Historical Discovery

EXCLUSIVE BY
STEVE BRADLEY

City council archaeologist Dr Mike Hodder has uncovered evidence of prehistoric people using New Hall Valley.

Eagle-eyed Dr Hodder was out walking in the country park with his mother in February when he spotted a slight rise in the ground off the beaten track.

He immediately recognised this to be a burnt mound - a pile of heat-shattered stone. charcoal and ash that was used either as a sauna or part of a kitchen.

Subsequent research has revealed that the area was used, possibly by no more than a small family group, more than 3.000 years ago.

The mound is similar to others found previously in Sutton Park, at Langley Hall and at more than 30 other sites across the city.

They provide fascinating evidence of nomadic people wandering from area to area in years between 1,500BC and 1,000BC.

Dr Hodder said: "These mounds date back to the Bronze Age. Stones have been shattered because of heat action. The stones were heated

THE BURNT MOUND MYSTERY:

kitchen or sauna?

Burnt mounds are usually interpreted as the debris from when ancient people made water boil to cook food by dropping heated stones into it.

Although experiments have shown that this could have been the case, archaeologists would expect to find animal bones and other debris from food preparation and cooking. No such bones have been found at New Hall valley.

Another interpretation is that they are the debris from steam or sauna-type bathing. In North American Indian sweat lodges, steam is produced for bathing by pouring water over heated stones inside a tent or hut.

Reconstructions based on the excavated evidence from the Cob Lane site in Bournville and the structures used by North American Indians have shown that burnt mounds could well have been saunas.


up and water was poured on them to produce steam - it was a method also used by various North American Indian groups. Almost always these mounds are in quite wet areas near to streams - the site in New Hall Valley is right next to where the original stream [Ebrook] was. It was re-routed in the 60s."

The mound, quite unassuming in appearance, is oval- shaped and is 12 metres long and ten metres wide, but only half a metre high.

Dr Hodder added: "I found it almost purely by chance but it is. a very exciting discovery. We would have expected, given the number or burnt mound sites there are in Birmingham, for there to be

one in New Hall Valley, but this takes the known history of the area back another couple of thousand years.

“We can certainly say there would have been at least a family group dwelling somewhere nearby, on higher ground."

There was an alternative theory that the heated stones may have been used as a cooker.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints helped Dr Hodder to carry out a measured survey of the site at the end of June, producing a contour map to help preserve the plot.

"It will help to make sure that any work proposed in New Hall Valley will leave that site well alone," Dr Hodder said.

Local historian Marian Baxter, a member of the New Hall Valley Steering Group said: “This discovery gives us a link across from the burnt mounds at Sutton Park and at Langley, showing us how the nomadic travellers followed streams.

"We knew of life in the Valley from buildings from the 1100s and 1200s but never knew of anything earlier.

"The burnt mounds represent places where people may have stayed perhaps only for a couple of weeks, built a hut and then moved on.

'It really is exciting to have found this. It's proof that we had prehistoric people moving around Sutton Coldfield."