Barrowed Time

DigVentures investigates Bronze Age life in North West England, including two very rare treasures and a burial mound full of urns.

211.5% Funded
£15,865.00 Pledged
£7,500 Goal

UPDATE: Two ‘jaw dropping’ Bronze Age hoards have been discovered in Lancashire, and DigVentures wants YOU to help investigate them.

Until now, historians have had very little evidence about the people who lived in North West England during the Bronze Age. But chance discoveries by amateur metal detectorists are about to change all that.

The most recent discovery is the Lancaster Hoard, which experts are calling the most spectacular of its kind ever discovered in North West England. It contains spearheads, axes, bracelets, arm rings, a chisel, a pair of ornaments and a Bronze Age flower.

The second is the Morecambe Hoard, which also contained a bronze knife and chisel. But there is so much more to these discoveries than the hoards themselves.

In 2016, we crowdfunded an excavation at the site of the Morecambe Hoard. With help from our crowdfunders, and from some of the best Bronze Age experts in the country, we discovered that the hill where it was found was actually a huge Bronze Age burial mound. Together, we made a string of remarkable discoveries, including a rare Early Bronze Age (2200 – 1600 BC) funerary urn, which is now undergoing further research.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: to truly understand its significance, we’re bringing a team back to uncover the rest of it. We’ll also begin investigations at the site of the Lancaster Hoard, and YOU can be part of it!

How the site was discovered

One fine day two detectorists walked up a small hill overlooking Morecambe Bay. They had a hunch that here lay something special, and they were right: just below the surface lay an extraordinary Bronze Age hoard.

They immediately reported the discovery to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, who confirmed that this was no ordinary hill, but an impressive Bronze Age burial mound (or ‘barrow’) – a rare discovery in this region, and one that definitely warranted further investigation.

In 2016, DigVentures’ crowdfunders took up the challenge. With support from some of the UK’s most renowned Bronze Age experts, we began the first full-blown scientific excavation of a barrow in the North West in half a century.

It was  delicate operation, but within two weeks we’d already found striking new evidence about its origins over 4,000 years ago. For a start, it seems that the mound may originally have been bright white and taken the form of a ring-cairn. The artefacts we found showed that mourners also brought large chunks of jet, quartz and rock crystal with them, and even flint from as far away as Scotland.

And then, right on the very top of the hill, we found something extraordinary: a large and beautifully decorated Bronze Age urn that had been buried upside-down, and sealed in place with three large stones.

Thousands of people around the world watched as our experts opened it up in the lab, and found it full to the brim with the remains of a seemingly healthy young adult, who had died, been cremated and carefully placed inside with a single stone tool. This was clearly someone very important.

But this is just the beginning. Where there is one burial, there are often others. With continued and careful analysis, we can find out if this mound was dedicated to a single individual, or whether the urn was surrounded by many more. If that’s the case, we’ll be able to learn huge amounts about who these people were, and even use the latest scientific techniques to find out where they were born and where they grew up.

And then came news of the discovery of the Lancaster Hoard, just a few miles away.

We’re confident that together, this joint venture between DigVentures, Durham University and the Portable Antiquities Scheme, we can gather enough evidence to bring the long overlooked Bronze Age of North West England back to life, and begin to tell a story that spans dozens of generations.

The things we find have the potential to fundamentally change our understanding of the regions ancient history. And this is your chance to be part of it.

See you in September!

The North West has been seen as a Bronze Age blank spot for far too long. We want to set the record straight and show the world that it was actually a rich and important landscape, where people built impressive burial mounds and left remarkable offerings.

Burial mounds (or ‘barrows’) emerged as a feature on the landscape during the Neolithic, and continued to be built throughout the Bronze Age and beyond. Although many have been identified in the hotspots of southern and north east England, few of these early monuments have been reported in the north west.

This has lead many to dismiss the northwest as having been fairly insignificant during the Bronze Age, but was that really true? Have fewer monuments been found up here because there was less going on? Or is it actually because fewer people have gone looking?

The region’s industrial past may be one of the reasons for this, and the fact that the few Bronze Age monuments found so far are slightly more subtle constructions, like ring-cairns and platform-cairns, to those in the rest of the country.

With this information, it suddenly seems that given the right attention there might be a whole landscape of Bronze Age activity waiting to be discovered, just below the surface.

