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.

tempjillian

“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

festword.png

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.

IMG_20190708_134543

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.

66299396_2433750823351483_1563563911892959232_n

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.

trench 1 2000

2000.

2005

2005.

time team 2010

2010 when Time Team were here.

2013 2

2013.

2016

2016.

IMG_20190708_153723

This week.

IMG_20190708_154536

One last look.

img_20190710_115420

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!

img_20190706_125627

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.

img_20190706_113742

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

img_20190706_124954

Describing the soil before processing via the flotation tank.

img_20190706_114719_645

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.

img_20190706_104116

Finds washing and intro to zooarch with Tom Fox.


img_20190706_132050

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.

img_20190703_160056

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.

img_20190704_160942

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.

img_20190702_103730_208

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.

img_20190702_162423

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.

Midseason Giveaway!

img_20190623_153418

We’ve got MERCH! At present, we have stocked up so students can purchase short-sleeve t-shirts, long-sleeve raglan shirts, and zipped fleeces. At the end of the season, we hope to open up purchasing availability to friends and supporters for the rest of our inventory. But fret not, because we will be giving away TWO t-shirts (pictured above) on social media–one on Facebook, one on Twitter–as a thank you for following the project and sending us more well-wishes than we know what to do with! We cannot ship internationally, so unfortunately we can only accept submissions from UK residents (this time around), but in future we hope to have a wider selection and international access.

How it works:

Facebook: Comment on this post by midnight BST of Sunday, 7 July (so Sunday night into Monday morning) with your favourite thing about our dig…it can be something, an artefact or feature or a memory, from our very earliest days up to today. One random winner will be chosen from replies! Winner announced Monday.

Twitter: Retweet this tweet to your timeline by midnight BST of Sunday, 7 July (so Sunday night into Monday morning. (Account must be unlocked at the deadline for us to know it was you!) One random winner will be chosen from replies! Winner announced Monday.

img_20190623_160946

 

Meet the Team: Finds Crew

We have an amazing finds team that works with all the artefacts we excavate as well as managing our archives. They identify, sort, draw, 3D model, and store all of the things we have found! Here is a little about them in their own words.

Tom Fox, Finds Supervisor

Tom explaining how we label and wash bulk finds.

Hey, I’m the resident finds goblin here at the Bamburgh Research Project. I’m an MSc Bioarchaeology student at the University of York, graduated from the University of Nottingham. My areas of specialisation are Zooarchaeology and stable isotopes. In my free time I enjoy archery, kendo and a few handy crafts.

Kennedy Dold, Finds Assistant

Kennedy perturbed by her supper.

Hi, I’m Kennedy the Assistant Finds Supervisor. I get to organise the old stuff.

I deal with all things post-excavation with a focus on technical finds illustration, re-organising the project’s bulk finds, and ensuring Tom Fox eats his lunch.

I just graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a First in History & Archaeology and will pursue a Masters in Museum Studies at the University of Kansas this autumn.

Combining my undergraduate degree with my upcoming Masters, I hope to translate the complexities of history and archaeology in new and exciting ways. I love seeing people engage with the past and want to work in international cultural heritage management with the ultimate dream being a job with UNESCO.

For the past four years, I have been a member of the Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club and have spent many a weekend festering in bothys, bagging Munros, or falling in bogs.

I am very excited to be back at Bamburgh for the summer and can’t wait to see what sort of ‘preciouses’ this season will uncover.

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!

 

Fresh from the Trench: Week 1

Our first few finds have turned up, via some diligent and patient excavation to work through the tamped-down surface our trench. Even though we cover the site, the surface of the soil still forms a crust that we remove with our trowels, and we call this “cleaning.” We only take the thinnest of layers off the surface just to help us find those subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, color, texture, and moisture-retention differences that allow us to see different areas we call “contexts.” Each context has a number and has been recorded carefully, but after some time away, archaeologists like to look at a fresh cleaned surfaced to re-calibrate their mental picture of the site.

Sitting pretty next to some flagstones in the southern area of the trench was this lovely little styca:

Small, pale green (copper alloy) coin on drying light brown soil.

A 9th-century copper alloy coin called a styca.

A “styca” is a copper alloy coin from the 9th century, and its name comes from the Old English “stycce” for “piece.” These coins were minted at York for Northumbrian kings and archbishops. They were roughly the same size as the earlier Anglo-Saxon silver pennies found further south, and initially did contain silver like the pennies known as “sceattas.” The coinage became debased, eventually having little to no silver at all. The copper alloys were particularly common beginning around 830AD, and the low value of the coin actually made it more regularly employed for daily exchanges. These coins fell out of use, however, before 880AD, partly due to the presence of Vikings in York, but there seems to have been a gradual decline in the coins and the rise of anonymous and badly struck ones. We have found many stycas onsite but that doesn’t make their discovery any less fun!

Welcome to the 2019 season of the BRP!

img_20190617_0916402-1

Almost everyone has arrived for our first week on site, trowels in tow, waterproof trousers just in case, and enthusiasm out their ears. This summer the BRP wants to really help you all feel like you are right there with us, so expect a deluge of tweets, pictures, and blog posts over the next 6 weeks. And where can you find all this juicy, archaeological content? Glad you asked:

Our Twitter account is @brparchaeology, where you will get real-time updates of our day and any breaking discoveries.

For Facebook users, we can be found at Bamburgh Research Project.

And for all of you who want a nice mix of technical and artsy pictures, head over to our Instagram @bamburghresearchproject.

If you truly don’t want to miss a single thing, I would recommend following all three social media accounts. Chances are, one of those accounts may have led you to this blog right here, so why not just lean into it, and follow us EVERYWHERE?

This blog will be the home of all our longer-form site, artefact, and team updates, and we’ve got lots in store for the summer already. In addition to covering our trench-side discoveries, we will introduce you to the team, pull out some bits and bobs from our archives, and look at some interdisciplinary topics that overlap with the work we are doing.

Our goals for this season are many:

In a general sense, as mentioned above, we want to be as accessible and transparent as possible for our friends and supporters all around the world. We want you all to join us as we scratch our heads over weird and unknown artefacts and rejoice in the thrill of discovery in real-time. We are also expanding our outreach programming in both community archaeology and paleoenvironmental sample collection and analysis thanks to an incredible grant in memory of a beloved archaeologist; the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund’s support will allow us to gather more data about the ecological history of our site. (More info in our previous blog posts here and here.)

Graeme Young, our daily on-site director, has some high hopes for Trench 3 this season. In the southwestern corner of the trench, we have some soil that spent several seasons covered by tarp as an unexcavated baulk, so we hope to join up the layers on either side, and maybe get some new information about the occupation of that part of the trench. There is an old feature long ago recorded between our two WWI test latrine pits in the center of the trench that has been slowly brought down, but there’s a few stones still in situ, including one very clearly placed upright and we’d like to know why. Lastly, we’d like to more closely understand the cobbled surface in the southeastern corner of the trench, which at this point seems to suggest a yard for craftworking some time in the 8th centuries.

Trench supervisor Constance Durgeat led the cleaning of the trench for the first part of the day, later followed by archaeological assistant Kelly Tapager and assistant supervisor Tom Howes providing an introduction to trench photography. The finds team of Tom Fox and assistant Kennedy Dold gave an introduction to photogrammetry and a tutorial in artefact technical drawing respectively. You’ll get to know more about the team as the season goes on!

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.

2019-PrintMain_Logo_CBA_WEB

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.

Festival 5

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