1 Project, 6 Weeks, a Lifetime of Memories: Cassidy’s Takeaways

Today was our last day with the students, but before we post our round-up for tomorrow we wanted to share the story of one student who joined us for the ENTIRE season. Below is a great read from Cassidy Sept about her experience with us. Mucho thanks to Cassidy for taking the time to share this with us and for in general being A Very Good Egg.


It was 2016 and I was reading my new Archaeology magazine cover to cover (as 22-year-old archaeology nerds often do) when I came across an article titled “Stronghold of the Kings of the North.” This article described 20 years’ worth of archaeological excavation and research at Bamburgh Castle, a fortification located on “the windswept northeastern coast of England.” What I remember most of this article was the introduction of the late archaeologist Brian Hope-Taylor’s work at Bamburgh in the 1960-70s and the rediscovery of his field offices which had remained unopened for decades. It was through this article that I first learned about Bamburgh Castle and the Bamburgh Research Project (BRP). Little did I know how much BRP would come to mean to me in just 3 years’ time.

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I graduated this past year with my master’s in archaeology from the University of Edinburgh and I have participated in several diverse field schools, both in the UK and the US. I say this to provide context for what I write below regarding my views on the BRP field school experience. I was the only student “crazy” enough (the staffs’ words, not mine… though I don’t entirely disagree!) to sign up for the full six weeks of this year’s field school. I was eager to sign up for BRP’s field school ever since I read that article; however, the timing hadn’t worked in my favor until this summer and I wanted to make the most of the opportunity. I’m so glad I did as it has turned out to be one of the best times of my life thus far and my best archaeological experience to date.

Lauren, our public outreach officer, asked me in week two if I would write a summary blog of my time here at the end of week six. I readily agreed, thinking I would have plenty of time to gather my thoughts, organize them in a somewhat coherent manner, and write up something illuminating or at least informative. Well, those weeks flew by and my good intentions were otherwise directed to learning everything I could during the field school and to developing new friendships. So, I have instead decided to condense these rambling thoughts on the BRP 2019 student experience into 4 main points.

 

  1. Field schools are also about forming friendships. This field season saw 45 students pass through the trench. Each student brought something new and interesting to the group dynamic: ages ranged from 16 to 75; careers or degrees ranged from archaeology (no surprise) to nursing to engineering; archaeology experience ranged from none to some to returning BRP graduates; nationalities and socioeconomic levels also varied amongst the student pool… but two things brought us all together: archaeology and BRP 2019. As sappy or cliché as it sounds, life-long friendships were forged here, and memories were made to last us all a lifetime. Or at least until next year’s field season when we can make more friends and memories. In all honesty, archaeology field schools routinely bring together people of all walks of life, united by a common interest (or downright passion), and these friendships are just as rewarding as the practical skills gained by the training side of the field school.
Four adults crouch to lift small grey and blue cobbles and place them in yellow buckets.

Lifting some of the cobbled surface. (top left)

  1. It’s not just about the digging. As any archaeology student or hobbyist knows, this work goes beyond the excavations. Our discipline is inherently destructive and it’s the recording processes that ensure some relative permanence to what we uncover. Learning and reinforcing skills in photographing, planning, leveling, documenting, and digitizing all form the fundamental process to what we label “excavation.” BRP does a phenomenal job of introducing students to the entire process from start to finish. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear staff say “record, record, record”… and to paraphrase Tom Howe: digging slowly and recording is what separates us from the animals. Out of all the field schools I’ve been to, BRP teaches this the best.

 

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Cassidy (centre) working at the flotation tank.

  1. Post-excavation and “enviro” are EVERYTHING. This goes along with point 2, but it’s surprising how many affordable fields schools do not teach students the post-excavation and environmental sampling processes. Again, kudos to BRP for ensuring we all get a taste of these fundamental archaeological procedures. Being at the trench edge may be more exciting, but I’d argue that learning to catalogue, digitize, illustrate, organize, and preserve our artifacts is just as stimulating as it helps to establish their survival after the excavation process. Not to mention the ability to work with BRP’s archaeobotantist and learn to float soil samples, identify botanical residues like charcoal and seeds, and see their composition under the microscope. Not many field schools offer this in-depth post-excavation tuition and I would recommend BRP to anyone particularly interested in what comes after the excavation process. The adage goes that every day of excavation generates at least two or three days of post-excavation work.
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Cassidy (R) and Nathalie digging…all smiles!

