This is about the Cerne Abbas Giant… and if you have stuck with these blogs or indeed have just bumped into them…
you join us late on day 3.
The scene is a windy gloomy hillside in central Dorset
The diggers assemble from the four trenches.
They gravitate towards Trench B.where Carol is investigating the sole of the Giant’s right foot….Nancy rises up from the left foot (Trench A) and Pete and I pull ourselves out of our excavations and slide down the hill from the elbows. C is carved into the club wielding right arm and I am at D, the outstretched arm.
How do our trenches compare? We sip tepid coffee from cooling thermos flasks. The sun is sinking.
Yes, we each have the three compacted chalk layers 2019, 2008 and 1995 pummelled by steel tampers once wielded by National Trust rangers, volunteers and wardens. They crush the top of a 0.3m deep cutting, filled with ‘kibbled’ fragments, placed there perhaps in two phases 1979 and 1956 courtesy of E.W Beard, contractors of Swindon. They first proved their worth as the re-chalkers of the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire (another National Trust property). The Ministry of Works recommended them.
Further down, below a rammed layer lies the chunky chalk. I have it 0.2m deep but the others have lost much of theirs. Cut away by the kibbled events. Below this is the thin crust which caves into the soft silty chalk… we all have this up to 0.1m deep.
Carol says this scrapes away onto the more solid pasty chalk. I mention the bluey brown film on the top of this and we all nod sagely.
Peter interjects “but what of the lower chunky chalk”.
We are amazed… beneath the ‘pasty’ layer there lies a greater and deeper chunky chalk with lumps just as large as in the upper deposit…but this time… mixed with flint nodules. When this is dug out…. it is up to 0.3m deep and probing through this we hit proper geological chalk.
“How will you know when you find ‘the natural chalk?” asked Beth,’ the cake-maker’, on Nancy’s birthday.
Nancy and I gave each other a knowing look. “it rings” we say “scrape it with a trowel…. and it rings”
They call it easing the Spring. It is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb; like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have naming of parts. (Henry Reed)
Lovely text and photos. Great to see the giant close up: most of us will only have gazed upon him from the road. Look forward to learning more about your results in due course.
Excavating on chalk mostly feels easy, but you can sometimes get caught out, especially when the “natural” has been cryoturbated and broken up with silt. When we re-excavated some postholes at the Sanctuary in Avebury some years ago, we hit hard rock at the bottom of them all. The site was left for a bit before backfilling, and when I’d gone back to check something out I had a poke around with my trowel and was surprised to discover that in one pit, what had looked exactly like chalk rock on the bottom, around the edges where it had weathered could be prised out and was in fact very compact Neolithic fill. The experience led me to think there are probably other postholes on the site with fill still in place, in the case of one ring (the outer one) possibly quite a lot
Yes, it is difficult to be sure of the bedrock with chalk.. especially on a frost-shattered surface. Sometimes there are natural fissures filled with clay and chalk silt and ancient tree root holes. Finding the true archaeological cuttings is often problematic. Us Wessex archaeologists shouldn’t grumble though…a white background is a bit of a gift. On sandy heathland soils the stratigraphy is virtually invisible.
With best wishes