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!

Pottery Making at the Bradford Kaims – Videos

This blog presents the video interviews from our open archaeology day which focused on prehistoric pottery.

The first shows Rachel Brewer, Assistant Supervisor, discussing the process she went through – first to prepare the clay and then to produce fired ceramics. The second presents some thoughts about the day from two of our students, Ewan and Ian.

 

Thank you for watching!

Stay tuned for more of our experimental sessions – coming soon!

Experimental Prehistoric Pottery

This week’s experimental blog is courtesy of Rachel Brewer, Bradford Kaims Assistant Supervisor.

 

Following on the heels of the beer brewing experiment, our Week 5 experimental archaeology project was an effort to make a variety of pottery vessels using only raw clay sourced from our prehistoric site here at the Bradford Kaims. We knew from previous seasons that the trenches and test pits often turn up natural clay deposits of varying colours and quality. We’ve also had a few examples of possible Neolithic and Bronze Age potsherds surface during excavation; so this summer’s experimental archaeology program seemed like a perfect opportunity to test out our prehistoric potting skills! Altogether, processing the clay, forming the pots, and the subsequent firing turned out to be a messy, fun and educational experiment for all involved.

 

Step 1: Gathering the clay

While digging a series of shovel test pits earlier in the season, we hit upon a substantial deposit of clay about 50cm below topsoil. Seeing a source of raw material for our pottery experiment, I dug out a bucket’s worth to begin processing. Though the clay was mostly light orangey-brown, there was a thin layer of grey overlaying that; it also gathered a good amount of silt and peat on its way out of our 20cmX20cm shovel test pit. Through processing, these colours and textures blended together as shown in the later photos.

 

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The raw clay.

 

Step 2: Processing the clay

This was the longest part of the process, due in part to my own inexperience and also to the wet conditions on site. I knew from research that the best way to process raw clay is often to dry it out completely, grind to a powder, sieve, and slowly reintroduce water until the clay reaches a workable consistency. I also knew how unlikely it would be that we could completely dry out that amount of clay in a timely manner, particularly when it was raining almost daily. So I opted instead for wet processing, which involved the help of several pairs of hands pulling all of the clay into small lumps and mixing/mashing it up with added water in a large plastic box. This part worked better than expected, and after a couple of days of minimal stirring, nearly all of the clay was liquefied.

 

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Slaking the clay on site.

 

At this point we poured the slip (liquid clay) through a sieve to remove the largest inclusions, mostly small stones and twigs. We could have used smaller screens and sieved multiple times for greater purity, but I chose not to since examples of prehistoric pottery found at this and other sites indicate that prehistoric people were not processing their clay to a high degree.

 

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Sieving the slip.

 

For about a week I attempted to do a daily pouring-off of the water that would accumulate on the surface, hoping that between evaporation and pouring off that the clay would thicken a bit every day. The couple of days I was able to let the boxes sit out in the sun did help, but it wasn’t working quickly.

 

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The slowly thickening slip.

 

On one sunny day I cut open a bin liner and laid it out on the grass like a small tarp, then I poured the thickened slip out on the plastic. This increased the surface area the sun could reach and it was noticeably thicker by the end of the work day, but it still wasn’t drying out fast enough. We had to rearrange the experimental schedule and move pottery back a week – I had only a week to get some workable clay and I was running out of ideas!

 

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Spreading out the clay to increase the surface area for evaporation.

 

My final effort involved pouring the clay into an old pillowcase, tying it closed with string and hanging it from a tree to allow the water to drain out with gravity and air. The better part of the week passed before I noticed much of a change, but much to my relief, the night before we were scheduled to make the pots we had somewhat sticky but relatively workable clay!

 

 

Step 3: Forming the pots

Before beginning our pot making, the students used rocks to crush up a few soft pieces of sandstone sourced from Trench 6; we used this sand as temper.

 

 

Since wheels were not used by prehistoric potters, the students learned to use the two most common methods of building pottery without a wheel: the pinch method (formed by pinching a solid ball of clay into the desired shape) and the coiling method (rolling out rings of clay, stacking the rings, and smoothing them together). A small amount of temper was added by each individual to their own allotment of clay. Of course we had some creative minds in the mix who ventured beyond the utilitarian forms like bowls and jars, and by the end of the day we had quite a collection of unique creations! We set everything we made on two log disks that would be easily moveable and would absorb moisture. After that we just had to let everything dry out completely to prepare them for firing.