  1. Friends, laughter, whisky, and sugar. In that order. To me, those are the ingredients to surviving six weeks in a tent… with a communal living arrangement… with at least 15-20 other people at any given time. It doesn’t hurt to have killer music playlists and endless rounds of Sh*thead – the BRP 2019 students’ card game of choice. Find what makes you happy, surround yourself with good friends, throw in some quality archaeological excavation work, and you’re guaranteed to have a great time at your field school of choice. It’s always what you make of it.

 

Many thanks to the BRP 2019 staff and students for making this such a memorable summer for everyone involved – whether for one week or five… or six. It’s going to be a grand reunion at BRP 2020.

Link to Archaeology article mentioned above.

The Youths…They are taking over!

As a run-up to our Festival of Archaeology event this coming weekend, and in solidarity with the Day in Archaeology (22 July), we’d like to to share the voices of some of the younger archaeology students we’ve encountered this summer. They will tell their stories in their own words, about why they study archaeology and what they hope for the future of archaeology.

First up is Jillian (20, right) who spent two weeks with us at the beginning of the season.

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“But you never dig in the garden?”: From California to Bamburgh

I was lucky enough to spend two amazing weeks with the Bamburgh Research Project this June. The BRP was one of the few field schools that my university, St Andrews in Scotland, recommended on its archaeology department’s webpage. More, it was the only program of that select group to focus primarily on medieval archaeology. Therefore, it is was not a difficult decision to sign up and resulted in me pestering one of the Project Directors, Graeme Young, over email with questions about the dates that the 2019 season would be running.

I was seventeen years old when I chose to study medieval history and archaeology at the University of St Andrews. I had never before taken a class that looked at medieval history in depth, nor had I ever done anything remotely related to archaeology before I submitted my degree intention. I simply knew that I was interested in studying history, and it sounded really cool. I mean, who wouldn’t like to be their own version of Indiana Jones? At St Andrews, archaeology is not its own degree route and could only be studied in conjunction with either ancient or medieval history. Further, students are not properly able to take modules solely on archaeology until our third year. So, when I, a seventeen-year-old from California, confirmed on my application to a university in Scotland that I wanted to study medieval history and archaeology I was going with a gut feeling.

For me, living in the UK was always a dream. So naturally, as I progressed through school and began looking at places to do my undergraduate degree, studying history in a place where the history felt so much more vast than in my own home country was something I was immediately attracted to. I am also fortunate enough that pursuing my undergraduate degree abroad was a feasible option because I do not believe I would have been as happy studying anything else in any other place. I am still so enamored with the idea and the experience of studying history in the place it was made, and it is something I would recommend to anyone who is thinking about studying subjects like history and archaeology.

As I mentioned earlier, the archaeology program at St Andrews is structured so that students only really encounter archaeology-based module in their third year. That being said, there were always plenty of opportunities to get involved with archaeology. I was really able to capitalize on these opportunities in my second-year when I became more involved with the Student Archaeological Society. I was able to volunteer with the archaeologists in St Andrews Department of Environmental History and SCAPE (Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion) and to clean, sort, and catalogue the finds from their excavation at Higgins Neuk in Falkirk, carried out in an effort to find archaeological evidence of the lost royal dockyard of James IV. An article on the excavation was published in Current Archaeology 347 and I was able to have my first taste of what an archaeologist does. Through the Society, I was also able to go on my first ever archaeological dig at Dunfermline Abbey, helping to locate and record gravestones under the graveyard turf. At the end of this year, to cap it off, I was also elected the new President of the Society, giving me the opportunity to help myself and others to get greater involved in archaeology. My experiences doing archaeology in my second year never gave me cause to regret the choice that I made when I was seventeen, but instead gave me a new enthusiasm to pursue this passion further.

