Just an excuse to put up this lovely atmospheric, if slightly low-res, shot. We were over at my parents for August bank holiday weekend, the house was a bit full and our kids are still young enough to think that camping in the garden is a good game. This meant we were the ones who got to sleep outside. I had just finished settling the little one down in her tent, about an hour and a half after bedtime, when the clouds shifted and revealed this beautiful harvest moon. They had been rattling about combining in these fields all day and rightly didn’t trust the forecast for Sunday so they had the tractor lights on and were still going through the night. Therefore, I was able to get harvest moon and harvest (well ok, bailing) in the same shot.



Heaning Wood Bone Cave in West Cumbria is a prehistoric burial cave with a long history of research. Ian Smith has recently shown that the human bone from the site was Early Bronze Age while the large assemblage of different species of animal remains were Early Neolithic.


Cave explorers in the mid 20th century got into the Cave this way through an extremely tight squeeze further along this horizontal passage but, by the time Ian was carrying out his research, improvements in the average British diet meant that no one was capable of entering the cave that way.


This was probably the prehistoric entrance to the cave. It was discovered in the 1970s by the landowner and has been cleared and explored by Martin Stables. This shows that the cave was more of a vertical shaft than previous suspected, which fits well with the pattern I identified in my upcoming book for Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age cave burials to be in vertical shafts like this. I have been helping Martin with the survey and recording of the cave. As you can imagine, producing a measured drawing of a constricted and irregular shape like a cave can be quite challenging. In the past I have used a total station to do this kind of thing, which involves a lot of time underground but is relatively quick on the computer afterwards.


For more on site speed and accuracy of survey I did the Heaning Wood survey with our Faro Focus laser scanner. This shot shows the machine set up at the choke point in the vertical shaft where most of the human and animal bone built up. Behind the tripod you can see the shaft heading off down into the bowels of the earth. This also gives a good sense of how tight the space is, this was taken from the ladder on the way back up the entrance shaft. The scanner works by bouncing its laser off the cave wall and logging the position of many millions of points to build up a 3d model of the cave. To do this it has to spend about 30 minutes spinning around on the tripod and while it is doing this you can’t be in sight of the scanner (otherwise a ghostly blurred image of the surveyor turns up in the final computer model). When you set the machine off it gives you about 30 seconds to get out of range, this is fine if you are scanning a room (we also use this scanner in crime scenes) but scrambling out through a narrow vertical tube in this time is more of a challenge.

Heaning scan screen shot corres view

Even so, the survey is the easy part. I did three overlapping scans of the cave interior to cover any blank spots. Clare and I then spent about three hours in the imaging lab trying to make sense of the data. When you get the numbers out of the scanner these different scans have to be registered and linked together to create the 3d model of the cave. This is what the raw scan data looks like. Within the two scans on screen here you can see various control objects that I added into the cave to help the scanner link the different scans together. These include white plastic globes and checkerboard patterns. The software compares the measured distances between these points to build up a grid of similar distances. This view shows how Clare and I made sure that the software was linking the right control points together. It normally does this automatically but some times, and this was one of them, its gets confused. The issue this time was that two of the globes were close together and only one showed in each scan. The software decided they were the same point but, of course, they weren’t.

Heaning scan screen shot scan 1

Once this little issue was fixed these two scans snapped together nicely. This view shows the merged model with the first scan highlighted to show which bits of data came from where. We are now at the stage where we have a nice 3d model of the main bit of the cave we can rotate and examine.

Heaning scan screen shot2

This view shows the width of the chamber quite nicely, while also giving a sense of the depth of the vertical shaft.

Heaning scan screen shot

On the other hand, this view clearly shows up the depth of the deep fissure beyond the point where most of the bone was found. This really shows well how a 3d scan like this can give you a much more nuanced understanding of a cave than even the most accurate plan.





One of the reasons that posts on this blog have been a bit intermittent over the last two years is that I have been working on a book for Manchester University Press on Neolithic Cave Burial. I theory this ought to mean that I had loads of ideas to share on the blog. In practice, any spare time when I used to sit down to sling together feeble puns and random jottings has been taken up with proof-reading or fiddling with illustrations. It has also meant a bit of a break from fieldwork, which was always the main source of material for the blog. However, it is nearly done now. Recently, as part of getting the illustrations straight, I realised that I needed better quality photos of some of the sites in the Yorkshire Dales. Whenever I go to the Dales for archaeological purposes it always seems to pour with rain, like this and this. Most of my photos were therefore more atmospheric than informative. So, I stuck a digital SLR in the car and took myself off to Giggleswick to try and get some better pictures.


