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.

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

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

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

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.

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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.

Introducing the 2017 Bradford Kaims Staff

Paul Gething – Site Director

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I’m Paul. I believe that good PPE is the key to good excavation.

Post-script by Tom Gardner; Other than being flippant in return emails, Paul Gething is from Yorkshire, has been a professional archaeologist for many decades, and directs our excavations with suitable aplomb and style. When not excavating, Paul is a school governor and magistrate, as well as a writer who has published widely upon the medieval period and the history of Northumbria. He likes ale and fun & games.

Tom Gardner – Project Officer

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Hi. I’m Tom, and I’m from Glasgow in Scotland. I am a PhD student in Geoarchaeology at the University of Edinburgh. I have been working at the Bradford Kaims for 6 years, after coming as a student in 2012. What I love most about the project is the camaraderie between staff and students on site, and in our post-work social scene. I am in charge of overseeing the archaeological investigations at the Kaims, and this allows me to get stuck in to the soil science, as is my want. Outside of work, I enjoy sitting around in the campsite having a quiet drink, and participating in the many pub quizzes of Belford.

Rachel Brewer – Project Manager

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Hello, everyone, I’m Rachel Brewer and I’m from Illinois, U.S.A.  After participating as a student in 2014 and working as an assistant supervisor in 2016, I’m excited to be back with the Bradford Kaims Project in the role of Project Manager.  I have a B.A. in History from Southern Illinois University and an M.A. in Archaeology from Cardiff University, Wales.  I’m particularly interested in the Anglo-Saxons and early medieval pottery, but I’ve enjoyed the excavation opportunities, work environment and people at the BRP so much that I keep returning! Back home I work as a secondary English teacher, but I love being involved in fieldwork during the summer holidays. I look forward to meeting and working with all of you!

Rachel Moss – Trench 6 Supervisor

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I’m Rachel – otherwise known as ‘Moss’ – and I will be returning to the Bradford Kaims this year as a supervisor. I first started excavating at the Kaims as a student in 2014 and have been coming back ever since. I have spent most of my time at the site in Trench 6 and can’t wait to discover more of its secrets this year. I also love the experimental archaeology we carry out every season, from making pottery to brewing prehistoric beer.

I am currently studying for my undergraduate degree in archaeology from the University of Edinburgh. In my spare time I enjoy reading, good food, travel, and trips to St Mary’s to watch Southampton FC whenever I’m at home down south.

I can’t wait to get back for the start of this season and meet all the students and community volunteers coming to join us!

Anna Finneran – Coring Supervisor

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Hi, I’m Anna and I’m from Maryland. I completed a BA and MA at Durham University and this autumn I am returning to Durham to begin a PhD. I first joined the BRP as a student in 2014. This year I will be assisting Dr. Richard Tipping.

Charlie Kerwin – Trench 42 Supervisor

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I’m Charlie and I have just moved back home to London after finishing my undergraduate degree in BSc Archaeology at the University of Nottingham. This will be my fourth year at the BRP, I first came to the BRP as a student in 2014 and became a staff member in 2016 when I undertook the role of Assistant Supervisor on the South Side of the Bradford Kaims. I’m excited to be returning this year as Supervisor of the South Side. In my academic studies my main interest was not actually within prehistoric archaeology, rather they lay within gender archaeology and the Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods. However, the incredible preservation offered by the wetland conditions at the Bradford Kaims immediately caught my interest and has kept me coming back. Although I am looking forward to overseeing the South Side and I am keenly anticipating what archaeological features will be uncovered during this season’s excavations, it is really the people that have made me return year after year. I’m always thrilled to get to see and work with the great team at the Kaims each season and I am also looking forward to getting to know all the new people who will be visiting the project.

After this season, I’m hoping to continue my education. However, I am leaving the field of Archaeology (with some regret) to pursue an MSc in Development Studies at SOAS University of London.

Franzi Leja – Trench 42 Assistant Supervisor

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In my fourth year of returning to this amazing project, I once again put my studies in Bamberg, Germany to a little rest and look forward to the experiences awaiting me and everyone attending the BRP. At my home university I currently work at the department of Geoarchaeology analysing charcoal and am writing my bachelor thesis about vegetation reconstruction. My role in this year’s season will be the assistant supervisor to Trench 9 and Trench 11 at the Bradford Kaims. Our plans and hopes for 2017, including new survey methods, got me extra excited and I cannot wait to reunite with old friends and meet new ones!

Katie Walker – Trench 6 Assistant Supervisor

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I am Katie, and I am from Inverness. I am currently finishing my 3rd year at the university of Edinburgh. This year I am an assistant supervisor in Trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims. I am most looking forward to the mighty craic!

