The Bartington gradiometer is playing up. This is the device we use to look for variations in the earth’s magnetic field caused by buried archaeology. Using it is a bit of an arcane skill and, as I have posted before, what goes on inside the machine is a complete mystery. Mike and James have spent a lot of today trying to get the two tubes balanced so they can continue with the survey that they started last week.


‘Getting the tubes balanced’ sounds exactly like the sort of pseudoscience Dr Who scriptwriters slip in to convince you that there isn’t a gaping hole in the plot and, like them, I am going to move swiftly on without attempting to explain what it all means. It’s broke, hopefully Mike can sort it tonight, otherwise it is going to have to go down to Oxford to be mended by people who actually understand physics.


We have more positive progress in trench N. After cleaning up at the base of the hillwash we could see the fill of an absolutely colossal pit  (at least in area, we have no idea if it is similarly deep yet). We have divided this into quarters and are removing the fill in the north-east and south-west quadrants. That way we should be able to record vertical sections through the pit’s contents in two directions at once. This feature is full of charcoal and worked chert and flint and it is cut into the undisturbed glacial clay. Both of these things make us fairly convinced it is prehistoric.


Big changes to the features in trench M too. What seemed to be a bowl-shaped pit has now turned out to have two substantial postholes in its base. Here Connie is just cleaning up the edge of one on the southern edge of the pit. This photo was taken this morning; before Chelsea found another very deep posthole on the east side this afternoon.


The other pit in trench M, with a bit of encouragement from me and Mike, has just been getting bigger and bigger. Chloe, John and James sort out the mess after we have been round  - I think the edge is just back here somewhere (hack, hack, hack) Good, now if you clear up and follow that around….

Wildlife of the day was a big hare sitting in the meadow by Little Bowland road on the drive home.


Today we were up on site in the morning as we had an archaeology walk to host as part of Festival Bowland. Everyone nobly gave up their day off to come and demonstrate archaeology in action.


In the event, there were too many puddles to do much work on site so everyone else went down to the barn to clean last week’s finds while I led the walk. DSC_0111

Despite the weather we had a very good turn out. After speculating a lot about the precise sequence we set off around the hill to look at some of the sites we excavated in previous seasons.

GIS screenshot

Mike has processed the data from the gradiometer survey that he, Connor, James and Scott have been doing over the last week. The main aim of this was to see what happened to the ditch in trench P. So far this looks very promising. The feature seems to follow the contour around the hill and return to enclose this bit of the plateau. Now we need to fill in the gaps by doing all the partial bits of grid near the fences and try and make it all join up. swallows

Many hungry beaks from the wildlife of the day. Despite our presence, the swallows that are nesting in the barn we use as a site hut have successfully hatched three chicks. Now all we have to do is remember not to leave equipment directly under the nest.


This morning was choc ices. Thanks very much to John for bringing them and the cool bag that meant they survived in solid form until morning tea-break. After this hobbitish start to the day we had the energy for moving lots of soil.


By the end of the day in trench N we had cleared off most of the hillwash layer. This is the soil which has built up over the natural glacial clay subsoil over the past few thousand years, inconveniently hiding most of the prehistoric archaeology. Now it has nearly all gone you can see the feature which caused the magnetic anomaly in the geophysics and led us to dig this trench here. The natural glacial clay shows up paler on both sides of the excavation but you can clearly see the 4 metre wide swathe of darker soil between where Sammy and Chris are trowelling and George is mattocking. This darker material is full of worked stone and charcoal. Kayla and Connor are using the total station to record the position of today’s finds.


In trench P the darker material that we thought marked the position of upright posts in the ditch has been dug out. As you can see in this photo they are not as deep as we were expecting. Katie has just finished drawing a profile through both features and is handing the drawing to Mike, who seems to have escaped from the Sistine Chapel roof, so he can check it.


As always, once the recording is done, it is time to get the big tools out again.


Sometimes we do this even before the paperwork is all complete. Scott and Chloe have been looking for the edge of their Neolithic pit in trench M but as the clay subsoil dries out it becomes increasingly hard to make any impression on it with a trowel. If you are careful you can clean nearly as neatly with a 5lb mattock head and it hurts your wrist a lot less.


