Archaeology doesn’t respect (trench) borders

Apart from all the other exciting things that came up in Trench 9 in the last two weeks, this is an update on the happenings at the west border of the trench. Cleaning off our top context (9058) student Rachel Moss uncovered some wood in situ and at the end of the day we even had a group of features that included two post holes and five stake holes. We now know that the stake holes still sit in context (9058), other than the post holes which are sitting in a yellowish grey layer of clay underneath.

Let’s concentrate on the latter, since these two post holes withheld many surprises. After Rachel’s revealing of the wood, we were interested to see if it was anything structural and archaeological. One of our volunteers, Bob, then cleaned up around the piece of wood and found that it was clearly sitting in a circular cut. To discover the size and the shape of the feature we decided to half-section it and came across more wood! Also two pieces of bone were found right at the top of the fill – one of them possibly horn and the other may be tooth. And as if that was not enough a nice piece of flint showed off at the bottom of the cut! Flint finds are very welcome in prehistoric archaeology, because they are datable and the way it has been worked by prehistoric humans can tell us which period it is from. This blade seems to be from the Mesolithic; thus it is one of our oldest artifacts!

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This is how unobtrusive the features appeared before we uncovered their substance.

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After the excavation of the two post holes and four stake holes.

Getting back to the wood that appeared as three stakes, we were facing one difficulty. It seemed to be angled into the ground – right underneath the trench edge. This forced us to extend the trench by a square of 50×50 cm. Digging down to the context the wood lay in, we found a lot of Quartz, Chert, Seeds and a piece of Straw/Rooting, which are similar finds from the upper context. As we finally reached the top of the third timber it did not quite continue as expected. Instead of sitting in a cut, it lay horizontally on the yellowish grey context we suspect to be the Neolithic ground level. The size of the wood came as quite a surprise. Most pieces we had found previously were rather small in diameter. This piece however, was very typical of a post. Its ends show very uneven and irregular cuts that led us to believe that it had broken off in antiquity. A closer look at Timber 1 and 2 revealed they are not individual stakes either, but are likely pieces of the same post based on the breaks that appear to fit into each other. We like to consider all these pieces of wood as remains of one single post, but at this point there are no definite conclusions possible.

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The extension and the fully excavated Timber 3 lying on top of the clay.

During the investigation of an area like this, where features change their appearance and thus new theories and thoughts come up on a daily bases, the documentation of this development is very important. Trench 9 supervisor Tom Lally recorded every new step on film, showing off the features and speaking about what was there before, what has been done meanwhile and how we would proceed. We deliberately included new thoughts, current interpretations and the opinion of the student who had been working in the area.

To provide substance for further processing and research, and thereby maintain the information this find holds, Timber 3 was lifted, recorded and is being stored safely. The next step will be to investigate the remaining wood in the cut of the posthole and hopefully come across more exciting archaeology! – Franzi-

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Timber 3 after it was safely taken out.

Archaeology Basics Video Series: The Test Pit

Here is the forth and final in our archaeology basics series filmed and edited by the students from Ashington Learning Partnership. To see the first video in the series (The Trowel) and hear the story of the students involvement in media click here. To see the second video (The Mattock) click here. To see the third video (The Kettle) click here. Enjoy!

An in depth video of the Bradford Kaims by Archaeosoup Productions

We were lucky to have our friends from Archaeosoup Productions down to visit the Bradford Kaims for a more in-depth look around. Check out their video below!

They are a fantastic group who really excel at comprehensively sharing archaeology and heritage with the wider world. They are constantly uploading new videos to their YouTube page that are informative, educational, and just plain fun. Have a look through their videos by clicking here. You can also hire them for a wide variety of workshops, lectures, activities, and media production. Check out their website for more information. 

P.S. Don’t miss the ending!!

Archaeology Basics Video Series: The Kettle

Here is the third in our archaeology basics series filmed and edited by the students from Ashington Learning Partnership. To see the first video in the series (The Trowel) and hear the story of the students involvement in media click here. To see the second video (The Mattock) click here. Enjoy!

Experimental Archaeology – TIMBER!

At the Bradford Kaims we have been branching (sorry…) out into woodworking as a part of our Experimental Archaeology Programme. Similar to our brewing experiments where we have used hot-rocks due to evidence from the burnt mounds, we decided to try some woodworking due to the exceptional preservation of wooden material at the site. To assist us we had the help of local woodcarver Dave Robson, who kindly supplied us with several sycamore logs and rowan branches and to offer guidance in woodcraft. As well as utilising local specialists, we had community volunteers Barbara and Tim partaking in the experiments along with our students.

For our initial investigations, we have been looking into splitting wood (inspired by our potential Neolithic plank in T10!) to see how easy/difficult the process would have been only utilising resources available before metal working. To split a modern log a woodcarver might begin by creating a notch along the diameter of a log with a steel axe or froe before driving wooden or even steel wedges into this notch to prize the wood apart. Rather than using an axe however, we attempted to use bone “chisels” which we had created ourselves (by smashing the bones and subsequently grinding them on a piece of sandstone to create an edge.)

