Day 16 – ‘Tis Over

For fifteen days we’ve scraped the side of the fell with little trowels and taken it in little buckets to the spoil heap (which actually included the trowels as the find of the day was a trowel recovered from the spoil heap). We’ve shifted flags and cobbled floors and piled them to the side a few at a time. How can it be that we have such a massive heap of soil and stones to put back today.

Yesterday, David, who gets stones by the lorryload, estimated twenty tons in the soil heap and a trifling twelve to fifteen tons in the stone heap. He didn’t see the turf heaps behind the tent – about two hundred tons is my estimate. I didn’t sleep well last night worrying about getting it all shifted. I shall sleep well tonight. In fact I am barely awake as I write.

What a team! What an effort! What a magnificent job has been done. A sheep with poor eyesight looking the other way would hardly notice the disturbance to its heaf.

First everyone sprinkled shiny two pence pieces across all the areas that will not be disturbed next season, which will provide a physical record and date of our work for any one wanting to ever revisit the site.


Stephe disperses the coins overlooked by a wayward viking

Then came the matting to show where we’d been. Then the cobbles came back in bucketful after bucketful to fill the deepest places in the trench. Barrow loads and barrow loads of soil followed to even off before returfing. (Interesting to note that there was no apparent willingness to replace areas previously covered with common rush with appropriate ground cover – each area got just what came out of the barrow!)

It was astounding just how hard the pensioners worked to show Corey, our representative from the early years, that they weren’t slacking as he was shovelling hard enough for two. I did manage to wrestle the barrow from Bob to help him with the trips up to the highest points near the top wall. I got the impression that he really was disappointed that I wasn’t letting him work until he dropped.


The team working to reduce, what was once a sizeable mound

I elected to move all the gear that wasn’t being used down to the 4×4. Going with gravity with the loads and coming back empty was just the opposite of the barrowmen. Finally the group photo starring Mervyn with his horned helmet complete with safety cover to the points made with work gloves which did make him less bullish and more of a reindeer – still scandanavian of course.


The team photo standing on the backfilled site


The backfilled site – you would hardly know we have been there!

I walked the track one last time with my wheelbarrow collecting up the timeline which will go to dry out in the garage until next year. Once back at the Parish Room there was a big clear up and sort out with OAN and DVLHG stuff going its separate ways.

Last of all to the Newfield for a celebratory drink and chips.



Recovering in the Newfield Inn after a backbreaking day – A very well deserved pint

Well done everybody for your efforts this year. Archaeologists and volunteers have worked hard and had fun and we can do it all again next year.

Until June 2018…



Day 15 – The last digging day

This was the penultimate day (but the last day to dig (tomorrow is for backfilling)). The forecasted rain failed to materialise. Generally we have been rather lucky with the weather this year, apart from the tornado a couple of days ago:


Duddon Valley’s own little tornado!!

Everyone set to work with great gusto. At one stage all that could be heard was the scraping of trowels against cobbles. Buckets and buckets of soil and stone were quickly added in chain gang style, to the existing mounds.

Lesley, working on a corner of the southern wall, discovered a cobbled floor which appeared to go under the inner wall. This area will be returned to next year as it seems to be a reflection of the earliest construction of the longhouse and will require more detailed study.

We were joined later by Jamie Lund and his delightful daughter Madi. Between them they cleaned the right-hand upper section before moving to the northern wall. There Jamie displayed his strength by moving one huge boulder out of the trench.


Jamie Lund in the ultimate digging fashion

More charcoal deposits were found. In the lower section, adjacent to the crosswall.

A hive of activity revealed not one, but two hearths, virtually side by side. In the same location, and amid the lowest layer of cobbles, a nail was found. Today saw a constant steam of visitors, including twelve Duke of Edinburgh Award students from Merseyside, with their two leaders.


