TillVAS Till Valley Archaeological Society
TillVAS             Till Valley Archaeological Society

Archaeology News

TillVAS Archaeology Manager: Heather Pentland

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Till Valley Archaeological Society (www.tillvas.com)


Patron:  Rt. Hon. Lord Joicey. Hon. President: Dr. Chris Burgess



(with kind permission of George Farr of Pallinsburn House.)


The excavation at Mardon Farm will take place over 12 days between Saturday 25th August and Wednesday 5th September inclusive with a rest day on Friday 31st August.   Working hours will be 9.30am. to 4.30pm. with of course a lunch break.  There will be parking on the field and a toilet will also be available.  No experience is necessary and all equipment will be provided.  There will be no de-turfing as the site is in an arable field and a mechanical digger will open up the trenches.


We had a most successful dig last year with only one rather wet day and a number of interesting artifacts were found.


If you would like to participate, either every day or just a few, please contact Maureen (maureencharlton910@btinternet.com) or Heather (heather@pentland.plus.com) as soon as possible as places per day will be limited.   All bookings will be acknowledged and details of how to get there forwarded in good time.


We look forward to seeing you,



(on behalf of the TillVAS Archaeology Team)




Lindesfarne Dig


The dig on Holy Island is almost over for another year. As always our findings raise questions as well as providing answers but we have definately discovered a lot more evidence of human activity all along the Heugh. Stone  filled areas which were possibly floors or building foundations, worked stones emerging which have been re-used and a long 'path' which was probably made from reused stones removed from the church like building found last year.

There are very few small finds but soils samples etc might give accurate dating evidence in due course. The dig was supported not only by TillVAS but other groups such as Altogether Archaeology and NAG. Volunteers travelled from far and wide, Newcastle, Jedburgh, Edinburgh and so on,  boosting local economy by staying locally in airbnbs and caravans.

Backfilling is already  starting and ill begin in earnest next week so if you want a brief look at the area before it disappears again under the grass then now is the time to go.

Our weather has been glorious and once again we were all mesmerised by the views and the haunting noise of the seals. Even the Haar rolling in has been beautiful to watch. Volunteers are now moving on to look at Spindlestone and we hope that the work there is as enjoyable and successful as our work on Lindesfarne.


Patron:  Rt. Hon. Lord Joicey.

Hon. President:  Dr. Chris  Burgess.



Members of the archaeology sub committee of TillVAS continue to explore interesting sites which could be investigated more fully at a later date. To this end members have been to the Barley mill at Etal to look at the remains there. Following a day of very hard work clearing ivy and clambering over stones a small team are about to return to and  clear more of the vegetation and establish the footprint of the mill.





Palaeoenvironmental Assessment report for Mardon Farm Dig


Samples and artefacts were taken from Mardon for further ananlysis which has now been completed. The report is of course quite technical but the following is a brief summary of the story so far.


There is some evidence of domestic activity ie fragments of pot, traces of fired clay, animal bone and animal tooth enamel. There is also evidence of industrial, animal and human waste deposits in samples taken from the ditches. All indications suggest waterlogged conditions  on the site.


A wide range of flora and some small fauna (ie beetle exoskeletons) was identified, again the former of a variety associated with damp conditions. Some small wood samples were identified as willow and their growth rings suggest the growing conditions were good. Other tree varieties were identified in charcoal samples. Weed seeds preserved by both charring and the waterlogged conditions suggest nutrient rich soils or manure heaps.


There was some indication that emmer wheat had been grown on site. Spelt wheat and 6-row barley are generally used as the main cereal crops during the iron age but some sites in North Northumberland have indicated a preference for emmer wheat.


Larger animal bone deposits were from adult cattle, sheep  and possibly  goat. One particular deposit of burnt sheep or goat bones may be the remains of a specific episode of consumption.


Further work to find more animal remains would be of value to the understanding of iron age sites in the area.


With acknowledgements to Archaeological Services Durham University


Report on Mardon Excavation - September 2017.

