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Chapel Fell Diary
March 2016
April 2016
May 2016 - week 1
May 2016 - week 2
Chapel Fell Diary
an informal view of the IAG excavation
May 2016 - week 2
The last day
Day 10 of the excavation

Friday 27 May 2016
What a fortnight.

The 'chapel' with the dias and cobbled floor that hadn't got either. The iron age roundhouses. The sow kiln. The rain. The sunshine. The features on the hill. The learning (for me). The friendship. The jokes. The finds: coal, iron, slate, charcoal, pot boilers (stones for heating water), a glass bead, flint, chert and cast iron.

No, we didn't find buried treasure. But we did make sense of a difficult site with what first appeared to be contradictory evidence.

Today was mainly finishing off: refilling the trenches with the stone, subsoil, top soil and turf we had removed. Hard physical work as opposed to slow and careful excavation. Hopefully, we left the site as we found it - a beautiful field overlooking Malham Tarn (with the occasional bump where we buried a fellow archaeologist).

I'd like to thank all fellow IAG members for their friendship and support throughout the fortnight.

I'd also like to thank Chris, Bob and Sarah for providing lots of excellent photographs.

JC. 27 May 2016
filling up the sow kiln#

rolling up the tent packing up

stop taking photos and dig! you want this stone putting where?

seamless trench fixing synchronised back filling

Day 9 of the excavation
Thursday 26 May 2016
Nearly there. Started with a misty morning with constant fine drizzle, but it cleared to a fine day and we worked through to the end.

Work was confined to two trenches today: one over the kiln and one in the centre of one of the iron age roundhouses. (Note: 'roundhouse' is all one word - not the two I wrote yesterday). Finds of charcoal and flint (and chert) continue to surface, offering more chances of dating material and proof of human intervention in terms of 'importing' useful stone.
a final clean up of the trench over the kiln

a brave man drawing the floor of the kiln OK, so everyone makes a mistake once in a while. One of today's tasks was to draw a plan of the trench over the sow kiln. This involves putting a grid over the trench to aid the production of an accurate scale drawing. When the excavation leader asks for a volunteer to do the drawing, most IAG members suddenly get busy (in the opposite direction) going to the loo, cleaning a find, closely inspecting a molehill, polishing their trowel or thinking hard about what to have for tea that evening.

I'm not saying it's difficult, but:

a photo of what my colleague was drawing
  • you need to be over 7 feet tall (to see directly over the grid and down at right angles onto the bottom of the trench)
  • you need to have three hands, one to hold your pencil and two to hold your drawing board
  • you must be careful where you tread or you might ruin the very thing you are trying to record (and you might fall into the trench)
  • you must be incredidly accurate at all times

So I thought I'd help and take a photo of the bottom of the trench, to give assistance to my colleague who was brave enough to volunteer. I stuck my phone out over the grid and tried to take the picture at arm's length. No joy. I tried again and the resulting picture looked nothing like the bottom of a kiln, more like a picture of the sky! One of my more observant colleagues then told me I was holding my phone (camera) upside down. There are times when being stupid is quite funny. Fortunately, this was one of them. Or at least, my colleagues seemed to think so.

my colleague wondering how long it'll take me to get into the right place More surveying away from the trenches today. We're trying to identify features in the wider Chapel Fell which we haven't excavated, with the aid of the list from the HER (see day 5 of the excavation).

So far, we've identified:
  • a third roundhouse close to the chapel
  • a bank close to that roundhouse
  • four more roundhouses up on the hill to the west of our excavations
  • two banks: one close to one of the roundhouses up on the hill and one a little further away
  • a dry valley (perhaps one which once provided fresh water to the site?)
  • two large enclosures and two buildings about 200 metres north-west of the 'Chapel'
With good weather, we'll finish recording all the features tomorrow, with the exception of the last set on the list. A couple of us will probably have to return to the site next week to finish off this measurement. Once surveyed, we'll identify the features with map references and inform the HER of our findings.
Oh, and if anyone is wondering what 'chert' is (as I was) it's a type of stone with properties similar to flint, in that it can be worked into useful tool shapes. It's not quite as hard as flint, but can be found within limestone deposits. This means it would have to travel a shorter distance to get to Chapel Fell than flint, which is usually found in chalk deposits.

