The Flints of High Wood, Kingston Lacy

The excavation in High Wood has just been published.

It reminds me of the day I swung into Badbury Rings car park to ‘Whiskey in the Jar’.

Love the sound of that Thin Lyzzy electric guitar.

As it was a special day, I’d decided to walk across the hillfort to High Wood.

Badbury is the highest and central hill on the Kingston Lacy Estate.. but it is a double hill.

Beyond the hillfort, the land drops away and then rises again through ancient woodland.

Badbury is ringed by its three concentric pairs of ramparts and ditches.. but what lies on the crest of High Wood Hill?

I opened the boot and took out drawing boards, a bucket full of tapes, a toolbox and notebooks. I pulled the camera bag over my shoulder and locked the car.

My route took me across the agger of the Dorchester Roman road, past the Romano Celtic temple, through the western gateway of Badbury.

My walk from Badbury car park to the trench in High Wood as a red dotted line using the 1742 rights of way map

I’d had to go into the office before driving down to Dorset and Nancy told me not to hurry. She would look after the site until I arrived.

The bank and ditch had been found hidden by trees in 1987, just before I’d bumped into the body under the windblown tree.

By searching and pacing, the hill top earthworks had turned out to belong to a ‘D’-shaped enclosure about 90m across. The woodland vegetation had stopped it being spotted previously. It had not been easy to see because quarries had been cut through it…hiding its outline.

I walked past the deep ditches and high ramparts of Badbury…High Wood was very different to this. Its bank and ditch were much slighter features.. and.. unlike Badbury, the ditch lay along the inner edge of the bank.

Badbury a defence.. for security, to keep things out .. but High Wood…to keep something in perhaps?

We’d picked up long flint blades scuffed from the leaf litter in High Wood’s ditch…….

Neolithic?

I’d reached the summit of Badbury now, we’d excavated flakes of flint over 5000 years old here in 2004. High Wood was also occupied then… but was the enclosure a henge… like Avebury?

If High Wood was a Neolithic earthwork it would be the only one on the Kingston Lacy Estate. The best way to understand it better was to make a surgical incision.

Mark, from English Heritage, had carried out a survey of the High Wood earthworks and from this we could see where the enclosure survived and where it had been cut by the old quarries.

Our trench was placed across the bank of the enclosure, the ditch and part of the quarry.

My walk now took me down towards the east entrance through the trees and grassland. Here, there are many pebbles, the same geology which ovelies the chalk on the summit of High Wood. The quarries were presumably dug to harvest these slingshot sized stones. I’d seen them capping the Dorchester Roman road where the grass had been eroded by cattle.

The Palaeolithic axe found cast aside in a Roman quarry

On the first day of the excavation, we’d found an extraordinary thing. A multi-faceted but worn chunk of grey flint. The oldest object we’d ever discovered at KL. Phil the flint specialist said it was Palaeolithic, over 40,000 years old. It was out of context as we also picked up sherds of Roman pottery in the quarry backfill. Perhaps the Roman quarrymen had found this curious thing as they dug out the pebbles to surface their new road to Dorchester on the other side of Badbury.

I had walked through Badbury’s Iron Age east gate now and was crossing the turning of the Hamworthy to Bath Roman road before entering High Wood.

When we excavated into the bank, we found burnt flint and struck flakes but also prehistoric pottery.

This site was a strange, hidden sort of place to work.

We’d cut out a narrow world in the undergrowth and our conversations seemed hushed and interrupted by bird song. Visitors rarely found us here unless we guided them in… and there were midges.

The hidden trench in High Wood

As we dug deeper, it was clear that the bank had been built up from earlier occupation deposits, long, long before the medieval wood had been established here. A time when there were clear views out to Badbury and far out across the surrounding landscape.

Once… the Isle of Wight, the Purbeck ridge and the chalkland of Cranborne Chase would have been clearly seen by the people living here.

Phil said that there was so much later Bronze Age flint that the enclosure may well date before Badbury..about 1000 BC but we found that it was mingled with Iron Age pottery.

I had reached the old, upended beech tree roots where I’d discovered the Early Bronze Age woman …21 years earlier (see Arch NT SW ‘Meeting in High Wood’). From here, my path took me upwards, towards the excavation. I followed the markers we’d tied to the saplings to guide us in.

Our trench had revealed that the earthwork enclosure was built in the later Iron Age about 100BC. It was contemporary with Badbury, occupying its hilltop twin, a few hundred metres to the south west.

Perhaps this was a sacred place. A place to keep something valuable?

At the bottom of the bank, we found large chunks of earlier Iron Age pottery.

Excavating a chunk of Middle Iron Age pottery c. 300 BC below the enclosure bank in High Wood

Our small trench and short stay in the wood had uncovered many layers of time.

There were noises ahead. Laughter, the bright colours of balloons.

A champagne cork burst.

A birthday banner stretched between the trees. Half a century!

Papworth, M., 2022, ‘Evaluation Excavation of an Iron Age Enclosure within High Wood, Kingston Lacy Estate, Pamphill ‘, Proceedings of the Dorset Natural HIstory and Archaeological Society 143, 125-148.

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