First stop, Langcliffe, and a layby unexpectedly crowded with school minibuses unloading pack-laden 6th formers on their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expeditions. As I was only carrying a camera and a map I beat them up the hill and was able to take uncluttered shots of the view from Jubilee Cave. Jubilee is an important site as it is one of the few cave sites with evidence for individual primary burial in the British Neolithic.


Stephany Leach’s analysis of the human bone from within the cave showed that an adult man was buried beneath one of these rock ledges sometime in the later part of the Early Neolithic. This is what we would describe as a ‘primary burial’; that is one where the whole body was placed in the ground soon after death and not moved or interfered with afterwards. Most people who were buried in caves in the Neolithic had more complicated funeral rites than this. I took all the photos I needed at Jubilee, annoying many sheep who were using it to shelter from the sun, tried and failed to photograph some curlews and then set off back down the track past the gasping and labouring queue of teenagers.

The other caves I wanted to photograph were both close(ish) together on Common Scar, near Giggleswick: Sewell’s Cave and Cave Ha 3. Cave Ha 3 is easy to find as there are a whole lot of rock-climbing routes on the crags around it. If you park in the layby at the north end of the B6480, you can follow the clinking sound of climbing kit being sorted up any number of unofficial pathways to the Cave Ha complex.


This is Cave Ha 3, which is really a small rock shelter just to the east of the main Cave Ha itself. There were four people buried at this site, again in the later part of the Early Neolithic. This is another collection of human bone which was studied by Stephany Leach. The funerary rite here was what is known as successive inhumation. The bodies were placed at the back of the shelter and left to decompose. However, as there as an active layer of tufa forming in the cave at the time the bones became coated in this quite quickly, in some cases before becoming completely disarticulated.

The last site on my list, Sewell’s Cave, is at the other end of the scar. At this stage of the trip I made a slight route-planning error. There is a nice broad ledge running along the base of the Cave Ha complex and I thought that, rather than climb back down to the road and have to climb back up, I would just follow the ledge along the escarpment until I got to Sewell’s Cave. This does not work. The broad ledge quickly becomes narrower and more exposed, making for slow and nervous going. I backed up  and tried to bash my way through the woodland instead but this is almost worse. The scar is still pretty steep and the only handholds are vegetation, most of which is either brambles or nettles, and, of course, if you are up to your eyebrows in dense undergrowth it is really difficult to keep any sense of where you are going.


I got there in the end but I have no guidance to offer on the best route to this site, apart from don’t try to do what I did. Sewell’s Cave, which was excavated by the local Pig Yard Club archaeological society in the 1930s, had evidence for another different kind of funerary rite in the Early Neolithic. All the human bone was found clustered together  against the northern wall of the rock-shelter (on the left hand side in this photo). Stephany Leach was able to show that all this bone was from disarticulated skulls. She suggested that this cave was the final resting place in what is known as a secondary burial rite. These people must have been buried or exposed somewhere else when they first died and then, once the bodies had decomposed the heads were removed and brought to their final burial place in Sewell’s Cave.

Stephany Leach’s research on the human bone from these caves is published in her 2008 paper which is on the reading list.


I’ve been in North London for the last week, celebrating various birthday related things. While my eldest went roaring off up the M1 in his auntie’s red MX5 to the Harry Potter Studio Tour for his birthday (don’t worry, she was driving), I was rattling over to Dalston Junction on the Overground to do a porcelain course with Jo Davies for mine. I’ve been making pottery for almost as long as I have been studying it as an archaeologist. I started working with clay at Southampton Student’s Union as a Wednesday afternoon diversion whilst I was a PhD student. At the time I wanted to understand hand building and bonfire firings, because that was how the Neolithic pottery I was studying was made.


Since then, however, I have got much more interested in making wheel-thrown pieces in glazed stoneware. Over the years I have developed a style of making which is probably best described as robust. Being a part-time night-class potter is a very good way of never getting out of any bad habits you have ever picked up and stoneware lets you get away with a certain amount of chunkiness in your handles and bases. Lots of my stoneware pots, like the one above, look as if they would be best used in an eighteenth century tavern brawl. Porcelain is a very different, less forgiving, material than stoneware. Last year I did a three day porcelain course with Jo at West Dean College in Sussex (which has a history and ambience worth a whole post on its own), trying to move on from my ‘Gin Lane’ aesthetic. As a follow on from this, I spent my sessions in Jo’s studio last week working on being a bit more delicate in my throwing.

