Rob and I have been up on site today. We have been moving equipment and surveying before everyone else turns up to start digging on Monday. When we got to the farm this morning there was no-one around (as indeed there hasn’t been most of the week) but Daniel’s dog was standing in the beck looking very hot and slurping down gallons of water. After a bit, John and Daniel turned up on a quad. They have been gathering and shearing the sheep all week over at Dinkling Green, which is about three miles away. After a week of this in the heat and humidity the dog had decided that enough was enough and had taken herself off home for an unsanctioned holiday.


After we had climbed up the hill in the airless humidity we could kind of see where she was coming from. This is the first time I can remember that it hasn’t been raining when we have come to lay out the site grid. As I have mentioned before, it is good to get these jobs done before everyone else is on site. Obviously, no one can start digging until we have correctly located the positions of the trenches on top of the geophysical anomalies we want to investigate. Equally obviously, a hot day and complex machinery means that there will be plenty of opportunity for doing things several times until you identify the simple mistake which means the total station keeps saying Bad Data Error – unable to compute position. These are the times when it is good not to have an audience of 20 people leaning on shovels waiting for you to get it right so that they can start work.


Eventually we sorted it. The forest of wooden grid pegs in this photo marks the position of the trenches we are going to start digging on Monday. There is a 20 x 20 metre area where we have the innermost ditch of the causewayed enclosure particularly well-defined. We have marked this out with four pegs but unless we are feeling particularly superhuman we will not be digging the whole area. Within this space we have set up two 6 by 4 metre evaluations which is where we will start work. Once we have some results from those we will expand the excavated area as necessary. We just need to remember not to put anything large and immovable (like grab bags full of spoil for example) down anywhere within the 20 x 20 metre area. We will also need to fence a compound off with the electric fence from the beginning. As you can see we have both cattle and sheep in the field with us at the moment. We have even treated ourselves to a new energizer for the electric fence.


Wildlife of the day has to be the scary mutant triffid/cactus/thistle thing I found growing further up the pasture. Suggestions as to what this is and how it happens from anyone with more botanical knowledge than me (so anyone with a pulse, basically) would be very welcome.


Mairead, Dan and I went up to site on what felt like the last day of winter, but was in fact early June, to try to sample for preserved pollen. It is fair to say that looking for surviving pollen on site has not been the smoothest part of the project so far. We originally took lots of samples from features we dug, reasoning that any pollen would then be easy to date and link to the archaeology. The only problem with this plan was that when Mairead came to look at these samples then the pollen wasn’t well enough preserved to tell us anything reliable about the prehistoric environment.

Plan B, which we started to put into operation the other day, was to take an auger to the various boggy places around New Laund Hill in the hope of getting a sequence of bog close to the archaeology that dated back into prehistory. An auger, by the way, is a giant version of the thing gourmet judges use to test cheeses with. You poke it into the mud and it comes out full of sediment for you to examine. It has a T-shaped handle to aid the pushing and extra-sections, as on a chimney sweeps’ broom, if you want to go deeper.


We poked away at many promisingly boggy locations around the hill but found that they were all dolines choked with limestone and clay, making a very hostile environment for pollen survival. At this point we had to move to plan C. This involved quizzing John as to where the nearest peat bog was and, when it turned out to be at the other end of Dinkling Green Farm, cadging a lift for us and all the kit in the Land-Rover.


When we got there it turned out to be worth all the bouncing about. Mairead and Dan used the auger to find the deepest part of this bog. Once we were sure there was good preservation and more than a metre’s depth of peat they were able to move up to this device here, the Russian corer. The auger is good for looking at sediments but the advantage of the Russian corer is that it gives you a 50 mm diameter column of sediment served on a plate. It has a much wider head than an auger and has a closing stainless steel flap. Once it is in the ground you can, by turning the handle half a turn, shut the flap and trap a column of sediment inside. With the corer out of the ground you can carefully open the flap and ease the sediment into something like a plastic gutter and a whole section of the peat bog is nicely sealed up to be sampled at leisure in the warm and dry.


