Student bookings now being taken for our 2017 Field School Excavation

Our 2017 student booking form is now available.

Our season will last 5 weeks from June 11- July 15th and will cost £300 per week.

This will include camping accommodation and access to modest cooking facilities. Unlike previous years, a tent will be provided for you upon your arrival. Be aware you will not be permitted to use your own tent.

You can find more information on our website. If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch: colekelly@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

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If there is anyone interested in a staff position who has not yet applied, please do so ASAP.

 

Another week in the Finds Department

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The Windmill during a brief respite from the rain.

Good morning from the post-excavation department! We have had a busy few weeks processing some intriguing finds including a possible iron stylus, a worked stone bead, several bits of unidentified burnt clay discs, and a potential lead pendant, to name a few.

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Finds Illustration

Environmental supervisor Thomas Fox has kept our students engaged at the flot tank processing environmental samples from last year while Post-ex supervisor Jeff Aldrich has been taking advantage of the poor weather to give students the a chance to illustrate and process our finds.

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Students Katie and Kelly sorting environmental flotation samples.

The students have also had the opportunity to learn a bit of post-excavation from Bradford Kaims processing finds, including a plethora of worked wooden stakes and the resultant paperwork led by trench supervisor Becky Brummet. Because of its distance from civilisation, it is a separate process at each site: the Castle and the Kaims.

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Students Joe and Rachel filling out timber recording sheets.

With the sun shining and the winds calmer, the students and staff will have ample time in the trenches to find us some new artefacts, hopefully further fleshing out the story of Bamburgh Castle.

Pre-Season Excavation Round-Up

Jo Kirton gives us a round up of the pre-season excavation at the Castle site:

Over the past week the BRP welcomed 10 students and 2 of their lecturers from the Catholic University of America (CUA), to the project and the excavations within the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle.

Some of the CUA group and BRP staff celebrating Graeme's birthday

Some of the CUA group and BRP staff celebrating Graeme’s birthday

Thanks to the enthusiasm of the students and staff and a little luck with the weather, we had a really productive week.

After the usual site introductions the CUA group quickly removed the tarps that had been protecting Trench 3 and set about cleaning the trench from head to toe. As is normally the case with the initial clean-up, we found a number of finds, such as styca coins, Samian Ware pottery and a fair few Fe blobs.

Cleaning!!!

Cleaning!!!

Abby with her Samian pottery rim

Abby with her Samian pottery rim

Burnt wood and Iron from one of the beam slots and Abby with her Samian Ware find

Burnt wood and Iron from one of the beam slots

Throughout the week students were taught how to plan and section draw, use the Total Station and levelling kit, process small and bulk finds, and use the siraff tank for processing environmental samples.

Casey, Abbey and Michael tackle one of the section drawings for the southern beam slot

Casey, Abbey and Michael tackle one of the section drawings for the southern beam slot

The archaeology was pretty exciting this week and the students needed all their newly acquired skills to excavate and record what we found.

The elusive southern beam slot for the probable tenth century building was picked up in three sections, which gave us a pretty good idea of the size of the building. This also meant lots of section drawings and planning!

The southern beam slot became apparent in the sections of the southern latrine pit

The southern beam slot became apparent in the sections of the southern latrine pit

On the final day we were able to excavate what we think are parts of the western and eastern beam slots in the NW and NE corners respectively. The excavation of the eastern beam slot went as expected and we found the next surface, which is beginning to appear in various areas of the trench. The western beam slot whilst quite clear, raised questions about its association with the mortared surface, which it abuts – this needs further investigation but should prove pivotal for understanding the NW corner of the trench.

Chris and Alexandra excavating the western beam slot.....or is it????

Chris and Alexandra excavating the western beam slot…..or is it????

Dr Kopar, Marielle and Casey excavating the eastern beam slot with Ass Sup, Joe Tong.

Dr Kopar, Marielle and Casey excavating the eastern beam slot with Ass Sup, Joe Tong.

