Highlights from the CARD Fund: community radiocarbon-dating fund continues to unlock new secrets

A specialist grant that helps volunteer and community groups date their finds has opened applications for its 2022 funding cycle. Maryne Baylet and Roger Doonan discuss some of the key findings from the nine projects supported in the last round โ€“ and how to apply this year.

The Community Archaeology Radiocarbon Dating (CARD) Fund, sponsored by Archaeological Research Services Ltd and Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC), was established in 2016 to help volunteer sector projects gain access to radiocarbon dating. Last year, nine projects across the UK benefited from this initiative, yielding 12 dates.

left One of the four male burials from Phase 2 at Whitehall Farm. They were all buried in a south/north alignment, along with spears, knives, and shield bosses.
One of the four male burials from Phase 2 at Whitehall Farm. They were all buried in a south/north alignment, along with spears, knives, and shield bosses.

Altogether Archaeology (https://altogetherarchaeology.org) were awarded two dates for their work at Greta Valley, County Durham, where three late Bronze Age metalwork hoards have been discovered, including the famous Gilmonby Hoard (the largest example from northern England). With funding provided by the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Archaeological Institute, landscape-scale investigation of the area is under way with the main aim of the project being to contextualise the metalwork hoards within the wider landscape. Over 45ha of geophysical survey was completed in 2021, revealing many anomalies with archaeological potential. In the same year, a three-week community excavation, with members of Altogether Archaeology, revealed a burnt mound, a burial cairn, and the stone foundation of a sub-rectangular building. The two CARD-funded dates were used to investigate the burnt mound: the basal deposit returned an early Bronze Age date of 2198-1982 cal BC (95.4% probability) while the upper burnt deposit returned a Middle Bronze Age date of 1519-1426 cal BC (95.4% probability). These dates are an important addition regionally, and indicate that activity at the burnt mound appears to have extended over a 400- to 500-year period.

Heading further north to Forres in Moray, the Cluny Hill Dig (https://clunyhilldig.wordpress.com/) is investigating a hilltop enclosure now only noted in early maps and historical sources. The earthwork could still be seen as recently as 1811, but the construction of paths and extensive tree-planting have since obliterated any trace of it. LiDAR shows two surviving segments of ditch as shallow depressions, however, and these were targeted with four excavation trenches. Two further trenches explored areas that produced strong magnetic responses within the enclosed area. Excavation of the depressions noted on LiDAR confirmed the presence of a ditch and bank, while the trenches within the enclosed area uncovered stone paving and evidence of burning, as well as a rough stone track that also contained charcoal. Excavations in 2018 had demonstrated that the โ€˜pavingโ€™ was associated with a smithing hearth dating to the 3rd-1st century BC. Now a CARD Fund radiocarbon date has added to this picture, allowing the dating of charred barley grains recovered during post-excavation processing of soil samples, and returning a date of 514-378 cal BC (95.4% probability). This confirmed an early to mid-Iron Age occupation at Cluny Hill, and is almost identical to a date from charred wood in a nearby pit.

At Iron Tongue, Stalybridge, excavations by Tameside Archaeological Society (TAS) have focused on two terraces on the hillslope where potential chipped lithic evidence points to different phases of Mesolithic occupation. Two dating samples from a hearth on the lower terrace have already provided radiocarbon dates of c.6660 cal BC; a further date was secured through this round of the CARD Fund to see if there were other occupational phases. Charcoal from the lowest fill of an upper terrace post-hole returned a date of 4886-4720 cal BC (95.4% probability).

