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Large Ring-ditches



Since 2009 CPAT has been conducting a study of some of the larger ring-ditches in mid and north-east Wales with funding from Cadw. Across Britain a class of supersized ring-ditches has been recognised which appear to fall within the category of so-called ‘formative henges’, dating to the Middle Neolithic. The Clwyd-Powys area has 14 sites which are around 40m or more in diameter, including the exceptionally large example at Walton Court, all of which are known only from cropmark evidence and are considered to be under a continuing threat from ploughing. There is a distinct cluster of these sites around the Severn-Vyrnwy confluence

Right: The earliest phase of Stonehenge consisted of a circular enclosure around 100m in diameter

Walton Court Farm

Walton © CPAT

The large ring ditch near Walton Court Farm lies amid a complex of prehistoric funerary and ritual monuments which occupy the eastern end of Radnorshire’s Walton Basin. In common with other monuments in the complex the ring ditch was first recognised as a cropmark during aerial reconnaissance. Photography taken in July 1967 by J K St Joseph identified an unusually large ring ditch around 100m in diameter, defined by a very narrow ditch, centred at SO 25235995. The cropmarks also revealed two Roman marching camps which intersect with the ring ditch, leading to one suggestion that the site might be a Roman gyrus, an arena for training horses. Later photography by CPAT in 1996 has suggested a possible entrance around 14m in width on the south-east, although the cropmarks are not conclusive.

The Walton Court Farm ring ditch is of a similar size to the earthwork bank and ditch at Stonehenge, and is by far the largest such site in mid and north-east Wales, although there are a further 18 ring ditches over 30m in diameter, of which 11 measure more than 40m.

A programme of small-scale evaluation was undertaken during 2009 to investigate the large ring ditch, in the hope of determining its form and dating, with particular reference to its place in the general sequence of prehistoric monuments in the Walton Basin.

Right: Plan of the large ring-ditch at Walton Court Farm © CPAT

© CPAT 96-c-0021

Left: Aerial view of the unusually large ring-ditch at Walton Court Farm. © CPAT 96-c-0021

The recent excavations have demonstrated that at Walton Court Farm the ditch was around 2m wide and 1.4m deep. The absence of cropmark evidence for a section of the ditch on the south-eastern side of the site suggests the presence of a possible entrance, although geophysical survey was unable to shed further light on this and consequently this has yet to be confirmed. The excavations provided no evidence for the position of an accompanying bank which could, therefore, have been either internal, in the manner of ‘formative’ henges, or external, as with the ‘classic’ henges. Fragments of hazel charcoal from the secondary fill have produced a date of 2570-2300 cal. BC which, although not providing a construction date for the monument, indicates that it may have been built not long before this owing to the presumed rapid weathering of the ditch sides to form the initial infilling.

The Walton example is of a comparable size to the encircling bank and ditch forming the first phase at Stonehenge, which had a diameter of 107m. The ditch was originally around 4.2m in width and 1.2m to 1.6m deep, and seems to have been excavated as a series of short, fairly straight, segments. The upcast from the ditch was used to form an internal bank over 5m wide, and also a slight counterscarp bank. It is possible that the differing profiles of the two sections excavated across the Walton Court Farm ring ditch could suggest that the feature was also excavated as a series of interconnecting segments, rather than a uniform, continuous ditch. Stonehenge Phase 1 has been dated to between 3020 and 2910 BC from antlers recovered from the base of the ditch, which were presumably used in its construction.

In Wales, the Walton site is paralleled by one of the monuments in the complex at Llandegai, near Bangor, which included a cursus and classic henge, as well as a large ring ditch known as Llandegai A. Excavations in 1966-7 investigated the 80m-diameter ring ditch, which was thought to have originally been 8.5m wide and 3.3m deep, with an internal bank and a narrow entrance on the south-west side. There was no dating evidence from the primary ditch fills, although sherds of Fengate Ware were recovered from a stablisation layer which also produced a radiocarbon date of around 3000 BC. Dates from a series of pits within the interior indicate that the monument is likely to date to around 3200-3100 BC. A smaller hengiform monument was also identified nearby – Llandegai D – which was around 38m in diameter, with a shallow ditch 1.5m to 1.8m wide. An internal pit produced a date of 2630-2460 cal. BC, suggesting that the site should belong to the Late Neolithic.

