Widdershins

I’m going back up to the Yorkshire Dales next Monday evening to give a talk about the project to the Ingleborough Archaeology Group. I had to make some new images for this lecture and these have set me off thinking about how people moved around a relatively small and congested place like the inside of the New Laund timber circle.

NL13_113One of the obvious things about working on a dig is how constrained everyone is. You need to kneel or stand in certain ways to get the job done. Where you are on site is totally dictated by what archaeology is around and what your role is at that precise moment. Here we all are last summer, packed in around the cobble surface in the entrance. Everyone is cleaning up before a record photo. Not only did we all have to fit in around the feature but, of course, there can be absolutely no standing on the bit that has already been cleaned. People have to shuffle backwards as they work and the whole thing has to be tightly choreographed so we don’t all get in each other’s way. The archaeological remains of the timber circle structured the way that we moved about the trench.

When it was standing, the timber circle itself must have had at least as a big an influence on who went where. The big posts may have blocked people’s views or framed them like a stage. The path is a reminder that the ground may not have been dry or even. We can imagine all kinds of ways that a big construction like this would have physically impinged on the people who built and used it.

timber circle finds

Yet another image of dots on a plan to try and help with that. This is the timber circle, based on the results of our two seasons of excavation and the magnetometer survey. I’ve overlaid information about where three different kinds of thing were found.The black crosses are worked stone tools and the waste flakes from making them, mostly in different kinds of chert. The red dots are fragments of cremated human bone and the black ones are where we found pieces of charcoal.

Although the charcoal and cremated bone is spread over the whole area we dug there is a clear concentration around the big posts on the north-western side of the entrance. We know that these posts were dug out and removed when the circle went out of use. We also think that most of our cremated bone is from a single burial. Therefore, we can see that burial must have been at the foot of one of the big posts, either just inside or just outside the entrance. When the posts were pulled down the remains of the burial were disturbed and scattered over a much wider area. Most of the bone is inside the circle. This may mean that the posts were pulled down from the outside, scattering earth, stones and bone over the centre of the monument.

The stone tools tell a slightly different story. There is a cluster in an irregular feature right by the western edge of the trench, which may be a tree throw a bit like the one on trench K I described a few weeks ago. If this is so it will have been earlier than the period when the timber circle was in use. The rest of the worked stone is commonest inside the circle, particularly in the area between the pathway and the north-east side of the entrance. People seem to have been sitting just inside the circle here, in a place where there are many small scoops, hollows and postholes, to make and finish chert tools.

DSC_0189This is Alima and Scott digging that area last summer. Waste flakes were particularly common around the big, flat-topped rock on the left-hand side of the photo. It is very tempting to see this as a regular feature of how the circle was used. Someone walks into the circle, between the biggest posts and along the gravel path. Just inside the entrance they turn left, perhaps into an area secluded by wicker screens bedded in the smaller post-holes. Once inside they sit down on the rock and create themselves a nice sharp, freshly-knapped blade…

I may have been reading too much science fiction again.

Rick

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