What a Year we have had in Trench 9

A final blog post from Trench 9 Supervisor, Tom Lally.

Although the 2015 Bamburgh Research Project season is now over, and Trench 9 backfilled and returfed, there is plenty to be excited about when it re-opens next year. At the halfway mark this season, things were reasonably straight-forward in our interpretation of the trench. It appeared that it would be a matter of easily removing context by context and coming down onto the natural surface. We were wrong. Since then Trench 9 has thrown up all sorts of new and exciting features and finds, which means 2016 should be a really intriguing season. Just as Trench 3 did, this blog will be split into area-by-area portions regarding the key features we found this season.

Wooded Area (NW Corner)
In my last update we had only just started to reveal this wooded area within our peat layer uncovered last season (see link below). Since then, student Tom Fox spent a week removing the peat around the wood to further reveal its extent. During this excavation he found a large amount of wood that appeared to be in alignment across the peat bog and over to Trench 11. Our initial interpretation is that this area may be the start of another wooden platform at the Kaims. This theory is strengthened by the finding of several upright timbers, which could be pegs that people used to stake down the wood to create the platform, as well as some intact hazelnuts and hazelnut shells (see link below), just like those found along the large wooden platform in Trench 6 and Trench 10! We may extend the trench around this wood next season to reveal more of it and gain a better understanding as to whether it is indeed part of another wooden platform or not.

 Student Tom planning the possible wooden platform

Student Tom planning the possible wooden platform

Mesolithic Post and Post-Hole
As was mentioned in my last blog, and in the recent blog post by Assistant Supervisor Franzi Le (see link below), our Mesolithic post and post-hole has been a rather unique find in Trench 9 this season. What started out as a simple piece of wood being revealed by student Rachel Moss during a trench clean, has now become a very interesting and important feature within the trench. Volunteer Bob during excavation of the post-hole found two pieces of bone/horn and a piece of Mesolithic flint to provide us with a date for the feature, as well as finding in situ pieces of wood within the post cut.

Wood pieces found within post-hole

Wood pieces found within post-hole

Since then we have continued to reveal around the post-hole, even extending the trench in order to find the extent. In this we have found even more sizeable wood pieces, most of which we believe to be fragments from one large post as opposed to several stakes. We have lifted several of these pieces which are being stored correctly and safely during the off-season. On further reveal of the wood in the extension, it is also starting to look similar to that of platform wood with all pieces lying down flat and all facing the direction of Trench 11. As is the same with the wood in the NW corner, this area will require further investigation next season to determine what people were using this post-hole for and if the wood in close proximity is also part of a wooden platform.

Assistant Supervisor Franzi working on the wood in the extension around the post-hole

Assistant Supervisor Franzi working on the wood in the extension around the post-hole

Mesolithic Hearth
Arguably the most exciting and most important feature in Trench 9 now is our recently discovered Mesolithic hearth. This feature was found almost by accident by student Carrington during the removal of a context above but which we didn’t believe went as deep as it did. Initially it was just a large piece of clay that came off, but which contained a heavy concentration of charcoal underneath. We were stunned at the amount present in this once piece of clay and so after further reveal we uncovered a metre-by-metre area of charcoal, which also contained burnt stones and sandstones (see link below).

 Hearth found late in the season

Hearth found late in the season

Upon further investigation we also came across a small piece of flint, believed to be a Mesolithic bladelet, which has provided us with a date for this feature, and a very small fragment of burnt bone within it! We now believe it to be a hearth used by the people of this area thousands of years ago. During the investigation we also uncovered a possible channel dug just to the west of the hearth, which may have provided a water source, and may tie into the final and most impressive feature discovered in Trench 9 this season.

Water Channel (left) and Mesolithic Hearth (right) in Trench 9

Water Channel (left) and Mesolithic Hearth (right) in Trench 9

Possible Sweat Lodge
The feature found latest in the season and that is causing all kinds of excitement for next season is our possible sweat lodge (see link below). The area where it sits was first pointed out to us by Director Paul as a possible burning pit after some discolouration became clearly visible after an overnight rain. It was noted but not investigated, until a full trench clean was conducted in the last fortnight prior to trench photos being taken.

'Burning Pit' feature when first identified

‘Burning Pit’ feature when first identified

After the trench clean, the feature began to stand out even more, and a clear ring of different coloured soil was identified. The trench clean also identified a large number of stake holes that appear to all situate within the circular feature, as well as some clearly burnt stones scattered throughout. From this evidence, it looks very much like a sweat lodge used by Native Americans, which is typically a dome-shaped structure held up by multiple stakes and covered in natural materials. The feature appears to measure 2.5m x 3m wide and is situated just up slope from the Mesolithic hearth. It is from the close proximity and stratigraphic sequence that we believe that the water channel, hearth and circular feature are all contemporary, and hence why we believe the feature is a sweat lodge. With a water source, somewhere to heat up stones, and a structure in which to sit all so close together, it provides us with our strongest interpretation at the present time. Further investigation will definitely take place in this area next season, so hopefully from that we can have a firmer understanding of the uses of these three features by prehistoric people.

The possible Sweat Lodge in Trench 9

The possible Sweat Lodge in Trench 9

As well as all these impressive features, Trench 9 is still scattered with archaeology. There are loads more stake holes dotted around the trench, some of which are in interesting alignments and may be contemporary with some of the above mentioned features. To the south of the sweat lodge are possible areas of burning closely associated with the lodge itself, as well as our Neolithic plank and stake holes arrangement discussed in my last blog post which still needs some investigation. So as you can see, Trench 9 is absolutely loaded with archaeology. It was thought that we would be able to close the trench by the end of this season, but with all these features and finds and possible features still to be investigated, Trench 9 will re-open again next season. The main focus next season will be to determine what and if the water channel, hearth and sweat lodge area are contemporary, but we will also investigate some of the other features dotted around the trench to come up with a full interpretation for the entire trench.

On a personal level, Franzi and I would like to thank all the staff, students and volunteers who have assisted us with our excavations this year. You have all been an absolute pleasure to work with and teach, and we both hope you have learnt a whole lot. We look forward to seeing you all again in 2016.

t9nine

Bye for now!
Franzi & Lally.

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