Previously on the Duddon Dig:
So it’s off up the Seathwaite Dam track again only, this time, we are turning right after the portaloo to arrive at the new site - Longhouse Close – marked on the OS map at SD245973. There, on a flattish piece of land by Duddon Valley standards, there are a number of walls and structures visible now where we have cleared the bracken. A stone wall encircles the site, with a roundish pound, an old rectangular structure with a later square pen on top and another rectangular building closely enclosed in an oval wall. Our original plan had been to investigate the two rectangular structures which we hoped would prove to be early medieval buildings. Our plans changed after a visit from David Johnson, from Oxford University, who suggested the oval wall was, in fact, an early, large communal longhouse with a later building inside sharing the same cross passage. He was aware of similar configurations in his studies in the Orkneys. This was now to be the focus of our excavation.
The large structure is approximately 24 X 10 metres with a fall from east to west of nearly 4 metres. The northern wall was exposed and shows two revetted faces with rubble infill. The southern wall was not exposed but looks to be made of large boulders. If it had been built in a single phase, you would not expect this difference and it will need investigation next year. The northern wall is missing at the lower end and it seems likely that the stones have been robbed for later building work.
The inner building had a flagged floor with cobbled surfaces underneath. These extended to the outer walls and may go beyond. At one point, the flags were beneath a wall which was interesting but not seen elsewhere. There was a large hearthstone and there were other features which may have been hearths at other levels. We found a number of horseshoes and two pieces of pottery. One was part of the base of a Silverdale ware pot. As this was found outside the structures it wasn’t able to give a date to a secure context.
We covered the excavated areas with terram, replaced the soil and returfed the area planning to look at the upper section and the southern wall in 2018. Then we waited for the results of c-14 dating for some charcoal fragments and a hazel nut. We were hoping for a date to match the early settlement for the Norse settlers coming across the Irish Sea. 900-1000ad would have been very satisfying. It was with some surprise that we got three very close dates in the Bronze Age!
What does this mean? We are not sure but it gives us some very clear questions to try and answer with next year’s dig. It could be that there was a burning/clearance event in the wider area around the site at that time and, if we dig trial pits outside the boundary, we may find other samples of the same date. It could be that there was a much earlier inhabitation of the site and the charcoal is related to domestic use at the site. We will revisit the areas where the charcoal was found looking now for indications of an earlier phase of occupation.
However, we won’t lose sight of the need to date the higher layers which were the original task that we set ourselves. Watch this space…
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