Dorset’s Archaeology in 250 Words: Dorchester’s Neolithic Flagstones Enclosure under Thomas Hardy’s house

With the remaining section hidden under the grounds of Thomas Hardy’s house, Max Gate (in Dorchester), the Flagstones interrupted ditch enclosure is a little known site from Neolithic Dorset.

The site was partially excavated in 1987-8 prior to works on the Dorchester by-pass. Found under the demolished Flagstones House were mid-4th millennium BC pits containing animal bone, pottery and flints – some of these pits may have been the setting for standing stones.

In the later 4th millennium BC a circular enclosure of irregularly spaced pits was constructed. The chalk walls of some of the pit/ditch segments featured engraved designs, probably cut with flint. An adult cremation and two child inhumations were found at the bottom of ditch sections, each beneath a slab of sandstone or sarsen. Carbon dating of the remains put the building of the enclosure at around 3486–2886 BC.

A crouched burial was found in a later Early Bronze Age mound in the centre of the enclosure. The central mound demonstrated a large amount of flint-knapping activity.

The Neolithic enclosure does not meet the typical definition of a causewayed enclosure notably in terms of its almost perfect circle shape, a lack of the sort of placed deposits which are found at many such sites, and particularly its later date. Comparisons have been made instead with the first phase of Stonehenge.

The large henge enclosure of Mount Pleasant (see previous blog post) henge lies around 500 metres to the east, whereas Maumbury Rings lie about 1500 metres to the west.