We also took the opportunity to remove several features from the SE corner of the trench around the ninth century metalworking building, which has been evident for several seasons. We were able to remove several external features, such as the flagged surface just outside one of the entrances, packing stones around the ‘doughnut’ shaped stone, which may have served as a drain and the hearth packing stones that sit between the metalworking building and the southern latrine pit.

Goodbye flagstones!

A hive of activity!

As part of the excavation of all these features the CUA group were able to complete cut and deposit sheets and learn how to take and record environmental samples.

As well as working in the trench, our visitors were able to tour the interior of the Castle, visit the locations of the Chapel and Bowl Hole excavations, make a trip to St Aidans in the village and head out to Lindisfarne. They are now touring significant Northumbrian sites in the North East, such as Hexham, York, Durham and Jarrow. We hope they have fun and learn a little along the way!

Hexham Abbey from the seventh century cript steps

Hexham Abbey from the seventh century cript steps

The main dig season starts Monday 2nd of June. We will have all the latest on the excavations at the Castle and the prehistoric wetlands site out at the Bradford Kaims.

Pre-season Excavation at Bamburgh Castle

This Wednesday (14th May) a small band of Bamburgh Research staff (Graeme Young, Jo Kirton and Joe Tong) will be heading up to Bamburgh Castle to prepare for the arrival of a group of post-grad students from the Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington. The students along with their professors will be partaking in a pre-season excavation. From Saturday (17th of May) we will be working in the Anglo-Saxon and Viking period layers in Trench 3, in the castles West Ward.

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Cleaning back in Trench 3

Cleaning back in Trench 3

The students are a mixture of post graduates studying History, Medieval & Byzantine Studies, English, and Anthropology. A real mix! Their team leader is Dr Lilla Kopár, Associate Professor at the university with a particular focus on art-history, Old English and archaeology.

Dr Kopár explains why she decided to bring her students across the Atlantic to work with the BRP and Bamburgh Castle.

Dr Lilla Kopar

Dr Lilla Kopar

“It all started about a year ago with a conversation with Jo on a field trip in search of early medieval sculpture in the Wirral. We talked about the significance (and fun) of being involved in excavations as a student and the difficulties of being a scholar of material culture of the Middle Ages “from the other side of Pond.” Then Jo had a brilliant suggestion: Why not join the BRP dig for a few weeks, or even better, take a group of students along to Bamburgh?

Our institution, The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., has no official program in medieval archaeology but we have a strong cohort of medievalists at the Center for Medieval and Byzantine Studies and in various departments, and a number of us have a keen interest in material culture. As the “local Anglo-Saxonist”, I teamed up with my historian colleague and friend, Dr. Jennifer Davis, who regularly teaches a course on medieval archaeology for historians, and proposed a trip combining the archaeology field school with visits to historic sites (Lindisfarne, Hexham, Jarrow, Durham, York), all embedded in a team-taught graduate course on early medieval Northumbria. The idea was received with great enthusiasm by our adventure-loving master’s and doctoral students and we quickly had a crew of ten signed up for the trip. CUA’s Center of Global Education welcomed the idea of a study-aboard experience for graduate students and has provided financial and organizational support.

Our students come from four different graduate programs (History, Medieval & Byzantine Studies, English, and Anthropology) and bring various kinds of expertise as well as expectations to Bamburgh. Some had participated in excavations before, while others know more about Old English and Bede than about trowels and trenches. We all are looking forward to hands-on training in archaeology, the excitement of new finds, the breath-taking surroundings, and the experience of being in England (well, not so much the rain). It will be an unforgettable trip and we are very excited to join the BRP crew.”

The students are looking forward to excavating through layers of archaeology dating to periods they have been researching on their courses. CUA English Lit student, Sara Sefranek told us….

I don’t know what to expect, to be honest! My degree is in English Lit with a focus on Old English Poetry. For years I’ve depended on the work of archaeologists to help inform me about the history & culture that produces the texts that I study, so I was excited by the opportunity to learn about that first hand. I hope I’m ready for whatever turns up! As a lit student I’d be curious about finds that incorporate text in some way… some of my research has also been on Christian incorporation of pagan iconography, so if such things have been found, I’d love to see them.”