Causeway Lane, Llanymynech

© CPAT 84-c-0192

Right: Aerial view of the Causeway Lane ring-ditch showing as a cropmark in the dry summer of 1984. © CPAT 84-c-0192

Cropmark evidence identified the large ring-ditch at Causeway Lane, near Llanymynech (SJ 2534 2065), as well as four other ring ditches and two pit alignments within the immediate area.

Trial excavation and geophysical survey in 2010 confirmed the presence of an unusually large ring-ditch around 55m in diameter defined by a single ditch 1.8m wide and around 0.7m deep. Although there was no surviving evidence for the position of an accompanying bank the sequence of infilling observed in both ditch sections suggests strongly that this lay on the interior.

The interior of the ring-ditch remains relatively untested as neither trench extended more than 7m from the inner edge of the ditch. Although it had been hoped that the geophysics might reveal evidence for internal features the subsoil in this area was not particularly conducive to magnetometery and the results were inconclusive.

Pentrehobin, Mold

© CPAT 3148-0056

Left: The western end of the Hindwell Palisaded Enclosure seen as a cropmark in 1994 © CPAT 3148-0056

The large ring-ditch at Pentrehobin, to the south-east Mold, in Flintshire (SJ 24616240) was previously only known from cropmark evidence.

Trial excavation in 2010 demonstrated that the ring-ditch represents the remains of what was originally an impressive burial mound. The surrounding ditch was about 4m wide and 2m deep, with an external diameter of around 44m. The upcast from the ditch would have formed a substantial mound, sealing at least three internal features, one of which contained what may have been a coffin fashioned from charred oak timbers which has been dated to 2400 – 2130 cal. BC. Further dating evidence was provided by several sherds of mid-late Bronze Age pottery, as well as one sherd which could belong to the early Iron Age.

The site should not be viewed in isolation, however, as the upstanding remains of another large round barrow lie 190m to the north-east, and the round barrow which contained the impressive Mold cape was found is 1.5km to the north-north-east. The unusual splendour of this object, together with the size of the two round barrows may indicate that this area was of special significance during the Bronze Age.

The excavations have revealed that despite the large size of the ring-ditch the monument does not fall within the group of ‘formative henges’, but is rather one of a number of unusually large burial mounds scattered across the Flintshire plateau.

Dyers Hall Farm, Pool Quay

© CPAT 3292-0016

Right: The excavated section of the ring-ditch at Dters Hall Farm. © CPAT 3292-0016

The site at Dyers Hall Farm, Pool Quay, in Powys (SJ 25334 11475), was investigated in 2011, confirming an unusually large ring-ditch around 55m in diameter defined by a single ditch 3.7m wide and around 1.3m deep. Although there was no surviving evidence for the position of the accompanying bank the sequence of infilling observed in the ditch section suggests that this may have been on the interior. The interior of the ring-ditch remains relatively untested as neither trench extended more than 11m from the inner edge of the ditch. It therefore remains to be confirmed whether the ring-ditch functioned as a burial monument, or perhaps had a more ritual function.

Collfryn, Guilsfield

© CPAT 87-007-0013

Left: 1987 aerial photograph withthe Collfryn ring-ditch visible as a cropmark in the centre of the picture © CPAT 87-007-0013

Small-scale excavations were undertaken on the site of a large ring-ditch at Collfryn, in Powys (SJ 2186 1650), in October 2011. The site lies around 5km north of Guilsfield, in the low hills to the south-east of the River Vyrnwy

The excavations and an earlier geophysical survey confirmed the presence of a ring-ditch around 36m in diameter defined by a single, narrow ditch, 1.8m wide and around 0.8m deep. The ditch would have produced a relatively small amount of material from which to construction a central mound or surrounding bank. Although there was no surviving bank material the sequence of infilling on the northern side of the ring-ditch suggests that there may have been a bank around the external perimeter of the monument.

No potentially contemporary features were identified in the interior of the ring-ditch and the location of the trench was such that the central point was not investigated. Given the lack of evidence for mound material re-deposited within the ditch, it therefore remains to be determined whether the ring-ditch functioned as a burial monument (possibly with a low-lying central mound), or perhaps had a more ritual function.

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