An Excerpt from the Promontory – Bradford Kaims

Trench 12, 13 & 42 were opened (reopened, in T42’s case) this season for sampling & investigations into the burnt mounds located on the promontory.

T12 is a 2m x 3m trench located on the southern end of the promontory. Shortly after opening the trench, we began to find some really interesting artefacts. In the peat layer, we found a piece of burnt quartz & when we continued down through the peat onto the burnt mound layer, we found more: two pieces of worked flint & two pieces of burnt bone! Quite exciting finds for a trench originally opened up for sampling.

 

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A piece of worked flint from trench 12.

 

Trench 13 is 1m x 2m trench located just off the edge of the promontory, near the waters edge. Like T12, it was opened for sampling & has also produced some really interesting finds! Just below our peat layer, we discovered a layer which consists of shells & sand moulded & formed together. In that layer, we uncovered two pieces of charcoal, nine small (4-10cm sized) pieces of worked wood & one log roughly 1m long. We think the smaller wooden pieces may have been stakes & considering their proximity to the waters edge & the fact that a couple were orientated at a 45° angle, it could indicate fencing.

 

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A piece of worked wood from trench 13.

 

A 2m x 4m portion of trench 42 was reopened for sampling, with the focus being on the burnt mound, the trough & the limestone piece. A 1m x 2m spit was dug out of the north end. We expected the burnt mound material to continue at least a half meter, but we quickly uncovered an interesting mottled orange clay layer only 4-5cm into the burnt mound layer.

 

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The re-opening of trench 42.

 

Since the weather has turned more amiable for excavations to continue in our other trenches, we have taken a break from our work on the promontory, but plan on returning to it to as soon as feasible.

Kaims: End of 2015 season round up and a few words about 2016 from Paul Gething.

We’re approaching the end of our evaluation phase here at the Kaims. My intention was to assess how much archaeology is here, what condition it is in and how we can best approach excavating, interrogating, recording and protecting it. 2016 will probably be our last season of evaluation, in anticipation of full excavation in the future – funding permitting. An interim report should be out within the next 18 months.

In a nutshell, there is a vast amount of amazing wetland archaeology here and we have a truly world-class site spanning from Bronze Age back to Mesolithic. Surrounding the wetlands are an array of sites from all periods that we haven’t even begun to explore. The preservation is breath-taking and the sheer amount of features and artefacts is almost overwhelming.

Kaims North

This area was run by Tom Gardner. His team consisted of Alex Wood and Sophie Black who were backed up by a small army of students, community volunteers and young archaeologists. New additions to the team for this year are Rachel Brewer, Rachel Moss and Anna Finneran.

Trench 6

The platform interaction with the burnt mounds has opened up nicely. We’re beginning to see relationships and there seems to be many phases to both platform and mound which overlie each other. It’s going to be a complicated problem unpicking the relationships, but it provides us with the opportunity to do the most in-depth analysis of a burnt mound sequence undertaken anywhere. Tom has started his PhD looking into the micro-stratigraphy and I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

We have totally excavated through the burnt mound sequence in places and there are many complex features beneath, showing occupation and industrial activity from the Neolithic.

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Pit feature beneath Burnt Mounds in T6.

Trench 10

Trench 10 sits close to Trench 6 and was positioned to look at the prehistoric platform. We intended to identify how deep it is and what materials it is made up of. This has been achieved via a mix of excavation and coring by Dr Richard Tipping of Stirling University. Richard has been at the Kaims often, working long hours to gather the data to interpret the platform. At over 3m deep, heavily stratified, and over 15m wide, it really is vast and very complex.

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Trench 10 near end of season showing worked wood in abundance.

Kaims South

This area was being run by Graham Dixon. He had Becky Brummet, Tom Lally and Franzi Leja working with him. They too have had students, community volunteers and young archaeologists. Graham has now moved on to the Castle excavations and we welcome Ian Boyd and Charlotte Kerwin to the team.

Trench 9

T9 has yielded some excellent stratigraphy too. I thought we would be able to finish this trench in 2015, but I hadn’t counted on the complexity of the archaeology. The trench runs from a Neolithic land surface down into a lake edge where the organic preservation is fantastic. We’re still getting out well preserved stakes and timbers. There are literally hundreds of stake holes and planning them has been a mission. We only excavate a percentage of them, but it’s still a big task. Hopefully 2016 will provide enough information from Trench 9 for a meaningful report.

We also found a circular structure, approx. 2m in diameter. After a lot of discussion, I’m starting to think it might be a sweat lodge, similar to the ones seen in North American First Nation sites. The nearby hearth and proximity of water edge are very compelling.

