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!

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

 

Further Funding Success for the BRP with the CBA’s Mick Aston Archaeology Fund

The Bamburgh Research Project have kindly been awarded £988 from the Council for British Archaeology’s Mick Aston Archaeology Fund, which is supported by Historic England.

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The BRP will use the funding to enhance our outreach outputs. It will facilitate free, daily, trench-side activities for visitors to Bamburgh Castle, encouraging them to explore the history of the site (prior to the upstanding remains), through hands-on activities and guided tours. It is also the aim of the project to undertake free activities within Bamburgh Village for those unable to access the Castle. This will engage both local residents and tourists. The latter will be supported by a free evening lecture series, throughout the duration of the excavation.

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Director, Graeme, giving a site tour of the Castle

Trench-side and and village activities will include:

  • Hands-on teaching sessions undertaken by BRP pottery specialist and animal bone specialist
  • Finds washing
  • Finds sorting
  • Finds illustration
  • Handling collection (animal bone, pottery etc.)
  • ‘Show and tell’ activity, where more significant/rare items are displayed and discussed by BRP staff
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Some of our younger volunteers visiting Trench 3

The funding will primarily be used to purchase equipment and hire venues for the village activities.

A timetable of planned activities will be added to the blog in due course.

Launch of our 2018 Archaeology Field School

 

Booking details are now available for our 2018 field school season, which runs from June 17th – July 20th.  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 five weeks. However, we recommend booking two weeks minimum for a well rounded experience. Our dates are listed below:

  • Week 1: June 17th- June 23rd
  • Week 2: June 24th- June 30th
  • Week 3: July 1st- July 7th
  • Week 4: July 8th- July 14th
  • Week 5: July 15th- July 20th

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

Tuition is £275 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.

Accommodation must be booked separately. There are many options for accommodation in the area to suit every budget and we are happy to offer suggestions. However, we do encourage all participants to stay in close proximity to BRP staff, as this allows staff and students the opportunity to get to know one another in a social setting and there are friendly faces around should you need a helping hand. This year our staff will be staying at Budle Bay Campsite

Note: There have been several changes to the field school 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.

The Bamburgh Bird: Unique 8th century Anglo-Saxon decorative metal work discovered at Bamburgh Castle

Near the end of last summer’s excavation season we made a marvellous new find of national significance; a beautifully decorated copper alloy bird mount. The decorated fragment is small, 23mm by 12mm, but decorated with an intricate zoomorphic representation of a bird, characteristic of early medieval North European art. The star find has since been undergoing careful conservation to reveal an intricately decorated artefact that is a window into the art of a lost era of early medieval royal society.

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Our first view of the conseved find (Karen Barker, Conservator)

Initial comments from a number of experts has suggested that the bird mount is unique, with no direct parallels and likely to be 8th century in date. It is fascinating that the new image appears to hark back in time to the bird of prey motifs of the 6th and 7th centuries AD and could represent a descendant of these earlier styles just as ‘the later 8th century York helmet, is an update of the form known from the earlier Sutton Hoo, Staffordshire and Wollaston helmets’.

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The bird is a realtively thin copper allow piece undecorated on the back anmd likely to have been mounted onto a larger artefact.

The find, excavated by Harry Francis, was recovered from a cobbled surface revealed at the base of a narrow trench that was excavated to identify the next occupation surface at the southern part of Trench 3.  This was revealed as a well constructed surface just centimetres below the well dated 9th century metal working building. At this time there were a number of smaller kingdoms and Northumbria was one of these. The palace fortress of Bamburgh was one of the most important places in Northumbria at that time and we have evidence of metal working, probably associated with the production of arms and armour for the warriors of the royal court in our excavation. In summer 2017 we will continue our investigations of the find spot and we hope to discover if it represents an earlier period of metal working or some other activity. At the moment our investigation of this horizon is at such an early stage we are unsure if the find came from within a building or from a yard surface or path where it may have been dropped. We are very much looking forward to getting back on site and continuing our excavations.

Francis Armstrong and his son Will, owners of Bamburgh Castle have commented that ‘the Bird is a spectacular discovery. It is a beautiful artefact and we are proud that it has been found here at Bamburgh. Finds like this help us to connect with the Castle’s history and it is wonderful when we get the opportunity to display these ancient wonders so our visitors can enjoy them close up. We are grateful for the work the BRP do here at the Castle and we have a great time working with them unearthing the stories that Bamburgh Castle has to tell’.

Research into the new find is ongoing and we aim to have a short publication ready later this year. The bird will be on display at the castle, open 10.00am to 5pm until 29th October, with many other fascinating finds including pattern welded swords and intricately decorated gold work. You can also come and chat to the archaeologists on site when visiting the castle between June 11th and July 15th.

Lottery grant for the Bamburgh Heritage Trust

The plans for a new heritage centre at St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh, that will bring the story of the early medieval Bowl Hole burials to life has taken a big step closer with the awarding of a development grant to the Bamburgh Heritage Trust by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Bowl Hole Excavation Project was undertaken by Bamburgh Research Project (BRP) and Durham University and has produced a wealth of academic information about some of the earliest Christian inhabitants of Bamburgh. The burials are contemporary with the early medieval palace site currently under investigation within the castle by the BRP (places still available for this season’s excavation) and together give an extraordinary insight into what is often called the Golden Age of Northumbria.

