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Cox Bank Farm, 2016: Pictorial Dig Diary


We have now finished this year's excavation at Cox Bank Farm's Bronze Age Burnt Mound, which we started working on in 2011. Progress was a little slow to start with because the sunshine and the lack of rain made the trowelling, often difficult on a burnt mound, especially hard.


Here is our Dig Director Winston's plan, showing areas of the mound that we have excavated in previous years, as well as the area where we started this year. This is immediately S of where we were working last year, and the magnetometry map is displayed around it. N is to the top. You can clearly see the trough we excavated in 2013, E of last year's area.


The area to be excavated this year seems to have two or three dark features within it. I will record our progress in photographs below. Click on any one for a larger view (including this plan). All photos are by Dave Thomas, unless otherwise stated.



Week 1: 8th - 15th May

This first week saw us deturfing, and trowelling away the top soil. Some (relatively) recent finds here, possibly from night soil spread on the fields.

Deturfing starts Deturfing done
Deturfing starts Deturfed. Ready to start trowelling
Trowelling starts Trowelling done for this week
Trowelling started Trowelling done for the week

Context 1 finds
Finds from the turf layer, photographed,
 identified and annotated by Dave Thomas

Week 2: 15th - 22nd May

From the air
Steady progress this week. From the air, you can see that the burnt mound material spreads across the E half of the area.
Thanks to Terry and his drone for this picture

On the ground
Here's how it looks from the ground. N is at the top in both photos.

Week 3: 22nd - 29th May

Hard work
Here we are hard at work trowelling the stones away to try to reveal what lies beneath. They are mostly heat-shattered stones with some charcoal amongst them. It looks like the mound has been spread out by subsequent ploughing activity to cover the original Bronze Age ground surface

End of week view
At the end of the week, this is what we can see. We have trowelled away many of the stones, and some darker areas are appearing - these will we hope turn out to be significant features. There is one dark area in the top right (NE) corner, and another towards us a little, roughly where the magnetometry suggested..
Don't be misled by the freshly-trowelled patches near the longer ranging rod.

Week 4: 29th May - 5th June

Area Charcoal lump
A couple of days later. What looks like an interestingly black area is developing in the NE corner - here we are looking N. In this black area a large lump of charcoal is starting to emerge

Extension in drone view
Here in another picture taken by Terry's drone we can see that we have extended the area in the NE corner to reveal more of the black feature.
The large piece of charcoal is to the right of the context board at the N end (top)

Charcoal close-up 1 Charcoal close-up 2
The lump of charcoal is beginning to look intriguingly like the end of a burnt piece of wood sticking out of the surface. In both these photos, N is to the left. Here is the charcoal lump in greater close-up. An excellent piece of trowelling and photography by Dave T!

Charcoal in extreme close-up
Here is the piece in as great a detail as Dave could achieve. The grain of the wood is clearly visible. We are wondering how much remains below the surface!

Week 5: 7th - 12th June

June 7 overview 7 June N end 7 June S end
We are gradually removing heat-cracked stones to  find what lies beneath. This is an overall view looking North So far, no very obvious feature is emerging apart from this one in the NE corner. Here looking E, the large piece of charcoal which emerged last week is to the left At the S end, again looking E. In the SE corner there are signs of a layer of water-rounded, uncracked pebbles. A floor?

We are finding lots of pieces of charcoal in the E half of the trench

12 June NE June 12 overview
At the N end, looking E. It is still not clear what this feature is, with its large pieces of charcoal, but today it is too wet to investigate Winston and Keith are trying to establish if there is an edge on the W side or whether the layer of stones dips down. Here we are looking N

Week 6: 14th - 19th June

14 June overview 16 June bailing
Still wet, so today we have been continuing what Keith and Winston were doing on Sunday (previous picture). Looking N. Baling out first thing on the 16th!

End of day 16 June 19 June from N
Again looking N. We have removed the stones at the S end, and there are very few stones beneath. The clay revealed could be the original Bronze Age ground surface A bit drier later in the week. On the Sunday (19th June), looking from the N end of the site, can we see a roughly circular feature or is this wishful thinking?

Drone view on 19th June
Here is the view from Terry's drone on the Sunday. North is at the top

Week 7: 21st - 26th June

June 23 looking W Charcoal lumps
Looking W, you can see the very dark area where Dave has been exposing large pieces of charcoal... Here is a close-up of some more largish pieces, with, on the right, the large piece which we first saw in Week 4

Overview June 26
Here is an overview photo which Terry took on the 26th. (Dave was at a wedding!) We are looking N, with the dark area where those large pieces of charcoal are, in the NE corner. A very intriguing area is emerging in the middle, just N of the longer ranging rod. There appear to be a couple of diagonal lines running from the E baulk towards the short ranging rod, and one or two darker patches have appeared just above the W half of the longer ranging rod.

Week 8: 28th June - 3rd July

Central dark patches Post hole?
Looking at the darker patches mentioned in the previous photo, with N to the left Zooming in on them a bit: we'll section the further one in case it's a post hole

Mole hole?
No, not a post hole. Probably a mole hole. The lines running from it E and NE are probably mole runs. What a disappointment!

Drone view
So, this is what the site looks like now, as viewed from above by Terry's drone. N is at the top

Charcoal Digging
This is the large piece of charcoal from the very black area in the NE corner. We last saw it in situ in W4, when it looked like the end of a stick poking up from the surface At the end of the week. Angela (orange top) is excavating the other dark patches near the probable mole hole. Same result. Here we are looking NE

Week 9: 5th - 10th July

SE corner stones
Not much left to do now. Nothing new has emerged, but there is an area of smaller, undamaged (i.e. not heat shattered) pebbles at the S end of the trench. Here we are looking towards the W

Apart from the large pieces of charcoal we saw earlier, we have also found a couple of other interesting items: a small fossil; and a stone which appears to be damaged on one side, but not in a way typical of the heat-shattered stones which have been so common on the site. We think it may be a hammer stone. See the pictures below.

Fossil Hammer stone

Last day: 17th July

Today, after a break while Winston was away, we looked at the area of small undamaged stones mentioned above and also confimed that we really have come down onto the natural Bronze Age ground surface. We had already established, by auguring, that only natural clay is now below this level. The "features" that we thought may underlie the heat-shattered stones and charcoal of the burnt mound (as suggested by the magnetometry) seem only to be mole holes and runs that have become filled with the mound material. Apart that is, from two other areas: one very black area at the N end, which seems to be the start of the main feature (dew pond?) which we excavated last year. This is where we found the largest pieces of charcoal this year. And the other is the area of small undamaged pebbles at the S end of the trench. This we suspect is where stones which were too small to be of use for heating in the fire (to be then dropped into the trough to heat water) were dumped, maybe to fill in muddy patches of ground. The shallowness of this deposit supports this idea.


Note that the above is my interpretation: when our Dig Director's (Winston's) report is available I will post it here.


Meanwhile, here are three final pictures. After the farmer has back-filled the trench with his tractor we will return to put back the top soil and re-turf the area.

N end channel section S end section
A section to check that we really had found the bank of the channel at the N end. You just make this out in the top RH corner of the overview picture below A section (further sectioned to take the the LH half a bit deeper) through the area of undamaged small pebbles, into the natural clay. N is to the top

Final overview
A final overview, looking N. You can see the section through the pebbly area at the S end. The dark area in the NW corner is where there was a puddle which we bailed out at the start of the day

Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeological Society, 28th July 2016.