16th December 2013:
Mystery objects recovered from OA North’s excavations at Stainton on the Carlisle Northern Development Route in Cumbria for Birse Civils Ltd have been causing a stir in the media. The objects, two wooden tridents dating to the Neolithic period and preserved in the waterlogged deposits of a former river channel, have been cleaned and conserved and are now on display at the Tullie House Museum, Carlisle. But the question remains: how were they used?
The tridents are each over 2m long and were carved out of single pieces of oak heartwood. One still has all three tines or prongs intact, and both have bar or ‘step’ above the prongs. The objects are remarkable for their workmanship, and would have taken many hours to make using only stone tools. They seem too heavy to be conventional fishing spears, but it is possible that they were used to trap eels by wedging the eels between the prongs. Pitchforks are another suggestion, though the prongs of such objects tend to be curved. Given their size and the care taken to produce them, the tridents may have been more ceremonial than practical.
Since arriving at the Tullie House Museum, the tridents have featured in the local and national media, including the News and Star, the Westmorland Gazette, and the Daily Mail. Readers have been chipping in with their suggestions for how the tridents were used, some interesting and others not so sensible! Post-excavation work on the tridents and other material is continuing, so watch this space for more exciting news.