Way Back Wednesday: Marine Life

A few members of our team went into the archive annex this morning to do some housekeeping: checking on and changing silica gel packets in the boxes of small finds. We have indicator strips that show when a box is no longer dry due to ambient humidity. Lauren grabbed a random box of environmental archaeology small finds to have a nose around, and, much to her surprise, it was mostly material she herself had found and recorded while managing environmental processing in 2013: stycas, glass and ceramic beads, and some flint flakes. In an amongst those bits from nearly a decade ago, two examples of local marine life appeared.

First, another St. Cuthbert bead! This one was found in 2010 in a burnt context from Trench 3. It seems to be associated with the stables phase of the trench, around 10th century. We hope to do a deep-dive post (pun intended) on crinoids in the future, as they have been on our mind after the large one we found earlier this season.

The second was something that struck Lauren and the finds team as odd years ago: it looked like a tiny cowrie shell. True cowrie shells (family Cypraeidae) were often found historically in Indian Ocean trade networks, so this miniature version was separated out as a small find because it seemed non-native to the area. The sample was taken in Trench 1, associated with an early medieval linear feature. Further research shortly after the dig in 2013, however, revealed more information about this tiny mollusc.

This shell is from the family Triviidae which has a two species local to the North Atlantic and North Sea, but the species are often called the “European cowrie” and “northern cowrie.”

The European or spotted cowrie is used to refer to trivia monacha (da Costa 1778), a carnivorous snail that lives at the low tide of the shore. They usually have dark spots on the pinkish upper shell, which our specimen does not have.

The “northern cowrie” is trivia arctica (Pulteney, 1799) which has an unspotted shell. These species were actually thought to be one and the same until 1925. Both species prey on sea squirts, and they are in turn food for fish like Atlantic cod, who also occasionally turn up in our animal bone. Our shell is also a bit chalky to the touch, but it’s not immediately clear if ours is a proper fossil and thus old at the time it was deposited in the sample or if it was alive contemporary to the occupation of the context from which the sample came.

Living t. arctica specimen, image by Frans Slieker (NHMR).

Why do we care so much about tiny molluscs? Why does it matter that this was found here? Molluscs are extremely useful when studying the environment in the past. Some snails have very specific habitable ranges that can help us infer climate information, and today is especially valuable in understanding periods of climate stability and instability in the past. Others are fantastic to chemically profile to understand the water and plant life signatures for a particular region, which was a methodology we used in our interpretation of the Bowl Hole burial ground skeletal material.

This particular shell was saved because it looked different from the mollusc shells we had been finding previously. It turns out it was local, but it was probably not being collected for food unlike the winkles we find en masse, so we don’t have examples of it in the record.

For more information and more images:

Gallery of the Family Triviidae via National History Museum Rotterdam

Differentiating the species

T. monacha, European cowrie: entry for Encyclopedia of Life, entry in World Register of Marine Species

T. arctica, Northern cowrie: entry for Encyclopedia of Life, entry in World Register of Marine Species

Introduction to Environmental Processing

In this video Thomas Fox, Environmental Assistant Supervisor, discusses the process of environmental sampling and what we can learn from it.

 

Stay tuned for further videos and updates here and on our YouTube Channel as the season progresses!

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.

Bradford Kaims lecture at the AONB forum

Graeme Young is doing a lecture on this summer’s excavation at Bradford Kaims as part of the Northumberland Coast AONB Forum on Thursday the 4th of December 2014. It’s short notice but there are still tickets available for the day, which is being held at the Castle Hotel in Bamburgh (7 Front Street. NE69 7BW).

Booking for the event is here: Northumberland Coast AONB Forum booking

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Cord-impressed pottery from the Kaims

Although we are not on site at the moment, the business of analysis quietly continues. Tom Gardner is processing samples from Burnt Mound 1 as part of his MSC, and has found 4 sherds of cord-impressed pottery, during wet sieving.

A sherd of the cord-impressed potery

A sherd of the cord-impressed pottery

The pottery dates from the middle Neolithic, further adding to the evidence of early activity on the site.

The sherd preserves part of the rim of the vessel as well as the cord decoration

The sherd preserves part of the rim of the vessel as well as the cord decoration

 

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Bradford Kaims in Current Archaeology

This month’s Current Archaeology magazine features a multi-page article on our recent work at Bradford Kaims. They have done a tremendous job, so do have a look if you get the chance.

 

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Also, if you have not yet discovered it, Edoardo Albert has a new book out about Alfred the Great, which he describes in his own words below:

The summer is over, the children are back at school and I’ve got a new book in stores. In Search of Alfred the Great: the King, the Grave, the Legend, from Amberley Publishing, is a biography of – you’ve guessed it – Alfred, first king of the Anglo-Saxons, and the man who saved England. Indeed, if all you know of Alfred is the cakes, then this book will tell you why, of all England’s monarchs, he was the only one to be called ‘Great’.

