A fantastic write up by one of the 2022 participants of her time at the BRP

There is definitely some medieval masonry hiding under there!

As we get close to announcing the details of the new season of projects, its nice to see a positive write up by one of the participants of last year’s excavation. Hilary was present for the full season and seems to have enjoyed her time with us. You can see her article here

This year we will be undertaking the excavation on the outworks in July (three weeks starting 2nd July) and a week of post-excavation work in September (starting 10th September). Keep looking in here for the full details in the next few days!

The Excavation season for 2023 will be announced soon

We are planning two different activities this year – the normal excavation and a new post-excavation week

The Summer excavation season will be 3 weeks in July 2023

We will be continuing our excavation on the outworks at St Oswald’s Gate. The dig will run for three weeks in July 2023, starting Sunday 2nd of July. The aim is to get information up on the website and bookings open very early in the New Year. If anyone wants to be added to the contact list to be notified as soon as the info and bookings go live feel free to email us at graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

We have had two really good seasons on this site already and made some fascinating discoveries – such as the survivng stone arch into what must be the wellroom at the base of the Tower of Elmund’s Well (check out some of the blogs below for reports on the work so far). This year we will finish the site and find out what trace is left of the well itself.

What is the Post-Excavation Taster Week?

In addition to the normal excavation season, we will also be offering a Post-Excavation taster Week which will be an introduction to work on the archive from previous seasons. This includes recording the artefacts recovered, processing the environmental samples taken, digitising the drawings and survey information. This work generates a physical and digital archive, which connects all the pieces of information together. It takes far longer (in most cases) than the actual field work and often takes place in the lab or at the desk.

We are still working out the most appropriate date for this (week starting the week of 8th May is very softly pencilled in at the moment) but as with the excavation, details will follow soon and again you are welcome to ask to be added to the list to be notified (graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk) as soon as bookings open.

Post-Excavation Taster Week: Bookings Open Now!!!

Dates: 26th – 30th September 2022


Bookings are OPEN for a 1 week post-excavation taster.


Two people sorting finds from the environmental flotation system
Participant recording artefacts

What is post-excavation?

Archaeology is not all about digging. In order to turn the data gathered through excavations or surveys (for example) into information that can be used to interpret a site and/or plan further investigations, archaeologists must process this data during the ‘post-ex’ phase.

This includes recording the artefacts recovered, processing the environmental samples taken, digitising the drawings and survey information, for example. This work generates a physical and digital archive, which connects all the pieces of information together. It takes far longer (in most cases) than the actual field work and often takes place in the lab or at the desk.

Post-Ex at the Bamburgh Research Project

Here at the BRP we have generated a lot of post-excavation work in the last 20 years. We undertake much of the initial post-ex on site, where we wash and process the small and bulk finds, we process our environmental samples and we catalogue much of the records and photographs we take. However, there is still much work that is undertaken during the off-season by our staff and more that is sent away for specialist analysis. We thought this year we might bring some of this ‘behind the scenes’ work back to the Castle and share it with a small cohort of interested individuals.


What is the Post-Excavation Taster Week?

We offer quality training in archaeology with an emphasis on practical hands-on experience. The post-excavation taster week will use the BRP’s extensive archive, which consists of material from the prehistoric to the medieval periods, as the basis for an introduction to the different post-excavation techniques and research methodologies employed by the project.

We are still planning the daily schedule but the week will include:

Please Note: we are also in the process of organising a visits by a conservator but these are yet to be confirmed.


Who is it for?

Our training is open to people of all skill-levels and abilities, with particular interests accommodated where possible. We particularly wish to offer a fun and educational experience to beginners and non professionals.

Please get in touch with us if you have any questions about access, facilities, etc.

BRP is open to anyone aged 18 and over. 

Who will be teaching me?

Professional field archaeologists and post-excavation specialists.

How much does it cost?

The post-excavation taster week costs £300 pp and covers 5 days of training in a small group of between 6-8 people. This covers the cost of the tuition, tours and the trip to Lindisfarne.


How do I book a place?

Please visit the BRP’s website and take a look at the Post-Ex Taster Week page. At the end of the page is the details on how to book and pay for your place.