I was able to explore this newly invigorated passion for archaeology at Bamburgh this summer. Despite never having camped for more than a single night before, and definitely never by myself, I was willing to submit to a life in a tent and learned to love it for its own lack of insulation and noise barriers. So, when my mother asked why I wanted to live in a tent for two weeks and to dig in a muddy trench, saying “But you never dig in the garden?”, she did not understand that archaeology is more than just shoveling dirt until we find a piece of stone from a Northumbrian chair. In my two weeks, I did squat on a foam knee-pad and too-carefully troweled away at a pebble path, I nearly froze my hands in a flotation tank to try to retrieve charcoal from an environmental sample, and I painstakingly tried to stipple my already poor illustration of a bone pin. That experience that I gained at the BRP was invaluable to me. The staff at the BRP were my first real teachers of archaeology and they demonstrated how amazing the field that we both chose was.

The two weeks that spent with the BRP were undoubtedly some of the best of my life and will not be easily forgotten. As I write this from my 80°F/27°C backyard in California, I am fondly remembering when the passing rain storm woke me up throughout the night and I do not regret any missed sleep. My time with the BRP allowed me to learn more about a degree-turned-passion that I pursued because my teenage-self thought it sounded cool. It confirmed to me that I made the right choice.

When is a Sunken Featured Building not a Sunken Featured Building?

Sunken featured building (SFB for short) is a term used in early medieval archaeology alongside the German term Grubenhaus (plural Grubebhauser) to describe a particular type of small to medium sized timber building, constructed in northern Europe from the 5th to the 12th century AD. Such structures are part of a tradition of buildings with sunken floors, or partially subterranean elements, that span thousands of years of use. In this wider sense the term pit-house (Pit-house) is often used.

A reconstructed SFB or Grubenhaus at Bede's World (Wiki commons)

A reconstructed SFB or Grubenhaus at Bede’s World (Wiki commons)

In Trench 1 we have been referring to traces of a structure in the SE corner of the trench as an SFB. In this case we have been using the term as short hand, as although the structure is slightly sunken into the ground, it does not have many of the characteristics we would expect of an early medieval SFB. They tend to be relatively easily identified as cut features, although often eroded. Ours, though broadly rectangular, is quite difficult to define and seems to have been formed from erosion of a floor rather than having been deliberately dug. Also classic SFB’s tend to have post-holes located centrally to the short walls, indicating a gabled roof. Our feature, so far, appears to have a central post, supported by a re-used quern stone.

Our rather amorphous, sunken floored structure is shallow and less than distinct compared to a classic SFB.

Our sunken floored structure is shallow and less than distinct compared to a classic SFB.

Other factors also place our enigmatic feature outside of the general tradition. It is not associated with an industrial or workshop area. That lies in the area of Trench 3. Most of all, SFB’s are found on very different subsoils, such as sands and gravels, where excavation below ground level is a relatively easy option to increase the internal volume of a building. Our strange feature lies on boulder clay, which is pretty difficult stuff to dig. Ask any of our excavators!

In the next few days we should have excavated the last of the material within the hollow. Already we are seeing what appear to be features beneath it. The interesting question will be, are these features associated with the overlying structure, or a new phase of activity beginning to show up.

Pre-Season Excavation Round-Up

Jo Kirton gives us a round up of the pre-season excavation at the Castle site:

Over the past week the BRP welcomed 10 students and 2 of their lecturers from the Catholic University of America (CUA), to the project and the excavations within the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle.

Some of the CUA group and BRP staff celebrating Graeme's birthday

Some of the CUA group and BRP staff celebrating Graeme’s birthday

Thanks to the enthusiasm of the students and staff and a little luck with the weather, we had a really productive week.

After the usual site introductions the CUA group quickly removed the tarps that had been protecting Trench 3 and set about cleaning the trench from head to toe. As is normally the case with the initial clean-up, we found a number of finds, such as styca coins, Samian Ware pottery and a fair few Fe blobs.

Cleaning!!!

Cleaning!!!

