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.

T42 blog fig. 1

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.

T42 blog fig. 2

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).

T42 blog fig. 3

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.

T42 blog fig. 4

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.

An Excerpt from the Promontory – Bradford Kaims

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

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

 

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A piece of worked flint from trench 12.

 

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

 

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A piece of worked wood from trench 13.

 

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

 

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The re-opening of trench 42.

 

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

Field School 2013

Don’t forget there are still spaces available for the field school with us in Bamburgh this summer.

Survey techniques

Survey techniques

We will teach you excavation methods, site recording, artefact processing and much more.

Nat and Liam in the flot tank

Nat and Liam in the flot tank

Camping accommodation is provided along with your tuition, which is great value at £235. We stay in nearby Belford, where there are all the mod-cons (Like a Co-Op, Pubs, Takeaways and stores!) and we have a great social life onsite too.

For more information, go to http://www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk/
or join us on Facebook or twitter (@brparchaeology)

New Field Work Dates for the Bradford Kaims Project

Three new dates have been set for field work out at our prehistoric wetland. The dates are Wednesday 17th October with follow up sessions on Wednesday 24th and 31st October.

Volunteers coring for soil samples at the site.

We plan to do some survey and return to the excavations of Trench 6, to try to get as much done as we can before the winter sets in. There may also be opportunities for field-walking depending on the availability of harvested fields, and as always there is the chance to do some filming.

Please come along if you can, dressed for weather, and wellies are recommended. As usual, no experience is necessary!

A somewhat better photo of the Bradford Kaims arrowhead with a scale.

If you would like to volunteer please send an email to Graeme Young at graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk or call him on 07711187651.
We very much hope to see you there!
If you are unfamiliar with the project please click here for more information. To look at our most recent video overview of the project please click here. You can also click on the ‘bradford kaims‘ tag to the right of the screen to see all the blog posts relating to the site.

Kaims Video update – Burnt mounds?

This is the latest video in our Bradford Kaims Wetland community heritage dig series. Last time we gave you coring, this time it’s all about the features. What exactly are we digging up? The sites themselves are remarkably well preserved and subtly different, and our excavations are revealing that the promontory identified by Richard Tipping’s coring was extensively used, with multiple sites of burned stones, intermittent pits and exciting results from the geophysics.

Sediment Speaks: A Day at the Kaims – Part 2

This post is a continuation of “A Day at the Kaims – Part 1“, and focuses on both the technical and experiential aspects of environmental coring at the Bradford Kaims wetland site.

Archaeological coring: how and why?

Matt Ross teaching BRP students how to describe core samples

The following has been written by Matt Ross, a graduate student currently researching at the Bradford Kaims. He’s also generously been teaching those interested and willing to brave the knee-high muddy bog water how to core and describe sediment samples in the field.

Anne, Matt, and Eva following a day of coring

Throughout the season a team of sediment corers have been braving the wet and mud that is the Bradford Kaims, to record the sediment that lies beneath.

Using a 6m long auger, as demonstrated by Richard Tipping in our earlier blog post, it is possible to extract sediment samples and compile a vertical stratigraphy. Repeating this along a transect, a cross-profile of the landscape can be constructed. By examining changes in sediment type, colour, composition and organic content (i.e. wood fragments, plant stems and calcareous shells) both vertically and laterally throughout the profile we can then piece together the history of environmental change across the site.

Matt and Anne with 5 metres of auger

Such changes occur over time in response to natural and/or anthropogenic forcing: examples include climate change or forest clearance for agriculture. As sediments are composed of material (and organisms) within the catchment, they accumulate vertically and, unless disturbed, will remain in chronological order. The rate of change is also indicated in the sediment profile.

Measuring the depths of various sediment layers–the empty sections mark the areas where we’ve removed sections to feel and analyze

For example, a unit of coarse sand with a sharp upper boundary may mark a rapid flood erosion event, whereas the accumulation of several metres of peat reflects relative climate stability over thousands of years. Sediment coring can therefore provide a rapid assessment of palaeoenvironmental conditions over vast areas. But why does it matter?

Establishing the past climatic conditions and landscape history can provide important context to understand prehistoric settlement at the site. For instance, if we know there was an open body of water during the time of occupation, we can assume that it may have been exploited.