The enthusiastic hearth diggers


Next time you will have to remember to tick the ‘No Photographs by Jamie’ box

The final drone photos were taken:


One of the aerial images from the drone showing the site in its final form before we backfill tomorrow

By mid-afternoon, the decision was taken that very little more could be achieved this season and as much kit as possible was taken back down to the truck. Jeremy was having one last look, when lo he identified yet another hearth just two metres west of the others, bringing the total to four! To confirm his suspicion, more trowelling was required but all the trowels had been packed in the truck. Fortunately Debbie still had her own with her and she vigorously cleared the section, taking soil samples along the way, to reveal a distinct change of colour among the hearth stones. Another highly successful and enjoyable day.

relaxing afgter a hard day's digging

Lesley relaxes after a hard day digging in her corner



Day 14 – Almost there!


Oh what a misty morning..!!  Heavy rain overnight had cleared by the time that we arrived on site. There was just an ephemeral sight of the valley shrouded in mist. Perhaps not the hottest of days, but not raining and ok to work, and yet this was despite the weather forecasters who had been telling us that we were going to be deluged with rain; its nice when you are genuinely pleased that they got it wrong.



Digging in amongst the mist

I must apologise, that my blog reporting of ‘natural’ on Wednesday also turned out to be wrong, or more euphomistically was a load of old cobblers – as there was yet another layer of cobbles underneath the ‘natural surface’. Again its sometimes nice  to get it wrong. Another floor means more time depth and increases the likelyhood that we have some really old buildings this time – The C14 dates will tell.


Len’s orange hole ( filled with lots of irony said Jeremy or did I mishear him and he said ironey ??)


A general view of the site looking very different from how it did two weeks ago

We had two visitors – a father from Suffolk and his son from Eglwynseg  (Pembrokeshire, in my native Wales ).


Day 13 – Yet another floor !!

Today was much cooler than in the recent past though happily the rain stayed away. Because of the low cloud the tops of the surrounding peaks were in mist on our arrival and there was dew in the grass area adjacent to the dig site. Most of us wore either fleeces or anoraks for part of the day – mainly for a couple of hours either side of lunchtime when the low cloud was dispersed by a cool north westerly breeze.  Perhaps not the most romantic of weathers, but great for digging.

There was a full compliment of volunteers on site, and as well as Pete and Jeremy we were also graced by the favours of Debbie Lewis, from OA North, who will be taking over from Pete tomorrow, who is leaving to go on leave, and  Debbie is here today to aid the transition.


Astrid and the team keep on going down


Debbie digs her own little trench; is she not allowed to play with the big boys and girls?

main task of the day was the clearance of the central area of the longhouse with the removal of heavy stones on the surface and of the cobble flooring thereunder. This in due course revealed a third new layer of cobbles when the surface was trowelled – bringing us down to the “third generation” of cobbles found so far. Once again samples of charcoal were uncovered and sampled together with a considerable quantity of soil taken in 2 large plastic buckets and 2 heavy duty polythene sacks. The sole other find of the day was an old nail (found by Sally Varian) who discovered it in her trench area at the bottom (north facing) end of the dig site.



Finding the elusive third floor

There were two visitors to the site who were on holiday from Colchester. They were both interested in the history of the valley and had read up about it beforehand. They had already visited the Duddon Furnace and the site of the former Ulpha bobbin mill. They were delighted to learn from local notices that an archaeological dig happened to be taking place here by chance during their holiday. Therefore they took the opportunity to visit and have the longouse site explained to them. After their visit they chose to include in their walk an inspection of Tongue House A – the site of last year’s excavation.



