Highlights from the CARD Fund: Community radiocarbon-dating fund delivers fresh results

The Community Archaeology Radiocarbon Dating (CARD) Fund, sponsored by Archaeological Research Services Ltd and Scottish Universities (SUERC), was established to help projects in the volunteer sector gain access to radiocarbon-dating. In eight years of operation, the Fund has provided a total of 85 radiocarbon dates, and the following community excavations benefited from this support in 2022.

One of last year’s initiatives was the Lowick Heritage Group Archaeology Section’s investigation at Kentstone Hill in Northumberland, which uncovered a cist containing a cremated human bone deposit. A bone sample produced a radiocarbon date of 2338-2137 cal BC, pre-dating other early Bronze Age cremation burials known from the region, including burials in the ring ditch at Ponteland (see CA 399).

Moving to south-west Lancashire, prehistoric sites in this area are few in number, but Wigan Archaeological Society have been exploring a new addition in Aspull, near Wigan. They first became aware of a circular crop mark in 2019, and LiDAR revealed it to have a shallow central mound. Excavations in 2022 confirmed the presence of a large ring ditch, its size and shape resembling a Neolithic henge, but the central mound suggested a Bronze Age monument. A radiocarbon date of 1687-1534 cal BC was obtained from oak charcoal found at the base of the ditch, showing that it had been open at this time.

In the central Highlands of Scotland, 2021’s dry summer lowered the level of Loch Mullardoch, revealing previously unrecorded hut circles at its west end. A small team from the North of Scotland Archaeological Society surveyed these before they were re-covered by water, identifying four, possibly six, structures, two of which had identifiable hearths. In 2022, two trenches were opened over one of the hut circles, focusing on its hearth and a section of the outer stone wall. Pieces of charcoal from each of the trenches yielded radiocarbon dates of 772-539 cal BC and 51 cal BC-cal AD 63 respectively – one early Iron Age, one middle Iron Age – providing evidence of domestic use at least during these periods.

Hut circles revealed at Loch Mullardoch during the dry summer of 2021.

Over in West Yorkshire, the Pontefract and District Archaeology and History Society and South Leeds Archaeology, both members of the Cropmark Research Archaeology Group Yorkshire, have been investigating a series of well-known cropmarks at Darrington. Trenches were excavated in 2022 with the aim of recovering material which could date the main double-ditched enclosure and other features. Cattle bones from the base of the main enclosure ditch and the base of the pit in the enclosure’s interior were radiocarbon-dated to 46 cal BC-cal AD 108 and 351-53 cal BC respectively. This shows that the main enclosure ditch was open in the Iron Age/Roman transitional period, with a pre-Roman date being favoured as Roman pottery was not found in the lower half of the ditch fill. The pit also appears to be pre-Roman in date, while the presence of Roman pottery at the base of a cross-cutting central ditch indicates long-term activity on the site.

Community clues

Remaining in the Iron Age/ Romano-British period, the Lunesdale Archaeology Society has been investigating a settlement of this date at High Carlingill in Cumbria, near the Roman fort at Tebay. Other similar settlements are known along the Lune Valley, but this is the only one to have been excavated – and a two-year National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF)-funded community investigation has revealed enclosure banks built in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, as well as house platforms dating to the 2nd and 3rd centuries. In 2022, the Society – following on from trenching in preceding years – completed excavation of the top of a mound in the centre of one of the enclosures, revealing an apsidal end to a rectangular stone-walled building. Dates of cal AD 126-240 and cal AD 310-404 (from deposits of hazel charcoal beneath the floor and in a pit) are consistent with finds of Roman pottery and tile.

In South Yorkshire, the Roughbirchworth Community Excavation Group (with NLHF support) investigated a circular enclosure at Oxspring that is depicted on the mid-19th-century Ordnance Survey map. Two trenches excavated in 2022 investigated the enclosure ditch and banks, and a group of post-holes internally that are considered to post-date the original enclosure. Charcoal from the fill of one of the post-holes was radiocarbon-dated to cal AD 677-876.

The next project is one that was also recently visited by CA: the Hyde900 community group, who have been exploring the remains of Hyde Abbey in the back gardens of Winchester residents since 2016, mapping a substantial part of the nave and cloisters. A radiocarbon date of cal AD 903-1034 on oak charcoal from a context beneath the Abbey’s foundations and above a soil layer containing Roman tesserae aids understanding of the site before the Abbey was built in 1110.

Remaining in the medieval period, excavations by the Wendens Ambo Society for its ‘Lost Church of Wenden Parva Project’ in Essex have established the presence of a late Saxon apsidal church constructed on a pre-existing graveyard. In 2022, trenches abutting the southern foundations and outside the south-west corner of the church uncovered unusual burials. One man, occupying a whole-body anthropomorphic grave cut with head niche, was radiocarbon-dated to cal AD 1054-1290, while another individual whose left-side ribs had been removed, apparently through perimortem surgical intervention, was dated to cal AD 1030-1233.

The last project was the Lephin Community Archaeological Excavation at Lephin Chapel, a rectangular structure set within a relatively small enclosure on the Isle of Mull, in search of Norse settlement remains. The west coast of Scotland was initially invaded by Scandinavian Vikings and then settled by Norse folk, but the few Norse structures that have been identified in Scotland are largely confined to the Orkney Isles and the Outer Hebrides.

The initial two seasons demonstrated that the enclosure was part of a late 12th- and early 13th-century farmstead, and unearthed a late 10th- or 11th-century bone comb beneath the enclosure wall which is similar to finds from Norse-period sites in Orkney, and throughout Scandinavia. Further trenches were opened in 2022 within the medieval enclosure, two of which revealed features from probably at least one, if not more, domestic structures. Hazel charcoal from the fill of one of these features was radiocarbon-dated to cal AD 1028-1158, indicating that earlier structural remains, presumably late Norse in date, survive below the medieval farmstead.

The 2023 funding round is now open, and volunteer and community groups are warmly invited to apply before the closing date of 30 November. For more information, visit http://www.cardfund.org.

Source: Robin Holgate is Head of Publications at Archaeological Research Services Ltd (www.archaeologicalresearch services.com.)