In HistoryPewsey

Marden Henge
By Emma Kirkup

It’s a well-known fact that Wiltshire is a very historical place. There are a lot of mysteries surrounding the history of this county most notably from the henges of Stonehenge and Avebury which form the famous World Heritage Site. Wiltshire is also home to another 'Superhenge', Marden Henge, which sits near to Devizes in the Vale of Pewsey.

Marden Henge is the largest henge in the country and forms an area of more than 30 acres. A small part was originally excavated in the 1960s by Geoffrey Wainwright. After that, the site remained relatively overlooked until in 2010 when a further excavation confirmed that the site of the Hatfield Barrow - this would have looked similar to Silbury Hill and been around 15 metres tall.

In 2015, the University of Reading began further digs in the henge and uncovered several amazing Neolithic arrow heads as well as the body of a 14 year old boy in what was described as a Beaker burial.

This month, new excavations at the site are underway and I had the opportunity to go along with Wiltshire Museum to see what was happening.

I joined onto a tour that Wiltshire Museum were running. Although I started at lunchtime, the rest of the group had spent the morning finding out about the site and the fascinating story of the archaeology of the area and seeing some of the remarkable finds from the previous digs. After a spot of lunch, I headed with the group in a minibus destined for the dig site.

Knap Hill, Wiltshire

On the way, our driver, Mark (who works for the museum) stopped us at a small car park on the edge of Knap Hill - a Neolithic causewayed camp. Here he pointed out Adam’s Grave – a Neolithic burial mound, as well as evidence from the Bronze Age as well as Saxon and Medieval history that could all be seen in the landscape. It’s pretty amazing to think all this history is just there. There were a lot of walkers in the area and I wondered how many of them were aware at just how much heritage they were walking past – pretty fascinating really!

As we arrived at the henge, we were greeted by some of the students that are working there. Most of the students are in their first year but we were introduced to the site by a graduate who had been involved in the excavations both this summer and in 2015. Her knowledge and passion of the area was very impressive and I really got the feeling that they were all very excited over the things they were discovering here.

Marden Henge

We were taken to various areas within the henge that were being excavated for different reasons. The first trench was pretty large and we had the opportunity to see pottery that had been unearthed just ten minutes beforehand.

At the second site, (at the main entrance to the henge) we saw where they are trying to find a gravel track which may have led from the henge to the River Avon nearby.

Hatfield Henge

The third dig site was the Hatfield henge – a henge within the henge. The excavations here were to look at the centre of this mysterious earthwork. It had been excavated in Victorian times and so far, they had been finding various Victorian things! However, they had also found some antlers in a pit and were trying to establish what these would have been used for. These were very exciting finds as antlers are perfect for scientific dating.

The final trench we visited was an environmental one which was to look at the various layers alongside the river that would tell the story of the changes in climate and vegetation over the last 12,000 years. Pretty amazing to thing that there are thousands of years of soil in front of you. They had found some cow hoof prints in some of the clay here which were possibly medieval.

After this, we walked back to the finds area where the various discoveries were being recorded. The students showed us some of the finds from both this year and 2015 including bronze age arrows, flints and some pottery, some of which we had the opportunity to handle.

Holding history

There is only a week or so left of the 2016 dig however the University is likely to return here in 2017. If you are interested in history then I’d certainly recommend a visit and there are still a few spaces on the special visits being run by the Wiltshire Museum. In the meantime you can learn more about the discoveries by visiting the award-winning museum.


Wiltshire Museum
Neolithic Axe Display

Discover gold from the time of Stonehenge, find out more about ancient Wiltshire, including the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. Plus displays and exhibitions exploring the history of Wiltshire from earliest times to the present.



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