Abby with her Samian pottery rim

Abby with her Samian pottery rim

Burnt wood and Iron from one of the beam slots and Abby with her Samian Ware find

Burnt wood and Iron from one of the beam slots

Throughout the week students were taught how to plan and section draw, use the Total Station and levelling kit, process small and bulk finds, and use the siraff tank for processing environmental samples.

Casey, Abbey and Michael tackle one of the section drawings for the southern beam slot

Casey, Abbey and Michael tackle one of the section drawings for the southern beam slot

The archaeology was pretty exciting this week and the students needed all their newly acquired skills to excavate and record what we found.

The elusive southern beam slot for the probable tenth century building was picked up in three sections, which gave us a pretty good idea of the size of the building. This also meant lots of section drawings and planning!

The southern beam slot became apparent in the sections of the southern latrine pit

The southern beam slot became apparent in the sections of the southern latrine pit

On the final day we were able to excavate what we think are parts of the western and eastern beam slots in the NW and NE corners respectively. The excavation of the eastern beam slot went as expected and we found the next surface, which is beginning to appear in various areas of the trench. The western beam slot whilst quite clear, raised questions about its association with the mortared surface, which it abuts – this needs further investigation but should prove pivotal for understanding the NW corner of the trench.

Chris and Alexandra excavating the western beam slot.....or is it????

Chris and Alexandra excavating the western beam slot…..or is it????

Dr Kopar, Marielle and Casey excavating the eastern beam slot with Ass Sup, Joe Tong.

Dr Kopar, Marielle and Casey excavating the eastern beam slot with Ass Sup, Joe Tong.

We also took the opportunity to remove several features from the SE corner of the trench around the ninth century metalworking building, which has been evident for several seasons. We were able to remove several external features, such as the flagged surface just outside one of the entrances, packing stones around the ‘doughnut’ shaped stone, which may have served as a drain and the hearth packing stones that sit between the metalworking building and the southern latrine pit.

Goodbye flagstones!

A hive of activity!

As part of the excavation of all these features the CUA group were able to complete cut and deposit sheets and learn how to take and record environmental samples.

As well as working in the trench, our visitors were able to tour the interior of the Castle, visit the locations of the Chapel and Bowl Hole excavations, make a trip to St Aidans in the village and head out to Lindisfarne. They are now touring significant Northumbrian sites in the North East, such as Hexham, York, Durham and Jarrow. We hope they have fun and learn a little along the way!

Hexham Abbey from the seventh century cript steps

Hexham Abbey from the seventh century cript steps

The main dig season starts Monday 2nd of June. We will have all the latest on the excavations at the Castle and the prehistoric wetlands site out at the Bradford Kaims.

Pre-season Excavation at Bamburgh Castle

This Wednesday (14th May) a small band of Bamburgh Research staff (Graeme Young, Jo Kirton and Joe Tong) will be heading up to Bamburgh Castle to prepare for the arrival of a group of post-grad students from the Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington. The students along with their professors will be partaking in a pre-season excavation. From Saturday (17th of May) we will be working in the Anglo-Saxon and Viking period layers in Trench 3, in the castles West Ward.

SAMSUNG

Cleaning back in Trench 3

Cleaning back in Trench 3

The students are a mixture of post graduates studying History, Medieval & Byzantine Studies, English, and Anthropology. A real mix! Their team leader is Dr Lilla Kopár, Associate Professor at the university with a particular focus on art-history, Old English and archaeology.

Dr Kopár explains why she decided to bring her students across the Atlantic to work with the BRP and Bamburgh Castle.

Dr Lilla Kopar

Dr Lilla Kopar

“It all started about a year ago with a conversation with Jo on a field trip in search of early medieval sculpture in the Wirral. We talked about the significance (and fun) of being involved in excavations as a student and the difficulties of being a scholar of material culture of the Middle Ages “from the other side of Pond.” Then Jo had a brilliant suggestion: Why not join the BRP dig for a few weeks, or even better, take a group of students along to Bamburgh?

