We are all done now with the fieldwork for another year. We spent today putting the turf back on all three trenches, tidying and cleaning and then driving everything back to Preston. Thanks very much to Clare who drove the kit van while I drove the bus.

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After the mess the cattle made of our re-turfing last year we made even more of an effort to fit the giant grass and thistle jigsaw back together properly this time. This included chopping up many small slices of turf to wedge in any visible gaps and then, once it was all in place, lining up to stamp it all down. Sadly neither video or still images exist of us line-dancing across the trench, all doing choreographed bunny hops.

The wildlife of the day was a shrew we found hiding in the turves, unfortunately no picture of that either as it was much to quick for me.

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End of dig group shot at about 2.00 today of the last survivors. From left to right: Beth, Chelsea, Sammy, Katie, Debbie, Me, Rob, Scott, George, Phil and Danny. Thanks to everyone on the project this year for all your fantastic hard work. It is due to this that we have had such a successful season.

I now have a week off. My brother is coming up tomorrow and we are going to take all the kids and go and get in the way at Ribchester, where they are now two days away from finishing.

Rick

The last two days have been dominated by the need to get everything recorded before we had to start backfilling this afternoon. Of course, getting everything recorded means that all the digging must be finished first. We were not at that stage on Wednesday morning. The end of any dig is always a bit like this but this year we were a bit further behind than I would have liked, mostly because it has been so wet. This has had two effects, soil colours have shown up really well most of the time, so we have seen more stuff to dig. It has also made us slower at digging it.

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Sampling and recording going on by the limestone pavement on Wednesday morning. George is trying to decide what precise colour of mud he is looking at by using a Munsell standard soil colour chart. This is basically a £200 version of the cards you get in DIY shops to show you paint colours. Except in a Munsell book they are all called things like ‘pale yellowish brown’ rather than ‘Mocha Sunrise’.

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In the northern-most trench we were trying to finish digging the fills in the second phase of the ditch and get it cleaned up and recorded. I hoped to do this by dinnertime, so that we could crack on with digging the first phase. We were nearly there when two simultaneous spanners were thrown in the works just after this photo was taken. The total station had a minor nervous breakdown and stopped logging data. Fortunately it carried on measuring so Danny was able to write down the co-ordinates manually. At the same time it started to absolutely bucket down with rain, all over the lovely, almost completely clean surface.

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Everyone trying to dig and record at the same time after the rain on Wednesday. By this time Danny and I had got the data logger working again too. Each feature we find needs at least two record drawings, photographs, spot heights taking and many context sheets filling in. Context sheets are the pro-forma records we use to describe each individual past event we think we can identify in the archaeology. All these jobs have to be done in a prescribed order too, so a lot of the challenge of the final stages of a dig is working out who should be doing what and when to prevent any unnecessary delays.

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This is what the main ditch segment looked like this afternoon once all the fill had been removed. This was taken at about 1.40, only two plans and two sections to draw, about five context sheets to complete and 50 odd levels to take at this stage, before…

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Tractor time, and the now traditional photo of me slicing up grab-bags as part of the tractor-assisted backfilling, Phil took lots of video of this too and we think this will swing the decision and get us on the main BBC4 Digging for Britain programme or rather than be relegated to the YouTube channel.

Rick

The kids were meant to be back up on site this week but the weather was not Nintendo DS friendly. Like a lot of archaeologists I am not sure how I feel about my children becoming archaeologists in their turn. Entirely selfishly, I think that they might fancy something a bit more remunerative to keep me when I retire. It may be that they would also like something with a bit less rain.

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For most of Monday conditions were so horrible that all you could do was follow the procedures mechanically, get the job done and wonder if this was really a great career choice. A bit late for me as I have been doing it for 30 years and am conspicuously lacking in skills in any other area of work but definitely a day for thinking ‘Don’t follow me down pit son’. Phil, Sammy and Katie are nobly plugging on with their ditch segment in the pouring rain and hopefully not seeking a transfer to history.

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The limestone pavement got a lot of attention on Monday too, one thing about cleaning a stone surface is that it stays workable in even the heaviest downpour. The way that the limestone is weathered here is really good evidence that this was an exposed pavement in prehistory. There is a lot of rounding and solution hollowing which could only have occurred if the rock was exposed to the elements. It looks as if people used the pavement as a working surface, just on the inside of the enclosure ditch.

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However, the job is usually its own reward. Late on Monday John found these two chert blades in the pit or ditch segment he is digging. What is special about these is that they fit back together. They are two pieces that were removed from the block of chert one after another. The fact that we have found them both in the same feature tells us that this stone tool manufacture was happening here, right in that feature. If they had been made somewhere else it is highly unlikely that both re-fitting pieces would have found their way into the same hole. John is holding in his hands the evidence for a single moment in time about 5500 years ago.

