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Viewing website implies consent to set cookies on your computer. Full details Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group
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Tim Laurie FSA
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News Archive
Bishops, Castles, and Palaces
In May SWAAG members heard about the recent excavations taking place at Auckland Castle, which was the seat of the rich and powerful Prince Bishops of Durham. The talk was given by John Castling, the Auckland Project’s archaeology curator and a doctoral researcher at Durham University.

Auckland Castle, with its parkland setting, is one of the North East’s most important medieval residential complexes. Historical documents have provided information about its occupants and the functions it served, but excavation has revealed the nature of the buildings, as well as uncovering artefacts from down the centuries. The most recent discovery is that of a magnificent, early fourteenth century, two-storey chapel, built by Bishop Bek. This was on a scale comparable to St. Stephen’s Chapel, in the old Palace of Westminster, and Sainte-Chapelle, in Paris. The chapel was deliberately destroyed at the time of the Commonwealth, in the seventeenth century. There is evidence of burning and the use of gunpowder, as well as systematic dismantling. The ruins of the chapel can be visited until they are covered over again, in July 2022.

J. H.
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News Record: 156     Updated: 28-05-2022 16:59:27

Scots Dyke - A talk and two walks
Following her talk in March, Jane Harrison led two walks to look at sections of the Scots Dyke. The dyke is a linear earthwork which today stretches 14 kilometres, from near Stanwick St. John in the north, to just south of the river Swale in Richmond. Over time the embankment has become lower and wider, and the ditch has filled with debris. In places it has been ploughed out completely. Some better-preserved sections remain in the grounds of St. Nicholas and near Whitefields Farm, where a deliberate gap appears to exist. These were visited on the walks.

The purpose of the dyke is unknown, but it probably served as a boundary, rather than as a defensive barrier. It still forms the eastern boundary of Richmond today. Who built it is conjecture, but the occupants of the oppidum at Stanwick might have had the necessary manpower and resources to complete this huge undertaking. There has only been limited excavation of the earthwork and one dating of the ditch suggests that it might have started to infill during the first century B.C.

J. H.
Below Rimington Avenue Near St. Nicholas Drive
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News Record: 155     Updated: 26-05-2022 14:30:16

Touching the Past
30 March, British Summer Time, a select gathering in a pub in Reeth, sleety snow blowing around the doorway.

We had come together to touch, hear, and think about lithics - worked and used stone objects derived in the main from flint and chert, under the knowledgeable and passionate guidance of Ric Carter, SWAAG trustee and Heather, a fellow SWAAG member. 

Following a description of the characteristics of flint and chert (hard siliceous stones which can be quickly split into conchoidal pieces and shaped to form sharp edges) Ric and Heather passed round some of their collection of scrapers, saws, arrowheads, small sharp barbs, and lumps of partially worked and unworked stone. Mesolithic and Neolithic ancestors used the worked pieces for hunting, butchery, and other tasks, including trepanning. Their tools for doing this were hard stones and antler tips. In the Neolithic flint knapping became specialist work. Despite metal becoming available to produce artefacts, chert and flint continued to be worked. Looking at a barbed flint arrowhead, dated as Bronze Age, we considered the pride and artistic endeavour which would have been part of this activity. We also discovered that flint has a distinctive smell when split, that Mesolithic artefacts have more patina than Neolithic ones, and that the term “weapons grade chert” was coined by Tim Laurie.

Chert is found locally near Reeth whereas flint is often found at distance from the place of its geological formation. These hard stones were highly valued, and nodules would be worked (knapped) till they were too small for it to be possible to continue doing so. In some cases, the core of a stone could be “rejuvenated” by reshaping to make the last of it more workable.

We were reminded by Les Knight that finds of worked and unworked flint, in areas where flint is not part of the local geology, may not necessarily be because of importation by humans. Glaciation is likely to account for nodules of flint found in boulder clay in areas remote from the place in which they were formed, thus spreading the availability of a good material for tool and weapon making. Les also showed us a piece of worked stone (possibly volcanic) from the Lake District.

But the best was saved for last! We all handled a crude chopping flint, comfortable to hold, which Ric and his Dad found (some time ago) down south in their garden. Having sought expert opinion on the age of this find they were informed that it was 300,000 years old! So, what is in your garden?

S. I.
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News Record: 154     Updated: 14-04-2022 09:14:10

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