Festival of Archaeology Update/Youth Takeover III

Our second day of environmental archaeology tutorials as part of the Festival of Archaeology went well, without the intermittent monsoons of yesterday! We will have a step-by-step guide to environmental processing later in the week to explain just what we were doing.

Tomorrow (22 July) is both the Youth Takeover celebration as well as A Day in Archaeology. Click here to read about a day in the life of people in various archaeological roles as well as some behind the scenes info about how digs work!


Below is another Youth Takeover post, where Nathalie (21, left) talks about making archaeology more accessible.

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Accessing Archaeology

As a student in ancient history and history, I had only come across archaeology in lectures and readings, but have had little opportunity to actually study it apart from the most introductory modules. Archaeology provides so much evidence that is vital to our understanding of the past, but can be overlooked when just looking at documentary evidence. I think that it is extremely important to include archaeological study in any study of the past, particularly as it provides a much needed different perspective, often a multidisciplinary view.

I have always been interested in archaeology, visiting sites throughout my childhood, in particular spending hours wandering around the British Museum. Even now I still drag my parents and reluctant sister to numerous obscure sites (some turning out to be rather big adventures) wherever we go. More and more through my degree, I have come to realise that it was archaeology that truly moved me. I have been taking any module I could that was related, which was surprisingly difficult as my university still doesn’t actually have a proper archaeology department. Through the opportunities that field schools have provided, I am starting to build up some experience in the field that I was missing in the classroom. However it worries me that this is something that is not always possible for many financially.

Field schools can sometimes be prohibitively expensive, especially as a student. This could prevent many people of every demographic getting vital experience due to socioeconomic circumstance rather than their ability. This is compounded by the fact that many archaeology jobs are not well paid, making it difficult to even support yourself, let alone pay back the multitude of loans needed to get the degrees in the subject you love so dearly. I myself plan to pursue a masters in archaeology, but I feel so absolutely lucky that I am able to do this, as many don’t have these opportunities.

Archaeology in the future needs to become more open to people from all backgrounds, but we as a field especially need to address socioeconomic diversity. We must do all we can to promote low-cost or free field schools and scholarships (which is difficult to provide because of competition and lack of funding, I know, I know), or even push for restructuring of the wage system both to allow professional archaeologists to pay back loans and also make it a more viable long-term career prospect. If we don’t make this change now for the future of archaeology, it will continue to be a field closed off to many.

Festival of Archaeology: Day 1/Round-up: Week 5

Today is the first day of our free Festival of Archaeology programme at the Castle. Participants get to spend a half-day with Environmental Supervisor Alice Wolff processing soil samples, sorting the residue (artefacts and gravel), and examining the flot (the charred seeds skimmed off the top of the soaking sample). This programme was made possible by the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund through the Council for British Archaeology.

Here are some pictures of the environmental samples being floated!

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Round-up: Week 5

This week we took down the Porch, the area in between the latrine pits, as well as the area south of the porch that abuts the entrance ramp sondage. We were able to mattock the area, which tickled everyone because everyone loves a mattock.

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When we first extended the sondage (mini-trench) near the entrance ramp, there were two large flat stones just a few centimetres down; the one in the centre of the sondage is visible in the top left corner of the photo. This of course was not nearly enough evidence to say anything meaningful…until we had a bit of rain. The rain revealed something peculiar: three areas drying at different rates. The right of the main stone was light brown, the area in front of the stone was light brownish yellow, and the left side of the stones out of frame was dark brown, and all retaining water differently. We call this “differential drying.” Usually when a patch of earth doesn’t dry as quickly as others that means that something is happening under the surface, like stone that has affected the drainage path of the water or clay is acting as a shallow bowl. We thought that we might possibly have a linear feature, but the constant cycle of rain and bright, drying sunshine kept revealing and obscuring it over the past week. We sometimes wondered whether it was a mass hallucination.

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As we worked outside of the sondage near its northwestern corner, suddenly more stones appeared at roughly the same angle of the boundaries of the weird light yellow patch. They formed a little channel that we are carefully chasing as it heads toward the eastern latrine pit. The only artefacts found associated with this linear feature were some fragments of copper.

On the western side of the trench, we reach the edge of excavation from BHT and our re-dig from many years ago and began taking down the midden deposit. Here is the cutest little section ever excavated:

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We finally bottomed out the western latrine pit! We reached our re-excavation horizon, as well as BHT’s initial attempt to fully excavate it. We were so excited to reach unexcavated soil perhaps holding some Iron Age material…but the excitement was not long-lived, as it turns out BHT stopped only 15cm above the bedrock. Oh well!

