Burnt Mound, the story so far

The garden seat at Shedbush Farm, Golden Cap Estate. Time to analyse the evidence and tell the story of the site.

The garden seat at Shedbush Farm, Golden Cap Estate. Time to analyse the evidence and begin to tell the story of the site.

The soil is back in the trench and we are left with the drawings, the photographs, the soil samples and the finds.

What does it all mean?

We started with a leaflet on burnt mounds produced by Historic England. It concluded that..nobody really knows what they were constructed for but most are found beside water courses and have a trough beside them. This has led to the idea that stones were first heated on fires and then thrown into the water filled trough. The hot water might then be used to create a sauna or sweat lodge or could be used to steam heat food for feasting perhaps. The hot rocks on cool water caused them to shatter and the waste fragments were regularly cleared from the trough and heaped into a mound beside it.

Nice ideas but our location was not beside water. We found that pushing a small container full of water up hill in a wheelbarrow was hard work. The stream flowed in the valley, beside the car park, about 20m down slope from us. There may have been a trough but we did not find it, unless it had dropped off the cliff or lay outside our deep narrow trench.

Our mound is made of lots of small blackened pieces of Upper Greensand sandstone and chert mixed with ashy silt and towards the bottom increasing amounts of clay. The product of a lot of work.. collecting and burning the wood and stones to break them down into such as small size. A very windy spot, on a shelf of land half way up Ridge Hill.. now Ridge Cliff because since the Bronze Age the sea has claimed most of it.

The mound is the waste product of a process. It looks like an industrial waste heap..if so, what was produced here? Perhaps stone was broken up to create temper to hold pottery together during firing. No pottery found in the mound though. Perhaps metal was worked nearby.. no slag in the heap though. Just stone and charcoal and clay.

These were farmers and good agriculture was a matter of life and death so could the mound be anything to do with soil productivity. A few generations ago, charcoal and stone were the ingredients to feed the kilns which were used locally to produce lime that was spread on the Victorian arable fields to counteract the soil’s acidic nature.Producing lime from local stone requires high temperatures and careful stacking of ingredients. Without a stone kiln structure perhaps the windy hillside would enable a fanning effect to increase temperature within a Bronze Age stack. This explanation is not very satisfactory…

Perhaps the mound is a pyre. A significant feature never understandable to us because we cannot comprehend the belief system that created it. Too easy and a bit of a cop out but perhaps true.

Above the mound we found flint scrapers and a few bits of chunky coarse grained Bronze Age pottery but the C14 analysis of the charcoal will confirm or deny our current estimate of about 1000 BC.

Nancy working on one of the Iron Age ovens high above the top of the Bronze Age burnt mound. About 40 generations had come and gone since the final cooling of the burnt mound and the lighting of the oven.

Nancy working on one of the Iron Age ovens high above the top of the Bronze Age burnt mound. About 40 generations had come and gone since the final cooling of the burnt mound and the lighting of the oven.

At the west end, the mound was cut by a later ditch and above this we found the two ovens. Not kilns we think now. Their entrances are simple and facing the prevailing wind to the south-west. The pottery in and around them seems to be Late Iron Age, about 2000 years old but apart from the ovens and the cluster of pottery around them, no post-holes or other settlement features were found at this level. There were a scatter of stone finds which suggest local industry here. The kind of roughly worked flint which is found in Purbeck interpreted as lathe bits to turn shale bracelets. We only found one chunk of shale at Seatown though. This was far from its geological source in Kimmeridge.

I came across a cube of green flint. It looked like an exotic mosaic cube when it was first brought up by the mattock. Other fragments were found at the same ovens level and they were obviously selected and brought here for a reason. Ali, the site’s geologist is looking into the source of this rock. Perhaps used and worked to create jewellery?

So we need to go away and analyse the samples, look at the soils and the ancient pollens within them examine and compare the finds.

It was good to hear Mike talk about the soils when he visited and I could see them change as I drew them. rising up the section beyond the last flint finds. Ploughing each season, helped by gravity dragged the soils down from above. This land was part of Chideock’s open fields in medieval times before the land was enclosed in 1558. About 20cm below the surface we found 17th and 18th century pottery mixed with bits of slate… but by this time the soil was wind-blown sand.. a sign that the cliff was approaching fast and after 3000 years, the end of the burnt mound was nigh..

Evening over Golden Cap beginning the walk back to Seatown from the burnt mound.

Evening over Golden Cap beginning the walk back to Seatown from the burnt mound.

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