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.

www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

Bookings Now Open for Our 2016 season!

We hope you can join us for the Bamburgh Research Project’s

20th Anniversary Season!

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2016 marks 20 years since the founding of the Bamburgh Research Project. Over the years we have introduced hundreds of students and community members to the wonders of archaeology. We don’t know how the time has passed so quickly. Regardless, there is TONS of archaeology just waiting to be discovered in what is sure to be an amazing season.

Our dates for next season are June 6th- July 30th

Find the Booking Form and Information here.

We hope to be able to offer several community events throughout the season that are not to be missed! More information will be available in the weeks leading up to next season.

Applications for staff members will open shortly.

What a Year we have had in Trench 9

A final blog post from Trench 9 Supervisor, Tom Lally.

Although the 2015 Bamburgh Research Project season is now over, and Trench 9 backfilled and returfed, there is plenty to be excited about when it re-opens next year. At the halfway mark this season, things were reasonably straight-forward in our interpretation of the trench. It appeared that it would be a matter of easily removing context by context and coming down onto the natural surface. We were wrong. Since then Trench 9 has thrown up all sorts of new and exciting features and finds, which means 2016 should be a really intriguing season. Just as Trench 3 did, this blog will be split into area-by-area portions regarding the key features we found this season.

Wooded Area (NW Corner)
In my last update we had only just started to reveal this wooded area within our peat layer uncovered last season (see link below). Since then, student Tom Fox spent a week removing the peat around the wood to further reveal its extent. During this excavation he found a large amount of wood that appeared to be in alignment across the peat bog and over to Trench 11. Our initial interpretation is that this area may be the start of another wooden platform at the Kaims. This theory is strengthened by the finding of several upright timbers, which could be pegs that people used to stake down the wood to create the platform, as well as some intact hazelnuts and hazelnut shells (see link below), just like those found along the large wooden platform in Trench 6 and Trench 10! We may extend the trench around this wood next season to reveal more of it and gain a better understanding as to whether it is indeed part of another wooden platform or not.

 Student Tom planning the possible wooden platform

Student Tom planning the possible wooden platform

Mesolithic Post and Post-Hole
As was mentioned in my last blog, and in the recent blog post by Assistant Supervisor Franzi Le (see link below), our Mesolithic post and post-hole has been a rather unique find in Trench 9 this season. What started out as a simple piece of wood being revealed by student Rachel Moss during a trench clean, has now become a very interesting and important feature within the trench. Volunteer Bob during excavation of the post-hole found two pieces of bone/horn and a piece of Mesolithic flint to provide us with a date for the feature, as well as finding in situ pieces of wood within the post cut.

Wood pieces found within post-hole

Wood pieces found within post-hole

Since then we have continued to reveal around the post-hole, even extending the trench in order to find the extent. In this we have found even more sizeable wood pieces, most of which we believe to be fragments from one large post as opposed to several stakes. We have lifted several of these pieces which are being stored correctly and safely during the off-season. On further reveal of the wood in the extension, it is also starting to look similar to that of platform wood with all pieces lying down flat and all facing the direction of Trench 11. As is the same with the wood in the NW corner, this area will require further investigation next season to determine what people were using this post-hole for and if the wood in close proximity is also part of a wooden platform.

Assistant Supervisor Franzi working on the wood in the extension around the post-hole

Assistant Supervisor Franzi working on the wood in the extension around the post-hole

Mesolithic Hearth
Arguably the most exciting and most important feature in Trench 9 now is our recently discovered Mesolithic hearth. This feature was found almost by accident by student Carrington during the removal of a context above but which we didn’t believe went as deep as it did. Initially it was just a large piece of clay that came off, but which contained a heavy concentration of charcoal underneath. We were stunned at the amount present in this once piece of clay and so after further reveal we uncovered a metre-by-metre area of charcoal, which also contained burnt stones and sandstones (see link below).

 Hearth found late in the season

Hearth found late in the season

Upon further investigation we also came across a small piece of flint, believed to be a Mesolithic bladelet, which has provided us with a date for this feature, and a very small fragment of burnt bone within it! We now believe it to be a hearth used by the people of this area thousands of years ago. During the investigation we also uncovered a possible channel dug just to the west of the hearth, which may have provided a water source, and may tie into the final and most impressive feature discovered in Trench 9 this season.

Water Channel (left) and Mesolithic Hearth (right) in Trench 9

Water Channel (left) and Mesolithic Hearth (right) in Trench 9

Possible Sweat Lodge
The feature found latest in the season and that is causing all kinds of excitement for next season is our possible sweat lodge (see link below). The area where it sits was first pointed out to us by Director Paul as a possible burning pit after some discolouration became clearly visible after an overnight rain. It was noted but not investigated, until a full trench clean was conducted in the last fortnight prior to trench photos being taken.

