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!

 

Way Back Wednesday: Week 2

This Wednesday we have taken a fantastic iron arrowhead out of the archive to share because it looks very…shall we say…sharp. The pointy end is 5cm, while the other end is socketed, meaning it has a round opening that would be slid over a wooden shaft and secured with hide glue (a glue technology that goes back thousands of years involving stewing animal hides treated with lime).

BC04 SF1616 Before (2)

BC04 SF1616 Before (1)

Before conservation.

 

This medieval weapon would have likely been used for hunting rather than warfare, but in a pinch would certainly do the job if needed. Our arrowhead is slender with a triangular head and diamond or oval cross-section, suggesting it could have had multiple uses. Armour-piercing arrows from the medieval period, which we call bodkins, tend to be thin, squared and tapered to a point or even chisel tip, but without barbs; they are more successful against mail and plate armour than broadhead arrow points (large triangular heads with barbs) which themselves caused more damage to flesh. We can get an estimate of our arrowhead’s date simply by looking at the typology provided by Oliver Jessop’s 1996 typology which calls it a “multipurpose triangular arrowhead (MP1).” It is a bit longer than the example he provides, but we are relatively confident that that is just a minor variation of the same type. The London Museum’s earlier typology from the 1940 catalog call it a “type 2,” but they used a much narrower classification system. Unfortunately, these socketed arrowheads were in use a long time, from about the 11th to 15th centuries, so it is at this moment that we turn to our excavation record! We can look at the data from the context in which it was found, examining the context’s location in the trench and the other artefacts associated with said context. From our records, this arrowhead was found in a 13th-century occupation layer that may have been associated with a timber building.

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BC04 SF1616 After (1)

After conservation.

Round-up: Week 1

As this first week comes to a close, we’ve cleaned most of trench 3 and already started logging some interesting metal small finds.

Along the eastern side of the trench, cleaning and sectioning a rubble pile has proved to be raising more questions than answers. Where the rubble meets a lower stretch of stone pavement, several pits have been revealed, all intersecting with each other. We’ve had to temporarily cover that area to tend to the section wall, so we’ll have a photo for you all when it’s fresh and clean again next week.

In the southeast corner of the trench, we’ve revealed the cobbled surface from the 7th/8th century and recorded it. Pardon the pipe which was actually added AFTER we had excavated to the 9th century.

Blue and gray river cobbles as a floor surface extending to a squared corner edge of the excavation.

Cobbled yard surface in the southeast corner of the trench.

We’ve begun taking down the area between the pair of WWI latrine pits south of “the Porch,” an area many BRP alumni will remember as a long-time trench landmark. There is a stone standing upright that very clearly wouldn’t have fallen into that position, and we’d like to know why it was placed there.

Student in blue shirt kneeling in front of the baulk between two pits.

Current view of “the Porch.” Upright stone at far right.

The small finds from this week include TWO copper stycas along with other copper alloy and iron objects. The stycas suggest we are not as far back in time as we had thought, which is not at all disappointing because the stycas are pretty cool and are being analysed by the finds team at the moment, but we hope to have more info on them in the near future.

Below are some of the other metal objects discovered this week:

Thin, grey pin in two pieces with light green corrosion visible in some parts.

Copper alloy pin or needle.

Grey-green rivets and broken rectangule of copper alloy.

Copper alloy plaque.

Brown nail, slightly bent before the point.

Clinched iron nail.

Welcome to the 2019 season of the BRP!

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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.

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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

 

Update on our Metalwork Project

As part of our Society of Antiquaries grant for our West Ward metalwork project, we have funding to cover the conservation of all the early medieval metalwork that was x-rayed and assessed  at the end of 2018 (you can learn more about this project here: SOA Grant). This funding has been generously added to by the Bamburgh Castle team, as they had a little under-spend in their own conservation budget. The objects we are conserving will eventually go on long-term display within the Castle and be available to future researchers.

