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.

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.

Bamburgh Castle Early Medieval Metalwork Conservation: Iron Objects

As part of the Bamburgh Research Project’s (BRP) funding from the Society of Antiquaries of London (SOA) (learn more about the project here: SOA Funding Success), the BRP have been working with a conservator to identify metal objects that may require additional research and conservation to help preserve them and, in some instances, reveal new details about their form or decoration. The latter is particularly pertinent for iron objects, as corrosion often masks the finer detail of many objects.

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Funding from the SOA and Bamburgh Castle has enabled us to have all the early medieval metalwork from the castle conserved. We recently received the conservation report for all the iron objects. Below you can see some of the before and after images of key items from the assemblage.

Angled back Seax with fuller and whittle tang. Swirls indicative of pattern welding, seen in x-ray and during conservation.

 

Object BC08 6531 sf 3234 has been identified as a small C-shaped fire-striker of probably eighth to tenth-century date, but further research would be required to confirm this.

Each conserved item is returned to the BRP with before and after photographs and an individual conservation report, noting what work has been undertaken, any suggested further work required and how to best store the object(s) in long term storage. You can see an example of such a report here: Iron Fire-striker Conservation Record

Eventually, we aim to create a new museum display within the Castle, so visitors can see the conserved metalwork and learn how this material has added to our understanding of the sites development, particularly in the West Ward of the castle where we have discovered a 9th-10th century metalworking area.

Join the Bamburgh Research Project as part of the Festival of Archaeology

The Bamburgh Research Project (BRP) will hosting a weekend of free activities as part of the Council for British Archaeology’s annual Festival of Archaeology.

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Join the BRP on the 20th or 21st of July to explore 2000 years of activity at Bamburgh Castle on their annual excavation within the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland.

The BRP have been excavating through 2,000 years of occupation at Bamburgh Castle. As we excavate, we undertake environmental sampling of the different archaeological layers. These are processed on the trench-side where bones, seeds, charred remains and small artefacts (including coins, gold-filigree decoration and beads) are recovered.

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As part of the Festival of Archaeology the BRP are hosting four half-day sessions where members of the public can work with our Environmental Supervisor to process our samples and record the material we recover. This will include specialist training with a flotation tank, tuition in recording the processed material and identification of archaeobotanic material in our on-site lab funded by the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund.

To book your place simply visit the Festival website and follow the instructions: sign-up to the BRP Festival event

 

Launch of our 2019 Archaeology Field School

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We are delighted to announce that booking details are now available for our 2019 field school season, which runs from June 16th – July 27th. The field school will operate out of Bamburgh Castle and we are offering two programmes:

Excavation and Post-Excavation or Post-Excavation only

You can book anywhere from one to six weeks. However, we recommend booking two weeks minimum for a well rounded experience. Our dates are listed below:

  • Week 1: June 16th- June 22nd
  • Week 2: June 23rd- June 29th
  • Week 3: June 30th- July 6th
  • Week 4: July 7th- July 13th
  • Week 5: July 14th- July 21st
  • Week 6: July 22nd- July 27th

Student spaces are limited, so we encourage you to book your place as soon as possible.

Tuition is £280 per week, which will cover all on-site excavation and post-excavation activities. You can learn more about what this covers by visiting our website.

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Excavation of Trench 3 at 8th century levels

Accommodation must be booked separately. The staff are staying at Budle Bay Campsite and we very much encourage you to join us there for a more communal experience. Most who join the dig find making new friends and the social side of the excavation just as much fun as the dig itself.  Budle bay offers a variety of options from basic camping to booking your own Eco Hut. Options for space in the Bunkhouse that we are booking for staff are also available but do contact us to ensure that places are still available in it before booking with the campsite.

Note: There were a number of changes to the field school last year, such as our training schedule and when you are expected to arrive. Even if you have booked in years past we encourage you to read-through the updated website pages.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Public Outreach in Bamburgh Village

Julie Polcrack, Public Outreach Officer here!  The main goals of public outreach efforts this season were to: 1) give the public a basic understanding of archaeological excavation and post-excavation practices, 2) allow the public to ask questions about archaeology in general, 3) inform the public about our current findings at the castle, and 4) encourage a general interest in cultural heritage. We sought to accomplish these goals through trench side activities, hands-on activities in Bamburgh Village, and public lectures in the Bamburgh Pavilion. These activities were made possible by a grant from the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund supported by both the CBA and Historic England. To learn more about this please see Community Outreach Activities and Bamburgh Outreach 2018.

