Geomorphological Survey at the Bradford Kaims

 Anna Finneran, Coring Supervisor and PhD Candidate, University of Durham

In 2017 the Kaims coring team has benefitted from many dry days, and persevered through some soaking days. Here’s a quick update on the accomplishments of Dr. Richard Tipping and field school students this season:

The Bradford Kaims branch of the BRP since 2010 has conducted a landscape-scale interdisciplinary investigation of a large fenland associated with our archaeological sites.  Excavations have uncovered multiple burnt mounds, structural remains, and artefacts.  Human activity spans at least the Mesolithic through the Bronze Age.  The features and material culture represent an industrial area.  Conspicuous in its absence, however, is evidence for domestic activity in the landscape. In contrast, palaeoenvironmental reconstructions present a rich aquatic environment, characterised by two large lakes throughout the Holocene and populated with unique flora and fauna, potentially attractive for long-term habitation.  The landscape surveys this season have sought to look beyond the Neolithic and Bronze Age by incorporating geomorphology, geophysics, soil micromorphology, and excavation to describe both the natural landscape and the human activity throughout the Holocene.

The main aim of the 2017 season in terms of this geomorphological mapping was coring and sediment description at locations known to contain or likely to contain layers of colluvial accumulation (or slopewash). Colluvial accumulation would result from episodes of erosion on slopes descending towards the fenland basin. Geomorphological analyses from previous seasons concluded that no natural sediment erosion occurred on steep slopes around the fenland. Any erosion on gentler slopes may then be ascribed to archaeological, and potentially agricultural, activity.

The coring team conducted coring transects across the landscape, inserting a metal tube (or sediment core) into the soils and sediments of the fenland and its surrounds, to chart the different types and depths of material.  We successfully identified layers of colluvium within layers of peat, representing episodes of agricultural destabilisation of the slopes, at numerous points. Following reconnaissance, five locations were selected for a combination of analyses including soil micromorphology and pOSL analysis (see Becky Scott’s blog in a few days for more detail on this!).

Another aim of the geomorphological investigations in 2017 was working in tandem with Graeme Attwood’s magnetometry survey to define buried anomalies. Coring and sediment description preceded excavation of 1 x 1m test pits over the most promising anomalies. The anomalies to the NW of Trench 6 proved to be burnt mounds, as hoped. However, the anomalies in the form of two parallel lines between Trenches 11 and 9 were found to be ditches for Victorian age drainage pipes.

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Despite our pipe-related set-backs, one lost (but later retrieved) core, and numerous small injuries and sprains, the coring team successfully completed our aims for this season with positive and encouraging results for the future. Next season we hope to continue to investigate the natural landscape and the human impact upon the environment throughout the Holocene, and hopefully use the analyses of colluvial deposits and the dating material provided by the fenland to gain a more in-depth understanding of how people across the Bronze Age and Iron Age influenced their landscape.

More Bronze Age Pottery!

In a previous blog post, we shared our exciting pottery find from Trench 6 at the Kaims site: a single rim fragment of cord-impressed pottery with a tentative Bronze Age date.  In our 4th week of the season, a further 21 fragments turned up in the same area!  The find included two more rim pieces, four with cord impressions, and 17 undecorated fragments of various sizes from (we believe) the lower portion of the vessel.

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Pottery fragments lying in situ in Trench 6 before excavation

After giving the collection a gentle wash, we were surprised to see that on the surface of several of the fragments are what appear to be small finger nail impressions running in horizontal lines in the fired clay.  They don’t appear to be intentional decoration, so they could be marks left by the vessel’s Bronze-Age creator during the forming process.  If after further analysis our suspicions are confirmed, this would be very exciting for us, because this find will be a rare glimpse of an individual person’s fingerprint on this landscape.

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Pottery fragments after washing

When the new pottery was compared with the original fragment, we found that the three rim pieces fit together, along with the remaining two decorated pieces.  This gives us a much more reliable idea of the possible size of the vessel, which might have had a rim as wide as 45cm.  Right now we think we might have the remnants of a very large bowl or jar.

