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The Wilsford Shaft

  • Paul Ashbee

Excavation of the pond barrow at Normanton Gorse, Wilsford, disclosed the weathered top of a circular and vertical shaft which proved to be nearly 100 ft. in depth. Its fill, the result of natural silting processes, contained pottery in the upper part and, at the waterlogged bottom, broken wooden vessels and other objects, besides a mass of rotted wood, seeds, leaves and other organic remains. The dished and funnelled top of the shaft as well as the uneven sides were, for more than a third of their depth, the product of natural weathering. Below here distinctive antler-pick marks and the clear traces of a broad-bladed metal axe showed that the shaft had been dug in short sections, checked by template and plumbline. No positive trace of how the prehistoric engineers moved up and down their sophisticated shaft remained. Archaeological excavation, beyond the preliminary stages and under exacting and claustrophobic conditions, demanded lighting and mechanical aids. Communication and all-round control posed especial problems.

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(1) Now Mrs Proudfoot. The excavation was sponsored by the Ministry of Works (now the Ministry of Public Building and Works).

(2) VCH (Victoria County History), Wilts, I, Pt. 1, 225. Wilsford(S), 33a. Enclosed area: 42 ft. Depth: 2 ft. Outer Bank: width 12 ft. ; height: 1 ft.

(3) E.g. Arch (Archaeologià), LXXXIV, pl. xxxlx, fig. 2.

(4) Cf. J. Abercromby, The Bronze Age Pottery of Great Britain and Ireland (1912), II, pl. lxxxvi, 378.

(5) Cf. Sir John Evans, Ancient Stone Implements (1897), 464. fig. 381a.

(6) Mr G. Symcox, Bristol M.O.W.

(7) Mr T. Hargreaves, Bristol M.O.W.

(8) Antiquaries Journal, XX, 52-71.

(9) Cf. Battaglia, La palafitta del Lago di Ledro nel Trentino (1943), 44, fig. 8.

(10) Dr G. W. Dimbleby of the Commonwealth Forestry Institute, Oxford, was kind enough to examine the initial pieces. He has taken over the study of the palaeobotanical aspects of the site.

(11) Information from Mr L. Biek who most kindly arranged for the identification of this material and has taken over the technical problems connected with the conservation and restoration of the wooden vessels and artifacts.

(12) Cf. Arch., XLIII, 435, fig. 132-3.

(13) Cf. Arch., XLIII, 433, fig. 125.

(14) Mr C. Everard of the Dept. of Geography, Queen Mary College, London, has undertaken a consideration of these aspects of the site.

(15) General Pitt Rivers, Excavations in Cranbome Chase, 1, 27-8 and pls. iv and v.

(16) ANTIQUITY, 1944, 8.

(17) Helinium, 1 (1961), 18.

(18) VCH, Wilts, I, Pt. 1, 225.

(19) Archaeological Journal, CVIII, 1-24.

(20) Nicholas Thomas, A Guide to Prehistoric England (1960), 226, 54 (pl.).

(21) PPS, VII, 102.

(22) PPS, XXIII, 157, fn. 3.

(23) R. J. C. Atkinson, Stonehenge (1956), 153.

(24) ANTIQUITY, 1939, 155-8.

(25) These references to pit rites are derived from J. E. Harrison, Prologomena to the Study of Greek Religion (2nd ed., 1908), Philostratus, 125; Pausanias, 68; the Mundus, 47.

(26) Pond barrows were associated with pit digging in 1934 by Mr G. M. Young. See ANTIQUITY, 1934. 459-61.

The excavation of the Normanton Gorse, Wilsford, pond barrow in Wiltshire during the summers of 1960, ’61 and ’62 aroused very great interest, revealing as it did a circular vertical shaft nearly a hundred feet in depth. Here Mr Paul Ashbee describes the excavations which, in the 1962 season, were assisted by closed circuit television arranged by EMI Electronics Ltd.-the first time that closed circuit TV has been used in this way in the United Kingdom.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
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