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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Open day at Berwick Public Library

As part of our outreach programme, for the Bradford Kaims Wetland Project, we have been working with students from Ashington Learning Partnership to make and distribute a DVD of a film on our work.

Recently we have been collaborating with the Northumberland Libraries service in order to arrange a public launch of the DVD at Berwick Library on 21st April between 2:00 and 4:00 pm. The event is open to all and will include showing the film and members of the BRP and Ashington Learning Partnership will be present to discuss the film and project over tea and coffee afterwards.

Do make it along if you can.

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Bradford Kaims lecture at the AONB forum

Graeme Young is doing a lecture on this summer’s excavation at Bradford Kaims as part of the Northumberland Coast AONB Forum on Thursday the 4th of December 2014. It’s short notice but there are still tickets available for the day, which is being held at the Castle Hotel in Bamburgh (7 Front Street. NE69 7BW).

Booking for the event is here: Northumberland Coast AONB Forum booking

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Cord-impressed pottery from the Kaims

Although we are not on site at the moment, the business of analysis quietly continues. Tom Gardner is processing samples from Burnt Mound 1 as part of his MSC, and has found 4 sherds of cord-impressed pottery, during wet sieving.
A sherd of the cord-impressed potery

A sherd of the cord-impressed pottery

The pottery dates from the middle Neolithic, further adding to the evidence of early activity on the site.
The sherd preserves part of the rim of the vessel as well as the cord decoration

The sherd preserves part of the rim of the vessel as well as the cord decoration


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Coring Investigation of the Wishaw Burn Channel

The coring programme undertaken in the summer of 2014, led by Dr Richard Tipping, concentrated on the investigation of the area of the Wishaw Burn to the south-west of Trench 6. The work was aimed at investigating the extent of the timber platform, identified within the trench, and also intended to help us understand the sediment sequence within the narrow channel, that today contains the burn.

The investigation revealed the profile of the burn and showed how the side of the channel, and the water flow rates, have changed over time. Fascinatingly it was also able to identify multiple phases of timber platform, built up over a depth of 1.6m. This exciting result shows us that the platform was not an isolated single event, but a long lived and extensive structure. Plenty for us to get our teeth into in the future!

If you would like to read a summary of the results or download Dr Tipping’s interim report, then click here. The report is linked at the bottom of the page.

Also if you have not alread seen the fantastic short film made by Brian Cosgrove and his team at the Kaims this summer, then do click on the link below. They did a terrific job.

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Free Public Lectures in Belford this Season

This summer during our excavation, which begins 2nd of June and continues to 27th July 2014, we are again going to arrange weekly evening lectures. They will be available free to students and members of the public, but if anyone attending wishes to donate a little towards the venue cost, it will be gratefully received.

The venue is at the Bell View Centre, 33 West Street, Belford, Northumberland, NE70 7QB

Lectures will be at 7:00 pm each Tuesday evening.

The list of the first seven lectures should be below. We will probably arrange a summary of the season’s results during our final week, which begins 21st July.

The Heart of the Fortress, Archaeology of the Inner Ward at Bamburgh Castle.  Graeme Young, 3/6/14

The Burnt Mound Misconception (Part 1): Excavation Strategy.  Tom Gardner,  10/6/14

Flodden 500, Archaeological Investigations of the Battle of Flodden. Chris Burgess,  17/6/14

Bradford Kaims Prehistoric Landscape Project.   Paul Gething,  24/6/14

The Burnt Mound Misconception (Part 2): Environmental Strategy. Tom Gardner,  1/7/14

The Art and Material Culture of Northumbria.   Stephanie Chapman,  8/7/14

The Anglo-Saxon Earls of Northumbria.  Graeme Young,  15/7/14

Burnt Offerings: A further article on Bradford Kaims

Tom Gardner, one of our Project Supervisors at the Bradford Kaims site, has written a short article for Past Horizons. You can read the article at the link below:


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An update on our prehistoric paddle discovery

Its time for an update on our exciting find of a preserved timber paddle, made at Bradford Kaims, in the last few days of excavation last year.

The paddle was found on the surface of a timber platform, composed of round wood branches, and provisionally dated to the early 4th millennium BC (or slightly later) via an archaeolmagnetic date from an adjacent hearth that can be stratigraphically associated with it. The paddle was found near to the north-east side of the platform, where it overlay one of the burnt mounds, that extended into peat layers. Interestingly there was also at least one layer of burnt mound that also overlay the platform, indicating that it was constructed whilst the activity that was generating the mounds was still be undertaken by the prehistoric people who lived in the area.

It was clear from the start that the paddle was very fragile and also close to the top of the water-table, so not likely to survive much longer if left in place over winter. We decided that our best option as to try and lift it, so that it could be excavated in the laboratory. We encased the paddle in expanding foam and tried to support it with timber boards, prior to the lift, but cutting beneath it was problematic, as the peat contained many stones from the adjacent burnt mounds.

Lifting the block containing the paddle.

Lifting the block containing the paddle.

The Archaeology Department of Edinburgh University had offered their help. So our bulky package was taken there soon after it was lifted. Over the winter attempts were made to carefully remove the paddle from the packaging, but sadly despite everyone’s best efforts the combination of the very fragile artefact and the difficult lift meant that it too badly cracked and fragmented to be successfully conserved. We will still be able to investigate the find from the photographic record taken on site, and will also be able to investigate the fragments to identify the species of the wood and also to look to see if we can identify any tool marks left by the craftspeople who shaped it.

The paddle, as found on the surface of the timber platform.

The paddle, as found on the surface of the timber platform.

If we had needed any further evidence, then the paddle has confirmed to us just how well the peat in the wetland will preserve organic material. We are certainly excited to see what new discoveries we make this summer.


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Bradford Kaims in Current Archaeology magazine

The latest short article on the recent discoveries at Bradford Kaims is in the new addition of Current Archaeology magazine. We have also promised them a much more extensive article for a near future edition. We will let you all know when this is due out.

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