Dorset Diggers have been arranging visits to interesting archaeological sites in Dorset

      Nov 2015 Knowlton Rings


We visited Knowlton Rings in the heavy rain. Rick Kemp met us he has been researching the area. We went on to the Ancient Technology Centre. After our visit David Northam stopped by and took these pictures in the sunshine. 







07/12/2014 Neolithic/Bronze age sites above Portesham

David Northam led a group of Dorset Diggers along the South Dorset Ridgeway to see the remains of a megalithic burial chamber known as The Grey Mare and her Colts.  Formerly covered by an earthen mound which has long since disappeared, this structure would have housed the disarticulated skeletal remains of those controlling the surrounding landscape for several generations.  Some of the bones would probably have been used in ceremonies, possibly in the forecourt area here.

The chamber itself is constructed of sarsen stones dragged up from the valley below but its large flat stone roof has collapsed in.  The crescent shaped façade around the forecourt is also of sarsens and another was positioned to block the entrance to the chamber once and for all.  The neolithic monument was examined by archaeologist Stuart Piggott in 1945 and a peristalith was found to have existed around its western end.   

Leaving the lone sheep that took an interest in us and continuing west towards the rainbow, we were soon at a ring of stones 27.7m in diameter.  Set up about 1800BC they are now all recumbent but one had remained standing upright as recently as the 18th century AD.  Everyone stood at one of the eighteen stones for this picture of the Kingston Russell Stone Circle. 

We next examined a depression marked as an ancient ‘Pit dwelling’ or ‘Hut Circle’ on the maps but which is probably a dew pond constructed in recent centuries.  Adjacent to this on Tenants Hill is an enigmatic enclosure which is prehistoric, probably older than the nearby round barrow and even the stone circle.  There could just possibly be part of a processional way leading towards it.  The view from here reaches beyond Lyme Regis and up towards the Valley of Stones.  On the opposite side of the valley is Old Warren.   Having experienced a brief shower we decided not to explore the valley but to retrace our steps whilst assessing the weather.

All were keen to continue the walk eastwards and admire the view south to the sea beyond Portesham.  We stopped at an excellent view-point and assembled around the prehistoric Hampton Stone Circle which had been augmented to 28 by stones from the modern field walls until Geoffrey Wainwright excavated the site in 1965, finding the original 8 or 9 sockets and proving that the circle was only really 6.5m in diameter.

Passing Hampton Barn, we went through a brand new stile and made our way to another chambered tomb known as the Hell Stone.  This had been reconstructed in 1866 in the manner of a dolmen, a style more prevalent much further west, but had originally been a long barrow more like our first monument and on a similar alignment.

Having returned to our meeting point some members then partook of a well-deserved Sunday lunch at the nearby public house.  Thanks go to David for an entertaining and enlightening walk.

25/10/2014 Roman Road Works

At the end of October Dorset Diggers were taken by Peter Laurie to see some exposed roman masonry and engineering works.  An unexpected growth of vegetation and recent rainfall sadly obscured the first structure from all but the most intrepid of us.  Fortunately the next structure was at the top of the hill and the draining water now helped us locate it and probably others nearby.   

The structures were culverts almost certainly built by the romans to channel water beneath their roads.  This main road led to Exeter and clearly the culverts still function well, here draining onto the adjacent mediaeval track.        


We followed the later track, in places a hollow-way, back to the modern road.  This had been built up to level, well above the natural surface on one side.  Such engineering work has been recognised at places all along the roman roads.  Saving the best until last we were able to see right through a culvert which appears to have been built in flint walling by roman engineers.  Its flat stone roof still supports the modern B road.


The road passes Waddon Hill so members spent the rest of the afternoon at the site of the Roman Fort discovered in the 1960s.

03/08/2014 Mesolithic Site Portland

Dorset Diggers went ‘abroad’ on Sunday 3rd August to visit the Isle of Portland where for many years a small team from The Association for Portland Archaeology has been providing fascinating clues to life there during the Mesolithic period on a site at Culverwell. 

The excavation leader, renowned archaeologist Susann Palmer gave us a comprehensive insight into her findings which have shown that in the right situation even Mesolithic people were prepared to settle down all year round in the right spot.  And on a day like this who could blame them.

                                                                                                                                       Location, location.

The weather is not always so kind and evidence had been found for a few shelters, of branches with hides or turves, having been built facing away from the winter gales.  Also some of the earliest masonry building in Britain – a windbreak wall built of Portland stones. 

For drainage, the huts had been erected on top of a floor of local limestone slabs that had been collected and laid over a natural gulley that had been filled with rubbish, affording good drainage.  We were able to see some of this floor still exposed within a purposely constructed building.

                                                                                                         The Mesolithic floor indoors once more.

We saw where a ritual deposit had been placed beneath the floor, in a stone-lined hole dug into the rubbish midden and covered by a larger stone, with a large cobble marking the spot. 

Also visible was one of several hearths that were discovered and a pit which was probably used for cooking amongst other things. 


                                                   They Kept the Home Fires Burning near this cooking pit

From the very ancient past we made our way to the current excavation site which is exposing much more recent features.  Martin Blundell explained that the natural geology also includes thin flat slabs of limestone which at first sight look like a floor.  Areas within the excavation do not appear to have these slabs so they are being explored.  One such area, partially half-sectioned, is a feature lined with upright slabs which may turn out to be a burial cist. 


                                                                                       Watch this space.

Geophysical survey suggests there may be a track-way across the field which leads towards an iron age feature further south but this has not yet been tested by excavation.

Part of a linear feature filled with stones has been uncovered nearby which might prove to be a field drain but could possibly be something else.  Running alongside is a more enigmatic structure, possibly another drain or the remains of a wall.  Although quite shallow, the features are undisturbed by ploughing but so far only a few sherds of salt-glazed and lead-glazed mediaeval pottery have been found so their age is still a mystery and the work goes on.


                                                                                     Work in progress

19/10/2014 Roman Villa, Druce Farm

On Sunday 29th June 19 members and friends visited the ongoing excavation at the Roman villa site of Druce Farm on their open day. This is the third and final year of excavation led by East Dorset Antiquarian Society with widespread participation from many other groups.

Lilian Ladle showed us round, explaining how the villa was laid out on three sides of a courtyard. The quality of the mosaics and building materials show this would have belonged to a very wealthy family.

It was particularly interesting to understand how careful recording of the archaeological layers could shed light on the villa’s final decline. The beautiful mosaic floor was covered with a dark layer, then lots or Roman roof tiles with wall debris on top of that. The dark layer turned out to be composed of barn owl droppings as it was full of tiny animal bones. Pottery evidence showed the villa was in use at least until the sixth century but at some point it was abandoned to the owls for many years until the roof collapsed and finally the walls fell in. We saw the latest finds being processed including oyster shells which illustrate a Roman taste for seafood.

The site will be backfilled at the end of this year but there is another chance to visit on Saturday 19th July. The EDAS website has more