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Catterick previous years had discovered a scatter of features spanning every period from the Bronze Age to the present, but nothing had suggested a monument of the scale we were about to encounter.

We first removed the topsoil and the 1930s levelling by machine. As stripping progressed, we investigated various features, including an Early Neolithic knapping platform containing over 1,100 chert flakes, early Roman ditches and gullies, medieval and post-medieval field systems, a postmedieval turnpike road, and several former channels of the nearby River Swale. Then, five weeks into the eight-week dig, something totally unexpected began to appear.

2,000 timber posts There were two large arcs running across the eastern half of the site. At first we took them to be curved ditch circuits. After cleaning and weathering, however, it was clear that each circuit was in fact a series of closely-spaced radial slots approximately 2m long and 1m wide, a pattern that showed up especially clearly in aerial photos of the site. Most were elongated ovals, though some had a 'dumb-bell' form, and others were visible as two discrete post-holes on the surface. The differences in shape, however, simply reflected the depth at which the individual slots had been truncated. Excavation showed that each slot housed two post-holes, each around 0.5m in diameter and between 0.5m and 1.25m deep. The posts would have been about 1m apart, centre to centre, in each direction.

This discovery led us to re-examine our earlier geophysical survey. With the benefit of hindsight, looking much more closely at the faintest of contrasts, we now noticed features on the far side of the former runway that may represent the missing southern part of the monument beyond the limits of excavation. If so, the overall plan of it is oval, with two palisades, each composed of two postcircuits. The paired post arrangement gives the enclosure four timber circuits - or two circuits of double-palisades. About half the monument lay within the excavated area, the remainder lying beneath the former runway or extending beyond into the southern part of the airfield. There was an entrance through both palisades on the northern side, and another on the east. The two double-palisade circuits measured respectively 200m and 175m across, with perimeters of approximately 610m and 480m in total length, enclosing areas of 2.75ha and 1.8ha. There would have been around 1,160 posts in the outer palisade and 900 posts in the inner one.

The palisades had been partially destroyed by fire, and several post-holes contained charcoal. Remains of carbonised posts were common on the western side of the enclosure, and were intermittently preserved elsewhere. The charcoal generally survived only in the upper half of the post-hole, probably because the posts had burned less intensely at greater depth, so that the lower parts were not sufficiently carbonised to survive. In some slots, the heat

Above The enclosure first appeared as a slightly darker ring - but on a massive scale, so not immediately apparent close up. Below Then it became clear that the dark ring was formed of paired post-holes in radial slots, many of them showing up blackened by burning.

‘Then, five weeks into the eight-week dig, something totally unexpected began to appear. There were two large arcs running across the eastern half of the site. At first we took them to be curved ditch circuits. After cleaning and weathering, however, it was clear that each circuit was in fact a series of closely-spaced radial slots…’

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