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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Youth Takeover, Part Deux

To continue elevating the voices of the next generation of archaeologists, we’d like to share a brief thought from Miriam (17), one of our youngest students. Here she shares a vision for a future where archaeology illuminates the past rather than allowing our current social structures to be projected back onto history and prehistory.

 

Modern Archaeology?

To quash social, political, and gender segregation seems virtually impossible in today’s new age, despite the push for universal equality and the rise of acceptance and awareness of various societal flaws. For instance, the #MeToo movement and the extent to which Gay Pride has rapidly grown show that society is moving towards a better and more peaceful place. Such developments, however, do not mask humanity’s deep-seated prejudices.

When it comes to archaeology, Sir Richard Hoare said ‘we speak from facts not theory,’ a statement reassuring to modern archaeologists, however how much of it is fact? The distinct biases that manifest themselves within the population are deeply ingrained, ensuring that we even display tainted perspectives subconsciously. In the 1870s, Hjalmar Stolpe discovered a Viking burial equipped with a sword, spears and various other sharp weapons as well as two horses. The esteem of having horses and violent weaponry possibly for warfare, a universally-assumed masculine activity, was a clear indication to the archaeologists that the skeleton was that of a man before it was revealed in 2017 that it was in fact a woman. Such an error has raised serious issues regarding the modern understanding of Viking Age society, and it has also made archaeologists and historians question the divide between genders in the past and the previous societal roles of gender. The position of women, men, and trans or nonbinary/third-gender people in our interpretations of the periods that we as archaeologists are excavating shows how severely inequality and present political atmospheres can colour our perceptions of the past. It is true that in order for facts to be used to the best of our ability’s theory must be implemented, though bias is unavoidable.

Antiquarians, mostly wealthy European men, once dominated archaeology, hence much of the archaeology we now understand could be tainted by their privileged position within society. However, with the rise of different ethnicities and the increased opportunities for leadership of women in the archaeological field, a more wide-reaching understanding of historical civilisations can be achieved. While perspectives can still be biased based on environmental situations and upbringing of individuals, archaeology is drawing closer obtaining a deeper understanding of life throughout the centuries, pushing the modern world to understand and nurture equality in all respects. The archaeological field has become essential in dissecting and resurrecting the positivity of humanity’s existence.

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 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.

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

 

Public Outreach in Bamburgh Village

Julie Polcrack, Public Outreach Officer here!  The main goals of public outreach efforts this season were to: 1) give the public a basic understanding of archaeological excavation and post-excavation practices, 2) allow the public to ask questions about archaeology in general, 3) inform the public about our current findings at the castle, and 4) encourage a general interest in cultural heritage. We sought to accomplish these goals through trench side activities, hands-on activities in Bamburgh Village, and public lectures in the Bamburgh Pavilion. These activities were made possible by a grant from the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund supported by both the CBA and Historic England. To learn more about this please see Community Outreach Activities and Bamburgh Outreach 2018.

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Every day, on the trench-side, we have been engaging visitors with various core post-ex activities, predominantly undertaking finds washing and sorting. This has provided the opportunity for visitors to handle the artefacts as they are excavated from the trench. Our activities down in Bamburgh Village have also involved hands-on learning. Below are some examples of the types of activities we created to help visitors understand how we draw information from the finds we unearth during our excavation.

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Members of the public reading about excavations at the castle and looking at pottery

Activities

What Is It?: Mystery Artefact Demonstration

This activity is designed to demonstrate how archaeologists use artefacts to discern how past people lived. We ask our participants to first hold the object and then guide them through identifying what the artefact is. We also ask them to describe the object. It works best if you ask people to pretend that they cannot see the object and describe it as though they are on the phone. They commonly describe what the artefact is made of, its size, its shape and potential uses for the object. This activity gets them really thinking about the artefacts and begins the interpretative process.