PLEASE NOTE: the week will only run if the BRP receive enough bookings to make the week viable (more info on website).

Any questions? Email: graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

Way Back Wednesday: Glass Beads

The weather this morning was a bit ugly, so some of the students went into the archive annex in the castle to organise small finds from years past. We were reconciling information in our database and the physical storage containers and shelf-marks. As we nosed around the different boxes, we came across two blue glass beads excavated in 2012 from Trench 3. (It was a weird blast from the past for Constance and Lauren, who were both students at the time.)

9th-century blue beads.

Both beads came from the eastern half of the trench at a level pretty securely dated to the 9th century. The bead on the left, a globular bead, was from the northeast corner where a very compact, stony context was located. The bead on the right, a barrel bead, was from the southeast corner, where we found a large area of burning and evidence that suggested it was possibly the site of a stable.

Most of our knowledge of early medieval beads actually comes from surveys of grave goods. Between the 5th and 7th centuries, much of the glass was recycled from Roman material; when new beads were made, their chemical content suggested they came from raw glass from the Near East. The period of the beads we’ve found are not associated with graves, as furnished burials were less common in Christianised communities. This unpublished thesis from James Robert Nicholas Peake talks a little bit more about early medieval bead production via a case study from RAF Lakenheath assemblages. It’s only in the 8th and 9th centuries that we have on the ground evidence for production in Britain becomes available. Things like beads would have likely been produced by travelling artisans, rather than as a household industry. The 9th century is also a time when the fluxes (material that lowers the melting point of silicates) used to stabilise the batch of ingredients were purposefully richer in potash (potassium oxide) instead of natron (soda ash), which protected the glass from water damage. The blue colour of our beads was probably due to the addition of cobalt, but could have been exacerbated by Roman cullet (leftover broken bits added to fresh glass) during the 9th century.

There’s a really great open access book that talks all about early medieval beads in English contexts you can read here.

To Scrub-a-dub, or Not to Scrub-a-dub?

A major part of finds processing is cleaning the material that has come from the trench, because you can’t identify something if it’s covered in mud! Many artefacts are washed with clean, detergent-free water, while others that can’t get wet are brushed off dry.

Brushing a bit of long bone.

We place a tray of dirty finds next to a basin of water and place the cleaned finds in a blue tray with newspaper to aid with drying. Both trays must be labelled with year and context number to keep track of where things were found

The most common tool we use is a toothbrush with synthetic bristles, and instead of scrubbing the artefact while submerged, we bring the water on the brush up to the artefact. This prevents the artefact from soaking up too much of the water and becoming unstable and falling apart.

The toothbrush is a pretty gentle tool, even with vigorous brushing for example on very muddy animal bone. Sometimes, however, you’ll find areas you can’t quite reach due to the toothbrush head’s size. In those instances, we use more pokey tools, but start with the softest (wooden skewers) before using something more heavy duty (metal dental tools). This is similar to the process professional archaeological conservators will use in a lab: you always start with the gentlest tool and work your way up to something harder. Conservators also use more unusual tools before they reach for the dentist’s kit, for example, using rose thorns or porcupine quills to scrape off stubborn bits!

But before you even get to sit down in front of your basin set-up, you’ll need to know what can get washed and what needs to be kept dry.

Bone

Animal bone (including horn cores and antler) is almost always perfectly suited to washing unless you find something super unexpected like preserved flesh (but this is not really an option in our soil environment). This category also includes worked bone, but if there are incised lines, you’d want to be particularly careful not to damage any decoration.

Human bone can be washed, but only extremely carefully, and it should be handled outside of view of the public. It is important to note any areas of discolouration due to contact with metal objects and not wet those areas. For example, if a green stain appears on an arm bone, the individual may have been wearing something made of copper alloy that eventually rested directly on the bone in the burial. Similarly, an orange stain could suggest an iron implement was nearby. We hope to do a future blog post on corrosion, but these two are the most common examples that leave a trace on human bones.

Animal bone.