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Our prehistoric bone “chisels” ready for action!

With the bone chisels ready, we used them in place of the axe, creating a groove across the diameter (through the central “pith” – the weakest part of the log) by holding the chisel in place and subsequently hitting it with a wooden mallet. Once our groove was created, we hammered oak wedges into the groove and proceeded to drive them into the wood with the mallet, trying to keep the wedges at an equal depth by hitting them alternately. Within minutes, the logs would make audible groans and cracks, before splitting apart down their length! We found that for the sycamore logs which we were using (admittedly not present in Britain until the middle ages so not found in our trenches) the bone chisels worked incredibly well for initialising the splitting, from there the wedge process was the same as it would be for modern log splitting. We were able to demonstrate that log splitting can certainly be achieved with little difficulty with prehistoric resources – though of course whether this was the manner for splitting logs prior to metal tools we are unable to know for certain.

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Student Tom and community volunteer Barabara planking a split log

With logs split down the diameter, we moved onto further splitting in an attempt to plank our now halved logs. This came with mixed success, while splitting would go well initially on several occasions the split would shear off due to knots lower down the log. One of our best efforts came from students Tom and Sammi, who managed to split off a plank with minor shearing from the mid-way point. To flatten the plank, we used a flint axe provided by Dave Robson which allowed us to gradually create a flatter surface. Rather than cutting into the wood like a modern steel axe, the flint axe tended to shear off and tear the wood creating a rough surface. In order to smooth this, we used our polished bone chisels and knives like a modern plane to take off smaller chips of wood which made a surprisingly smooth surface!

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One plank ready for further working

An enjoyable day was had by all of our participants, with students and volunteers alike surprised at how easily we were able to split the logs using little more than bone and wood! With our planks of sycamore we are hoping to continue our experiments further this week by trying to replicate artefacts found in our wooden platform again only using prehistoric tools!

Archaeology Basics Video Series: The Mattock

Here is the second in our archaeology basics series filmed and edited by the students from Ashington Learning Partnership. To see the first video in the series (The Trowel) and hear the story of the students involvement in media click here. Enjoy!

A confused person’s guide to Trench 1

We thought it might be helpful, for regular users of the blog, to put up annotated photographs of our two trenches, as I am sure at times it is difficult to imagine just where the individual buildings and features lie. In this blog we will start with Trench 1.

Trench 1, labelled to identify the key features, facing north

Trench 1, labelled to identify the key features, facing north

As regular readers will be aware, Trench 1 lies at the northern tip of the fortress, at the lowest point of the bedrock plateau. Here we have unearthed evidence of the early phases of defensive structures built in timber together with a rather substantial timber hall. On the photograph you can see this as a shaded outline with the outline of a later stone hall superimposed on top of it. It is perhaps only when you outline it so clearly that its full scale becomes apparent. As we have described before it completely dominates the gate cleft (in the bedrock) to its south-west, which is the earliest known entrance to the fortress.

The stone building has been assumed to be the later of the two, but it is only this season, whilst investigating the area where the two structures come close to each other in the north-east corner, that we have proved that this is indeed the case. The date of the stone structure’s construction is uncertain, but it appears to have been robbed out before the Norman Conquest.

We are on less certain ground on the western side of the trench where we have a massive laid stone boulder foundation, for what we believe to be a timber wall, that we are interpreting as part of an early phase of defences. This is based on its general alignment with the break of slope of the bedrock, and the presence of a large timber post-setting that could have carried an archway across the gate cleft itself.

The later medieval defences are much better understood, as we have written records surviving from the 12th century to help in our interpretation. The later medieval gate is built in two phases, the first dating from the later 12th century with a 13th century widening, presumably to carry a breteche (an extension like a balcony built over a gate, with openings in its base to shoot projectiles or drop objects through). The gate widening and breteche are likely to be contemporary with the glacis built in front of the gate that we have no direct dating evidence for.

The tall stack of surviving medieval curtain wall that survives on the northern wall line would once have extended all the way around the seaward side of the West Ward, just as the 20th century wall does today.

You “Woodn’t” Believe What Trench 9 Has Found Now

Trench 9 has really upped its game since the last update and is now at the stage where only a few questions need answering in the final weeks of the season. In the past fortnight many new additions have been made to the trench. Along with archaeological finds, Trench 9 has also welcomed Franzi Le to the crew as an Assistant Supervisor for the last month of the season. On the archaeological front, staff, students and volunteers have discovered loads of new negative features, along with a handful of very nice finds. Supervisor Tom and Assistant Supervisor Franzi have developed new interpretations for some features uncovered last season and have come up with a strong theory as to what had been going on in this trench in the past. There is now a further two groups of 20 stake holes each, including some in very interesting arrangements, some very nice new small finds which have assisted in the interpretations of the trench area, a large number of new negative features cut into what is believed to be a Neolithic ground surface and some re-interpretations of features found last season.

