The Later Prehistoric Norfolk Project will be exploring a range of prehistoric monuments, from the Early Neolithic through to the end of the Iron Age, to better resolve the dating of the county’s monument sequence. Some of these monuments are threatened directly by climate change and others remain in the plough zone. This year’s work will focus on Arminghall Henge (NHER 6100; SAM 1003985) and its immediate monumental landscape. Field work will be carried out in August and September and will include geophysical survey followed by targeted investigations through excavation and sampling. At Arminghall itself we will be re-excavating JG Clarke’s trenches dug in 1935. The priority will be a better understanding of the monument’s date, phasing and environmental setting, to achieve this we will be sampling for a range of environmental indicators and dating materials.
Norfolk possesses some of the country’s most famous prehistoric monuments, including the Early Bronze Age double timber circles at Holme next-the-Sea (both dated to the summer of 2049 BCE) and the world-famous Late Neolithic flint mine at Grimes Graves. Few of the earlier monuments have been explored in detail. Other sites of key interest have had minimal exploration, including Arminghall Henge. Overall, Norfolk’s later prehistoric sites are under-researched. This is partially the result of a bias in visibility. Many sites have been flattened by or for cultivation. In recent decades remote sensing and aerial photography have provided an increasingly rich picture of Norfolk’s past landscapes. The National Mapping Project and more recently LIDAR have provided the potential for transforming our understanding of these early hidden landscapes. This project will focus on dating a range of monuments including two that have been previously investigated, Arminghall and Warham. This will provide a starting point for a better understanding of the development of monument types during later prehistory in Norfolk.
Arminghall Henge was discovered by Wing Commander Insall V.C. on the 18th June 1929. Insall previously identified Woodhenge, Wiltshire in 1925, and the new site became known as the second Woodhenge, or the Norfolk Woodhenge. O.G.S. Crawford announced its discovery in the pages of Antiquity with some fanfare and was able to confidently suggest that it was a henge, drawing on his knowledge of recent work at Woodhenge carried out by Maud Cunnington. Arminghall sits at the confluence of the rivers Tas and Yare surrounded by ring-ditches and barrows within one of the densest collections of Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age monuments in Eastern England. The Henge sits on the 5m contour just above a drainage area that is predicted to be subject to extensive flooding by 2050 brought on through climate change. This may scour the area putting the monument under threat and destroying geoarchaeological information pertaining to its environmental context.
Grahame Clark undertook excavations at Arminghall Henge in 1935 stating that it, and its surrounding monuments, were under threat from development. Indeed, this Neolithic and Bronze Age monumental landscape had been under threat for many centuries from intensive ploughing and latterly lay in the path of modern infrastructure beginning with the cutting of the L.N.E.R. train line. The increasing provision of electricity to Norwich proved the greatest of threats to the monument itself and its immediate surroundings with a pylon placed near the entrance to the monument around the time of the excavation. Later a large substation was constructed to the north of the henge destroying two barrows/ring ditches in the 1950s, with further construction removing more in the 1960s. The area was further impacted by the construction of the Norwich Southern Bypass linking the A47 during the 1990s.
The henge lies on a gravel terrace in a natural bowl, a typical setting for such monuments, within a ‘circular’ landscape surrounded by views of higher ground. With all the modern infrastructure surrounding and the City of Norwich lying on high ground to the north it now takes some imagination to consider the setting of the henge and to understand its relationship to the surrounding contemporary prehistoric landscape, but the work of the Norfolk National Mapping Programme has brought this landscape to life, at least in two dimensions. A challenge is to make this prehistoric landscape more accessible to people not immersed in archaeology; a future aim is to visualise the relationships between monuments within this landscape.
The project is being run by the Centre for Archaeology and Heritage at the Sainsbury Institute, UEA with help from a range of archaeologists and grant aided by the Society of Antiquaries London and the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society.
Volunteer opportunities are on a first come first served basis and will consist of getting involved in both the desk-based and fieldwork aspects of the project. A key aim is further interpreting the available LIDAR information to better consider the setting of the monument. There will be some opportunities to re-explore the aerial photographic record too. Much of the work this year will be focused on re-excavating the Henge itself and obtaining new dating and environmental samples along with the collection of further artefacts. There will also be geoarchaeological exploration of the river valley in which the Henge sits.
If you are interested in talking part in this year’s investigations please contact the project director Andy Hutcheson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please state your archaeological experience to date and your interests. Applications should be no more than 500 words.
For a chat about getting involved, please contact Andy on 01603 597507.