Till Valley, Archaeological Society

Bamburgh beach
Bamburgh beach

Dr Richard Tipping, senior lecturer in environmental science at Stirling University was welcomed at Crookham Village Hall. His subject was ‘People and Peat – Prehistory at Bradford Kaims, near Bamburgh’.

Work here is with kind permission of the farmer James Brown and sponsored by English Heritage, the British Academy and the Society of Antiquaries in London.

It has been ongoing since 2011 when Dr Kristian Pedersen, a specialist in microliths, excavated several test pits and found a great quantity of the tiny worked flints usually inserted into shafts to make tools, indicating human occupation in prehistory. The skeleton of an aurochs was also found.

Dr Tipping explained how the present landscape was formed by the melting ice cap, the ridges of sand and gravel (kaims) with the prominent sharp edges and steep sides remaining.

When the glaziers began to retreat, huge blocks of ice were left behind, which melted gradually and formed ‘kettle holes’, which became the lakes, and climate changes caused the formation of peat and marshland.

More excavations were carried out during the following years by Paul Gething and Tom Gardener, but little further evidence came to light.

As much of the area was extremely wet, excavations became impossible for a time, but obtaining samples from the peat by means of cores was still an option.

A drier period in 2013 allowed further work and in trench six, a timber platform, 1.6m x 9m, was uncovered. This was found to have been laid down in several phases, obviously maintained over a long period.

Cores taken from various places – Dr Tipping had with him the ‘coring tool’ – showed that climate changes occurred several times. Marl at the bottom of the lakes was up to 2m deep – a dry, warm period; and pollen grains indicated the presence of oak and elm woodland and other vegetation.

During this time the hunter gatherers seem to have settled down and become farmers, but there is no evidence of clearing the woodland and the fields must have been very small and close to the watersides.

A short distance away from the lake, Dr Pedersen found a hearth made of flat local stone, but there was no evidence of charcoal. A process known as archeomagnetism has, however, been able to date samples of the surrounding burnt clay to 4468 to 3995BC.

Adjacent to these there are several “burnt mounds” of stone, associated with troughs/pits to hold water.

A wooden paddle, possibly used to remove hot stones, was found lying on top of another platform, but it was in too poor a state for preservation. The exact purpose of these has not yet been ascertained, but suggestions include a sauna or sweat lodge.

A pit underneath one of the mounds has been dated to early Bronze Age, and a round wood platform overlying a mound is possibly early Neolithic.

Further coring and other work on this project is continuing – this year from June 26 to July 7, every day and weekends, and volunteers are welcome.

Contact can be made via the website bamburghresearchproject.co.uk which also gives much more information, or to Dr Tipping via Maureen at tillvas.com

There is still considerable work to be done at Bradford Kaims and many questions to be answered.

Hopefully, this year’s work will shed more light on a fascinating site, leading to another visit by Dr Tipping.

The next and last meeting of the Till Valley Archaeological Society until September is on Wednesday, June 7. It is entitled Durham and Dunbar – Identifying The Soldiers at Palace Green, and will be given by Richard Annis, senior archaeologist at Durham University.

All welcome, members free, visitors £4.

It starts at 7.30pm, at Crookham Village Hall. As parking is limited, please allow a little extra time.