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A replica salt cellar, bone spindle whorl, and whetstone

To guide your participants, you must give hints and clues that lead them to the proper conclusion. Typically you give hints about the period of time when the artefact was made or the context in which the artefact was used (e.g. – textile making). In this activity, the public gets an idea of what archaeologists have to do when they excavate an artefact and have to identify it. It also encourages participants to think about what types of objects they will leave behind for future archaeologists and what it will tell them about life today.

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Participants trying to figure out the mystery artefact

Pottery of the Past

Using pottery sherds from the assemblage uncovered at Bamburgh, we can give the public a tangible way of seeing the different time periods our site spans. When going from Roman Samian ware to Anglo-Saxon pottery, you can ask participants about the physical differences they see and then explain what lies behind these differences – type of clay, inclusions, glaze, slip used in the pottery; where the pottery was made; when the pottery was made; whether it was made on a wheel or it was hand thrown; etc. You also try to ask questions that will get your participant to think about the nature of preservation and why archaeologists typically find sherds instead of whole pottery vessels.

After showing off the Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and Medieval pottery to participants, we will offer different activities to complete. Children and parents can put together a paper pot that they can take home with them or they can try to reconstruct a broken plate. Both of these activities get people to consider pottery reconstruction and the reconstructive nature of archaeology as a whole.

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Participants reconstructing a paper pot

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Participants reconstructing a broken plate

Worked Bone Artefacts

The Bamburgh Research Project has a substantial collection of worked bone finds uncovered in excavation and a number of replica bone tools and objects from friend of the project, David Constantine. This entire collection not only gives the public an insight into the type of finds we uncover, but it also shows them the variety of uses for animal bone in the early medieval world.

The trench-side and Bamburgh Village activities, supported by the free lecture series, are aimed at encouraging Bamburgh residents and visitors to explore the areas history, learn a little about archaeology and hopefully have a bit of fun along the way. We hope to expand our outreach over the next 12 months, so watch this space!

Community Outreach Activities: join us this summer at BRP

The Bamburgh Research Project has created a programme of free archaeology activities to run alongside the excavation this year. You can learn a little more about the background to this in an earlier blog post: Bamburgh Outreach 2018

Below is a list of forthcoming events that you can get involved with:

Bamburgh Village Archaeology Activities

Join us at the Cricket Pavilion in Bamburgh Village 2-4 p.m. on Monday 26th of June, Monday 2nd and 9th of July and Tuesday 17th of July.

We will be undertaking hands-on artefact work, including finds washing, sorting and illustration. We will also be displaying some of our more interesting and significant finds from the excavation. Everyone is welcome!

Bamburgh Village Lecture Series

Join us at the Cricket Pavilion in Bamburgh Village 7-8 p.m. We will be delivering the following free lectures:

Tuesday 26th June: Life and death at the early medieval palace of Bamburgh: the results of the excavation of the Bowl Hole cemetery site by Graeme Young

Tuesday 3rd July: Forging Castle Space: Anglo-Saxon Metalworking at Bamburgh Castle by Julie Polcrack

Tuesday 10th July: Searching for humour in dark places: an investigation of humoral theory in the Early Medieval by Tom Fox

Tom’s lecture will explore scientific means of investigating human remains to better understand their diet, culture and society.

Tuesday 17th of July: The Excavation of Bamburgh Castle: an end of season overview by Graeme Young

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Grave cuts been photographed by one of the past directors, Phil Wood, in the Bowl Hole cemetery

Bamburgh Castle Trench-Side Activities

The BRP will also be running daily trench side activities Saturday-Thursday every week until July 18th. These will take place 11 – 1 p.m. and again from 2 – 4 p.m.

If you are visiting Bamburgh Castle please visit us in the West Ward where you can see the excavation underway and undertake hands-on artefact activities. These will run on the trench side and in our bell tent. Activities include finds washing, sorting and illustration, handling and working with pottery or bone and displays of significant finds from the site.

Note: not all activities will run everyday and as these are undertaken outside it maybe necessary to cancel due to bad weather.

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If you have any questions please contact: graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk