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Community Archaeology

Final Dig Diary for Tinkinswood

Well, that’s it for Tinkinswood! It has been a really wonderful few weeks and we are so lucky to have had such a great group of people working with us. A huge thanks to everyone who came out to dig with us, we could not have done it without you!

The weather has been extremely kind to us and we have managed to fulfill all of our objectives and answer all of the questions we originally posed. Of course, there was the last minute rush, as always happens on excavation! So to the (preliminary!) findings of the excavations:

The Bronze Age Barrow
The small Bronze Age barrow in the field adjacent to Tinkinswood farm is typical of the type of burial monuments built about 4000 years ago. These were fairly modest monuments, built to contain a single burial or small number of burials. The burials were generally placed in pits or cists dug into the ground below the monuments, and then covered by a stone or earthen mound.

As described last week (see below), the Tinkinswood barrow was built from both earth and stones, with a mound of red clay laid over the existing ground surface, surrounded by large kerbstones and capped with slabs, pebbles and boulders. The slot we cut through the mound showed that it had been built in one phase – the clay was a single layer, not built up gradually. It was about 30cm thick and had been deposited directly on the surface of the original turf. While the Bronze Age turf line was not preserved (this does happen!) we were able to distinguish between the red clay mound and the old topsoil. All the organic materials had leeched from the old topsoil (a result of being buried for so long) and it survived only as a yellow and blue clay below the monument. Outside the monument the Bronze Age soils looked much like the modern ones overlying them and produced pottery and flint probably dating to the Neolithic period (6000 years ago). These finds, as well as the Mesolithic tool found on the monument, show that this part of the Tinkinswood landscape had been used long before the Bronze Age – an important discovery that can help us to build up a picture of the history of the local landscape.

Claire struggles with the gazebo sides as we attempt to shade the trench for photographs!

Gerald and Barry supervise Jerry as he digs through the old ground surface

Once we had dug through this old ground surface we found two small circular pits cut into the bedrock. Of course, this happened at about 1pm on Sunday, and so slight panic set in! Barry and Gavin set about half-sectioning the pits, with the excitement mounting that we could find burials, whole pots, gold jewellery, axes, daggers…… Alas, both pits were empty! We did collect all the soil from the pits as it is quite likely that they originally contained burials. These would have disappeared due to the acidity of the soils, but analysis of the pit fills might be able to pick up chemical traces of a body.

Gavin and Barry excavating the pits below the monument

So, we think we have found the location of the original burial(s) even if we did not actually find any traces of bones or grave goods. I must admit that this was slightly disappointing, but we can only find what is there to be found!

The pits below the mound

Our most surprising find of the weekend was associated with the secondary burial cut into the top of the monument. Below a rock next to the location of this burial was a Roman coin! Not at all what we were expecting, although it is not unknown for Roman burials to be put into much earlier monuments and this is what seems to have happened at Tinkinswood. It does show that the monument was still visible and still respected 2000 years after it had been built, which is very interesting.

The possible standing stone has turned out to be field clearance (or a Victorian attempt to mimic a fallen prehistoric monument as was discussed at length on site). The trench we excavated to see if we could find a socket looked promising at first, but the feature we thought was a socket turned out to be disturbance from a tree. Looking at the profile of the soils it looks as though the stone was actually moved into place fairly recently as a layer of modern material was found underneath one end of it. Another slight disappointment, but at least we have cleared up the mystery of the large slab.

Possible Cromlech 1
We were starting to doubt whether this was in fact a prehistoric monument last week, and now we can confirm that it is definitely not! The pile of stones and large slabs sit on top of a layer of soil that lies directly over a bedrock outcrop. The stones also seem to partly overlie a field boundary that probably dates to the eighteenth century. On Wednesday we found a piece of metal that looks like it originated from a tractor or other large machine below one of the larger stones. We now think that the stones were cleared from the local field, probably by machine, sometime in the nineteenth century.

The test pits in the possible quarry have produced no evidence at all that slabs were cut from the outcrop to make the capstone for Tinkinswood chambered tomb itself. We have found lots of flint, some pottery and some modern iron, together with an animal burial which show that this area would have been used in the past – in fact the clearance of all the seeded trees has revealed the remains of the ancient coppice woodland that probably dates from the medieval period. This part of the landscape definitely has history, and it is possible that the stones have been quarried in the past, but probably not on the scale required to make the Tinkinswood capstone.

Dave working away in the quarry

Yesterday was spent backfilling – a marathon effort but we managed it before it got dark (just!). Special thanks to Tom for coming back to help us (we really would have been pushed to get it finished without him) and for generally being willing to undertake any task thrown at him!

There’s lots of analysis to be done now, and we hope to get some good radiocarbon dates from the cremated bone and the charcoal taken from the different parts of the Bronze Age monument. The pottery and flint will be looked at by specialists who will be able to tell us more about the date and type of materials we have found, and the soils we sampled will be analysed for pollen and other environmental evidence. This work will take some time, and we wont have a full understanding of our excavation results until late 2012, but keep an eye on the blog for updates!

Once again, thank you to everyone who has dug with us, come on our tours and generally shown an interest in the project. We now move to St Lythans (excavations start on 18th November) and we hope to see a lot of you again there.

Meli (Archaeology Wales) and Ffion (Cadw)



4 thoughts on “Final Dig Diary for Tinkinswood

  1. Very interesting especially the Roman coin.
    Some years back we found a barrow a few miles out from Avebury, covered with a host of beech trees, but it had a small shrine set up in memory of a local lad killed in a car accident. I think his ashes were either buried or scattered there. It was obvious that his friends came there from time to time because of the candles. It’s curious how people go back to an ancient traditonal site even though they can know almost nothing about its origins. Something like this might puzzle archaeologists in a thousand years time.
    Well done, all of you.

    Posted by Viv | November 8, 2011, 4:23 pm
  2. Many thanks for such a warm welcome and encouragement . . . a wonderful time . . . looking forward to St Lythans

    Posted by Gavin King | November 8, 2011, 5:11 pm
  3. Interesting to read your findings, i’m only sorry i could only do the 2 days, i would just like to thank you all for making me welcome, and i’m looking forward to a couple of days at St Lyhans at the end of the month.

    Posted by Clive Simpson | November 8, 2011, 10:28 pm
  4. Diolch yn fawr pawb – thanks to Meli and Ffion and the crew and all the volunteers who took part in the dig and all the visitors to the excavation and the website for your interest. See you all at St Lythan’s


    Posted by Gwilym Hughes | November 14, 2011, 9:56 pm

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