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Big Dig Children participating in the Bainbridge We Dig Community project in 2017

We Dig Community! Remembering a local archaeology project

Friday 17 July, 2020, by Douglas Mitcham

A 5,000 year old flint arrowhead, an almost complete Roman-era pot, and a bullet from a Lee Enfield British Army rifle were among the 12,000 ‘finds’ uncovered in Bainbridge in Wensleydale back in 2017 during the ‘We Dig Community’ local archaeology project. 

The project was delivered by the National Park Authority on behalf of the Council for British Archaeology’s (CBA) Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC), and it’s great to look back on it as we mark this year’s YAC Activity Day during the CBA’s 2020 Festival of Archaeology (11-19 July).

Young archaeologists test pitting in Bainbridge in 2017

A total of 30 test pits measuring a metre square were dug by hand between April and October 2017 on the village green, in private gardens, on the Quaker Field, and in the cemetery near to the site of the Roman fort of Virosidium.

Residents did much of the digging, alongside children from Hawes, Bainbridge, Askrigg and West Burton primary schools, the Yorkshire branch of the Young Archaeologists’ Club, and the Young Rangers.

The project gave a tantalising glimpse into the origins and development of Bainbridge.  The majority of finds were from the last 200 years and showed the fascinating detail of people’s everyday lives. Thimbles and scissors were found along with animal bones from the kitchen and fragments of old games and toys. 

What we didn’t find was also important. Given the presence of Virosidium on nearby Brough Hill, it was a surprise to discover only a few fragments of Roman pottery in the village.  It told us that the area now occupied by the village was perhaps used as agricultural land in Roman times. 

The evidence from the test pits also appears to suggest that there was very little human activity within the area of Bainbridge village between the end of the Roman occupation and the 11th century.  This strengthens the idea that the site of the Roman fort continued to be occupied as a settlement until the Norman conquest, and that the village of Bainbridge is a post-conquest creation.

The finds – which also included an iron sickle and a 200-year-old bone domino – will be either archived in the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes, or returned to the landowner. 

Test pitting in Bainbridge
A total of 30 test pits measuring a metre square were dug by hand between April and October 2017

A colourful 16-page booklet highlighting the key finds was given to everyone who took part. ‘Test Pitting in Bainbridge – from Arrows to Bullets’ was produced in order to make the results of the project accessible to as wide an audience as possible, from children through to adults, who might have no knowledge of archaeology.

A full archive report was produced and deposited in the Yorkshire Dales National Park Historic Environment Record (HER). The project was funded by grants from the YDNPA’s Sustainable Development Fund and the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust’s Roger Stott Community Fund.

If you want to read more about how this fascinating project unfolded, see our We Dig Community blog


Picture of Douglas Mitcham

Douglas Mitcham

Doug is our Community Heritage Officer


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