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.

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

Our 2014 Season Wrap-up Lecture

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

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Further investigations in Trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Bradford Kaims Wetland Site would love to have you as a volunteer

Want to get involved with the Bradford Kaims Wetland Project? Come be an archaeologist for a day! We have exciting new developments and would like to share them with as many people as possible. If you would like to know more about why the community is important to us click here.

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Please come along if you can, dress for changeable weather and wellies are recommended. As usual no experience is necessary, and it should be fun as we will be undertaking a number of activities including, excavation, recording, and coring.

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.

If you would like to volunteer please send an email to Paul Gething at gething1966@gmail.com. We will be accepting requests until the end of our season on the 27th of July 2014. We very much hope to see you there!

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Students from the Alnwick Lindisfarne Middle School visit the Kaims

Last Thursday the Bradford Kaims Project received a special visit from the Alnwick Lindisfarne Middle School. The year 8’s from the school were treated to a site visit to see the current excavation and also took the opportunity to get there hands a little dirty themselves. This was all part of a day trip that included a visit to the Grace Darling Museum and Bamburgh Beach for a sandcastle competition.

Tom showing some students the timber platform that Hugh is cleaning.

Tom Gardner showing some students the timber platform that Hugh is cleaning.

On the walk to the site, staff members explained the background to our work and were able to show them how the site fits within its wider landscape. At the excavation they were shown a substantial burnt mound complex (our Trench 6) that lies on the edge of the former lake, now filed with peat. Here in addition to the mounds we have been able to reveal an ancient timber platform, dating back some 6000 years. Later they were invited to get their hands dirty, joining team members Tom Lally and Mathias Jensen in lifting a peat core.

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Students gather around Tom Lally and Tom Gardner to examine the peat core.

The students cored deep into the peat, revealing stratigraphic layers of deposits, while also finding prehistoric preserved wood that may well indicate that our platform is pretty extensive. Deeper still evidence of the prehistoric lake bed emerged, in the form of silty sediment. We very much enjoyed the visit from the Alnwick Lindisfarne Middle School and hope they enjoyed their time here too. If you would like to find out more about the school please check out their website:

http://www.lindisfarne.northumberland.sch.uk/

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Year 8 students core into the trench

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Batteries A-OK: A further day of survey at Bradford Kaims

Neal and I spent a few hours at Bradford Kaims doing a little EDM survey, to complete the recording of the environmental core transects. We had tried before with Dr Richard Tipping, but the EDM batteries rather defeated us by failing at a crucial moment.

Surveying Transect C, across the re-filling wetland.

Surveying Transect C, across the re-filling wetland.

We now have 3D coordinates of the tops of each of the cores, taken in lines across the wetland areas, to the east and west of the finger of dry land on which the second of our burnt mounds was discovered. The data will help Richard and Dr Danny Paterson reconstruct the story of how the various small lake basins, around our dry land sites, in-filled over the millennia.

Graeme Young

 

A dynamic wetland landscape, all this was dry in the summer.

A dynamic wetland landscape, all this was dry in the summer.

 

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In The Pollen Lab!

In The Pollen Lab!

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

A visit to the pollen laboratory in Stirling

Last Thursday we organised a visit to the laboratory at Stirling where Richard Tipping and Danny Paterson are working on the peat column taken earlier in the year. Some of our volunteers, Maria, Hannah and Ruth came along with myself and Gerry. In fact those of you who follow us on Facebook may already have seen some of Ruth’s photos from the day.

 ImageGerry filming Danny Paterson talking us through the story that the peat core can tell us. You can see the clay and marl deposits laid down soon after the end of the last glacial period towards the base.

The plan was to follow the process, started when we went prospecting and took the sample column, to see how the peat deposits are processed to produce a pollen diagram. Gerry filmed extensively and there will be a video when he has the chance to edit the footage, so I won”t say too much as it was brilliantly covered by Richard and Danny in their interviews. I shall simply say that once all of the processing is done I am glad its Danny that has to count the pollen under the microscope. That said everyone seems to have thoroughly enjoyed learning the process on the day.

ImageThe second part of the peat column shows tell-tale signs of the sampling that has already taken place. Only a small ‘sliver’ is taken to ensure that the pollen identified represents a narrow period of time. Scrupulous cleanliness is essential whilst sampling to ensure that there is no contamination.

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Hannah identifying pollen under the microscope with Richard Tipping, even harder than it sounds!

The report should be completed soon, so keep an eye out for further updates.

The Bradford Kaims Wetland Project is Supporte by:

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Volunteers Editing Video of the Kaims

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

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

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

Ruth writes:

Stress, Stress, Stress……

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

The BRP Editing Laptop!

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

Not as straight forward as I thought it would be!

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

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

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