The Neolithic henge at Marden, Vale of Pewsey, sits in a rich archaeological landscape that has received relatively little attention compared to the surrounding chalk downland. English Heritage explored the henge and vicinity to help raise awareness of this intriguing monument and its place between the better known sites at Avebury and Stonehenge.
From Prehistory to the Present
The henge, an English Heritage free site, is one of the earliest elements in the story of the Vale that includes layers of land use from the prehistoric through to the Second World War. There are other Neolithic (circa 4000-2200BC) monuments which can be visited, on the higher ground overlooking the Vale, including causewayed enclosures at Rybury and Knap Hill and the three long barrows known as Adam’s Grave, Kitchen Barrow and Giant’s Grave.
Aerial photographs record the buried remains of prehistoric funerary monuments visible as cropmarks in the arable fields along the Avon streams in the south east of the vale. Later prehistoric or Roman settlements are revealed in the same way, on the northern and south-eastern edges of the vale showing us where farming communities lived and worked over 2,000 years ago.
The Vale of Pewsey
It is arguably the medieval and post medieval periods that had the greatest influence on the Vale of Pewsey we see today. Most of the villages have their origins in this period. Archaeological remains include extensive evidence of arable and sheep farming.
Evidence of arable farming can be seen in the strip lynchets, formed by ploughing on the slopes of the vale, and by the remains of plough headlands within the vale. The edges of Vale of Pewsey were one of the most heavily lyncheted areas in England. Those that survive can be seen in the ‘stepped’ slopes especially on the southern side of the vale.
Along most of the streams in the Vale, there were post-medieval water meadows. These are a series of channels dug to allow the meadows to be flooded and then drained of water. This flooding encouraged early grass growth at the start of the year and provided good hay harvests for the flocks in winter.
The later layers of history in the Vale relate to the Second World War. These include remnants of Britain’s main east-west anti-tank defensive line, part of the General Headquarters (GHQ) line. This ran from the defences that encircled London in the east to the defences protecting Bristol in the west. The Kennet and Avon canal was used and pillboxes were built at intervals, many of which survive. Historic aerial photographs record the impact of the Second World War on this part of Wiltshire. These photos provide a record of lost elements of Second World War activity including extensive barracks at Devizes (part of which was converted to a POW camp) and the airfield at Alton Barnes.
The English Heritage project included aerial survey, analytical earthwork survey, and geophysical survey of the henge. This was followed up with targeted excavation that yielded some remarkable results not least the discovery of a Neolithic chalk structure with a hearth. See English Heritage Research News for more information. The wider Vale was mapped from aerial photographs – see the Research Report (link on right of page) for further details.
The images used on this page are copyright English Heritage unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project please contact the
English Heritage Archive.
For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Aerial Survey team please contact us via email using the link above.