We will be updating the blog and Twitter feed @brparchaeology with all our activities and discoveries during their stay, so please pop back soon.

 

Internet booking is now open for the 2014 field season

The windmill in the West Ward, between our two excavation trenches

The windmill in the West Ward, between our two excavation trenches

We are very happy to let you all know that booking is now open on our website for the 2014 field season. Particular thanks are due to Emily Andrews for her work on the website.

Starting  Monday, 2nd June, we will be running for our usual eight weeks up to Sunday 27th July 2014. Of particualar interest this year will be tracing the extent of the Neolithic timber platform and seeing what exciting new finds emerge from the waterlogged peat layers.  Remember to book early to ensure you get your choice of week.

http://bamburghresearchproject.co.uk/?page_id=4

 

Excavation at the Bradford Kaims wetland site in 2013. A waterlogged Neolithic timber platform is just starting to emerge

Excavation at the Bradford Kaims wetland site in 2013. A waterlogged Neolithic timber platform is just starting to emerge

 

Public Lecture this week

Graeme Young will be presenting a public lecture this Thursday 13th June at the Belford Middle School with the 1st Belford Scout troop and Cadets. Interested members of the public are invited to attend and get a better picture of the work we are carrying out in 2013.

Entry is free, but donations to the project are always welcome. We will have copies of Graeme’s book Bamburgh Castle; The Archaeology of the Fortress of Bamburgh AD500 to AD1500 available for purchase at £3.50

If you can’t make the session, but would like to be kept up to date, make sure you subscribe to this blog, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter @brparchaeologyImage

Field School 2013

Don’t forget there are still spaces available for the field school with us in Bamburgh this summer.

Survey techniques

Survey techniques

We will teach you excavation methods, site recording, artefact processing and much more.

Nat and Liam in the flot tank

Nat and Liam in the flot tank

Camping accommodation is provided along with your tuition, which is great value at £235. We stay in nearby Belford, where there are all the mod-cons (Like a Co-Op, Pubs, Takeaways and stores!) and we have a great social life onsite too.

For more information, go to http://www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk/
or join us on Facebook or twitter (@brparchaeology)

Staff Profile- Assistant Finds Supervisor

Today we have the last of the staff profiles. Our assistant finds supervisor, Jeff Aldrich, gives us a little insight into his work with the BRP and his offsite antics.

Jeff’s Profile

Position: Assistant Supervisor of Finds

Responsibilities: Educating students on the identification and processing of finds, and working with Finds Supervisor, Kirstie Watson, on data basing and indexing all artifacts.

How did you get involved with the project? I first got involved with the Project last year by finding it online.  After working the entire 2011 season, I returned this year as staff.

What do you do out of the season? I am currently in the process of obtaining representation and publication of my first novel, and am researching for its sequel.

Hopes for the rest of the season? For this season I would like to finish data basing the small finds from all previous seasons, and a majority of the bulk finds as well.

Jeff couldn’t decide which photo to send me, so he sent all of these.

Jeff?

That’s the Jeff we know and love

HRH The Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall Prince Charles and the Duchess of Northumberland visit Bamburgh

Today, the 24th of July the staff and students of Bamburgh had a little thrill. We’re sorry to say that we did not  share the information with our followers and friends, but Bamburgh had a royal visit. BRP Directors Graeme Young and Gerry Twomey were invited down to the dunes to meet HRH Prince Charles. Therefore they asked the staff to be on our very best behavior and to keep our distance. Naturally we chose to ignore this, and here we have our story and photos to share with you!

Team Media! From Tee and I (Natalie), to a large, excited, stalkerish media mob!

A approximately 2pm this afternoon, Gerry and Graeme were due to meet HRH Prince Charles, and show him some of our shiny finds. It had been a flurry of activity for our Finds staff Kirstie and Jeff, and we really can’t thank Des Taylor enough for the beautiful images of the shinier finds that we couldn’t take walking through the dunes.

