Spaces filling up for our 2017 Archaeology Field School

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Student places for our field school this summer are filling up. Given that we have reduced our season to 5 weeks we expect that the numbers of students attending per week to be higher.

The BRP is dedicated to ensuring our excellent teaching standards remain unchanged. To continue to offer our high staff to student ratio we will therefore be placing limits on the number of student who can attend each week. Some weeks are already getting close to full capacity.

We encourage those who are interested in booking a place at the field school to submit their application as soon as possible.

Find the Application Form Here

It’s going to be an amazing summer! We are already counting down the days!

The Bradford Kaims awarded Moray Endowment Fund grant

We are pleased to announce that Tom has been awarded a small grant from the Moray Endowment Fund of £1992 for comparative research into the geoarchaeology of burnt mounds and associated soils, most of which will be undertaken at the Bradford Kaims, with a smaller study being conducted on Allt Thuirnaig burnt mound at Inverewe, in the north-west of Scotland.

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Tom taking micromorphological samples through peat deposits at the Bradford Kaims

The Moray Endowment Fund is an internal funding body of the University of Edinburgh, where Tom is currently undertaking his PhD studying the wider geoarchaeology of burnt mound deposits across Great Britain and Ireland, for which the Bradford Kaims forms a core case study. This funding will allow us to look in great detail at a larger suite of micromorphological samples from the burnt mounds at the Bradford Kaims, and from the fills of some relict streambeds associated directly with the burnt mound use. Thin section micromorphology, a technique in which Tom is becoming well versed, involves the microscopic analyses on in situ sediments and soils, and seeks to better understand what archaeological sediments consist of, where they came from, how they got to where they are now, and the processes that have changed them since they were deposited.

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Thin section micrograph of micromorphological samples through the burnt mound in Trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims

Through this form of study we already know that some of the earlier burnt mounds at the Bradford Kaims were deposited seasonally probably in summer and autumn, and vary widely in their fuel types from small Roundwood charcoal through to grasses and sedges. From this, and with our wider landscape analyses, we are able to better understand the movements and activities of people living around the Bradford Kaims in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, and how they interacted with their environment.

We thank the Moray Endowment Fund for their support, and all of our readers for their continued attention!

 

Dating Funding Awarded to the Bradford Kaims

We are pleased to announce that the Bradford Kaims site has been awarded two small funding grants to undertake radiocarbon dating of some of our features across Trench 6, and to tie our coring activities in with the rest of the excavations. The funding was sought immediately after the end of the 2016 season to clarify the dates of certain areas of the excavation uncovered this year.

Primarily, we have been awarded £1500 from the Northumberland County Council Community Chest scheme to date a series of preserved hazelnut shells through our large wooden platform feature in Trench 6, following on from the £1,000 grant we received from this fund in 2015 to enable community volunteer involvement. We selected hazelnut shells as the datable component as they are a very short-lived ecofact, only absorbing base carbon from the atmosphere for a short period (<1 year), rather than over longer periods such as other carbon-storing ecofacts can do. Dating oak (Quercus) for example, can provide discrepancies of up to 500 years, as it can be such a long-lived tree. As the first grant from this fund allowed dozens of community volunteers to come on to site and work with us, especially on the platform area, we thought it appropriate to use the second grant awarded from the Community Chest to date that area of the site, to finalise the good work that our volunteers have done. Many thanks to the Community Chest fund and all of our volunteers for their support and help!

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Community volunteers digging the platform

Our second grant is slightly smaller, a total of £756 awarded to us through the Heritage at Risk and Northumberland County Council Conservation Grant for two more radiocarbon dates on our platform area, which will finalise its dating and allow us to tie this feature into our other chronologies across the site. Hopefully these two dating grants can be used as pump-primer funds on dates to help us get further funding from across the site and landscape. Hopefully we will have more good news for you all soon!

Tom Gardner

 

Bradford Kaims 2015 Interim Report Released

Since the end of the 2016 season we have been working hard to process and assess the material which we extracted from the Bradford Kaims, as well as dispersing to work on our other projects. However, we had a wee bit of catching up to do on the 2015 season, in the form of finalising our interim report. We usually try to get the interim reports done prior to the beginning of the next season, as we managed with our 2013 and 2014 season reports, but time ran away with us this year. However, we can now safely say that the 2015 interim report from the Bradford Kaims is available, open access and on our website!

