Tag Archives: collared urn

Thanks to everyone who commented on last week’s post about bone tempering in one of the Moseley Height Urns. I have hidden my desk under books about pottery and am now going to try to respond to some of the questions in a bit more detail. I mentioned that bone temper is known from a few Neolithic vessels. One in particular, a Neolithic bowl fragment discovered during excavations in advance of the Market Deeping bypass, stuck in my head because I examined the pottery for that site. The Heritage Lincolnshire account of this work is available online through the splendid Archaeology Data Service but unfortunately the pot report Julia and I wrote is one of the archives which haven’t been digitized. We did this in 2000 so, unsurprisingly, I don’t have an electronic copy of my report anymore. However, I did find the pencil drawings I made at the time in the back of the filing cabinet.

market deeping_0001

This is the bone tempered sherd in question. It is part of the rim of a Mildenhall style bowl. There is another bone tempered Neolithic bowl from Hazleton North in Gloucestershire which was reported by Isobel Smith and Tim Darvill in their pottery report for the site. They list six other examples of bone tempering from sites in western Britain and Ireland: Robin Hood’s Ball and Avebury in Wiltshire (one sherd from each site); The Breiddin, Powys (possible identification of bone in a Beaker sherd); one sherd from Carrowmore; and several sherds from Creevykeel both in Co. Sligo and another Beaker sherd from the Grange Stone circle, Lough Gur, Co. Limerick. The bone in the beaker sherds was only detected because they were microscopically examined and Darvill and Smith point out that this means there may be many others that haven’t been discovered. I have added a link to the online version of this pot report to the reading list page under ‘pottery’.


All of these, even the Beaker sherds, are likely to be older than the collared urn we were looking at. Ian Longworth’s monumental ‘Collared Urns of the Bronze Age in Great Britain and Ireland’ only looks at the pottery fabric in general terms and he doesn’t note any bone tempered vessels. John Waddell and Breandán Ó Ríordáin wrote a similarly comprehensive study of the Irish material which neither I nor our library have a copy of so I can’t check in that yet. I have the same problem with two very useful volumes from 1978 on Northern Bronze Age pottery by Trevor Cowie and Alex Gibson. I have put all these things on the reading list to remind me to go shopping on Abe books for second-hand copies.

In the comments last week, Sean asked whether the bone could have been added accidentally – if the clay was being prepared in an area where bone had previously been burnt then you can see how small fragments could easily get into the body of the pot. The whole question of how you distinguish a deliberate inclusion from naturally occurring or accidentally added material is covered in great detail in Prudence Rice’s excellent Pottery Analysis: a sourcebook. In this case I think the bone is a deliberate addition because you only get the large fragments, not the range of sizes you would expect if the clay was accidentally mopping up bone ash.

Carlos picked up on my blithe assertion that lots of traditionally made pottery from around the world is tempered for what we would regard as non-functional reasons. There is an excellent review by Olivier Gosselain of belief systems around and based on pottery manufacture for African societies which includes a lot of this stuff. It was published in the Journal of Material Culture, once again the full reference is on the reading list.


Literally. We may have found evidence of crushed human bone being mixed into the clay used to make Early Bronze Age pottery. While I was looking at the Moseley Height Bronze Age pottery last week in Towneley Hall Museum I saw something that I thought was very exciting. Large white specks in the body of the pot had a very bone-like appearance. I kept quiet about this in last week’s post because I hadn’t had chance to check it out properly, however…


This is the surviving portion of Urn C. It is the bit around the rim and, as you can see, it has been fairly intensively restored since it was excavated in 1950. There are big sections where the shape has been reconstructed (or made up) using plaster of paris and brown paint. The rest of it is original Bronze Age ceramic but, to keep it from crumbling, it has been impregnated with something like PVA resin. Oddly, this means that the whole thing now feels as if it is made of plastic, which I suppose in one sense it is.