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Lastly, the weird northwest corner of the trench continues to gift us more mysteries. The Roman glass bangle fragment (hyperlink) came from this area, which had been quartered and each quadrant excavated individually. It’s remained damp through the sunniest days, as usual.

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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.

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“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

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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!

 

YAC Dig It! Winners Come to Bamburgh Castle/Round-up: Week 4

Three incredible future archaeologists from the Young Archaeologists’ Club joined us today at Bamburgh Castle! Bethany, Margot, and Myles won a day of archaeological instruction (through YAC’s Dig It! competition) with our knowledgeable team, as well as a set of new tools to help them in their future archaeology adventures.

The rain in the morning kept us out of the trench for a bit, but we washed a big tray of animal bone, while Finds Supervisor Tom Fox gave us an introduction to zooarchaeology. We learned some basic facts about bones, like the different types and what parts of the skeleton they are found in, then we practiced identifying the different bones, and, for a real tough test, trying to determine what animal they came from!

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After a quick lunch, we went on a tour of the castle led by Tom and Lauren and had quite a few laughs along the way.

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Finally, the trench was a bit drier (and therefore safe) for us to do some excavation. Our YAC winners were in the southwest area of the trench where we joined up with the old Brian Hope-Taylor trench and our re-excavation of his work (from over a decade ago) with our current open area excavation. A toolkit was generously provided by Past Horizons, so everyone had a brand new dig bag filled with the necessary bits and bobs and shiny, pristine trowel. Within minutes, everything was covered in mud, as it should be for all archaeologists.

 

 


Round-up: Week 5

Early in the week we had quite a bit of excitement!

First, we had a member of the Castle staff join us in the trench, and she was a natural! We’d love to have more of our colleagues drop in and see up close what we do all day. Maybe a topsy-turvy day where they all end up covered in mud, and we all get to wander amongst the Armstrong collection dropping decorative and fine art knowledge on visitors, and then we meet up at the end of the day to sit and eat fudge???

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Next, we got to say our final goodbyes to Trench 1. Most of us had great memories in that trench, but it was rather exciting to see it filled in. The final tasks now are to get that report published and results ready for public interpretation in concert with the Castle’s development plan for the area by St. Oswald’s Gate.

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The weather unfortunately eventually brought things to a crawl in the trench as it was so wet the second half of the week, but some afternoons were bright and warm enough to give us some trench-time after lunch! We caught up on lots of bulk processing (via finds washing) and completed a fair bit of trench paperwork (plans, sections, etc). Over the week, the students were treated to multiple lectures: an introduction to environmental archaeology from our archaeobotanist Alice, archaeological theory from trench assistant supervisor Tom Howe, an overview of strontium isotope analysis from Tom Fox, and Anglo-Saxon kennings and riddles from outreach officer Lauren Nofi.

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YAC Attack Day 2 and The Riddle

Today was part 2 of our weekend of YAC-tivities. For part one, click here.

We had some participants from the York chapter of the Council for British Archaeology’s Young Archaeologists’ Club. Like yesterday, everyone got a chance to work with Alice on environmental processing and analysis. We’ll hear more from Alice about her work here with the BRP and why it’s so important next week. Once again, we’d like to thank the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund for helping us deliver this weekend of programming.

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We also wanted to reveal the answer to The Riddle. Did you miss it? Click that link and have a read and a think. We’ll wait.

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Okay. Are you ready for the solution?

The solution to all three versions of the riddle is a “coat of mail.” What’s so fascinating about these poetic little riddles is that they provide us with so many words associated with the craft of weaving. Linking the tiny loops of metal involves weaving them in and out of each other, rather than weaving weft and warp stretched across a loom. Just like a garment, your mail could be mended, extending its lifetime maybe even from parent to child. The elevation of handicrafts to poem-worthy status is a common feature of Anglo-Saxon riddles, giving us such a lovely but brief glimpse into everyday life.

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This is actually part of a corroded coat of mail from the 7th-century burial at Sutton Hoo.

 

YAC Attack! Day 1/Round-up: Week 3

Today’s YAC attack is by some of the members of the Flodden chapter of the Council for British Archaeology’s Young Archaeologists’ Club! We were so excited to have them on site with us, and they brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm. That’s why archaeological education and community archaeology are so much fun for us here at the BRP. Through the generous support of the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund, we were able to host these future archaeologists and really give them a day in the life of an archaeologist at Bamburgh Castle.

