THRIPS SWARM

Sunday was rolling along rather pleasantly, from an overcast morning to a glorious afternoon…but with the warmth and the burning off of the mist, we were invaded!

It wasn’t Vikings (who never took the castle, by the way, and we have almost no archaeological evidence of them in the castle environs)…

It wasn’t tourists…

It was the dreaded THUNDERBUG!

Based on Ernst Heeger’s illustrations from Beiträge zur Naturgeschichte der Insecten. Als Beiträge zur Fauna Oesterreichs, a text in German held in the Smithsonian collections. This is from a section on thrips, but using the old synonymous name “physopod.”

In recent memory, most of us can only recall a single nightmarish day in 2019 when they swarmed the castle. But today, oh, today was much worse than that day. We all know that insects, spiders, and earthworms are a standard part of the job of excavation. We’ve made our peace with that, and usually those little bugs get relocated or brushed away gently, no harm, no foul. But not today.

Today, these little pests covered our arms and necks, so small that you’d be surprised how you could feel every footfall of each miniscule foot. But their little feet were so irritating, tap-dancing across our sun-cream-sticky flesh! No, they didn’t bite us, but they crawled over every inch of exposed skin. They landed on our lips and were smushed as we aggressively tried to wipe our faces clean. They flew into our eyelashes and poked us in the eyes. They squirmed into our ears and nostrils. It was revolting.

So in preparation for all-out war tomorrow, we have done a little reconnaissance on our enemy:

Common blossom thrips with measurements.
Vivek Kumar, University of Florida’s Entomology and Nematology Dept.

SCIENTIFIC NAMES: Thysanoptera (order with over 6,000 species), Thrips (genus with about 280 species)

The genus and generic name for the creature comes from the Ancient Greek for “woodworm,” which is weird because they are definitely not worms (annelids). The University of Chicago’s Classical language app Logeion cites the Lewis & Short Latin dictionary: thrips, thripis (m.), transliterated from the Greek θρίψ. The Greek is found in the Liddell & Scott Greek-English lexicon, but the citations are a bit harder to find. Pliny the Elder refers to the woodworm literally in several passages of his Natural History, for example while describing the resistance of tree species to infestation. Martianus Capella (Late Antiquity/early 5th century, but studied and used throughout Carolingian education discourse) also uses the word, but as a synonym for worthless things, in Book II, Section 164 of his De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii (“On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury”). You can also access the Perseus database on which the app is based here.

OTHER ALIASES:  thunder flies, thunderblights, storm bugs, storm flies, corn flies, corn fleas, corn lice, harvest flies, harvest bugs, freckle bugs

DESCRIPTION: 0.5mm-15mm long, slender body, two pairs of fringed or feathery wings folded over its back, only the left mandible (lower jaw), usually black or brown in adult stage except for a few species that stay yellowish like juveniles

As there are over 170 species found in Britain, it would be folly to detail them all, but they all share the same basic characteristics. They have a slurpy tube (that’s not the scientific name) through which they secrete saliva into their food that starts the digestion process and then suck it all back up. Remember those gross little feetsies we mentioned above? They have a grippy pad on each of its six feet called an “arolium” that inflates with the bodily fluids of the insect and helps it climb in any direction, defying both gravity and common decency. There are an astonishing number of thrips-centred websites.

KNOWN HANGOUTS: often among cereal crops and flowers, and, apparently, Bamburgh Castle for the weekend

ACTIVE TIMES: hot and humid weather, and particularly weather systems that can form thunderstorms (correlation, not causation, by the way), in the UK flourish between April-September

They’ve been around since about 300 million years ago, long before the dinosaurs (but probably annoyed them too when they showed up) and around the time of the dolerite magma injection that intruded into the sandstone at Bamburgh. Their entire life-cycle takes about a month, but they can lay 100 eggs in that time. Some can complete their life-cycle in two weeks if the temperature is high enough!

PROS:

Some thrips are pollinators, which is almost always a good thing and why we should be nicer to insects like bees. Some species prey on other thrips, the eggs of wasps and moths, and mites (which are not insects because they only have two body parts). Others eat fungi. Thrips also have a cool means of flight that is worth reading about.

CONS:

Thrips can destroy crops by eating their tissues from aesthetic damage like stippling/mottling or silvery patches (and little poo stains), to the formation of galls, to full defoliation of plants. They can also spread about 20 different plant viruses, such as the Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. In addition, they are extremely invasive and have been found on every continent. Thrips can also reproduce asexually, where the female lays eggs without a mate. Numerous gardening websites also warn that they become pesticide-resistant quickly, and that biological control (like increasing natural predators) is preferable to chemical control.

