2018 has been a busy year for the Historic Environment team. Part of this has been due to the post-excavation work of the We Dig Community. We thought we would celebrate the countdown to Christmas Day by sharing some of the results of the test pitting project in Bainbridge. We discovered over 12,000 finds! For each day of advent we will look at the project and review a selection of these finds.
1. We Dig Community
The We Dig Community project was undertaken by the Young Archaeologists’ Club through collaboration with the Historic Environment team at YDNPA. This was a test pitting project to explore the origins and development of Bainbridge.
2. What is test pitting?
Test pits are 1m² and excavated in 10cm layers called ‘spits’. Test pits act as random ‘windows’ into the past which give you the ability to explore a village through time (compared to opening up trenches). Test pitting is great because everyone can get involved. Test pitting is also relatively low impact. The turf is removed in small squares so that it can be easily replaced once the pit has been excavated. This meant no JCB diggers like you might see on Time Team!
3. Young Archaeologists’ Club
The YAC is the only UK-wide club for young people (up to the age of 17) who are interested in archaeology. The Yorkshire Dales branch was started in 2006 and is based at the Dales Countryside Museum. They meet one Saturday every month and have a very varied programme. This has included being involved in every stage of the We Dig Community project. As a result of the project there were three more members and one new YAC leader. Find out more about the club including how to join here.
The project had so much community involvement. In total over 200 people of all ages carried out almost 300 days of archaeological investigation including excavation, finds washing, sorting and cataloguing. Over 150 children engaged with their local heritage: of course the YACs, but the Young Rangers also attended several days as well as a few local schools (Hawes Primary School and Bainbridge, Askrigg and West Burton Federation of Schools). This involved a chance to have a go at digging and sieving but the Community Heritage Officer also ran sessions in local schools about archaeology – both generally and in their local area.
Bainbridge is situated in Upper Wensleydale where the river Bain joins the river Ure. The river Bain is the shortest river in England. (Bain is the ‘short or helpful one’ in Old Scandinavian). We already knew something about the fascinating history of Bainbridge – principally about the Roman fort. But the findings of the test pitting project emphasised that it has been the centre of trade and movement for centuries. It has been the final destination of material imported from within England as well as mainland Europe – despite its remote location in the centre of the Yorkshire Dales.
Evidence for prehistoric activity can be very elusive. But keen eyed diggers spotted a small number of worked flints, one of which was a broken arrowhead. More specifically, it was an ‘Oblique arrowhead’ which dates to the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age – some 4,300 to 5,000 years ago. (Wow!) This asymmetrical arrowhead would originally have been attached to a wooden shaft, and may have been lost when it was fired during a hunting expedition. Flint is not naturally found in the Yorkshire Dales so it must have been brought in from elsewhere by movement of people or trade.
The Roman presence in Bainbridge is most apparent with the earthworks of the Roman fort. The fort, known as Virosidium, was occupied from the 2nd century until the end of the Roman period. The fort was not explored further as part of this project as it was extensively excavated during the early and mid 20th century. The lack of Roman finds was interesting in the village and suggests that the area now occupied by the settlement was perhaps used as agricultural land in Roman times.
8. Samian Ware
Our earliest pieces of pottery were two sherds of Samian ware dating to the 1st century. All the Samian ware was from South and Central Gaul (an area called Lezoux – in what is now modern day France). This better quality material shows how well connected a seemingly isolated fort was. Unfortunately with such a small assemblage it is not possible to determine what items are arriving as part of a trade network and what items accompanied the movement of people.
Only two sherds of mortaria were found. Mortaria are specialist ceramic vessels for grinding. One sherd was possible Crambeck White ware mortarium that could have been produced from the late 3rd century AD until the end of the Roman period.