Ceramics

Prehistoric pottery can be extremely delicate and friable, crumbling even as you excavate it in moist soil, and thus may need to be left alone for a few days to dry naturally. Then it can be gently dry brushed to determine if it should be wet again at all. You may also use a sponge to clean these early earthenwares. Most historical pottery, in general, is a robust material in that it survives in the archaeological record, regardless of being in pieces. Glazed pottery can be washed, but not scrubbed vigorously on the glazed surfaces. Painted pottery surfaces should not be washed, as the pigments could easily be lost. When we find Samian ware, a Roman ceramic type from Gaul (modern France) (hyperlink), we do usually wash it, but without the scrubbing tools. We do this to preserve the surface, but still be able try to identify the pattern and any maker’s mark. If pottery seems to have food residue on its surface, we do not wash it, and, if possible, can send it away for further analysis to learn about the diet of the community that used it.

Green glaze (13thC)

Clay pipes

Pipe-stems and pipe-bowls, can be washed fairly easily, but you must take care when clearing out the borehole so as not to send a crack down the whole stem. Pipe-stems were often broken during use, and anywhere you find British influence after the commodification of tobacco you find broken bits of clay pipe.

19thC clay pipe stem with edge of bowl and spur.

CBM

Ceramic building material like fired bricks or tiles can be washed, while unfired clay, mud bricks, and daub is brushed while dry.

Ceramic building material.

Charcoal

We don’t wash charcoal, as it will crumble easily. Instead, we dry-brush it gently and bag this separately. In special cases of large charcoal deposits, they will be taken as a sample rather than collected with bulk finds. Environmental archaeologists can then examine the sample to try to ascertain wood species and possible dendrochronological (tree-ring) data.

Charcoal fragment.

Glass

Glass can be washed if it is not iridescent—that is, if it doesn’t have gold flakes on the surface or rainbow-coloured patches. These are ways glass corrodes, where the layers of glass pull apart from each other allowing air in between. The bouncing around of light in these tiny air gaps leads to the beautiful colours visible.

Shells

On our site, we used to wash all shell that we found, all molluscs but from gastropods (like snails) to bivalves (like oysters). We no longer wash oyster shells because they often simply fall apart when brushed.

Snail and oyster.

Stone and mortar

While we don’t find a vast quantity of stone artefacts on our site, we have in the past found tools and debitage (waste flakes) of flint. Flint, along with other worked stone, can be washed, unless painted or covered with mortar. Mortar clumps and mortar spreads on stone are brushed while dry.

Stone with mortar.

Metal and slag

OH NO. DON’T EVEN LOOK AT THE WATER BASIN WHEN YOU SEE METAL.

8thC iron knife blade.

It’s not the end of the world if you do start washing something and suddenly realise it’s heavier than it looks or reveals a metal surface. Just stop brushing immediately and allow it to dry. If it is dry, you may dry-brush it gently. We just want the soil off the surface because it’s within the skillset of the professional conservator to best decide how to handle the corrosion. We also do not wash slag (metal byproduct comprised of impurities).

Bamburgh Excavation Season 2022: bookings open!

It has been a tough time for fieldwork in the last couple of years but we are aiming to be a little ambitious in 2022. Having learned a few lessons on how to cope, as safely as we can, with COVID restrictions and our short season late last year, we are aiming to run a full season of four weeks this summer.

There is a well down there we just know it! And just as shown on the early 19th century plan.

The field school will run from Sunday 26th June (arrival date Sat 25th) to Friday 22nd July as the last day on site. You can book single or multiple week slots:

Week 1: 26th June to 2nd July

Week 2: 3rd July to 9th July

Week 3: 10th July to 16th July

Week 4: 17th July to 22nd of July

This year we will be returning to the castle’s outworks to explore the newly discovered medieval Elmund’s Tower and the allusive well. You can read more about the excavation here: 2021 Excavation Round-up

To find out more or book place please head to our website: BRP Website

We look forward to seeing you all in in June and July and finally finding that well!

Applications for the 2021 excavation now open on the website

It has been quite the year but we are now hopeful of our excavation running this year. We have decided it was safer to go later than usual to allow for further vaccination and reduce the risk of a new surge forcing a cancellation.

We have set up three weeks as available to be booked from the 4th September to the 24th September and are happy to consider adding a fourth week if the earlier weeks fill up. We remain aware that circumstances can still get in the way so we have decided that full refunds will be available right up to the excavation start date to allow booking with confidence.