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Circular structure associated with a hearth and masses of stake holes.

Trench 11

This trench is a sister trench to T9. The sheer amount of well-preserved wood is quite frightening. Much of it is worked and we have only opened a very small area. There are hints of trackways running back towards the burnt mounds, or possible sweat lodge sites, but it is much too early for any meaningful interpretation. We’re setting up hypotheses and then knocking them down, one by one.

There is also the suggestion of a paleo-channel in there too, almost certainly containing lots of wood, pollen and macrofossils.

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Trench 11 with well-preserved wood and a sand topped paleo-channel.

Experimental Archaeology

In 2015 we did a lot of experimental archaeology. We brewed beer 6 times, baked almost edible bread, worked flint tools and made tools from bone, all using prehistoric technology. Arguably the greatest success came from the woodworking. We used wooden wedges to split logs and were able to make a functioning copy of the paddle found in 2013 using just wooden wedges and a stone axe. We aim to continue this in 2016.

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Barbara and Tom splitting a log with bone and wood tools.

Community

The thing I’m most pleased with from 2015 is the community volunteers. We had 113 community volunteers on site across the season, aided by a grant from the Northumberland County Council Community Chest. We originally intended to run less than 90 person days but we were very oversubscribed, and managed to not turn anyone away. Our team of community volunteers all came from the local area and remain a dedicated and enthusiastic crew. They turn up in all weathers and I didn’t hear a single moan from anyone. They really are a pleasure to have on site and contribute massively to the excavation and general on site atmosphere. A heartfelt thankyou to everyone who volunteered last summer and we look forward to working with you again this year.

Young Archaeologist

As a part of the community engagement we also had young archaeologists on site in 2015; more than 20 in total. Their appetite for archaeology is infectious and we loved having them on site. We will definitely be having community volunteers and young archaeologists this season. They add a huge amount to the Kaims and the wider BRP.

Final thoughts…..

It’s a new season. That came horribly quickly, but we achieved a huge amount in 2015, a good deal more than I thought possible. Largely down to the hard work of a thoroughly dedicated team. Every year archaeologists gather from all over the World to come and live in Belford and dig at the Kaims. We have a truly multicultural staff and they perform miracles with limited resources. 2016 promises to be another fantastic season. The weather is good, the site is dry and we are looking forward to some hard work.

 

My thanks to everyone who helped make 2015 a brilliant season and a welcome to everyone who plans to help out in 2016.

PAG

 

If you are local and want to come and get some hands on experience then contact me at gething1966@gmail.com to book a place on one of our Community days. We are open to Community volunteers on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday throughout June and July.

If you want to come and dig for longer, at either the Castle or the Kaims, places can be booked through the BRP website.

www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

Archaeology Basics Video Series: The Test Pit

Here is the forth and final in our archaeology basics series filmed and edited by the students from Ashington Learning Partnership. To see the first video in the series (The Trowel) and hear the story of the students involvement in media click here. To see the second video (The Mattock) click here. To see the third video (The Kettle) click here. Enjoy!

An in depth video of the Bradford Kaims by Archaeosoup Productions

We were lucky to have our friends from Archaeosoup Productions down to visit the Bradford Kaims for a more in-depth look around. Check out their video below!

They are a fantastic group who really excel at comprehensively sharing archaeology and heritage with the wider world. They are constantly uploading new videos to their YouTube page that are informative, educational, and just plain fun. Have a look through their videos by clicking here. You can also hire them for a wide variety of workshops, lectures, activities, and media production. Check out their website for more information. 

P.S. Don’t miss the ending!!

New BRP video from Archaeosoup

We were lucky to have our friends from Archaeosoup Productions down to visit both of our sites last week. Check out their video below!

They are a fantastic group who really excel at comprehensively sharing archaeology and heritage with the wider world. They are constantly uploading new videos to their YouTube page that are informative, educational, and just plain fun. Have a look through their videos by clicking here. You can also hire them for a wide variety of workshops, lectures, activities, and media production. Check out their website for more information. 

Experimental Brewing at the Kaims

This week at the Bradford Kaims we have begun our new Experimental Archaeology Programme! Experimental archaeology is the process of recreating past technologies utilising resources which would have been available to societies in the past. Through this process we can gain possible insights into the mind-set of people in the past as well as insights into the processes they underwent in the creation of the archaeological record.

Our initial investigations have been in brewing our own beer. Due to the wealth of fire-cracked stones within our burnt mounds, it is likely that the occupants of the site were heating water. Similar to how we use hot water today, there is a large variety of possible uses; cooking, cleaning and sweat lodges. Due to the heating process required in the production of beer, brewing could have been a possible activity taking place at the Bradford Kaims.