THE PLAN:

  1. Wear long-sleeves to cover up.
  2. Cry deeply.
  3. Borrow some of the repellent the Australian students brought all the way from the only continent that is actively trying to harm you.
  4. Get back to work.

Back in Action for 2022!

Welcome back for the 2022 season!

Seven people sitting around a table with wash basins outside the windmill overlooking the West Ward of Bamburgh Caslte with the grey masonry and pink sandstone of the castle apartment tower in the background.

We are all so excited to be back on-site today with a fresh bunch of new students, and some familiar faces among the staff (more on us tomorrow) as well as former students who’ve signed back on as staff (more on them next Monday). We’ve got FOUR action-packed weeks planned for you all, so follow along on here and your preferred social media site:

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Our first and hopefully most straightforward goal for the season is to bottom out the tower and find Elmund’s well (discussed in this blog post about the wells from last season)…or at least find traces of it. None of us are truly expecting an empty shaft with potable water, but everyone is at the very least expecting that yours truly, against the basic premise of self-preservation and scientific safety, will offer to taste-test whatever mud or sludge lays at the bottom.

Foreground : dune grase, centrer: masonry sunken into the ground in a reversed squared C-shape; background: ivy-covered wooden fence with the dunes and North Sea in the very distance.
Trench 5b footprint of the tower just a little worse for wear.

We also would like to do a full outworks extant masonry survey to get a better grasp on the complicated and numerous phases of construction. There are bits of wall that show signs of at least half a dozen separate rebuild or refacing events! We would also like to generate a to-scale model using Electronic Distance Measurement (a method of survey called EDM for short) of the masonry.

Green plant -covered masonry with stone steps and a stone arch looking up towards a sail-less windmill, with a partly cloudy sky behind.
Looking up towards the castle from Trench 5B; note the multi-coloured masonry around the arch.

Our post-excavation goals, in addition to keeping up with processing of finds, will include a bit of housekeeping; we’ve recently moved our archives and want to make sure everything is where it should be and easily-accessible via our cataloguing system. We’ve got plenty of finds from last season to finish washing and sorting, and there will hopefully be a similar abundance of material from our excavations of the next few weeks.

We are happy to once again have the specialist staff (previously unavailable due to travel restrictions) and workspace to begin processing environmental samples again. Our main means of processing will be through flotation, and a primer on our methods can be found here. In short, flotation allows tiny artefacts and ecofacts from coins and beads to bones, snail shells, and seeds to be separated from the soil matrix. The characteristics and chemistry soil itself can also tell us about what was likely going on in a certain area of the trench during a certain time. This season we will be covering seed identification and a bit of soil science here on the blog.

Finally, we hope to enhance our database of finds with a new system of key words. We also would like to eventually integrate the Brian Hope-Taylor material we have in our care into our existing system.

Background to our September 2021 Field School Excavation: the outworks of St Oswald’s Gate

This year the focus of our field school excavation will be the outworks beyond St Oswald’s Gate and the ‘Witches Cottage’ situated on top of the medieval masonry.
Here we provide an introduction to this area of the castle and an overview of preliminary work undertaken in this area in the early 2000’s.

The outworks beyond St Oswald’s Gate

St Oswald’s Gate formed an entrance to the fortress from at least the later 8th century when it is mentioned in an annal written by an unknown monk. At that time it is quite likely to have been the only entrance to the fortress. Its position would have granted access out to the early medieval ‘vill’ settlement that lay beyond to the west, very likely sited around St Aidan’s church which has been present in the village from the middle 7th century. It is now thought very likely that it also provided access to the sea via the beach and possibly a small harbour.

In 2000 we lifted a couple of the paving slabs in the natural cleft, just inside the gate. We believe the paving slabs to be late post medieval in date and beneath them we found traces of what we think to be their medieval predecessors. Earlier surfaces lay beneath these in the form of a rubble surface set in a yellow mortar. Perhaps most interesting of all the bedrock beneath this surface was worn smooth, not an easy thing to do with a rock as hard as dolerite, suggesting in our minds that it had been worn by footsteps over hundreds, even thousands, of years.


Excavation within St Oswald’s Gate with the stone and mortar surface exposed.

