Batteries A-OK: A further day of survey at Bradford Kaims

Neal and I spent a few hours at Bradford Kaims doing a little EDM survey, to complete the recording of the environmental core transects. We had tried before with Dr Richard Tipping, but the EDM batteries rather defeated us by failing at a crucial moment.

Surveying Transect C, across the re-filling wetland.

Surveying Transect C, across the re-filling wetland.

We now have 3D coordinates of the tops of each of the cores, taken in lines across the wetland areas, to the east and west of the finger of dry land on which the second of our burnt mounds was discovered. The data will help Richard and Dr Danny Paterson reconstruct the story of how the various small lake basins, around our dry land sites, in-filled over the millennia.

Graeme Young

 

A dynamic wetland landscape, all this was dry in the summer.

A dynamic wetland landscape, all this was dry in the summer.

 

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A chance to get back into the field!

Although the weather remains cool for April there has been enough of an improvement over the last few days for us to risk venturing out to Hoppen this Saturday (6th April) to do a little digging, recording and possibly some survey. Any volunteers who fancy joining us do get in touch (graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk). We will meet at the usual parking place.

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

Coring, Volunteers and Wooler First School

Over the weekend the Bradford Kaims Wetland Heritage Research Project was in full swing coring at the site, plus local volunteers and Wooler First School helped out with some post-ex finds washing.

We also have more volunteering opportunities, so read on to find out.

Graeme’s Report

Last Friday we were back on the Hoppenwood bank site at the Bradford Kaims, having had something of a rain induced break in our programme, to do some more coring with Richard Tipping (To see the previous outing with Richard click here) . This time we were investigating the peat deposits immediately to the west of our ‘hearth’ site. We had been doing a little coring of our own, in Richard’s absence, in this area and had identified a thin marl layer within the peat, in some of the cores that appeared to slope!

The sloping marl layer found in the core

By putting in a new transect of cores with Richard, from the trench edge outwards, we have mapped the subsurface contours of the ground surface as it existed before the lake deposits and peat layers developed. In doing this we profiled the sloping edge of the lake as it shelved down beneath the peat. What came as a surprise was that we soon picked up the rise of the opposite bank, well before we reached the Winlaw Burn, only a few tens of metres away. This shows us that the lake areas to the south drain northwards through a very narrow channel that passes right by the ‘hearth’, before quickly opening out again to the north. It is hard not to see the positioning of our unusual site being in no small part driven by this topographic feature.

The channel as suggested by the coring

This is a very intriguing new discovery, the full implications of which will take time to properly understand.  Looking at the first edition Ordnance Survey map it is clear that the Winlaw Burn has been canalised and back in the mid-19th century meandered a little further to the west. This raises that possibility that there could be more than one channel to the stream, though whether they were ever contemporary we do not yet know.

Later that day we also ran a small workshop in Bamburgh village pavilion, having invited anyone interested in the community to come along and help out. We did some finds washing, starting the process of cleaning the finds recovered during our field walking late last year.

Local volunteers working their way through the field-walking finds

On Tuesday we were at Wooler First School to do a brief introduction to our work and to introduce the children to the joys of washing more of the field walking finds. This proved to be hugely popular, in fact even the quite large quantity of finds that we had brought along only just managed to keep them busy till lunch. The children are coming out to see the site in June. Let’s hope they enjoy that just as much.

Volunteering – Gerry updates us on the field work opportunities for May.

The next fieldworking days will be Thursday 10th May.  Richard Tippingwill also be out again with us on May 17th to 20th along withGSB’s Graeme Atwood who will be doing some geophysics on the Saturday and Sunday. We are also planning to be on site on Wednesday 23rd May.

Please come along if you can, dressed for weather, and wellies are recommended. As usual no experience is necessary, and it should be fun as we will be digging. If you would like to volunteer please send an email to Graeme Young at graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk or call him on 07711187651 as we will be limited to around 20 volunteer places per day.  We very much hope to see you there!

Getting There
The site is located at Hoppen Hall Farm – to get there you will need to take the B1341 between the A1 and Bamburgh.
Heading towards Bamburgh, you pass over the main rail line level crossing just past Lucker, then take the first right hand turn along a rough track heading up hill towards Hoppen Hall farm and cottages. The site is accessible only by prior arrangement, and there are holiday lets near the area we will be parking as well as the main farm house so we ask that all participants show due care and respect the privacy of the residents and guests. We will park and gather together by the main farm buildings, then walk through the fields for around ten minutes to access the wetland site.
Video Editing 
I’m hoping some of you will take an interest in doing some video editing of the footage we’ve been taking of the site. It’s a good way to re-familiarise yourself with the progress so far and help me decide what to put in the video reports. If anyone is interested please email me as I don’t think this is something everybody will want to do, but you’re more than welcome!

Video Lecture: West Ward Excavations, 2011

Please take a look at the winter lecture given by Project Director, Graeme Young, discussing the 2011 excavation season at Bamburgh Castle.

