Quern quest

Looking east from Seatown, West Dorset

Looking east from Seatown, West Dorset

As Martin so eloquently puts it ‘the cliffs are leaking archaeology’ especially in West Dorset, with its soft geology and erosion by the sea. Luckily for us there are keen-eyed locals who walk the same routes and notice changes and strange objects laying on the beach or sticking out of a fresh landslip.

A few weeks ago I found a message on my desk to ring a Mr Bickford who had found what he was sure were parts of a quern stone used for grinding corn and some clay loom weights, near Seatown in West Dorset. I felt a little jolt of excitement, as regular readers of this blog will recognize Seatown as the place where we excavated a Bronze Age burnt mound and two Iron Age ovens. (see 20/07/2015 burnt mound the story so far). Could we have more evidence to fill out the story of the Iron Age at this site, or was this a new place to investigate further along the cliff?

The layer of burnt flint and stone can be seen in the middle of the picture

The layer of burnt flint and stone of the ‘burnt mound’ can be seen in the middle of the picture

I rang and arranged to pop over to Seatown and look at what he had found and record were they came from. So it was that I headed west on a bright and sunny morning, deep blue sky above and spirits high. I was not disappointed!

I met Humphrey in the car park and we walked up the hill to his house, round the corner and into the garden. What I saw took the last of the breath away that the climb up the hill had left me. On the garden table were three large pieces of quern, both upper and lower stones, and next to them what looked like one and a half very large triangular clay loom weights!

“Wow! Oh yes they are exactly what you thought they were”

The top and bottom stones together as used

The top and bottom stones together as used

The pieces of quern stone

The pieces of quern stone

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stone the quern is made from is not local to the immediate area. We have had a few geologists look at images and one suggestion is that it may be continental! But they need to see it in the flesh, so to speak, so they can see every mineral and inclusion.

The loom weights are very large and have more holes than necessary so may not be loom weights. If they were they would have been used on a warp weighted loom, to make cloth by keeping tension on the warp(fixed thread)

The loom weights

The loom weights? probably something else but what? 

Hopefully my hand gives a scale to the size of the weights

My hand gives a scale to the size of the weights

Both the quern and the possible loom weights are probably Iron Age and the small piece of pottery found with them looks very like the Iron Age pottery from the ovens found when excavating the ‘burnt mound’ site nearby.

A reconstruction of a warp weighted loom, the weights are along the bottom behind the lowest bar

A reconstruction of a warp weighted loom, the weights are along the bottom behind the lowest bar

A roman hand quern very similar technique to an iron age quern

A Roman hand quern, using a very similar technique to an Iron Age quern

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again we are on the trail of more information about a site. Try to solve the mystery of the weights and it’s a trip to the geologist first to see if we can track down the origin of the quern stone, who knows what stories we can then tell about the people who lived at Seatown over two thousand years ago.

Giving memories a voice

We can write down our memories for future generations to read, but we can also hear the past through sound recordings and videos.

Today Alex is visiting from The Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network (CITiZAN http://www.citizan.org.uk), an organization set up in response to dynamic threats to our island coastal heritage. It is a community archaeology project and actively promotes site recording and long-term monitoring programmes led by volunteers.

Alex will be soon leading a walk at Studland on the Dorset coast, looking at the WWII sites, and as well as research for the tour she hopes to play snippets from our sound archive of local people talking about what it was like, what they saw and stories of life in Studland during WWII.

Studland played an important part in WWII as a testing area for amphibius tanks and  fougasse (burning sea). In April 1944 Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King George VI and General Dwight D. Eisenhower (Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces and in charge of the military operation) met at Fort Henry on Redend Point at Studland to watch the combined power of the Allied Forces preparing for D-Day.

Alex l listening to the taped memories and working on her tour notes

Alex listening to the taped memories and working on her tour notes

 

The copies of the small sound archive we hold at the office are all still on original cassette tapes. For younger readers there is a picture below of what one is!

A cassette tape

A cassette tape

 

 

Alex has had to come and use our old technology to be able to then record a digitized copy for use in the field. We will need to digitize our archive so the recordings are more accessible. Luckily we have a cassette transcribing machine and a cassette player. The transcriber has extra controls so you can slow the tape down, change the tone and various backspace and counter options. It even has a foot pedal control!

Transcribing machine –  a special purpose machine which is used for voice recording processing, so the recording can be  written in hard copy form.