In the later medieval period the main entrance to the castle was moved to its present location at the south end of the castle, from which the high status Inner Ward could be reached without having to pass through the East or West Wards. This relegated St Oswald’s Gate to the status of a postern gate, a secondary entrance, though in the case of Bamburgh a very well protected one. The outworks here are not just substantial but are also some of the least altered parts of the medieval castle. Given our interest in St Oswald’s Gate, which was one of the reasons for the siting of Trench 1, we were quick to  do some  investigation of the outworks, excavating various little trenches in 2001 and 2002. These were given context numbers in the 500s and collectively represent Trench 5 in our recording system.

Looking over the castle wall at the main part of the outworks beyond St Oswald’s Gate. Very little remains of the other sides but the landward wall still stands to a great height. The cross wall with the arched passage is visible at the left side.

The medieval outworks are broadly rectangular and extend out from the gate on an east to west alignment with a cross-wall extending out perpendicularly from the castle wall, dividing off a small triangular area, directly in front of St Oswald’s Gate, from the main outwork enclosure to the west.

The cross wall and archway with the later build upper right. Patching and some of the upper courses may well be of 18th century and later date. Careful study of the masonry will likely confirm more phases than this though

A gate in the main rectangular wall allowed access out across the area of the village playing fields towards the village and a further arched passage led from the triangular area through the cross wall in to the walled off area that medieval records show contained a corner tower called ‘The Tower of Elmund’s Well’. We have reference in the records (History of the Kings Works) to the tower of St Elmund’s Well that C J Bates places in the outworks beyond St Oswald’s Gate. We also have a reference to a wall at the base of the castle collapsing during a brief siege in 1138, which gives us an idea of how long this area has been fortified and also why we see so many phases. Who Elmund was we do not know but in later centuries the tower base formed the shell of a small building called, in the later post medieval period, the Witches Cottage.

The main rectangular wall that closed off the outworks area appeared to be a single massive build, four metres wide at its base, rising with a gentle inward sloping batter to a narrower top some metres above. The original height of the wall is not certain, but from what survives it was an imposing structure. The huge width of its base became obvious when we realized that it had been constructed on sand. It certainly needed the stability. It appeared to be a single phase, that is built in one phase of construction.

Looking back up at the west ward of the castle from the area enclosed by the outworks. St Oswald’s Gate is hidden behind the cross wall

The cross-wall was more complex, much thinner, only 1.3m wide, and with at least three build phases. The central and western part with the arched passage appears to be quite early in build, probably no later than the 12th century and perhaps a little earlier. The connecting element between the early mid section and the castle rock and wall is of later medieval date and the upper part, and some repairs are likely to have been constructed by Dr Sharpe in the later 18th century.

So why was the outwork built?

Well part of its function would be to add layers of defence to St Oswald’s Gate, but this clearly does not explain the size of the main part of the enclosure. It is possible that it was built to enclose and defend the well that presumably lay in or near to the Tower of Elmund’s Well. It’s also quite possible that the tall wall, and the tower, was constructed to overlook and defend our possible port.

Research questions for 2021

We have two primary research objectives for this year’s excavation:

  • To better understand the gates presence and something of the phases after this season’s work.
  • We will seek to identify what survives of the cottage and investigate if we can still trace something of the tower beneath it.

Trench One, Week Four Update – Bamburgh Castle

 

This week in Trench One we starting digging the test pit which we discussed in our last blog post. During excavations we identified a feature running east to west which showed as a dark patch running across the sondage with 4-5 vertically standing stones within it.

 

4092

Test Pit A.

 

Also uncovered were at least two areas of burning which may possibly be related to the early timber palisade defence wall of the castle, but the evidence is currently inconclusive.

Excavations have revealed a grey patch, a pit dug on the robber trench, closer to the south edge of the trench, which is filled with rocks. It can be seen in section on the east wall of the test pit.

 

4094

Test Pit A – facing St Oswalds Gate.

 

A second sondage was dug (measuring approximately 20x40cm and 60-70cm deep) in order to see if we could reach the bedrock and determine the depth of the natural boulder clay. This extent has not yet been reached.

The plan for the next couple of weeks is to identify 2-3 areas of interest to dig small sondages through to the bedrock. Digging out the whole trench would take far too long and too much effort when targeted depth investigations will suffice.

On a side note, the kiln has very nearly been completed and only one more layer remains within the kiln.

 

Bamburgh Castle, Trench 3 – Hope Taylor nearly in reach!

As the level of Brian Hope Taylor’s 1974 excavations gets tantalisingly close, Trench 3 staff continue the process of gradually joining our excavations to his.