Greenfield College, Huddersfield Students

Two days ago we were visited by Richard and Geraldine who brought their A level students with them to help on the dig.  The students were asked to comment about their experiences on the dig,  which was their first introduction to the world of archaeology and these are presented below:

“The dig was not only a precious and invaluable insight into the mechanisms of the practice that is archaeology, but a wonderfully hands on experience within the field of history.   Knowledge that would otherwise be learnt in a textbook was thrillingly physical and real” – Sarah Ingham

“I think the dig was a great experience and would love to participate again. It allowed me to develop a greater knowledge into archaeology as well as to be more perceptive about the findings as little things matter in archaeology and wider life.” Jordan Roach

“This dig was a fantastic experience with breathtaking surroundings and lovely people. I am thrilled to have been a part of it.” Emma Hynes

“The environment of the archaeological dig was very welcoming and friendly. It was a very positive experience going down for a day and seeing if I could dig up any hidden treasure. Even though on the day we didn’t find anything,  it was still fun and gave me an excuse to dig a big hole without getting weird looks, which is what we all want really.” Robyn Cartwright

“Thank you for offering this PaWS project this year- this was really exciting for me since this was my first ever archaeological dig and I really hope I can visit another site soon! I also thought that the archaeologists there were really skillful and friendly and worked really well together, which makes them a perfect team who were really passionate about Vikings”.  Elanor Straw

“It was truly a wonderful experience to take part in the dig. The archaeologists were all very friendly, accommodating and helpful. I really enjoyed taking part and it was wondrous just being on a site that people years ago had lived on.” – Ayesha Irfaan



Day 12 – Natural at last, the end is in sight

Day 12 presented us with an overcast, damp, humid on arrival, which should have been a breath of fresh air after the previous heat wave but later in morning and rest of day, the weather reverted to hot and sweltering.  Today we had three ‘virgins’ to this year’s Dig  –  Jackie, Len and Allan.

We had the find of another horseshoe (3rd), which was metal detectored by John in ground alongside the spoil heap. All we need is another and we’ll have enough to shod a pony..!!

We removed the cobbled floor from longhouse interior and cleaned down to what appears to be a ‘natural’ layer ( orangey/brown clay)



What a load of (de) cobblers..!!’ The cobbles are finally removed



The team photo for Day 12





Day 11 – True Communal Digging

Once again the day had dawned blue sky, bright sun and very little breeze – even when we rose up out of the valley to the Longhouse Close dig site. This was another genuine summer’s day. A day for sun-block and not for waterproofs.

Our volunteer group was made up of 3 members of the DVLHG together with Lesley our southern England (she lives south of Watford Gap) representative and stalwart from last year. Additionally and as a first for this year we were joined by 2 teaching staff from Greenfield College Huddersfield – Richard & Geraldine and 8 of their students. Greenfield College is what we used to call a Sixth Form College (maybe it still is called that?) and all the students are in the first year of their A-levels course – meaning the summer term with no national exams. Although Geraldine had taught archaeology to A-level standard for 15 years we learnt that it is no longer available as an A-level subject option following the cutbacks in the education budget. So she has now reverted to being a history teacher. She was really pleased to have this opportunity to be part of an actual archaeological dig herself (first time in over 5 years) and to give the opportunity to her history students to have their first taster of this discipline.


The A Level Students discover the sharp end of Archaeology

On the walk up the hill from the United Utilities gate to the point where we crossed from the road to the dig site we ( the two teachers and myself) were soon overtaken by the 8 students which helped to highlight the differing fitness levels of teenagers when compared to their elders who have now very definitely shrugged off the last vestigies of youth.

Peter and Jeremy – the professional archaeologists – gave us all a full explanation of the site. They also presented the various finds made on this year’s site including horseshoe fragments and above all the two pieces of pottery – uniquely obvious to the archaeologists (if not so to the less knowledgeable all the rest of us) as Silverdale pottery.