The Transcribing machine

The Transcribing machine

 

 

One day these machines will become part of the archaeological archives. At the moment they are thankfully still available and needed to play the memories from the past.

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.

Day twelve – end of the section line

 

 Clive and his digger arrive on site

Clive and his digger arrive on site

The final day, nose to the grind stone, no tea break and a late lunch.

Martin cracked on with the last of the drawing and recording, Carol and Millie finished digging the eastern end. I attacked the possible second kiln/oven and finished revealing the opening of the first one. Rob and Fay went for the natural bedrock in their trenches, with help from Clive and his digger 🙂

Looking west along the trench Carol working in the eastern end and Martin recording the section
Looking west along the trench Carol working in the eastern end and Martin recording the section

 

Martin recording the extra information uncovered in the eastern end of the trench

Martin recording the extra information uncovered in the eastern end of the trench

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Due to the efforts of all the diggers Clive only needed to do one scoop to hit the bottom of the burnt mound material, the thin buried soil it was sat on and he top of the natural bedrock. The layer under the mound was very pale grey and silty. We took a sample of this to look for pollen and to look at the soil make up, one of many samples taken through the mound.

The small scoop taken out by the digger after Fay had cleaned it up, so we could see the layers better

The small scoop taken out by the digger after Fay had cleaned it up, so we could see the layers better

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The kiln/oven finally gave up its form, the charcoal spread out of the opening. The second kiln/oven had a layer of burnt clay but no charcoal under that layer, just a brown soil, but one side of the opening was very clear to see. Both had an opening facing the same way, west-south-west.

The kilns/ovens side by side

The kilns/ovens side by side

The charcoal was very well preserved as I found earlier. It’s amazing that the structure of the wood is locked by burning and we will be able to see what species it was thousands of years later.

Well preserved charcoal

Well preserved charcoal

Then the sad moment came for Clive to start filling in the trench, and time for us to eat a sandwich, re-hydrate and have some Women’s Institute lemon drizzle cake provided by Fay. Yummy!

Clive starts the back filling

Clive starts the back filling

We had one last task to do, with Clive happy to help we just dug out the area next to the kiln/oven to see if we had another one to the inland side, alas we didn’t but it was worth a look as we would always have wondered.

The last few scrapes

The last few scrapes

With one last look at the cliff edge that had been our ‘office’ for two weeks we headed down to pack up the tools and then for a well earned cuppa.

Martin and Rob reflecting on the last two weeks

Martin and Rob reflecting on the last two weeks

We will post updates about all the samples we took and the radiocarbon dates as we get them back from the specialists. The pottery and flints need washing before we send them for identification and dating. So keep watching the blog.

NEWS – The next dig will be Chedworth Roman Villa, from 18th August, see you there 🙂

Day eleven – it always happens…..

Sorry for the delay in updates. It seems to be the law in archaeology that features appear at the last moment, and time moves so quickly on the last few days!

We had lots of visitors today, the school came back to do some post excavation finds washing and colleagues from our team came to visit and to help. Stephen, one of our curators, was soon mattocking and Mike our gardens advisor was chief bucket emptier along with our line manager Wendy.

 Our team from the National Trust came to visit and help on site

Our team from the National Trust came to visit and help on site, Stephen wielding the mattock

Due to the time constraints it was time to reduce the trench size again and target the areas we needed answers from. The eastern end of the mound was not behaving so we need to find where it ended and if the stoney area was related to the mound or something else altogether.

Millie and Carol were giving the mission to sort out the eastern end

Millie and Carol were giving the mission to sort out the eastern end

Meanwhile down at the western end of the trench Rob was finding a ditch cutting through the end of the mound!

The ditch appearing with the black mound materiel on the right and left edge of the picture

The ditch appearing with the black mound material on the right edge of the smaller trench

 

Martin recording the ditch with help from Rob who dug it

Martin recording the ditch with help from Rob who dug it

The mound keeps going down, but has now got small patches of clay within it; hopefully not far to go now until we find the bottom of it.

The black mound

The black mound

This was the day the kiln/hearth/oven would reveal it’s flue/opening, or was it! As I worked to remove more of the red burnt clay (possibly the collapsed walls of the feature) I found the edge of a piece of pottery. It looked like it may be sat under a lump of clay that may have been one side of the opening of the kiln/hearth/oven.

 The edge of a  large sherd of pottery

The edge of a large sherd of pottery

As I dug it got bigger, and bigger.

The pottery got bigger!

The pottery got bigger!

Then it was time to remove the clay that seemed to be filling it.

