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Cornwall Archaeological Society

St Newlyn East excavations

Two weeks of evaluative excavations at St Newlyn East were undertaken between August 27th and 7th September 2007 by the Cornwall Archaeological Society. The site is a crop-mark enclosure with an overall diameter of approximately 70m defined by a ditch with traces of an external bank, which is visible on aerial photographs. It is anticipated that the site will prove to be a henge monument dating to the Later Neolithic period (c 3000-2500 cal BC). If so, this will be the first Neolithic henge monument to be examined in Cornwall since the early 1960s when Castilly was investigated by the Society, and its investigation will therefore make a significant contribution to archaeological knowledge in the county.

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28 November 2007 Update:
Archaeological excavations at Hay Close, St Newlyn East were undertaken by the Cornwall Archaeological Society over a two week period during the summer of 2007. The site is located in central Cornwall at the edge of a spur on the northern side of the village of St Newlyn East (SW 8270356503).
Aerial photographic evidence revealed an enclosure of around 60m in diameter with an internal ditch and an external bank. This suggested that the site was a Neolithic henge dating between c 2900-2500 cal BC. A geophysical survey of the western part of the enclosure confirmed the presence of a ditch and an outer bank, and field walking in advance of the excavations led to the recovery of flint tools and other artefacts, which suggested that the site had been occupied over several millennia.
The objectives of the excavations were threefold; to establish whether the site was suitable as a long-term excavation project, to provide experience of excavation for members of the Cornwall Archaeological Society, and to investigate a site, which could make a significant contribution to the study of Cornwall’s past.

The Excavation
During the course of the excavations seven trenches were opened with assistance from volunteers who were members of the Cornwall Archaeological Society. Five trenches were targeted upon the enclosure. Of these, two were excavated entirely within the enclosure and three were excavated through the enclosure’s bank and ditch. Two further trenches were located over crop-mark ditches beyond the enclosure, which had been identified from aerial photographs.
The trenches revealed that the site was enclosed by a substantial ditch which reached a depth of nearly 3m, and that there were traces of an external bank. Very few internal features were found inside the enclosure. The study of the artefacts and site stratigraphy is at an early stage, which means that the interpretation of the data is tentative. The following summary is therefore based on current thought and is likely to be revised once the post excavation programme is completed.

Neolithic (4000-2500 cal BC) – Bronze Age (2500-1500 cal BC)
Flint artefacts were recovered which are likely to date to the Neolithic period along with one sherd of possible Early Neolithic and a few sherds of Middle Bronze Age pottery were found. However, none of these finds were associated with the earliest phase of the enclosure ditch. Most were unstratified, or were residual occurring in contexts which had produced finds of later periods. These artefacts may represent periodic visits to the site during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age.

Late Bronze Age-Iron Age (1000 cal BC-AD43)
The majority of finds from the enclosure ditch comprised plain sherds of pottery, which are likely to date to first the millennium cal BC and a handful of diagnostic sherds which are of an Early Iron Age date. Some of these sherds appear to have been associated with the burial of a cattle jaw, which may have been attached to a skull that has not survived the acidic soil conditions. One of the trenches to the north of the enclosure revealed a series of deep inter-cutting ditches at the base of one of these was a large deposit of Iron slag. This evidence suggests that the first identifiable phase of activity associated with the enclosure occurred in the first millennium cal BC. However, there was little evidence for settlement-related activity, within the enclosure, which implies that it was not permanently occupied.

Roman-Post Roman (AD 43-600)
At least one piece of Roman pottery came from a high level in the ditch and a further deposit of Romano-British pottery was found in a pit located close to the southern inside edge of the enclosure. This feature also contained a finely-worked perforated stone weight. The upper fill of one of the sections through the enclosure ditch produced a quantity of post Roman slip-wares and amphora sherds that originated in the eastern Mediterranean. Similar pottery has been recovered from other sites along the north Cornish coast, most notably at Tintagel. The find of post Roman pottery is significant as it suggests that the site continued to hold importance into the protohistoric period when Christianity was becoming established.

The excavations did not confirm the site’s identification as a henge and as the primary fill of the ditch was devoid of finds the origins of the enclosure remain uncertain. Only the radiocarbon dating of charcoal may resolve when the site was constructed. However, importantly excavation did reveal that the enclosure was associated with at least two phases of activity, the first sometime during the first millennium cal BC and the second in the post-Roman period in the 5th or 6th centuries AD. This implies that the site was an important foci in the landscape over several generations, and if not a henge, the form of the enclosure suggests that it is a site type, which has not been encountered before.

Andy M Jones
-- JohnBennett (2008-04-01 20:55:05)

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