 

 

Step 4: Firing

When it was time for firing, we began by building a small fire in our fire pit on site. Pottery has to be heated very slowly, so we began by placing the dried pots around the edge of the pit and then slowly moving them in close to the fire. Once the pieces were against the central fire, we began placing larger branches over and around the pots, completely covering them and creating a kiln effect. We kept a large fire burning for about an hour and a half, then allowed it to die down to coals. Since our time on site was limited to 5 hours and the pots needed to be cooling before we left site, we weren’t able to keep the pots firing for the ideal amount of time, which for our purposes would have been around 4 hours.

 

The final step of firing is allowing the pots to completely cool before removing them from the pit. Before we left site for the day, we dug the pots (none of which had broken!) out of the coals, stacking them against one wall of the fire pit and shoveling the coals to the opposite wall. We then covered the pots with a layer of grasses and sedge, placed a couple of metal sheets over the pit to protect the pots from rain, then left for the night.

 

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The fired ceramics hot from the fire.

 

Upon examining the cooled pottery the next day, I was pleased to see that none of the vessels had cracked or exploded during firing. Additionally, the pieces had fired, if not completely through, then most of the way through despite the shortened firing time. The fired pots are noticeably brittle and not completely water tight, but with a little more practice we could probably produce vessels that would be more serviceable. Since we accomplished our goal of using only raw materials from site and a fire to create prehistory-inspired pottery – and we had fun doing it – I’m calling this experiment a success!

 

Experimental Brewing Summary and Student Reflections

In a follow-up to our earlier blog on prehistoric brewing, these videos record a summary of the process from Becky Brummet, Experimental Programme Director:

As well as comments and reactions from two of our students who were there on the day:

Experimental Beer Brewing

We began last week’s experimental day by gathering ingredients, trying to use as many prehistoric resources as possible. Though some tools were still modern (the trough, matches to start the fire, chainsaw to cut firewood, a mesh sieve, and a pot) we used a variety of other resources during the day including:

-Un-malted Barley (already acquired from a local source)

-Rocks for the fire (from the T6 spoil heap)

 

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Student Julie gathering stones for firing,

 

-Water & a trough (modern trough, sourced from local farmer, James Brown)

-Elderflowers (gathered from site), and

 

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Assistant Supervisor Charlie, gathering elderflowers.

 

-Firewood (fallen deadwood gathered on site)

 

And after talking through the process, we began the beer brewing!

 

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Super visor Becky, teaching students and volunteers.

 

We started the fire, and heated the rocks for about one hour.

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Fire Starting

 

During that time, we broke the husks of the barley to release the yeast. There was an added level of experimentation in that our barley was un-malted. We’ve had some success with this in the past, and were attempting to replicate those successes in order to test several hypotheses we had developed.

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Students Ian and Julie breaking the barley husks.

 

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Close-up of the grinding process.

 

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The barley after the husks were broken.

 

When the rocks were hot enough (we didn’t verify an exact temperature, just made sure they sat in the fire for an hour), we added water to the trough, added the barley to the water, then added the rocks to the water to heat it up.

 

 

We needed about 7-8 rocks to get a warm temperature. We did not measure the exact temperature, rather we made sure it didn’t get too hot to the touch.

We stirred the mash, and rotated hot rocks in and out of the trough to keep the temperature up.

 

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Supervisor Becky stirring the mash tun.

 

We had lots of down time while we kept the fire going, kept the rocks hot and the mash tun up to temperature, so we gathered local sedge (tusset grass) & began weaving platters & baskets – a skill we recently learned from a local community member, Paula Constantine who teaches basket weaving.

 

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Assistant Supervisors Rachel, Sophie and Charlie weaving sedge.

 

We also took some malted barley (leftover on site from previous beer brewing attempts) and sedge oil (created from pounding sedge root into a pulp and adding water), and created a paste which we then put on the fire to bake. We experimented with an different cooking technique than our earth oven from last year.

 

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Unleavened bread baking above a fire.

 

After the mash tun brewed for two hours, we began to sieve the mixture into our pot:

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Students Julie and Zac sieving the mash into a pot.

 

And then we added the elderflowers to the mixture.

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Students Zach, Ian and Julie adding elderflowers to the mix.

 

We’ll let the mixture brew while we continually monitor the progress throughout the week.

Next Sunday, we’ll check the ABV level with a hydrometer & let it brew for longer if need be (two weeks or so should be sufficient).

We usually can get an ABV level of 5%, so that’s our goal. If we’ve reached it by next Sunday, we’ll sample it, if not, it’ll brew longer.

Stay tuned for next week’s experimental instalment!