While I was making mugs, and Jo was unpicking the glitches in my technique, we were talking about pottery and the connection between making things and memory. Learning to make things is a really good example of the kind of bodily ‘muscle memory’ that Paul Connerton refers to as ‘habit-memory’. There are loads of examples of this kind of remembering in all craft processes. What is interesting about this kind of memory is that it is a three way process involving your body, the physical thing you are trying to do and feedback from the person teaching you. When you are making something you can see and feel if it is working. This means that the habit-memory of learning to make something is directly connected to the physical form of the actual thing you made.


We were also talking about materials and memory in pottery, particularly about this bone tempered Collared Urn from the Moseley Heights ring cairn I wrote about a couple of years ago. There is a temptation to think about this pot as special in some way, because it is tempered with what may be cremated human bone. This seems like a very good example of a memorial object. This pot preserves the memory of a person because it contains ground up bits of their body. However, most Bronze Age urns are tempered with ground up bits of other pots. These pots would have been directly connected to the actions of the person who made them. I don’t think we can assume that the pot tempered with the remains of someone’s bones is any more directly ‘memorial’ than one which is tempered with the remains of their actions.

At this point Jo asked if I knew the work of Julian Stair, which I didn’t. Being a diligent student I went away and looked him up later. The first thing my reading showed was that I absolutely should have heard of him, a major exhibition –  Quietus – was commissioned by mima (which is in my hometown of Middlesbrough) and one of its other venues was the National Museum of Wales (where I used to work and where 90% of the pots I studied for my PhD are kept). Quietus used ceramics to explore the containment of the human body after death and included Memorium: an installation in which audio visual memories of one person’s life were projected around a bone china urn which contained and was tempered with his ashes. Apart from the congruence between Memorium and the Moseley Heights urn, there is a lot of interesting overlap between archaeology and Stair’s writing on objects and memory. I need to read a lot more of this, but to start with I have put a paper of his on craft and the body on the reading list.


We haven’t done any excavation on the project this summer but we have been working hard on making sense of everything we have found over the last five years. In particular, we have been trying to understand how the Middle Iron Age timber features and bank and ditch of the New Laund Enclosure fit together.

Gradiometer details 2011

Alex is working on this for his Masters dissertation. He is re-examining the existing geophysics, like this gradiometer plot of the features from 2011, looking at the ceramics and metalworking slag from the topsoil and re-evaluating the excavations from 2012 and 2013.


However, he has also been doing some fieldwork. We now have a(nother) new toy. This is the Ground Penetrating Rader set in action on the enclosure interior last Friday. (obviously the only damp day of last week). It looks like a lawnmower† but inside the bit that looks as if it should be the grass-collecting box are three different frequency rader antennae. GPR works by detecting these radar waves as they bounce off any sub-surface features.


This is the driver’s eye view, taken as I paused during one of my traverses. The tablet screen shows three vertical slices through the ground directly beneath the machine, one for each frequency of radar in use. We recorded 130 of these traverses on Friday, and therefore 390 scans in total, covering a 28 by 18 metre area just to the west of trench D from 2012 and trench H from 2013.


This is only the third time we have used the GPR but I’ve already learnt that, laborious although the data collection feels while you are doing it, the real work will start next week when we download the data and begin the computer processing. The vertical slices you see on the screen as you are recording the data are extremely confusing to look at. They show the time the radar waves take to travel through the ground, rather than any scale measurement of what is beneath you. They also show multiple reflections from any target. To get anything which will be comparable to the existing ‘plan view’ geophysical results Alex is going to have to process all these effects and reflections out and then stack all the vertical traverses up together in their right geographical location next to each other.

Once this is done then it will be possible to virtually ‘slice’ through these at right angles and produce many plan views at different depths. Some of these will hopefully show the post-holes and foundation slots of the timber features. Of course the great strength of the GPR is that, unlike other geophysical techniques, you get this three dimensional view. Hopefully, not only will we be able to see if there are features in the area we surveyed but we should also be able to tell whether they are at the right depth to be part of the same structures as the features we dug in this area in 2012 and 2013.


†On Friday I kept thinking that actual lawnmower blades on the front of the antennae set would be a good after-market accessory. We had to push through some very stubborn tussocks of reeds to do the survey.

Well, nearly. Only slightly later than promised, I’ve managed to write the second part of the summary of our recent dating project. As well as re-dating the New Laund Enclosure to the Middle Iron Age, these results have also helped us pin down dates for some of the archaeology around the Whitewell Enclosure.


