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Brownslade Barrow, Pembrokeshire Dig Diary 2006    

Brownslade Barrow

Brownslade Barrow is located on the Castlemartin Ministry of Defence Training Estate in southwest Pembrokeshire. It is a burial mound thought to date to the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age. However, antiquarian investigation during the late 19th century identified a central burial that has been subsequently suggested to date to the Romano-British period. Further burials have been identified in and around the barrow and some of these appear to be in stone-lined cists. These suggested that the barrow mound had become a focus for an early medieval, Christian cemetery.

The area around the barrow has been severely disturbed by badger activity and a number of human bones have been brought to the surface. A total of 104 bone fragments representing at least six individuals have so far been examined. Three radiocarbon dates obtained for this bone material indicates a date range of between AD 450 and AD 960.

It is clear that the site faces a significant threat from this ongoing badger activity. A decision has now been taken by Defence Estates, in consultation with the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Archaeologist, Dyfed Archaeological Trust and Cadw, to relocate the badger sett, erect badger-proof fencing around the undisturbed areas and to undertake the full excavation of those areas that have been most severely affected.

The excavation will take place during August 2006 and will be funded by the Ministry of Defence. It will be led by archaeologists from Dyfed Archaeological Trust with the support of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and students from the University of Cardiff.

 

Checking the site for unexploded ordnance
Checking the site for unexploded ordnance

Sergeant Tom Cairns with a smoke mortar detected by the bomb disposal team
Sergeant Tom Cairns with a smoke mortar detected by the bomb disposal team

 

Day 1 – Monday July 31

Before the start of the excavation a new sett was created for the badgers and the long process of encouraging them to move into their new home was completed.

The first day of the dig was spent laying out the trench and beginning to clear the vegetation while dodging showers. The trench measures 30m by 20m and covers most of the area of the badger set including the badger entrances associated with human bones. Before we could begin digging, the bomb disposal team had to check the area for unexploded bombs!


 

A view of the trial areas being excavated from the top of the barrow
A view of the trial areas being excavated from the top of the barrow

The stone wall in the eastern area of the trench being cleaned by Jessica
The stone wall in the eastern area of the trench being cleaned by Jessica

The human skull that has been dislodged from the skeleton by badger activity
The human skull that has been dislodged from the skeleton by badger activity

 

Day 2 – Tuesday August 1

We decided to begin by opening a series of 2m-wide trial areas to test the character of the stratigraphy and the extent of the badger disturbance. In the eastern edge of the trench a north-south stone wall was uncovered and in the north central area of the trench the first human skeletal remains were identified – a skull and several long bones that had been disturbed by the badger activity.

 

A partial skeleton exposed in one of the trial areas. The lower limbs have been removed by the badgers.
A partial skeleton exposed in one of the trial areas. The lower limbs have been removed by the badgers.

Gwilym Bere cleaning the top of the small stone-lined cist.
Gwilym Bere cleaning the top of the small stone-lined cist.

The section of one of the trial trenches showing the large chambers created by the badgers.
The section of one of the trial trenches showing the large chambers created by the badgers.

 

Day 3 – Wednesday August 2

Further human graves were identified including a small stone cist. However, they appear to have been very badly damaged by the badgers. One of the trial trenches clearly shows the network of tunnels and chambers created by the badgers and the associated tumble of archaeological features and stone walls.


Simon carefully watching the machine at work
Simon carefully watching the machine at work

Jessica and Rachael recording one of the trial trench sections
Jessica and Rachael recording one of the trial trench sections

Some of the staff taking a well-earned tea break.
Some of the staff taking a well-earned tea break.

 

Day 4 – Thursday August 3

We have now started to remove the upper levels of topsoil and badger disturbance using a machine in order to exposed the remains of the underlying graves.

 

The Site Director Pete Crane pointing out two stone cist graves cutting the sandy soil in the southwest area of the site.
The Site Director Pete Crane pointing out two stone cist graves cutting the sandy soil in the southwest area of the site.

Day 5 – Friday August 4th

Following a second day of machining, further cist graces have been exposed.

 

Tim Corner planning the well-built wall close to the eastern edge of the excavation. We are not yet sure how this wall relates to the cemetery. It may be enclosing the graves or it may be a later field boundary.
Tim Corner planning the well-built wall close to the eastern edge of the excavation. We are not yet sure how this wall relates to the cemetery. It may be enclosing the graves or it may be a later field boundary.