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Trench 6 under investigation in 2015

I shows the highlights and the less glamorous sides of our 2015 scheme of investigation, and covers all the excavation which took place during out two month season, so please give it a look and let us know what you think!

Evidently it is a slightly slimmed down version of our activities, the full details of which will be presented in our end-of evaluation site monograph. However, it should provide details of our exciting finds, such as the Neolithic timber platform in Trench 6, the timber laid working area in Trench 11, and the stake-built building in Trench 9!

Now, a bit of time off to work on other projects, such as the exciting Blythe Beach work, and then the beginning of the 2016 interim report!

Tom Gardner

End of Season Reflections, Southern area at the Bradford Kaims

 With a hive of activity happening in this area at the conclusion of season 2015, the South trenches looked to hit the ground running again in 2016. Trench 9 was re-opened once again, to finish off the investigations started in 2014, while two new trenches were established with one being for the purpose of resolving the archaeological questions that had risen from two previous trenches in the Southern area, and the other as part of an investigation into the other side of the wetland, on the dry ground. Trench 14, which was opened over Trench 8 (season 2013) and Trench 11 (2015 season) with the hope of establishing the relationship between in the stone mound found in T8 and the large timbers found in T11. The other trench opened in the south area, was Trench 15, which was opened in the second half of the season to establish the limit of archaeology in the southern area. Despite a horribly wet start to the season, we still managed to gather plenty of information about this area of the site from these trenches.

 

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Trench 14 (foreground) and Trench 9 (background) during the 2016 season

 

TRENCH 9

Unfortunately for us, season 2016 was not a nice one for Trench 9. After two years of weird and wonderful features and finds from the trench that lay on the edge of the wetland’s tidal area, this year, the weather won out. Despite getting the trench opened (with some changes in dimensions to accommodate the need to investigate specific features), cleaned and ready to be excavated again in the first week, the rains came and came and came, turning the trench into a pond, a lake and finally a dam. This meant that it was never plausible to excavate in dry conditions until the last fortnight of the season.

 

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Trench 9 after the heavy rains

With the end of the 2015 season providing us with a wealth of things to look at in Trench 9 this year, sadly, many of them could not be investigated. The north-western corner stayed under water the entire time, meaning our brushwood platform and Neolithic post-hole settings could not be looked at further. Instead we targeted central area where we had the sweat lodge, hearth and Neolithic plank, with the latter being the first area of investigation. With the new extension of the trench, 1m further into the wetland, we were hoping to find the plank extending further, with more stake-holes running parallel with it to provide hope on our walk-way theory. Instead, the wood only extended a further 20cm with a multitude of stake-hole present at its extent, but with no real alignment in their arrangement. We only had time to photograph, plan and record these new findings before the season finished, but we no longer believe the plank to be part of a walkway and so further investigation may be undertaken in this area in the future.

Another feature we looked at this season was our prehistoric sweat lodge. Once cleaned and photographed again, a quarter-section of the circular feature was excavated down to natural, with the hope of finding floor deposits and artefactual material associated with the feature on the way down. Sadly, it was to no avail, and so the only dating we can do for this feature is based on its position in the stratigraphy. The Mesolithic hearth, however, yielded some further evidence of its purpose and age, with an additional two pieces of worked chert discovered during an environmental sampling of the feature. The hearth was not found to be very deep, although the weather in the early part of the season had scoured away a significant amount of the original feature, despite our best efforts to minimise the rain’s impact, but measured ~1m in diameter. We still believe that the hearth and the sweat lodge are contemporary with each other as they both sit on the same level in the stratigraphic sequence of the trench, but as for the other areas of interest in Trench 9, we can’t make further comments as we simply didn’t get a chance to investigate them this season due to the weather conditions.

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Excavation of the hearth (foreground) and sweat lodge (background) in Trench 9

 

It is still unclear as to what will happen with Trench 9 in the future at the Kaims. In terms of evaluating what archaeology was present in this area of the wetland margins, we have done so with aplomb. There is still firm belief that the area where Trench 9 lies, may be connected to the area where the new Trench 14 is located, and so it may be opened for one final time to conduct a large evaluation between the two trenches.

TRENCH 14

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Volunteer Tim (foreground) and students Jack (middle) and Carrington (back) digging out the extension.