Follow this link to the fieldschool for more details and to get to the booking form

Summer season 2021 update

Anyone not currently living on the moon can’t but be aware that we are living through very difficult and rather frightening times! As a result it has been hard to make plans for the summer, and waiting for things to become a good deal clearer has up till now seemed the sensible option. Now we have a second Covid 19 wave very much here, as well as new variants, leading to a new lock-down in place in the UK. On the other side, more positively, vaccination is very much under way. As a result, it really is very difficult if not impossible to predict what the situation will be during the summer.

Just waiting for things to resolve themselves is not a very practical option now as it will leave us too little time to react, so we think it best to make some cautious plans now. It seems fair to assume that a number of restrictions will still be in place in the summer and should plan accordingly. It is also sensible to have a contingency for travel bans and sudden changes of regulation.

We will continue to work closely with Budle Bay campsite and Bamburgh Castle to ensure that the accommodation and the work environment are safe for all taking part. We have robust Covid-19 secure risk assessments in place to enable us to make decisions about the safety of the site and accommodation at regular intervals and as new guidance emerges.

We will be updating the website soon with more information, so please check back soon or follow our social media platforms for more updates.

Roundhouse Update

Thanks to our successful (and ongoing) fundraiser we were able to undertake an extra week of excavation to explore the newly discovered roundhouse. Our additional dig time was a busy few days but did prove very productive. We were able to use a machine (thanks to the castle for funding this as well as a good part of the additional wages and to Rob for his skilled driving) to open up a substantial part of the Hope-Taylor 1970 excavation that had up until now, remained backfilled.

In this new area we had the space to trace a little more of the roundhouse wall foundation as it extended beneath the later early medieval mortar mixer, which we half removed. As is so often the case, frustratingly, the wall foundation terminated after a few more foundation stones were uncovered. At first a little disappointing but when we realised that the floor surfaces and the traces of daub also stopped we suddenly realised that this may be an entrance and therefore a lot more interesting than a little more of the wall. To add to this there was a small line of stones similar to the wall foundation extending from where the wall stopped that just might be a trace of a porch.

The roundhouse showing the gap under the sectioned mortar mixer that we think is the entrance

The little trench we were able to dig on the other side of the mortar mixer was restricted by the need to keep it clear of the standing sections but we were able to identify angular stones just like elsewhere in the roundhouse foundation and a patch of daub against the section. This makes it very likely we were seeing at least further traces of the roundhouse wall beginning to appear. Though we were perhaps forced just too far to the south to be right on top of the wall continuation.

So it seems we now have good reason to assume we have an entrance facing, broadly, south-west, which would make sense, as it would maximise the light that reached the inside of the building on winter days and is very common for roundhouses because of that. It also makes particular sense on our site as this is down slope so would also prevent rain-water running in.

A plan extracted from out partially digitised records

Next Steps

The next phase of work will be off-site when we process the plans and digitise the records. We also have samples to be processed that include radiocarbon dates that will allow us to develop a much clearer picture of when the roundhouse was in use. In addition to the normal palaeoenvironmental samples, we have a block from the floor surfaces that a colleague may be able to utilise to undertake detailed micro analysis.

Fundraiser

After some thought we have decided to keep our fundraiser open in the hope that some of our supporters will be happy to contribute a little to the post-excavation, which in many ways we hope will be just as informative (and is just as important!) as the excavation itself.

A Day in Archaeology: the CBA’s Digital Festival of Archaeology

A Day in Archaeology twitter card people

Have you ever wondered what archaeologists really do?  Do they just dig or are there other aspects to their work? A Day in Archaeology showcases “a day in the life” of archaeologists from all over the UK. It also explores pathways into the profession and, this year, the impact of the C-19 pandemic on individuals and organisations. The day is part of the Council for British Archaeology’s ‘Festival of Archaeology‘ and one of our Director’s, Jo, happens to work for them, so she has put together a blog post focusing on her time with the BRP and the impact C-19 has had on the project.

You can read the blog here: Jo’s ‘A Day in Archaeology’ Blog