The head of the Russian corer is only 0.5 m long so, like the auger, it comes with many additional sections to add depth (now you see why we were so keen on a lift in the Land-Rover). This is the lower of the two sections through our peat. The grey clay on the right hand side probably dates to the immediate post-glacial period, around 10 000 years ago. About 150 mm up the core you can see the transition where peat has started to form on the top of this clay. Dead plant material then continued to build up over the next 10 000 years to create the peat bog and, hopefully, trap lots of pollen to tell us about changes in the local environment.

With Mairead’s help, Dan will be working on this for his MSci dissertation over the next year, so I will be able to keep you posted with results as he gets them.


Scott and James have started work today on what should be about a week’s gradiometer survey in the landscapes around New Laund Hill. The plan is for them to survey large chunks of the different slopes and elevations. This is hopefully going to provide them both with MSci dissertation topics as they investigate the prehistoric landscape around the known archaeology we have been excavating for the last few years.


They started down by the river, on the alluvial floodplain opposite the Inn at Whitewell. We’d chosen to do the survey this week because 1) all this year’s assessments are now finished (they are nearly all marked too) so we should all have a bit more time for research and 2) its bound to be sunny on the 1st of June isn’t it? This is the view down from New Laund farm towards the river plain, the small wet dots trudging backwards and forwards are James and Scott.

While they were doing the actual gradiometer work Clare and I were running around the farm ahead of them with the total station fixing the position of the survey onto the OS national grid. I’ve explained how the gradiometer works, to the best of my ability, before. As well as detecting the buried archaeology, we also need to be able to locate it on our maps of the area. The easiest way to do this is to make sure that the 30 x 30 m areas we survey have whole number national grid co-ordinates at the corners.


The weather was actually less miserable than forecast yesterday. It stayed dry until about 1.00 and the gales and heavy rain that Scott is battling into here only turned up about 3.00. Clare and I had it relatively lucky. We didn’t need to be non-magnetic to do our part of the job and so could wear proper waterproofs and boots.

Survey continues tomorrow – yellow warning of wind say the Met Office – and Dan, Mairead and I will also be sampling for pollen further up the hill as part of Dan’s MSci dissertation. Wildlife of the day was curlews, they whizz about the lower meadows on the farm in stupendous numbers, which kept almost crashing into Clare and I as we worked.


…where it touches. This week I have trying to push on with writing up the work we did at Moseley Height, outside Burnley. I’ve blogged before about this site. It was an Early Bronze Age ring cairn which was salvaged in advance of NCB open cast mining in 1950 by Walter Bennett of the Burnley Historical Society. We went back in 2010 to see what survived on the site. Thanks to the generosity of Mike at the Towneley Hall Museum in Burnley we’ve also got access to the orignal finds and records from the 1950 excavations. This is where the urn with the possible human bone tempering came from that I blogged about in January.


This is what we found. We stripped a 20 by 30 m area in roughly the right place down to the level of the subsoil. This showed us the edge of the NCB’s open cast pit (the area of pale subsoil visible along the front edge of the trench) and also a lot of battered looking stones in more or less the place we were expecting to find the ring cairn.

RVP10 excavated area

We focused our detailed digging in the area around the cairn. The dotted lines are contours at 0.1 m intervals and you can also see lots of surviving stone and rubble from the cairn. Feature [6], the very shallow base of either a pit or a stonehole, was the only archaeological feature that survived.

So, it was there, but it is now gone. The contours still show a vague circular shape in plan, with a dent in the middle where Bennett’s main trench was, but very little of the actual monument survives. However, what we did find was a lot of very nice worked stone, both chert and flint.


