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.

Calendar of Upcoming Events

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We’ve got so many cool events in conjunction with the Council for British Archaeology’s Festival of Archaeology coming up and wanted to drop you all a breakdown of the next week!

17 July – Ask an Archaeologist Day

Send us all your burning archaeology questions on here, on Facebook, or on Twitter using the hashtag #AskAnArchaeologist. If you’re using Twitter, please make sure your account is unlocked so we can see your questions! Tweet your questions to @BRParchaeology to reach us, but don’t be surprised if you get some answers from other archaeologists…we’re very talkative. This initiative is to get people from all walks of life into the conversation about archaeology! We hope to help connect interested non-experts with archaeology, museum, and heritage professionals in a more accessible way. We love sharing our work (which is our passion), and this is a great way to give people some insight into what we do.

 

20-21 July – Festival of Archaeology FREE Environmental Archaeology Experience at Bamburgh Castle

Our very own archaeobotanist Alice Wolff will be running half-day tutorials both Saturday and Sunday on how we process environmental samples! Come spend a morning or afternoon with us and get a behind the scenes look at some of the great work our team is doing to better tell the story of Bamburgh. These two days of programming are supported by the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund.

Sign up here! It is completely FREE. Sunday still has some slots open, but Saturday is booking quickly, so what are you waiting for?

 

22 July – A Day in Archaeology

Have you spent some time with us on the dig as a student? Volunteered on any dig recently? Share your story in the week leading up to A Day in Archaeology by uploading a blog post or video telling us what your typical day looked like. Check out the posts so far this year, or dive into the archives. We’ll be posting about the most mysterious member of our team…me…the Outreach Officer! So stay tuned to the website above for what a typical day looks like in a public-facing role at a field school!

 

The Final Elegy of Trench 1

Before you read this blogpost, it is imperative you open this song in another browser tab to truly experience this post of bittersweet mourning and absolute elation that the trench is truly done.

About twenty years ago, the Bamburgh Research Project opened a trench in the northern end of the West Ward. It was one of the first trenches (along with trench 2) we opened in the Castle. The spot was chosen to focus on the early entrance to the Castle and hopefully trace the sequence of fortification in the outer ward, as some of the Norman wall was still extant. Saint Oswald’s Gate would have been the entryway during the Anglo-Saxon period, but became more of a back door during the Norman period. The archaeology in the trench was a bit shallower than trench 3 (our last remaining open trench), due to the bedrock and associated boulder clay exposed by erosion and centuries of use.

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Even though the bedrock was a starring character in the story of the trench, there was evidence of slots cut into it along with numerous pits and postholes cut into each other, as well as at least one robber trench where masonry was, shall we say, “appropriated.” What likely stood where we excavated was a timber (7th century), and later stone (pre-11th century), guardhouse or warden’s residence.

trench 1 overlay

The surviving post-Conquest wall would have been about a metre higher than it stands today, but even in its ruined form one can imagine how the view we now take for granted was obscured except for those patrolling parapets. The Norman remnants, skirted by the Armstrong-era low wall, seem to stand in the footprints of at least the timber defences, if not also where late Saxon masonry would have stood. During the early Anglo-Saxon period, the site was likely palisaded and patrolled along a box rampart, a log structure filled with rubble and clay.

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We reached out to some former staff members for pictures of the trench in progress that weren’t featured in the closing of the trench post, so join us for a last quick trip through the trench.

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2000.

2005

2005.

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2010 when Time Team were here.

2013 2

2013.

2016

2016.

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This week.

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One last look.

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As a bonus, here is a nearly-twenty-year-old low-quality picture of our director Graeme in trench 1 that was only preserved via phone camera of a computer screen and that we had to get by diving into the darkest recesses of former staff members’ hard-drives.

old graeme trench 1

YAC Attack! Day 1/Round-up: Week 3

Today’s YAC attack is by some of the members of the Flodden chapter of the Council for British Archaeology’s Young Archaeologists’ Club! We were so excited to have them on site with us, and they brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm. That’s why archaeological education and community archaeology are so much fun for us here at the BRP. Through the generous support of the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund, we were able to host these future archaeologists and really give them a day in the life of an archaeologist at Bamburgh Castle.