And that’s exactly what we’re beginning to find. The discoveries we’ve made so far, including the original hoard, and the beautiful early Bronze Age urn, are just the tip of the iceberg: there are plenty of reasons to go back and continue the investigation.

As if to prove a point, at the same time as our excavation, detectorists found another Bronze Age hoard nearby. This time, it contained not only weapons, but also jewellery, and perhaps most astonishing of all: a perfectly preserved flower.

There is still so much to understand about this individual mound, let alone the rest of the region. It’s rare to find an undisturbed burial mound, and to be able to examine it using the most up-to-date techniques. With continued and careful analysis we can find out more about its people, their customs and how they related to other Bronze Age communities in the rest of Britain.

Burial mounds were often in use for thousands of years, with people adding to them over time. This is an opportunity to carefully peel back the many layers and apply the latest scientific methods to unfold their story – one that spanned dozens of generations – and to do it in unprecedented detail. In fact, this excavation has the potential to shine a light on the Bronze Age not just in England’s north west, but on Britain’s Bronze Age in general, and even with a worldview across the sea into Ireland.

And that’s why this excavation matters!

In September 2017, we’re planning to carry out two more weeks of excavation. This will give us a huge opportunity to see what else this burial mound can reveal about the people who lived in North West England during the Bronze Age.

PLEASE NOTE: The exact site location is being kept secret to minimize the risk of nighthawking, and to keep the archaeology safe.

If you’re coming to dig with us, we will send you a rendezvous point for your first day (not too far from Lancaster), and from there we will escort you to site.

The dig will take place from:

  • Tuesday 12th – Sunday 17th September
  • Tuesday 19th – Sunday 24th September

Join in and as a crowdfunder, you’ll be right at heart of the action, helping us to:

  • Find out if there are more burials. Where there’s one, there may be more. Was this a burial mound for one person, or many?
  • Figure out how long it took to build. For archaeologists, there’s something much more interesting about barrows than the potential of finding gold. Many stayed in used for thousands of years, with people adding to them over time. Peeling back the many layers could help unfold a story that spans dozens of generations.
  • Do more in-depth analysis in the lab. Close examination of bones and ceramics in the lab can tell us more about where they came from, and the connections that these people may have had with other communities, and even across the Irish Sea

To carry out our excavation, analyse everything we find, and make the results available online, we’re aiming to raise £7,500. That’s what we need in order to:

  • Plan the dig. There are some (fairly complicated) logistics involved!
  • Hire enough archaeologists to make this a public dig that’s fun to join in with. With more than the usual number of archaeologists on site, there’ll be enough expertise to go round and make sure everyone has a truly insightful archaeological experience.
  • Pay for all the ‘aftercare’. Excavation is just the tip of the iceberg… it’s what happens next that is actually the most time-consuming and expensive part of any archaeological research project Once the dig has finished, we need specialists to analyse, conserve and take care of all the artefacts in the lab
  • Pay for all the extra science. As well as specialist analysis, we’ll be using even more advanced techniques, like radiocarbon dating and isotope analysis
  • Make sure that everything you find also exists online. We think all of our data should be free and easy to access
  • Keep you all up to date before, during and after the dig. It doesn’t start and end with excavation. We’ll be publishing videos, live streams, virtual artefacts and blogs so that you can follow the whole process from start to finish

We’re also on a mission to change the way archaeology is done. DigVentures believes that archaeologists can carry out internationally important research while bringing as many people on this journey with us as possible, and making the thrill of discovery available to everyone.

Join the team, and help us do more great research to fill in the Bronze Age blank spot in the north west!

As a crowdfunder, you’ll be right at the very heart of the action, either online, or in the field.

By becoming a Digital Digger, you can support great archaeology from a distance. We’ll send you interactive virtual artefacts to examine, share daily video updates with you, and provide plenty of opportunity to talk directly to our team while we’re digging. You’ll get a behind-the-scenes view of archaeology at its best, and it will feel like you’re right there in the trenches with us!

You can also top up your contribution and get even more awesome rewards, like one of our famous team t-shirts.

Or… you can grab the opportunity to actually get involved! You can dig with us on the excavation, or get hands on in the Finds Lab. Depending on how big an archaeological adventure you want to have, you can come for a day, two days, or a week. However long you choose, we’ll teach you everything you need to know to dig and discover alongside our professional archaeologists.

