Archaeology project in Amesbury

This Is Wiltshire: Project Leader David Jacques (right foreground) supervises students Project Leader David Jacques (right foreground) supervises students

WHILE internationally-sponsored archaeological work at Stonehenge and Durrington Walls has seized the public interest, Amesbury’s very own project has unobtrusively continued just a short distance away.

For the last three years, a small and dedicated Open University-led team of professionals, undergraduate students and local residents has been evaluating a small natural basin surrounding a spring on the western edge of the town near the Iron Age fort known as Vespasian’s Camp.

The site has been given the informal title of Blick Mead after the field name found on nineteenth century estate and tithe maps.

Their work, on private land on the margin of Abbey Parkland, has revealed a human presence from as early as the Neolithic period, through the Middle Ages to the present day.

The site occupies an area about the size of two tennis courts, and overlooks the River Avon to the south. Its proximity to the ancient Harroway trackway and the Stonehenge Avenue suggests it was close to the centre of key transport links and human movement to the area.

Peter Goodhugh from The Amesbury Society, said: “Vespasian's Camp was probably outlined in bright white chalk in prehistory, and would have been visible for miles around, thus linking it with major barrow groups across Salisbury Plain.

“It is increasingly clear the fort would have been a most prominent marker until it was landscaped in the second half of the 18th century, when many of its ancient stories were also ‘covered over’.

“In the Saxon period, and perhaps for many centuries before, Amesbury and its environs were part of the royal estates.” Finds at this parkland site have included prehistoric flint artefacts, an Iron Age boundary formed by hedging or fencing, Roman glass, and horse bones.

A track paved with flint cobbles leading down to the water was uncovered, and a small part of the level margin of the spring-carved basin is packed with small chalk cobbles. With the spring in use for at least four thousand years, the area must have been quite a thoroughfare, and was, perhaps, a place of ritual in the Neolithic and Bronze ages, connected to the wider Stonehenge landscape.

In Roman and later periods, it may have witnessed settlement or industry.

“Many aspects of the site remain a fascinating puzzle, and only further investigation will allow the fullest possible story to be revealed,” said Mr Goodhugh.

While digs with international acclaim can command significant funding, this one has to rely on £500 a time, to allow long-weekend evaluations, with people making voluntary contributions to keep the work going.

Wider information on the project can be found on the Open University website at www.open.ac.uk/Arts/classtud/amesbury/index.

Project leader, David Jacques, will be giving a talk on the background to and progress of The Amesbury Project at the Methodist Church Hall, High Street, Amesbury, on January 23 from 7.30pm. Admission is £2.

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