We had our young archaeologists rotate through a few of our daily activities, with special emphasis on the environmental work of Alice Wolff. They learned to process environmental samples through flotation, sorting, and analysis. But we didn’t just help them with the technical stuff, we really wanted to explain WHY we are looking so carefully at the palaeoenvironment. We can learn a lot looking at how past communities subsisted through times of plenty and times of scarcity, and Bamburgh Castle’s long history of occupation makes it a great candidate for exploring long-term cycles of environmental stasis and change. We broke them up into teams, and their team names did not disappoint!

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Team Ducky McPlatypusface running the flotation tank, gently letting the water break down clumps of soil to release any charred seeds that would float to the top.

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Team Artichoke looking at the heavy fraction produced via flotation, as well as some small finds that were in the sample.

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Describing the soil before processing via the flotation tank.

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Analysing some seeds under the microscope.

Both teams spent time with Alice (above), but also got to work with Tom Fox on some finds washing and Tom Howe and Kelly Tapager in the trench.

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Finds washing and intro to zooarch with Tom Fox.


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Excavating The Porch with Tom Howe.


Round-up:

This week had some up-and-down weather, and it was quite windy atop our perch in the West Ward. Regardless, we made some great progress throughout the trench.

The western wall just north of the BHT mortar mixer and the section adjacent to said mortar mixer now are some lovely sections, which our students cleaned and planned. On the way down, we found an interesting flattened aluminum cylinder that launched a day-long research dive you can read about here. Here we are taking an environmental sample:img_20190706_153042

The cobbles in the southeast corner of the trench lay mostly untouched this week, but the sondage near the entrance ramp to the trench was extended and it approaches the cobbles to the south at a fair clip.

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In the northwest corner of the trench, that weird section we always go on about, we’ve decided to divide it into quarters. We excavated the southeast quadrant and then took an environmental sample of the northwest quadrant which included a large patch of charcoal smears and orange clay.

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The environmental department has a new serif tank (link to twitter) we’ve named HMS FloatyMcFloatface. We’re telling everyone that we planned to name it after David Attenborough but took a popular vote and Floaty won as a write-in. Too soon? Too soon.

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In terms of finds, we might have been a little spoiled the past two weeks, so we aren’t too worried that we’ve mostly been finding vast quantities of animal bones. Finds supervisors Tom Fox has been using these animal bones to run sessions on zooarchaeology identification. We sat in on a few between tours and it was a great refresher for the basics, but also completely changed the way the rest of us non-zooarch-experts look at the animal bones that comprise the majority of our bulk finds.

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We also have two metal…somethings. The copper alloy object may be a strap-end that’s now clogged with soil. The lead object looks like a thin, rectangular piece of lead was rolled up to create a cylinder, or possibly rolled upon itself to give a spiral cross-section.

Way Back Wednesday: Week 3

Today’s Way Back Wednesday is an oldie but a goodie, as the youths say. In 2008, we found an iron object pointed at both ends but moderately corroded. It looked like it may have been a long knife, but what we discovered is even more exciting.

Before conservation:

 

It wasn’t just any knife, but a “seax,” the very type of long dagger or short sword the Anglo-Saxons themselves, both men and women, used in their daily life. “Seax” is actually the Old English word for “knife.” Larger seaxes would be used as weapons.

Here is our seax after conservation:

 

We turn to seasoned students Cassidy Sept and Olivia Russell for a rundown of just what makes this seax so special:

Size: The fragment is approximately 23cm/10in in length, 3cm/1in in width.

Period: Late Anglo-Saxon, c. mid 9th to late 11th century CE. We can refine this to the mid-to-late Anglo-Saxon period due to the presence of pattern-welding (so the 8th to 10th century CE perhaps), as pattern-welded blades decreased in the late Anglo-Saxon period.