Our institution, The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., has no official program in medieval archaeology but we have a strong cohort of medievalists at the Center for Medieval and Byzantine Studies and in various departments, and a number of us have a keen interest in material culture. As the “local Anglo-Saxonist”, I teamed up with my historian colleague and friend, Dr. Jennifer Davis, who regularly teaches a course on medieval archaeology for historians, and proposed a trip combining the archaeology field school with visits to historic sites (Lindisfarne, Hexham, Jarrow, Durham, York), all embedded in a team-taught graduate course on early medieval Northumbria. The idea was received with great enthusiasm by our adventure-loving master’s and doctoral students and we quickly had a crew of ten signed up for the trip. CUA’s Center of Global Education welcomed the idea of a study-aboard experience for graduate students and has provided financial and organizational support.

Our students come from four different graduate programs (History, Medieval & Byzantine Studies, English, and Anthropology) and bring various kinds of expertise as well as expectations to Bamburgh. Some had participated in excavations before, while others know more about Old English and Bede than about trowels and trenches. We all are looking forward to hands-on training in archaeology, the excitement of new finds, the breath-taking surroundings, and the experience of being in England (well, not so much the rain). It will be an unforgettable trip and we are very excited to join the BRP crew.”

The students are looking forward to excavating through layers of archaeology dating to periods they have been researching on their courses. CUA English Lit student, Sara Sefranek told us….

I don’t know what to expect, to be honest! My degree is in English Lit with a focus on Old English Poetry. For years I’ve depended on the work of archaeologists to help inform me about the history & culture that produces the texts that I study, so I was excited by the opportunity to learn about that first hand. I hope I’m ready for whatever turns up! As a lit student I’d be curious about finds that incorporate text in some way… some of my research has also been on Christian incorporation of pagan iconography, so if such things have been found, I’d love to see them.”

We will be updating the blog and Twitter feed @brparchaeology with all our activities and discoveries during their stay, so please pop back soon.

 

Field School 2013

Don’t forget there are still spaces available for the field school with us in Bamburgh this summer.

Survey techniques

Survey techniques

We will teach you excavation methods, site recording, artefact processing and much more.

Nat and Liam in the flot tank

Nat and Liam in the flot tank

Camping accommodation is provided along with your tuition, which is great value at £235. We stay in nearby Belford, where there are all the mod-cons (Like a Co-Op, Pubs, Takeaways and stores!) and we have a great social life onsite too.

For more information, go to http://www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk/
or join us on Facebook or twitter (@brparchaeology)

Staff Profile- Assistant Finds Supervisor

Today we have the last of the staff profiles. Our assistant finds supervisor, Jeff Aldrich, gives us a little insight into his work with the BRP and his offsite antics.

Jeff’s Profile

Position: Assistant Supervisor of Finds

Responsibilities: Educating students on the identification and processing of finds, and working with Finds Supervisor, Kirstie Watson, on data basing and indexing all artifacts.

How did you get involved with the project? I first got involved with the Project last year by finding it online.  After working the entire 2011 season, I returned this year as staff.

What do you do out of the season? I am currently in the process of obtaining representation and publication of my first novel, and am researching for its sequel.

Hopes for the rest of the season? For this season I would like to finish data basing the small finds from all previous seasons, and a majority of the bulk finds as well.

Jeff couldn’t decide which photo to send me, so he sent all of these.

Jeff?

That’s the Jeff we know and love

Trench 3 Update

Due to the ever-falling rain, progress in T3 was a little slower at the beginning of last week than usual. However, spirits remained high and our brave volunteers and supervisors battled on with important work….

Trench 3 Assistant Supervisor Steph ‘sieves’ in rather wetter-than-usual conditions!

Our finds washers refuse to be beaten by the rain!

…as well as a few slightly less useful, but equally enjoyable, activities!

Steph and Environmental Supervisor Megan engaging in some ‘extra-curricular’ activities

Megan making the most of our flooded trench on Tuesday

But even despite the bad weather last week, much progress has been made. – Our burning deposit in the North of T3 has now been entirely excavated, apart from where it continues under a stone scatter to the west. We hope to lift these stones and investigate this feature further in the coming week.

Our burning feature (3388) after being half-sectioned

We’ve also continued digging down by quadrant in the NW corner where we’re still a little higher than in the rest of the trench. Our theory that it is also still later in date may be supported by a recent find of green-glazed pottery (c. 12th-15h century) in this area.