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The 5 decorated pieces that fit together

One fragment revealed another feature of this vessel: a thin, raised band of clay running along the middle of the vessel, right at the bottom of the criss-cross, cord-impressed band of decoration near the rim.

Due to the poor quality of the clay and low firing temperatures, the vessel would not have successfully held liquid, but could have been used for food storage.

End of an era as Trench 1 at Bamburgh Castle closes (1999 to 2017)

Long long ago (in a different century) we first opened Trench 1 at Bamburgh Castle. It was the Bamburgh Research Project’s first ever trench within the castle as our previous work had been centred on the Bowl Hole burial ground and desk based research. Its end has been predicted for a couple of seasons now, but each year more post-holes and features seemed to weather out and become visible, frustrating our plans to close the trench. This year though we dealt with the last few of those and even further investigated the glacial deposits at the base just to be certain that nothing lay hidden. We have officially closed the trench and it is under semipermeable membranes waiting for backfilling.

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Some Trench 1 staff from present and past were there for the last day. Left to right- Constance Durgeat, Alex Stevens, Marsaili Heatley, Graham Dixon and Graeme Young. Former supervisors not pictured: Graeme Attwood, Neal Lythe, Phil Wood, Matthew Claydon.

Some of the earliest features have been the most difficult to identify and interpret, cut into boulder clay and often having a fill very close to the surrounding natural in both colour and composition. At this lower level the site resembles a moonscape with craters cutting craters. A definite challenge for our continued interpretation during post-excavation.

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We made a list of the senior staff from the trench for a time capsule

There will be many more blogs on the trench in the future as we work to write it up and publish it but today I thought I would post a few early photos as contrast to the trench today. Many thanks to all of the supervisors, assistant supervisors, and hundreds of students who worked in trench one over the years.

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A junior Trench 1 from 2001, a small version of what it became!

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Part way through the high medieval sequence with the consuction cut for the early 20th century wall on the right

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A thanks to the many students who worked hard and recorded diligently over many years

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The last days of the trench with sondages across the boulder clay – just in case!

Geophysical Survey at the Bradford Kaims Uncovers a Possible Prehistoric Settlement

On the 17th and 18th of June, Graeme Attwood*, from Magnitude Surveys came to the Bradford Kaims to conduct a geophysical survey of the landscape surrounding the site. The survey produced some intriguing results which provided exciting information for future excavations of the wider archaeological landscape.

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Graeme Atwood from Magnitude Surveys performing a geophyiscal survey at the Bradford Kaims using a fluxgate gradiometer.

The geophysical survey conducted at the Kaims used a hand-pulled fluxgate gradiometer, a type of magnetometer, which measures magnetism. Magnetic survey is used in archaeology as it can detect magnetic anomalies in the ground, which may indicate the presence of subsurface archaeological features. The magnetic geophysical survey investigated a total area of approximately 2.3 hectares in order to assess the below ground archaeological potential of the Bradford Kaims, conducted as part of our wider investigation of the landscape. Our investigations integrate excavation, field walking, survey and paleoenvironmental coring to evaluate the extent and nature of human exploitation of this wetland environment.

The magnetometer survey was conducted in five areas across the landscape of the Bradford Kaims, both in the wetland areas that are the focus of our current excavations and of the hills surrounding them. The survey produced a number of magnetic anomalies, suggesting that a wide variety of archaeological features are sitting below the surface.

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Map showing the five areas in which geophysical survey was conducted at the Bradford Kaims

The fifth area investigated in the survey covered our excavations on the South-Side of the wetland. The results indicated an archaeological feature which is thought to be another large burnt mound, one of the features found across this site. We are confident of this interpretation as a small portion of the mound has been excavated in previously seasons. Part of our remit is to test the accuracy and scope of the geophysics by excavating the anomalies. This is working extremely well, giving huge scope for future work.