Once again the archaeologists alloted us our different trench areas and trowelling tasks for the day. The soil and stone piles continue to grow as they did last year – though happily the bracken root heap is not as large as it was last year.

lhc 20_6_17 TOPXY

The orthophoto view of the site after Day 10

New friendships were made and old friendships were developed. A certain camaraderie is born when digging in the same trench with a trowel, filling buckets with stone and soil for 3 hours in the morning and a further 2 hours after lunch. Also the professionals were happy. More cobbled flooring and fallen walling had been uncovered – to be debated and interpreted. And happiest of all – even though no finds of significance had been identified – more charcoal had been uncovered. There was a real feeling that this time samples would be available for testing that will enable an accurate dating of the site to be made.


The comradeship of trowelling


Bob gets down and dirty

Today there were 4 visitors to the site. 1 visitor had travelled from Barrow-in-Furness specifically to see the dig, 2 tourists walking in the area had seen the signs locally about the dig and had chosen to include the site in their day’s walking and our final visitor of the day had come specifically to monitor the continued progress of the dig.

Everyone involved had experienced a good day.

Bob Bell

Day 10 – Good weather, Good company, More Pottery and Charcoal!

With a full compliment we arrived on site shortly after 9.30. It was hot, hot, hot in more ways than one. Jeremy quickly allocated tasks which generally involved clearing the lower, eastern end of humic material. John was busy with his metal detector, finding hot spots in a number of places.


Jeremys early morning briefing


Ken gets down to business


Jennifer was concentrating cleaning an area just outside the SE wall when she found a segment of pottery about 8cms by 5cms, which Jeremy immediately identified a a further piece of Silverdale ware. John went to the location of the ‘find’ where he received a strong ping on his detector. There, almost on the surface where Jennifer had been cleaning, was a heavily rusted piece of metal about 10cms by 3cms which looked as though it had a point at one end.  We won’t know what it is until it has been x-rayed but the initial suggestion from the ‘experts’ is that it could be part on another horseshoe.

Spurred on by the finds, our volunteers set to their jobs with renewed vigour despite the heat which called for everyone regularly to take refreshment breaks.


The team worked hard despite the heat

The joyous chatter and laughter from the school parties led by Stephe, admirably assisted by  Debbie, showed just how much the pupils were enjoying the experience.


Part of the schools contingent led by Stephe

The lunch break enabled Peter to fly the drone, taking pictures of the much cleared and cleaned site. Boulder removing then began in earnest with the flagstones at the centre of the lower half being removed to reveal an underlay of cobbled flooring.


Debbie launching the drone


Aerial view of the site – not bad given we are only on Day 10

Charcoal deposits were  found in several areas just outside the walls, as well as under the flagstones. These should help with C14 dating. All looking very promising.


Day 8 – Pottery!!!

How to make Jeremy jump with joy,     –    Just a single piece of his favourite local pottery will do the biz.  More of that later.

It has been very hot and still today. Just occasionally a bit of breeze came by but there was clustering around the bits of shade that the tents made and only the hardiest braved the open fellside. What a contrast to huddling in the tent last weekend when the rain was coming down like stair rods and the first plank bridge was under water. Now there is not even damp beneath the plank.


Digging in beautiful warm conditions

We have been extending the bottom end of the trench to try and pick out the curve on the outer wall. Bob did a valiant shift on the mattock and spade while the wimps amongst were trowelling in the centre as Peter was removing some of the top layer of stones. I’m beginning to think that the mat of roots belonging to the rushes is as pernicious as the bracken rhyzomes and much harder to remove leaving its tendrils across neatly trowelled stones.

happy to trowel

Conscientious digging at the bottom end of the trench


Serious inroads being made to expose the lower wall

I found a couple of interesting smooth flat stones that had a sort of potterish feel about them but they were rejected by Jeremy. Then Kath asked what I thought of something she’d found near the bottom corner. I was convinced and Jeremy was dancing a jig. Not only a pottery fragment, probably the base of a jug, but Silverdaleware to boot. We lost some of the supply of rehydration water to expose its full beauty and I gave Kath a big hug for making our leader so excited.