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Every day, on the trench-side, we have been engaging visitors with various core post-ex activities, predominantly undertaking finds washing and sorting. This has provided the opportunity for visitors to handle the artefacts as they are excavated from the trench. Our activities down in Bamburgh Village have also involved hands-on learning. Below are some examples of the types of activities we created to help visitors understand how we draw information from the finds we unearth during our excavation.

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Members of the public reading about excavations at the castle and looking at pottery

Activities

What Is It?: Mystery Artefact Demonstration

This activity is designed to demonstrate how archaeologists use artefacts to discern how past people lived. We ask our participants to first hold the object and then guide them through identifying what the artefact is. We also ask them to describe the object. It works best if you ask people to pretend that they cannot see the object and describe it as though they are on the phone. They commonly describe what the artefact is made of, its size, its shape and potential uses for the object. This activity gets them really thinking about the artefacts and begins the interpretative process.

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A replica salt cellar, bone spindle whorl, and whetstone

To guide your participants, you must give hints and clues that lead them to the proper conclusion. Typically you give hints about the period of time when the artefact was made or the context in which the artefact was used (e.g. – textile making). In this activity, the public gets an idea of what archaeologists have to do when they excavate an artefact and have to identify it. It also encourages participants to think about what types of objects they will leave behind for future archaeologists and what it will tell them about life today.

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Participants trying to figure out the mystery artefact

Pottery of the Past

Using pottery sherds from the assemblage uncovered at Bamburgh, we can give the public a tangible way of seeing the different time periods our site spans. When going from Roman Samian ware to Anglo-Saxon pottery, you can ask participants about the physical differences they see and then explain what lies behind these differences – type of clay, inclusions, glaze, slip used in the pottery; where the pottery was made; when the pottery was made; whether it was made on a wheel or it was hand thrown; etc. You also try to ask questions that will get your participant to think about the nature of preservation and why archaeologists typically find sherds instead of whole pottery vessels.

After showing off the Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and Medieval pottery to participants, we will offer different activities to complete. Children and parents can put together a paper pot that they can take home with them or they can try to reconstruct a broken plate. Both of these activities get people to consider pottery reconstruction and the reconstructive nature of archaeology as a whole.

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Participants reconstructing a paper pot

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Participants reconstructing a broken plate

Worked Bone Artefacts

The Bamburgh Research Project has a substantial collection of worked bone finds uncovered in excavation and a number of replica bone tools and objects from friend of the project, David Constantine. This entire collection not only gives the public an insight into the type of finds we uncover, but it also shows them the variety of uses for animal bone in the early medieval world.

The trench-side and Bamburgh Village activities, supported by the free lecture series, are aimed at encouraging Bamburgh residents and visitors to explore the areas history, learn a little about archaeology and hopefully have a bit of fun along the way. We hope to expand our outreach over the next 12 months, so watch this space!

Bamburgh Castle Medieval and Anglo-Saxon Metalwork Analysis and Conservation

Here at Bamburgh Research Project we are now in our fourth week of excavation. Staff and students have been focusing their efforts on revealing and recording a 7-8th century cobbled surface in the south-east of the trench. To learn more watch our latest trench update from Director, Graeme Young, who explains progress so far: Trench 3 Update.

As well as the excavation in the trench we also have a post-ex team working with students to record the finds and paleoenvironmental material as it is recovered. They are also working really hard prepping all the medieval and Anglo-Saxon metalwork from Trench 3 for analysis and conservation as part of our Society of Antiquaries funding (you can learn more about this project here: SOA Grant).

 

We have sorted, boxed and listed all the material and the metalwork assemblage has now gone to our specialist conservator, Karen Barker. Karen will stablilise, x-ray and provide a conservation assessment for us. The details we gather from the assemblage will form part of a interim excavation report and key items will be selected for conservation and display in the Archaeology Museum at the Castle.