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Results from the fifth area of survey showing magnetic anomaly 5a which has been interpreted as a burnt mound

The most exciting results, however come from the investigations of the wider landscape. The third area of magnetometry survey on Hoppenwood Bank near our area of excavation revealed positive magnetic anomalies with a strong archaeological character. Two large circular features; one measuring 13m in diameter, the other 14.5m in diameter, were identified. These circular features are similar to the magnetic anomalies produced by round houses. This suggests we may have identified a prehistoric, possibly Iron-Age settlement, at the Kaims! Within the large outer ring of what we think may be round houses, a series of smaller sub-circular anomalies were also identified. These features are between 0.75m and 2m in diameter, possibly produced by pits and post-holes which may indicate an internal structure to the large circular features which strengthens are interpretation that these may be roundhouses. The evidence that we may have discovered a settlement becomes more convincing when we consider the series of positive anomalies that have been found across the south-eastern portion of the third area. These anomalies are thought to be produced by the presence of pits and similar cut features, suggesting human activity in this area, strengthening the argument for the presence of a settlement. Settlement activity of this type is very rare in Northumberland and very exciting.

Results from the third area of survey showing the circular magnetic anomalies; 3a and 3b that have been interpreted as possible Iron-Age round houses.

This enthralling discovery has put all of the Kaims team in high spirits and we are planning to excavate the area of the settlement, next season. The geophysical anomalies identified in this survey have opened up the possibility of an exciting future for excavation of the Bradford Kaims!

*Afterword from Paul Gething: Graeme Attwood was a regular at the BRP for almost a decade. He came as a young student, became a staff member and eventually went on to run T1 in the Castle. He left the BRP to do postgrad work in Geophysics. He has returned often to visit and occasionally to do small scale work in Bamburgh and at the Kaims. He recently started his own geophysics company in Bradford, which is thriving. He went far above and beyond what we reasonably expected of him on a furiously hot few days. I have always admired his work ethic, but he surprised me with just how much he can do. It was a great pleasure to welcome Graeme back to the BRP and fantastic to work with him again and I look forward to working with him again in the future. I also look forward to seeing his business go from strength to strength.

Visit to the Heugh Excavation on Lindisfarne

We recently visited the ongoing excavation on Lindisfarne that is being undertaken by the Archaeological Practice as part of the Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Project. It’s a fascinating site and should be familiar to some, as it has been the subject of a number of news reports. The team have opened up a series of trenches on the Heugh, which is the long, narrow, dolerite rock promontory above and to the south of the medieval priory site in Lindisfarne Village. The Heugh has long been speculated to have been part of the early medieval monastery founded around 634 during the reign of King Oswald, as a daughter house of Iona. It quickly rose to be a site of great importance and remains famous for its association with Saint Aidan and Saint Cuthbert as well as being the place where the wonderful Lindisfarne Gospels were made.

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The foundations of the potential new church on the Heugh

Here the excavation team have found the almost complete foundation of a stone building, that all current evidence suggests is early medieval in date. Direct dating evidence is scant, but the near complete absence of later medieval and modern pottery from the structure, despite a considerable volume of material being excavated, suggests a time of construction when pottery was not in use. This, together with the absence of mortar bonding and the rather crude-tooled finish to the stones, adds up to a quite compelling argument that they have discovered a building from the early monastery. In addition, the ground plan, with what appear to be a chancel and nave, is very suggestive of a church which greatly adds to the excitement.

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The finish of the stones is mostly quite crude and no mortar bonds them together. It was a substantial structure though with wide foundations made of large blocks.

We know from textual evidence, particularly the writings of Bede, that Aidan’s successor Finan built a timber church that was later covered in lead. We also know from a later text that this church was removed to Norham as a relic when the monastery was partly abandoned in the 9th century. We can be certain then that this structure is not that church, but the site would have likely held several churches during its lifetime. The crude working of the stones, particularly of some sculpted stones that appear to form a trough or bowl, and part of a possible window, are very interesting as they may suggest builders that are beginning to come to terms with a new construction medium- stone instead of wood. As a consequence it is tempting to imagine this building as particularly early, but it is perhaps also possible that it could be later. In the Viking age many monasteries were abandoned, but the continued use of stone in the construction of monuments at Lindisfarne suggests that the site remained important, though the sculpted fragments of the 10th century and later often appear to be cruder and derivative. It is therefore possible that this structure could date from this later time, when the working of stone was not done with the same confidence or competence as the 8th and 9th centuries.