As a result the conservation work will be ongoing for a while we thought you would enjoy seeing a couple of examples of the work undertaken so far below:

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Small find 8278 from Trench 3, West Ward, Bamburgh Castle found in 2011. The corrosion has been cleaned away to reveal a strap end with a zoomorphic design and even some traces of leather to which it was likely attached.

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Small find 10708 from Trench 3, West Ward, Bamburgh Castle found in 2017. The corrosion has been removed to reveal a complete silver pin.

If your excited by the thought of finding something similar yourself then do join us on the dig this summer – details about out annual field school can be found here.

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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.

The BRP’s new website is taking shape

It has taken some time, and a good bit of work, but the new website is now up and beginning to take shape. There is still a lot of work to be done, as its pretty sparse, but this is a deliberate choice as we want to do a big update of the content as well as the look of the site. We also hope that it will be a step forward in joining up our media footprint and should be easier to navigate around and find content.

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One thing to look out for soon will be our announcement of the details for our 2019 excavation season. It will be modelled on the 2018 and will run in June and July and I am glad to say we are getting close to deciding the dates. Just as with last year Post-Excavation will be one of our main focusses as well as further exploring the new 7th century cobble surface in Trench 3. We have a busy couple of weeks ahead but are aiming to have the new season details announced, and the booking open, by mid November, so not long to wait now.

What we did this summer: Bamburgh castle excavation 2018

Looking back at this year’s excavation season it is satisfying to see the results that were achieved. The cobble surface, first seen in 2016, has been fully exposed within the trench. In addition the process of integrating the BRP excavation with the northern area, previously excavated by Dr Brian Hope-Taylor, has really advanced. In fact next year we will be able to move the two trenches forward as one.

In the case of the cobbles, rather than a single feature with clear edges, the surface was found to be a complex composed of multiple layers and patches with a rather diffuse edge that blended into the adjacent layers. It was clear that understanding this structure fully and dissecting its varied components is going to be a challenging task, but hopefully a rewarding one. We have made a start but a lot more work needs to follow. At present this complex structure is thought to date from the 7th to 8th centuries AD, based on two radiocarbon dates from the adjacent Trench 8 and the stylistic date for the bird mount that was found on the surface.

In addition to exposing the cobbles we removed a number of adjacent layers to expose what we believe to be, at least part, of the contemporary surface around the cobbles and identified a number of features in the process. Some of these were clearly structural, which means that at present our best understanding is that we have a yard (the cobbles) around which other timber buildings are likely to have stood. It is tempting to see this arrangement as an act of deliberate planning, probably under royal supervision.

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The structural cobble surface fully exposed within the trench

As with the overlying 9th century layers, we see the cobble surface and its surrounding structures as having an industrial function, as ash and waste material continues to be a substantial component of the excavated layers. We are not clear if this remains primarily metal working, but we are now at a similar level to what appears to be a metalworking area in the Hope-Taylor trench (comprising a hearth and a water channel). The animal bone evidence recovered was substantial and varied, so one thing we can be sure of is that the workers in this area continued to live well and dispose of food waste within their working environment.

Finally in order to better understand Hope-Taylor’s ‘lower pavement’, that appears to be a wall foundation running along the western boundary of his trench, rather than a path, we excavated an area of undisturbed archaeological layers that had formed the base for our stepped entrance into the trench. This appeared to reveal that the foundation turned a right angle and extended beyond the limit of the trench and did not continue to the south. This excavation also revealed the presence of a pit filled with rubble including a squared stone block covered in mortar that we hope to further reveal and recover next season.

The BRP team would like to thank Will Armstrong and his castle staff who make us feel so welcome. Particular mention should go to Lisa for her help with getting the metal finds off for x-ray and Stuart for assisiting with the above photograph with his Cherry Picker. We are grateful to The Society of Antiquaries of London for a generous grant towards the assessement of the full site metal archive which is ongoing, and to the Mick Aston Fund of the Council for British Archaeology for a grant to assisit with our outreach programme. I would also personally like to thank our wonderful team of archaeological staff for a great summer. Roll on 2019.

Graeme Young

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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!