My co-writer is human osteologist (bones!) and archaeologist, Dr Katie Tucker, who featured in Neil Oliver‘s BBC TV programme, The Search for Alfred the Great. She is leading the search for the king’s remains, which were long thought to be lost, but which, through careful archaeological and historical detective work, and a little bit of luck, Katie has found again. She tells the intriguing story of the hunt for the king’s bones, while I relate the extraordinary tale of his life.

As a writer of fiction and non-fiction, I wouldn’t dare to write a novel as unlikely as Alfred’s life! The fifth of five sons, he should never have come to the throne, but when his brothers died, one after the other, Alfred was left to face the Viking invasion of England alone. The Great Heathen Army had destroyed three of the four English kingdoms; all that was left was Wessex. In a daring winter attack, the Vikings took Alfred by surprise and sent him fleeing into the Somerset marshes. The future hung in the balance, trembling upon the decisions of one man. This is his story, the story of Alfred the Great.

Our 2014 Season Wrap-up Lecture

Please come join us for the final lecture of the season. We will be talking about all the exciting discoveries of this season. If you can’t make it out, don’t worry. We will film the event and put it on our youtube channel. Hope to see you there!

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Further investigations in Trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims

Trench 6 Supervisor Tom Gardner and Assistant Supervisor Sam Levin give us an update on their trench at the Bradford Kaims.


Over the last two weeks we have been very busy in trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims. Our investigations have been focused in three distinct areas, each of which merits a whole excavation to itself, but are best appreciated in the context of the other two.

Primarily, we have continued the removal and investigation of the five burnt mound phases across the trench. This involves the removal of the burnt mound, apart from specially retained sampling baulks from which we can retain the stratigraphy and can obtain our micro-stratigraphic environmental samples.

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The intention of the burnt mound removal is to uncover the valuable interfaces between the mounds, to establish their cross-trench sequencing, and to identify any possible internal stratification within the deposits themselves. Equally, their removal gives us the opportunity to expose the land surface beneath them, which appears to be covered in archaeological features sealed by the mound.

Our second investigation has been the area exposed under the burnt mound deposits. Under our central burnt mound, 6020, there appears to be a series of stake-holes and post-holes peppering the subsoil.

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These are currently exposed only in a small area, but seem to run in a series of parallel linears, with individual stake-holes in lines perhaps representing wattled structures, and a post-hole linear with stake-holes around the circumference of the post, perhaps as a repair method.

Our final area of intense investigation has been our wooden platform feature. We once again had Dr. Richard Tipping of Stirling University on site to assist us with our coring and environmental analyses. Richard allowed us the use of his Russian core in order to take wide-gauge monolith samples from the platform, and to assess its depth. With this core, and a quickly dug section into the peat we have ascertained that our platform feature is almost 1.2m deep from its top, and is supported by some pretty huge timber posts and stakes.

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This discovery prompted us to investigate the platform’s length through investigative 1-inch cores, which allow us to observe the platforms structure and extent without opening test-pits and keeping it preserved in situ. Through this we discovered that the feature stretches over 11m from the burnt mound in trench 6, through all of our extension test pits, and out into the bottleneck of the peat and lacustrine system of Embleton’s Bog, which runs through the Bradford Kaims.

Our investigations will continue for the next three weeks, and will focus upon the sampling and removal of the burnt mounds, the sectioning and sampling of our post-holes and stake-holes to see if they constitute a series of structures, and the sampling of our platform feature in plan and in section.

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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.

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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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2013 Staff Positions

It’s nearing the end of week three of the 2013 season, and it is with great pleasure that we run through the staff and their positions for the season. We thought we would try something new, since no doubt you have all seen plenty of pictures of us already.

Starting with the always busy windmill team:

We have golden girl Kirstie Watson as Finds Supervisor and team comedian Jeff Aldrich will be Finds Supervisor from next week, and Laurel Nagengast is the new Finds Assistant Supervisor in 2013.Image

Then there is the lovely Emily Andrews and Natalie Bittner, who make up the two Media Supervisors in 2013. You may already be familiar with the girls, Emily having organised this years’ Sponsume fundraising, and Natalie manning the Twitter and Facebook accounts.

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Lauren Nofi has taken the reins of Environmental, adding to her portfolio which already includes Outreach. If you have time to take one of her Trench Tours, she will give you an overview of the work undertaken over the last few years.Image

And in the Trenches:

Graham Dixon returns to the castle this year to supervise Trench 1, and Jessica Garratt is back in her Assistant Supervisor role.  There’s a lot of work happening down there this season, so keep an eye on the blog for their regular updates.

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Stephanie Rushe-Chapman has taken over as Trench 3 Supervisor. The hardworking Anne Hartog joins her as Assistant Supervisor, and the girls are hard at work in the NW corner of the trench as we speak.Image

Once again, Neal Lythe is Supervisor of the Bradford Kaims Project, with Jackie Scott, Dave Green and Tom Gardner as his Assistant supervisors.

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And because Director Graeme Young gave his tacit approval for this blog when he asked “Can you make me one with a dragon wrapped around a windmill?”, here it is. GraemeBanner