top of page

Trying to analyse an earth-fast polissoir

Following on from yesterday’s outline of our planned methodological approach…

We had a good plan but, of course, archaeology rarely gives us what we expect!

The first hiccup we encountered was funding. We couldn’t convince any funding bodies to pay for the excavation or the moulding (despite having been given funding in the past), but Historic England organised their team to complete the scanning. We felt that it was critical that the moulding was conducted asap, the risk of losing data through people touching the dished surface was very high once word got out. So Dr Christina Tsoraki was very generous with her time and undertook the sampling and analysis for free.

A man in a white T shirt is standing, whilst other people are sitting on stones looking at him.
Jim's lunch time lecture at the polissoir site. Not many volunteers could dig at once, but there were lots of other ways volunteers were involved. Some were helping out Historic England with a landscape survey in the Valley and would come across to see how things were going.

As you can imagine the costs for the post -excavation processing, and all those sampling techniques outlined in my previous blog were high. Without funding we were a bit stuck so had to downsize our plans. We settled on a much smaller excavation that was funded by Past Participate’s small reserves, and all staff on the excavation donated their time. We only excavated a preliminary area, leaving the soils and lower areas fully intact and undisturbed so that we can retrieve all the samples at a later date. This reduced the post-excavation requirements but has meant that we still haven’t answered some of the questions we really want to know.

It did however have the bonus of allowing us to see the conditions beneath the ground surface so we can plan better for the next, bigger excavation which we hope will come soon (keep reading to find out how you can help us with this). The density of sarsen boulders meant that stone covered most of the trench only 15cm below the ground surface. Consequently, digging in a normal way wasn’t possible and was restricted to small pockets of soil between the boulders. This also slowed things down considerably, which was useful to know for future planning. It will also give problems when it comes to taking some of the samples but now we can prepare for that.

What did we find?

Despite the setbacks we did, however, find something exciting things. Yes, we only went and found A FRAGMENT OF A POLISHED STONE AXE HEAD!! Yes, the very thing that they made using the polissoir. This is such an exciting thing to find that I will write much more about it in tomorrow’s blog entry (it’s a busy week for me 😊).

We also found

-        several pieces of struck flint, including a scraper that might be early Neolithic (but we need to have another look to be certain)

-        a 2.5cm square piece of iron bar, possibly a blade fragment. This could be Iron Age, considering its depth but it is also possible it is much later in age.

-        several pieces of early modern pottery. These were found near the boundary with the next field. Early OS maps show a rectangular building in the adjacent field in the 19th century, so the pottery could relate to that.

-        the cap from a shotgun cartridge.


Of course, we are desperate to go back and finish the excavation, and so are all the participants in the project. Imagine if we can find more stone axes! How much more can we learn about this unique discovery?

There is a large stone in the foreground, behind which is a soil surface. This has small squares dug into it, in alternate lines, leaving squares of soil between each hole.
The chequer board effect created by digging 25cm squares. Beneath this year we found lots of natural sarsen stones


However, we can’t do anything else until we have some more funding to pay, not only for the excavation but all the analysis as well. As an indicator, one OSL date costs around £700, and we need to get a series in order to ensure reliability. Radiocarbon dates cost about £300, flotation will take a couple of days of a specialist’s time and then they will need to spend several days with a microscope looking at the samples (at least £300 per day). In total we think that this very scientific and expensive, but crucial, part of the project will cost several thousand pounds. We are continuing to apply for grants to help with this, and for a much bigger landscape project covering the whole of the Valley of Stones. This project will include lots of different ways to participate and learn but we will need to raise £20,000 of match funding ourselves.

Therefore, we have launched a crowdfunding appeal, with an initial target of £2000, and a focus to help get the polissoir dated.

We are encouraging members of the public to Sponsor a Sarsen. The polissoir stone is within the Valley of Stones, an area littered with sarsen stones (at least 1465 of them). As part of our wider research our volunteers are conducting a survey of these stones, recording their distribution and looking for any other evidence of prehistoric or later activity. For a donation (we suggest £25) you will not only contribute towards learning as much as we can about the polissoir stone but we will name one of these sarsen stones after you (or multiple stones if you’re feeling very generous). We produce written reports on all of our research, and we will include a map showing ‘your stone’, labelled with your name when we write up this piece of research.

To Sponsor a Sarsen please go to the home screen and click on the donate button.

To get involved in our projects please message via the ‘contact us’ button.

A wide, grassy valley is visible with lots of sarsen stones in the foreground of the photo
The Valley of Stones © Historic England

226 views0 comments


bottom of page