Waiting, Waiting. Gerry and Graeme are holding the engraved plaque, bone strap end, iron saxe, bone die, iron ballista bolt, a copper brooch and a glass bead. They also had high res images of the ‘Bamburgh Beast’, last years ‘Bamburgh Beauty’, and the pattern- welded sword from the castle museum.

Soon, HRH the Prince of Wales came down through the dunes. After meeting the Bamburgh Marine Conservation Society, it was our turn.

HRH Prince Charles and the Duchess of Northumberland approach the waiting crowd.

Graeme and Gerry explain the work we carry out here at Bamburgh Castle.

Prince Charles has a closer look at our iron saxe.

Graeme and Gerry tell Prince Charles about our dig season.

HRH Prince Charles looks at images of the ‘Bamburgh Beast’ and the gold discovered in the 2011 season, nicknamed (by us!) the ‘Bamburgh Beauty’.

After shaking hands with the directors, HRH The Prince of Wales started to walk back up the dunes, waving to local children who had been swimming.

BUT WAIT!

Prince Charles looks up, sees a group of filthy, mud-stained and generally unkempt young people. “Are you ALL here on holiday?” He asked.

I point out our bosses, in case my stammering “We work at the castle, with THEM!” didn’t get the message across.

Apparently it’s common knowledge that Prince Charles studied archaeology at Cambridge. But I was impressed, and truthfully, a bit excited to find out in a PERSONAL CONVERSATION!

Explaining where we are all from (a long conversation!) and what levels of education people at the BRP have.

I ended my conversation with Prince Charles by spluttering “You should come visit us- You can dig!”. Oh dear. At least Graeme and Gerry made us look good.

So there you have it, folks. The Bamburgh Research Project got to meet HRH Prince Charles. He was charming, and polite, and didn’t respond to my awkward question. But that’s not a no, right?

Sediment Speaks: A Day at the Kaims – Part 2

This post is a continuation of “A Day at the Kaims – Part 1“, and focuses on both the technical and experiential aspects of environmental coring at the Bradford Kaims wetland site.

Archaeological coring: how and why?

Matt Ross teaching BRP students how to describe core samples

The following has been written by Matt Ross, a graduate student currently researching at the Bradford Kaims. He’s also generously been teaching those interested and willing to brave the knee-high muddy bog water how to core and describe sediment samples in the field.

Anne, Matt, and Eva following a day of coring

Throughout the season a team of sediment corers have been braving the wet and mud that is the Bradford Kaims, to record the sediment that lies beneath.

Using a 6m long auger, as demonstrated by Richard Tipping in our earlier blog post, it is possible to extract sediment samples and compile a vertical stratigraphy. Repeating this along a transect, a cross-profile of the landscape can be constructed. By examining changes in sediment type, colour, composition and organic content (i.e. wood fragments, plant stems and calcareous shells) both vertically and laterally throughout the profile we can then piece together the history of environmental change across the site.

Matt and Anne with 5 metres of auger

Such changes occur over time in response to natural and/or anthropogenic forcing: examples include climate change or forest clearance for agriculture. As sediments are composed of material (and organisms) within the catchment, they accumulate vertically and, unless disturbed, will remain in chronological order. The rate of change is also indicated in the sediment profile.

Measuring the depths of various sediment layers–the empty sections mark the areas where we’ve removed sections to feel and analyze

For example, a unit of coarse sand with a sharp upper boundary may mark a rapid flood erosion event, whereas the accumulation of several metres of peat reflects relative climate stability over thousands of years. Sediment coring can therefore provide a rapid assessment of palaeoenvironmental conditions over vast areas. But why does it matter?

Establishing the past climatic conditions and landscape history can provide important context to understand prehistoric settlement at the site. For instance, if we know there was an open body of water during the time of occupation, we can assume that it may have been exploited.

Site exploitation: our burnt mound. Evidence of occupation and long-term site use, the mound is the likely the discarded build-up of shattered stones used for heating water. Click the photo for more information.