We had our young archaeologists rotate through a few of our daily activities, with special emphasis on the environmental work of Alice Wolff. They learned to process environmental samples through flotation, sorting, and analysis. But we didn’t just help them with the technical stuff, we really wanted to explain WHY we are looking so carefully at the palaeoenvironment. We can learn a lot looking at how past communities subsisted through times of plenty and times of scarcity, and Bamburgh Castle’s long history of occupation makes it a great candidate for exploring long-term cycles of environmental stasis and change. We broke them up into teams, and their team names did not disappoint!

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Team Ducky McPlatypusface running the flotation tank, gently letting the water break down clumps of soil to release any charred seeds that would float to the top.

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

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Describing the soil before processing via the flotation tank.

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Analysing some seeds under the microscope.

Both teams spent time with Alice (above), but also got to work with Tom Fox on some finds washing and Tom Howe and Kelly Tapager in the trench.

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Finds washing and intro to zooarch with Tom Fox.


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Excavating The Porch with Tom Howe.


Round-up:

This week had some up-and-down weather, and it was quite windy atop our perch in the West Ward. Regardless, we made some great progress throughout the trench.

The western wall just north of the BHT mortar mixer and the section adjacent to said mortar mixer now are some lovely sections, which our students cleaned and planned. On the way down, we found an interesting flattened aluminum cylinder that launched a day-long research dive you can read about here. Here we are taking an environmental sample:img_20190706_153042

The cobbles in the southeast corner of the trench lay mostly untouched this week, but the sondage near the entrance ramp to the trench was extended and it approaches the cobbles to the south at a fair clip.

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In the northwest corner of the trench, that weird section we always go on about, we’ve decided to divide it into quarters. We excavated the southeast quadrant and then took an environmental sample of the northwest quadrant which included a large patch of charcoal smears and orange clay.

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The environmental department has a new serif tank (link to twitter) we’ve named HMS FloatyMcFloatface. We’re telling everyone that we planned to name it after David Attenborough but took a popular vote and Floaty won as a write-in. Too soon? Too soon.

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In terms of finds, we might have been a little spoiled the past two weeks, so we aren’t too worried that we’ve mostly been finding vast quantities of animal bones. Finds supervisors Tom Fox has been using these animal bones to run sessions on zooarchaeology identification. We sat in on a few between tours and it was a great refresher for the basics, but also completely changed the way the rest of us non-zooarch-experts look at the animal bones that comprise the majority of our bulk finds.

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We also have two metal…somethings. The copper alloy object may be a strap-end that’s now clogged with soil. The lead object looks like a thin, rectangular piece of lead was rolled up to create a cylinder, or possibly rolled upon itself to give a spiral cross-section.

Midseason Giveaway!

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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.

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The Festival of Archaeology is just under a month away!

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This is your big, bold reminder to come join us at Bamburgh Castle on 20th or 21st July.

Our free trench-side activities will focus on environmental archaeology, under the guidance of environmental supervisor Alice Wolff. Participants can join one of our half-day sessions for hands-on experience in recording, sorting, and analysing soil samples. Sign up here!

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Environmental Supervisor Alice works alongside two students on a brisk day.

Now you might be thinking, “What are soil samples, and what could they possibly tell us?” Environmental sampling is a process by which archaeologists can collect and study the fills or even floor surfaces of archaeological features; these fills include the soil that is inside rubbish pits, postholes, and even buildings. The samples are carefully collected and then processed with a sieve and running water known as a flotation tank. The sample is suspended by a small mesh and water is pumped from beneath it. The water separates the silt from the small rock fragments, allowing the tiny grains of silt to sink through the mesh. The small rocks and any artifacts will rest in the mesh, while charred seeds and sometimes even the shells of small molluscs (like tiny snails) will float to the top and can be skimmed off into another fine mesh. You end up with three resulting products: pure silt, rocks and artifacts, and the skimmed material known as “flot.” This flot can be analysed under a microscope to identify the seeds and molluscs. Seeds tell us all about the domesticated and wild plants consumed by a community on a site, while small molluscs can actually tell us about the climate because certain species only survive in very particular temperature ranges. The rocks and artifacts will be dried and sorted to get a clearer picture of what the area sampled was used for. And the silt? Mostly clogs up our water jets, to be honest. It’s a good bit of fun, but when you join us, be sure to wear something that you won’t mind getting a little muddy, as well as sturdy footwear!

The Festival of Archaeology is a celebration of archaeology where everyone is welcome to listen, learn, and get their hands dirty! It is a Council for British Archaeology initiative, and this year the focus is on the intersection of archaeology and scientific technology. We’re able to run our event during the festival this year due to a grant from the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund. We hope to see you there!

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