What happened as the lakes made their slow retreat

A MAJOR project is to track back over the last 10,000 years of change in a slice of the Northumbrian landscape.

A MAJOR project is to track back over the last 10,000 years of change in a slice of the Northumbrian landscape.

Archaeologists will lead a community programme which will explore the natural and human-use history of a 2km sq wetland site at Hoppen Hall farm, near Lucker.

After the last Ice Age, the area was a series of inland lakes and islets, which attracted Stone Age hunters.

Although lakes were still recorded on 18th Century maps, they have silted up and the main landscape feature today is Newham peat bog.

The venture will be run by the Bamburgh Research Project, a not-for-profit archaeological research team.

They have been investigating Bamburgh Castle and its landscape since 1996.

The new undertaking, called the Bradford Kaims Wetland Heritage Research Project, has been given £35,300 by the Heritage Lottery Fund and £13,250 by English Heritage.

This will fund the community archaeology activities at the ancient wetland site, which lies between the settlement of Lucker and Hoppen Hall Farm, operated by farmer James Brown and where the landowner is the Duke of Northumberland.

The plan is to select the most promising location for a summer dig at the site, which is in the hinterland of Bamburgh Castle.

The kaims are glacial ridges of high ground, among which the lakes formed and drained into Budle Bay.

The project has taken the first peat core samples, from which trapped pollen will provide answers to what trees and plants grew on the land over thousands of years.

“We want to reconstruct what the environment looked like and when the lakes stopped being open water,” says project director Graeme Young.

“We know that we have a complex landscape here that has varied so much over the last 10,000 years, during a time when humans reoccupied Northumberland following the retreat of the ice sheets.

“The peat and lake sediment will paint a vivid picture of a changing environment and we hope to map human settlement from the distant past to the present day.”

Evidence suggests that there was prehistoric and medieval settlement.

A trial dig has unearthed a stone hearth which has been dated to 4,000 to 4,500 years ago in the Middle Stone Age, and which would have been located on the shore of one of the lakes.

“It is a time when farming is just starting to appear but we know very little about this period, especially in the North,” says Graeme.

The flat stone slabs of the hearth and its surrounds show evidence of fire waste and burning.

Graeme says: “This would have been a good hunting ground, with fish, wildfowl and animals coming to the lakes to drink.

“People may have been smoking what they had caught to preserve the food.”

Volunteers and schools will be working with the archaeologists to locate and excavate sites and learn the skills to put their experiences online.

Lectures and seminars are planned in the local community to share the research more widely.

The results will be made available to local schools as a teaching aid and activities will include field walking, test-pitting, area excavation, video production, surveying, geophysics, and environmental sampling of peat cores.

“All of these activities will be used to build a picture of the changing landscape since the last Ice Age during which time the low-lying ground developed from open water lakes, through phases of peat formation to the farmland we can see today,” says Graeme.

“This should help paint a picture of a complex water system that drained into Budle Bay.”

Gerard Twomey, Bamburgh Research Project co-director with Graeme, will be liaising with schools and volunteers to produce short films that will detail the progress of the project.

Gerard says: “We’ve been working closely with a number of schools in the region but we are hoping this project will provide an opportunity for more to get involved and use the resources provided by the project to develop a greater understanding of the range of heritage in the area.”

Ivor Crowther, head of Heritage Lottery Fund in the North East said: “We are always looking to support innovative projects such as this, which offer real potential and make a difference to local people.

“This scheme will help local communities get directly involved with important archaeological research, learning about this fascinating part of our heritage along the way. We are looking forward to seeing the results.”

The wetland dig will be run in conjunction with the annual Bamburgh Castle excavation.

Volunteer days will be held on Wednesday and next Saturday. Contact graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk.


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