The Community Archaeology Radiocarbon Dating (CARD) fund, sponsored by Archaeological Research Services Ltd and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC) was established in 2016 to give smaller projects access to radiocarbon dating for their discoveries. Last year, the initiative funded eleven dates from nine projects across Britain – what have they found out?
The prehistoric Pennines have been particularly well represented this year, with a number of projects shedding light on this area of England. One of these was the Altogether Archaeology project, which uncovered a Mesolithic settlement on the shore of Cow Green Reservoir. This was probably a briefly occupied campsite on an upland route linking the lowlands of Teesdale and North Yorkshire with the Eden Valley in Cumbria, and a charred hazelnut recovered from the site’s occupation layer was dated to 8210-7846 cal BC (95% probability) – the first date indicating any Mesolithic site in the North Pennines.
Further dates from the Pennines, this time from their southern extremity at Whirlow Hall Farm in south-west Sheffield, include a Mesolithic hearth pit dated to 5900-5749 cal BC (95% probability) by a fragment of pine charcoal. Meanwhile, another supported project from Sheffield was the Time Travellers group at Castle Dyke field, within which a sub-circular ditched enclosure was dated to cal AD 255-395 (95% probability), suggesting a late Romano-British date. The southern Pennines also hosted an excavation by Tameside Archaeological Society at Grange Farm near Manchester. There, a Neolithic date of 3500-3349 cal BC (95% probability) was obtained from a hearth sample of willow/alder charcoal, confirming the date of 3348-3097 (95.4%) cal BC from the same hearth dated in 2018 by CARD (see CA 345). A CARD-funded date of 6448-6334 cal BC (76.3%) from a pit on the same site indicates previous occupation in the Mesolithic period.
Burials and barrows
Elsewhere in England, at the Fordham Estate in Essex, a child’s burial was found cut into Romano-British remains. Radiocarbon analysis revealed that the child had probably died in the early Anglo-Saxon period, returning a date of cal AD 431-618 (95% probability). Together with the area’s Norman church, Roman and Iron Age archaeology, and Neolithic worked flint found in adjacent fields, this suggests that ‘Fordham’ (an Anglo-Saxon place-name) has probably been continuously occupied since at least the Neolithic period.
A further burial – found within an enclosure resembling a large square barrow – was excavated at Nunburnholme Wold, East Yorkshire, on the edge of an Iron Age cemetery during a community project supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Although the square enclosure is almost certainly of Iron Age date, the burial returned a surprisingly late date of cal AD 718-914 (95% probability), adding the Anglo-Saxon period to the Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age finds already represented at the site.
Completing our trio of burials, radiocarbon dating was also provided for the Druce Farm Roman Villa Project in Dorset (CA 323), which had uncovered a complex interment featuring an adult male buried in a disused corn dryer alongside the remains of a cow. The cal AD 240-381 (95% probability) date obtained from the man’s skeleton suggests that this is likely to be a very rare late Romano-British ‘deviant’ burial, which is of local and regional significance.
Volunteers from the Mid-Sussex Field Archaeology Team and Brighton & Hove Archaeological Society investigated a distinctive scheduled mound at Peacehaven Heights, overlooking the sea, which was long suspected to be a Bronze Age barrow. Cut into the base of this mound were several mysterious pits from which unidentified charred material was recovered, returning an Anglo-Saxon date of cal AD 718-914 (95% probability), further adding to the story of the monument.
Finally, excavations at Cresswell Pele Tower in Northumberland, undertaken by the Cresswell Pele Tower volunteer group, have been investigating the history of this notably well-preserved scheduled monument, constructed as a defence against the Border Reivers who frequently raided in this area. Birch charcoal returned a date of cal AD 1284-1393 (95% probability) for the tower’s construction, but a cereal grain recovered from a soakaway pit located near the tower was dated to cal AD 1037-1189 (95% probability), providing evidence for medieval buildings on the site prior to the fortifications being built.
Luke Parker is Palaeoenvironmental Officer for Archaeological Research Services Ltd, www.archaeologicalresearchservices.com.
The 2019 funding round is now open. Volunteer/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.