Gearing up for BRP 2015: Trench 1 Staff

Today we introduce you to the awesome staff of Trench 1 at Bamburgh Castle! Returning Supervisor Constance will be assisted by former student Sam Serrano Ferraro. We can’t wait to see what Trench 1 turns up this summer!


Constance Durgeat

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From our fun trip down to Dunstanburgh Castle

“I started going to the Bamburgh Research Project as a French student, in order to discover a bit more about English field archaeology…and never really left since! This year will be my fifth year within the project, and my second year as Trench One supervisor. I have a Master’s degree in Urban & Buildings Archaeology from the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, and another one in Medieval Archaeology from the University of York. Outside the season, I am a commercial archaeologist and have been working for different companies around Yorkshire.
I am really looking forward to this season. It would be nice to have a better understanding of the relationship between our four buildings, especially now that we’ve uncovered the ‘old’ part of Trench One, and have a closer look at our different floor surfaces and miscellaneous pits/post-holes. We might also just be able to work our way to a couple of prehistoric features, which would show the continuous occupation of the site.
I am also excited to spend a couple of months with great people!”

Sam Serrano Ferraro
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Sam on the left with Post-ex supervisor Jeff and the ever amazing Laurel 

“I am half Italian – half Ecuadorian, though I live in Scotland. I have been with BRP one season, BRP 2013. When I am not at Bamburgh or the Kaims I am either at Edinburgh University studying archaeology, relaxing with friends or trying to become the next Indiana Jones, without the “destroy everything I find” attitude! This season I am looking forward to seeing the same people I had so much fun with two years ago! And obviously getting down and dirty…by that I mean digging in the trenches!”

This year’s digging season will start on Monday the 8th of June, so stay tuned for more blog entries, tweets and video footage of the intriguing finds at Bamburgh Castle and the Bradford Kaims! We can’t wait to get started!

Gearing up for BRP 2015: Trench 3 Staff

In today’s blog we have decided to reintroduce you to the staff of Trench 3, as a couple of lovely new faces have appeared! Unfortunately, last year’s Trench 3 Supervisor Stephanie Chapman wasn’t able to return this season because of the beautiful baby girl she had last winter. Luckily, 2-year T3 Assistant Supervisor Anne Hartog was more than keen to take up the Supervisor mantle! She will be assisted by long-term Bamburgh students Harry Francis and Isabelle Ryan.


Anne Hartog

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Anne may be a bit too attached to her clipboard…

“I have been a part of the Bamburgh Research Project since the summer of 2011, and have filled the position of T3 Assistant Supervisor in 2013 and 2014. I graduated from Leiden University in the Netherlands in 2014 with a Masters Degree in Historical Archaeology of Northwestern Europe and Museology. Outside of the season, I’m keeping my eye out for archaeological/museological work, which is proving very hard to come across! I did recently start volunteering at a local geological and historical museum as the resident archaeologist, so I’m very happy to still be working with archaeology and artefacts on a weekly basis.

As for my trench hopes and dreams, I would like it very much if we could get the north end down to Brian Hope Taylor’s level and continue from there. We are also still hoping to finally figure out all four walls of the mysterious building that covers a large part of the trench. Of course, the southern part of the trench will hopefully also get a good amount of attention and if all goes well we will try to bring it together, as one phase, with the rest of the trench, before the end of the season. Lastly, I’d like to continue cleaning up the Trench sides, as we did with the South East section last season.

Of course, like most previous seasons, we’ve always been down for big surprises, and I’m sure this year will be no different! But it’s the surprises that make archaeology so interesting!”

Harry Francis

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Harry trying not to laugh because I made him freeze for this photo

“This will be my fourth year with the BRP! I have previously spent the last three years working as a student with the project but am returning as an assistant supervisor in Trench 3 this year. I am currently in my second year of doing a BSc in Archaeology at the University of Leicester and plan on continuing in archaeology after leaving.

I am looking forward to another great season working again on a great site, with an equally amazing group of people. This will be a great summer spent digging before I go to study at the University of Bologna, Italy for a year.”

Isabelle Ryan

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Isabelle likes to dive right in. She is also a master of trench planking

“I’m from Baltimore, MD and am currently studying Archaeology and History at Washington College in Maryland. This will be my third season with the BRP (first season as staff). Outside of the BRP and studying, I cox for the Washington College men’s varsity crew rowing team.

This season I’m looking forward to uncovering the secrets of the Northwest Corner!”


This year’s digging season will start on Monday the 8th of June, so stay tuned for more blog entries, tweets and video footage of the intriguing finds at Bamburgh Castle and the Bradford Kaims! We can’t wait to get started!

Archaeological Science at Bradford Kaims – Phytoliths: Part Two

The Results.

