So the season has ended at the Bradford Kaims, and a week of sleeping off the exhaustion has allowed us to reflect on our findings. Trench 6, the largest and longest running area of excavation at the Kaims, really came into its own in the two months we spent plumbing its depth this summer. While it has always been an area that has thrown up fascinating and breathtaking archaeology, such as the wooden platform, its numerous Early Neolithic burnt mounds, and our beautiful troughs, this year it outdid itself.
Our excavations focussed upon the central body of the trench, as opposed to its extensions into the bottleneck of the fenland to the south which were the focus of last year’s work. We had several key interfaces between the dryland burnt mound sites on the higher ground, and the wooden platforms in the fenland, which we knew we had to work out before the excavations could expand. The beginning of the season was centred around the removal of all of the burnt mound deposits within the trench, excluding two large baulks which will remain in place for posterity. The removal of the burnt mounds, while not hugely stimulating work, brought us down fully, and for the first time, onto the preserved prehistoric landsurface beneath. And what a land surface it is! Things are never as expected at the Bradford Kaims, so instead of a blank and featureless colluvial layer beneath the Early Neolithic burnt mound deposition, we have come across two significant post built buildings, a ditch, more wooden platforms and detrital dumps of woodworking material, and hundreds of stakeholes. This adds to our trough sequences, and the hundreds of stakeholes already identified.
What started as one small rectangular building supported by significantly sized raking posts, and containing a large fire pit with in situ burnt timbers, quickly became two structures, with a reused gable wall joining them. The second building is also post built, using a beam-slot and post construction method, extends into the northern edge of the trench, and will have to be chased next year. However, the primary building, which we believe to be later in the phasing of the site, is of a very rare construction technique for the Early Neolithic. It’s raking posts are large, but the footprint is small, suggesting a low-roofed building, with a deeply sunk (>0.6m) fire pit in the centre. This fire pit is truncated by a massive later pit, in which was found an intact and in situ post tip, as it dropped below the water table. The entire building has been sun into the colluvial clay which forms the fenland bank, with the excavated material being redeposited as a levelling dump for the channel-side of the structure. Not bad for a structure that shouldn’t be there!
The Wood-Working Detritus
The key interface between wetland and dryland aspects of Trench 6 which we needed to evaluate this year, was how the wooden platforms interfaced with the burnt mound deposits. We had long suspected that the platforms were not quite as they seemed, and excavating their interface with the mounds has proved that the term platform should, perhaps, be applied more carefully to the dense deposits of laid and staked wood which we have known of at the site since 2014. As we excavated a brushwood platform layer above the burnt mounds, we came onto a burnt mound deposit, which was simple enough. Upon going through this, we came onto another wood dominated layer, this one comprised of wood ships, bark, broken wooden artefacts, and larger debarked timbers. Below this, was another layer of burnt mound material which, when removed came onto a layer of light brushwood containing one massive trunk, which had been debarked, debranched, and still boasted its felling cut-marks. We know, through coring, that dense and anthropogenically laid wood exists for a full 3m beneath this level, but without burnt mound material within it. It then poses the question of what is going on in these interfaces.
Our interpretations, based upon the interleaving burnt mound and wood rich deposits, and the wooden offcuts, wood chips, artefacts, and timbers found in the ‘platform’, are that these deposits are a series of detrital dumps of wood-working debris, used as a large stabilising platform stretching out into the fenland bottleneck, and interspersed with burnt mound deposition. While further excavation is needed, the idea of two prehistoric processes, of burnt mound deposition and wood-working, occurring simultaneously at the edge of the fenland, is highly intriguing.
Another Look at the Troughs
Finally, we achieved another brief look, and a further excavation of, our wonderful wooden trough sequence associated with the burnt mounds in Trench 6. As always, the latest trough in the sequence, constructed from an entire oak trunk, hollowed out vertically and sunk up to 0.6m into the colluvial bank of the fenland, steals the show. This year we fully excavated it, and took a suite of high-resolution photographs for photogrammetry to model it in detail. As it is stratigraphically below a lot of other archaeology which had to be dealt with, exposed in a 20th century field drain cut, the excavation of the rest of the area will have to wait until next year. Regardless, it was wonderful to see it exposed again!
Although brief, this should stand as a quick record of our findings in Trench 6 this summer at the Bradford Kaims. Thanks go to the tens of students and volunteers who helped us excavate the site, and also to the dedicated and wonderful staff who trained, organised, and led the excavations! We will be back next year, when we shall hopefully finish the archaeology within Trench 6. Join us then for more!
Tom Gardner, Project Officer