What this image also shows are the white specks of whatever it was that had been used to temper the clay. I’ve posted before about the processes of pottery manufacture and the need to add temper to clay. There are various practical reasons why you do this; it lets the steam out during firing and can improve the heat resistance of the finished pot. However, studies of modern potters in traditional societies around the world also show that it is often added for all kinds of other strange reasons. This is not to say that the temper wasn’t regarded as extremely practical by the people who used it – you can see, for example, how putting something into the mix of a burial urn that stopped the spirits of the dead from coming to eat your soul might be a high priority.


Last week, peering through the layers of resin wIth my little x20 magnification jeweller’s lens, I wasn’t quite sure what these white lumps were. Mike very generously agreed to loan us the pot so I could bring it back to Preston and put it under a microscope. On Wednesday morning Clare and I borrowed the fancy new digital microscope in the Forensic Science lab (usually used by our ballistics people to study gun cartridges) and set about trying to capture good images of the mystery tempering material.

Urn C000001

Here is one of the images from the microscope, clearly showing the bone structure in this particular fragment. Also, just as clearly showing all the shiny plastic of the consolidating resin and the microscopic particles of soil and roots now trapped in there forever.

Urn C000012

This is another fragment at slighter smaller magnification. Jim has had a look at these too and, like me, he is convinced that they are particles of burnt bone.

Burnt bone as temper in British prehistoric pottery is unusual, but not completely unknown. I know of Neolithic sherds from Hazleton North in Gloucestershire and Market Deeping in Lincolnshire, where bone was used in this way, and there are almost certainly others. We now have lots of questions about our bone tempering. Why did this pot need crushed bone in it when the other two urns from the site don’t have any? Is it cremated human bone or is it animal? (we are casting about for a non-destructive way to answer that one) and what is the relationship between the cremated bone buried in the pot and the bone temper fired into the body of the pot? We can begin to imagine all kinds of fascinating connections between the body of the pot, the body of the person buried in the pot, the food they ate and the other people buried in the ring cairn.


Especially on the Towneley Hall museum, where I went yesterday to look at finds from the Early Bronze Age ring cairn at Moseley Height, near Cliviger. This is yet another thing I am involved in which is not directly to do with caves or memory. I seem to have more side projects than David Byrne and Bryan Eno combined. The ring cairn at Moseley Height was excavated in 1950 by Walter Bennett – then a master at Burnley Grammar School. The site was about to be destroyed by open-cast coal mining and, in the days before organised rescue archaeology, a local volunteer dig was the only way any knowledge of the site could be saved. Mike Townend, senior curator at Towneley Hall, pointed me to some contemporary footage of the dig, taken by local film-maker Sam Hanna, which is now available online from the North West Film Archive.


My interest in Moseley Height came about because Ken Tyson, the current landowner, remembered the site of the ring cairn and also of the now re-instated open cast pits. Although the site was listed as having been destroyed, Ken was convinced that it would have stood outside the area of the mining. There was just a chance, therefore, that it might have survived. In 2009 and 2010 we opened these enormous areas in Ken’s pasture on Moseley Height to gauge what had survived the attentions of the Coal Board. Ken was right, the circle had stood outside the area of the open cast pit. You can actually see the back-filled edge of the mine showing as the pale surface nearest the camera in this shot.


Despite not actually being dug away by the mine, this was the only surviving feature from the ring cairn, the base of one of the stone holes. Ten years of 1950s era mechanical plant trundling over a site will do that for you. However, even though we didn’t find any structures from the ring cairn we did discover lots of artefacts. We found 107 pieces of worked stone, mostly waste from making tools, but we also found some tools, including a beautiful barbed and tanged arrowhead.


Bennett and his team found four cremation burials in the centre of the ring cairn, three of them in Early Bronze Age urns of the type that are known as collared urns. This photo is of the largest one. They also found around 20 worked stone tools, mostly scrapers and knives, along with at least two arrowheads. The cremation burials were re-examined by Sam as part of her PhD. The reason I wanted to go to Towneley and re-examine Bennett’s finds is that we are aiming to bring together the results of both excavations in a new publication.

As always, when you go and look at archive material in museums, there was a surprise or two in the boxes. One interesting development is that not all of Bennett’s stone tools are Early Bronze Age, at least one of the arrowheads is Neolithic, there was obviously something happening on Moseley Height before the Early Bronze Age burial cairn. Even more importantly, Bennett had carefully marked the position of their finds on a map which is still held in Towneley Hall. This means that we should be able to tie together the results of the two excavations and get a clear idea of how the site was used in the Early Bronze Age.