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Bamburgh Castle, Lindisfarne’s near neighbour, just 8.5km over the water!

It is tempting also to see the location on the height of the Heugh as meaning that the building was meant to be seen from a distance. It has a clear sight line to Bamburgh, the great secular palace site, and this may be no coincidence. We have evidence of pre-conquest stone architecture at Bamburgh and it is likely that the use of this medium was intended in both instances to reference Rome. In the case of a monastery, this would be the Catholic Church as the successor of Rome, and at the palace as legitimising rule through being the heirs of the Romans. This is a good lesson in why it’s important to study how a site fits into its wider world in order to properly understand it.

Amazing pottery from the Bradford Kaims

Last week we had a JCB at the Bradford Kaims to extend Trench 6. When cleaning this new extension, Project Officer Tom Gardner found one of the most exciting finds this site has ever seen: a large fragment of Bronze Age pottery. After giving it a wash, we discovered that the pottery was decorated with cord impressions making a criss-cross shape on its outer surface. The sherd is part of the pot’s rim, and thumb imprints can be seen where its creator was shaping it.

Although twisted cord impressions are common in Neolithic pottery, this sherd was found in a context that is likely contemporaneous with Bronze Age radiocarbon dates. Neolithic pottery is also extremely rare in the North East of England which led us to conclude that it was in fact Bronze Age.

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Project Manager Rachel Brewer is currently doing an archaeological pottery drawing from the sherd to gauge how large the pot could have been, then it will be sent to our finds department for further analysis!

Watch this space.

Interpreting the Lower pavement in Trench 3

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A Trench 3 phase plan for the middle 9th century AD with some earlier features depicted in the northern Hope-Taylor area, including the ‘lower pavement’. The pit and socket were yet to be identified when this was drawn but it lies in the west part of the baulk, close to where the baulk joins our main excavation.

During the last week we have been excavating two pits in the area of the baulk through the Hope-Taylor excavation. One of these has proved to be quite substantial and associated with a broken stone socket used as a pivot, which we have now lifted. Working out what the socket was used for is difficult as we have few other features that we can associate with it at the moment. It likely held a door post that rotated in the socket so we should be looking for traces of a building in the vicinity. Hope-Taylor excavated to both north and south of the feature and there is what appears to be a construction cut for a timber structure in his records to the north of the stone. If we can prove that these two features were broadly contemporary we might be closer to solving the problem and identifying a new building.

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The socket lies on its side and with a visible crack at the centre of this photo. It lies within a pit that cuts a mortar surface to the right and stones to the left.

West of the pits we are currently working on one of the more interesting features in the Hope-Taylor excavation. It’s a linear stone structure that lies along the west extent of his trench. Hope-Taylor called it his ‘lower pavement’ and it has been a recognisable part of of his excavation since we first uncovered it. We touched on it in the last blog on Trench 3, as we were looking to see if we could join this ‘pavement’ through the baulk to a series of stones visible in section. The ‘pavement’ is important because it is a long linear feature that extends for many metres along the west side of the trench.  Importantly it represents a stratigraphic signpost linking Hope-Taylor’s excavated material back into our sequence via the section we drew of the baulk.

 

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‘Lower pavement’ extending along the west extent of Hope-Taylor’s excavation level

We have been looking at the ‘pavement’ feature itself and some characteristics seem to be apparent. Is this stone structure really a pavement/road or a structural foundation for a timber building. The fortress wall must lie within 6 to 8m of our trench edge, judging by the position of the current wall and the edge of the dolerite plateau, which certainly leaves space for a building or a road.

