2018 Funding Success with the Society of Antiquaries of London

The Bamburgh Research Project are pleased to announce that the Society of Antiquaries of London have kindly awarded us £4700 to undertake continuing post-excavation analysis of the material recovered within the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle.

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The project ‘Forging Castle Space’, will focus on the metalwork recovered from early medieval contexts in Trench 3. The funding will allow us to assess and plan the conservation of 7,200 fragments of early medieval metalwork, spanning the 8th-11th centuries, plus conserve a 25% sample of all styca coins recovered.

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The Bamburgh Bird. One of the many early medieval artefacts recovered from Trench 3.

Upon completion of the project the metalwork will be better understood in terms of its function, origin and date, plus its purpose for deposition within an associated building, likely used for working metal (You can read more about the building here: Castling, J. and Young, G. L. 2011. A 9th Century Industrial Area at Bamburgh Castle, Medieval Archaeology, Vol. 55, 311-317). This data will allow us to better understand the function of the building, its associated area and the broader 8th-11th century horizon in this area of the castle. The data generated will also inform ongoing excavation and aid us in our attempt to contextualise earlier excavations (1959–74) for which we only have a partial archive surviving.

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9th-10th century ‘metalworking’ building

The long-term goal is to establish the character and significance of early medieval activity, as this was pivotal in creating the spatial and material precedent upon which the post-Conquest castle complex developed.

We have already made great strides towards understanding this period in the West Ward, as we have recently completed the post-excavation analysis of Trench 8, which sits immediately adjacent to Trench 3. Funding from the Royal Archaeological Institute has enabled us to determine a stratigraphic sequence from the modern to the Roman period using the artefacts recovered and C14 dates to identify and date contexts. You can learn more about this project here: Trench 8 RAI Grant.

If you would like to join us this season to help us undertake the excavation of this fascinating site or work more specifically with our post-ex team (artefacts and environmental material) please visit our website for more information: http://www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

 

 

 

The archaeology Field School is filling up

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We are very happy to say that although booking has only been open for a few weeks, we are already more than 50% booked. There is still plenty of space left but some weeks are beginning to look quite full, so if you are thinking of joining us this summer then do drop us a line soon if you are not flexible in the weeks that you can join us.

This summer the excavation runs from June 17th – July 20th.  We will be excavating in the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle on early medieval layers and we are offering two programmes:

Excavation and Post-Excavation and

Post-Excavation only

book anywhere from one to five weeks. However, we recommend booking two weeks minimum for a well rounded experience. Our dates are listed below:

  • Week 1: June 17th- June 23rd
  • Week 2: June 24th- June 30th
  • Week 3: July 1st- July 7th (waiting list only)
  • Week 4: July 8th- July 14th (waiting list only)
  • Week 5: July 15th- July 20th (waiting list only)

Tuition is £275 per week, which will cover all on-site excavation and post-excavation activities. You can learn more about what this covers by visiting our website.

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Accommodation must be booked separately. There are many options for accommodation in the area to suit every budget and we are happy to offer suggestions. However, we do encourage all participants to stay in close proximity to BRP staff, as this allows staff and students the opportunity to get to know one another in a social setting and there are friendly faces around should you need a helping hand. This year our staff will be staying at Budle Bay Campsite

Note: There have been several changes to the field school such as our training schedule and when you are expected to arrive. Even if you have booked in years past we encourage you to read-through the updated website pages.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Launch of our 2018 Archaeology Field School

 

Booking details are now available for our 2018 field school season, which runs from June 17th – July 20th.  The field school will operate out of Bamburgh Castle and we are offering two programmes:

Excavation and Post-Excavation or Post-Excavation only

You can book anywhere from one to five weeks. However, we recommend booking two weeks minimum for a well rounded experience. Our dates are listed below:

  • Week 1: June 17th- June 23rd
  • Week 2: June 24th- June 30th
  • Week 3: July 1st- July 7th
  • Week 4: July 8th- July 14th
  • Week 5: July 15th- July 20th

Student spaces are limited, so we encourage you to book your place as soon as possible.