The Sheltering Memory project was devised to look at the links between monuments and natural places in prehistory. We know a (comparatively) large amount about prehistoric monuments so we came to dig here in the hope of getting some good evidence from natural places, particularly from caves. Since then, it sometimes feels, we have done nothing but discover new prehistoric monuments.Peterson_figure_1

This is the location of all the sites on New Laund Hill – exported from the GIS and tidied up a bit in Adobe Illustrator to make a publishable map. The black things are ditches, pits and other assorted holes in the ground, the grey thing is the henge bank. As you can see, there is a fair bit going on. If we begin at the beginning then the earliest parts of the site are likely to be some of the pits on the same ridge as the Whitewell enclosure.


This is the big pit in trench N. At least some of the stone tools from this area look to be Mesolithic so I think that some of the pits were dug before the start of the Neolithic. Around about 4500 BC mobile bands of hunter gatherers may have camped on that bit of the hill. These pits were what they did with their rubbish after they moved onto the next site. They were also a way of marking this particular site and laying claim to it.


Here is the Whitewell enclosure from above. As I said last week, this is probably Early Neolithic. Of course, on January 1st 3650 BC everyone didn’t suddenly wake up and start farming. The enclosure here probably grew up from the earlier tradition of digging pits on the same site. People were still moving around, staying at this spot for part of the year or coming back at particular anniversaries. The outer circuit of ditches ran through trench Q, at the front left of the picture, back almost as far as the woods before turning and running back along the front edge of Fairy Holes wood, behind our gazebos and through trench P.


This is the outer ditch in section in trench P. As you can see, it is not particularly impressive. Its a bit deeper in trench Q but it would still have been quite ephemeral. I think that the reason there are three different, probably incomplete circuits in this enclosure is because, in a monument like this, what was important was not the finished banks and ditches, but just getting everyone together to dig around the hill.

New Laund reconstruction

Around 1000 years later, towards the end of the Neolithic, the much more substantial New Laund enclosure and timber circle were built on the next ridge up. Although we still think this was acting as a focal point for dispersed and mobile groups of people, it seems to have been a much more permanent structure.


This is the outer enclosure ditch in the rain at the end of our excavations in 2012. At four metres wide and cut deep into the limestone bedrock, this was clearly a visible permanent barrier.


Similarly, the timber circle posts in these holes in trench H  were obviously part of a monument which was designed to last. Despite this, there is still continuity with the earlier sites. The posts in were removed and there are outlying posts and double lines in some places which suggest that building and re-building was still an important part of how the monument was used.


One of the puzzles about all these, apparently Neolithic, monuments is the complete lack of any pottery. We do however have one Late Neolithic pot sherd from our excavations at Fairy Holes cave. This came from just behind where Dan is measuring in this photo. Why Late Neolithic people left pottery in the cave, but not apparently at the henge or timber circle is a bit of a puzzle. Especially as both Fairy Holes Cave and the timber circle seem to have been used for cremation burial.

Urn and Crem bone

In the cave, thanks the our finding cremated bone alongside this collared urn sherd, we know that this was happening in the Early Bronze Age. Presumably by this date there were clear connections between monuments and natural places at Whitwell.


Apollo astronauts apparently used this phrase to describe the feeling of being slightly out of control during particularly tricky manoeuvres. Ever since I read this in Andrew Smith’s excellent Moondust I have adopted it as a gruff and manly 60s test-pilot kind of way of saying I am a bit disorganised. As in ‘the new teaching term starts in a fortnight and I’m a bit behind the airplane with my module guides’.

As part of the general catching up process and good resolutions that go with the impending academic new year I have ben getting on with writing the interim report for the work we did at Fairy Holes Caves in April. It’s not finished yet, but I have got a good long way on with it, and I have drawn lots of pictures in Adobe Illustrator.

