A Prince, An Octocopter, and Many Hands: Wrapping up with “This Week in Photos”

So we’ve finished wrapping up the 2012 season. In order to commemorate the final push, I thought we might have our second ever BRP “This Week in Photos”.

Graeme and Gerry with HRH Prince Charles on the beach below Bamburgh Castle

It was a rather eventful week, with a Tuesday visit from HRH Prince Charles to Bamburgh Village, a spectacular introduction to archaeological aerial photography from an octocopter on Wednesday, and the closing down of the trenches at both the Bradford Kaims and the castle from Thurday to Saturday.

Frantically cleaning Trench 3

Everyone lending a hand

On Thursday, students and staff alike got down on hands and knees (literally) to clean the trenches for our visit from our A.P. Horizons Friends, Paddy and Jack.

A.P. Horizons Boys Paddy and Jack

Even Finds Supervisor Kirstie was (forcibly) lured out of the windmill to make sure Trench 3 was spic-and-span for the octocopter’s aerial photographs.

All our ducks in a row… cleaning S to N in T3. Admire the clean lines in the rather dry trench

While I’m reluctant to admit it, in case I jinx it, the beautiful weather we’ve been having the past week has made the task infinitely more difficult.

Bone dry soil in T1 making cleaning difficult

A view of the E trench wall in T1 (now stone-walled) and the bone-dry soil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

T1 in particular was complaining of bone-dry soil, making it both near impossible to clean properly, as well as very difficult to differentiate between contexts. The students were able to take some final levels and complete the end-of-season trench plan.

Planning Trench 1 is a group effort

Taking a few final levels before tarping over Trench 1

Matthew and Amin taking levels at T1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the complaints, both Trenches were clean by the time Paddy and Jack showed up at 5 pm with the illustrious octocopter. As they set up near Trench 1, we all gathered on the castle walls to observe the show.

A view of T1 and the octocopter from the windmill walls

Watching from the wall

I don’t think I’ve seen us all so united in our excitement this entire season. If only we’d had popcorn…

Supervisor Alex and Directors Graeme and Gerry gather round … to get a real-time birds-eye-view of the trenches

After a tour over T1, the boys set up at T3 to repeat the process.  They finished up the evening with a flyover above Bamburgh Castle. I can’t wait to see the shots.

Jack piloting the octocopter

Approaching T3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday was the last full day of work at the castle for most of us. Trench 1 was tarped and stone-walled along the E section wall. Trench 3 finished planning the SE corner and tarped over it.

Taking down the N quadrant in the NW corner of T3

While some students continued to excavate the N and S quadrants of the NW corner, others worked on planning the NE section of T3. Supervisors from both T3 and T1 frantically worked on closing contexts and writing up context sheets and end-of-year summary reports.

Short-term T1 Ass-Sup Constance drawing up a final plan of T1

Finds Supervisors Jeff and Kirstie finished box-indexing and cataloguing the day’s finds.

Kirstie and Jeff sorting finds

Once lost finds, re-discovered in a cleaning of the Keep

And only with the wonderful and much needed help of some of the BRP students did I survive the day and manage to accomplish most of what I set out to do for environmental.*

Nat flotting 2010 and 2012 Kaims samples

* A special shout out to Sarah, Liam, Natalie, and Americ who helped sort samples, record heavy discard, clean out the flot tank, and any number of other enviro things I asked them to do. Without their help, my role as environmental supervisor might have finally turned me “mental”. Thanks, guys!

A somewhat-sane me, taking a brief pause from the environmental to peek at T1 and listen in on Lauren’s trench tours

We were all hard-pressed to find a spare moment even for tea between taking down the mess tent, washing dishes and duckboards, and doing post-excavation odds-and-ends. Full-season BRP-er Lauren did manage to squeeze in a final tour of the trenches for the public, however.

Lauren engrosses the public in tales of T1 and the adventures of it’s archaeologists

I tagged along for the first time this year and was surprised and delighted to learn things about the start of the project, Brian Hope Taylor’s hoard of records and finds, and the caslte’s dynamic history that I never knew. Lauren’s interest and wealth of knowledge provided an exciting glimpse into the archaeology of Bamburgh Castle, that even I, a long-time BRP-er enjoyed immensely. Thanks Lauren!

Loyal BRP-ers ensure “The Moose” is preserved for posterity

A very warm shout-out to all this season’s staff, volunteers, and students! We couldn’t have accomplished as much as we did without all your hard work and enthusiasm. So, thank you!

The sun sets over the BRP

Finally, while the trenches have been tarped over or back-filled and the windmill locked up, the archaeology continues (albeit in a somewhat more limited form). We’ve got more posts to come in the following weeks and months. Closing up the Kaims. BRP Bloopers. Bamburgh Beast Body Art. Publications. How-to Archaeology. And so much more.

So, don’t disappear, blog-followers. You might miss something interesting. 😉

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

Trench 3 Update

Due to the ever-falling rain, progress in T3 was a little slower at the beginning of last week than usual. However, spirits remained high and our brave volunteers and supervisors battled on with important work….

Trench 3 Assistant Supervisor Steph ‘sieves’ in rather wetter-than-usual conditions!

Our finds washers refuse to be beaten by the rain!

…as well as a few slightly less useful, but equally enjoyable, activities!

Steph and Environmental Supervisor Megan engaging in some ‘extra-curricular’ activities

Megan making the most of our flooded trench on Tuesday

But even despite the bad weather last week, much progress has been made. – Our burning deposit in the North of T3 has now been entirely excavated, apart from where it continues under a stone scatter to the west. We hope to lift these stones and investigate this feature further in the coming week.

Our burning feature (3388) after being half-sectioned

We’ve also continued digging down by quadrant in the NW corner where we’re still a little higher than in the rest of the trench. Our theory that it is also still later in date may be supported by a recent find of green-glazed pottery (c. 12th-15h century) in this area.

Mark and Mikelah battle on in the NW corner of T3

We’ve now also completely excavated the possible clay floor surface in the NW quadrant…

Removing the clay deposit

…and are in the process of planning the pebble spread which lies under it – and probably formed part of the same surface.

The underlying pebble surface

The south-east quadrant is proving more complex, where a shower of different contexts are starting to appear. One of these contexts (3395) seems to have been disturbed by a large, deep hollow chock-full of loose pebbles. Unlikely to be rabbit disturbance due to the sheer number of stones, we are now considering some kind of pit or even drainage feature.

Pebble filled pit (?)

This is another feature we’ll be investigating further in the week ahead – especially as it is situated just to the east of our interrupted wall in the area, and so may be able to provide some clues as to why our wall line becomes so confused at this point.

Thanks for reading – keep tuned for further developments!

T3 x