 

Bradford Kaims Experimental Archaeology Schedule

Come and see experimental archaeology in action!

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Hot rocks used to heat water and malted barley as part of the brewing process.

 

19th June – Prehistoric Beer Brewing

Learn the process of prehistoric beer brewing!

26th June – Prehistoric Pottery

Using local materials procured from ongoing excavations, we will attempt to make small pottery pieces!

3rd July – Beer Decanting/TBA

If the beer has fermented sufficiently, we’ll be decanting our brew and testing the ABV (and sampling it!)! If the beer isn’t ready there may be a day of flint knapping.

10th July – Flint Knapping

Learn the basics of creating stone tools (like those discovered on-site) using flint and obsidian.

17th July – Woodworking

Learn the basics of rudimentary woodworking.

24th July – Resin Production/Hafting

We hope to create resin and use it to haft tools that we’ve made during the season.

**Activities are subject to change depending on weather conditions & ability to procure materials and/or resources**

We welcome local volunteers and community members, but for logistic purposes, please let us know ahead of time if you wish to drop by!

 

Becky Brummet

Experimental Programme Director

Email: ruthefordr22@yahoo.com

BRP Office Phone: 01668214897

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Flint blade found in Trench 6.

 

Experimental Brewing at the Kaims

This week at the Bradford Kaims we have begun our new Experimental Archaeology Programme! Experimental archaeology is the process of recreating past technologies utilising resources which would have been available to societies in the past. Through this process we can gain possible insights into the mind-set of people in the past as well as insights into the processes they underwent in the creation of the archaeological record.

Our initial investigations have been in brewing our own beer. Due to the wealth of fire-cracked stones within our burnt mounds, it is likely that the occupants of the site were heating water. Similar to how we use hot water today, there is a large variety of possible uses; cooking, cleaning and sweat lodges. Due to the heating process required in the production of beer, brewing could have been a possible activity taking place at the Bradford Kaims.

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Becky and Miranda grinding barley with a variety of tools

Our methods were simple:
· Mashing/grinding malted barley
· Creating a firepit to heat the stones
· Add the ground barley to water
· Add hot stones to get water up to temperature for two hours
· Sieve the heated mixture
· Add flowers for flavour (in this case hawthorn) and a small piece of bread for yeast
· Sit covered for 4-5 days for fermentation to take place

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Hot rocks being added to the barley and water

Currently what we did has not necessarily been experimental archaeology as there was no true “experiment” taking place – there were no variables being tested or research questions being investigated. The value in this initial process is that we are learning about the process and gathering potential areas for further investigation.  We will be doing more brewing over the season, along with some more experimental archaeology focussing on flint knapping and prehistoric wood working (to create tools to tie onto our brewing experiments). Hopefully by the end of the season we can link our experiments together to add to our interpretations of the use of the Bradford Kaims site… plus – experimental archaeology is pretty fun!

One last reminder about our open day at Berwick Public Library

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Just a last reminder that BRP team members and the Ashington Learning Partnership Media Team will be at Berwick public Library between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm, tomorrow (21st April) for the public launch of the DVD on the Bradford Kaims Wetland Project.

There will be a short introduction followed by a showing of the film. Afterwards members of the BRP and the media team will be available to chat over coffee.

The library is in the town centre, on the junction of Walkergate and Chapel Street. Do make it along if you can.

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Freya’s Kaims blog

We have a new guest correspondent for the Kaims site today. The excavation Director’s daughter Freya has contributed the following article.

The Bradford Kaims is a great archaeological site. It’s set on a farm near Bamburgh, Northumberland. I missed a few days of school to come and learn about archaeology, with my dad. I learned how to trowel, discover pottery and de-green (taking weeds out of the ground to make the trench look professional), which are all important jobs.

Some pottery from the site

Some pottery from the site (or possibly flint)

 

My favourite job so far is being a site photographer. I took photos of how and where the archaeologists work. This is important so that we have records of how the site was excavated and what was found.

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Archaeologists working on site

The worst part has been the weather. It has been very hot and I had to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated.

 

I personally enjoy archaeology and would like to see more children join in as I think if children discover that they like it as a child then archaeology might become a more popular job.

 

Freya from York (Age 10)

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Bamburgh and the YAC

Once again, on the 27th July, the Bamburgh Research Project will host three of the winners of the Young Archaeologists’ Club, ‘Dig It’, competition. The compition is open to all members of the YAC. Information about the YAC, and much more, can be found on the website of the Council for Bristish Archaeology (www.archaeologyuk.org).