Another week, another blog post! We are over halfway through the dig now, and the archaeology just gets more and more exciting. We have lots to show people at the Open Day this Saturday, 16th August, so if you see something that catches your eye in this blog, come along and see if you can spot it here at the dig site.
Progress on the Bronze Age Barrow ditch has been going very well, with several slots over it completed and several more begun. It is filled with clay which may have originally formed the mound and filled up the ditch as it was ploughed away in later centuries, although potentially it might have come from elsewhere. While we don’t get many finds from the ditch backfill, there are plenty of worked flints, and some prehistoric pottery, but most excitingly we have a Bronze find to go with the Bronze Age date!
In opening a new slot over the ditch, Tom (assistant enviro supervisor) and students Niall and Tom discovered a beautifully preserved copper alloy dirk (a small stabbing weapon), or possibly a knife, with only a very small amount of damage. The hilt would have been made of organic material such as bone, ivory or horn, and generally they don’t survive well. Ours is broken in antiquity at both ends so the full length remains unknown. Depending on type, dirks date to between 1550 and 1150 BC, but our blade looks a little smaller and may be a type of Bronze Age knife.
Finds such as these are really exciting as they give us a glimpse into the rituals of the Bronze Age – dirks and rapiers (slightly longer than a dirk) are quite fragile and do not seem like they would have made very good weapons. This, coupled with their frequent discovery in bogs and wetland areas, suggests they might have been specifically made for votive deposition. Lots more information and examples can be found on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website.
We have been forging ahead in Trench 2, with the wall trenches that form our timber hall finally disentangled. Last blog post I wrote that we had two phases of building, but it now seems very clear that we have three. You can see in the photo below that we have labelled up pairs of ‘plank ghosts’ where rectangular timber planks have rotted away or been removed from the wall trench on demolition. This is the first phase of construction, similar to the construction of the hall excavated at Lyminge in 2012.
The second phase involved a replacement of this wall trench with a single plank construction, and slightly larger planks. A series of large raking timbers packed with large flints were placed along the edge of the building to provide extra support for the roof. The last phase of construction involved the complete abandonment of the plank-in-trench system and the structure rebuilt with extremely large post holes, one of which can easily be seen just below the photoboard in the photo above.
We have also begun to excavate into the internal partition walls and the end wall. The southern wall so far doesn’t show the same kind of rebuilding as the northern wall, but this is something that will be investigated in the coming days and weeks. The internal partitions are likely to belong to the different phases identified in the excavation of the northern wall.
It has been a while since an update from the test pit down by the spring of the River Nailbourne. This is in part because the excavations have been completed, but it is still open for visitors this Saturday and part of the Open Day site tours. This small 2 x 4m trench was extremely productive and we can confirm that early Anglo-Saxon levels were reached, producing pottery and waterlogged wood in a sequence that matches the Anglo-Saxon chronology at Lyminge, from the 5th through to the 9th centuries AD (and beyond).
Apart from discovering a sequence of palaeochannels for the stream, and pits, lots of evidence for industry and activity down on the water’s edge has been revealed. Animal bone, shell, pottery have been found, and of course preserved wood and plant remains such as cherry stones add a dimension to the excavations at Lyminge that we have not had before. Small stakes, wattles and clippings from wood working allow us to glimpse the timbers and wood that we can only guess at in our dry-land excavations.
Other exciting finds have been coming up from the Anglo-Saxon midden area that is affectionately known as ‘the blob’. While we are certain that the material contained within this hollow or sunken area is early Saxon waste material, we are still uncertain as to the reason why this area exists at all! Surface middens (rubbish dumps left to build up) are known from only a very few Anglo-Saxon settlement sites because they are usually ploughed away. Our midden is unusual because it fills a hollow or other dug out feature, and this is the very reason it has survived rather than been ploughed out.
We have been working hard to get down to the lower layers to establish what the hollow was excavated for, but we still aren’t quite there yet all the way across the slot. What we have got down to in our central slot across the midden is a level full of very interesting material, including huge amounts of charcoal, burnt material such as daub, and slag and fired clay.
It is highly likely that some of this material has come from areas of metal working. The midden material overlies a very interesting area of flint metalling that I introduced in the previous blog post, so it is possible that the hollow’s original use might relate to this area of metalling at its northern edge, and even more speculatively, the waste material from metal working is suggestive of a potential area of industry underlying the midden or in the viscinity.
We are not just recovering metalworking evidence, however! Along with daub, pottery, oyster shell, and many worked and struck flints, we have a very large amount of glass, something I mentioned last week. We have now been able to work out that we have the largest assemblage of vessel glass from any rural site in Anglo-Saxon England. Saxon towns known as Emporia or ‘wic’ towns (such as Southampton, ‘Hamwic’) produce more glass, but it is not common in rural settlements. We have collected over 300 fragments of vessel glass since 2010, while the next highest producing rural settlement site is at Brandon, Suffolk, and produced fewer than 200 fragments.
This afternoon’s digging added to this wonderful assemblage! I have previously written about cone beakers, and Alex Miller was lucky enough to find a beautiful example of the base of a cone beaker while excavating a 1 x 1m square through the midden, just before she packed up at 5.25pm today! Some of our glass fragments are extremely small, but this one certainly the opposite.
Finally, as well as the lovely cone beaker base, I want to show you a something else a little special. From a stratified Anglo-Saxon context we found this little copper alloy mount. We have taken it to be conserved straight away but you can see in this ‘before’ photo that it is both decorated and gilded.
The decoration is typical ‘Style II’ Animal art, with an interlace design that dates provisionally (before conservation) to the mid-late 6th century AD. This small object is likely to have been attached or mounted on to a piece of leather. I will be able to bring you the ‘after’ photo when it has been conserved, but patience is required!
The finds this week have been exceptional, and I know that I’ll be able to update you with just as exciting a blog post next time too! If you are in the area then many of our finds will be on show this Saturday at our Open Day and you may even witnesss something new coming up as our excavations continue during the whole open day.