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).

Figure 1

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.

Figure 2

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.

Geomorphological Survey at the Bradford Kaims

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

British Academy/Leverhulme Funding Awarded to the Bradford Kaims

We are very pleased to announce that an application to the British Academy/Leverhulme ‘Small Grants’ fund has been awarded for the Bradford Kaims. A total award of £9,490 has been awarded to Richard Tipping, Tom Gardner, and Paul Gething on behalf of the Bradford Kaims investigations to support a comprehensive sequence of radiocarbon dating for the prehistoric landscape, which has been under investigation since 2010.

This award will allow 26 radiocarbon dates to be sought from a suite of archaeological and natural deposits across the landscape at the Bradford Kaims, focussing upon the large burnt mound in Trench 6, and a sequence of well-preserved peat deposits immediately adjacent to this site. The generous support of this award, in addition to the £756 attained from Heritage at Risk and Northumberland County Council in November 2016, and the £1,500 attained from Northumberland County Council in October 2016 will allow the dating of the site and surrounding landscape to extend to 32 radiocarbon dates in addition to the 5 dates already attained across the site. With this scientific and chronological support, the ongoing interpretation of the archaeology at the Bradford Kaims can make a significant impact upon our understanding of the patterns of prehistoric activity in North Northumberland.

We are very grateful to the British Academy/Leverhulme for their support. If you want to volunteer on our final excavation season at the Bradford Kaims (11th June – 16th July 2017), then please email our team at to discuss volunteering opportunities, or get on touch at if you would like to apply for a student position on the excavation.


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.

Under T6.JPG

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.


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.


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.


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.

Barbara and Tom.jpg

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


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.



If you are local and want to come and get some hands on experience then contact me at 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.

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.


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.


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!).


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!

Coring Investigation of the Wishaw Burn Channel

The coring programme undertaken in the summer of 2014, led by Dr Richard Tipping, concentrated on the investigation of the area of the Wishaw Burn to the south-west of Trench 6. The work was aimed at investigating the extent of the timber platform, identified within the trench, and also intended to help us understand the sediment sequence within the narrow channel, that today contains the burn.

The investigation revealed the profile of the burn and showed how the side of the channel, and the water flow rates, have changed over time. Fascinatingly it was also able to identify multiple phases of timber platform, built up over a depth of 1.6m. This exciting result shows us that the platform was not an isolated single event, but a long lived and extensive structure. Plenty for us to get our teeth into in the future!

If you would like to read a summary of the results or download Dr Tipping’s interim report, then click here. The report is linked at the bottom of the page.

Also if you have not alread seen the fantastic short film made by Brian Cosgrove and his team at the Kaims this summer, then do click on the link below. They did a terrific job.

HLF Logoenglish_heritage_logo1

Our 2014 Season Wrap-up Lecture

Please come join us for the final lecture of the season. We will be talking about all the exciting discoveries of this season. If you can’t make it out, don’t worry. We will film the event and put it on our youtube channel. Hope to see you there!

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 11.37.19 AM

Further investigations in Trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims

Trench 6 Supervisor Tom Gardner and Assistant Supervisor Sam Levin give us an update on their trench at the Bradford Kaims.

Over the last two weeks we have been very busy in trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims. Our investigations have been focused in three distinct areas, each of which merits a whole excavation to itself, but are best appreciated in the context of the other two.

Primarily, we have continued the removal and investigation of the five burnt mound phases across the trench. This involves the removal of the burnt mound, apart from specially retained sampling baulks from which we can retain the stratigraphy and can obtain our micro-stratigraphic environmental samples.


The intention of the burnt mound removal is to uncover the valuable interfaces between the mounds, to establish their cross-trench sequencing, and to identify any possible internal stratification within the deposits themselves. Equally, their removal gives us the opportunity to expose the land surface beneath them, which appears to be covered in archaeological features sealed by the mound.

Our second investigation has been the area exposed under the burnt mound deposits. Under our central burnt mound, 6020, there appears to be a series of stake-holes and post-holes peppering the subsoil.


These are currently exposed only in a small area, but seem to run in a series of parallel linears, with individual stake-holes in lines perhaps representing wattled structures, and a post-hole linear with stake-holes around the circumference of the post, perhaps as a repair method.

Our final area of intense investigation has been our wooden platform feature. We once again had Dr. Richard Tipping of Stirling University on site to assist us with our coring and environmental analyses. Richard allowed us the use of his Russian core in order to take wide-gauge monolith samples from the platform, and to assess its depth. With this core, and a quickly dug section into the peat we have ascertained that our platform feature is almost 1.2m deep from its top, and is supported by some pretty huge timber posts and stakes.


This discovery prompted us to investigate the platform’s length through investigative 1-inch cores, which allow us to observe the platforms structure and extent without opening test-pits and keeping it preserved in situ. Through this we discovered that the feature stretches over 11m from the burnt mound in trench 6, through all of our extension test pits, and out into the bottleneck of the peat and lacustrine system of Embleton’s Bog, which runs through the Bradford Kaims.

Our investigations will continue for the next three weeks, and will focus upon the sampling and removal of the burnt mounds, the sectioning and sampling of our post-holes and stake-holes to see if they constitute a series of structures, and the sampling of our platform feature in plan and in section.

HLF Logo


In The Pollen Lab!

In The Pollen Lab!

Have a look at our latest video from the Bradford Kaims Wetland Heritage Research Project Extracting and analysing pollen from peat cores taken at Bradford Kaims ancient Wetland in Northumberland UK. Volunteers from the Bradford Kaims Wetland Heritage Research Project went up to Stirling University to have a go at extracting pollen from the peat cores, under the supervision of Professor Richard Tipping and his assistant Danny Paterson.

Volunteers Editing Video of the Kaims

This article was kindly written by volunteer Ruth Brewis, who took part in the video editing of footage from the Bradford Kaims Wetland Heritage Research Project. The Project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage.

We’d be delighted if more volunteers expressed an interest in doing some video editing – if you want to have a go at this please get in touch with me,

It will be possible to arrange one to one sessions or small groups if anyone wants to participate in this, and you do not have to have been a volunteer previously – this is open to all, and it may be possible to do this in your local area – I am prepared to travel with the footage and equipment!

Ruth writes:

Stress, Stress, Stress……

Video Editing…terrifying! Thought I was going to lose all the footage and there was so much of it! A somewhat daunting task and not an aspect I was expecting to be involved in when I signed up as a volunteer for the Bradford Kaims Heritage Wetlands Project, but the opportunity presented itself.

The BRP Editing Laptop!

Editing a small video can take days of patiently sifting through footage, re-watching the same clips over again and re-editing, playing it through many times, searching for a beginning and an ending, deciding if a picture should be static or not, which looks better??

Not as straight forward as I thought it would be!

Under Gerry’s guidance I was able to select snippets of video and assemble them to form a workable version with a storyline that would make sense to anyone viewing the video, at the same time trying to produce something that would be interesting, showing the process of coring done at the Kaims by Richard Tipping, BRP Staff and the volunteers. Looking back at the footage it was hard to decide how much to include in the video, for me it is all interesting and something that was completely new to me, so I wanted to include everything.

I came to the project expecting to learn about archaeology and was happy with that but I got the chance to try video editing, and really enjoyed the experience and I thought it would be good to see how Gerry puts together video’s for Bamburgh Research Project and as I like taking photographs when I’m on site, it was an extension of my interest in photography.

This is Ruth’s completed video which was first uploaded during the summer.