The lower pavement extends for 11m (assuming it is seen emerging from the baulk) but does not extend all the way to the north end of the trench or further to the south into the southern Hope-Taylor trench. This alone would seem to make the road interpretation problematic. Looking at the surviving Hope-Taylor records, and the feature in the ground, it seems that it is a discreet structure that does not quite extend to the western trench limit. This makes us think that it must surely be a structural foundation, not a road. It also contains a variety of stone from dolerite boulders to occasional dressed blocks of masonry and these must have been re-used from an earlier building. If our further investigation can define it turning right angles at each end then we will have proved it is a building. Frustratingly as the majority of the structure lies beyond our trench and under the standing castle wall we will have only a limited chance to go further and define is role.

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Aerial view of Trench 3 with a rather speculative guess at to how a building might lie between the trench and the fortress wall

 

Back up and working in Trench 3

Once we get the tarpaulins off and the site clean again there is always the same feeling of never having been away, despite the months that have past. This year we are back to contemplating the connections between our excavation and the surface that Brian Hope-Taylor reached in his last season in 1974, just as we were last July. Over the last couple of seasons we have been slowly inching our way towards this great ‘joining up’, and although it might sound like a straightforward task accomplished by simply digging down to the same level, this is not the case; the trench slopes down to the west and the south. This means that surfaces that were the same date are not at the same physical level in different parts of the trench. The whole trench, after all, is in a natural cleft in the rock, in-filled over perhaps two thousand years. A good illustration of this is what Hope-Taylor called his ‘Lower Pavement’, a stone surface that stretches along the west side of his excavation.

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The pavement at the base of the rather green section. It seems that there is a gap that may be a little more than just a thin layer of soil covering part of it.

At the moment we are working on the baulk (an unexcavated bank of ground) that Hope-Taylor left in beneath a sewer pipe that physically joins our two excavations together. This is a key to linking our recorded archaeology to his. To its north the layers within his trench are only around 10cm below ours, but to the south he excavated deeper and into earlier deposits, which has left a tall standing section. We cleaned and re-recorded this last year and continued it into our main excavation to the east. It was during this process that the decorated bird mount was found. One more incentive to get down to this lower level this season.

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The deeper part of Hope-Taylor’s excavation is still under cover (foreground) but we have uncovered the section to aid our comparison to our own levels (being planned on the right).

Of course life in Trench 3 is never simple, so at the west side of the baulk, in the spot where the ‘Lower Pavement’ joins the baulk, there is a gap before it is seen again in the section of Hope-Taylor’s deeper excavation. We are currently investigating if this absence is due to the presence of a pit that cut through the stone feature.

Excited to get back to Trench 3

It was quite late in the season last year when the new decorated copper alloy mount was discovered in Trench 3. We had been investigating once of the sections of the Hope-Taylor excavation from the 1970s, trying to make sense of the stratigraphy alongside our own and working out if the surfaces did indeed slop down from north to south. During this process we extended into our trench from the section, excavating a narrow slot down to a lower horizon. This revealed a new well laid cobble surface and it was from this level that the copper mount was recovered.

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Trench 3 from the west showing the section extended across the far side of the trench to reveal the new cobble surface.

Looking at it still encrusted with soil we thought that we might have the head of a dragon, but x-ray and conservation quickly revealed that this was a mistake. we were looking at it the wrong way around and it was a different kind of beast entirely.

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The bird as first conserved

On Monday morning we will start excavating again and expanding the slot trench and investigating the new cobble surface will be a high priority. Are we in a building or was the find dropped on a yard or road surface? Time will tell but I feel it could be an interesting summer.

Our Lecture Series for the 2017 Season

Anyone in or visiting the Bamburgh/Belford area during the next five weeks are welcome to attend our  Wednesday evening public archaeology lectures at the Bell View Centre in Belford, Northumberland.

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No booking is required and entry is free, though any donations to the project to cover the cost of renting the venue is gratefully received.