Dorstone Digs!

Welcome to Dorstone Digs!

This year sees the seventh season of excavations at Dorstone Hill. We hope that you will follow our daily posts about the work and people involved and get a sense of what goes on during an excavation. For those of you who are not familiar with the site or project, we have a short history of the excavations.

The excavations on Dorstone Hill began in 2011  and were aimed at exploring a number of possible Neolithic hilltop enclosures in the uplands between the Golden Valley and the Wye Valley in south-west Herefordshire. The project is a collaboration between the University of Manchester and Herefordshire Archaeology.

The most significant findings from these early excavations were on Dorstone Hill. The team found what they thought to be a huge bank cutting off a spur of the hilltop, perhaps made with the intent of creating a ‘promontory enclosure’. In terms of dating this,  the evidence suggested a Neolithic or New Stone Age date.

Two polished stone axes found during excavations.

Since then, excavations have focused on Dorstone Hill itself and have showed more clearly that what the team had found was actually a series of three long mounds, arranged end to end.  Each of the mounds had very different characteristics, for example, the central mound had been composed of a mass of burnt clay and timber, whilst the easternmost mound had a linear timber chamber which was constructed between two very large postholes. After the eastern mound had been built a series of stone-built chambers had been inserted into the side of the mounds when the cairn was constructed.  Later still, a pit had been dug into the eastern mound. In it, the team found a flint axe and a fine flaked knife. In addition to this the mound had a forecourt, and a stone axe had been placed there in prehistory.

Looking eastward along the mound in 2016.

The third, or western mound, had not escaped the ravages of time or people.  Its southern side showed evidence of extensive stone robbing from some time in the post-medieval period, and it had also been heavily damaged by bulldozing during WW2. It wasn’t all bad news, as what was left of the mound revealed a core of intensely burnt daub and clay which contained some fairly substantial fragments of burnt timber. Two years ago  further excavations on the western mound revealed more extensive traces of an underlying timber building. On the northern side and along the eastern edge of the mound, a structure was defined postholes. The interpretation made by the archaeologists was that this building was probably slightly trapezoidal in shape and approximately 17 x 30 metres in size – so not a small structure!

Probably the most unexpected finding of the excavations so far is that the mounds appear to built over the remains of one or more timber buildings.  Postholes and stakeholes have been found beneath the central mound, while burned structural timbers have been identified in several locations. As Professor Thomas has said:

“The structures at Dorstone Hill are remarkable in a series of respects. It is most unusual to have a series of long mounds arranged end-to-end (although comparisons might be made with the long barrows at the Thickthorn terminal of the Dorset Cursus). More unusual is the architectural diversity of these mounds, with different chamber forms, and the distinction between timber palisade and stone wall. But most unique is the way in which the fabric of ‘houses of the living’ has been incorporated into that of ‘houses of the dead’, so that the barrows serve to commemorate not only past human generations but also the ‘house’ as a social and physical entity.”

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The Dorstone Hill Project is directed by Prof. Julian Thomas (Manchester University) and Dr Keith Ray (Nexus Heritage), with the assistance of Tim Hoverd (Herefordshire Archaeology), Dr Nick Overton and Dr Irene Garcia Rovira (Manchester University).

If you have a question about the project or this year’s excavations, please get in touch using the form below and we’ll do our best to answer it!