Investigations at Whitehall Farm, Nether Heyford, Northamptonshire, by the Community Landscape Archaeology Survey Project (CLASP; https://claspweb.org.uk/WHITEHALL/) have included the excavation of a highly significant and predominately post-Roman foederati cemetery. Responding to agricultural erosion, the excavation recorded 31 surviving graves from what would have been an extensive burial ground characterised by three phases of interment. Phase 1 consisted of 26 inhumations, probably dating from the middle decades of the 5th century AD and representing adult and juvenile males and females. Aligned west/east and east/west, the graves reflected a range of ritual practices and may imply a mixed or hybrid belief system based on Christian tradition. Phase 2 consists of four male burials aligned south/north and epitomised by the inclusion of spears, knives, and shield bosses, an artefact assemblage pointing to a late 5th- to mid-6th-century date. This was confirmed by the CARD-funded date on human bone, which returned a date of 427-564 cal AD (95.4% probability). Might the grouping of young men with militaristic assemblages, but with no signs of battle trauma, suggest a local return to pre-Christian burial rites?

right Radiocarbon dating of animal bone from the lowest and and uppermost layers of a palisade on Gueswick Hills, located to the west of Barnard Castle in County Durham, suggests that this site may have been in use between the 2nd century BC and the 2nd century AD.
Radiocarbon dating of animal bone from the lowest and and uppermost layers of a palisade on Gueswick Hills, located to the west of Barnard Castle in County Durham, suggests that this site may have been in use between the 2nd century BC and the 2nd century AD.

Dating discoveries

In Essex, the Wenden Parva Church Archaeology Project has continued to investigate the โ€˜lostโ€™ church of Wenden Parva, situated on the vicarage lawn in Wendens Ambo. Within the footprint of the long-lost simple apsidal church, they made the rare discovery of a โ€˜baggedโ€™ foundation deposit of human bones hugging the sanctuary wall. The intricacies of the villageโ€™s Anglo-Saxon past are being revealed by ongoing research, coupled with a dating programme supported by the CARD Fund, and previous dating of a high-status burial lying on a chalk floor inside the apse returned a date of 974-1042 cal AD (95.4% probability). The dating of a partial femur recovered from the apex of the church, which was found immediately below a previously dated skull fragment, also returned a date of 897-1030 cal AD (95.4% probability).

Returning to Altogether Archaeology, this project has also been investigating an ephemeral earthwork feature revealed by LiDAR on the Gueswick Hills, to the west of Barnard Castle in County Durham. The hills form a ridge across Teesdale, and boast a possible prehistoric cairn on their summit, with cup-marked stones nearby. A magnetometry survey indicated the presence of a ditch enclosing an area 100m across, and in 2021 excavations across the ditch revealed a palisade slot with packing stones (including a beehive quern), as well as animal bones radiocarbon-dated to the late Iron Age, spanning the decades either side of AD 1. The palisade was probably in place for less than a century. A tooth dated to the 1st century AD, and a sherd of early Romano-British pottery, came from the uppermost ditch fill, which was overlain by a flagstone and cobble surface containing more Romano-British pottery. Similar finds were recorded in the 2021 and 2022 excavations inside the ditched enclosure, which also revealed flagged surfaces incorporating several quern-stones. An inner ditch, possibly enclosing the original Iron Age centre of the settlement was examined, too, and animal bone recovered from its lowest and uppermost fills produced CARD Fund-provided dates 106 cal BC- 64 cal BC and 37 cal BC-cal AD 124 (95.4% probability) respectively.

Finally, the Romsey Local History Society is continuing to investigate material from the unpublished Creatureโ€™s Pet Shop excavations in Romsey in the 1980s. Evidence for iron-smelting from the site, coupled with traces of water channels, highlight the siteโ€™s importance and its possible insights into Anglo-Saxon water-management strategies. The CARD Fund-facilitated date of a cattle tibia recovered from the bottom of the water channels (which was overlain by a layer containing slag and charcoal) provided a date range of 605-772 cal AD (95.4% probability) providing convincing evidence of the Anglo-Saxon dating of these features.

The 2022 funding round is now open, and volunteer and community groups/projects are warmly invited to apply before the closing date of 30 December. For more information on the fund and how to make an application, visit http://www.cardfund.org.

Maryne Baylet is a Palaeoenvironmental Officer at Archaeological Research Services Ltd.
Roger Doonan is Head of Specialist Services at Archaeological Research Services Ltd.