A small team of present and former students from the Archaeology Department at Reading University spent a week at the beginning of June 2015 recording an experimental earthwork, at the Science Museum Group facility at Wroughton in Swindon.
The octagonal earthwork was constructed in 1985 by the world renowned experimental archaeologist Dr Peter Reynolds. Reynolds died prematurely in 2001 and not much has been published on the results of this experiment. The excavation 30 years after the earthwork’s construction was prompted by the forthcoming removal of three-quarters of the earthwork in order to build a solar farm. It was clearly important to record the changes to the earthwork over the last 30 years, as a result of weathering, vegetation colonisation, faunal and other processes.
This is the sixth earthwork to have been investigated using similar methods by the writer. The excavations have demonstrated that changes to buried soils, for instance, occur very rapidly after burial, such that a thirty year old buried soil has many characteristics of one buried for millennia. So experiments lasting as little as 30 years are a valuable guide as to how the archaeological and palaeoenvironmental record has formed. The ditch sediments at Wroughton showed evidence for annual banding over the first 5 or 6 years of sedimentation in some but not all sections. This could be potentially interesting in identifying the seasonality of placed deposits in the primary fills of prehistoric ditches. We hope to do some follow up analysis on the buried soils if funding can be found.
By Professor Martin Bell
Read more about Martin at his staff profile.