Tuition is £275 per week, which will cover all on-site excavation and post-excavation activities. You can learn more about what this covers by visiting our website.

Accommodation must be booked separately. There are many options for accommodation in the area to suit every budget and we are happy to offer suggestions. However, we do encourage all participants to stay in close proximity to BRP staff, as this allows staff and students the opportunity to get to know one another in a social setting and there are friendly faces around should you need a helping hand. This year our staff will be staying at Budle Bay Campsite

Note: There have been several changes to the field school such as our training schedule and when you are expected to arrive. Even if you have booked in years past we encourage you to read-through the updated website pages.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Medieval and Anglo-Saxon Metalworking at Bamburgh Castle: the results of the Trench 8 assessment and conservation

As part of the BRP’s ongoing post-excavation analysis of Trench 8 in the West Ward of the Castle (click here for a full description of the research project funded by the Royal Archaeological Institute) a collection of 165 metal objects were sent for x-ray and assessment. Of these, the copper alloy and lead objects were found to be in good condition but the iron objects were poorly preserved with significant surface loss on some.

Of the metal artefacts recovered, 19 were recommended for conservation. Funding was provided by Bamburgh Castle to undertake the conservation where the artefacts were appropriately cleaned and stabilised. These have now been returned to the Castle in the hope that some will go on long-term display within the Castle’s archaeology museum and the rest will be carefully stored for future research.

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Trench 8 under excavation in 2008

The 165 objects ranged in date from 7th century – 1970’s. The majority of the collection is made up of medieval iron nails (85) with various other objects, including horseshoes, a key, bolts and a buckle also dating to this period.

The Early Medieval period is also well represented within this collection. This is not unexpected as Trench 8 lies in close proximity to the 9th-10th century metalworking building located in Trench 3, where a large styca hoard and other examples of Anglo-Saxon metalwork have been discovered (for more info see Castling, J. and Young, G. 2011, A 9th Century Industrial Area at Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, Medieval Archaeology, Medieval Britain and Ireland, Vol. 55, 311-317). Earlier excavations undertaken by Dr Brian Hope-Taylor (see link above) also recovered the famous Bamburgh Sword (click here to watch a lecture about the Bamburgh sword) and axe head in this area. The Anglo-Saxon material recovered from Trench 8 included a possible clench-bolt, which are often associated with boat building, wagon and building construction, a pair of shears indicative of sewing or personal grooming, a copper alloy strap end with parallels from the Anglo-Saxon port of Hamwic and three copper alloy styca coins.

Before and After Shears

Shears before and after conservation

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Early Medieval copper alloy strap end

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Styca coin

There are 23 fragments of lead off cuts, which suggests lead was being worked in the vicinity.

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Selection of lead off cuts recovered from Trench 8

Notably, evidence of Brian Hope-Taylors earlier excavations undertaken in the 1960’s and early 1970’s is seen in the metalwork with a 1974 penny – the last year of the earlier excavations, aluminium foil and modern nails all being recovered by the 2006 BRP excavation team.

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1974 penny recovered during the 2006 dig season

The team also found in-situ finds tags from Hope-Taylor’s excavation, which have helped us understand some of the surviving paperwork and find spots of key small finds from his excavation.

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One of Hope-Taylor’s small find tags

There are numerous other objects that will require further research to date and identify parallels. These include a iron blade, hooked tag and socketed arrowhead, plus a probable copper alloy weight for a fishing net.

Before and After Blade

Iron blade with tang before and after conservation

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Socketed arrowhead

There is still further research to be undertaken on the metalwork assemblage from Trench 8 but the initial results suggest the site was particularly active from the 8/9th century through to the 14th century. The information will be combined with that provided from the other material assemblages, such as the pottery, glass and lithic, to build a picture of life in the West Ward. This in turn will be used to support the data gathered from the larger BRP Trench 1 and Trench 3 excavations, and contextualise the unpublished and partial record from the Hope-Taylor excavations – one of the BRP’s primary research objectives within the Castle.

Future blog posts will look at some of the other material assemblages and report on the radiocarbon dates that will help provide clues toward the dating of various complex features observed in Trench 8.

