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.

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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.

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.

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.

BRPLecture Poster 2017

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.

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

 

St Aidan’s ossuary in the news again

St Aidans

St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh

An event hosted at St Aidan’s, Bamburgh by the Bamburgh Heritage Trust will provide a further chance to view the ossuary and learn more about its creation and the lives of those buried there more than 1200 years ago.

Follow the link to see more details and information on how to book your place.

http://www.northumberlandgazette.co.uk/news/local-news/rare-chance-to-visit-ossuary-at-bamburgh-1-8076237

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!

Experimental Brewing Summary and Student Reflections

In a follow-up to our earlier blog on prehistoric brewing, these videos record a summary of the process from Becky Brummet, Experimental Programme Director:

As well as comments and reactions from two of our students who were there on the day:

St Mary’s Middle School Visit the Bradford Kaims

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Children from St Mary’s Middle School visiting Trench 6.

 

Here at the Bradford Kaims we are greatly passionate about involving the local community with the archaeology, and we were delighted to have a group from St Mary’s Middle School visit our site last week. The children from Belford visited the Bradford Kaims on Wednesday afternoon and it was great to see the local children excited about the archaeology and engaging with the area’s past in a tangible way.

The children arrived in the afternoon and were given an introduction to the site by Project Officer, Tom Lally. Tom gave a brief history of the site, explaining the prehistoric eras during which the site was occupied and giving examples of some of our finds, such as wooden artefacts, flint tools and prehistoric pottery.

 

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Project Officer Tom Lally, giving the children an introduction to the site.

 

Despite this kind of information being fascinating us archaeologists, you could notice eyes glazing over when some of the more technical terminology began being used. Assistant Supervisor, Rachel Brewer was the star of the day. Using her previous experience as a teacher she stepped in to talk about the archaeology in a way that was entertaining and accessible to the children. She spoke to the children about Trench 6 and the wooden platform in more depth and also explained about archaeological excavations more generally. The rest of the staff were in awe of her teaching method, as she even managed to keep the children’s interest when explaining archaeological contexts. She did an amazing job engaging the children, who left the excited and enthusiastically asking questions about the archaeology.

 

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Assistant Supervisor Rachel Brewer, teaching the children about Trench 6.

 

We had planned for the children to get more involved and try environmental coring with Dr Richard Tipping from Stirling University, however due to time constraints they were unfortunately unable to join in before having to leave. Luckily the school are planning another visit to the Bradford Kaims later in the season, giving the children another opportunity to try their hand at environmental coring.

Everyone here at the Bradford Kaims hope the children of St Mary’s Middle School enjoyed their time at the site and we are looking forward to their next visit.

New article on our excavations at Bamburgh Castle

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The windmill office in the West Ward, between our two excavation trenches

Archaeology, the magazine of the Archaeological Institute of American has published an article on our excavation work at Bamburgh Castle. It is available online here:

Stronghold of the Kings of the North