Archaeology of the Bay Gateway – Jeremy Bradley

We were pleased to welcome Jeremy Bradley as our speaker. He was involved in the archaeological excavations immediately prior to the construction of the Heysham link road formally known as the Bay Gateway. He introduced his subject by describing the landscape and how it developed over millennia. It is a glacial landscape dominated by drumlins which seem to have been a focus for human activity.The archaeologists excavated a number of these sites and almost always found evidence of human use. This landscape seems to have been a favoured place bounded by the Bowland hills and latterly by the Lancaster canal. It is perched at the bottom of a drumlin and by a palaeochannel [ a disused watercourse} close to the River Lune. This location was ideal for migrating animals which could be hunted. They found a flattened area of reddish sand which yielded charcoal which was carbon dated to the mid to late Mesolithic.19 tons of material was taken from this site which produced 1500 flints. There appeared to be 3 distinct scatters of flints. The archaeologists believe that this area was a Mesolithic camp which was seasonally exploited.
The flints and chert comprised cores, blades and flakes and some of which were complete parts of spears. Some were probably used for butchery and animal processing and there were also barbs for fishing. The speaker added that sea level between 4,000 and 3000 B.C. was approximately 20 metres lower than today. Where did the flint come from? Chert could come from the Yorkshire Dales easily accessed via the Lune valley and also from glacial till. Amongst the flint assemblage was greyflint ; the nearest source of greyflint was in Yorkshire. The Mesolithic population also picked up flints from the beach which originated in submarine outcrops.
In the Early Neolithic travellers returned to the same place that the Mesolithic population a 1000 years ago or so had frequented.Postholes, pits and firecracked stones and charcoal dating to 3635-3620 B.C. were found. The posthole arrangements were difficult to interpret but possibly related to some insubstantial house or shelter.It would appear that on this site in the middle Neolithic the lifestyle was still at least partially nomadic, exploiting seasonal resources. The firecracked stones and pits have been interpreted in the past as cooking agents i.e. boiling but now the favoured interpretation is that they were used as saunas.
The later Neolithic and Bronze Age were sparsely represented with only a fragment of a collared urn. The iron Age was also less in evidence than the earlier periods though there were slight indications of two roundhouses. No Roman finds were made.
There was no evidence of early mediaeval activity but possible pre-Conquest finds were whetstones dated from the11thc. -12thc. The archaeologists believe that around this time the area was in use as a vill. A lot of grain was found, mainly rye and barley. A partial early millstone associated with a horizontal mill was discovered. ; this type of mill was still in use in Orkney and Shetland until the 19thc. this type of milling engenders a lot of friction which can result in fires and this appears to have happened here because there is evidence of burning .The mill was rebuilt on postpads to reduce the risk of fire.This was dated 1160 to 1260 A.D. A grain drying kiln was discovered from this date .It was probably a thatched structure and these structures were prone to burning down. They also believe that they found a hemp processing site used for flax and linen production.
During the 14thc. there seems to have been a hiatus in activity on this site possibly related to the documented famines of the period and Scottish raids in the area and of course the Black Death.However in the 15thc. there were many signs of activity including a recut channel with a number of garderobe pits. A variety of hearths and fireplaces were found. This appears to have been a high status building evidenced by worked and carved stone.Another possible mill site was also found. An unusual find was part of a copper alloy candlestick ,a prestige item at the time. Pottery of Silverdale ware from the 15thc. 16thc. and remains of 14thc. 15thc. drinking jugs were found in the building.
A second grain drying kiln was excavated with the grains of oats and redwheat There was also a lime kiln of probable 16thc. date. At this time there were also recut field boundaries and it seems cattle, sheep and some pigs were eaten. From the characteristic traces of ploughing it seems oxen were used. What was this site at Howgill Brook in the mediaeval period? Oxford Archaeology North believe it to have been Beaumont Grange, a property of Furness Abbey.

Posted by Jeannette Dobson

Photo from the Archaeology of the Bay Gateway leaflet, available here Bay Gateway link


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