'Burning Pit' feature when first identified

‘Burning Pit’ feature when first identified

After the trench clean, the feature began to stand out even more, and a clear ring of different coloured soil was identified. The trench clean also identified a large number of stake holes that appear to all situate within the circular feature, as well as some clearly burnt stones scattered throughout. From this evidence, it looks very much like a sweat lodge used by Native Americans, which is typically a dome-shaped structure held up by multiple stakes and covered in natural materials. The feature appears to measure 2.5m x 3m wide and is situated just up slope from the Mesolithic hearth. It is from the close proximity and stratigraphic sequence that we believe that the water channel, hearth and circular feature are all contemporary, and hence why we believe the feature is a sweat lodge. With a water source, somewhere to heat up stones, and a structure in which to sit all so close together, it provides us with our strongest interpretation at the present time. Further investigation will definitely take place in this area next season, so hopefully from that we can have a firmer understanding of the uses of these three features by prehistoric people.

The possible Sweat Lodge in Trench 9

The possible Sweat Lodge in Trench 9

As well as all these impressive features, Trench 9 is still scattered with archaeology. There are loads more stake holes dotted around the trench, some of which are in interesting alignments and may be contemporary with some of the above mentioned features. To the south of the sweat lodge are possible areas of burning closely associated with the lodge itself, as well as our Neolithic plank and stake holes arrangement discussed in my last blog post which still needs some investigation. So as you can see, Trench 9 is absolutely loaded with archaeology. It was thought that we would be able to close the trench by the end of this season, but with all these features and finds and possible features still to be investigated, Trench 9 will re-open again next season. The main focus next season will be to determine what and if the water channel, hearth and sweat lodge area are contemporary, but we will also investigate some of the other features dotted around the trench to come up with a full interpretation for the entire trench.

On a personal level, Franzi and I would like to thank all the staff, students and volunteers who have assisted us with our excavations this year. You have all been an absolute pleasure to work with and teach, and we both hope you have learnt a whole lot. We look forward to seeing you all again in 2016.

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Bye for now!
Franzi & Lally.

An in depth video of the Bradford Kaims by Archaeosoup Productions

We were lucky to have our friends from Archaeosoup Productions down to visit the Bradford Kaims for a more in-depth look around. Check out their video below!

They are a fantastic group who really excel at comprehensively sharing archaeology and heritage with the wider world. They are constantly uploading new videos to their YouTube page that are informative, educational, and just plain fun. Have a look through their videos by clicking here. You can also hire them for a wide variety of workshops, lectures, activities, and media production. Check out their website for more information. 

P.S. Don’t miss the ending!!

Archaeology Basics Video Series: The Kettle

Here is the third in our archaeology basics series filmed and edited by the students from Ashington Learning Partnership. To see the first video in the series (The Trowel) and hear the story of the students involvement in media click here. To see the second video (The Mattock) click here. Enjoy!

Experimental Archaeology – TIMBER!

At the Bradford Kaims we have been branching (sorry…) out into woodworking as a part of our Experimental Archaeology Programme. Similar to our brewing experiments where we have used hot-rocks due to evidence from the burnt mounds, we decided to try some woodworking due to the exceptional preservation of wooden material at the site. To assist us we had the help of local woodcarver Dave Robson, who kindly supplied us with several sycamore logs and rowan branches and to offer guidance in woodcraft. As well as utilising local specialists, we had community volunteers Barbara and Tim partaking in the experiments along with our students.

For our initial investigations, we have been looking into splitting wood (inspired by our potential Neolithic plank in T10!) to see how easy/difficult the process would have been only utilising resources available before metal working. To split a modern log a woodcarver might begin by creating a notch along the diameter of a log with a steel axe or froe before driving wooden or even steel wedges into this notch to prize the wood apart. Rather than using an axe however, we attempted to use bone “chisels” which we had created ourselves (by smashing the bones and subsequently grinding them on a piece of sandstone to create an edge.)

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Our prehistoric bone “chisels” ready for action!

With the bone chisels ready, we used them in place of the axe, creating a groove across the diameter (through the central “pith” – the weakest part of the log) by holding the chisel in place and subsequently hitting it with a wooden mallet. Once our groove was created, we hammered oak wedges into the groove and proceeded to drive them into the wood with the mallet, trying to keep the wedges at an equal depth by hitting them alternately. Within minutes, the logs would make audible groans and cracks, before splitting apart down their length! We found that for the sycamore logs which we were using (admittedly not present in Britain until the middle ages so not found in our trenches) the bone chisels worked incredibly well for initialising the splitting, from there the wedge process was the same as it would be for modern log splitting. We were able to demonstrate that log splitting can certainly be achieved with little difficulty with prehistoric resources – though of course whether this was the manner for splitting logs prior to metal tools we are unable to know for certain.