Style: The pattern welding type is indicative of a compressed banded ladder design, which is a common Damascus steel design. Pattern-welding was common in Northern Europe for much of the early medieval period. According to Thomas Birch, University of Aberdeen, pattern-welded swords/seaxes/etc. reached their pinnacle during the 6th and 7th centuries CE and decreased in practice by the end of the Viking Age. This was largely due to procurement of better materials to make stronger weaponry and tools, thus rendering obsolete the necessity of welding metals in various patterns to provide reinforced strength. Despite this abatement in pattern-welding to strengthen blades, the practice likely continued for aesthetic or ceremonial purposes as the designs are beautiful, intricate, and highly skillful.

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The banded ladder pattern that is similar to what our seax has. There are, however, many other patterns (external site) available to the experienced steelworker.

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A modern pattern-welded seax similar typology to ours. Here (external site), in progress.

Typology: Using the Wheeler seax typology, it is likely to be a broken-back straight edge type III/IV with a straight, slightly concave tip and a single-edged blade.

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Seax typology, modified from Wheeler (1927) by Kirk Lee Spencer.

Further reading:

Birch, T. 2013. “Does pattern-welding make Anglo-Saxon swords stronger?” in D Dungworth and RCP Doonan (eds) Accidental and Experimental Archaeometallurgy (London), 127-134.

Fresh from the Trench: Week 3

*This blog post contains several links to external sites, and we are not responsible for the content therein. We do our best to make sure that the sites we’ve linked are safe and appropriate, but as always, be mindful when browsing!*

At the end of last week and beginning of this week, we had been working hard in the southwest corner of the trench. Our excavation overlaps with some of Brian Hope-Taylor’s trenches, and perhaps the biggest shared area is that of the mortar mixer. We’ve checked on it a bit over the course of this trench’s lifetime, but mostly it has remained covered in eerie slumber as we toil elsewhere. Lately, however, we have been tidying up the section wall adjacent to the BHT trench and cutting back the section just above the mortar mixer. This work involves a little bit of the archaeology of archaeology, in that we are encountering a disturbed context that BHT created in his backfill. We know of some of his site protocol, much of which was common in the 1960s-1970s, and we know of his less common whiskey-bottle-as-grid-peg practice. But we weren’t quite prepared for one thing we pulled out of the backfill:

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It’s a small aluminum cylinder in two nested halves, reminiscent of old shoe polish tins, but much lighter and thinner metal. It’s slightly crushed, the whole thing being between 1.75 digestive biscuits in thickness. For those of you who don’t use food-based units of measure, it’s about 1.5 centimetres. The top half says:

MACLEANS LTD

SPACE FOR NAME

[ ]

GREAT WEST ROAD

BRENTFORD

LONDON

PAT NO 458867

In small letters arcing around the left and right side of the main text, it also says “British made.”

So we have a start: a company name, a place, and a patent. The only references to Macleans Ltd as a still-existing company is a customer service page by the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline…whose office is in on Great West Road in Brentford (Middlesex). We sent them a quick email explaining who we are and what we found, along with a picture, and asked if a company archivist or historian could get back to us with any information. Unfortunately, there is presently no such archive, but they offered to put us in touch with the branding department that might have some idea about earlier industrial design for the company’s products. Not quite a dead end, but we weren’t satisfied with this alone.

Next, we searched various digitised patent databases to see if we could learn more about the product itself. We got a hit on the World Intellectual Property Organization’s “Patentscope” which gives us the information that would have made searching all those other databases much easier: the application number and date as well as the publication number and date. Here’s that summary info if you’d like to nose around yourself, while the full description is here:

Text regarding a patent.

Screencap of the summary page for Patent 458867.

The patent isn’t for the substance in the aluminum petri dish, but rather the container itself! The abstract also provides an answer to a question we Americans on staff had (since we couldn’t immediately recognise the name “Macleans”), but the Brits knew all along: it’s a toothpaste company! The word “dentifrice” in the above screenshot is basically a slightly archaic technical term for powders and pastes used to clean teeth.