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Today we have had a bit more clarity, both with the weather and consequently with the archaeology. George and Scott have defined the upper fills of two more ditch segments just outside the limestone pavement. They have also found a lot of worked stone and some substantial pieces of charcoal. The large feature Scott is mattocking may be the other end of this…

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Which John is having a go at the other end of. He had another fine chert blade in here today which may also fit with the two he found yesterday. These bits of ditches are on a slightly different line than the big segment that Sammy and Katie are recording, which is more good evidence for the episodic way that the enclosure was created at each gathering.

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Even further outside are these two pits that Chelsea and Debbie got nicely cleaned up by the end of today. The deep one by the far section was earlier. This was filled up before the large shallow one in the foreground cut through it. The finds bag in the bottom of the deep pit has more fragments of what may be prehistoric pottery in it – we will see once we have got all the mud off it.

Rick

Is over. Thomas was pasture topping all day Thursday so I took a final shot of our mutant thistle with the approaching tractor of doom in the background before it got sliced down.

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The home-made aerial camera was back in action on Thursday morning too so that we could take some record photos of the excavated segments of the inner ditch. Phil and Katie have completely removed the primary fills of the bit on the left of the shot. They spent the rest of Thursday drawing the two sections and a plan.

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This is also the part of the ditch where I found the two smallest crumbs of pottery known to man. These have now been very skillfully cleaned by Beth and I have had a chance to have a look at the kind of clay and inclusions. I am fairly confident that they are Early Neolithic, which would be a very good fit with our suggested date for the causewayed enclosure, especially since they come right from the base of the ditch. After that, I got optimistic and thought we had two more fragments, one from the big pit Kade, Chelsea and Debbie are digging and one from John’s feature – we will need to wash these new bits to see how convincing they really are.

Today was Chris’s last day on site for this year so a big thank you is due to him for all his volunteer hard work. Also for the big Booths bag full of doughnuts he brought up to share around.

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Mike had the day off from his proper job with Oxford Archaeology and was up on site today. He also delivered the magnetometer back so Scott can do some more geophysical survey next week. He brought his daughter because, as you can tell from this photo of all ages digging the limestone pavement inside the ditch, today was the first day of the school holidays in Preston.

The pavement itself is looking extremely interesting. The depth of soil preserved in the grikes between the limestone suggests that it was exposed for a long time. We are finding masses and masses of worked stone in this area. I think that Alex’s idea that there was a working surface in this area is extremely likely. We are going to finish removing all the deposits and finds in this area and get the limestone pavement really clean before we dig the ditch segment we think is in the currently empty part of this trench next week.

Wildlife of the day was a grasshopper George caught on the edge of this trench during the morning (don’t worry, it was safely released into the wild again once he had shown it to the kids).

Rick

There are often times when taking archaeological photographs when you want an elevated view. Portable scaffold towers used to be very common on excavations when I started out. These would allow the director to spend many hours perched in the clouds, supervising from a position of God-like eminence, while the minions scraped away at the surface beneath. Scaffold towers fell from favour because they are time-consuming to build and easy to pinch. The fashionable way to achieve a vertical view nowadays is to use a drone, although sadly this only lifts the camera and not the director too.

We don’t have a drone but we do have a 5 metre level staff. Two years ago we experimented with suspending a digital SLR from the top of this to take overhead views but we had real problems with the camera swinging too much. This year we have gone back to a similar system but with the camera fixed rigidly to the top of the pole instead. We used this yesterday to take record shots of the new south-east trench after all the topsoil had been removed.

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As well as giving a nice aerial view of the south end of the site this also shows the area of limestone pavement toward the top of the hill. Alex was up on site on Tuesday and he was suggesting that this would have been exposed in prehistory and, given the amount of small flakes of chert we were finding in the bottom right corner, that the limestone was being used as a working surface, even possibly as an anvil.

Despite the miserable drizzle, by the end of today we had most of the hillwash removed in the west side of this trench too and it looks as if the enclosure ditch does continue through the far side of the trench.

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In the south trench Chelsea and Debbie have exposed most of the base of what is looking more like a pit once again. All the base and sides are now showing the same yellowish clay, which seems to be the colour of the undisturbed sub-soil in this area. As you can see there are lots of indentations in the base of the pit. We think these are tool-marks from the digging sticks used to dig this pit in the Neolithic.

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Phil and Rhianne have been doing a similar job with the large ditch segment in the northern trench. There was a re-cut here yesterday, which has been recorded and Phil has dug it away, along with all the remaining primary fill from this part of the ditch segment. Once again he has come down onto undisturbed yellowish clay over both the base and sides of the ditch. Tomorrow he will need to photograph and record this newly exposed cut. Repetitive tasks, we love them.

