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.

Worked Flint from Trench 42 at the Bradford Kaims

Franzi Leja – Assistant Supervisor and the University of Bamberg, Germany

During this season Trench 42, situated on the south-side of the Bradford Kaims excavation area, was extended to measure at 13 m by 5 m, intended to reveal potential structures related to a large pit and the post holes surrounding it in the centre of the trench, exposed in the 2016 season. Unlike in the western half of the trench, there was no burnt mound underneath the topsoil, which came straight down to the prehistoric land surface into which the trough and the other features were cut. In the south-east-corner, a modern horse-shoe was discovered in the topsoil, but shortly after this, sitting on top of the light and yellowish sand based land-surface that we were aiming for, a large worked flint point was discovered.

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It is triangular in shape with the two retouched sides being slightly convex. They have been knapped and retouched, with the bulb of percussion at the tapered end. As the flint is so thick, it suggests that the currently tapered end is in fact the base, with the point having snapped off leading to the discard of the tool. Our first assumption was that this was an arrow head, but the thickness and length of the tool, when complete, suggests it could be something like a spear head. Our provisional dating for the site suggests that this is a Bronze Age tool, but we wait for specialist analysis to further prove this.

Beyond this initial evaluation, the discovery of the flint lends credence to the idea that the land-surface which we came down upon is contemporary with, and associated to, the burnt mound in this area, and that the artefact scatter which also contained flint working debris, suggests an associated activity going on in the periphery of the burnt mound.

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.

Bradford Kaims 2015 Interim Report Released

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

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Trench 6 under investigation in 2015

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

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

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

Tom Gardner

End of Season Reflections, Southern area at the Bradford Kaims

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

 

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

 

TRENCH 9

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

 

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Trench 9 after the heavy rains

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

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

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

 

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

TRENCH 14

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

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

 

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First timber revealed in the quarter-section.

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

 

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Sand variations in the western trench wall of the extension.

TRENCH 15

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

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

 

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

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

 

Tom Lally (Project Officer)

Pottery Making at the Bradford Kaims – Videos

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

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

 

Thank you for watching!

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

Trench 6 Update – Bradford Kaims

 

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

 

THE TROUGH

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

 

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The trough being fully excavated after half-sectioning.

 

BUILDING A

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

Experimental Prehistoric Pottery

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

 

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

 

Step 1: Gathering the clay

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

 

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The raw clay.

 

Step 2: Processing the clay

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

 

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Slaking the clay on site.

 

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

 

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Sieving the slip.

 

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

 

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The slowly thickening slip.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Step 3: Forming the pots

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

 

 

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

 

 

Step 4: Firing

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

 

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

 

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The fired ceramics hot from the fire.

 

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

 

Bradford Kaims – Trench 14 Update

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

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Trench 14 and the stone feature within it.

Trench 8

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

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

Trench 11

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

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

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

So far this season…

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