When we last visited Trench 14, we had a couple of goals in mind. One goal was to expand the quarter section to provide a fresh understanding of the stratigraphic sequence of the stone mound, brushwood platform and peat layer. Our other goal was to expand north, to an area that we expected Trench 11’s paleochannel to continue through. We accomplished both goals, first expanding the quarter section and excavating down to a depth of over one metre below the surface, into the peat layer. We removed the layer of brushwood and we were very excited to discover large timber “planks” lying parallel to each other. This discovery was made the second to last week of the season, so great care was taken to record the planks in detail: photographs, plans and Timber Recording sheets in preparation for next year’s field season. We hope to continue in T14 and to discover if there are more timber planks underneath the stone mound and in the surrounding area.

 

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First timber revealed in the quarter-section.

As our attention turned to expanding into the expected paleochannel area, we were happy to discover that it does indeed continue and the layers of sand in T14 are similar to the layers of sand found in T11 last year. Minimal excavation was carried out on the channel, but hopefully next year more excavations can be conducted. One interesting discovery made during excavation of the quarter section (an area abutting where we expected to find the paleochannel) was a layer of sand different than what was found in the feature last year. This sand had a definitive reddish hue to it, whereas the sand found last year in T11 had a yellowish-brown hue. The reddish sand was recorded thoroughly at the end of this field season and will probably come into play next year as excavations continue in this exciting area of the Bradford Kaims.

 

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Sand variations in the western trench wall of the extension.

TRENCH 15

Situated alongside Winlaw Burn, and to the very west of our area of investigation in Embleton’s Bog, we opened up Trench 15. The purpose of this trench was to establish whether we had any archaeological evidence as far west of our site as this, and to investigate an anomaly on a LIDAR survey of the Kaims area. Being so close to the burn, and with the knowledge that the burn was constantly cleaned out during the Victorian period, we quickly determined that the anomaly was just a large dump of upcast from the this. Some very modern finds were also evidence of this. This still didn’t answer our question of archaeological limit, and so we carried down further, hoping to find the same prehistoric ground surface that has been found across the site in Trenches 7, 9, 42 and 55.

Despite several sterile layers of clay in the 2m x 1m trench, we finally reached what we believed to be our target surface ~1m below the top of the trench. Although no features in this trench, we did manage to find a solitary piece of worked flint at the very bottom of our sequence, indicating that we do indeed have evidence of human occupation as far west as this on our site. We may come back to this area in future seasons to search for further archaeological evidence, but for now we need to keep searching for the western limit of archaeological potential at the Bradford Kaims.

 

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Trench 15 (foreground) in relation to Trench 9 (background)

On behalf of myself, Becky Rutherford (Trench 14 Supervisor), Charlie Kerwin (Assistant Supervisor) and Ian Boyd (Assistant Supervisor) we would like to thank all the staff, students and volunteers that have worked with us in the 2016 season. Without your eagerness to listen and learn about archaeology, and your enthusiasm to help us reach our research goals, we would not have been able to learn as much as we did about this area of the Bradford Kaims this year. Thank you to all, and we hope to see you again next year.

 

Tom Lally (Project Officer)

Pottery Making at the Bradford Kaims – Videos

This blog presents the video interviews from our open archaeology day which focused on prehistoric pottery.

The first shows Rachel Brewer, Assistant Supervisor, discussing the process she went through – first to prepare the clay and then to produce fired ceramics. The second presents some thoughts about the day from two of our students, Ewan and Ian.

 

Thank you for watching!

Stay tuned for more of our experimental sessions – coming soon!

Week 3 in the Post-Excavation Department

 

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The Windmill – home to the Post-excavation Department.

 

Good morning from the Post-excavation Department! We have had a busy few weeks with a steady flow of students coming through eager to learn. Taking into account the better weather and the remarkable finds from the trenches, there is plenty to keep us busy!

 

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Thomas Fox, Environmental Assistant Supervisor, teaching students Katie and Weston.

 

With the amount of new finds, we are able to guide students through the initial processing stages: identifying, recording, and bagging the find. Archaeology at its core is about understanding the past from physical remains, so it is highly important to encourage diligent record keeping.

 

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Students Eden and Steffi finds washing.

 

With the new finds processed, the students are then given the opportunity to move to the next tasks: cleaning, sorting, and illustrating the finds. This allows them the chance to walk through the entire post-excavation process and therefore improve their critical thinking skills and encourage thought on the historic use of the artefact.

