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…
The Duddon Dig
The review of our Longhouse report came with the feedback that only digging at one of the sites would answer any of our questions. This would be a big step for us to take and it was a steep learning curve but we got a lot of advice and support without which we would have floundered.
How do you set about getting to the point when the first turf is lifted and an excavation of a site begins? If you are interested in how to setup a project, create a tender document, apply for grants Read more...
Now we were ready to go
Surveying the Three Sites
All three sites were heavily infested with bracken and it took eighteen volunteers two full days with strimmers, slashers and rakes to clear all three sites ready for the professionals to bring in their equipment. For two weeks, we surveyed with total stations and drones. We walked up and down with mysterious machines that were measuring resistivity and magnetometry and storing the readings to help pinpoint where we might profitably dig our trenches. We sampled the peat using coring devices that we hoped would help with information about what was growing in the area at the time of occupation.
A week before the dig, twenty six volunteers and five archaeologists turned up at the Parish Rooms and were given a general briefing about the project before being split into groups. During the course of the day each group had a chance to sample each of the four activities. Pete and Hannah were out in the rain with the total station learning the basics of surveying in the field behind the pub. Jeremy had OAN’s box of finds and we were able to handle a range of artefacts from flints, through roman and medieval pottery to a selection of clay pipes. Mairaid had a microscope and slides showing pollen samples while waxing lyrical about the contributions paleobotany was going to make to the dig. Jamie demonstrated how aerial photographs could be rendered into 3D images and produced amazing models of one of the group members from a series of photos he took standing over them as they lay still on the floor. The missing hole in the chest where the computer software couldn’t cope with the rise and fall of breathing, is not going to be a problem on the dig site
Digging at last
After more bracken clearing, the first sod was cut and the work of sorting out the longhouse began. We cleared the fallen stones to reveal the line of the walls. The bracken rhizomes were monstrous and would lift large stones rather than break when pulled up. Trenches were started where the geophysics had suggested anomalies but the volunteers and the good weather meant that we were able to excavate most of the building and lift sections of the enclosure walls to search for evidence for dating. It was a a big disappointment that lifting the three hearths revealed more bracken rhyzomes but we found two separate layers of cobbled flooring just as we were thinking the bracken had destroyed all evidence. There was no evidence of a drain from the lower section of the building, but drains running across the outside of the higher end and down one side showed clearly how ground water had been kept out of the building. Two pieces of charcoal were found and sent for dating. Samples were taken across the site for further analysis. Two finds, a small horseshoe and a broken knife blade were found in the enclosure area but couldn’t be used for dating evidence. After backfilling the trenches, we planted some grass seed over the site in the hope that the bracken encroachment will be delayed now most of the root system has been dug up
For more detailed day by day accounts and photos, visit the blog at: https://duddondig.wordpress.com
Work with schools
As part of the outreach programme, which formed a large element of the Lottery Application, we worked with five local primary schools and one secondary school with an Archaeology Club. The schools had one classroom visit for a day of activities and presentations and a half day visit to the site. They were given an introduction to archaeology and the techniques used and then a more specific look at the medieval period and the occupation of longhouses. Groups were rotated through four activities during the day. They had a chance to handle real objects from OAN’s school collection ranging from flint scrapers through medieval pottery to clay pipes. They excavated modern objects buried in sand trays recording their progress in stages as the sand was scraped away. We made a length of trench, partly drawn and partly made of real objects, which they recorded using planning frames. A number of sieves were used to show how small objects might be missed if the holes were too big. Finally, they had a chance to reconstruct items of broken pottery. It was great to see the cooperation and hear the range of language during the activities.
The site visits had the full range of summer weather but only one of the groups got really soaked. The walk up to the site had a history timeline going back a year for each metre walked with board highlighting the events for each fifty year period. At the site, children took part in different activities looking at the excavation, the surrounding area and drew part of the enclosure walls. Two schools were able to dig in one metre square sections over areas highlighted by the geophysics but no finds were made.
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