It feels like its been a long time, but only two weeks ago, we didn’t really know what was going on around Tinkinswood. Now we do…. well we know that those two anomalies were NOT Neolithic… (one being later Victorian field clearnace, and the second a modest Bronze Age Barrow), enabling us to answer the long mystery surrounding those possible fallen burial chambers. Dave Standing, one of our fantastic volunteers, who has been supervising the quarry area at the Tinkinswood dig talks about his experiences….
Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart. Marcus Aurelius
Fate. Such a strong word for one so small. As I was finishing another blog post I had no idea that a very timely hit on the Twitter button would lead me to another excavation. There was no way I could have known who was online at the time of publishing, let alone if they would read it, but they did.
The Council for British Archeology have very generously sponsored Cadw to enable them to employ a community archaeological officer. The officer read on my blog that I had enjoyed taking the general public around Caerleon and mentioned that there was an opportunity to do the same at an up and coming community excavation. This had been organised near a Scheduled Ancient Monument called Tinkinswood. I couldn’t refuse. The site is an early Neolithic burial chamber of the Severn Cotswold type and is thought to hold the largest capstone in Britain, weighing in at an impressive forty tonnes.
First excavated in 1914 by John Ward, the keeper of archaeology at the newly built national museum, the burial chamber was found to contain nearly a thousand individual bones. The bones were a variety of ages, of both genders, with about fifty individuals present. Pottery was also found, although the majority of this was near the entrance of the chamber and has been linked to ceremonial purposes.
That is not the whole story, nearby were other strange features and these were not understood. So an excavation proposal was created and the funding sought. With all of the T’s crossed, the I’s dotted and the go ahead given, we all met up on the 22nd October to investigate these features with the hope of some answers being forthcoming. And they were.
There were three areas that were to be looked at through archaeological investigation. Two of the areas are on the link above, the third was a potential quarry where the huge capstone was thought to have been lifted from. It was in this area that I was to spend the majority of the next two weeks. We had a remit for up to ten test pits as we were charged with looking for any signs that prehistoric quarrying would have left.
So what were we looking for? Hammer stones for one thing, quite literally prehistoric hammers. We were also on the look out for antler picks. Formed from the antler of a red deer, these tools were commonly used by Neolithic communities in north west Europe for the excavation of soil and quarrying out stone and bedrock. If these were present then other finds, such as worked flint and pottery, would help us date when quarrying had been undertaken.
We only managed to open up six test pits for a variety of reasons. The ground was like concrete as the tree roots had naturally sucked up any moisture from the ground that was present. Secondly the roots themselves were in every test pit that was opened up. Some of these were very large and it was time consuming trying to remove them.
Another reason for only opening up six test pits was the fact that were under quite a dense tree canopy. Don’t get me wrong, we had great weather over the two weeks, but the canopy was just too dense for sunshine to penetrate it adequately. When it was overcast it was particularly bad to spot things like soil colour change or even small finds. On one overcast day, I was standing in the quarry area looking out towards where people gathered at the start of the day.
Hopefully this picture will illustrate how bad the conditions could get if the sun didnt shine. I turned my flash off for that picture and you may be surprised to know that there is a test pit in the bottom of the photograph, just to the left of the tree on the right.
Anyway, enough of my griping and moaning, what did we find in the quarry area? The answer to that is, not much evidence of prehistoric quarrying material at all! It has to be said though, my favourite find from the whole excavation popped up out of test pit two. A volunteer had been placed in there and it was hard going due to the reasons given above. As I walked past the pit the volunteer asked me ‘is this anything because if it isn’t, I would like to take it home as it sits so nicely in my hand’! Alarm bells started ringing!