Cleaning-up after the machining.
Cleaning-up after the machining.

Day 6 – Monday August 7th

 

 

 

Bilingual notice warning the badgers to keep away until after the excavation has finished.
Bilingual notice warning the badgers to keep away until after the excavation has finished.

A general view of the excavation showing the six excavated areas and ‘control’ baulks left after the machining.
A general view of the excavation showing the six excavated areas and ‘control’ baulks left after the machining. These baulks will eventually be removed after the sections have been drawn.

Day 7 – Tuesday August 8th

 

 

 

Pete Crane showing Neil Ludlow (former Project Manager with Cambria Archaeology) around the excavation.
Pete Crane showing Neil Ludlow (former Project Manager with Dyfed Archaeological Trust) around the excavation.

Jessica exposing the remains of a badger-disturbed skeleton.
Jessica exposing the remains of a badger-disturbed skeleton. There are early indications that this might be a late burial because it cuts through a layer of sand containing a large sherd of 12th century pottery.

Day 8 – Wednesday August 9th

 

 

 

A general view of the southeast corner of the excavation. The badger tunnels and chambers have made some areas of the excavation look like a ‘Swiss-cheese’.
A general view of the southeast corner of the excavation. The badger tunnels and chambers have made some areas of the excavation look like a ‘Swiss-cheese’.

Polly Groom (the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Archaeologist) excavating a cist burial in the central area of the site.
Polly Groom (the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Archaeologist) excavating a cist burial in the central area of the site.

One of the better-preserved skeletons in the southeast corner area of the site.
One of the better-preserved skeletons in the southeast corner area of the site. However, even in this less-disturbed area, a badger tunnel has removed the head of the burial.

 

Day 9 – Thursday August 10th

 

 

Another severely badger disturbed burial, this time in area 9.
Another severely badger disturbed burial, this time in area 9. This burial seems to have been displaced from its cist - this may have been the result of badger activity or could have taken place earlier.

Informal discussion about the site between diggers is very important to an understanding of what is happening.
Informal discussion about the site between diggers is very important to an understanding of what is happening.

Sometimes it can bring startling insights.
Sometimes it can bring startling insights.

 

Day 10 – Friday August 11th

 

 

 

One of the skeletons being carefully lifted.
One of the skeletons being carefully lifted. After the burials have been recorded and photographed, the bones are removed and stored ready for scientific analysis and dating. Eventually they will be re-buried.

Area 9 under excavation.
Area 9 under excavation.

Anyone bring buckets and spades? Area 5 is like the biggest sand-pit in the world... (though it does contain two well-made stone cists).
Anyone bring buckets and spades? Area 5 is like the biggest sand-pit in the world... (though it does contain two well-made stone cists).

 

Day 12 – Monday August 14th

 

 

 

Louise Coleman excavating a skull that had fallen into one of the badger chambers.
Louise Coleman excavating a skull that had fallen into one of the badger chambers.

Work in the afternoon was suspended following the discovery of an unexploded practice shell from a tank in one of the baulks between Areas 7 and 10! The army were called in to make the site safe before the dig could resume.
Work in the afternoon was suspended following the discovery of an unexploded practice shell from a tank in one of the baulks between Areas 7 and 10! The army were called in to make the site safe before the dig could resume.

Local military historian George Gear and Sergeant Tom Cairns following the removal of the tank shell.
Local military historian George Gear and Sergeant Tom Cairns following the removal of the tank shell.

 

Day 13 – Tuesday August 15th

 

 

 

The excavation received a number of important visitors during the morning
The excavation received a number of important visitors during the morning including Kate Roberts (Inspector of Monuments from Cadw), Geoff Wainwright (former Chief Archaeologist with English Heritage) together with his wife Judith and Don Benson (former Trust Director of Dyfed Archaeological Trust/Dyfed Archaeological Trust).

Hubert Wilson and Pwyll ap Stiffin surveying in the edges of the excavation.
Hubert Wilson and Pwyll ap Stiffin surveying in the edges of the excavation.

 

Day 14 – Wednesday August 16th


 

 

 

Pwyll beginning to examine an area adjacent to the stone wall in the northeastern edge of the excavation.
Pwyll beginning to examine an area adjacent to the stone wall in the northeastern edge of the excavation. Hopefully we will be able to determine the relationship between this wall and the cemetery. Does the wall enclose the cemetery or is it much later in date?

