Project Director, Paul Gething, gives us a end of season report on the Bradford Kaims excavation. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bradford Kaims, this is a Mesolithic wetland site, situated some 2miles west of Bamburgh Castle. The excavation runs alongside the main dig at the castle throughout the BRP season. It provides a different type of archaeology and methodology to the excavations at the castle and is a great opportunity to have a go at excavating well preserved prehistoric features.
I only spent a week at the Kaims site, but I was very impressed by the range of possibilities. It has vast potential and could easily be added to a small number of seminal sites that have shaped our knowledge of the British Mesolithic and Early Neolithic. It’s a bit too early to be shouting Starr Carr, but the potential is clearly there.
My first impressions were excellent. The drive up to the site is fantastic. A couple of miles of dirt tracks, deep rutted field edges and a final steep incline to the site. The views are breathtaking. It’s a great excuse to get a Landrover dirty, if you have one that goes off road, Graeme!
And when I did finally get there, the site was no disappointment. It had taken a little while to clear the site of modern intrusive features, such as land drains and modern deep pits made by machine buckets. The land drains are difficult to spot as the soils tend to merge and the area dries very quickly, making cuts hard to see.
The machine holes are a good bit easier though, as the peat inclusions make them look quite black. The modern excavation holes had to be treated with care though, as the recent foot and mouth outbreak has highlighted that not all holes in the ground are filled with nice archaeology. I was sensible enough to arrive on site after much of this had been done. Remember kids; always get there when the hard work has been done by someone else!
Once the modern stuff was on the spoil heap though, it was down to the good stuff. Trowelling clay. Luckily the lacustrine nature of the soils means that the site has been covered time and again by the repeated flood and drying of the of the prehistoric lake. This means that the site has thousands of mini layers overlying each other. This is complicated by occasional harsh floods which mix the deposits around and then the odd ancient landslip, throwing the layers around a bit more.
Mixed into these layers though are flint. Lovely, lovely, sharp, tools made by ancient men and women a long time before you, or I was born. And despite what the text books tell you, flint is the best thing you can find on a site. A beautiful thumbnail scraper came out within minutes of my arrival. The flint is top quality, probably from the east coast. The tool was well made and had had a little re-flaking and retouching. If I had a trowel and a work ethic, I could have found that flint. And the one benefit of removing the modern material, especially if it’s cut deep, is it gives a great insight into the underlying archaeology. A window into the past.
The site has been open for a couple of seasons now, so I also had a good nosey about, looking at previous years finds and features. The Mesolithic stone structure was particularly impressive. If I had seen it in isolation, I would have assumed it to be much more modern. That’ll teach me not to assume. It is unlike anything I’ve seen at either Starr Carr or Seamer Carr and looks even more “meant” than the wooden platform that Starr Carr boasts.
The main aim of this seasons work was to enlarge last season’s trench into a meaningful sample area, to see if there was good preservation and possibly stratigraphy. In answer, the preservation looks excellent and there is good strat there too. The future looks great and next season promises to be a good one for flint hunters and even the scientists might get excited by the sediments, soils and general archaeological goodness that the Kaims provides. I believe that the samples will prove to be fantastic, given the possible uses and date range of the site, coupled with the preservation quality.
The previous years test pits indicate that the site is rich and diverse, but the large open area shows that there is a potential for stratified archaeology, very rare in Mesolithic archaeology. The layers are hard to see, but it is possible with patience and I look forward to wrestling with Bradford Kaims again, next season.