A prehistoric Spring dig and plenty of (spring!) chickens

Some of you will know that a small evaluation trench briefly opened up on the 7th April on Tayne Field. It closed just as quickly as it was opened, just six days later. This was indeed the Lyminge Project team investigating some features on the geophysics prior to the full dig beginning in July!

The extension of the geophysics in 2013 shows a large dark circle shape to the north of the 2012 and 2013 trenches marked in yellow.

The extension of the geophysics in 2013 shows a large dark circle shape to the north of the 2012 and 2013 trenches marked in yellow.

We opened a hand-dug 20x2m over a circular feature present on the geophysics that were undertaken by Dave Thornley with help from Simon Maslin and Sean Doherty during the excavations last summer. The photo below shows a close up of the geophysics, which should help you locate the mysterious dark wobbly circle just north-east of a ‘big black blob’.

A zoomed in image showing the circular feature found in magnetometry survey

A zoomed in image showing the circular feature found in magnetometry survey

Emily and Tom help to remove the topsoil and get down to the archaeology

Emily and Tom help to remove the topsoil and get down to the archaeology

This circular feature looks suspiciously like the ring-ditch to a barrow (a burial mound), potentially Bronze Age in date, so the important thing before the dig in the summer, was to establish a date and to see how complicated the archaeology might be. This investigation will help us locate our trench in July, letting us know whether we should excavate the entire barrow. We also wanted to find out how much damage the visible ridge (perhaps a field boundary of some sort) running across the whole of Tayne Field and straight through the circular feature might have done in this area.

We marked out the trench to completely cross the circular feature, taking in the full diameter and a bit more to be sure of catching the whole thing.

After de-turfing a 2x20m area, the digging continued by hand with volunteers from DAG and the University of Reading

After de-turfing a 2x20m area, the digging continued by hand with volunteers from DAG and the University of Reading

Although it took a day or so of cleaning back (hand digging is much slower!) we had a lovely small team comprised of volunteers from Dover Archaeological Group who have dug with us at Lyminge over the years and a few students from the University of Reading, all of whom really sped everything up. Very quickly we could see that we definitely had a ditch at either end of our trench, matching the circular feature on the geophysical survey.

Zoe, Matt and Emily trowel back a portion of the trench to reveal archaeological features

Zoe, Matt and Emily trowel back a portion of the trench to reveal archaeological features

We also revealed an orangey feature full of 20th century glass and other rubbish that was the ‘ridge’ that runs across Tayne Field, as well as a few more ‘mysterious’ shapes. The team was deployed to clean back the trench thoroughly to reveal all.

It seems reasonably clear that any mound that existed doesn’t survive very well, likely due to ploughing when Tayne Field was agricultural land. We might be able to see better evidence for the mound when we open a larger area, and it seems likely that there was a mound at one point, but it no longer survives to any great extent.

Our first task was to tackle one part of the ring ditch, to see if we could get dating evidence. Richard and Gordon got stuck in on this, and had excavated a large slot into the ditch within a day!

Gordon and Richard excavate a slot through the ring ditch

Gordon and Richard excavate a slot through the ring ditch

We were able to get so much done because everyone worked incredibly hard to shift enormous amounts of spoil in a very short time, so we want to thank all our Spring Dig volunteers for their tremendous effort.

You can see in this next photo below the full depth of the ditch – quite substantial and with only worked flint discovered in this slot, highly likely to be Bronze Age. The ditch goes right down to the chalk bedrock that is the local geology at Lyminge.

Fully excavated slot through a Bronze Age ring ditch.

Fully excavated slot through a Bronze Age ring ditch.

At the southern end of the trench the archaeology was a bit more complicated. The ditch showed up incredibly clearly and was excavated to just about the same depth, however a few small features such as post holes were apparent, and we established that the possible field boundary is covered in orange clay mixed with modern glass and debris, and doesn’t appear to have disturbed too much beneath it.

The most exciting thing, however, was the discovery of cremations in the centre of the trench. We knew that if it was a barrow, that it should by rights contain one or more human burials. Many of these are ploughed away over centuries of agriculture, so that only the deepest features remain (the ring ditches), and of course they weren’t always placed in the centre of the barrow so that it was by no means clear that our trench would be located exactly over any cremation burials. We were thrilled, therefore, to reveal no less than five cremations, several clearly buried in pots, in almost the centre of the barrow.