 

Karen has begun to x-ray the thousands of metal artefacts, which is particularly exciting when looking at corroded items, as the form and detail of objects is often revealed at this stage.

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X-ray of Trench 3 iron objects

This is one of the early x-rays from the assemblage with various iron objects, including buckles, knives, a couple of nails and a possible door hinge.

We will update the blog as more information becomes available.

 

Thanks to the Society of Antiquaries of London for their grant support.

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Community Outreach Activities: join us this summer at BRP

The Bamburgh Research Project has created a programme of free archaeology activities to run alongside the excavation this year. You can learn a little more about the background to this in an earlier blog post: Bamburgh Outreach 2018

Below is a list of forthcoming events that you can get involved with:

Bamburgh Village Archaeology Activities

Join us at the Cricket Pavilion in Bamburgh Village 2-4 p.m. on Monday 26th of June, Monday 2nd and 9th of July and Tuesday 17th of July.

We will be undertaking hands-on artefact work, including finds washing, sorting and illustration. We will also be displaying some of our more interesting and significant finds from the excavation. Everyone is welcome!

Bamburgh Village Lecture Series

Join us at the Cricket Pavilion in Bamburgh Village 7-8 p.m. We will be delivering the following free lectures:

Tuesday 26th June: Life and death at the early medieval palace of Bamburgh: the results of the excavation of the Bowl Hole cemetery site by Graeme Young

Tuesday 3rd July: Forging Castle Space: Anglo-Saxon Metalworking at Bamburgh Castle by Julie Polcrack

Tuesday 10th July: Searching for humour in dark places: an investigation of humoral theory in the Early Medieval by Tom Fox

Tom’s lecture will explore scientific means of investigating human remains to better understand their diet, culture and society.

Tuesday 17th of July: The Excavation of Bamburgh Castle: an end of season overview by Graeme Young

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Grave cuts been photographed by one of the past directors, Phil Wood, in the Bowl Hole cemetery

Bamburgh Castle Trench-Side Activities

The BRP will also be running daily trench side activities Saturday-Thursday every week until July 18th. These will take place 11 – 1 p.m. and again from 2 – 4 p.m.

If you are visiting Bamburgh Castle please visit us in the West Ward where you can see the excavation underway and undertake hands-on artefact activities. These will run on the trench side and in our bell tent. Activities include finds washing, sorting and illustration, handling and working with pottery or bone and displays of significant finds from the site.

Note: not all activities will run everyday and as these are undertaken outside it maybe necessary to cancel due to bad weather.

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If you have any questions please contact: graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

 

Digging through the 8th century AD

After the first few days back on site at Bambugh Castle the excavation is up and running and we are starting to make some visible progress. The first week always involves some catching up with where we were, but even so we are now moving forward and excavating down to an extensive cobble surface that we previously indentified in a narrow sounding trench.

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Always plenty of recording to be done in the first week.

We have been speculating just what this cobble structure represents for a while now so its good to be getting on with the process of exposing the feature in full and answering this question. At the moment this Director’s opinion is that it will turn out to be a building platform, but a yard surface or even a road are also in the running.  Time and hard work will tell.

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More of the cobble structure being revealed in Trench 3

2018 Project Design: what will the BRP be focusing on this year?

Before the start of the excavation season the BRP directors compile a list of aims and objectives based on what we we want to achieve during this period. This includes how we plan to excavate and record the site, strategies for undertaking post-excavation research, our aims for teaching both staff and students, and what we hope to achieve in terms of our outreach.

We have created a detailed Project Design, which provides background information about the site and previous work undertaken. This is then used to inform our detailed plans for the summer, as set out in the latter part of the Project Design. You can access this document here: Bamburgh Research Project Design 2018

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Overview

This year we will be focusing our attention on excavation of Trench 3, where the main body of our teaching will be undertaken. This will be supported by our finds and paleoenvironmental teams.  We will also be prepping the bulk of the medieval and early medieval metalwork to go for specialist analysis thanks to funding from the Society of Antiquaries. Recent funding from the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund has also allowed us to expand our outreach activities, which you can learn more about here: 2018 Outreach Activities

If you have any questions about our plans please email graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk