Thanks for a great season and a special video

It is hard to believe that another season is behind us, yet here we are looking back on amazing times and wonderful discoveries. I would like to thank all those who came along and helped make the season such a success. Thanks to you, our readers, for staying tuned to the blog. Thanks to all of our diggers, the Bamburgh Castle staff, the Brown and Barber families, who hosted us at the Kaims, and all those in Belford who made us feel most welcome. A special thanks, though, must go to our hard working staff, whose constant effort, in all conditions made everything we achieved possible.

Graeme Young, Project Director

As a perfect end to the season our trench three supervisor, Anne Hartog, made one last discovery…

Archaeomagnetic Dating Project

Recently, BRP archaeologists have been working with the Paxton Before the House Community Research Project, which has been lucky enough to be included in an archaeomagnetic dating project undertaken by Lancaster University.
Archaeomagnetic dating is a method of dating archaeological material using changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. The direction of magnetic north on Earth changes over time. Some materials such as fired clay or burned stone ‘record’ the direction of magnetic north at the time of their burning. By comparing their unique record to a master curve showing the location of the North Pole through time, materials and events can be roughly dated. The technique is particularly useful at prehistoric sites such as the Bradford Kaimes.

The University of Lancaster team took samples from a site in the Kaimes wetland area that is currently being excavated by the Paxton Before the House Community Research Project team.

The samples were taken from a burnt clay surface adjacent to a stone feature identified at the site. The feature is unusual: it is a much localised spread of irregularly shaped sandstone slabs, the function of which is unknown. Current theories about their use are varied and range from the stones forming the base of a sweat lodge, to being part of a cist burial.

Team members taking samples from the area adjacent to the feature.


Much further investigation is needed before we can begin to refine our theories. A date for the feature will be key to its interpretation, so the work of the University of Lancaster team is much appreciated, and the results of the project eagerly anticipated.

The BRP and Paxton project team will be working on this puzzle throughout the winter – we’ll keep you posted as our results come in! If you’re particularly interested in the Paxton Before the House Project, visit their working blog to see how they’re getting on, and find out what they’ll be up to in the coming weeks.

Looking Back at Chronicle

The BBC came to film an episode of Countryfile with us at the start of the season. This was the first of three television crews to work with us in 2010.

As most of you are aware, the BRP has featured a lot in the British television media in recent months. We’ve had spots on the BBC’s Countryfile and Digging for Britain, and we’ll feature in an episode of Time Team to be aired in sometime in the Spring of 2011. In the past, we’ve also worked with film crews from the Discovery Channel and on the BBC’s popular Meet the Ancestors programme.

These programmes follow a long tradition of archaeology on British television, which began in 1952 with the programme Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, starring the famous Sir Mortimer Wheeler.

The BBC is currently offering access to episodes of its Chronicle series, which broadcast for twenty-five years and was arguably one of the most popular and influential series about archaeology. As the BBC website explains:

“For 25 years, the BBC’s archaeology series took viewers around the world to explore historical excavations and discover long-gone cultures and civilisations.

With a mix of live broadcasts and filmed documentaries, ‘Chronicle’ brought some of the greatest archaeologists of the 20th Century into our homes. In this collection, we look back at a selection of programmes from the series, including reports on ancient Greece and Sutton Hoo, plus a memorable live broadcast from the Silbury Mound.”

You can watch these fascinating programmes at the Chronicle page of the BBC website. Unfortunately, if you live outside the UK you may not be able to access these pages!

Wherever you are in the world, we’d love to hear about your most loved and loathed TV archaeologies/archaeologists. What do you think about archaeology on television? What would you like to see on your screens in the future?

You can also find out a little bit more about TV archaeology in the UK irrespective of where you live reading some of the material suggested below:

Television Archaeology: Education or Entertainment? by Don Henson, Council for British Archaeology

Ray Sutcliffe, Chronicle: Essays from Ten Years of TV Archaeology. London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1978

If you’re interested in archaeology in film and television more broadly, you can also check out:

Cornelius Holtorf, Archaeology is a brand! The meaning of archaeology in contemporary popular culture. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2007

Cornelius Holtorf, From Stonehenge to Las Vegas: Archaeology as Popular Culture. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press, 2005

Miles Russell (ed.), Digging Holes in Popular Culture: Archaeology and Science Fiction. Oxford: Oxbow, 2002

Saxon Gold Pics

These are some of the images of the Anglo-Saxon gold that I mentioned earlier this week. These are very low resolution images, but still offer a remarkable level of detail.