Investigations at Bamburgh Village

Project Director, Graeme Young, gives us an insight into the little discussed investigation conducted around Bamburgh Village.

Bamburgh Village

It is perhaps no surprise that our blog concentrates on our recent or current excavation projects within the castle, Bowl Hole and Kaims, but we have also undertaken work to investigate Bamburgh Village too.

Our report on the geophysical survey undertaken in 2004, mostly on the south and west sides of the village, is available to download on our website, but we have also undertaken some research using maps, documentary records and shovel pitting within the village itself. Click to take a look at the report

Bamburgh Village

The village interests us because it has been occupied for a long time and has provided services to the fortress, as well as being a settlement and trading emporia important in its own right. The earliest records we have of the village tells us of the presence of a church used by St Aidan, almost certainly the predecessor of today’s St Aidan’s Church. It also tells of a civil settlement demolished by a Midlands king, Penda, who stripped it of timber to build a giant pile of firewood in an effort to burn the timber fortress, which surmounted the castle rock in the 7th century.

St Aidan's Church

We have very little evidence of this Anglo-Saxon village, which must surely lie somewhere beneath the modern village awaiting discovery, but by the later middle ages we find increasing records of the borough of Bamburgh. These give us a number of street names and the names of many of the townspeople too. The modern village street plan almost certainly preserves some of the medieval streets, but its quite likely that not all will be ancient. One thing is clear, we have more names of medieval streets than we have streets in the modern village, meaning that we have lost some! So, the question is, can we make sense of the medieval records and rebuild a plan of the medieval borough?

I will cover our current state of knowledge over the next few weeks, including Bamburgh’s ecclesiastical sites, which includes the search for the elusive hospital. Just now we will start with a photo that seems to offer us a possible candidate for a lost medieval street.

The photo shows the east end of the hollow-way from the castle. Its the broad linear depression that passes through the gap in the stone wall and off towards the village. You can make out ridge and furrow in the field too. You can also try tracing it on Google Earth as it is quite visible, particularly at its east end.

Extending broadly east to west and lying between the modern car park and the southern side of the village, lies what appears to be a hollow-way, an old and overgrown road. It can be traced on aerial photographs over two fields before being lost in the garden plots of the village. Though its line continues to be respected by garden walls, which suggests that they are respecting quite an ancient boundary. As we will see in future instalments it is just possible we can put a name to this lost street.

The Legacy of Dr. Brian Hope-Taylor Part 1.

Today we take a look at the work of Dr. Brian Hope-Taylor who excavated at Bamburgh during the 1960’s and 1970’s. You have probably heard his name mentioned in numerous blog entries over the past few months, this primarily stems from the fact that the Bamburgh Research Project has actively sought to re-investigate the work of Hope-Taylor with many of our trenches sited to explore his work (T8 and T10 for example).

Hope-Taylor’s trenches, as located and re-excavated by the Bamburgh Research Project.

The first systematic excavation prior to the foundation of the Bamburgh Research Project (BRP) in 1996 was conducted, by the late Dr Brian Hope-Taylor, of Cambridge University. Hope-Taylor’s interest in Bamburgh seems to have stemmed from his previous work at the Anglian royal site at Yeavering, some 25km to the west of Bamburgh. It appears that Hope-Taylor believed Bamburgh, being in the first tier of royal centres, would make an interesting parallel to Yeavering and aid in its interpretation. Hope-Taylor began excavations at Bamburgh in the early 60’s and returned between 1970-1974 for more systematic excavation (Young, 2009).

A photograph of BHT's excavation in the West Ward
A photograph of BHT’s excavation in the West Ward

Hope-Taylor never published his findings at Bamburgh, so when the BRP began their first season of investigation in 1996 they were not sure what to expect.

Project Director, Graeme Young, tells us in his article in Antiquity (2009) that “Dr Hope-Taylor loomed substantially in the minds of the small group of archaeologists who formed the BRP, not just because the thought of following in the footsteps of such a famous name seemed a little daunting, but also because without knowing the extent of his work within the castle, how would we integrate our own studies to his. It was perhaps this, as much as the interest of the site itself, that prompted the initial excavation undertaken by the BRP, to concentrate on the identification and investigation of an early medieval burial site close to, but beyond the castle gate” (2009). It was here that the BRP would unearth and excavate approx. 100 bodies from the final phase cemetery known as the Bowl Hole. Follow the link to see the first of three blog entries discussing this site. Bowl Hole: Part 1

The BRP also wished to explore the interior of the castle and decided to situate their trenches in the same area in which Hope-Taylor excavated.

Graeme tells us “ Documentary survey, resistivity and ground penetrating radar surveys were undertaken prior to excavation and, together with anecdotal evidence from those who remembered Hope-Taylor at Bamburgh, helped identify the general area of the 1970s excavations. Sufficiently to at least allow a trial trench to be sited with some confidence within the west ward in 2000”.

Geophysical survey being undertaken in the West Ward of the castle

This 30m by 2m trench, oriented broadly north to south, was by sheer good fortune, perfectly placed to identify the east side of Hope-Taylor’s main excavation trench.