Kath finds the find – our first piece of pot


The fragment of Silverdale Ware

So they did have pottery in the valley and all we needed to do was to keep on looking. You could see a distinct change in the quality of trowelling right across the site as the race to find the second piece began. Jeremy was not impressed by offers of Arnsideware, Carnforthware and even High Benthamware didn’t convince him.

And we had a special visitor too. Young Isaac came with Adam his dad who has made the brilliant reconstructions of Viking burial artefacts on display at Tullie House

Isaac found an interesting axe shaped stone and that would have been the end of it for most children. Not so for someone with a special dad. When we met them descending on the track, Isaac had his axehead, sharpened and hafted into a split stick tied in with cord made with twisted reeds. All he was missing was an oak tree ready for felling.

the duddon axe

Isaac’s Axe

As we were packing up, the cows and calves made an appearance so out came the tarpaulin. We hope the flapping green “grass” will repel rather than attract them now we have left the site. It will be interesting to see how many barrowloads of manure need clearing in the morning.



Day 8 – Hearth Gone but Not Forgotten

Today was a glorious day – the Duddon Valley at its best.  The sun shone and with just a few light clouds it was a pleasure to be working at the site.  We dug up more turfs, cleared numerous boulders, trowelled buckets full of soil, hauled up yards of rhizomes and did a bit of surveying.  We (by which I mean Jeremy and Pete) also removed the large stone slabs forming the fire place, one of the highlights of the dig.  All of the above was witnessed by an admiring audience.  It was an Open Day for the project and the result was a steady stream of visitors being guided up to the site where they were thrilled to find Jamie awaiting them to explain what it was we were doing, what had been found so far and why there was no longer a fire place to be seen.

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The now processed orthophoto of the site from two days ago which still shows the (now absent) hearth


Enjoying the combined delights of archaeology and hot weather


No Grimace but a genuine smile and appreciation of the charms of the Duddon longhouse

So what has been found so far?  Well, according to Jeremy, the removal of the fire place and of some walling and the exposure of the flags and cobbles suggests that there may have been an earlier structure or an earlier phase of the structure uncovered in the first half of this week.  Sadly, the only find today was one of Jamie’s 6” nails which had gone missing!


The find of the day – A 6″ nail

Gill Hey (CEO Oxford Archaeology) visited and got down and dirty, her first time since she supervised the excavation of the Burnt Mound at Sizergh Castle and enjoyed it enormously.



Gill Digging once again


Even Jamie was seen digging!


Todays team after a long and productive day

Day 7 – Schools out for Summer

It’s me again. We planned for everything we could think of and had a Day Leader to sort out any problems that came up. We didn’t plan for what would happen if the Day Leader fell by the wayside. Poor old Sue, overwhelmed by the grandeur and responsibility of her first time in charge, was taken ill. Pete and Barbara took her down and looked after her until she was fit to drive home. And, do you know what? We managed without a leader. (That is not to undermine Jeremy’s skills but he was busy keeping his distance from the children).


Happy faces on site despite the drizzle

I had two schools today. Debbie was in charge of the diggers in the rotation. There was plenty of planning and sketching done. For my walk round the site, there was so much more to point out now we have had a week of revealing the secrets of the stones. The first group had a good morning. The second group caught the drizzle but didn’t do much in the way of complaining.

A sheepfold full of picnicers

A sheepfold full of picnicing children

I was only able to get a glimpse of what was going on in the trench as I made my six rotations. More cobbled flooring has been revealed. The trench has been extended at the bottom into the area where the outer wall seems to have disappeared. John was given the task of deturfing it with a mattock. I didn’t notice Pete pushing in for another session with the rush roots today. Some of the inner wall stones have been removed with much effort as we are looking to see if the cobbles and flags extend right across the building.


Pete gets his drone out


The aerial view after Day 7

It’s Open Day tomorrow, with presentation and tours up to the site at 10:00, 11:00. 13:00 and 14:00.

Do come along. The photos don’t do the site justice