Excavation Season 2018

We are running a little later than usual in announcing details about our summer excavation, but plans are in hand and we aim to make some more detailed announcements this month.

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Trench 3 with the new strucctural surface exposed in the narrow trench. Looking forward to seeing more of this in 2018!

Excavation at Bamburgh Castle will be five weeks this summer, as it was last year. Given that excavation within Trench 1 was completed last season, this year we will only be excavating in Trench 3. Our aim will be to expose an 8th century structural surface within the trench, but we are also seeking to move our post-excavation forward as well. It will be slightly smaller team than usual so probably best to book early, if you are able, once the website is updated. In the mean time if you want to be added to an email list to be contacted as soon as the details are finalised then do get in touch graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

Progress with the Bamburgh Castle Trench 8 publication

We always have a quiet period on the blog following the excavation season but although work has slowed we are still busy. The current focus for the Bamburgh Castle excavation is on producing a publication centred on our re-evaluation of Brian Hope-Taylor’s first excavation in the West Ward of the castle that he undertook in 1960. The Bamburgh Research Project emptied the backfill and re-drew the sections in 2006, taking the opportunity to sample excavate two baulks of material that Hope-Taylor had left in place. We have been fortunate to receive some funding support from the Royal Archaeological Institute towards a good part of the specialist analysis costs and to fund some radiocarbon dates. More information about this can be read here on a previous blog post.

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Combining the H-T and BRP small find locations in QGIS using georeferenced to import Hope-Taylor’s section to our section drawing. Fun but not entirely straight forward.

We now have reports on the pottery and glass and reports on the flint and metalwork are close to completion. Graeme Young, one of the BRP Directors, is currently working on illustrations that compare the original Hope-Taylor records with our own. Not as easy a job as you would imagine as one set of records was compiled in feet and inches and the second, forty six years later, in metric. The two records also show the many changes in excavation techniques that have taken place as well. Given that the trench represented some 2000 years of occupation, and produced some amazing finds, it is definitely worth the effort.

End of Season Blog – Trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims

Whilst part of the season was slowed down by heavy rain, we still managed to get a lot of exciting work done in Trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims this year. We started the season by extending the trench 3m on the south-east-side and 5m on the north-west side with the help of a JCB and its lovely driver, Martin. The main reasons behind this were to find the extent of our large early Bronze Age burnt mound, and to identify any associated archaeology lying on the periphery of the mound itself. Almost as soon as we stopped excavating with the machine we found a large rim sherd of mid-Bronze Age cord-impressed pottery in the northern extension of the trench. When this area was cleaned further, more sherds of the same pot were found and we were able to fit the pieces together, giving us an idea of its original shape and size (see earlier blog post for more details here). Also identified upon the opening of the northern extension were the articulated remains of a sheep sitting within a sub-circular but poorly defined pit. The skeleton was investigated by the BRP’s resident bone expert Tom Fox and was then excavated by staff and students together. Due to its position cutting through a system of alluvial silts covering the burnt mound, it is relatively modern, but still provided our students with the opportunity to excavate articulated remains, which is a bit of a rarity at the Bradford Kaims.

 

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Bone expert Tom Fox cleaning up the post-Medieval sheep in Trench 6.

In the centre of Trench 6, our investigation was focussed on a complex sequence of post holes and pits just north-east of our wooden trough, which make up a variety of structures and associated burnt features which interface directly with several burnt mound deposits. A large oblong ‘fire pit’ which was discovered last year was half-sectioned by students, and turned out to be much more confusing than originally thought! What we thought would take a few days to bottom and sample turned into weeks of work and recording, due to the many cuts and recuts found in the feature, alongside heavy rain in the middle of our season. On completing our half-section however, we have been able to work out the sequence as being the repeated cutting and filling of a long rectilinear pit cut into the natural clays at the base of Trench 6. The fills were a sequence of charcoal rich deposits thought to represent in situ firing events, sealed by lenses of natural clay that was partially fired. These deposits were later cut by two small pits and a post hole to further complicate the sequence. Our working hypothesis is that this feature represents a ‘fire pit’ or ‘earth oven’, where a fire was laid, stones heated, and then was filled with food and sealed with clay and vegetation in order to trap heat and allow an oven-like cooking system to form. At the end of the season we took four micromorphological samples to test this hypothesis, so will report on these in the off season once they have been analysed by a specialist.