Site exploitation: our burnt mound. Evidence of occupation and long-term site use, the mound is the likely the discarded build-up of shattered stones used for heating water. Click the photo for more information.

Coring at the Bradford Kaims has focused on the low-lying Embleton’s bog, where we have identified two open bodies of water, either side of the promontory, on which Trench 42 is located. These lakes appear to originate in the lateglacial, or the early Holocene (10,000 years ago) and have experienced fluctuating water levels, as indicated by bands of Marl – a lacustrine deposit of calcium carbonate rich mudstone. The lakes were then quickly succeeded by wetland conditions as the climate ameliorated.

Pollen analysis, currently being carried out at Stirling University, will provide detailed reconstruction of vegetation cover at the time of settlement.

The Kaims wetlands regressing into a lake state

Learning to Core 

After first break, Anne (a fellow BRP-er) and I joined Matt for a day of coring.  Knee-high grass lined the foot-flattened path to the most recent transect line where we would be coring. After hearing stories of thigh-high muddy water and the need to bring a complete change of clothes, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the bog water only rose halfway up my knee-high wellies (though it did get deeper as we moved further south).

Matt and Anne in a slightly damper area

Our first core of the day–Core 4–was marked with a bamboo shaft sticking a few inches above a mud and water filled hole in a circle of flattened grass. It was decided that, to start, I would help Matt with the auger while Anne recorded the sediment changes for each metre core, since she had cored previously. Because we were continuing with a core sample from a previous day’s work, albeit at a greater depth, we had to “clean out” the infill of sediment and water in the hole, by coring to the same depth reached before.

Matt and Anne with 5m of auger

Let me tell you, finding the right hole amongst a half-dozen similar holes filled with muddy water and grass, and trying to fit the auger into it without creating a bigger hole, is no mean feat. I think we gave up on the old hole and made a new one after 3o minutes of struggle. We also never managed to get past the 4 meter depth at that particular spot. While we struggled though, Matt did give me a very nice introduction to the coring process and the geography of the Kaims.

Later in the day, Anne and I switched off and I got an opportunity to record the data. Richard Tipping joined us later in the afternoon and showed us the benefit of years of coring experience–he was almost quicker at setting up and adjusting the auger by himself, than Anne, Matt, and I were together. His equally quick assessment of the core samples was also impressive. 

Using a knife to clear away excess sediment and expose the core

I was surprised to learn how similar the process of coring is to the environmental archaeology and flotation I do here at the castle. It was vindicating that my description of the soil matrices, colours, and inclusions of the BRP environmental samples have been semi-accurate and that I’ve developed a somewhat transferable skill. 

By the end of the work day, we had completed an additional 3 cores to a depth of 6m each. The cores themselves showed a variety of sediment layers including peats, peaty clays, sandy clays, sandy silts, silty sands, and marl. The marl was a creamy to light grey very soft clay. Never having heard of it or encountered it before, I looked it up. Apparently, marl is a “calcium carbonate or lime-rich mud containing large amounts of clays or silts”, and is formed under freshwater conditions.

An example of marl from Urswick Tarn, similar to what we found at the Bradford Kaims

It’s interesting, not only because it was the most markedly different in appearance, but because its presence indicates a period of fairly rapid climate or landscape change–warming or deforestation–and rise in water levels.

Other things we noted in the core samples included the presence and relative quantities–very rare, rare, common, abundant–of wiry and fleshy stems, wood fragments (incl. size), whole shells and shell fragments. I found it interesting that there was significantly more variation in the cores to the north, even at less depth, than there were to the south. For instance, between 3 and 4 metres at Core 4, we encountered maybe 6 or 7 distinct changes in matrices. At the same level in Core 6, the sample was almost entirely a mid-reddish brown silty peat.  Despite this, Matt suggested that all the core results were fairly consistent with what they expected (and hoped) to find.

Last, but not least, for your and my enjoyment:

       

I would love to see a final report of the results, to see how my work was used. I would also like to thank Matt for his wonderful demonstration of coring methods and techniques as well as an illuminating explanation of some of the recent environmental findings. 

— Megan Taylor

“I personally thought it was a great (if not slightly wet) and informative experience, and even though I will probably be sore for the next few days, I can definitely recommend splashing around in the wetlands for a day!”