 

 

This is achieved through the removal of features and contexts which are stratigraphically higher in sequence including a stone wall (possibly 9th Century) last week, underneath which a number of finds were discovered. Our progress is described in the video below.

 

 

Bradford Kaims – Trench 14 Update

Trench 14 is actually a combination of two earlier trenches: 8 & 11. 

IMG_0871 - GV of Stone Feature in T14, SE (14003).JPG

Trench 14 and the stone feature within it.

Trench 8

Trench 8 was opened in 2013 and contained an artificial mound comprised of larger stones (30-45 cm in diameter) underneath a layer of smaller stones (4-10 cm in diameter). 

A quarter section was dug out to determine the depth of the mound, and we discovered a thin layer of peat under which lay a brushwood platform. As the season ended, we backfilled the quarter section and left it to future investigations.

Trench 11

Trench 11 was opened in 2015 in an attempt to further understand the stone mound feature by examining the surrounding area, as well as determining if any relationship existed between Trench 8 and the western end of Trench 9 – where a large post was discovered in situ at the end of season 2015. 

A paleochannel with layers of sand and brushwood was discovered at the southern end, which was less than a metre from the north end of Trench 8. One side of the channel edge looked like it may have been cut intentionally though further investigations are required to determine if that was the case. 

Also within the trench, we discovered over 10 pieces of wood around 6 cm wide & ranging from a half metre to one metre in length lying within the peat layer. Two had potential cuts in them, giving us an indication that at least a couple of them were used by early humans. 

So far this season…

We have expanded Trench 14 to include both Trenches 8 and 11, and are in the process of expanding the quarter section to give us a fresh understanding of the stratigraphy of the artificial stone mound and the brushwood platform lying under the peat layer. We also plan to expand the trench into the western edge of Trench 11 to understand if a relationship between 8, 9, 11 and 14 exists. Our plans are to extend into the palaeochannel to determine if it was cut intentionally and to excavate at least partially into the edge of the peat layer to discover if more worked wood exists. 

Week 4 in Trench 3, Bamburgh Castle

Last week’s main focus was on the north-east corner of Trench 3, as we were investigating the possibility that the area is in fact a Romano-British occupation layer. Questions have been raised recently about whether our previous identification of the area, as currently dating to around the 9th Century (believed so due to the beam-slot cut of our 9th Century Anglo-Saxon timber building) no longer holds, due to a large number of Roman finds appearing both this season and ones previously. This is not typically a cause for reinterpretation as artefacts from earlier periods do appear from time to time in negative features, such as pits and post-holes, but these were also appearing in normal stratigraphic layers. These finds include a section of a Roman glass bracelet, both Roman greyware and Samian pottery and, from a previous season, a Roman fibulae brooch.

 

CmCk3IBWYAAcLZl

Part of the collection of Roman finds from the NE area of the trench.

 

To add to our current mystery, this area is cut by a number of negative features, which is making this puzzle all the more exciting to figure out. We have discovered a 9th century timber beam slot, an anglo-saxon post-hole, a high medieval pit and another possible anglo-saxon pit all in this corner. It is also difficult to see a relationship between the dated areas of the trench and this corner because there is a large WW1 test latrine pit isolating it on one side, it goes into our trench edges on two more, and finally it backs onto a higher portion of bedrock on the last. Finally towards the end of the week a stone linear feature was seen in the section of the beamslot and so work began to investigate it, which led to us reaching bedrock around 0.35m below our current level. This could give an explanation for why this area was occupied before the areas with lower bedrock levels, however more investigation is needed before we rule out any other theories.

 

 

Trench 3 – Week 3 Update

In this video trench Supervisor, Graham Dixon, discusses the progress thus far and the plans for the weeks to come.

 

And a bonus video – a closer look at the small pit feature which yielded the decorated piece of Samian ware.

Samian Ware tweet photo

 

 

Stay tuned for our next video updates – coming soon!

Season Intro and Week 1 Diary – The Bradford Kaims

A slightly belated blog which is intended to be read in conjunction with yesterday’s post regarding the promontory area.

Written by Tom Gardner, Tom Lally, and Becky Brummet.

 

And so we are back to work at the Bradford Kaims, and thought it would be a good idea to outline our plans for this seasons excavation. We are nearing the end of our evaluation phase on site, and have some areas which we need to finish and wrap up. Our investigations are divided into three areas, the north of the site in Trench 6, the south of the site in Trench 9, and the promontory area with small excavations in Trench 12, Trench 13, and Trench 42.