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Some of the early medieval skeletons on their way from the castle to St Aidan’s Church during the reburial ceremony in 2016

The new funding represents an important step forward in bringing these results to the wider public. If you have not already seen it then do read Tony Henderson’s terrific article in the Chronicle, which details the work undertaken at the Bowl Hole and the planned project outputs.

If you would like to take part in this years excavations at Bamburgh Castle and/or our prehistoric wetlands site at the Bradford Kaims, please contact field-school coordinator  colekelly@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk or visit www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk.

 

St Aidan’s ossuary in the news again

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St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh

An event hosted at St Aidan’s, Bamburgh by the Bamburgh Heritage Trust will provide a further chance to view the ossuary and learn more about its creation and the lives of those buried there more than 1200 years ago.

Follow the link to see more details and information on how to book your place.

http://www.northumberlandgazette.co.uk/news/local-news/rare-chance-to-visit-ossuary-at-bamburgh-1-8076237

Laying the Bowl Hole Skeletons to Rest

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It seems both a long time ago and strangely almost like yesterday that we uncovered a cyst burial (a grave cut outlined with slabs of stone) and realised that we had identified the location of the lost burial ground at the Bowl Hole. Memory is a funny thing! Over the 15+ years since that weekend we have undertaken an extensive excavation, followed by a successful collaboration with Durham University, aimed at analysing the skeletons and understanding as far as we are able the story that they have to tell us.

The results have been fascinating and we very much look forward to sharing them with you in the future, through further academic papers, a long awaited monograph and, we hope, a popular publication and visitor centre. Much of this work lies in the months ahead but tomorrow a long awaited and important landmark in the story of the site will happen when we undertake the reburial of the skeletons at St Aidan’s church in Bamburgh. We always intended to rebury them following their study and ST Aidan’s, a church whose foundation is as old as the cemetery site, is the perfect place to be their final resting place.

You can read a little more about the service in the article below. If you have the chance to attend then please do.

http://www.northumberlandgazette.co.uk/news/local-news/final-committal-of-anglo-saxon-skeletons-after-creation-of-ossuary-1-7975389#ixzz4COCrIfrQ

The King in the North – a talk

The Friends of St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh have organised a talk by Max Adams on his biography of St Oswald. It is at St Aidan’s at 4:00 pm Sunday 24th April. Entrance if £5.00 and includes afternoon tea.

Max Adams lecture poster

Writing a biography of an early medieval king is a challenge, so succeeding in writing an acclaimed one, as Max has, suggests we will be in for a treat. Do make it along if you get the chance.

The Castle Windmill

Built upon a prominent outcrop near Oswald’s Gate, the Castle Windmill stands as the highest structure within Bamburgh’s West Ward. Up until fairly recently popular opinion held that the windmill was built under the leadership of Dr. John Sharp. As it turns out, due to the research of Carol Griffiths, it has been determined that the Castle Windmill was not constructed until after his death.

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Background on Dr. John Sharp (1722-1792): With the death of his father, Thomas, Dr. Sharp was made head of the Lord Crewe’s Trustees in 1758. Fronting the money for many of the original fees, Dr. Sharp planned to create a welfare state centered at Bamburgh Castle. Throughout the latter half of the eighteenth century he is responsible for developing several charitable programs within the village, included the creation of a school at the castle, aiding in ship repairs, installing a signal gun, providing free admittance to a surgeon and, in 1786, implementing life boat services. On many occasions the Trustees also purchased large quantities of corn that would have been ground down and sold, along with other goods, at a reduced rate to impoverished members of the community (Source: Lord Crewe’s Charity).

This is where the confusion on the windmill’s original construction date comes into play. The fact that corn was being ground down and stored within the castle and the village while Dr. Sharp was the head of the trustees led to the general belief that the windmill was built during his lifetime. In fact, according to Carol Griffith, there is no mention of the use of a windmill in any of the documentation correlated with the purchase of corn throughout the late eighteenth century. Within the medieval records there is mention of a horse mill. Director Graeme Young believes it is possible that the purchased corn was being ground in a similar manner until the building of the Castle Windmill.

In truth, documentation shows that the Trustees ordered the construction of the Windmill on the 20 of March 1800. This would have been eight years after Dr. Sharp’s death. Although he was not around to witness its construction, the Castle Windmill still stands as a symbol of his legacy.

Today: For the past several years the Windmill has been used by The Bamburgh Research Project as staff offices and as a storage facility for all of the finds being discovered within the castle. Since its creation in 1996, the BRP has uncovered over seven thousand finds from inside Bamburgh’s walls.


If you want to learn more about Bamburgh in the 18th century you can find more information about Carol Griffith’s book,  Bamburgh ‘Ghosts’-Voices from the 18th Century, by clicking here.