–Anne Hartog

Get your fists ready… “Team Kaims!”

Coring with Matt Ross in Trench 42

I know I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post that today’s blog would focus on coring at the Kaims. It turns out that everyone else has things they wanted to post as well, so “Coring with Matt Ross” is going to be delayed a few days. We are, however, continuing with the Kaims theme. The first of today’s posts is written by Kaims Coordinator Neal Lythe and provides an update on this seasons progress. The second of today’s blogs (to be posted later this evening), is written by Laurel Nagengast, “a true Kaimanoid”, about her experience with the Bamburgh Research Project and Bradford Kaims Project.

On that note, if any of our past students and/or volunteers would like to contribute a blog about their experience with us (to be posted in the off-season) please feel free to leave a message on our blog, on the Bamburgh Research Project facebook page, or on my facebook page (Megan Taylor).

 Kaims Update Week 7

Gerry, Media Director, filming the excavation of Trench 42

What a season it’s been so far at the Kaims. We have done numerous test pits. We re-excavated trench 4, to help understand context relationships in trench 6. We’ve performed numerous coring transects. And we’ve opened a series of brand new trenches in the adjacent field, based on the findings from the archaeological magnetometry survey performed by our friends at G.S.B.Prospection.

Based on the data supplied by G.S.B., we opened Trench 42 and immediately came down onto archaeology less than 10cm below our feet. We have also attempted to pinpoint various other anomalies, by placing a number of test pits in the immediate vicinity. After several weeks of digging–and, lets face it, horrendous weather–we have uncovered some cracking archaeology and some very nice finds, which include what is believed to be a sherd of prehistoric pottery, a very nice flint arrowhead, numerous flint scrapers and quite a lot of flint debotage (see “A Day at the Kaims” post).

Initial view of the stone slab that suggested a possible cist or cairn

The excavation of Trench 42 is progressing well, as we continue to uncover more and more of the large stone feature very similar to the one found in trench 6.  The presence of the large stone slab in the middle of the stone feature suggested a possible cist or cairn. Further excavation over the last few weeks has led us to revise our initial theories, and we now fairly certain we are dealing with a burnt mound, though as of yet, we cannot say what it may have been used for.

Hilary in the early stages of excavating the burnt mound

Numerous burnt mounds have been excavated all over Britain as well Northumberland itself. An example of these type of mounds is Titlington Mount in north Northumberland (report published by Peter Topping, 1998).

There are several lines of thought as to what these mounds are used for:  a sauna, meat curing, iron or copper extraction and even beer making. Further excavation at the Kaims site will hopefully expand our knowledge of burnt mounds in general, and more specifically, give us insight into how our ancestors were utilizing the wetland area of the Kaims. Initial assessment of several of the environmental samples taken from Trench 42 revealed surprisingly little. Contrary to our hopes, flotation produced very few, if any burnt seeds/grains, and minimal amounts of charcoal. In fact, the predominant content of the flot residue was modern wirey stems (aka roots). Hopefully, some of the samples yet to be flotted, will produce better results.

The effects of the rain

Week 7 started with rain and the loss of several true Kaimanoids. However, with a break in the terrible weather and reluctant acceptance of our loss, we moved on with more archaeology. Trench 55 looks nice and juicy, with several features poking through. The current theory is that they could be structural, and which may or may not relate to the activity in trench 42. As we are rapidly running out of time, we are quickly trying to record everything as is and we will not be excavating any features that we have in either of the two trenches this season.

“Represent!” (T-shirts are for sale)

In what is my last week, I have to say that this has been my favourite season on the project so far. Yes, even for someone who is not a pre-historian. I would like to thank all of the people for their hard work at the Kaims this year, you have all been fantastic. It’s been a pleasure to help teach you and I hope you all have a great time. We have uncovered some fantastic and interesting archaeology and we have had great fun along the way. To the True Kaimanoids, I have one thing to say, and I am sure you all know what that is. … Get your fists ready… “Team Kaims!!!!!” — Neal Lythe

A Day at the Kaims – Part 1

The following is a report from my day at the Kaims… it’s taken me a while to get it posted.