Day 15 – Thursday August 17th



 

 

 

Work has begun on excavating the stone lined cists in the western part of the site. There now seem to be two distinct groups of burials; one in the western area of the excavation and one in the northeastern area of the excavation.
Work has begun on excavating the stone lined cists in the western part of the site. There now seem to be two distinct groups of burials; one in the western area of the excavation and one in the northeastern area of the excavation.

Day 16 – Friday August 18th



 

 

 

Work has begun on creating a badger-proof fence around the surviving barrow and the remains of the cemetery in case the badgers decide to return sometime in the future.
Work has begun on creating a badger-proof fence around the surviving barrow and the remains of the cemetery in case the badgers decide to return sometime in the future.

Recording the stone cists forming part of the western group of burials. The barrow can be seen in the top left of the photograph.
Recording the stone cists forming part of the western group of burials. The barrow can be seen in the top left of the photograph.

Day 17 – Monday August 21st



 

 

 

The relationship between the stone wall and at least some of the graves belonging to the northeastern group is now clear. As can be seen in this photograph one of the burials is overlain by the stone wall.
The relationship between the stone wall and at least some of the graves belonging to the northeastern group is now clear. As can be seen in this photograph one of the burials is overlain by the stone wall.

The excavation of the northeastern group of burials is now nearing completion.
The excavation of the northeastern group of burials is now nearing completion.

Day 18 – Tuesday August 22nd

 


 

 

 

A very well-preserved cist burial in the western area of the site.
A very well-preserved cist burial in the western area of the site. All the graves were cut into the top of the sand layer. The remains of approximately 30 skeletons have now been recorded and excavated. The majority have been damaged in one way or another by the badger activity. This skeleton is one of the few that has survived relatively intact. All the skeletal remains will now be studied at the University of Lampeter to examine the age and sex structure of the population and investigate any evidence for diet or disease. The intention will then be to re-inter the remains.

Some additional machining was undertaken to remove an area of the sand layer in the southern part of the site outside the area of the cemetery. The objective was to expose any underlying buried soil that might have formed before the sand layer had developed.
Some additional machining was undertaken to remove an area of the sand layer in the southern part of the site outside the area of the cemetery. The objective was to expose any underlying buried soil that might have formed before the sand layer had developed.

 

Day 19 - Wednesday August 23rd

 

 


 

 

 

The additional machining has proved to be very successful.
The additional machining has proved to be very successful. Not only has a buried soil been exposed but there is clear evidence that it has been cultivated in the past with evidence criss-crossing cultivation marks created by a plough or ard.

In addition to the plough marks, a number of other features were recorded cutting into the buried soil and the underlying silty clay (loess) soil.
In addition to the plough marks, a number of other features were recorded cutting into the buried soil and the underlying silty clay (loess) soil. These included two narrow linear gullies and two small post-holes. Unfortunately they did not contain any artefacts and so we will have to rely on radiocarbon dating to date this early phase of activity. However, it seems likely that this may be a prehistoric horizon, possibly even contemporary with the nearby round barrow.

Meanwhile the badger-proof fencing is nearing completion.
Meanwhile the badger-proof fencing is nearing completion.

Day 20 - Thursday August 24th

 

 


 

 

 

One of the final tasks has been to take a series of soil samples from the exposed sections in different areas of the site.
One of the final tasks has been to take a series of soil samples from the exposed sections in different areas of the site. We hope to examine the evidence for environmental change through time by identifying micro-fauna (such as land snails) and micro flora (such as pollen). In this photograph, Gwilym Hughes (the Director of Dyfed Archaeological Trust) is shown taking micromorphology samples from the top of the buried soil. We hope to examine the soil structure under a microscope in order to recover evidence for cultivation and other soil processes.

The end of dig celebration. Colonel Rogers (the Camp Commandant) hands around a celebratory drink to toast the completion of a very successful excavation.
The end of dig celebration. Colonel Rogers (the Camp Commandant) hands around a celebratory drink to toast the completion of a very successful excavation. The long process of examining the soil samples, skeletal remains, records and artefacts will now begin.

A group photograph of all the diggers. A big thank you to all those who took part in the excavation or supported it in one way or another. We hope to provide a web update on progress with the post excavation work in the near future.
A group photograph of all the diggers. A big thank you to all those who took part in the excavation or supported it in one way or another. We hope to provide a web update on progress with the post excavation work in the near future.

 

Day 21 - Friday August 25th

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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