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Student Tom and community volunteer Barabara planking a split log

With logs split down the diameter, we moved onto further splitting in an attempt to plank our now halved logs. This came with mixed success, while splitting would go well initially on several occasions the split would shear off due to knots lower down the log. One of our best efforts came from students Tom and Sammi, who managed to split off a plank with minor shearing from the mid-way point. To flatten the plank, we used a flint axe provided by Dave Robson which allowed us to gradually create a flatter surface. Rather than cutting into the wood like a modern steel axe, the flint axe tended to shear off and tear the wood creating a rough surface. In order to smooth this, we used our polished bone chisels and knives like a modern plane to take off smaller chips of wood which made a surprisingly smooth surface!

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One plank ready for further working

An enjoyable day was had by all of our participants, with students and volunteers alike surprised at how easily we were able to split the logs using little more than bone and wood! With our planks of sycamore we are hoping to continue our experiments further this week by trying to replicate artefacts found in our wooden platform again only using prehistoric tools!

You “Woodn’t” Believe What Trench 9 Has Found Now

Trench 9 has really upped its game since the last update and is now at the stage where only a few questions need answering in the final weeks of the season. In the past fortnight many new additions have been made to the trench. Along with archaeological finds, Trench 9 has also welcomed Franzi Le to the crew as an Assistant Supervisor for the last month of the season. On the archaeological front, staff, students and volunteers have discovered loads of new negative features, along with a handful of very nice finds. Supervisor Tom and Assistant Supervisor Franzi have developed new interpretations for some features uncovered last season and have come up with a strong theory as to what had been going on in this trench in the past. There is now a further two groups of 20 stake holes each, including some in very interesting arrangements, some very nice new small finds which have assisted in the interpretations of the trench area, a large number of new negative features cut into what is believed to be a Neolithic ground surface and some re-interpretations of features found last season.

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Staff, Students and Volunteers all working hard in Trench 9

Many of the new features found and interpretations theorized about have revolved around the discovery of preserved wood in Trench 9. Last season only a minimal amount was uncovered, and it wasn’t investigated thoroughly as it was not seen as a priority at that point in time. This season however, preserved wood has been at the forefront, not only in the trench, but across the whole of the site. The discovery of three post-holes by student Rachel and volunteer Bob, two of which contained in situ wood, were a surprise, even more so was a piece of flint found in the bottom of one of the fills by volunteer Bob. It has initially been identified as a small composite tool or a microlith, which is believed to be Mesolithic in date. A more in-depth blog post dedicated to these post holes will be posted within the coming days.

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New posts and stakes found in Trench 9. Posts are along top of photo, containing in situ wood.

Another area of wood newly discovered in Trench 9 is in the north-west corner of the trench, where there are still remnants of a peat layer. This level was excavated down to last season but was not cleaned up afterwards and so the wood present wasn’t properly identified. After a quick trowel, six brushwood branches, very similar to those in Trench 6, 10 and 11 were found to be extending through the trench edge and angled towards Trench 11. These are possibly contemporary with the wooded areas within that trench, although further investigation between the two trenches will be required to prove this.

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Brushwood branches starting to appear in Trench 9

The final piece of preserved wood is actually a piece uncovered late last year, but based on its lack of preservation and size, it was thought to be more bog oak, similar to the logs protruding out of the peat bog to the south of the trench. After a discussion, it was decided that the wood would be excavated so that digging could continue in that area of the trench but it was soon found by staff member Franzi, to be a lot better preserved and significantly larger than originally thought. The wood now appears to be sitting on top of and partially within our Neolithic ground surface layer, with a group of stake holes encircling the piece. Early interpretation is that the wood is part of a walkway across the peat bog, with the stakes used to prop up the wood and keep it in place. In the final weeks, we intend to reveal the full extent of the timber, and lift it if logistically possible.

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Neolithic timber surrounded by stake holes

Apart from the wooden areas found recently in the trench, many new negative features have also been revealed by staff and students alike. The last fortnight has predominantly involved the excavation of multiple thin deposits overlying the main context, the Neolithic ground surface. Into this surface there have been more stake holes identified, the addition of several post holes, some possible hearth features and the remnants of what could be a rather impressive burning pit. It is only early days with these new features, but they are to be looked at before the season ends at the beginning of August.