Macleans was founded in 1919 by a man named Alex C. Maclean, who produced a peroxide-based toothpaste for whitening in 1927. Beecham, a British pharma group, purchased the company in 1938. Combining this with our patent date, it’s possible that the container we have is from as early as 1935/1936, but we can’t be sure that the product name didn’t retain Macleans after the acquisition by Beecham (Beecham merged with SmithKline and later they all merged with Glaxo Wellcome, thus giving the world GlaxoSmithKline). “Beecham’s Macleans” is not an uncommon phrase as we scoured the internet for its history. But according to the National Archives database, the phrase “Macleans Ltd.” is still in use at least until 1960. So we have a time period of no earlier than 1935, but likely the object was of more recent manufacture since we know BHT had his trench open in the 1960s.

From top left: 1930s via GlaxoSmithKline; 1946, 1951, 1953 from History World Advert Museum; Feb, July, August, September 1954 from Grace’s Guide.

This YouTube video is the advert that is perhaps the closest in time to BHT’s trench shenanigans.

None of this information tells us for sure that BHT was particularly interested in white teeth, but one of our archive rooms tells another story. When we mentioned the curious toothpaste tin to the environmental archaeology supervisor Alice, she remembered seeing them in BHT’s archival material. We went on a field trip to our archive store and discovered cache of all sorts of tins of different sizes but all roughly comparable to a digestive biscuit or two. Poking around, we discovered that Hope-Taylor used tins just like them for flot, which are the light charred seeds and other buoyant material that are skimmed off the surface when doing flotation of environmental samples. Our tin, however, was empty this time.

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EMPTY!

Mystery solved? Maybe. But you never know what else may turn up in the backfill…

We Are Legally Required Not to Make This Title a Pun About St. Oswald’s Arm

The Inner Ward of Bamburgh Castle holds many secrets, and one of the most interesting at hand (…sorry, couldn’t help it) is the church of Saint Peter/chapel of Saint Oswald. Across from the modern staterooms stands a small ruin. Don’t be fooled, however, because the ruins were modified during the Victorian Age! There seems to have been an intention to rebuild a chapel on the spot even in the 18th century, but it was never completed and dismantled early in the 19th century. It was extremely fashionable to have ruins on your property if you were wealthy, and if you didn’t have actual remnants of historical buildings, you could simply commission some. There was a certain romance in the decaying masonry of peoples long since gone. We call the false ruins found scattered on estates throughout the country “Victorian follies.” The folly that demarcates the holy space at the top of the Bamburgh rock does contain the tiniest bit of 12th-century Norman masonry in the far corner, but otherwise only preserves a rough guess at where the Anglo-Saxon period church would have stood. The Anglo-Saxon church is mentioned in a few key chronicles of the period, including Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of English People) written by the Venerable Bede. In Bede’s time, the church was dedicated to Saint Peter, but Norman records suggest the same site became the chapel of Saint Oswald.

Manuscript excerpt featuring Saint Oswald; man with brown hair, sceptre, and globe.

Excerpt from Spencer 1, folio 89 reverse. (New York Public Library.)

Oswald was son of a Bernician king who had been sent to exile after the death of his father; he was victorious over the numerous rival communities and kingdoms during his reign, and he was regarded as the overking of the English, called Bretwalda. The northern kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira were joined for perhaps their most successful stretch by Oswald. The royal city of this now-united-but-only-temporarily kingdom was Bamburgh, at the time called Bebbanburh. The origin of that name seems to stem from the name of the wife of Æthelfrith, descendant of King Ida who was the first recorded Anglian king of Bernicia (547AD). Oswald encouraged the Celtic Christianity brought by Aidan (from Iona but later founder of Lindisfarne), making the united Northumbria a Christian kingdom.