FH13 main trench planThis is the area we dug across the platform and into the entrance of the main cave at Fairy Holes. We dug a 1 metre wide trench through the backfill left by the 1946 excavations. What I have done here is overlay the position of the two dry-stone walls Reginald Musson found on to our plan. This nicely shows the overlap between the walls and the area where we found cremated human bone and a sherd of collared urn.

Our urn sherd belongs with others found by Musson as part of a single Early Bronze Age pot. Musson thought that the pottery was being used by Bronze Age people living inside the cave. Putting our results together with his it’s now clear that this is actually the remains of a burial. Dry-stone enclosures are found around other prehistoric cave burials – for example at Markland Grips in Derbyshire and at Gop Cave in North Wales. This is likely to have been a single urn containing the cremated remains of one adult and one child. The urn sherds discovered by Musson were re-interpreted in a paper published by John Gilks in 1983, which I have put on the reading list. Thanks to Andrew Chamberlain for bringing me a copy when he came out to site in the summer.

DSC_0050Deeper into the cave, we also cleaned up and re-drew the section through the deposits at the farthest point reached by Musson, about 13 metres from the entrance. This is it more or less at the stage they got to in 1946. Remember that this was two people digging mostly by bike lamps and at the end of three months fruitless search for the Palaeolithic.

FH13 deep sectionWith more light and more people we were able to take the deposits down about another 75 centimetres and find the complete shape of the cave tunnel at this point. The lower deposits in this section are undisturbed cave silts. They appear to be too deep into the cave to have prehistoric finds in them but we did take a long pollen sample column through the sequence so that will hopefully tell us some interesting things about the surrounding environment through the Neolithic and Bronze Age.

I want to finish the Fairy Holes report by next week so I can catch up with the same jobs for the summer dig. Hopefully next week’s post won’t be called ‘Hello Huston, we’ve had a problem’.


As it says in the weekly newsletter from my son’s school. Lots of different stuff as it happens because, now the exams are finished, we are getting on with sorting out the finds from last month’s dig at Fairy Holes Cave. We had everything properly cleaned by the end of Wednesday. Since then we have been photographing each find and creating a full catalogue of what was found where.

new crem bone web version

With all the mud washed off the bones we found that there was another piece of cremated bone from the entrance of the main cave. It is the central fragment in the bottom row on this photograph. This was found in the same grid square as the three bits we identified on site, clearly part of the same disturbed cremation burial. This is also the same square we found the big sherd of Early Bronze Age collared urn pottery in.

Now the pottery was clean it is obvious that we have found parts of two different prehistoric pots. The big sherd we still think is part of the urn that Musson and his team found in 1946. The rest of this is on display in Clitheroe Castle Museum. I will be taking our sherd to Clitheroe shortly to confirm the match but I’m sure this what it is. This fits with the cremated bone from the same square to show that there was a cremation burial in the urn close to the cave entrance in the Early Bronze Age, probably around 1800 BC.

Grooved Ware web version

The smaller sherd we found first is clearly something different. It is finer, uses a different mixture of raw materials and is decorated with parallel lines. These seem to have been incised into the surface of the clay. It is clearly prehistoric but I am still dithering about what I think it is. I have had the big pottery books open on my desk all week and been poring over the possible parallels. I’m supposed to know about pottery so I can’t help regarding this as a bit of a challenge.

The general shape of the sherd, and therefore the bit of pot that it came from, makes me think it is part of a beaker. This was also my initial identification on site when it was first found. This would mean it ought to date from between 2200 and 2000 BC. However, the colour of the pot and the incised line decoration looks more like Grooved Ware, which would be slightly earlier, somewhere between 2900 and 2200 BC. Either way it is earlier than the Early Bronze Age evidence from Musson’s dig and from our excavations on top of the hill last summer.

mobile phone web version

Of course not everything we found is quite this old. One of my favourite photos from this week is this one of the finds from the area of burning at the top of the main cave sequence. As well as lots of bottle glass and candle ends you can see all the non-plastic parts of a mobile phone. The consensus among the team is that it was a Nokia. I assume that it was destroyed in the fire for all the plastic to have vanished so thoroughly.

Thanks to Megan, Barry, Dan, Emily, Kelly, Nikki and Rob for all their hard work with the records and finds this week.