The other Neolithic pit in trench M is more clearly defined. Chelsea and John are taking more of the fill out and finding lots of worked stone and some quite big bits of charcoal.

We weren’t on site yesterday because it was graduation day at UCLan. Duncan, Jim and I had a very hot afternoon looking like the staff of Hogwarts in full academic dress. Massive congratulations to all this year’s graduates.


The cows are grazing our bit of the hill again so we are back inside our electric fence. I rigged this yesterday, stretching the wires around everyone as they got on with proper work and maintained a dignified silence in the face of my shocking Colditz commandant impersonations.


In trench P we are getting some very exciting features. After all the mattocking on Monday we have come down onto the top of a much narrower boundary than we expected. It seems to be only just over 1 metre wide but it clearly shows that there were once large timber posts in this relatively narrow ditch. You can see the traces left by the decayed wood of one of them just behind the yellow bucket in the foreground in this picture. There was probably another one behind it just under Phil’s kneeling matt.

A narrow ditch like this with many large posts standing in it would, of course, be a good structure for a deer park boundary. However, we haven’t found any medieval or later finds in this feature yet and we are finding a lot of worked flint. If this is part of a prehistoric enclosure then it could just be a Late Neolithic timber palisade enclosure. This would be very exciting indeed, but we are trying not to get over-excited about this possibility until we have some results from the enormous gradiometer survey that Mike is coordinating.


We are also finding a lot of worked chert and flint in the prehistoric features in trench M . There are two largish bowl-shaped pits here. One on the north edge of the trench which Chelsea is digging and another bigger one in the centre of the trench where Christine and Connie are working.


In trench N we have finished recording the later archaeology which was cut from the top of the hillwash layer. Therefore, it is time to get the heavy tools out again to remove this layer. Alex and Josh of the UCLan Formation Mattocking Team lead the way as we look for the top of the glacial clay, which is where we expect the prehistoric features to show up.


Feeding frenzy. A big thank you to Christine for bringing the lovely cake, the last piece of which is just vanishing into George’s mouth.

As I was driving everyone home tonight I was just thinking that we hadn’t seen anything to count as wildlife of the day when the first stoat I have seen this year ran across the road in front of the van. Showing great restraint I will not reprise the stoat joke from two years ago, once is enough.


In retrospect, I think we were lucky with the weather today, although it didn’t feel like it at the time. It clouded over very quickly in the middle of the morning and by dinnertime we were getting consistently drizzled on as we sat inside the clouds eating our sandwiches. Although it was the sort of day that gets you soaked in no time without you noticing it never really got wet enough to make the trenches unworkable and we were able to get a lot of stuff done. Since we got home there have been three torrential downpours, any one of which would have been enough to wash out the day had they happened during working hours.


All this moisture has also made things a bit easier to see on site (I won’t be so relaxed about the weather if it keeps on raining, obviously). We have been able to complete the cleaning of trench M. This should be the layer that the prehistoric features were cut into, we think we can see them now and Connie is just completing a plan of them before we start to dig them tomorrow.


We are also nearly ready to start planning again in trench N. Phil has completely excavated the small pit he was digging – finding more burnt bone in the process. Everyone else has been rapidly excavating the two linear slots so we can photograph and plan this area in the morning.


We did get as far as setting up to photograph the ditch fills in trench P this morning before I made the very popular decision that more mattocking was needed first. Shovelling in the mist, what could be finer. We still think this feature was probably prehistoric. If this is the case then it is possibly (hopefully) part of another enclosure. To try and find out where any continuation of this ditch might go we have been setting up to do a great deal more gradiometer survey on this part of the hill.


Josh and Jack have been using the total station to mark out the corners of the 30 x 30 metre grids for the survey.


Meanwhile Mike was using the gradiometer itself to check his assistants were suitably non-magnetic. One after another, James, Scott and Connor pass through the portal of magnetic cleanliness. No one has non-magnetic waterproofs. They managed six grids this afternoon but we have about 20 more laid out ready, so we are likely to be doing this survey for at least a week.


Wildlife of the day, swallows are nesting in the barn we use as a site hut. No sign of chicks yet but we’ll keep you posted.



Is today and, almost as if we planned it, we have had a very productive two days since my last post. I climbed the hill yesterday to get this shot which shows how the three trenches we are digging this year fit together.