This is a barbed and tanged arrowhead that Magda found on the last real day of digging. Nice to look at but also nice because these are very securely dated to the Early Bronze Age; it belongs with the ring cairn. There were also a lot of Early Bronze Age scrapers and flakes. Ross, who studied all this worked stone for his BSc dissertation, found out some surprising things about some of the other worked stone.

Causewayside Meso

These are bladelets (small blades) and two microliths, all of which ought to be about 3000 years older than the ring cairn. There was obviously a much longer history to this site than the Early Bronze Age burials. Long term activity at sites always fires the synapse in my brain that is marked ‘archaeology of memory’ (see what a good grasp I have of neuroscience). This in turn led me to thinking what else was there from Moseley Height that was earlier than the Early Bronze Age.


When we looked at the collections in Towneley Hall then I found things like this. These two are either oblique or hollow-based arrowheads, either way they are Late Neolithic. This is actually much better evidence for meaningful group memory, they are likely to be generations older than the ring cairn, rather than millennia. We can realistically imagine that the people who built the ring cairn had some broadly accurate traditions about who the people who left these arrowheads were.

CF10 ring cairn main plan

Even more usefully, Bennett left a field drawing in the archive which shows where all his small finds came from. This is my digitized version of that plan. What is particularly interesting is that all the datable finds from the cluster to the north-west of the central pit are Late Neolithic, so this may mark the position of an early deposit right at the beginning of the use of the cairn. Sam, in her dating programme for human bone from Early Bronze Age sites, found that the first burial at Hindlow Cairn in Derbyshire was a Late Neolithic cremation.


Of course, we’ve also got details of where all our finds cames from, although I am not so far on yet with splitting these up by date. What we really need to do is fit the two distributions together. This is a hard job because the only real points of contact between are two sets of records are 1) we know which way north is 2) the feature we dug as pit [6] is presumably a stonehole or pit base. Given where it is, it ought to be one of the stones on the north-west side of the outer cairn. This allows us to overlay the 1950 plan onto ours with a margin of error of about 2 metres, depending on which precise stone we think went in pit [6].


This is my current best guess as to where the ring cairn used to be. Now I have got all these lovely pictures, I really need to get on and write some words to go with them.


Twice a year we have an oppotunity to bid for Natural Environment Research Council money to pay the Oxford University Radiocarbon Lab to do radiocarbon dates. Once of these deadlines was this Tuesday, so I have been on the scrounge for money again. You need a mass spectrometer to carry out radiocarbon dates so it’s not the sort of thing you can do in any old chemistry lab. If we had to pay for them individually each date would cost about £350, so you can see why this programme is a big help for archaeological research projects like ours. A couple of years ago I was part of a succesful bid with Sam, who was then a PhD student here, to get dates on a whole series of Early Bronze Age barrows from northern Britain. Sam has lots of details about the results here on her blog but we are also working on a joint paper about them (well, to be more strictly honest, Sam has done a lot of work and now the paper has landed in my in-box for me to get on with my bit next week).

Obviously NERC are not keen to chuck their money around dating things that they don’t think are important. I’ve posted previously about how we need to establish that we are dating viable samples but we also have to sell the project as a whole. Why is it important that we date these enclosures and how will this advance our knowledge of prehistory generally?

Denise, who identified all the charcoals for us, worked really hard to get a full list of the suitable samples ready for the deadline. What this also tells us, of course, is a lot more useful stuff about the finds distributions. Instead of a load of black blobs for ‘charcoal’ were are now in a position to look at what species of tree was being burnt where on site.

NL13 Trench D and H timber circle charcoal ids

This plan shows the identified charcoal from the timber circle we dug in 2012 and 2013. The dense concentration of charcoal around the entrance we always thought was connected with the cremation burial from the same place. Now we can see that the pyre fuel seems to have been predominantly alder and/or hazel. Most of the larger, slower growing trees like oak and ash come from different parts of the site.

This also helps confirm what we thought from the archaeology that, unlike some other timber circles, none of the big posts here were burnt down. If they had been we would have expected to see a lot more oak charcoal.