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The half-section of the ‘fire pit’ in Trench 6 being excavated by students Tom and Lianne, with Fionnuala, and Courtney excavating the beam-slot beyond this.

The line of post holes running south-east to north-west in centre of the trench was cut short by the edge of the trench, so another positive that came out of the northern extension was the ability to investigate this possible structure further. This has also proven to be a complicated sequence, with recuts of various features suggesting that there are at least two structures on site. While we have yet to finalise the nature of these structures, it appears that we have an earlier A-frame structure built onto a levelling dump over the ‘fire pit’, and then a later reuse of one side of this structure with the addition of a beam slot, which may have covered the trough in the centre of the trench.

Figure 3 T6 Blog

Students Oda and Erin recording the half-section of the ‘fire pit’ in Trench 6, with Fiona and Sofi excavating post-holes beyond them, and even further, Project Manager Rachel Brewer and Assistant Supervisor Katie Walker lifting our Bronze Age pot.

Even though our plan had been to permanently close Trench 6 and completely backfill it this season, we have left the central area near the wooden trough open to allow us to return next year and investigate this particular feature, and its relationship with the structures in the wider trench, further. It has been a fantastic and exciting season in Trench 6 this year, and we would like to thank all of the students and community volunteers who have been extraordinarily helpful to us. Thank you, and we hope to see you next year!

Rachel Moss – Trench 6 Supervisor and University of Edinburgh, and Katie Walker – Trench 6 Assistant Supervisor and University of Edinburgh.

End of the Season at the Bradford Kaims Trench 42

The focus of our excavations on the south-side the Bradford Kaims in the 2017 season have been our investigations of Trench 42, located on the promontory of glacial sediments which juts out into the fenland. Trench 42 was first opened in 2012 and again 2016, during last year’s very wet season. It is sited on higher ground and provided us with an opportunity to continue excavating when the rest of the site was flooded.

Previous excavations uncovered an extensive but relatively thin burnt mound deposit (4203), which has been provisionally dated to the Early Bronze Age. The surface beneath the burnt mound (4217) was cut by numerous negative features, notably a large roughly rectangular cut, filled with burnt material. This cut feature [4214] is headed at one end by a rectangular limestone slab that has had a hole drilled through the middle and is associated with four post-holes, located at each corner of the feature. The working hypothesis is that this cut feature was a firing pit, although its exact function remains unknown. Our excavations on the south-side for this season centred around this possible fire pit.

The first week of excavation was spent re-opening Trench 42 to reveal the fire pit, and to help with this the trench was subsequently extended five meters to the north-west, with the intention of revealing any features associated with the pit. After the turf was removed we immediately came down onto the remainder of the large burnt mound deposit (4203) that overlies [4214], which extended across the entirety of the extension.

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Students and volunteers extending T42 and exposing the blackened Bronze Age burnt mound deposits (4203).

The extension was cleaned, photographed, and planned to record the extent of the burnt mound. We then removed and sampled the burnt mound deposit for radiocarbon dating and plant macrofossil identification, which will hopefully provide secure dating evidence for the activity in this area of the Bradford Kaims site, and shed light upon fuel-use strategies associated with the burnt mound.

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Students removing the burnt mound material in a sampling grid, exposing the subsoils beneath it. The fire-pit can be seen as the upright stone to the extreme right of the image.

At the end of week three we extended the trench by another 3m towards the south-east where no burnt mound underlay the topsoil. Upon doing this, we came straight down to a sand based prehistoric land surface (4217), into which the burning pit had been cut and, and extended across the entirety of Trench 42. On top of this context we found various pieces of worked and unworked flint. Notably, this included a beautiful triangularly shaped weapon head (which has been described in a previous blog).