The full results of the phytolith work will be published over the next few years, and are already informing our excavation strategies for the coming season (if you want to know more details, you can email Tom). However, we can give some of the highlights here.

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Phytolith concentration per spit in each deposit – results in concentration per gram AIF.

The phytolith record from Mound 1 in trench 6 at the Kaims were relatively well preserved for British samples (very little phytoliths have ever been processed from British soils, and we are the first to use these records successfully at burnt mound sites). The most striking results of our analysis is the high level of morphological and concentrational variation from different areas of the mound, horizontally across various sub-mounds, and vertically throughout these deposits. The concentrations indicate that each of the sub-mounds are deposited as distinct entities, with a consistent intensity of deposition. This implies that there is a tangible depositional sequence which starts in the south of the mound and circles round the hearth to end with the latest deposits at the north. However, the phytolith morphologies vary hugely within these distinct sub-mounds, indicating that the individual events which comprise these depositional episodes vary in character, but not intensity.

The Interpretation.

Further than these general points on depositional sequences, which actually go quite some way to furthering our understandings of how these mounds came into being and the morphologies they represent themselves in, the phytolith information can help us make some interpretations of fuel use, resource use, and burnt mound function.

The phytolith morphologies present suggest that the majority of the fuel burnt was dicotyledonous plants, and the predominance of ‘platey’ phytoliths indicates that the fuel was wood. However, in most areas, this record is accompanied by a significant level of monocotyledonous phytoliths, which represent grass phytoliths being caught up in the bark of trees prior to their firing. This suggests that the wood was not de-barked before burning. However, in some few areas the dicot level is astronomical, suggesting that the trees may have been debarked prior to firing.

The presence of varying levels of sponge spicules and siliceous diatoms within the phytolith record indicate the presence of freshwater impregnation of the deposits. However, as these two indicators are never concurrent, this points away from recurrent flooding and towards anthropogenic factors introducing water into the deposits. We know that burnt mounds are always associated with water sources, as their primary function seems to focus upon the production of hot water using heated stones. One of our current hypotheses to explain the fluctuating levels of sponge and algae within the phytolith record is that these may be being introduced through this avenue, where stones are placed in a trough of water, and then later deposited in the mound with adhering sponge and algae phytoliths.

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Sponge Spicule from mound 6080.

These are all still tentative hypotheses and will be formalised with the forthcoming thin section results before publication. However, these new avenues of research indicate the importance of testing old hypotheses with new scientific techniques, and have gone quite some way to informing our investigations about resource use, function, variation, and depositional sequences within the burnt mounds in trench 6 at the Kaims.

The Future.

This research is ongoing, and as such still has some distance to go before they have been fully rationalised. The next step in the process is to assess the thin section results which were taken in tandem with the phytolith samples, and then to compare the records together. But already this speedy off-season sample processing and post-ex has given us a new series of excavation strategies for our upcoming 2015 season (which you can still sign up for!). For the first time, we know that the term ‘burnt mound’ is inherently flawed! The phytolith record has shown that in fact these deposits comprise a series of individual sub-mounds as discrete entities, which in turn show enough variation in their morphologies to point towards individual events of varying character. A ‘burnt mound’, is actually a series of ‘burnt mounds’, likely deposited in episodic sequence, but with varying functions contributing to their deposition. We, at the BRP, are one step closer to cracking this enigmatic site type!

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The various sub-mounds comprising Mound 1 at the Bradford Kaims.

Archaeological Science at Bradford Kaims – Phytoliths: Part One

Although archaeology is often a reassuringly simple process, some features prove to be too complex to be understood without a great deal of analysis and plain hard work. Burnt mounds have perplexed archaeologists for decades, but now with the application of scientific research to archaeological post excavation we are getting, step by step, closer to a more complete understanding of them. This is the first in a two part article detailing a little of the laboratory work being undertaken on our burnt mound samples at Edinburgh University by Tom Gardner. It’s complicated but fascinating stuff.


What have we been doing?

This last season at the Bradford Kaims we embarked upon a series of advanced sampling processes in order to test some of our theories about burnt mounds, what they consist of, and how they are deposited. We had been thinking that these enigmatic mounds must consist of multiple individual deposits, and although these events are invisible to the naked eye, we were wondering whether the events may be visible in the palaeobotanical and micro-component record. We implemented a series of stratified phytolith and concurrent thin section samples in order to appraise the botanical record and microstratigraphy throughout the various deposits in the mound, which Tom Gardner, Project Officer North at the Kaims, has processed and analysed for his MSc by Research at the University of Edinburgh. We are now happily at a point where we can present some of the preliminary interpretations of these samples.

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Tom and Sam taking thin-section samples from mound 6080 at the Kaims.

Why have we been doing this?

