Resumé after the excavations of 2002 by the Universities of
Southampton, Leicester & Newport(Wales).
"At the very least the excavation at the site of Falkner's Circle has revealed evidence of a fleeting Mesolithic presence, otherwise poorly attested in the region (Whittle 1990). It has also provided evidence of late Neolithic flint working and other activity (as seen by the sherds of Grooved Ware); and episodes of presumably post-Medieval stone breaking. We can be reasonably confident that we have found the features observed by Falkner, and that they correspond closely with his observations. As a result, Falkner's 'Circle' undoubtedly exists. The key question is whether it is a prehistoric monument, or simply the site of post-medieval destruction of natural sarsens. An optimistic reading would be that the features are indeed related to a late Neolithic stone circle c.44m in diameter and made up of 10-12 stones. Given the ephemeral nature of the evidence, ambiguities do of course remain. In favour of the existence of the circle are: · The apparently non-random pattern of features, all but one (F.1) lying on an arc that takes in the existing standing stone. There is also a relatively even interval between these features of between 10-15m. · The plausibility of features F.3, F.8, and especially F.9, as stone sockets · The abundant evidence for Late Neolithic activity on the site, as indicated by the worked flint and pottery. The two sherds of Grooved Ware from F.6 were associated with one destroyed stone. Elsewhere in the region, deposits of knapping debris are frequently associated with megalithic settings. · The presence of the remaining standing stone, which has evidently been brought to the site and deliberately erected. · The conformity of the results with Falkner's description of the site, in terms of its size and the likely number of stones. It should be acknowledged that the features do not form a geometrically perfect circle, but that would hardly be unusual among stone circles as a 'class' of monument (Burl 2000). There is also no doubt that the setting of the one remaining stone appears rather awkward, its long axis being perpendicular to the arc of the circle. Again, there are precedents for this, for example at Cerrig Arthur, Gwynedd, and Castlerigg, Cumbria, where such stones also occur on the south-eastern sides of circles (ibid.). If we accept the features as those of a genuine circle it has important implications for our understanding of comparable megalithic settings in the region. First of all, it shows that unlike the Sanctuary (Cunnington 1931), not all circles need be preceded or accompanied by timber settings. It also adds weight to claims for the existence of other small circles at Clatford to the east and Winterbourne Bassett to the north. The status of the latter has been the subject of recent reassessment, demonstrating that Stukeley's account of a double circle is likely to be highly reliable, but that the conventionally accepted site of the circle is almost certainly spurious (David et al. 2003). A counter argument would see the putative sockets at Falkner's as depressions left from the removal of naturally occurring sarsens, and the destruction pits likewise related to agricultural clearance of larger stones within a sarsen 'trail'. The absence of a socket associated with destruction pit F.6 might support this, however the pit is sufficiently large to have destroyed any traces of such a feature. Besides, the presence of worked flint and sherds of Grooved Ware, albeit in a derived context, show this particular stone and the one surviving upright formed the focus for activity during the later Neolithic. In one way or another, this location was 'monumentalised'. Hopefully, an extension of the geophysical survey to the north-east of the existing grids will establish whether the arc of pits and stone destruction features continues and forms a true circle, or whether it is simply a fortuitous arrangement within a more random pattern of removal and breakage related to the clearance of a sarsen 'trail'.
Grateful thanks are due to the tenant farmers, Mr and Mrs Farthing, to the National
Trust as owners of the land, and Rob Mimmack and Rosie Edmunds of the Trust.
Thanks are also due to the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) for funding
the research and English Heritage and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport for
granting us Scheduled Monument Consent to excavate along the line of the West
Kennet Avenue. The superb geophysical survey was undertaken by Louise Martin
and Andrew David of the AML of English Heritage. Last but not least, the work
could not have been undertaken without the willing labour supplied by our students
and local, and not so local, volunteers - we extend our heartfelt thanks to you all."
This report has been prepared by Mark Gillings, Rick Peterson and Joshua Pollard.