Return to Max Gate

The front door is open and from where I kneel in the trench, cleaning chalk, I can hear the sound of the piano tune…a Victorian Romance.

The view across the reopened trench looking across to the front door of Max Gate

Sue talks to her group. She tells of Thomas the architect, his trip to Cornwall and how he met Emma and they fell in love (‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’).

Max Gate their home in later life after Hardy had established himself as a writer.

A voice from above.

‘You’re back then’

I stand to reply.

‘In the end I had to. We found no dating evidence in July. I thought that… before the trenches are hidden… by new grass or the new front drive.. there was still a window of opportunity to take some samples.’

I say the three tongue twister words again… optically stimulated luminescence…dating from quartzite crystals.

Taking the OSL sample from the ditch section the tube is right of the red marker.

I find the best point in the prehistoric? ditch section …and hammer a black plastic pipe into it.

Not easy… as several times it judders to a halt ..on hidden flint nodules.

In the end I got two 20cm long samples, wrapped them in labelled parcel tape and marked the locations on my section drawing. Then I walk back through the garden and into the paddock to find Pete in the pit.

Sarah had dug some of this in July …but like the front door ditch, the excavated filling contained nothing really to date it… just a few flint flakes and one fragment of pottery. Nothing organic though to get a C14 date.

On the first morning, we’d measured along the trench edge, marked out a 3m square and re-exposed the pit. This time, extending the old trench line by a metre to get the full outline of the pit cutting.

The pit after re-excavation to point we left it in July apart from our metre extension (top of photo)

In July, I’d thought the pit was circular and I had a feeling it might be an Iron Age grain storage pit…nice but about 2500 years too recent. In our extension we discovered that it was oval in plan…not so Iron Age after all.

Now, on our second day and almost 1m down Pete has found a larger chunk of pottery and two patches of charcoal. The sherd.. could be Neolithic… and the charcoal would give a date but there were 3 hours left to get as deep as possible.

The pit section 1m deep with the collapsed weathered chalk at the edges. The darker middle fill contained a fragment of prehistoric pottery and two small patches of charcoal contained in the plastic finds bags.

The filling was now collapsed chalk from the weathered sides of the pit with less chance of artefacts being found amongst it.

We talked again about the 1980s excavations which uncovered the west half of the circular Middle Neolithic enclosure… now swept away by road construction.

Back then, some of the pit and ditch sections had smooth chalk walls and these had been inscribed with exceptionally rare… maze-like art or graffiti.

I left that thought in the air as I walked back to the garden.

The home the great writer Thomas Hardy designed for himself..Max Gate. The circular parch mark in front of the bench and megalith found during the 1980s excavation and donated to Max Gate. Linear parch mark to right leading to parched area in foreground.

The dry weather had created parch marks which I plotted on the site plan. One 3m diameter circular parch mark was found in the front lawn near a diagonal linear feature and opposite the megalith left at Max Gate from the 1980s excavation.

Back again to the paddock and there was time to sieve the soil from the pit.

This revealed a few more struck flint flakes, a couple of snail shells and another small black piece of thin pottery. The ceramic specialist will analyse the fabric of our three sherds from the pit and pass judgement on their age.

Pete was now 1.4m down and we’d run out of time. He’d found two smooth faces of chalk stepped one above the other and a section of darker soil at the deepest level.

“Anything on the chalk? What do you see?”

“There are marks… but generally it looks quite smooth”

We changed places. I jumped down. Pete passed down a finds bag and I troweled a soil sample into it. There was definitely charcoal and ash in the darker material. Hopefully enough for a radiocarbon date.

Then I looked at the vertical face of the pit wall.

In all directions… angled down and sideways, the rounded pointed ends of marked indentations. In that intimate, deep place.. hidden for 5,000 years…now uncovered for an hour…

On the smooth chalk face of the pit numerous pointed indentations the impact blows of the antler pick. Traces of a darker chalky soil with ash beneath the chalk rubble filling.

I imagined our fellow digger.. armed not with a 4 inch cast steel pointing trowel but swinging his red deer antler pick again and again against the chalk and leaving this evidence behind….

and just above the chalk rubble, still filling the pit, there were traces (perhaps) of vertical inscribed lines… but further excavation was needed…

The pit at the limit of its excavation. The ranging rod divisions 0.2m.

Just the two of us saw it. We’d run out of time. We drew the section and took the photographs and buried it… but … yes….we now had what we needed.

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