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Trench 9 leading into the last few weeks of the season

With the end of the season fast approaching, but with loads of progress now made, Trench 9 is looking to be finished in the last few weeks. Pieces of the archaeological puzzle have been falling into place and there is now a clear idea of what was going on in this area in the past. Only a few minor questions need resolving before Trench 9 is completed and can be closed for good. The final weeks will see a few more plans drawn up by staff and students, as well as some minor archaeological investigations undertaken in order to provide more understanding to the finds and features in the trench so here’s hoping to a successful finish to the season! – Tom Lally

Archaeology Basics Video Series by Ashington Learning Partnership

About two weeks ago the BRP was lucky to be able to provide the setting for a group of students from Ashington Learning Partnership for their Challenge Week. There were two groups of students; one would learn about the process of archaeology by opening a test pit at the Bradford Kaims. The other group would be filming this process and then editing the footage trying to figure out how best to present this information to the wider public. The BRP has long been dedicated to sharing what we do with communities all over the world, so it is wonderful to see a group of students learning the practical skills they need to then teach others about the archaeological process, and our shared heritage.
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Site dog Cuthbert being kept distracted to stop him panting like a steam train during the interview with Kaims Director Paul

It is always a real pleasure having the film unit from Ashington Learning Partnership down with us at the Kaims. They are hands down one of the most professional film crews we have ever had on site. Working with Brian and his team is one of the activities which most inspires us, by seeing the enthusiasm, initiative, and skill which they consistently display. Even just a brief talk about troweling, a relatively dull thing in itself, was made into something both entertaining and educational by the group from Ashington, using real world skills like those that archaeology and young people both desperately need.

This video is the first in a series about the basics of archaeology. The other videos will cover mattocking, test pits, and a fun practical video about brewing tea on site.

New BRP video from Archaeosoup

We were lucky to have our friends from Archaeosoup Productions down to visit both of our sites last week. Check out their video below!

They are a fantastic group who really excel at comprehensively sharing archaeology and heritage with the wider world. They are constantly uploading new videos to their YouTube page that are informative, educational, and just plain fun. Have a look through their videos by clicking here. You can also hire them for a wide variety of workshops, lectures, activities, and media production. Check out their website for more information. 

Archaeological Science at Bradford Kaims – Phytoliths: Part One

Although archaeology is often a reassuringly simple process, some features prove to be too complex to be understood without a great deal of analysis and plain hard work. Burnt mounds have perplexed archaeologists for decades, but now with the application of scientific research to archaeological post excavation we are getting, step by step, closer to a more complete understanding of them. This is the first in a two part article detailing a little of the laboratory work being undertaken on our burnt mound samples at Edinburgh University by Tom Gardner. It’s complicated but fascinating stuff.


What have we been doing?

This last season at the Bradford Kaims we embarked upon a series of advanced sampling processes in order to test some of our theories about burnt mounds, what they consist of, and how they are deposited. We had been thinking that these enigmatic mounds must consist of multiple individual deposits, and although these events are invisible to the naked eye, we were wondering whether the events may be visible in the palaeobotanical and micro-component record. We implemented a series of stratified phytolith and concurrent thin section samples in order to appraise the botanical record and microstratigraphy throughout the various deposits in the mound, which Tom Gardner, Project Officer North at the Kaims, has processed and analysed for his MSc by Research at the University of Edinburgh. We are now happily at a point where we can present some of the preliminary interpretations of these samples.

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Tom and Sam taking thin-section samples from mound 6080 at the Kaims.

Why have we been doing this?

The burnt mounds we have at the Kaims, especially in trench 6, are enormous. They even come close to challenging some of the biggest in Britain such as Beaquoy and Liddle in the Scottish Northern Isles. This means that these mounds must consist of a numerous depositional events, over an undetermined duration of time, with an unknown intensity of deposition. To the naked eye the burnt mounds seem to be a homogenous mass of fire-cracked stone, ash, and charcoal, indicating a uniformity of deposit components, and thus a uniformity of function.

In some of our experimental work at the Kaims, we have tried brewing and cooking using hot stones, and quickly realised that you can brew 40 litres of beer, or cook for 15 people, using just a few stones. That our mounds comprise hundreds of thousands of stones indicates that there must be thousands of individual events, and that they may be visibly different under a microscope. The combination of phytolith sampling and thin section micromorphology was chosen to unpick these potential variations both horizontally and vertically throughout Mound 1, in trench 6 at the Kaims.

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An Elongate phytolith from mound 6020 at the Kaims.

What are Phytoliths?

Phytoliths are small silica micro-bodies formed in the cell structure of plants when they intake water and nutrients from soils. When the plant then dies, these silica moulds can survive for millennia, and can be diagnostic of the genera of their host plant, but are regularly diagnostic to a species level, unlike pollen. More importantly however, they can be diagnostic of the particular part of the plant anatomy they come from, and as such can give information as to plant processing patterns and resource use.


Stay tuned for part two: The Results!