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Digging deeper – week 1 of the Wooston excavation

We’re approaching the end of our first week of the Wooston Castle excavation so it seemed like a good time to visit the dig and get an update on progress. Despite the fact that the hillfort was shrouded in clouds and being hammered by rain early this morning the view that unfolded before me was incredible. The transformation since my last visit three days ago was staggering.

Aerial photos show the scale of the Wooston Castle dig and the progress made so far.

Our two areas of investigation are both visible in the top picture – the cross section of the embankment is in the center of the picture and the 1m trench across the possible charcoal platform above and to the right.


Simon, who is managing the dig from AC Archaeology, showed me around the cross section of the embankment and explained that the team has now reached the bottom of the ditch. The height from the top of the embankment to the base of the ditch has been revealed to be 7 metres, 4 metres down from where we started. If you take into account that the embankment has slumped, evidenced by the amount of stone in the ditch, it was probably also at least 1 metre higher when constructed. Having witnessed how physically demanding the staff and volunteers are finding the excavation, the enormity of the construction undertaken c.2500 years ago is really striking. At times we have had to call in a mechanical excavator to help, a luxury certainly not afforded to them. They would have been digging with implements made of antler horn and stone.

The depth of the embankment – the team dug down 4 metres before they reached the bottom of the ditch.

The amount of spoil they have removed is staggering!


Interestingly, throughout the site the biggest embankments are at the most visible points. The embankment directly opposite Prestonbury Hillfort for example, is large and then tapers off into almost nothing around the corner (out of sight). The proximity of the embankment that we are excavating to the main entranceway is therefore likely to explain its size.


As expected we have not uncovered any finds but are excited to be building a more complete picture of the size and extent of the hillfort. The lack of finds and the limited accumulation of silt is likely to be due to the gradient of the ditch. This slopes downhill, meaning it would have been a free flowing water course, so there are no lived deposits. However, an earlier, associated ditch has been uncovered. A small extension is currently being dug to explore this further. A further extension trench is also being dug at the back of the embankment. It is hoped that this extension will join up with a smaller ditch which is at a right-angle to the main embankment and that any relationship between the two can be established.

The earlier, associated, ditch being investigated.

Starting work on the extension trench that will hopefully join up our embankment cross section with a smaller ditch which is at a right-angle to the main embankment.


The second area of investigation is a platform, quite possibly using for charcoal burning. The aim is to confirm this hypothesis, establish how it was constructed and how it was used. So on Wednesday volunteers started to open up a 1 metre trench by taking the forest soil off (this involved lots of cursing of the roots). The trench extends from the slope the platform was cut from, across the platform itself, and down to the spread of waste. Two phases of charcoal deposition have been found: a first layer of residual material with big chunky pieces of charcoal, a thin line of soil, and then a second layer of charcoal. Samples of the charcoal from both the areas will now be tested. From these we should be able to identify what wood was used (and therefore establish whether they were selectively burning and what tree species made up the surrounding forest).

Samples of the charcoal bagged up and ready to be analysed.

The two charcoal deposits separated by a thin layer of soil.


The next week will be a busy one on site as the volunteers and staff will be joined by pupils from some of the local schools keen to learn more about their local history. More updates will follow on the blog.

By Eleanor Lewis, Community Engagement Officer – Fingle Woods

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