Every single contribution goes straight to the archaeology – so whether you’re supporting us online, getting dirty in the trenches, or cleaning up in the Finds Lab, you really will be helping to unearth the pieces of Bronze Age puzzle that have been missing for 4,000 years.

How do I confirm my dig days?

We can only bring a limited number of people onto site with us each day. Please email us as soon as you have made your contribution to let us know your preferred days.

Which dig days are still available?

The dig will take place Tuesday 12th-Sunday 24th September, and you can join us for any of those days. There’s just one thing to note: we don’t dig Mondays (because we dig on weekends instead!).

What advice do you have about accommodation?

Our pop-up HQ and daily rendezvous point will be in the city of Lancaster, where are plenty of accommodation options. However, you should make sure to find somewhere to stay as soon as possible. Although this dig will be at the end of the tourist season, it will still be pretty busy.

Visit Lancashire is a good place to start your search, but rooms on airbnb may also be a good option.

Why is the dig site secret, and when will you tell me where it is?

We’re keeping it secret now to minimize the risk of nighthawking, and to keep the archaeology safe. If you’re coming to dig with us, we will send you a rendezvous point for your first day and from there we will escort you to site. How exciting!

Do I need to have done any archaeology before?

Absolutely not! All you need is an adventurous spirit and a willingness to learn – we’ll provide everything else you need to dig alongside us in the trenches.

What about food, accommodation and transport?

If you’re coming to dig with us, you should receive a downloadable Info Pack at the point of booking, with everything you need to know about joining the dig, including some hot tips on where to stay – from the best B&B, to the nearest campsite. But, just like when you buy a theatre ticket, these are all things you will still need to book and arrange yourself.

You should also plan to have your own transport for getting to and from site.

Can I come and visit even if I'm not digging?

Yes, but you won’t be able to visit the site itself. Instead, we will have a Pop-Up Archaeology Shop at the Lancaster City Museum, and we’d LOVE you to come and visit! We will have a mini exhibition with Bronze Age artefacts from the area. It’s also where we will be examining some of our artefacts. There will be DigVentures archaeologists there to talk to you about the excavation, answer all your burning questions and they may even have a livelink to site for you to watch!

The site won’t be open to visitors because we need to keep its location secret. It is also on private property, and we only have permission for a certain number of people each day.

What if I have done archaeology before, or am an archaeology student?

We run the only field school officially accredited by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists in the UK, and we will have some of the UK’s most renowned Bronze Age experts on site with us. We will also be using the most up-to-date scientific excavation and recording techniques, which we believe all student archaeologists should learn.

What happens once I make my contribution?

We’ll send you a confirmation email straight away. We’ll then add you to our VIP Barrowed Time crowdfunders list so that you get special updates as the campaign progresses.

If you’re coming to dig with us, you’ll need to email us your preferred dig days as soon as you can.

When will I get my goodies?

You’ll start getting your digital goodies (like videos and virtual artefacts) as soon as the dig begins.

You’ll get your real-life goodies (like chocolate artefacts and t-shirts) once we’ve finished digging and had a chance to wash our boots!

Is there anything else I should know?

You will have to drive from our rendezvous point in Lancaster to site. We will encourage carpools, but we cannot guarantee that there will be enough vehicles. Having your own transport is highly recommended!

What if I've booked to come, but can't make it in the end?

We can either transfer your dig days to another excavation, or you can bequeath them to someone else… go on, pass on the archaeology love!

What if the weather is terrible?

Archaeology isn’t only outdoors! If the weather’s terrible (or even if you’re just feeling a bit under the weather), we can head to the archaeology lab to work on the finds… cleaning, examining and identifying the things we’ve found so far. But if the worst comes to the worst, we’ll do our best to move you onto another dig day.

Who else is supporting you?

We have received the good wishes and plenty of advice from some of the most renowned Bronze Age experts in the UK, including Neil Wilkin, current Bronze Age curator at the British Museum. Our co-collaborator on this project is Dr Ben Roberts, former Bronze Age curator at the British Museum and now lecturer at Durham University. We are also collaborating with Stuart Noon, Finds Liaison Officer at the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and have partnered up with the wonderful local historians at the Morecambe Heritage Centre.

How else can I help?

Crowdfunding isn’t the only way you can help! The goodwill of our community is just as important – yes, really! You can be a huge help by spreading the word among friends, family and interest groups, and by sharing our campaign and updates on social media too.

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Archaeology / In Your Hands