The burnt mounds we have at the Kaims, especially in trench 6, are enormous. They even come close to challenging some of the biggest in Britain such as Beaquoy and Liddle in the Scottish Northern Isles. This means that these mounds must consist of a numerous depositional events, over an undetermined duration of time, with an unknown intensity of deposition. To the naked eye the burnt mounds seem to be a homogenous mass of fire-cracked stone, ash, and charcoal, indicating a uniformity of deposit components, and thus a uniformity of function.

In some of our experimental work at the Kaims, we have tried brewing and cooking using hot stones, and quickly realised that you can brew 40 litres of beer, or cook for 15 people, using just a few stones. That our mounds comprise hundreds of thousands of stones indicates that there must be thousands of individual events, and that they may be visibly different under a microscope. The combination of phytolith sampling and thin section micromorphology was chosen to unpick these potential variations both horizontally and vertically throughout Mound 1, in trench 6 at the Kaims.

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An Elongate phytolith from mound 6020 at the Kaims.

What are Phytoliths?

Phytoliths are small silica micro-bodies formed in the cell structure of plants when they intake water and nutrients from soils. When the plant then dies, these silica moulds can survive for millennia, and can be diagnostic of the genera of their host plant, but are regularly diagnostic to a species level, unlike pollen. More importantly however, they can be diagnostic of the particular part of the plant anatomy they come from, and as such can give information as to plant processing patterns and resource use.


Stay tuned for part two: The Results!

A Successful DVD Launch and Viewing

We had a fantastic premier at Berwick Public Library for the DVD release of A Visit to The Bradford Kaims created by the Ashington Learning Partnership Media Team. We had many members of the community attend the showing. There was a lively discussion afterwards along with the opportunity to handle some of the finds from the Kaims.

A big thanks goes out to Brian Cosgrove for organizing the film project as well as to the Media Team, Callum Lyall, Jack Wright, Cory Vallely, and Georgia Bell. Another big thanks to Berwick Public Library and staff for hosting the event.

If you never got the chance to see the video you can watch it here.

Here are some photos from the event:

Callum, Jack , Cory, and   Georgia. Photo courtesy of the Berwick Advertiser.

Callum, Jack ,Cory, and Georgia. Photo courtesy of the Berwick Advertiser.

Director Graeme Young  explaining the site

Director Graeme Young explaining the site

A packed house!

A packed house!

Director Paul Gething showing off the finds.

Director Paul Gething showing off the finds.

One last reminder about our open day at Berwick Public Library

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Just a last reminder that BRP team members and the Ashington Learning Partnership Media Team will be at Berwick public Library between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm, tomorrow (21st April) for the public launch of the DVD on the Bradford Kaims Wetland Project.

There will be a short introduction followed by a showing of the film. Afterwards members of the BRP and the media team will be available to chat over coffee.

The library is in the town centre, on the junction of Walkergate and Chapel Street. Do make it along if you can.

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3D Modeling at the Bamburgh Research Project

Our Field School Coordinator, Cole Kelly, has been exploring more ways of bringing the Bamburgh Research Project excavations to the wider world:

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A still photo of the 3D model

“I started last summer by downloading a free trial version of Agisoft PhotoScan, a Photogrammetry program. Photogrammetry is essentially the process of making precise measurements by means of photography. One photograph on its owns cannot be measured with accuracy. Photogrammetry takes information from multiple photographs to create a highly accurate representation of the place or object. It is becoming increasingly important to the archaeological recording process.

After taking 50-80 pictures of a site the program renders the information into an adjustable 3D model. We can increase the accuracy of the model by combining it with real life 3D location points provided by our EDM machine. 

In the future I hope to bring many more features from our excavations into this easily sharable format. Eventually I would also like to have an online 3D gallery for all of the wonderful finds that the Bamburgh Research Project has discovered in the past.”

Click here to see the first 3D model from the Bamburgh Research Project. You can zoom in and out and control the model with your mouse. The model focuses on a feature located in trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims. Hopefully we will have many more to follow throughout the rest of the year!

The West Ward jet crucifix

Readers of our Facebook page may have seen the BBC article relating to the medieval graveyard identified during work at St John’s College, Cambridge University (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-32131379).

The reason it gained particular interest from out team is due to the rather fine jet crucifix, depicted towards the bottom of the article. This was amongst the few finds recovered on this site, but we had, during our excavation in the West Ward at Bamburgh Castle, dug through a substantial midden deposit of 12th to 15th century date that contained numerous finds. Amongst the more unusual was a fragment of a jet crucifix, that seems to closely resemble the one recently unearthed in Cambridge.

The West Ward crucifix

The West Ward crucifix

We need a more up to date photo with a scale, but you can see the resemblance above. The Bamburgh crucifix is a little under 3cm across and is currently on display at the archaeology museum in Bamburgh Castle.