Day 8 of the excavation
Wednesday 25 May 2016
OK. So I suppose it was too much to expect a fine, sunny day two days in a row. I set off from home fully expecting to be rained off all day. The weather forecast said heavy rain from 10am onwards, so the chances of doing much work on Chapel Fell were slim to nothing.

In fact, we worked through to half past two, when the heavy rain finally arrived.
hoping the rain will clear
burnt limestone The sow kiln trench continues to produce small finds. 'Sow' is apparently a corruption of the word 'sough', which is a north-east dialect word meaning 'rough'.

At one time, every large construction project - be it a large house, a bridge or a church - would have an associated kiln to burn limestone. The lime produced would be used to make lime mortar to aid the building process.

The burnt limestone (pictured left) is proof were are excavating such a kiln. This small find goes alongside many finds of charcoal from the same trench.
A charcoal find can be used for dating the level of the trench where it was found (carbon dating). If charcoal is found in the foundations of a building, it's reasonable to assume the date of the charcoal corresponds to the date of construction. In this way, we can gain scientific evidence for the age of buildings.

We have to be careful not to touch the charcoal with our hands once it's been spotted. The dating process will pick up the smallest residue, and it would be a shame to ruin a sample simply by picking it up with our fingers.

Such finds are sent off to labs (at some expense) for testing. Needless to say, we wait patiently for the results.
carefully wrapping a charcoal find
The trench across the rim and into the round house continues. Typical finds (we hope) would include flint - not found locally and would have to be 'imported' - and charcoal - for dating purposes.

It's quite easy to say "This is an iron-age roundhouse" simply by looking at it. We hope to provide scientific evidence to back up such a statement.
on the rim of a round house
looking down onto the site, with the surveyor in the distance

Day 7 of the excavation
Tuesday 24 May 2016
What a lovely day! Not a cloud in the sky.

Our usual baggage list - waterproofs, tough boots, trowel, kneeler, sandwiches, flask, folding chair - is incomplete. We now need to add: water and sun-block. Sunshine in Malham in May?

We had a number of visitors to the site today. It's good to think that others outside IAG have interest in what we're doing, whether they've made a special journey or just happened to be passing by on their jorney through North Yorkshire.

One new trench today - across one of the iron age round houses. Several bits of continuing work - the kiln, the surveying of the hillside and the measurements within the quarry.

We usually call anything of interest found on an archaeological site a 'small find'. After the metalwork found by our colleague today, perhaps we should rename this a 'large find'.
large (small) find

more kiln work hardly a cloud in the sky
menacing cloud cover (hardly)

Day 6 of the excavation
Monday 23 May 2016
Fine nearly all day with rain stopping play at around 3.45.

A new week with new challenges: we started a new trench around the sow kiln (nothing to do with pigs), excavated a little deeper in the test pit within one of the round houses, and attempted to measure how much material had come from the quarry next to the 'chapel'.

We also had a visit from a micro-biologist, wanting to take core samples from the kiln. Looking for bacteria.

More news on the 'chapel': A visitor to the excavation last Friday told us that there were records of an 'incomplete chapel' from the time just before the Civil War. The construction of a local chapel - probably halted through a compulsory call to arms of the local, able-bodied men - was possibly of Protestant origin, not Roman Catholic as originally thought. More later.

Deciding on the amount of material dug out of the local quarry (just a few metres away from the 'chapel') meant taking measurements of the hillside and estimating the difference between what is still there, and what was once there before quarrying started. Not an easy task, and one for an expert in 3D trigonomtery. Unfortunately, we don't have an expert in 3D trigonomtry on site, so I got the job. One of the consequences of not having much surveying to do today.
uncovering the kiln

further down the kiln starts to take shape

how many IAG members can you get in a trench? looking for bacteria