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Radiocarbon dates from Bartlemas Chapel and Donnington Recreation Ground

Bartlemas Chapel

You will all probably remember that before the Project’s investigations almost nothing was known about the burials at Bartlemas. We know now that dozens of people must be buried around the Chapel, within the old curving enclosure wall.  Some of you will remember recording some of the wall’s massive stones now hidden beneath undergrowth.

The radiocarbon dates (see here for the raw data) have given us a much clearer idea about the various phases of burial: three new dates have just arrived. One of the burials uncovered and recorded during the reburial of the disarticulated human skeletal remains east of the Chapel last year produced a date of 1220-1298 calAD (94.8% probability). This means the burial was made during the period when Bartlemas was still a leper hospital. However this person may not have been a leper.  During the excavations in 2011 the burial of a young man was uncovered, also at the east end of the Chapel: like the later discovery he was tucked against a medieval wall and carried no obvious indications of leprosy. Perhaps these interments were both of officials associated with the Hospital – a Chaplain, Warden or patron – buried against the eastern end of the pre-fourteenth century Chapel.

The recent dates also provided information on the phase of west-east burials found cut from a similar ground surface to the west and south of the Chapel. Dates from the south of the Chapel – 1315-1440 calAD (95.4% probability) and 1283-1399 calAD (95.4% probability) – suggest these were burials from the first one hundred or so years after the site became an  almshouse, in the very  earliest 14th century.

Add to that information provided by the first dates we secured. These told us that there were indeed lepers buried in the chapel yard from the foundation of the leper hospital in the early 12th century And the date from one of the charnel pits, where loose bones disturbed by digging and building work had been reburied, suggested that some of the burials may have been from the mid seventeenth century – perhaps related to the Civil War encampment.

People were buried at Bartlemas from its founding: it seems to have continued until at least the seventeenth century. In the leper hospital period there may have been one form of burial for the lepers and another for Chaplains, Wardens and patrons. Burial during at least the first period of the almshouse was organised in closely packed rows

Donnington Recreation Ground

Over the winter some of you have been involved with processing soils from last autumn’s excavation of two possible prehistoric pits on Donnington Recreation Ground.  After the soil samples were floated at Oxford Archaeology the dried flots and residues were sent to Diane Alldritt of Archaeobotanical Services in Glasgow.  She sorted this material and identified burnt plant material and charcoal (see here for her report).  Following Diane’s advice 4 samples were selected (2 pieces of burnt hazelnut shell, some hazel wood charcoal and a barley grain) to send to SUERC near Glasgow to be radiocarbon dated. After a long impatient wait the results came back this week (see here for the raw data).

The western pit now has three dates; 2 from the bottom (3023-2888 cal BC at 95.4% probability and 3026-2893 cal BC at 92.8% probability); and 1 from closer to the top (3341-3016 cal BC at 95.4% probability).  Satisfyingly this places the western pit at the end of the mid Neolithic/beginning of the late Neolithic.  This is just about what we thought it would be when we first saw the shape of the features detected by the geophysical survey and started to think about digging on the recreation ground.  These dates also fit nicely with the worked flint that came from this pit.

The northern pit is proving to be less straight forward.  When we were digging the northern pit it was always slightly different in shape, being much more irregular than its neighbour and with far fewer flints.  We only had a single dated sample from this pit, a grain of barley from the middle of the pit fill.  This has produced a date of 3-140 cal AD (92.7% probability).  So now we have explain why we have an Iron Age or Roman date in what we originally thought was a Neolithic feature.  Is it really a Roman feature?, is the barley grain Roman material dragged into an earlier feature by roots or worms?, is it even a real archaeological feature, maybe it is the void left by a fallen tree?

So we have got one easy answer and one complicated answer and lots of questions to ask ourselves as we write up the site.