Mark and Mikelah battle on in the NW corner of T3

We’ve now also completely excavated the possible clay floor surface in the NW quadrant…

Removing the clay deposit

…and are in the process of planning the pebble spread which lies under it – and probably formed part of the same surface.

The underlying pebble surface

The south-east quadrant is proving more complex, where a shower of different contexts are starting to appear. One of these contexts (3395) seems to have been disturbed by a large, deep hollow chock-full of loose pebbles. Unlikely to be rabbit disturbance due to the sheer number of stones, we are now considering some kind of pit or even drainage feature.

Pebble filled pit (?)

This is another feature we’ll be investigating further in the week ahead – especially as it is situated just to the east of our interrupted wall in the area, and so may be able to provide some clues as to why our wall line becomes so confused at this point.

Thanks for reading – keep tuned for further developments!

T3 x

BRP: making trouble all over the North

Being  up and about early on a Saturday or Sunday morning here at Bamburgh is no mean feat. And for that reason I beg your forgiveness for the fluffy nature of this blog post. However, many of us do rise at a respectable hour, and get out and enjoy the breathtaking sights unique to this part of Britain. Thats right, folks, today I’m going to show you what we at the Bamburgh Research Project get up to on our days off. It won’t always be pretty, but bear with me, and I promise we will be back to high quality archaeological blogging in no time.

Edinburgh: 

About an hour and 20mins away is the city of Edinburgh. We planned to leave straight from work, and have a night out, followed by a touristy day. I’m sorry to say that once we got into Edinburgh and had some pizza delivered, this happened:

Jeff was just lucky we left the sharpies in the Windmill

Next morning we headed out to see Greyfriars Bobby, the Royal Mile, and do some necessary shopping.

Natalie meets Greyfriars Bobby.

Oh, and we had a crack at Edinburgh’s biggest nachos. I’m very pleased to say, the girls won, finishing their bowl in record time, despite Jess, Lally and Jeff having a good 15 minute headstart.

Competitive Eating at it’s finest.

Alnwick

Being the large group of nerds that we are, we were so amazed by Barter Books that no one managed to get a picture. Just go there. Really.

There’s also a beautiful castle and gardens. Some of the group went to the Poison Garden. Since then we’ve all been really nice to them, as we are a little concerned by the plant cuttings Kirstie now has in her tent.

Jess admires Alnwick Castle.

Let’s not forget the fun we have here in Bamburgh Village as well:

Walking to the village gives views like this.

If you ask nicely, one of our ex-supervisors might read you a story:

Dan reads ‘Moose!’.

And let’s not forget that we have a sandpit on site.

Even on her days off, Jess loves to dig.

We have a lot of fun here at the Bamburgh Research Project. We have the usual Pub, Quiz and BBQ nights, but we have a lot of fun outside of planned activities too. If you have any suggestions of things we can do on our days off, or if you’d like to join us for a day, a week or a season, get in touch via our website http://www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk/ or Twitter at #brparchaeology

It’s Ladies Day!

Hey everyone, Kirstie and Maria here!

It’s ladies day here at the castle, and things are going swimmingly – even the rain can’t stop us! Down in the trenches we’ve been trowelling away, so that we are able to remove the last stones from the building tomorrow, blasting away at the rest of mega-context 3241 ready for the next big push!

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Steph, Maria, Danielle, Lauren, Rebecca and Kelly showing off their muscle after a hard day’s digging.

Livia has been working her illustration magic on the small finds from Trench 7. She’s been an absolute star working through the week on the illustrations – and she’s nearly finished them all! To see her at work click here.

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The illustrationally-talented Livia working hard away in the Windmill.

Perhaps the most exciting thing today though has been a visit from (what we believe to be) a baby kestrel. All these weeks we’ve heard the excited chirps from it’s nest high up in the windmill, with Director Graeme Young catching glimpses of the mother bird of prey as it swoops past his window to feed the young. And now we’re glad to announce the eagerly anticipated arrival of KELLY THE KESTREL!

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Ready for take-off?

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Learning to fly out in the rain – not so much.

Well that’s it from ladies day!

Take care xx