On Tuesday I was lucky enough to go and see the strange pits that Jacqui
Wood has been excavating at her site at Saveock Mill near Truro. Have a
look at http://www.archaeologyonline.org/ and look at feather pits for
Jacqui is an experimental archaeologist I’m sure many of you will know
or at least know of. She dug to build an experimental bowl furnace where
the draft is created by a short uphill flue. While she was doing that
she found a Mesolithic clay platform.
She followed this platform across the site digging away a lot of
redeposited soil with the help of people on her archaeology training
courses. While they were doing that they found some pits dug through the
Mesolithic clay layer. They are about 42 cm by 35 cm. Each had been
carefully lined with the skin of a swan placed with the feathers facing
into the hole. In one there were 55 eggs containing chicks about ready
to hatch with two magpies. Others contained more eggs and pieces of
quartz. The last few to be excavated included pits containing a cow
bone, a skin with reddish bristles that looks piglet, a small wolfhound
skeleton in a pit lined with its skin fur-side in and a one lined with a
black cat skin fur inwards with a whisker, and cats claws and teeth in
it. The only C14 date from one of the pits was about 1640. Many of the
pits were emptied long ago, but the impressions of eggs and some
feathers still remain.
So – I have a theory that this may have been about making offerings to
make sure of getting a good future “harvest” of the things placed in the
pits. The magpies would have to be a sort of anti-offering to protect
the eggs and chicks from being eaten.
Jacqui who has thought about this a lot thinks that the swan feather
pits could have been to do with an offering/spell made by women who
wanted to become pregnant and if they did they emptied the pits later.
Although these pits have received world-wide publicity and everyone
thinks they are fascinating no one seems to know of anything similar
She is going to write (another) paper on these discoveries and would be
very interested to hear what anyone thinks the pits were for and of
course if anyone knows of anything similar.
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(BTW there are also many other fascinating things in a very small area.
For example Jacqui has found an ancient bowl furnace – just the sort of
thing she was trying to build when she began digging. There’s what she
calls a ritual pool in which she found over 100 different bits of cloth
which sounds like the Cornish cloutie tradition, but also many cherry
stones and human hail and finger nails. This pool had been dug over the
top of a prehistoric stone walled pool with a carefully built overflow
culvert or covered drain.)
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