An update on our prehistoric paddle discovery

Its time for an update on our exciting find of a preserved timber paddle, made at Bradford Kaims, in the last few days of excavation last year.

The paddle was found on the surface of a timber platform, composed of round wood branches, and provisionally dated to the early 4th millennium BC (or slightly later) via an archaeolmagnetic date from an adjacent hearth that can be stratigraphically associated with it. The paddle was found near to the north-east side of the platform, where it overlay one of the burnt mounds, that extended into peat layers. Interestingly there was also at least one layer of burnt mound that also overlay the platform, indicating that it was constructed whilst the activity that was generating the mounds was still be undertaken by the prehistoric people who lived in the area.

It was clear from the start that the paddle was very fragile and also close to the top of the water-table, so not likely to survive much longer if left in place over winter. We decided that our best option as to try and lift it, so that it could be excavated in the laboratory. We encased the paddle in expanding foam and tried to support it with timber boards, prior to the lift, but cutting beneath it was problematic, as the peat contained many stones from the adjacent burnt mounds.

Lifting the block containing the paddle.

Lifting the block containing the paddle.

The Archaeology Department of Edinburgh University had offered their help. So our bulky package was taken there soon after it was lifted. Over the winter attempts were made to carefully remove the paddle from the packaging, but sadly despite everyone’s best efforts the combination of the very fragile artefact and the difficult lift meant that it too badly cracked and fragmented to be successfully conserved. We will still be able to investigate the find from the photographic record taken on site, and will also be able to investigate the fragments to identify the species of the wood and also to look to see if we can identify any tool marks left by the craftspeople who shaped it.

The paddle, as found on the surface of the timber platform.

The paddle, as found on the surface of the timber platform.

If we had needed any further evidence, then the paddle has confirmed to us just how well the peat in the wetland will preserve organic material. We are certainly excited to see what new discoveries we make this summer.

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