Excavation begins in the West Ward

And once this had been identified, it was a relatively simple task to follow the edge during the following season to reveal the vast majority of a substantial, trapezoidal, open area excavation, divided by a central baulk. The north side of the trench was 10m wide, the south 7m wide, extending 19.4m north to south.

The extended trench in the West Ward

The full trench was emptied to the base of the original excavation, with the exception of the southern 3m, where a service pipe had been inserted in the intervening time between the BRP and Hope-Taylor excavations. This was a relatively easy task, as the trench had been covered with a mixture of polythene fertilizer sacks and tarpaulins weighed down by stones and timber by Hope-Taylor and his dig team at the end of the 1974 season.

The Hope-Taylor level covered by fertilizers sacks and tarpaulin

The Hope-Taylor level covered by fertilizers sacks and tarpaulin

The day of the great unveiling, when the tarpaulins and sacks were peeled back was a memorable occasion, given the quality of the archaeology that was revealed. This was made all the more interesting by the presence of section strings, nails and occasional marker tags left in situ. Clearly, Hope-Taylor had left with every intention of returning in a later season. Once cleaned, the Hope-Taylor trench was extensively recorded by photography, as well as by plan and section. In addition to this record, our strategy was to excavate a parallel trench on the east side of Hope-Taylor’s. This it was hoped, would provide sufficient insight to allow at least a basic interpretation of what had been excavated during the 1970s. Primarily however, it would provide an independent sample of the west ward stratigraphy (Young, 2009).

Trench 3. The extent most people would recognise today. Note the baulk in the bottom right corner

This trench is what many people now know to be Trench 3 and is still under excavation today. The 2011 season was particularly interesting as we began the excavation of the baulk which BHT left in-situ. This has enabled us to begin to marry-up the excavated stratigraphy in the BHT trenches with the stratigraphic sequence we recorded this summer.

In the following blog post we will discuss one of the BRP’s most exciting discoveries to date, which concerns our main protagonist, Dr. Hope-Taylor.

Young. G. Excavating an Archaeologist: Brian Hope-Taylor at Bamburgh. Antiquity 82(318)

BRP Online Publications

The BRP are actively working to get our interim data into the public domain. Consequently, we have created a hub on our website where we will be posting downloadable pdf reports of our work. This space will also list our publications that have appeared in print, both in books and journals. The first of these reports can be found by following the link and a short synopsis of each can be found below.

Publications on the BRP website

The BRP undertook a survey of Bamburgh Village together with excavation work in the chapel of the castle’s Inner Ward and the area of the village in 2003/4. The work was undertaken as part of the ongoing investigation of Bamburgh’s environs. The two excavations undertaken as part of this process are separately reported and the results of the general survey, which comprised geophysical survey, field walking and a trial trench are listed in the report below. The first of these reports is now available to download.

BAMBURGH VILLAGE, GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY, FIELDWALKING AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL TRIAL TRENCHING REPORT

This survey report contains the results of a substantial body of geophysics, predominately gradiometry, which has revealed a landscape, in and around the village, densely populated with anomalies. One of the most interesting of these anomalies, nicknamed the ‘Bamburgh Egg’ was subject to field walking and a single trial trench was excavated over a further anomaly identified as a good candidate for part of the medieval hospital, the exact site of which is not certainly known.

Geophys analysis from the report
The local volunteers field-walking around Bamburgh village

The second report will appear shortly.

Chapel of St. Oswald, Bamburgh Castle, Archaeological Trial Trenching Report

The report details the results of a trial trench investigation undertaken within the chapel in the Inner Ward of Bamburgh Castle. The work was prompted by the results of resistivity and ground penetrating radar survey that indicated the presence of structural anomalies within the body of the chapel. In particular the the results of the radar survey that hinted at an underground structure within the chapel that could conceivably have been a crypt.

The results of the trial trenches disprove the presence of a crypt but have revealed structures associated with the medieval chapel and part of what appears to be a masonry structure of pre-chapel date.

This area of our website will be updated throughout the year, so please check back on a regular basis for new reports and information

Behind the Scenes with Horizon AP at the Bradford Kaims

Project Director, Graeme Young, gives us a peek into the kit needed to produce the aerial footage shot by Horizon AP, as discussed in the last blog post.

Behind the Scenes

If you have enjoyed looking at the aerial video shot as a test by Horizon AP, perhaps you will also enjoy a brief look behind the scenes. It was certainly impressive to see how small the aerial vehicle was when you consider how versatile it is and also very impressive to see the real time feed coming down to the laptop that allows them to position the vehicle to take the high resolution images.

A short video taken on a mobile phone shows the vehicle coming down to land in its auto-return mode (see below). I think it shows its versatility as all it seems to need is a modest area of stable flat ground to set up and fly from. We look forward to future flights when we can concentrate on the site area and map the earthworks around the farm.

The machine that captures all the footage before take off.

This is the hub from which the machine is controlled.

Click the link to watch the machine landing, after capturing images from above Hoppen, near the Bradford Kaims.

Click here