Bede’s Ecclesiastical History is also full of many juicy little morsels about Anglo-Saxon kings, and King Oswald is no exception. One anecdote of Oswald’s piety witnessed by Aidan, bishop-turned-saint, is recounted by Bede:

At dinner, the two men received word that outside a crowd of beggars had amassed hoping the king would spare some food. Oswald immediately sent his silver plate piled with food out to them and had the plate broken up and pieces given to each. Aidan was so pleased by such a gentle and generous king, he held the hand that had offered relief to the poor of his kingdom and blessed him that his arm and hand would never wither. When Oswald was defeated by Penda, last pagan king of the Mercians, his head and limbs were struck from his body. The arm and hand were eventually recovered and sent to Bamburgh, where they lay in a reliquary of silver.

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The apse encircling the 19th-century bell is the only extant Norman masonry.

In 1997, 2000, and finally in 2010, the BRP did some geophysical surveys of the area where the Victorian folly now stands; the first year involved survey of resistivity (which measures how an electrical current travels through the ground), the second was ground-penetrating radar, while the last involved both methods, this time with the help of Channel 4’s Time Team crew. The initial data were promising, suggesting a vaulted crypt might lay beneath the ruins. After subsequent excavation, numerous features on the church site were discovered and recorded, but none that matched the anomaly from the surveys. One theory is that the shape was actually a signature of the subsurface material that had been flipped when the data were compiled. The area did however suggest Romano-British occupation, medieval construction phases, and post-medieval disturbance during the Armstrong rebuild period. All in all, the trenches, although not containing a crypt with or without a 1,377-year-old hand, proved incredibly valuable in our understanding of some of the Inner Ward of the castle.

So was this where Saint Peter’s church actually stood? What happened to Oswald’s miraculously uncorrupted arm and hand? Well, we aren’t quite sure. As much as we love solving mysteries with archaeology, a mystery that continues to remain just out of reach tantalizingly urges us forward to reassess our approaches and previous interpretations.

Round-up: Week 2

This week was very busy, and even with some uncooperative weather, we made a lot of headway in the trench and with some of our post-excavation work. Our flotation tank is up and running, so we have started processing samples from the first week of the season with students. The finds department has been digitizing records, as well as guiding some of the students into more advanced technical drawing of small finds. In addition, they worked on some 3D models of Brian Hope-Taylor’s old trench to better understand what he was seeing. We hope to show you those as well as models of our excavation when they are finished.

Along the western edge of the trench, we started working at the base of a section wall we re-cut that stands adjacent to Brian Hope-Taylor’s trench containing the mortar mixer (SW corner of trench). The upper pavement he had originally encountered seems to continue in our excavation.

Brown-haired girl kneels in front of wall of earth, large paving stones to her left.

The upper pavement of which Hope-Taylor spoke, in an area adjacent to his original excavations.

We lifted some of those paving stones, which revealed a large deposit of snail shells and, as we cleaned, some really beautiful but compact stratigraphy.

Layers of soil alternating bark brown, orange, grey and ashen, above large paving stones.

The stratigraphy under the upper pavement on the western edge of the trench north of the mortar mixer.

Near the trench entrance ramp, we dug a sondage to examine a possible pit. Nearly-whole oyster shells were stacked in a small pile in the sondage. We extended our mini-trench along a stone alignment and discovered a beautifully incised spindle whorl (seen here in both drawing and photo).

Small brown rectangle of lower soil with narrow stones aligned along the bottom of the image.

Sondage looking south; shell deposit to left and spindle whorl found centre-right.

The northwestern corner of the trench was cleaned and reexamined, and it remains one of the weirdest areas of the trench going back nearly a decade. This time, what stood out was that the corner was retaining moisture differently from the adjacent areas; we call this differential drying. This tells us that there is something preventing the soil from draining and drying at the same rate, be it the composition of the soil (for example, a lot of clay) or the presence of something, natural or human-made, underneath it.

Yellow tripod in right background, triangle of grey-brown soil bordered on two sides by angular grey stones.

NW corner of the trench; tripod for our total station, which is a surveying tool that measures distance electronically by bouncing light off a prism.

Lastly, in the southeast corner of the trench, we planned all the cobbles of our 7th/8th-century yard surface and began removing them! This layer of cobbles had been exposed for a while, so lifting many of the loosest stones was extremely satisfying. And underneath? So far…more cobbles. Stay tuned!

