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Fan Barrow Excavation Dig Diary 2011


Last year we investigated the site of a Bronze Age burial mound to see if anything survived after it had been mistakenly ploughed flat.

Following a geophysical survey which showed an intriguing circular feature, the excavation revealed two pits containing cremated human remains accompanied by beautifully decorated pottery vessels.

The site has turned out to be much more complicated than we first thought, so this year we are returning for a three week Cadw funded excavation to try and learn more about what was going on there in the Bronze Age in around 2000BC.

DAY 1:

On our first day we opened up a large trench, hoping to find evidence of a large circular feature that was shown on the geophysical survey. Unfortunately, we could not find it, so after a change of plan we decided to concentrate our efforts on locating some of the other possible features suggested by the geophysics.





DAY 2:

Today is spent cleaning up the trench looking for the elusive archaeology. We remembered how last year we thought at first that there was no surviving evidence of the barrow. We were visited by a neighbour who told us about another nearby burial mound which was more likely to be the mound which was investigated in the 19th century. This is interesting news, especially since the barrow does not seem to have been recorded before.


DAY 3:

A beautiful sunny day with a cooling breeze, much appreciated as we continue to clean up the trench. Encouraging signs are beginning to emerge from the soil, suggesting that there are several pits surviving below the topsoil....but still no sign of the mysterious circular feature.

Pits filled with charcoal are easy to spot

Other features are less easy to see

DAY 4:

The cleaning up continues. Some small pits are clear to see...they are filled with charcoal and contrast well with the natural soils. Other features are less easy to spot, so we keep cleaning and trying to identify different soil colours that might show where the archaeological features are.


DAY 5:

The sunny conditions have dried out the soil, and the low, bright autumn light makes it very difficult to see colour differences, and to take photographs, so we have to create our own shade.... Never satisfied, we are beginning to wish it would rain a bit, so that we can see the soil colours again!

Phil excavates the fill of a charcoal filled pit

Hubert begins to plan the trench

DAY 6:

Today, at the start of the second week, we begin to excavate some of the charcoal filled features, however, the circular pits contained nothing but charcoal. We take soil samples from which we can get carbon dates and identify the charcoal which may be the remains of cooking. We also put in a grid across the site to help us record the locations of everything we find as the dig continues.


DAY 7:

The weather is changing, but the dig progresses.....

Phil discovers what looks like a complete pottery vessel in the pit he is excavating.

Annie investigates a round feature that seems to be lined with stones and filled with charcoal.


DAY 8:

As the adage goes: ‘be careful what you wish for’. The glorious weather has come to an abrupt end, replaced with howling gales and driving rain! But the show goes on...

Phil continues to excavate around the collared urn in preparation of lifting it in one piece.

Despite the weather, morale is high, and work continues. Some of the features that do not contain burials are also turning out to be very interesting. Annie’s Pit contained a piece of quartz crystal and another quartz fragment formed by making a tool from the crystal. There were also a few fragments of pottery, but not a whole pot.

DAY 9:

Although the winds continue, today remains dry and we can make good progress.

When we lift out the urn, a second complete pot is revealed.

This is a beautifully decorated ‘pygmy cup’ or ‘incense cup’ or ‘accessory vessel’. As you can tell from the variety of names for these pots, nobody is quite sure what they were for!

Duncan continues digging out a large pit that was sealed with a stoney fill. At the very bottom are what appear to be two carefully placed small planks of charred wood, although there are no signs that there was ever a fire in the pit. Perhaps the wood is the remains of a ritual food offering, of which everything else has long since decomposed.

Annie’s Pit turned out to be much larger than it originally appeared. It’s beginning to look as if the pits were originally dug, then carefully filled in different stages. Archaeologists refer to these as ‘structured deposits’.

Tony investigates another interesting pit and immediately finds the top of a clay pot. Because the pot is very fragile, and is fitted very tightly into its pit, we decide to lift the whole pit, and all its contents as a solid lump, so it can be carefully excavated indoors.

DAY 10:

Another day of challenging working conditions. Despite the wind and rain we manage to lift ‘Tony’s Pit’ in one piece! Already we can see the top of a large pot and a flint tool inside it. Phil continues to excavate his cremation pit. Beneath the cremated bones are what appear to be more fragments of pottery and scorched earth. These may be the remains of a ritual carried out before the cremation was placed in the pit.

Meanwhile Hubert begins to investigate another mysterious feature. At least with the horrible weather, it is becoming easier to see the differences in soil colour we rely on to identify the shapes of pits in the ground.

But by mid afternoon everyone is cold, wet and fed up, so we pack up and go home.

DAY 11:

We continue to investigate the eastern part of the excavation area. Although we were hoping to find evidence of a small circular feature, possibly the remains of a secondary burial mound, we have not been able to find any evidence for one.

Most of the features we have investigated in this part of the dig seem to be of natural origin... either geological features or the result of animal burrows.

DAY 12:

While cleaning up to check for any more archaeology, Phil discovers a small patch of stones and charcoal.

As he continues to investigate it, it becomes clear that there is yet another cremation pit.

Although this cremation pit has been damaged by ploughing, half of a pygmy cup has survived.

DAY 13:

A horrible day of blustery wind and drizzle. By lunchtime the site and the diggers are all completely sodden, so we pack up and retreat off the hill.

Phil draws and makes notes on the last cremation pit

Hubert and Tony survey the excavated pits and the edge of the excavated area

DAY 14:

At last the bad weather has ended and we work hard to finish digging, drawing and making notes to answer a few remaining questions.

This ‘Collared Urn’ contained cremated bones

One of the pygmy cups. Even the base of the pot has been decorated

Another Pygmy cup. This one appears to have contained a red pigment

DAY 15:

The last day of the dig. After tying up a few loose ends and cleaning up for some final photographs of the site, we pack up and leave. The excavation area will be backfilled next week.

So, over the two years of investigation we have excavated the remains of the Bronze Age burial mound suggested by the geophysical survey. In total, we have found five cremation pits and several other features that seem to be associated with burial rites.

We have recovered at least two complete collared urns and three pygmy cups, although ‘Tony’s pit’ will need to be carefully excavated before we know exactly what it contains... at least one more complete pot!

Over the next year we will hopefully find out the age of the burials through Carbon dating, and will undertake analysis of the cremated bones and the pottery to discover as much as possible about the people buried here in the Bronze Age. It will be interesting to compare the pottery we have discovered with pots found on other excavations of nearby burial mounds which are stored at Cardiff and Cardigan museums.

Many thanks to everyone who helped on the excavation, and to Dai, Brenda and John for their hospitality, help and assistance.

On the left are some photographs of the pots we found last year that have already been cleaned and reconstructed.









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