As part of the “Branxton and Crookham Village Atlas Project” begun in 2016 and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, TillVAS (Till Valley Archaeological Society) planned an excavation within the designated area, and after a great deal of research by  the Archaeology Group and using aerial photographs, a site near Mardon, possibly Iron Age, was chosen.  The farm is owned by Mr. and Mrs. George Farr of Pallinsburn House.

Permission was requested to dig up an arable field and this was granted on the condition that it was completed by early September, when it would be sown with winter wheat, leaving quite a short window in among all the other TillVAS activities.

Preparations were made under the supervision of Archaeologist Richard Carlton and despite the fact that geo-physics showed very little of note, the excavation began on 31st August manned by up to seventeen volunteers from as far away as Morpeth.

Only one wet morning interfered with the work and once the top soil was removed by digger the potential of the site became apparent.   A number of trenches were opened including two over probable ditches, one of which, although below the modern field drains, contained certainly two springs of clear running water.    Several pieces of Iron Age pot were found and few worked lithics in the trenches.

The widest ditch became very deep and reinforcements in the shape of three brawny lads were called in to help.   As a result of their labours the ditch continued to a final depth of about 1m 75, and towards the bottom began to produce definite evidence of Iron Age occupation; first – shards of pot, then pieces of wood, and a very ancient piece of bone.   Then finally, a section of vertebrae and two shoulder blades, all much too big to be human, and which could possibly have been used as digging tools by the original diggers of the ditch.

The excavation closed on Saturday 9th September and everyone involved were happy with the outcome, and the camaraderie of the site, despite the sore knees and aching backs.

Our special thanks must go to Mr. and Mrs. George Farr for their support and all the volunteers who gave up their spare time and effort to achieve a worthwhile result.   We may return in 2018, so watch this space.


2017 Summer Excavation, 29th August to 9th September - Advance Notice

The site for the Society's summer excavation this year will be on the site of what is described as a later prehistoric settlement and field system south-east of Mardon Farm. Aerial photographs show crop marks of a single ditch enclosure containing at least one hut circle and a number of other features. Ditches are visible to east and west. The Grid Reference is NT909373. The site is shown by the green arrow on the map above and adjoins the east side of the designated Flodden battlefield area shown hatched with maroon boundary. 

A geophysical survey was carried out by David Astbury of Newcastle University on 20th March 2017  by kind permission of the landowners, George and Jane Farr of Pallinsburn Estate Ltd. The site was chosen by Hon. Member, Richard Carlton in conjunction with the Archaeology Group of the Branxton & Crookham Village Atlas Project and the excavation will take place after the oil-seed rape has been lifted and before the winter wheat has been sown.

The excavation will form part of the Branxton & Crookham Village Atlas Project (the boundary of which is shown in black on the map) and will be funded from the grant awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Further details will be sent to members in due course and will also be disseminated to residents in the two villages. 

In the photo below, David Astbury is carrying out a geophysical survey of the site. David was able to step carefully between the emerging oil-seed rape plants whilst maintaining the necessary rhythm of the magnetometer survey. Pallinsburn House is in the middle distance.




Now that the Flodden 500 Project has ended, we are into a new era. We will no longer have the benefit of the Flodden 1513 ‘umbrella’ for helping to finance certain expenses and enabling us to take part as volunteers in archaeological excavations financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  However, the TillVAS committee is determined to take a pro-active approach and to do all that it can to ensure that archaeology continues in our cross-Border area with opportunities for volunteering by TillVAS members. We are fortunate in already having in place our own Heritage Lottery funded project for the Branxton & Crookham Village Atlas with a major excavation, test-pitting, fieldwalking and metal detecting all taking place during 2017.