 

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Finds Supervisor, Jeff Aldrich, examining some of the finds from the Bradford Kaims.

 

Bradford Kaims has been updating their records to reflect the past several years of work. The finds have all been processed, it’s simply a matter of digitising and correlating the artefacts to their locations in three dimensions. Once the locations are correlated, we can store the finds for future study.

With three weeks down and new students ready to learn about archaeology, we’re getting things moving here at the Project and look forward to the next five weeks!

Trench 6 Update – Bradford Kaims

 

Trench 6 remains our largest and longest running trench to date at the Bradford Kaims. Each new context we uncover adds to the complexity and variety of information about prehistoric human activity in the area. Here, we highlight just two of the exciting features currently under excavation.

 

THE TROUGH

Over the past couple of weeks, we have uncovered our wooden trough in the northwest corner of the trench. After two years of sitting under tarp, the trough has now been fully excavated and cleaned, with its contents removed down to a beautiful clay base. The trough is made of a hollowed out oak tree and fills with crystal clear water, so may have been used as a well; however, within its fill, fire cracked stones have been found which means that this water was probably being heated.

 

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The trough being fully excavated after half-sectioning.

 

BUILDING A

Earlier in the season we uncovered a suspiciously rectangular-shaped dark fill in the northern side of Trench 6. Upon beginning excavation last week we found a series of four large postholes down one side as well as postholes in each corner. We believe that the colossal postholes suggest that this structure was a building. Lying within the structure is an oblong patch of burnt material, which could possibly be a fire pit. From this pit, we have removed a large pointed post, which could have been one of the posts supporting the structure.

Experimental Prehistoric Pottery

This week’s experimental blog is courtesy of Rachel Brewer, Bradford Kaims Assistant Supervisor.

 

Following on the heels of the beer brewing experiment, our Week 5 experimental archaeology project was an effort to make a variety of pottery vessels using only raw clay sourced from our prehistoric site here at the Bradford Kaims. We knew from previous seasons that the trenches and test pits often turn up natural clay deposits of varying colours and quality. We’ve also had a few examples of possible Neolithic and Bronze Age potsherds surface during excavation; so this summer’s experimental archaeology program seemed like a perfect opportunity to test out our prehistoric potting skills! Altogether, processing the clay, forming the pots, and the subsequent firing turned out to be a messy, fun and educational experiment for all involved.

 

Step 1: Gathering the clay

While digging a series of shovel test pits earlier in the season, we hit upon a substantial deposit of clay about 50cm below topsoil. Seeing a source of raw material for our pottery experiment, I dug out a bucket’s worth to begin processing. Though the clay was mostly light orangey-brown, there was a thin layer of grey overlaying that; it also gathered a good amount of silt and peat on its way out of our 20cmX20cm shovel test pit. Through processing, these colours and textures blended together as shown in the later photos.

 

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The raw clay.

 

Step 2: Processing the clay

This was the longest part of the process, due in part to my own inexperience and also to the wet conditions on site. I knew from research that the best way to process raw clay is often to dry it out completely, grind to a powder, sieve, and slowly reintroduce water until the clay reaches a workable consistency. I also knew how unlikely it would be that we could completely dry out that amount of clay in a timely manner, particularly when it was raining almost daily. So I opted instead for wet processing, which involved the help of several pairs of hands pulling all of the clay into small lumps and mixing/mashing it up with added water in a large plastic box. This part worked better than expected, and after a couple of days of minimal stirring, nearly all of the clay was liquefied.

 

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Slaking the clay on site.

 

At this point we poured the slip (liquid clay) through a sieve to remove the largest inclusions, mostly small stones and twigs. We could have used smaller screens and sieved multiple times for greater purity, but I chose not to since examples of prehistoric pottery found at this and other sites indicate that prehistoric people were not processing their clay to a high degree.

 

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Sieving the slip.

 

For about a week I attempted to do a daily pouring-off of the water that would accumulate on the surface, hoping that between evaporation and pouring off that the clay would thicken a bit every day. The couple of days I was able to let the boxes sit out in the sun did help, but it wasn’t working quickly.

 

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The slowly thickening slip.

 

On one sunny day I cut open a bin liner and laid it out on the grass like a small tarp, then I poured the thickened slip out on the plastic. This increased the surface area the sun could reach and it was noticeably thicker by the end of the work day, but it still wasn’t drying out fast enough. We had to rearrange the experimental schedule and move pottery back a week – I had only a week to get some workable clay and I was running out of ideas!