We have one date from the top of the outer ditch, here in trench Q. This is on charcoal from an oak twig at the very top of the secondary fill of the ditch and it calibrates to between 1530 and 1425 BC. This ought to mean that the outer ditch, which of course is now completely buried, was still a visible feature in the landscape in the Middle Bronze Age.

This helps to make sense of one of the important questions about this site. Here we have a complex of lots of pits inside the three concentric ditches of the enclosure. Many of the finds from the pits and the enclosure look very similar but we don’t know if the pits and ditches were in use at the same time, whether some of the pits are earlier than the enclosure ditches or whether the enclosure came first and the pits were a later response to the visible remains of an earlier enclosure (confused yet, I know I am).


This is pit M13, inside the enclosure, which we dug in 2014. A date on a fragment of alder charcoal from the top fill of this pit (just about behind Connie’s head) shows that it was in use in the Middle Bronze Age too, between 1500 and 1405 BC. M13 looks to be a long lived pit with many layers and both this date and the enclosure date are from the end of the sequence. All we can really say here is these things were still visible dents in the ground in the Middle Bronze Age.


Pit N06 should have been the last in the complex of pits we excavated in 2014 in trench N. There are two dates from this pit fill, which cover the whole of the Early Bronze Age. One calibrates to between 2270 and 2030 BC and the later one to between 1745 and 1620 BC.

All of this tends to suggest that the pits and the Whitewell enclosure both begin before the Middle Bronze Age and have a long sequence. This makes it much more likely that, unlike what appears to have happened at the New Laund Enclosure, the worked stone tools (which seem to be Neolithic and Bronze Age) go with the excavated features.

Thanks to Denise at Oxford Archaeology (North), who identified all the wood in the first place, Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit and Beta Analytic Inc, who did the actual dating, and the Natural Environment Research Council and University of Central Lancashire, who paid for it all.



Last time I posted about radiocarbon I reported on an unexpected Iron Age date from the New Laund enclosure. At the time I suggested that the charcoal we dated had been moved into an earlier layer and I fingered the earthworm Lumbricus terrestris as the probable culprit. I can now completely and unreservedly withdraw this accusation.

Just about two weeks ago we had another batch of radiocarbon results back. These were all on charcoal fragments that Denise identified from the excavations at the New Laund and Whitewell Enclosures. Now I’ve had chance to think about what these results mean it is clear that we need to radically reassess our ideas about the New Laund Enclosure.

We have being trying to do two things with radiocarbon at New Laund. First to get dates that were both earlier than the construction of the circle of posts in the middle of the enclosure and then others that were later than its demolition – giving us an idea of not only when it was built but how long it was in use for. We were also trying to get dates from the enclosure ditch, to confirm our suspicion that the circle of posts and the ditch were in use at the same time.

(Very) long term readers may just about be able to recall that early in the 2012 season, when we started to dig the New Laund Enclosure, we fleetingly considered the idea that the site might be Iron Age. Then we started to find large quantities of worked stone tools, showing that there had been lots of either Neolithic or Early Bronze Age activity on this bit of the hill, and came to the conclusion that the features we were digging were likely to be of that date too.


One of our new dates comes from here, about half way up the fill of the New Laund Enclosure ditch, and it calibrates to somewhere between 390 and 205 BC, right in the middle of the Middle Iron Age.


On the timber structure itself we have the date from the bottom of this posthole showing construction also started in the 4th or 3rd centuries BC.


And now we have another one from this upper fill of the same feature with exactly the same calibrated date range: 395  to 350 or 305  to 210 BC. This is excellent,as it allows us to combine the archaeological information with the radiocarbon dates. One radiocarbon date on its own tells you that there is a 94.5% chance that the thing you are dating died between a given range of dates. So the date from the base of the posthole only really told us that the structure was built at some point after 395 BC. Now we have this second date, which should have gone into the ground after the posts were removed, we can now be much more confident that the building, use and demolition of the structure all falls into the period between 395 and 210 BC.

What is round, later prehistoric and made of wood? Now we have an Iron Age date for this structure then the temptation to take our former timber circle, imagine a big round thatched roof on it and call it a roundhouse is very strong. If it is an Iron Age roundhouse it is a very big one. And, of course, the date from the main ditch suggests that it has a big enclosure around it. I am off to look up possible local parallels, which should make a whole blog post all on their own. There is also the question of what was going on at the site in the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age to leave all the worked stone artefacts we have found. However, next week’s post, assuming I get all the dissertations marked before then, will be an update on the new results from the Whitewell Enclosure, where the finds and the radiocarbon dates are in much closer agreement.