Training Excavation at Kelsborrow Castle 2011
The Habitats and Hillforts project undertook the excavation of three trenches at Kelsborrow Castle hillfort near Willington during late October and November 2011. Thanks are due to the landowner Mr Mike Hardy for all his help and co-operation during the site work and subsequent reinstatement.
The work included the re-excavation of a trench originally opened across the rampart by D Coombs of Manchester University in 1973; this had identified the base of an earthen bank and a line of postholes that were thought to represent a timber box-rampart. Coombs also noted a patch of charcoal on the interior of the rampart and the fills to an external ditch which were described as being rich in organic material.
The 2011 excavation of the 1973 trench (Trench 1) relocated the base of the earthen bank to the hillfort rampart but no trace of the posthole alignment described by Coombs could be detected. Unfortunately, there was no evidence for a buried soil or turf-line beneath the rampart but the bank itself contained charred material which has been sampled for radiocarbon dating. The patch of charcoal described by Coombs on the interior of the rampart was also relocated and this appeared to be sitting within a shallow pit or hollow; perhaps suggestive of a quarry scoop associated with the rampart construction.
Plate 2: Remains of the pale yellow sand of the rampart bank (centre left). Looking northeast.
Beyond the rampart the location of the ditch had been heavily disturbed by a series of three field drains the latest of which contained an iron pipe; this had shown up very clearly on the earlier magnetometer survey conducted in 2010. However, some of the ditch fills had survived this later disturbance and although very little was recovered in terms of artefacts an iron horse shoe was found in the upper fills. The iron horse shoe is not suggestive of a prehistoric date but neither should it necessarily indicate a modern find; iron horse-shoes were being made from as early as the 11th/12th centuries AD and x-raying the object will help us to date it more accurately.
Plate 3: Showing a section through the modern field drains (left) and the iron horse shoe (right).
The lower ditch fills did indeed prove to be rich in organic material with preserved twigs and grass visible; these lower fills have been sampled for three different purposes: plant/insect macro fossils; fossilised pollen and material for radiocarbon dating. The profile of the ditch itself suggested a shallow flat-bottomed feature about 6m wide and 1m deep.
Plates 4: The organic-rich ditch fills in both plan (left) and section (right).
The other two trenches were located on the hillfort interior to
test the results of geophysical surveys undertaken by Chester
University and Archaeophysica in 2010. In both cases the trenches
were located over possible circular anomalies which may have been
the remains of prehistoric hut circles.
Trench 2 proved to be fairly shallow with the sandstone bedrock lying just beneath the ploughsoil at one end of the trench whilst a larger accumulation of subsoil was encountered at the down-slope end. The geophysics had suggested the partial outline of a hut circle about 10m in diameter but no trace of this could be found in the trench. The only archaeological feature recognised was a square rock-cut posthole which was probably on the line of an old field boundary and therefore relatively modern.
Plate 5: Trench 2 (left) with a close-up of the rock-cut posthole (right)
Trench 3 also proved to be fairly shallow with the top of the natural sub-soil lying directly beneath the base of the modern ploughsoil. Initial manual cleaning of the upper surface of the sub-soil led to the finding of a complete Neolithic leaf-shaped flint arrowhead; no other artefacts were recovered from the trench. The natural sub-soil proved to be a thin layer of silt-sand overlying the sandstone bedrock but on investigation it did not appear to be masking any archaeological features cut in to the rock.
Plate 6: Trench 3 under excavation. Looking south-east.
At the northern end of Trench 3 a sub-circular patch of charcoal-rich sand-silt was identified filling a shallow pit that was cut in to the sandy sub-soil and the underlying rock. There was no trace of in situ burning so the pit was not thought to be a hearth. The pit had some similarities to the charcoal-rich pit identified on the interior of the rampart in Trench 1 and these enigmatic features may provide some evidence for contemporary activity associated with the building and use of the hillfort. The pit fill was sampled to recover material suitable for radiocarbon dating.
Plate 7: The shallow pit in Trench 3 during (left) and after (right) excavation
It will now take several months to process the samples taken during the excavation and to extract suitable material for radiocarbon dating purposes. We hope to have further information about the dating programme and environmental analysis by late Spring 2012.
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