The charcoal finds from all the sites Denise has looked at so far has had a lot of hazel and alder in it. Although this is not as systematic as we hope the results from the wet sieved samples will be, it does give us a suggestion that in the Neolithic this was a landscape that was mostly small trees and bushes, rather than large forest species.


I was out at New Laund this week to talk to John about plans for future seasons, but also to discuss grass and especially the lack of it. Trench R, which we are going to dig this summer, is going to be a bit bigger than previous excavations. This making him twitchy because last summer’s trenches haven’t really recovered in the way we hoped they would after we re-turfed them. This is especially galling because at the time I thought we had done the neatest job so far on the project putting it all back.


I went up to look for myself and take some photos. This last year’s trench M, not a great wicket, even by parks’ department standards. Trench N is about the same and trench P is worse. It is on a slope and the pesky cattle have trodden a lot of the turves up to eat the soil underneath. Admittedly, there is not a lot of grass growing anywhere at the moment but you can kind of see John’s point.


However signs that all is not lost, this is Trench K, from 2013, which looked similarly rough last spring and has recovered to the point where you have to know we were here to be able to spot it. I’m hoping the once the grass starts to grow a bit then some of the worst scars on last year’s trenches will have started to mend.


This is where we want to put trench R this summer. We will be digging somewhere between the two sheep-tracks in the middle foreground. The line of the inner ditch of the enclosure comes through here and there are also three or four more pits like the ones we dug last year. Our main priority is to get as big a section of the ditch exposed as possible. The more of this ditch we dig the better chance we have of understanding what went on in the enclosure. In particular it would be good to get datable charcoal from the bottom layers. So far, none of the charcoal Denise has looked at from the base of the ditches has been suitable for radiocarbon dating. We can get a good sequence from the various pits but nothing to tell us when the enclosure itself was first made.


Of course the other reason for coming out to see John in the spring is to get to see lambing. I must have been out a bit earlier last year as they are all a bit more grown up now. However, here are the rightful tenants occupying the building we use as a site hut in the summer.


It was all words and no pictures last week. This week I have been generating many finds distribution plots to even things up. These are based on the results of some work that Dan has been doing on last summer’s finds. He has been going through them and tidying up the spreadsheets. Partly this is about consistency – making sure that a piece of flint we classed a flake one day is similar to other pieces of flint classed in the same way a week later.

N20 finds by type

Even at this level we can get a lot out of this. This is all the stone tool finds from trench N sorted by type. Apart from giving a great sense of how much stuff there was in this pit complex, the other interesting thing is the way that all the blades (longer, thinner and more regular flakes) seem to cluster on the south-east side of the pit.

N20 finds by material

Looking at what everything was made of in trench N, we can see that the charcoal and burnt bone were mostly associated with the smaller, deeper pits up to the north. This plot is even busier than the last one as it includes all the other finds as well as the worked stone. In fact there was even more stuff in these pits because these plots don’t include quite a lot of things we found while sieving which don’t have such precise co-ordinates.

M finds by material

For comparison we have done the same kind of plot for trench M. One thing this seems to show is that the pit with former postholes in it [M13] has more variety of finds in it than the rest of the features in this bit of the site.

M finds by type

Although if we look at the type of stones tools and where we found them in trench M then the picture is more varied, with cores, scrapers, flakes and blades coming from all different parts of the trench. The features in both trench M and trench N should be Neolithic pits inside the probable causewayed enclosure we found last year.

P finds by material screenshot

We are still working on looking at what we found where in the outer ditch of the enclosure. This is a screen grab of the basic distribution pot in QGIS for the eastern part of the outer ditch as we excavated it in trench P. It shows the stone tools divided into flakes and blades for this area. Even though I haven’t got a nicely digitized plan to overlay this on yet you can clearly see the line of the ditch just by the increase in the density of finds.



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