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EnterStudents and staff extending T42 to the south-east in poor weather, showing the consolidated fire pit in the centre of the image, cut into the (wet!) sand-based prehistoric land surface. a caption

In the following cleaning of the trench we identified multiple negative features that may be connected to the fire pit and the wider use of the area. Among them are at least three possible post holes which seem to form a right angle near the northern corner of the fire pit and could be part of a built structure. Further investigations were interrupted by the end of the season so we have not yet been able to finalise our full interpretations. For now, the site is interpreted as a complex series of burnt mound deposits focussed around a large fire pit, with a previous structure present in the area, all sitting upon a post-glacial land surface which has been a site for multiple episodes of flint working and use. We hope to come back in future and get another chance to discover the wider function of the area, and to provide a more holistic picture of the prehistoric activity that once occurred on the promontory at the Bradford Kaims.

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Volunteers Barbara and Trina excavating a slot (in better weather) through the basal burnt mound deposits onto the prehistoric land surface, encountering numerous cut features.

In addition to this excavation, a geophysical survey and an archaeomagnetic dating study were conducted in the area of the promontory. The results of the geophysical survey seemed to point out some areas of interest. Time permitting, only one of these was test-pitted during the final weeks of the season and turned out sadly to be the cut of a Victorian drain pipe. However, this survey also showed the extent of the burnt mound exposed in Trench 42 as a spread reaching 20m in diameter, as well as identifying numerous smaller anomalies believed to be more burnt mound deposits and other features in the area. When we return to Trench 42, we will also be investigating some of these features, and will keep you posted on our blog!

Charlie Kerwin, Trench Supervisor and University of Nottingham, and Franzi Leja, Assistant Supervisor and University of Bamberg.

Ashington Academy Challenge Week at Bamburgh Castle

Recently Brian Cosgrove and Catrina Clements of Ashington Academy brought three of their pupils, Liam Clark, Ethan Elliot and Ben Hardy up to Bamburgh Castle for Challenge Week. Although we had officially finished the dig the weekend before we were happy to host them and in fact left a little corner of the site open for them to work in.

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Ben Hardy, left and Ethan Elliot, right excvating our troublesome layer

We had a plan to investigate a small block of deposit that might provide clues to help us resolve a problem with Trench 8, our re-evaluation of Brian Hope-Taylor’s Trench 1 from 1960. The deposit was a small triangle of isolated stratigraphy between Trench 8 and Trench 3. it was the continuation into Trench 3 of a confusing layer that we identified when we re-evaluated the Hope-Taylor trench. This layer that produced a limited amount of glazed pottery, now seems to reach down well into the early medieval period (see the section below). It confused us at the time of the re-evaluation in 2006 and now we have excavated much deeper in Trench 3 we have more information and it appears to extend from the 12th to the 9th centuries. As such it spans far too large a period of time for a single phase of activity and must surely represent a series of layers that we are failing to differentiate between. Elswhere in Trench 3 we have clearly different events and structures from this 300 year period. That fact that it is up to 0.4m thick is a further clue that we are missing changes that are simply very hard to see.

Section

The digitised east facing section of Trench 8 as re-recorded in 2006. Layers 806 and 820 are part of a known series of deep midden deposits that date from the 13th centuy to the 15th century. Directly beneath is the probalematic layer, 825, that extends in section all the way to a series of layers and features that we can now date. Thin layers 828 and 863, along with the large post-hole 835 are all provisionally dated to the 9th century. The cobble feature 827 is likely to be even earlier and 8th century.

Excavation within Trench 3 has also revealed that the stratigraphic layers get deeper to the south and west and that near Trench 8 the accumulation of deposits over time was slower and shallower. As we are currently writing up Trench 8 for publication it would be very useful to be able to demonstrate if this deep deposit really did comprise more than one stratigraphic layer. So we decided that we would excavate a sample of the surviving deposit in three successive units, in a verticla sequence, separating the finds and taking a sub-samples for flotation from each. We hoped that we just might be able to see changes in the finds or identify material we could date from each unit, as a test of our idea.