Rick

We had a site visit this morning from class 3 at Chatburn Primary School. We had them do some digging in the new trench, where they turned up quite a lot of nice worked chert, and I spent most of the morning showing them round and having an extended discussion about which breakfast foods could be replicated using only crops known in the Early Neolithic (Weetabix probably, Rice Krispies Multigrain Shapes less plausible, but we decided we could have a stab at waffles with jam if we could find a wild source for the egg – possibly duck). While I was debating the Neolithic breakfast, Katie, Sammy and Phil were getting farther on with defining the re-cut in the ditch they found on Saturday.

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Here is the record photo they took of it from the north, which also nicely shows the line of the whole ditch in this trench. As I said on Saturday the reason we are so excited about the re-cut is it provides the first hard evidence from this site for the regular, probably seasonal, re-use of the causewayed enclosure. Re-cuts and multiple ditch lines are common at other causewayed enclosures in the south. They are the archaeological evidence that lie behind the story I keep telling about these sites as seasonal gathering places (for a more literate take on all this have a look at Mark Edmonds’ excellent Ancestral Geographies of the Neolithic – which is on the reading list under ‘Prehistoric Enclosures’).

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Meanwhile, in the bottom corner of the same north trench all the drizzly rain has made another feature visible. You can see the very pale ashy fill and lots of rocks, some of which look burnt, in the area which has just been expertly cleaned by John. He and Scott found both worked chert and charcoal in this as they were cleaning it up to record it. It seems to be the top of either another large pit or yet another segment of enclosure ditch. In a way the difference between the two is not really important. This part of the enclosure seems to have been marked out, each time the enclosure was used, by people digging pits and ditches. Into these holes went waste flakes, ash and charcoal and (presumably) food waste which doesn’t now survive. So, the debris from each gathering was used to re-mark the site on the hill ready for the next time.

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In the new south-east cutting Jack, George and Alex have been defining the edge of yet another ditch segment. This one has been cut through the outcropping limestone bedrock and so is visible from a bit higher up in the sediment sequence. They are also finding a lot of worked chert and flint along the line of the edge of the ditch. Chris and Danny spent almost the whole day measuring in finds in this one trench.

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Following on from Saturday’s discovery that more bone was now visible at Mouse Hole Cave, Debbie and Rhianne were volunteered to spend an afternoon alone with all the nettles in Lancashire recording and removing it. They took out all the bone and surrounding sediment in sample buckets. It has all gone down to Rob to be sieved so we can be sure we don’t miss any small mammals, bone preservation is so rare on these sites that we don’t want to waste a chance to recover even a mouse.

I saw two hares around at Mouse Hole, the first ones I have seen this year, to be wildlife of the day.

Rick

Julia, who is the power behind the excellent Histories of Archaeology Research Network blog, has a particular research interest in how archaeological field practice and technique was developed in the early 20th century. For a long time she has had the vision of a research project to compare the techniques of different past archaeologists. Her idea was to get a site and dig different bits of it in different period styles using the site manuals and archives of the day to guide you.

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John gave us the OK to open another trench on Thursday. Looking at this photo of us clearing off the topsoil in the new area it appears we have adopted the Wheeler/Kenyon system of gridded boxes, which was the cutting edge of archaeological practice in the late 1930s. As long as we remember to keep recording in metric units all should be well.

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Today was the annual guided walk that we run as part of Forest of Bowland AONB’s Festival Bowland event. Thanks to everyone for their enthusiasm and the great turn out. We started out down in Rob’s finds shed to look at the different kinds of worked stone we have been finding this year and to talk about enclosures and their role as seasonal gathering places. We then walked up the hill to look at our ongoing excavation. While I was down at the barn the team had found a re-cut in the top of the enclosure ditch. This is really good evidence for seasonal re-use of the site, showing how the partly silted up enclosure ditches would have had to be re-defined when people came back to the enclosure for each season’s gathering.

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We then walked on round the hill to Mouse Hole Cave, which we dug in 2011. When we got to the site this morning as part of the tour I was delighted to see a whole lot of animal bone eroding out of the upper cave fills. We will come back to this site next week and excavate and record this properly.

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We also took everyone up onto the New Laund Enclosure, the Late Neolithic henge and timber circle we dug in 2012 and 2013. Timber circles, of course, don’t survive as visible monuments and, as we don’t have any of the nifty Ministry of Works concrete posts that you see at sites like Bleasdale or Woodhenge, I made some of the group pretend to be large oak posts in the appropriate locations.

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After all that explaining we took the afternoon off so that we could go and visit the other UCLan excavation going on at the moment, on the Roman fort at Ribchester. Here is Duncan standing on one of the fort roads while he explains the exciting evidence they are finding for post-Roman activity within the fort walls.As you can see, their trench is just ever so slightly bigger than ours.

Wildlife of the day was a pair of sparrowhawks in the trees behind the dairy while we were on our way up for the guided walk.

Rick

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