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Staff, Students and Volunteers all working hard in Trench 9

Many of the new features found and interpretations theorized about have revolved around the discovery of preserved wood in Trench 9. Last season only a minimal amount was uncovered, and it wasn’t investigated thoroughly as it was not seen as a priority at that point in time. This season however, preserved wood has been at the forefront, not only in the trench, but across the whole of the site. The discovery of three post-holes by student Rachel and volunteer Bob, two of which contained in situ wood, were a surprise, even more so was a piece of flint found in the bottom of one of the fills by volunteer Bob. It has initially been identified as a small composite tool or a microlith, which is believed to be Mesolithic in date. A more in-depth blog post dedicated to these post holes will be posted within the coming days.

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New posts and stakes found in Trench 9. Posts are along top of photo, containing in situ wood.

Another area of wood newly discovered in Trench 9 is in the north-west corner of the trench, where there are still remnants of a peat layer. This level was excavated down to last season but was not cleaned up afterwards and so the wood present wasn’t properly identified. After a quick trowel, six brushwood branches, very similar to those in Trench 6, 10 and 11 were found to be extending through the trench edge and angled towards Trench 11. These are possibly contemporary with the wooded areas within that trench, although further investigation between the two trenches will be required to prove this.

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Brushwood branches starting to appear in Trench 9

The final piece of preserved wood is actually a piece uncovered late last year, but based on its lack of preservation and size, it was thought to be more bog oak, similar to the logs protruding out of the peat bog to the south of the trench. After a discussion, it was decided that the wood would be excavated so that digging could continue in that area of the trench but it was soon found by staff member Franzi, to be a lot better preserved and significantly larger than originally thought. The wood now appears to be sitting on top of and partially within our Neolithic ground surface layer, with a group of stake holes encircling the piece. Early interpretation is that the wood is part of a walkway across the peat bog, with the stakes used to prop up the wood and keep it in place. In the final weeks, we intend to reveal the full extent of the timber, and lift it if logistically possible.

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Neolithic timber surrounded by stake holes

Apart from the wooden areas found recently in the trench, many new negative features have also been revealed by staff and students alike. The last fortnight has predominantly involved the excavation of multiple thin deposits overlying the main context, the Neolithic ground surface. Into this surface there have been more stake holes identified, the addition of several post holes, some possible hearth features and the remnants of what could be a rather impressive burning pit. It is only early days with these new features, but they are to be looked at before the season ends at the beginning of August.

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Trench 9 leading into the last few weeks of the season

With the end of the season fast approaching, but with loads of progress now made, Trench 9 is looking to be finished in the last few weeks. Pieces of the archaeological puzzle have been falling into place and there is now a clear idea of what was going on in this area in the past. Only a few minor questions need resolving before Trench 9 is completed and can be closed for good. The final weeks will see a few more plans drawn up by staff and students, as well as some minor archaeological investigations undertaken in order to provide more understanding to the finds and features in the trench so here’s hoping to a successful finish to the season! – Tom Lally

Archaeology Basics Video Series by Ashington Learning Partnership

About two weeks ago the BRP was lucky to be able to provide the setting for a group of students from Ashington Learning Partnership for their Challenge Week. There were two groups of students; one would learn about the process of archaeology by opening a test pit at the Bradford Kaims. The other group would be filming this process and then editing the footage trying to figure out how best to present this information to the wider public. The BRP has long been dedicated to sharing what we do with communities all over the world, so it is wonderful to see a group of students learning the practical skills they need to then teach others about the archaeological process, and our shared heritage.
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Site dog Cuthbert being kept distracted to stop him panting like a steam train during the interview with Kaims Director Paul

It is always a real pleasure having the film unit from Ashington Learning Partnership down with us at the Kaims. They are hands down one of the most professional film crews we have ever had on site. Working with Brian and his team is one of the activities which most inspires us, by seeing the enthusiasm, initiative, and skill which they consistently display. Even just a brief talk about troweling, a relatively dull thing in itself, was made into something both entertaining and educational by the group from Ashington, using real world skills like those that archaeology and young people both desperately need.

This video is the first in a series about the basics of archaeology. The other videos will cover mattocking, test pits, and a fun practical video about brewing tea on site.

New BRP video from Archaeosoup

We were lucky to have our friends from Archaeosoup Productions down to visit both of our sites last week. Check out their video below!

They are a fantastic group who really excel at comprehensively sharing archaeology and heritage with the wider world. They are constantly uploading new videos to their YouTube page that are informative, educational, and just plain fun. Have a look through their videos by clicking here. You can also hire them for a wide variety of workshops, lectures, activities, and media production. Check out their website for more information.