery drawer.

Responding to questions he showed how flakes were turned into tranchet, leaf-shaped and tanged arrowheads.  We admired some complete arrows and discussed methods of extracting resin from birch bark to glue the arrowheads onto shafts, usually after lashing them on with sinews.

By then we were eager to have a go at producing a flake, so donned our goggles and each tried to remove useful pieces from a flint nodule but we needed reminding how to begin.  It is not as easy as Anthony had made it look but he helped us decide how to proceed.  If this was a skill most people would have attempted they must have been clever folk back then.


14092013 Flint Knapping.doc