This is looking roughly north-east. Reading from the left hand side of the photo, we have trench M, then the slightly larger trench N and then trench P running down the slope.


This is where we are at in trench M. We have removed about 40 cms of topsoil and hillwash and are just starting to come down onto the layer that the prehistoric features were cut from. The natural sub-soil is the paler mottled surface and you can just see the large darker patch in front of where Connie and James are trowelling which is probably the soil filling a pit. Mike has helpfully sprayed up the edge so that it shows up in the photo and so we can find it again on Monday morning. We are finding lots and lots of worked chert and flint in these layers.

In trench N we have had to excavate and record a few features which were cut into the top of the hillwash layer before we can remove it. Therefore we would expect these to be quite late.


Mike and George are removing the fill of one of these, a long narrow irregular thing which is probably something to do with early 19th century ploughing. Josh has dug another one of these linear features and is just setting up to draw it in the photo. The other feature at this level in trench N is a small steep-sided pit filled with charcoal and quite a few fragments of cremated bone.


Phil has dug out half of the fill of this and Kayla is showing him how to draw a section drawing through the deposits before he excavates the other half. Although all these features may be relatively recent they all contain a lot of worked chert. We think this is because they cut down into prehistoric features beneath them.


We thought that the possible ditch in trench P would be medieval and would probably be a boundary. We now can see the line of the ditch very clearly. Connor and Jack are cleaning up the natural limestone bedrock at the front of the trench. Just beyond their boots the ditch was cut into this bedrock. Katie, Chelsea and Sammy are using mattocks and shovels to remove the rest of the topsoil in this area so we can see the ditch fill more clearly. What is also clear here is that we have no medieval finds at all and (relatively) vast quantities of very fine worked flint. The flint is mostly either blades or the waste from making blades. Jack also found another very nice chert scraper here towards the end of the day. So.. … we are getting quite excited about the idea that this ditch may be part of something prehistoric after all. Next week we are going to do a whole lot more gradiometer survey to the north of the area we have already done to see if/where the ditch continues.

Wildlife of the day, cowboys


Come to where the flavor is….


You need to be comfortable with routines to be an archaeologist. After two seasons, regular blog readers are probably starting to get a feel for which jobs have to be done when in order to make sense of the evidence we dig up. After we took the turf off trenches M and N on Monday, both of them went through exactly the same stages in the same order.


First we needed to (relatively) carefully remove the rest of the topsoil with mattocks and shovels. Here we are doing just that on trench M yesterday. We work in shallow spits of around 10 cm and try to keep everything as clean as possible so that we will recognise the changes in soil colour and texture that mean we have reached the top of the next layer.


Once we get there, the surface needs to be cleaned up. I realise that talking about clean mud is another example of the special archaeologist’s view of the world. What we mean is that the soil needs to be scraped with the sharp metal edge of a pointing trowel to expose a slightly damp and dust free surface that shows the colour and texture. You can see the difference in this shot of very good cleaning going on in trench N this morning. Everyone is working backwards in a line, so as not to stand on the cleaned surface and the colours positively glow, at least when compared to the nasty dusty bit behind them. You can see three features here thanks to all this work: a circular patch of dark soil just in front of Mike and two diagonal linear things, one running under Connor’s hand and another behind it.


The good thing about all this cleaning is that you find things while you are doing it. This is a lovely chert scraper that stopped George going crazy with boredom during the middle of the afternoon on his second go cleaning over the same bit of trench N.


You can also make your own entertainment with the buckets of spoil.


Once the surface is clean it needs to be recorded. We photograph the archaeology but also make measured drawings of where all the soil changes are. Here are George, Lauren and Mike drawing a 1:20 plan in trench N. Once this is finished we can start digging again, and go around the whole process over and over again.


Just for variety, we have also taken the turf off in our last trench, P. Just in front of Katie, Chelsea and Jack you can see lots of limestone, which gave a clear signal on the gradiometer plot last year. Further back, Rob and Connor are clearing off what we hope is the top of a ditch.

Wildlife of the day today is the mysterious and very swift brown vole-type thing that ran over Connor’s boot and vanished underground while we were walking down the hill to the bus after work.



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