6,000-year-old vegetation found

Salisbury Journal: Dr Helen Wickstead Dr Helen Wickstead

A SINK hole discovered by archaeologists in Damerham may hold vital information about the plant species thriving there 6,000 years ago.

An archaeology team led by a Kingston University academic has been working on the Neolithic site for six years.

Four areas of the temple complex were excavated during the summer, and in the largest of the openings, which was about 40 metres long, careful extractions revealed a layer of uncharacteristic orange sand and clay.

Usually the archaeological survey would involve mapping and cataloguing finds such as bone, pottery and tool-making waste fragments. Instead the team, led by Dr Helen Wickstead, found plant remains.

Dr Wickstead said the find was completely unexpected and had initially confused the team digging on the farmland.

She said: “The site at Damerham is on chalk land, so we don’t often find materials like this that capture and preserve the plant remains from a specific time period.”

It was evident that prehistoric people living in the area had also come across the sink hole and excavated the material during their own construction work.

A pile of matching waste material was also seen at one of the other mounds.

The prehistoric temple complex at Damerham is unusual because of the number of different structures in one area.

Dr Wickstead added: “The diversity of burial architecture here is intriguing. What is special about this place that meant generation after generation returned to the site?”

A variety of scientific techniques, including geophysical imaging which uses electrical currents to test the density of materials below the surface, have been used.

Evidence of archaeological remains at Damerham was first detected in 2003, when English Heritage’s senior aerial survey investigator Martyn Barber spotted crop marks in a photograph.

The different colours visible in the crops indicated there were historical earthworks just beneath the soil and Dr Wickstead teamed up with Mr Barber to begin the long process of trying to find out more about the site.

Dr Wickstead said: “Doing the dig is only a tiny portion of the work required to document these important sites, but it is the more urgent part because erosion by farming and other environmental factors will gradually diminish what’s there.”

She added: “This will help tell us more about how the people of this period lived and died in Damerham more than 6,000 years ago.”

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