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The Marden floor

Find out more about one of the discoveries made at University of Reading's field school.

The other wonderful discovery made on site – arguably the greatest of all – was the Marden floor surface. This unique and fragile discovery provided us with a chance to gain once-in-a-lifetime insights into life in the later Neolithic period – an opportunity we were not going to miss. One of the key questions arising from the excavation was what this building was used for – how did people use the space and what activities took place around the hearth?

One technique we used to try and answer this was subjecting the surface to a very fine-grained geochemical analysis. A thin occupation layer existed across the floor and PhD student Elsie Brookes sampled this every 10cm and took samples to study the layer in thin section. We hope this layer will provide geochemical patterns and residues providing high resolution information about the building’s use and activity areas.

In addition to the study of the archaeological deposits, we have also undertaken some experimental archaeology. Professor Martin Bell and students from the University constructed a half-scale version of the hearth and chalk surface, surrounded by a circular wattle wall back on the University campus. By doing different tasks, such as cooking and heating sarsen stone over the hearth, they were able to show what worked and what didn’t, as well as what traces different tasks left behind. By analysing the residues and chemical traces from the experimental site and comparing these to what was found on the actual site interesting patterns begin to emerge.

Slowly we are gathering a picture of the sorts of activities that are likely to have taken place within and around the building. Other experimental activities we did to help us understand the past better also included flint knapping, wood and bone working, pot making, spinning and weaving wool, flour and bread making using quern stones and the study of footprints.

  1. Do you agree that the Marden building could have been a sweat-lodge?
  2. What else could it have been used for?
  3. Can experimental archaeology ever really help us understand the past?

Share your thoughts in the comment areas below.

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Archaeology: From Dig to Lab and Beyond

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