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Becky and Miranda grinding barley with a variety of tools

Our methods were simple:
· Mashing/grinding malted barley
· Creating a firepit to heat the stones
· Add the ground barley to water
· Add hot stones to get water up to temperature for two hours
· Sieve the heated mixture
· Add flowers for flavour (in this case hawthorn) and a small piece of bread for yeast
· Sit covered for 4-5 days for fermentation to take place

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Hot rocks being added to the barley and water

Currently what we did has not necessarily been experimental archaeology as there was no true “experiment” taking place – there were no variables being tested or research questions being investigated. The value in this initial process is that we are learning about the process and gathering potential areas for further investigation.  We will be doing more brewing over the season, along with some more experimental archaeology focussing on flint knapping and prehistoric wood working (to create tools to tie onto our brewing experiments). Hopefully by the end of the season we can link our experiments together to add to our interpretations of the use of the Bradford Kaims site… plus – experimental archaeology is pretty fun!

Week 1 at the Bradford Kaims – Clean, clean, clean.

After a busy week here at the Bradford Kaims, Trench 6 is now in full swing. Within the trench we have as many as four burnt mounds (prehistoric rubbish dumps primarily consisting of fire-cracked stones – associated with heating water) along with an extensive preserved wooden platform. Students and staff alike have worked tirelessly to remove backfill, trim weeds and on occasion even get a trowel in hand for a light clean.

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We have been lucky with the weather this week with the sun bearing down on us everyday. While excellent for all of our tans, this has made the site incredibly dry, resulting in cracking of soils and making excavation of some sediments incredibly difficult. With some rain overnight and cooler conditions today it will be interesting to see how the moisture reveals any features on the site previously obscured by dust.

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Looking to the students, we’ve had Kelly cleaning back burnt mound material. Always eager to get stuck in, Ian excavated down one of the sections of the largest mound in order for Lawrence, a keen photographer himself, to photograph the material underlying it. Our fourth student, Ryan, has been demonstrating his skill and care in section cleaning, helping us try to understand the various layers and deposition events within the burnt mound.

Along with learning in the trench, Project Officers Tom Gardner and Graham Dixon have been teaching the students how to fill out deposit/cut sheets and how to use levels in order to record our site.

We have our first finds of the season consisting of some cannel coal found at the base of one of the burnt mounds, along with three pieces of preserved wood which have tool marks and some preserved plant matter embedded into them (all very exciting!).

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In the coming week we plan to finish cleaning the trench and further uncover areas of  the wooden platform (the extent of which has been searched for by coring by Dr. Richard Tipping of the University of Stirling). We also hope to begin experimental archaeology by crafting bone tools and brewing beer. One week down, seven more to go and LOTS more archaeology to be discovered!

Gearing up for BRP 2015: Bradford Kaims North

Today we introduce you to the awesome staff of Bradford Kaims North! Returning Project Officer Tom Gardner will be assisted by Alex Wood, Sophie Black, and Franzi Le. We are looking forward to another awesome season of progress at the Kaims!


Tom Gardner

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“I’m originally from Glasgow, but have been living in Edinburgh for the last five years studying for my undergrad in archaeology, now my MSc by research, and from September, my PhD in the environmental archaeology and geoarchaeology of burnt mounds!

When I am not at the Kaims, I spend a lot of my time processing samples from the Kaims, writing about the Kaims, talking about the Kaims, or thinking about the Kaims. Occasionally I sleep, and that time is really for me. I am joking (hopefully); I mountaineer, canoe and kayak, drink ale, sit in coffee shops, read books, canvas for political movements, and despair over the state of the country.

I first attended the BRP in 2012 as a student, in 2013 as an Assistant Supervisor at the Bradford Kaims, before assuming my current role as Project Officer for the north side of the Kaims in 2014. This season I have an extensive programme of work planned for Trench 6 at the Kaims, and a series of smaller excavations in the surrounding area! These focus upon our platform features, doing a bit of sampling for my PhD, and having a laugh with the team again; postgraduate life can be lonely!

Looking forward to you all joining us!”


Alex Wood

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“I am one of the Assistant Supervisors for the Bradford Kaims this season. I went to the University of Edinburgh to study Archaeology MA (Hons) and graduated this time last year. My primary archaeological interests lie in Mesolithic Britain and experimental archaeology. This will be my first season with the Bamburgh Research Project, although I have visited the Braford Kaims excavation in the past and the site was the inspiration for my undergraduate dissertation on the preservation of archaeological wood. Since graduating I have been training to be a teacher but archaeology has pulled me back into its warm (and muddy) embrace! I have recently taken up wood carving, so when not excavating I will probably be found in a corner whittling a spoon, slowly burying myself in a pile of wood shavings…

I am thoroughly looking forward to joining the Braford Kaims’ excellent team and seeing what organic finds will be uncovered this season!”