Four adults crouch to lift small grey and blue cobbles and place them in yellow buckets.

Everyone wanted to get in on lifting the cobbles!

 

The Festival of Archaeology is just under a month away!

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This is your big, bold reminder to come join us at Bamburgh Castle on 20th or 21st July.

Our free trench-side activities will focus on environmental archaeology, under the guidance of environmental supervisor Alice Wolff. Participants can join one of our half-day sessions for hands-on experience in recording, sorting, and analysing soil samples. Sign up here!

Three dark-haired women stand around a square tank of muddy water.

Environmental Supervisor Alice works alongside two students on a brisk day.

Now you might be thinking, “What are soil samples, and what could they possibly tell us?” Environmental sampling is a process by which archaeologists can collect and study the fills or even floor surfaces of archaeological features; these fills include the soil that is inside rubbish pits, postholes, and even buildings. The samples are carefully collected and then processed with a sieve and running water known as a flotation tank. The sample is suspended by a small mesh and water is pumped from beneath it. The water separates the silt from the small rock fragments, allowing the tiny grains of silt to sink through the mesh. The small rocks and any artifacts will rest in the mesh, while charred seeds and sometimes even the shells of small molluscs (like tiny snails) will float to the top and can be skimmed off into another fine mesh. You end up with three resulting products: pure silt, rocks and artifacts, and the skimmed material known as “flot.” This flot can be analysed under a microscope to identify the seeds and molluscs. Seeds tell us all about the domesticated and wild plants consumed by a community on a site, while small molluscs can actually tell us about the climate because certain species only survive in very particular temperature ranges. The rocks and artifacts will be dried and sorted to get a clearer picture of what the area sampled was used for. And the silt? Mostly clogs up our water jets, to be honest. It’s a good bit of fun, but when you join us, be sure to wear something that you won’t mind getting a little muddy, as well as sturdy footwear!

The Festival of Archaeology is a celebration of archaeology where everyone is welcome to listen, learn, and get their hands dirty! It is a Council for British Archaeology initiative, and this year the focus is on the intersection of archaeology and scientific technology. We’re able to run our event during the festival this year due to a grant from the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund. We hope to see you there!

Artefact Drawing

Finds Assistant Kennedy Dold has been leading tutorials on archaeological illustration, which is all about accurately portraying the artefacts as they are.

First, she shows the students the tools needed: graph paper, tracing paper, pencils, rulers, and pens for inking final drawings. Next, she helps them set up the layout of the graph paper drawing sheet, by recording all the critical information about the artefact including its finds number and context. Every illustrator needs to become acquainted with their artefact, by observing it and, if safe, handling it. The front is the most important view one will be drawing, but the back, sides, and a cross-section must also be presented to scale on the same sheet. Instead of shading areas with pencil graphite to create a gradient, we use stippling (small dots). After the drawing on the graph paper is complete, the illustrator has two options for creating an inked version: they can trace by hand with a fine-tipped ink pen on tracing paper or scan the drawing and digitally trace the lines. The entire purpose of drawing these artefacts is to show the qualities that aren’t visible or clear in artefact photos!

Below are two examples of our students’ work this week:

Cassidy drew a comb made of antler found in 2017 in a 7th/8th context. Notice the stippling that shows the surface depth. On the left you can see the final inked version, and under the tracing paper you can see the pencil drawing on the graph paper.

Inked drawing of fragment of antler comb with fine teeth. Lighter drawing in pencil of same information beneath.

Anglo-Saxon comb, as drawn by Cassidy.

Rebecca produced this drawing of the spindle whorl (used for making yarn) from Tuesday afternoon. It was in a sondage (mini-trench within a trench) that initially was dug to examine a possible pit feature, but eventually was extended after finding a deposit of intact shells. The inked lines nicely accentuate the circles carved around the whorl.

Inked drawing of spindle whorl with carved concentric circles.

Recently discovered spindle whorl, drawn by Rebecca.