Becky Scott- Assistant Supervisor

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I’m Becky and I will be returning to the Kaims this year as an Assistant Supervisor because I enjoyed my time here so much in 2015! I have an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science and have recently finished an MSc in Environmental Archaeology at the University of Reading where I will be starting my PhD in September. My main interests are Palaeolithic (particularly Lower Paleolithic) and Mesolithic environments, and the use of terrestrial carbonates in archaeology.  I hope you enjoy this photo of me in my element on the coast of Wales looking for Mesolithic footprints. Hopefully the weather at the Kaims will be slightly better than this…

Cuthbert – Dog

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I am Cuthbert. I joined the team in 2015. I’m a dog and I’m friendly but quite slobbery. My favourite type of site is one with a ball.

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.

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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.

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.

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Bradford Kaims in Current Archaeology

This month’s Current Archaeology magazine features a multi-page article on our recent work at Bradford Kaims. They have done a tremendous job, so do have a look if you get the chance.

 

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Also, if you have not yet discovered it, Edoardo Albert has a new book out about Alfred the Great, which he describes in his own words below:

The summer is over, the children are back at school and I’ve got a new book in stores. In Search of Alfred the Great: the King, the Grave, the Legend, from Amberley Publishing, is a biography of – you’ve guessed it – Alfred, first king of the Anglo-Saxons, and the man who saved England. Indeed, if all you know of Alfred is the cakes, then this book will tell you why, of all England’s monarchs, he was the only one to be called ‘Great’.

My co-writer is human osteologist (bones!) and archaeologist, Dr Katie Tucker, who featured in Neil Oliver‘s BBC TV programme, The Search for Alfred the Great. She is leading the search for the king’s remains, which were long thought to be lost, but which, through careful archaeological and historical detective work, and a little bit of luck, Katie has found again. She tells the intriguing story of the hunt for the king’s bones, while I relate the extraordinary tale of his life.

As a writer of fiction and non-fiction, I wouldn’t dare to write a novel as unlikely as Alfred’s life! The fifth of five sons, he should never have come to the throne, but when his brothers died, one after the other, Alfred was left to face the Viking invasion of England alone. The Great Heathen Army had destroyed three of the four English kingdoms; all that was left was Wessex. In a daring winter attack, the Vikings took Alfred by surprise and sent him fleeing into the Somerset marshes. The future hung in the balance, trembling upon the decisions of one man. This is his story, the story of Alfred the Great.

A new Bradford Kaims video made by Hirst Park School

Our friends at Hirst Park School have just put the finishing touches on an amazing video they’ve been making about the Bradford Kaims site. The organizer for this media project, Brian Cosgrove, has the following to report. You can watch the video below. We hope you enjoy! We had a blast filming with them!


“Week one of the summer break saw a unique twist on our media and video production work at Hirst Park. Almost seven years ago a student crew from our school filmed a series of investigative interviews at Bamburgh Castle.
We have reunited members of that very first crew, along with media students involved with our IHC engineering project the same year, on a new video project.

The original crew are now in their final years at high school and they jumped at the chance to work on a video project again. As in the original videos we are working with our friends at the Bamburgh Research Project but this time the film is about the recent discoveries at the Bradford Kaims wetland site a few miles from Bamburgh.

Filming took place over two days at the start of the summer break and was organised and supported by Mr Cosgrove, media developer with the Ashington Learning Partnership, along with Mrs Piddock and Mrs Larkin from Ashington High school.

Following our two days filming at the Kaims, the Director of Archaeology at the project, Paul Gething wrote:

“Thanks to your team for the hard work. They are inspirational.  They have a slick, professional attitude and easy efficiency that puts most of the other media we’ve had on site, to shame. I’ve worked with media for 15 years with teams from all over the world and not seen better.  My team were all very impressed”.

To watch on YouTube click here.

To see the Brian’s original report and photos from their visit click here.

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Our end of season lecture is available to view online

Our wrap-up lecture was a great success! We had nearly 40 members of the community, students, and staff members attend. We started the evening with Director Graeme Young discussing our Bamburgh Castle trenches followed by a short explanation of 3-d model rendering and photogrammetry by Outreach Officer Cole Kelly. Finds Supervisor Jeff Aldrich gave us an overview of the small finds from the castle and Director Paul Gething wrapped up the evening talking about our Bradford Kaims site. A big thanks goes out to Phyl Carruthers for coordinating space for our lectures at the beautiful Bell View center in Belford.

Or watch the lecture on youtube.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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