 Sophia Black

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“I am from Bulgaria and I moved to Scotland in 2011 to study Classical Archaeology in the University of Aberdeen. I first worked with the project as a student in 2014 and absolutely loved the Bradford Kaims! I am very excited to come back this year and continue working on the site. When I’m not at the Kaims or at Bamburgh, I divide my time between uni, work and Criminal Minds. I am very much looking forward to coming back, working with all the great people I met last year, and also meeting new faces!”

Franzi Le
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“I am from Germany and very lucky to have learned about this project on-line in 2013! The first year I attended as a student. In 2014 I returned as staff but unfortunately only for the last two weeks because of my university’s termtime. I am doing a BA in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Conservation in Bamberg. This year I am especially looking forward to the season since I found a way to spend at least four weeks with this amazing project. I am excited to get more involved and to find new interesting evidence at the Kaims!”


This year’s digging season will start on Monday the 8th of June, so stay tuned for more blog entries, tweets and video footage of the intriguing finds at Bamburgh Castle and the Bradford Kaims! We can’t wait to get started!

Archaeological Science at Bradford Kaims – Phytoliths: Part One

Although archaeology is often a reassuringly simple process, some features prove to be too complex to be understood without a great deal of analysis and plain hard work. Burnt mounds have perplexed archaeologists for decades, but now with the application of scientific research to archaeological post excavation we are getting, step by step, closer to a more complete understanding of them. This is the first in a two part article detailing a little of the laboratory work being undertaken on our burnt mound samples at Edinburgh University by Tom Gardner. It’s complicated but fascinating stuff.


What have we been doing?

This last season at the Bradford Kaims we embarked upon a series of advanced sampling processes in order to test some of our theories about burnt mounds, what they consist of, and how they are deposited. We had been thinking that these enigmatic mounds must consist of multiple individual deposits, and although these events are invisible to the naked eye, we were wondering whether the events may be visible in the palaeobotanical and micro-component record. We implemented a series of stratified phytolith and concurrent thin section samples in order to appraise the botanical record and microstratigraphy throughout the various deposits in the mound, which Tom Gardner, Project Officer North at the Kaims, has processed and analysed for his MSc by Research at the University of Edinburgh. We are now happily at a point where we can present some of the preliminary interpretations of these samples.

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Tom and Sam taking thin-section samples from mound 6080 at the Kaims.

Why have we been doing this?

The burnt mounds we have at the Kaims, especially in trench 6, are enormous. They even come close to challenging some of the biggest in Britain such as Beaquoy and Liddle in the Scottish Northern Isles. This means that these mounds must consist of a numerous depositional events, over an undetermined duration of time, with an unknown intensity of deposition. To the naked eye the burnt mounds seem to be a homogenous mass of fire-cracked stone, ash, and charcoal, indicating a uniformity of deposit components, and thus a uniformity of function.

In some of our experimental work at the Kaims, we have tried brewing and cooking using hot stones, and quickly realised that you can brew 40 litres of beer, or cook for 15 people, using just a few stones. That our mounds comprise hundreds of thousands of stones indicates that there must be thousands of individual events, and that they may be visibly different under a microscope. The combination of phytolith sampling and thin section micromorphology was chosen to unpick these potential variations both horizontally and vertically throughout Mound 1, in trench 6 at the Kaims.

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An Elongate phytolith from mound 6020 at the Kaims.

What are Phytoliths?

Phytoliths are small silica micro-bodies formed in the cell structure of plants when they intake water and nutrients from soils. When the plant then dies, these silica moulds can survive for millennia, and can be diagnostic of the genera of their host plant, but are regularly diagnostic to a species level, unlike pollen. More importantly however, they can be diagnostic of the particular part of the plant anatomy they come from, and as such can give information as to plant processing patterns and resource use.


Stay tuned for part two: The Results!

One last reminder about our open day at Berwick Public Library

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Just a last reminder that BRP team members and the Ashington Learning Partnership Media Team will be at Berwick public Library between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm, tomorrow (21st April) for the public launch of the DVD on the Bradford Kaims Wetland Project.

There will be a short introduction followed by a showing of the film. Afterwards members of the BRP and the media team will be available to chat over coffee.

The library is in the town centre, on the junction of Walkergate and Chapel Street. Do make it along if you can.

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