This will provide a ‘cushion’ whilst other possible projects are being considered for the future. Our contacts with professional colleagues and supportive estate owners give us confidence that there will be projects coming forward. Some of these may not need substantial financial input if, in large part, we are able to draw upon our own resources in terms of volunteers and the considerable range of TillVAS equipment, although we will always need a professional input. Other projects may require grant aid but this will be a challenge which we will face at the time, as we did when obtaining funding for the Branxton & Crookham Village Atlas. We will also be able to take part in projects funded by other organisations, e.g. the Peregrini Landscape Partnership excavations at Lindisfarne and the Lennel Kirk excavations in Coldstream. 

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Tickets for James IV mmorial lecture now on sale.

7th October Coldstream Community Centre 2.30

Dr Alex Hildred




Tickets £6 - available from Maureen



Dates for the dig at Mardon


The dig to revisit our iron age site on Mardon farm will run from 25th August to 5th September.

For details please visit the archaeology page.

Crookham Church

On Sunday 19th August there will be an "85th Birthday Garden Party" at Crookham URC, beginning with a 1930's style tea at 3pm, organised by the Rev. Mary Taylor.  This will be followed at 4pm by a talk by Mike Keating on "The First Church at Crookham" and at 4.40pm, a talk by Antony Chessell on "The Modern Church at Crookham".   Both talks are based on information collected by TillVAS for the "Branxton and Crookham Village Atlas Project."   There is also the "Flodden Peace Garden" to wander around.
All are welcome.   There is no charge for this event, but donations towards to the upkeep of the Church will be most welcome.

Kirknewton Sheepdog Trials and Heritage Open Day

Sunday 19th August

Local History Displays and films:

Special showing of ‘Night of Years’ 

(The story of Josephine Butler)

Find out about Bob Fraser, farm improvements, the Bondager farming system and visit St Gregory’s Church.

(  service at 11 a.m. )

 Free entry.

Light Refreshments          Northumbrian Pipers

Visit the Trials to see the dogs in action.

Dog trials from 9a.m.    Heritage Day 10 -4



Richard Carlton will be giving a talk on the 2018 Holystone Roman Road Dig on Wednesday 22 August at 7:30pm in Holystone Church.  All welcome.

Bowsden History Group - A Tale of Two Mills. (Spindleston and Waren) 3rd Sept 2018 7.30 Bowsden Village Hall.

The next TillVAS talk is on Weds. 5th September at 7.30pm in Crookham Village Hall when Dr Brian Moffat  from Edinburgh will tell us about ‘Medieval Medicine and its use in the present day’.

The report for Mardon has now been completed. See the Archaeology section for more details. HLF has awarded a grant to TillVAS for further work in autumn  2018.


Many thanks to all who attended our AGM and talk where Dr Richard Carlton gave a very good account of the Mardon Dig. For more details see 'reports on events'

Data Protection - please see the new TillVAS policy statement on the membership page


The Society has an extensive collection of documents and photographs held in its secure archives. These are invaluable for members wishing to study the local history of the area or wishing to gather information for e.g. the  Village Atlas Project. Please click on the tag above to see the catalogues. Anyone wishing to access the archives should contact the Society's Archivist, Maureen Charlton or the Assistant Archivist, Julia Day.


Please see a new section on the website—click on the appropriate tab above.  Please let us have your thoughts, in prose or in verse.


There are some important meetings of the Activity Groups scheduled over the next few months. Please click on the appropriate tag above, which will take you to the Village Atlas page and give you all the dates, times and places of the meetings.


Please click on the Latest Newsletter page to see information for the current month.


Click on Reports on Events, above, for detailed accounts and press reports.


The Society operates a bookstall at all its meetings.

Items for sale include:-

1. The Society's first publication Breamish and Till: From Source to Tweed at £10 per copy and

2. Vivian Wilcock's Andrew Todd 1844-1908 ( with research input by TillVAS members) at £5 per copy.

See the Publications page for more about these books. Copies of Breamish and Till are also available in Cornhill Village Shop and the Lavender Tea Rooms and Village Shop in Etal.


There are also archaeological books and journals for sale. Net proceeds of sale go to TillVAS funds.