Last week, I heard Matt Ross was looking for coring volunteers. I’d never done coring before and knew very little about the process or it’s archaeological potential. Keen to try my hand at something new and archaeologically relevant, I decided to take a day off Environmental and escape to the Kaims. After a week of rain, we had a day of sunshine and almost-blue skies. It was amazing. In the morning, they even let me have a go at trowelling in the west extension of Trench 42—it’s been so long since I’ve done actual archaeology. (I may have been a bit overzealous and taken out a few more stones than necessary… sorry, Graham).

Walking down to the trenches at the Kaims

To begin, I was extremely impressed with the archaeology at the Kaims. I, along with the other new students, got a site tour from Jackie, the Kaims Assistant Supervisor, first thing in the morning.

The last time I was at the Kaims, was in June 2011. Trench 6 had been opened and expanded to reveal a large burning area, possible hearth, and post-hole. Victorian era drainage pipes were being found and excavated. And the whole area didn’t look like a bog, though I admit to having to stand in a few inches of water to attempt a section drawing.

This is what it looked like when excavation of the Kaims began in 2010.

What a typical trench at the Kaims used to look like – a 1 m x 2 m rectangle.

First Kaims Supervisor Joanne Kirton teaching students how to test pit

What we once thought was interesting archaeology

This is the Kaims now. That’s progress.

Part of Trench 42, originally 20 m x 2 m. (It continues both to the north and west off the photo).

Community diggers excavating Trench 6 in the off-season

The archaeological features that have appeared this season are enough to satisfy the appetite of all you prehistoric archaeologists–a burnt mound reminiscent of others found across the UK and Ireland and what was originally hoped was a cist burial.

Kaims Supervisor and Director standing at the edge of T42 – note the sharp boundary at the south edge of the burnt mound.

Recent theories as to origins/purpose of the burnt mound and surrounding area: cist burial , beer production site, fish drying site, tanning site, sweat lodge, cooking area.

An extension was made to the east of trench 42 to allow for a pit to be dug to explore the theory that the large worked stone that was uncovered in T42 might be a stone slab/head stone of a Bronze Age cist burial.

West extension of T42 – edge of burnt mound not yet uncovered

The extention has revealed one edge of the burnt-stones area, but as of yet, there is no compelling evidence of a burial in that direction. Could it possibly be under the stones to the west?

Sarah attempting to find the edge and base of the test pit in T42

When I was up there on Friday, Sarah Aguirre was continuing the excavation of the long, thin sondage/test pit in the east quadrant of T42—next to the stone slab. The work revealed a series of stones, but no burial as originally hoped.

Meanwhile, Eva Rankmore was excavating a pit feature in the northern part of the trench. As of yet, it’s unclear whether the pit is natural or man made, though the most recent (and mostly likely) theory is that it’s a tree throw.

Eva in her possible pit feature (the north part of T42)

Nearby, in the area to the SE of T42, students new to the Kaims were taught how to set up and excavate test pits in the hopes of uncovering the cluster of possible burials. As of today (Thurs. July 19), 10 new test pits have been put in, and nothing particularly archaeologically exciting had been uncovered. However, two of the test pits did reveal a continuation of the modern (Victorian era) drainage feature, evident—although the terracotta pipes had been removed at some point—in the south end of T42.

Opening test pits and new trenches at the Kaims

Other than excavating what I feel is some very promising/intriguing archaeological features, a number of interesting finds have also been found this season – A piece of prehistoric (Bronze Age?) ceramic. A beautiful little flint point (likely an arrowhead). A lot of what is believed to be un-worked jet.

BK12 (4209) <92> Prehistoric pottery (Bronze Age?)

Same piece of pottery in profile

BK12 (4202) <054> Flint blade

Same blade in profile

BK12 (4202) <048> Flint arrowhead

Same point in profie

BK12 (6020) <019> Raw jet?

That was somewhat my morning at the Kaims. I hope you enjoyed it. Tomorrow’s blog post will continue my insider’s view of a day at the Kaims, accompanied by a more technical explanation of the coring process provided by Matt Ross. A more detailed summary of this season’s work at the Kaims will also be forthcoming.

If any of you readers have any questions for the Kaim-anites about any of the archaeology or finds coming out, feel free to post to the blog or our facebook page. We’re more than happy to answer your questions to the best of our abilities.

Coming up – Part 2: Coring at the Kaims, with Matt Ross