Rewind back to August 2011 (see below) and you may remember that one of our Festival Bowland events saw us up above the River Hodder exploring caves and rock shelters in the company of Rick Peterson from the archaeology department at Uclan. Happily, staff and students were back again this year to continue their excavations and Rick invited us to come along for a follow-up visit to find out all about their exciting discovery.
It was great to be able to see how the team's plans from last year had now materialised on the ground and, just as Rick had hoped following last year's geophysical survey, the dig has produced evidence of what he believes to be a late Neolithic/early Bronze Age henge site! Sited on a grassy platform on the valley side, the monument is around 90m in diameter and made up of an outer ditch and bank with a possible timber circle in the centre of the enclosure – perhaps similar to the circle at nearby Bleasdale.
Rick explained to the group that he thinks this site was religious rather than defensive – as the latter wouldn't really make sense in this location – and that there was almost certainly more than one building phase involved.
The two main areas of excavation have concentrated on the outer ditch/bank and the inner circle. In the former, the students have managed to dig down to the limestone bedrock which would have formed the bottom of the ditch, whilst in the circle they have uncovered what they believe to be post-holes, complete with packing stones and tool marks around the edges. In both these areas they have found evidence of people's everyday lives in the form of worked chert and flint plus evidence of metal-working. In addition, within the enclosure, remains of cremated bone have been uncovered.
The complete ditch and bank feature is no longer visible on the ground but Rick feels that it may well be there and has simply become filled in through erosion from the nearby slope. However, as four weeks of excavation produces a year's worth of analysis, the archaeology team will need to bide their time and be patient until next summer!
The excavation site itself happens to be on an area of grassland important for its flora, so additional permission had to be sought before any work could go ahead. The team then had the extra challenge of carefully replacing all the turf at the end of the dig, to make sure that everything was left as it had been found. Access to the site for the excavation was kindly granted by the landowner but there is no public access in this particular area. To find out all about this summer's excavation work do take a look at the project blog - http://shelteringmemory.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/circular-arguments/ and keep an eye on our website where we'll add a link to Rick's interim report once it's available.
During late summer 2011 archaeology staff and students from the School of Forensic and Investigative Sciences at the University of Central Lancashire (Uclan) decamped to the Hodder Valley for some concentrated fieldwork.
The team were investigating various caves and rock shelters in the Whitewell area – trying to discover a little more about their possible use during prehistory. From an initial 17 sites, efforts were focused on three study areas: Mouse Hole Cave, Temple Cave and a possible prehistoric enclosure, all above New Laund Farm.
Festival Bowland participants were treated to a fascinating tour of the site in August, hosted by Rick Peterson, Senior Lecturer at Uclan and organised by Martin Charlesworth. Visitors got to see an archaeological "dig" in action - painstaking removal of soil layers, bucket by bucket, followed by very careful sieving for fragments of animal bone and flint.
The extract below comes from Rick's interim report of the excavations:
"The two excavated sites provide an interesting contrast. The newly discovered Mouse Hole cave at site A has confirmed our expectations that the swallowhole complex on the hillside above had a former outlet at this site. The presence of worked stone from the layers outside the cave indicates that this cave was accessible during prehistory and that it was the focus of some limited human activity.
By contrast Temple Cave has so far not produced any evidence of prehistoric human activity. However, it has proved to be much deeper and more extensive than the original opening appeared. Although excavation was confined to a 2 x 2 m area, airspaces …… could be seen extending down and to the south and east for at least 3 m in each direction. The fragments of soda straw stalactites which were recovered in the wet sieving from the lower layers indicate that the cave was connected to a wider system in the past: there is no active speleothem formation in the cave at present.
The possible prehistoric enclosure identified at site C is an interesting addition to the wider landscape of the research project. It may be either an Iron Age enclosure or an earlier monument with affinities to henges. In either case it will be interesting to see what the relationship is between this built monument and any human activity in the surrounding caves and rock-shelters."
(Full report available from the Forest of Bowland AONB).
Uclan plan further work in the area, having received consent for a limited exploration of the possible enclosure site, which now forms part of a Biological Heritage Site. Deposits around other caves and rock-shelters will also be explored in the future – all helping to build up a picture of the environment in this part of the Hodder Valley during prehistoric times.
Perhaps another Festival Bowland event in 2012 is called for….?
A flurry of newspaper, radio and television reports, both local and national, highlighted the discovery of the remains of a 17th century cottage on the outskirts of the village of Barley, near Pendle Hill, November 2011.
Many of the reports made much of the possible links between this dwelling and the people involved in the events surrounding the Lancashire witch trials, which took place in the early 1600s. Perhaps this was unsurprising, given that 2012 is the 400th anniversary of the trials, and interest in the story will increase over the coming year.
However, the archaeologists involved in excavating the site were making no such claims and, following a guided visit with Pendle Forest History Group in early January 2012, it was easy to see that the cottage was interesting enough in its own right.
The discovery was made by a firm of archaeologists working for United Utilities (UU) who were planning work on the spillway of Lower Black Moss reservoir. Fieldwork revealed the corner of a building and a lintel above ground and, as a desktop study had showed a former building at the site, the diggers were called in. What the surveyors didn't expect to find hidden beneath the grassy slope was a wonderfully well-preserved cottage with ground floor walls still almost intact – not to mention a cooking range and twin stone bread ovens!
Once the diggers had cleared away the majority of the overlying soil the archaeologists were able to move in for a closer look. What had been revealed was a 17 century, double-fronted, two-storey house which would have had lime-washed walls, flagged floors, a large number of windows along the front elevation and a sizeable inglenook fireplace in one room. The quality of the stonework suggested that this had been quite a well-made building - later subdivided into two cottages.
The site has now been fully photographed and recorded, with plans to carry out a Level 2 building survey before the remains of the house are eventually dismantled.
Many thanks to United Utilities staff for arranging the field visit and to NP Archaeology for providing a very interesting and enjoyable guided tour.