The clay lump removed

The pottery fully exposed

Sadly it was cracked and small roots had grown through the cracks. As each piece came out we realized it was a base of a pot.

A lovely base

A lovely base

Phew! What a day. We stayed late to get as much done as we could, Martin had been recording and drawing the sections, while we all concentrated on our own small areas of the site. We left for a well-earned end of dig pizza, and a refreshing brew, hoping that in the last day we could manage to finish before Clive back-filled the site, and the porta- cabin disappeared!

Day ten – into the black

 

Alex and Fay in a hole!

Alex and Fay in a hole!

Time to tackle the mound material and the oven/kiln/hearth. With three days left we need to get as much information from the site as we can.

Ali, Alice and Carol carried on revealing a packed stone layer next to the mound layers in the east end of the site, Fay and Alex started to mattock out the mound layer to the west of the hearth/oven/kiln. Martin and Simon moved further west to find the edge of the mound. I was given the job of digging the kiln/oven/hearth.

Alex taking a level before bagging up a sample of  the mound material

Alex taking a level before bagging up a sample of the mound material

The black mound material

The black mound material

The black mound layer is quite thick and full of burnt flint, stone, ash and charcoal. As Fay dug into it she said she could smell the burning, a bit like when you clean out an old coal fire. It’s amazing, you can smell the past, for about four thousand years it has been locked up in the ground until Fay released it with one stroke of the mattock.

Fay digging out the mound

Fay digging out the mound

The girls working in the east end had a hard job defining the stony layer and were working very hard to get to the same black mound layer the others had. A healthy competition seems to have developed! 🙂 It’s funny how you become attached to an area and don’t want to move to another part of the site. Even if you are not finding anything it’s always a bad idea to change places with someone who is finding things. It’s like changing queues in a supermarket, it never works!

Carol, Alice and Ali working in the east end of the site

Carol, Alice and Ali working in the east end of the site

T`he stony layer on the left and the mound layer on the rigtht

T`he stony layer on the left and the mound layer on the right

I half-sectioned the kiln/oven so we can record the different layers within it. This section will be drawn and then the other side will be excavated. One sherd of pottery came from within the kiln/oven and three more pieces from where the flue may be.

The kiln/oven after the first layer is clean down

The kiln/oven after the first layer is cleaned down

 

The clay layer removed and the pottery sherd is near the bright orange area
The clay layer removed and the pottery sherd is near the bright orange area

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A piece of charcoal, you can see the burnt twig

A piece of charcoal. You can see the burnt twig

 

The shallow section of layers in the kiln/oven

The shallow section of layers in the kiln/oven

The clay base of the kiln/oven

The clay base of the kiln/oven

Everyone has been working very hard. Alex and Alice are sixth-formers who couldn’t keep away from the trench, their breaks got shorter and shorter!

Alex and Alice doing a brilliant job digging the mound

Alex and Alice doing a brilliant job digging the mound

Day nine – Busy, busy, busy

Martin on TV

Martin on TV

Today was a great day for many reasons. We had visits from the media, 13 students from the local school at Beaminster, and environmental archaeologist Mike Allen (Allen Environmental Archaeology) on site. The students took turns excavating, sieving the material from the mound and searching the soil heap for missed finds the digger machine had dug up.

Students  excavating on site

Students excavating on site

Sieving the mound soil

Students sieving the mound soil

Students Searching the spoil heap

Students searching the spoil heap

Mike came to site to take environmental samples and to look at the soils on site, to help tell the story of the processes of burial of our features – the burnt mound and kiln/hearth.

Mike preparing his samples

Mike preparing his samples

He took soil columns to provide uncontaminated samples. He will take smaller samples from them to look for pollen. Also Mike will look at the structure of the soils to see how they were formed, for example by down-wash of soil from cultivated land further up the hill. We will up date what Mike finds in a future post over the next few months 🙂

In the foreground one of the columns of soil wrapped in cling film

In the foreground one of the columns of soil wrapped in cling film

Martin and Rob carried on removing the orange yellow soils on the west side of the kiln/hearth, and at about 11 o clock the whoop went up as they found the burnt mound layer. Hurrah! More worked flints had been found just above the mound layer, more blades and scrapers, and pottery.

Prehistoric pottery - very crumbly!

Prehistoric pottery – very crumbly!

A lovely flint scraper, it could have been used for taking hair of hides or meat from bons

A lovely flint scraper, perhaps used for taking hair off hides or meat from bones