Coring at the Bradford Kaims has focused on the low-lying Embleton’s bog, where we have identified two open bodies of water, either side of the promontory, on which Trench 42 is located. These lakes appear to originate in the lateglacial, or the early Holocene (10,000 years ago) and have experienced fluctuating water levels, as indicated by bands of Marl – a lacustrine deposit of calcium carbonate rich mudstone. The lakes were then quickly succeeded by wetland conditions as the climate ameliorated.

Pollen analysis, currently being carried out at Stirling University, will provide detailed reconstruction of vegetation cover at the time of settlement.

The Kaims wetlands regressing into a lake state

Learning to Core 

After first break, Anne (a fellow BRP-er) and I joined Matt for a day of coring.  Knee-high grass lined the foot-flattened path to the most recent transect line where we would be coring. After hearing stories of thigh-high muddy water and the need to bring a complete change of clothes, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the bog water only rose halfway up my knee-high wellies (though it did get deeper as we moved further south).

Matt and Anne in a slightly damper area

Our first core of the day–Core 4–was marked with a bamboo shaft sticking a few inches above a mud and water filled hole in a circle of flattened grass. It was decided that, to start, I would help Matt with the auger while Anne recorded the sediment changes for each metre core, since she had cored previously. Because we were continuing with a core sample from a previous day’s work, albeit at a greater depth, we had to “clean out” the infill of sediment and water in the hole, by coring to the same depth reached before.

Matt and Anne with 5m of auger

Let me tell you, finding the right hole amongst a half-dozen similar holes filled with muddy water and grass, and trying to fit the auger into it without creating a bigger hole, is no mean feat. I think we gave up on the old hole and made a new one after 3o minutes of struggle. We also never managed to get past the 4 meter depth at that particular spot. While we struggled though, Matt did give me a very nice introduction to the coring process and the geography of the Kaims.

Later in the day, Anne and I switched off and I got an opportunity to record the data. Richard Tipping joined us later in the afternoon and showed us the benefit of years of coring experience–he was almost quicker at setting up and adjusting the auger by himself, than Anne, Matt, and I were together. His equally quick assessment of the core samples was also impressive. 

Using a knife to clear away excess sediment and expose the core

I was surprised to learn how similar the process of coring is to the environmental archaeology and flotation I do here at the castle. It was vindicating that my description of the soil matrices, colours, and inclusions of the BRP environmental samples have been semi-accurate and that I’ve developed a somewhat transferable skill. 

By the end of the work day, we had completed an additional 3 cores to a depth of 6m each. The cores themselves showed a variety of sediment layers including peats, peaty clays, sandy clays, sandy silts, silty sands, and marl. The marl was a creamy to light grey very soft clay. Never having heard of it or encountered it before, I looked it up. Apparently, marl is a “calcium carbonate or lime-rich mud containing large amounts of clays or silts”, and is formed under freshwater conditions.

An example of marl from Urswick Tarn, similar to what we found at the Bradford Kaims

It’s interesting, not only because it was the most markedly different in appearance, but because its presence indicates a period of fairly rapid climate or landscape change–warming or deforestation–and rise in water levels.

Other things we noted in the core samples included the presence and relative quantities–very rare, rare, common, abundant–of wiry and fleshy stems, wood fragments (incl. size), whole shells and shell fragments. I found it interesting that there was significantly more variation in the cores to the north, even at less depth, than there were to the south. For instance, between 3 and 4 metres at Core 4, we encountered maybe 6 or 7 distinct changes in matrices. At the same level in Core 6, the sample was almost entirely a mid-reddish brown silty peat.  Despite this, Matt suggested that all the core results were fairly consistent with what they expected (and hoped) to find.

Last, but not least, for your and my enjoyment:

       

I would love to see a final report of the results, to see how my work was used. I would also like to thank Matt for his wonderful demonstration of coring methods and techniques as well as an illuminating explanation of some of the recent environmental findings. 

— Megan Taylor

“I personally thought it was a great (if not slightly wet) and informative experience, and even though I will probably be sore for the next few days, I can definitely recommend splashing around in the wetlands for a day!”

–Anne Hartog