 

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Spreading out the clay to increase the surface area for evaporation.

 

My final effort involved pouring the clay into an old pillowcase, tying it closed with string and hanging it from a tree to allow the water to drain out with gravity and air. The better part of the week passed before I noticed much of a change, but much to my relief, the night before we were scheduled to make the pots we had somewhat sticky but relatively workable clay!

 

 

Step 3: Forming the pots

Before beginning our pot making, the students used rocks to crush up a few soft pieces of sandstone sourced from Trench 6; we used this sand as temper.

 

 

Since wheels were not used by prehistoric potters, the students learned to use the two most common methods of building pottery without a wheel: the pinch method (formed by pinching a solid ball of clay into the desired shape) and the coiling method (rolling out rings of clay, stacking the rings, and smoothing them together). A small amount of temper was added by each individual to their own allotment of clay. Of course we had some creative minds in the mix who ventured beyond the utilitarian forms like bowls and jars, and by the end of the day we had quite a collection of unique creations! We set everything we made on two log disks that would be easily moveable and would absorb moisture. After that we just had to let everything dry out completely to prepare them for firing.

 

 

Step 4: Firing

When it was time for firing, we began by building a small fire in our fire pit on site. Pottery has to be heated very slowly, so we began by placing the dried pots around the edge of the pit and then slowly moving them in close to the fire. Once the pieces were against the central fire, we began placing larger branches over and around the pots, completely covering them and creating a kiln effect. We kept a large fire burning for about an hour and a half, then allowed it to die down to coals. Since our time on site was limited to 5 hours and the pots needed to be cooling before we left site, we weren’t able to keep the pots firing for the ideal amount of time, which for our purposes would have been around 4 hours.

 

The final step of firing is allowing the pots to completely cool before removing them from the pit. Before we left site for the day, we dug the pots (none of which had broken!) out of the coals, stacking them against one wall of the fire pit and shoveling the coals to the opposite wall. We then covered the pots with a layer of grasses and sedge, placed a couple of metal sheets over the pit to protect the pots from rain, then left for the night.

 

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The fired ceramics hot from the fire.

 

Upon examining the cooled pottery the next day, I was pleased to see that none of the vessels had cracked or exploded during firing. Additionally, the pieces had fired, if not completely through, then most of the way through despite the shortened firing time. The fired pots are noticeably brittle and not completely water tight, but with a little more practice we could probably produce vessels that would be more serviceable. Since we accomplished our goal of using only raw materials from site and a fire to create prehistory-inspired pottery – and we had fun doing it – I’m calling this experiment a success!

 

Bradford Kaims – Trench 14 Update

Trench 14 is actually a combination of two earlier trenches: 8 & 11. 

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Trench 14 and the stone feature within it.

Trench 8

Trench 8 was opened in 2013 and contained an artificial mound comprised of larger stones (30-45 cm in diameter) underneath a layer of smaller stones (4-10 cm in diameter). 

A quarter section was dug out to determine the depth of the mound, and we discovered a thin layer of peat under which lay a brushwood platform. As the season ended, we backfilled the quarter section and left it to future investigations.

Trench 11

Trench 11 was opened in 2015 in an attempt to further understand the stone mound feature by examining the surrounding area, as well as determining if any relationship existed between Trench 8 and the western end of Trench 9 – where a large post was discovered in situ at the end of season 2015. 

A paleochannel with layers of sand and brushwood was discovered at the southern end, which was less than a metre from the north end of Trench 8. One side of the channel edge looked like it may have been cut intentionally though further investigations are required to determine if that was the case. 

Also within the trench, we discovered over 10 pieces of wood around 6 cm wide & ranging from a half metre to one metre in length lying within the peat layer. Two had potential cuts in them, giving us an indication that at least a couple of them were used by early humans. 

So far this season…

We have expanded Trench 14 to include both Trenches 8 and 11, and are in the process of expanding the quarter section to give us a fresh understanding of the stratigraphy of the artificial stone mound and the brushwood platform lying under the peat layer. We also plan to expand the trench into the western edge of Trench 11 to understand if a relationship between 8, 9, 11 and 14 exists. Our plans are to extend into the palaeochannel to determine if it was cut intentionally and to excavate at least partially into the edge of the peat layer to discover if more worked wood exists.