The dark circular patches are Bronze Age cremation burials, some of them in Urns.

The dark circular patches are Bronze Age cremation burials, some of them in Urns.

A revealed, but unlifted, collared urn containing cremated bone

A revealed, but unlifted, collared urn containing cremated bone

We cleaned them up for photographs and one of them was carefully excavated all round but not lifted. The cremated remains had been placed in a collared urn which was then turned upside down and placed in the barrow. We have recorded and carefully recovered these cremations return to fully excavate in the summer.

Over the 6 days we spent at Lyminge this April, we managed to prove the existence of a Bronze Age barrow complete with a minimum of five cremations and a substantial ring ditch. We also uncovered  structural details such as post holes with some associated Saxon pottery and glass bead, and proved that it is well worth uncovering the rest of the barrow in the summer, particularly as there may be further Saxon features associated with the burial mound. As the rest of Tayne Field is full of Anglo-Saxon evidence, it is highly likely that our small trench has shown us only a very small portion of the Saxon features that are potentially associated with this prehistoric

Pip, Tom and Peter excavating post holes. The southern side of the ring ditch is on Pip's left

(L-R) Les, Pip, and Tom excavating and recording post holes. The southern side of the ring ditch is on Pip’s left

monument that may well have been visible as a mound in the Saxon period. It really shows how important open-area excavation is in being able to interpret a site!

A view facing north down the length of the trench

A view facing north down the length of the trench

Of course, as the title to this blog post suggests, this is not the only thing that has happened on the Lyminge project recently! While all the preparations for the new season go ahead, with volunteers signing up, logistics for the dig being booked and plans for excavating ironed out, we have had a visit from the AHRC-funded Chicken Co-op Project.

A screen shot from the Chicken Project website chickenco-op.net

A screen shot from the Chicken Project website www.chickenco-op.net

This is an interdisciplinary, inter-university project looking at the spread and development of the domestic chicken from its origins in East Asia to the rest of the world using a whole range of techniques and approaches including zooarchaeological analysis, genetics, isotope analysis, history, anthropology, biology etc. to bring light to origins and use of the humble, understudied chicken.

Ophelie and Holly sort chicken bones from our zooarchaeological assemblage

Ophelie and Holly sort chicken bones from our zooarchaeological assemblage

Staff and students from the universities of Nottingham, Durham, Leicester, Bournemouth and York make up just some the project team, and a few of them are visiting us here in Reading. The chicken bones from the excavations at Lyminge are proving to be an excellent case study, and some of the Chicken Project team have been spending a few days with us in Reading examining our chicken bone assemblage.

Holly, Dr Naomi Sykes, Dr Chris Poole, Ophelie examine contexts for chicken bone

(L-R) Holly, Dr Naomi Sykes, Dr Chris Poole, Ophelie examine contexts for chicken bone

Even with just a couple of days it is already clear that in the early Saxon period (5th-7th centuries AD at Lyminge) there was very little chicken at all at Lyminge, while the contrast with the later period (8th-9th centuries AD) is stark, with a huge amount of chicken bone.

Hen with healed compound fracture to leg bone - courtesy of the Chicken Co-op twitter feed @chicken_project

A Lyminge hen with a healed compound fracture to leg bone – photo courtesy of the Chicken Co-op twitter feed @chicken_project

Particularly interesting is the age of some of the chickens, with some very elderly hens and cockerels with healed fractures and osteoarthritis. Clearly the chickens were being looked after well to quite some age!

It’s great to be able to share data between AHRC-funded projects, and the data from our animal bone assemblage will be equally useful to us at the Lyminge Project as it will be for the Chicken Project. Being able to track the introduction and use of chickens at Lyminge means that we can identify changes between the use of animals and livestock in the pre-Christian royal vill period and the later double monastery. Even at this early stage we can see significant differences just in the numbers of birds present in these different periods, and we’re really excited to see the full results as the project continues.

The past few weeks have been incredibly interesting for the Lyminge project, and it can only get better with the final season of excavations beginning on the 21st July 2014. It’s looking like it’s going to be a really exciting season, with plenty more to learn about the Saxon royal settlement at Lyminge and of course the extensive prehistory of the area. I’ll be blogging lots more from the trench as per usual, so do keep up with the blog if you aren’t able to get down to the dig!

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.