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Liam Clark helping out with recording

Brian and Catrina and their small team helped to excavate the layer in its units, take the samples and for good measure we processed one on site with them as well. As normal we identified and collected the finds as we dug, sieved all the deposit through a 6mm grid and 3D located the one small find, a piece of lead. We were not able to differentiate layers in plan as we dug them any better than we were in the section. Animal bone was common throughout the three units, but the only pottery sherds came from the upper one. Interesting, but far too limited evidence to form any conclusions yet. We will further analyse the finds and samples over the next few weeks, but may need to date each unit through radiocarbon assay to stand a chance of coming up with solid proof.

Geoarchaeology at the Bradford Kaims

Becky Scott – Assistant Supervisor (Geoarcheology) and PhD Candidate, University of Reading

Following on from our blog post about the geophysical survey carried out at the Kaims this year, we have been busy ‘ground-truthing’ the anomalies seen just to the North of Trench 6 – that is, identifying whether the magnetic anomalies seen on the survey are archaeological features or not. Of course, like most endeavors, we have had varying degrees of success! The first few test pits that were dug contained nothing but colluvium (sediment that has been deposited downslope, often known as hill or slope wash) even after digging up to a metre. We then decided to take some cores around the area that showed the magnetic anomalies to the North of Trench 6 using the Dutch auger, which is essentially a long pole about 1 metre long with a T-handle and a screw-like head at the bottom which collects and retains sediment. Dutch augers are particularly useful for hard and wet sediments so worked very well through our silty clay colluvium. After taking a number of cores (with the excellent help of our two Young Archaeologists Club competition winners!) we eventually came up with some lovely layers of charcoal and burnt material, so we set to work digging three more test pits. Two of these test pits were more much more successful, particularly Test Pit 75 which showed a charcoal layer almost 30cm thick (see Figure 1 below).

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Figure 1. SE-facing section of TP75 showing three very distinct layers: Top soil, colluvium and a ~30 cm thick charcoal and stone rich layer.

 Test Pits in the wider landscape

As well as ground-truthing the results of the geophysical survey, we have also been collecting samples for geoarchaeological analysis from some larger test pits dug by our new friend, The Big Digger. For those unfamiliar, geoarchaeology is an approach to archaeology which utilises techniques from the earth and environmental sciences to answer archaeological questions. In real life it mostly involves getting really, really muddy and pondering sediment sequences for long periods of time…

The main aim was to take samples from the colluvium in the wider landscape (identified during coring by Dr. Richard Tipping and Coring Supervisor Anna) for radiocarbon and pOSL (portable Optically Stimulated Luminescence) dating and micromorphology (the study of in-situ soils and sediments in thin section) to provide us with a proxy for human activity in the immediate area (see Figure 2 below). Colluvium results from human activity, particularly agriculture, and therefore can tell us about past agricultural processes in the wider landscape as it represents a period of soil erosion due to ploughing, over-grazing, and the removal of trees. Under gravity these sediments are then transported downslope. Sometimes, if geoarchaeologists are lucky, ancient soils will be preserved underneath the colluvium allowing us to infer a period of stability and identify the environmental conditions before the land was cleared. The nature of the colluviation also gives information about what processes caused it to erode, and how high the energy of its erosion was.

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Figure 2. Students Oda and Daniel taking OSL samples in the extended section of T6 with Anna and Becky, and Director Paul also working hard in the background. Samples for pOSL were taken vertically down the sequence from the section by inserting tubes into the face of the section, removing gently and quickly securing with tape to ensure no light entered the samples. They were then labelled with a sample number and an arrow indicating the end that had not been exposed to light, ready for laboratory analysis.

Figure 2. Students Oda and Daniel taking OSL samples in the extended section of T6 with Anna and Becky, and Director Paul also working hard in the background. Samples for pOSL were taken vertically down the sequence from the section by inserting tubes into the face of the section, removing gently and quickly securing with tape to ensure no light entered the samples. They were then labelled with a sample number and an arrow indicating the end that had not been exposed to light, ready for laboratory analysis.

pOSL will hopefully allow us to identify the rates of erosion in the area, with the radiocarbon dates from the peat below effectively acting as an ‘anchor’ to identify when this erosion (and therefore agricultural clearance) began. Once the thin sections are made, micromorphology will allow us to identify the depositional and post-depositional processes occurring at the microscale.