When we decided to re-excavate Fairy Holes one of the main research questions we wanted to answer was the type of activity that took place here. Musson’s work had given an Early Bronze Age date to the cave and he thought it was probably used for settlement. As other Early Bronze Age caves, for example Fezior Nick up near Settle, seem to be burial sites we had always wondered about this interpretation. Now we are exactly half way through our short excavation we have finds that allow us to come up with a very neat interpretation, pulling together evidence from both our dig and Musson’s work, and answer this question.
Of course, archaeology being what it is, we will almost certainly be revising this theory on Monday in the light of some new finds. This afternoon Sam found this new sherd of prehistoric pottery just inside the entrance to the main cave. She also found the curved bit of bone next to it. The pot sherd is part of the Early Bronze Age Collared Urn which Musson found in 1946. It is in fact a bit of the collar, the thickened bit around the rim of this type of urn. Now I have seen this I think the sherd we had yesterday, which I thought was Beaker, is part of the same Collared Urn. It comes from the narrow curving neck beneath the Collar (see what I mean about archaeological theories being constantly revised).
The bone is interesting as you normally only get this kind of fracture on long bones when they have been cremated. Early Bronze Age burial archaeology was the topic of Sam’s PhD, she has seen an awful lot of Bronze Age cremated bone, and she was convinced that this was part of a cremation burial. Later on this afternoon, very close to where the first bit was found, she found a second small fragment with unmistakable signs of having been cremated.
The area where Sam found the cremated bone and pottery is near the shovel and trowel in the centre of the photo. This is beneath the limestone rubble which we think was what was left of two dry-stone walls recorded by Musson. He wondered if they were the remains of some kind of shelter within the cave. Now that we have found cremated bone here, I think that these walls were part of a dry-stone ‘cist’ which protected the urn and the cremation burial it contained. Similar structures are known from other Early Bronze Age cave burials in Yorkshire and Derbyshire. Everything we have seen so far suggests that, rather than the cave dwellers Musson imagined, Early Bronze Age people used Fairy Holes for burial.
Further into the cave, Anna and Olaf have been cleaning up the vertical section through the cave deposits at the end of Musson’s excavation trench. We have photographed this and they are now working on a measured drawing and interpretation to compare with Musson’s publication of the same section. Once it is completely recorded we will also be taking a sequence of samples for pollen analysis here to link up with the similar series we have taken at all the other sites.
In the west cave Connie and Cate have come down onto an almost completely sterile layer of clay at the base of the section they are digging. This site probably only needs one more day’s work to get out the rest of the deposits and draw the vertical section at the back. Further down the hill, Pete, James and Rob have been exploring the new cave we discovered yesterday. This is still a bit of a work in progress at the moment so I will wait to blog about this until we have dug a bit more and, importantly, we have some nice pictures to look at.
Wildlife of the day was a very relaxed Kestrel sitting on a branch by the road as we drove into work this morning. Apropos of the discussion in the bus on the way home, Jon Pertwee is clearly the best Dr Who, who is this Sylvester McCoy bloke anyway?