The Community Archaeology Radiocarbon Dating (CARD) fund, sponsored by Archaeological Research Services Ltd and Scottish Universities (SUERC), was established in 2016 to help support smaller projects access radiocarbon dating for their discoveries. In the 2017 funding round, the initiative funded 20 dates across nine projects spanning much of Britain.
One of these was the Malham Chapel Dig, which for several years has been searching for the ‘lost’ medieval chapel of St Helen’s at Malham, near Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales. This was a ‘chapel of ease’ (a chapel built to accommodate remote villages whose inhabitants could not easily access the parish church) that is first mentioned in monastic charters in the 12th century. Like so many ecclesiastical institutions, though, it fell victim to the religious upheaval of the 16th century and, in 1549, was demolished. Over time, the location of its remains faded from local memory – but in recent years documentary research and aerial photography identified a likely spot, and in 2014 geophysical survey identified the footprint of a two-cell building resembling known early churches. Since 2015, the Malham Chapel Dig has been excavating this site, and now radiocarbon dates obtained from charred cereal grains that were recovered from within the nave, as well as charcoal from beneath a mysterious upturned gritstone slab (also within the nave), have produced 13th- to 14th- century results, confirming the medieval origins of the building under investigation.
Meanwhile, over in Norfolk, the long-running Caistor Roman Project has been investigating life in and around the walled Roman town of Venta Icenorum, just outside Norwich. In CA 344, we featured the latest phase of their work, exploring the remains of a possible corridor villa and temple at an enigmatic site a short distance beyond the bounds of the town, but elsewhere the project has also uncovered hints of what may prove to be a Roman cemetery. There, radiocarbon dating has placed the first grave to be excavated in the later Roman period, c.AD 258-422. The burial was that of a young adult male, and his body had been aligned on an east/west orientation. Might he have been part of an early Christian community, and could his grave mark the edge of a larger burial ground of this period?
Other projects that benefited from the fund were examining rather earlier remains. This includes the Tameside Archaeological Society’s work in the Pennines; they have uncovered a cobbled hearth and a scatter of worked flint which produced a quantity of charcoal that was sampled for dated analysis. This placed the site in the middle of the Mesolithic period, c.6613-6473 calBC (95.4%), providing helpful modern dating evidence to add to our understanding of the chronology of the Mesolithic in the Pennines.
Prehistoric discoveries also featured in the Hope Valley, Peak District, where archaeological research has been taking place at the famous viewpoint of Hollins Cross where ancient trackways cross at a natural ‘nick’ along the ‘Great Ridge’. This work uncovered a pit containing significant quantities of charcoal, tiny burnt bone fragments, and chipped flints, as well as two small Beaker-period fired clay disc beads. These latter items are rare, but are generally associated with female burials of this period – and indeed the pit and burnt material hints at a heavily truncated cremation that had occupied this lofty location below a burial mound. Radiocarbon dating of hazelnut fragments from the pit produced two dates of c.2121-1892 calBC (95% probability) and 1928- 1750 calBC (95% probability).
Further to the west, in Snowdonia, the Glaslyn Prehistory Project has uncovered a midden at the head of the Glasyn estuary. It contained a significant deposit of shell, as well as smashed bones from cattle, pig, and sheep/goat, along with many burnt and heat-shattered stones and the remains of burnt wood, suggesting that it might have been involved in the preparation and heating of a lot of food. Now we are able to say when this preparation may have taken place. Two radiocarbon dates from limpet shells of 346-26 BC and 325 BC-AD 18 (95% probability) point to activity in the late Iron Age.
Evidence for prehistoric heating and food preparation also comes from the final group to benefit from 2017 funding: the Millbrae Project near Rosneath, Argyll. This site is home to the remains of 19th-century cottages, but woodland survey by the North Clyde Archaeological Society has identified much older traces of human activity: two burnt mounds, the first to be recorded on the Rosneath Peninsula. Burnt mounds were used for heating water via hot stones, and are often associated with the early Bronze Age. Their exact purpose remains enigmatic, though it has been suggested that they may have been involved in brewing or cooking (see CA 256), and until recently their presence was unknown in this part of Argyll. Now, though, a radiocarbon date for one of the Millbrae mounds has confirmed that North Clyde Archaeological Society has discovered just such a feature, placing the mound in c.1772-1629 BC. Another regional ‘first’ comes in the form of an early medieval ‘bloomery’ or iron-smelting site, which has been dated to AD 1352-1399. This fits into the picture of other similar sites that have been dated in Scotland, but it is the first to be recorded in this area.
Further information The 2018 funding round is now open, and volunteer and community groups/projects are warmly invited to apply before the closing date of 30 November. For more information, as well as to make an application, visit www.cardfund.org.