 

Trench 6

Trench 6 finished last year with a focus upon our wooden platform and a complex pit sequence below the burnt mound deposits. We kicked off this season with a trench clean and photograph, before re-opening an area from 2014 over a series of Neolithic wooden troughs associated with our earlier burnt mound deposits. These troughs pose an interesting sequence of site use, abandonment, and re-use, and are impressive pieces of architecture in themselves. The latest in the sequence is a large and intact oak trunk, which has been hollowed out vertically all the way through, and set in the ground as a trough or well. This is cut into an earlier plank lined trough, and the whole sequences is surrounded by a series of post-holes and pits, with capping burnt mound deposits slumping over the lot.

 

1 - Trench 6 oak trough

Trench 6 oak trough.

 

Beyond finishing this sequence, the plans for Trench 6 involve expanding to the north to excavate a later burnt mound identified last year in the section, removing the earlier mounds onto the subsoil, and working out the interface between our burnt mound sequences and the wooden platform from 2015. With this, and the other areas of work, we have a busy summer ahead!

 

2 - Trench 6 end af 2015 season

Trench 6 at the end of the 2015 season.

 

Trench 9

Trench 9 finished with a flurry at the end of the 2015 season, and we aim to pick up right where we left off. The trench edges have been redefined, the backfill emptied out, and the flurry of features found last season are visible once again. It’s time to get things started for 2016.

With 2016 likely being the final season that we have Trench 9 open, we have a lot of work to do. Last season ended with the discovery of a possible sweat lodge, Mesolithic hearth and a possible man-made water channel, all of which will need to be investigated this season. As a result of time constraints and having more precise areas to excavate, the dimensions of Trench 9 have been slightly altered to accommodate for this. We will now focus heavily on the middle of the trench where the main features lie, as well as extending the trench out into the fen, in order to determine the purposes of the wooden features and timbers that were cutting into the section in 2015.

 

3 - Trench 9 end of 2015 season

Trench 9 at the end of the 2015 season.

 

The specific aims this season are to investigate the heavily wooded area in the North-West corner, excavate our Neolithic post-hole and post further to determine its function, determine the age and function of the wooden ‘plank’ which has been visible since T9 was first opened in 2014, and then focus most of our efforts into the central areas where the hearth, channel and sweat lodge are located. We need to determine the functions of these features individually and then whether they are contemporary with one another. Despite a burnt mound being the reason why this trench was opened to begin with, there is every chance that these features could be the whole reason why prehistoric people were drawn to this location in the landscape in the first place.

 

Trench 9 start of 2016

Trench 9 at the start of the 2016 season.

 

 

An Excerpt from the Promontory – Bradford Kaims

Trench 12, 13 & 42 were opened (reopened, in T42’s case) this season for sampling & investigations into the burnt mounds located on the promontory.

T12 is a 2m x 3m trench located on the southern end of the promontory. Shortly after opening the trench, we began to find some really interesting artefacts. In the peat layer, we found a piece of burnt quartz & when we continued down through the peat onto the burnt mound layer, we found more: two pieces of worked flint & two pieces of burnt bone! Quite exciting finds for a trench originally opened up for sampling.

 

Ck6DGaUXAAArh4G

A piece of worked flint from trench 12.

 

Trench 13 is 1m x 2m trench located just off the edge of the promontory, near the waters edge. Like T12, it was opened for sampling & has also produced some really interesting finds! Just below our peat layer, we discovered a layer which consists of shells & sand moulded & formed together. In that layer, we uncovered two pieces of charcoal, nine small (4-10cm sized) pieces of worked wood & one log roughly 1m long. We think the smaller wooden pieces may have been stakes & considering their proximity to the waters edge & the fact that a couple were orientated at a 45° angle, it could indicate fencing.

 

Ck6EV63XIAEQluC

A piece of worked wood from trench 13.

 

A 2m x 4m portion of trench 42 was reopened for sampling, with the focus being on the burnt mound, the trough & the limestone piece. A 1m x 2m spit was dug out of the north end. We expected the burnt mound material to continue at least a half meter, but we quickly uncovered an interesting mottled orange clay layer only 4-5cm into the burnt mound layer.

 

Cl8yOeCXIAAhXJ7

The re-opening of trench 42.

 

Since the weather has turned more amiable for excavations to continue in our other trenches, we have taken a break from our work on the promontory, but plan on returning to it to as soon as feasible.