Gold fragment from recent Bamburgh excavations. Fragment of gold showing possible interlace. Gold fragment with missing embellishment.

Gold fragment with possible interlace patterning.

Gold fragment with missing embellishment.

Bamburgh’s Saxon Gold

The 2010 excavation season has been a great success on a number of levels. Two prime time television programmes, Digging for Britain and Time Team, will help tell the story of the site to a very wide audience. In addition we very much hope that you have enjoyed the regular updates on our work via this blog.

I am sure that the most outstanding find of the season is the sculpted stone fragment, the first piece of Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture found at the castle in more than a hundred years. This is currently undergoing conservation at Durham University and we will be reporting on this in the future.

One project that has been quietly undertaken in the background has been the detailed photographing of the small finds to enhance the quality of our archive. This process will photograph all of the small finds but the new highly detailed photos of the gold finds from the castle have proved to be particularly fascinating as they are of sufficient quality to show more detail than is visible to the naked eye. Something very useful when dealing with such small but intricate items.

Anglo-Saxon decorated gold has very much been in the news in the last year with the discovery of the stunning Staffordshire hoard. Not surprisingly the publication of part of this collection in photographic form on the internet has led us to compare our few samples with this larger corpus. The Bamburgh Beast found by Dr Hope-Taylor during his 1970-74 excavation is the most obvious item to compare as it is of similar date. The zoomorphic design of the beast clearly has some very close relatives amongst the new finds suggesting that it comes from a similar school of craftsmanship. The remainder of our finds are likely to be later in date, probably 9th century, but do represent the descendents of the earlier material within a living Anglo-Saxon tradition of precious metal working.

Is it possible that some of the Staffordshire material could be Northumbrian is one questions that has been repeatedly discussed amongst the team. Personally I think historian Michael Wood may be very close to the mark with his theory that the hoard could in part derive from events that occurred during a conflict between the Northumbrian king Oswiu, brother of St Oswald, and the Midlands king Penda and his Welsh allies. Penda besieged Oswiu at a place called the ‘Iudeu’ (probably Stirling in Scotland) and forced him to pay a huge treasure as the price of a temporary peace. This is just the kind of circumstance that could have led to the stripping of gold from weapons but leave the weapons themselves with their owners. Its a terrific theory, and also accounts for the Christian elements present in an area (Staffordshire) that remained pagan long after the conversion of much of the rest of England. Perhaps we will never be able to solve this definitively, but if in future seasons we were to uncover gold artefacts of 7th century date, perhaps we can further add to the debate.

One of the Anglo Saxon gold pieces found in recent excavations – this one is from our 2006 excavations, and is one of the pieces that has recently been recorded in more detail.

Tweet Tweet!

Now that the summer digging season has come to an end the BRP will be focussing on post-excavation work, and on developing funding to allow us to move forward with specialist analyses and our more long term plans for improved community outreach and participation.

As well as becoming more directly involved with the Bamburgh community, part of this outreach work will include developing the BRP’s online presence. This will mean working on enhancing this blog as well as furthering our presence through other web 2.0 platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. Much of this work is experimental for the BRP. In addition, as a small, not-for-profit organisation with a staff that is for the majority of the year currently entirely voluntary, time and resources are somewhat limited. Our first social media experiment, then, is with a medium that we hope will overcome these limitations. It’s low cost and specifically designed for quick, easy use – Twitter.

Our Twitter feed has been up and running since the start of the excavation season in June. It’s been updated throughout the season on an almost-daily basis. Our Post-Excavation Twitter feed has also been very active. However, we’re very conscious that our tweets could communicate more than they currently do, and that we could be more innovative in our use of the medium.

Of course, there’s innovation all over Twitter. Institutions such as The Tate, the British Museum, the Council for British Archaeology, The National Trust and English Heritage all use Twitter as an effective, engaging web platform, albeit in very different ways. Smaller organisations (like us) and individuals who work in the sector also work in a variety of interesting ways on Twitter. Nina Simon’s An Open Letter to Museums on Twitter at her Museum 2.0 blog is thought provoking, instructive and has been inspiring for us when thinking up possible strategies to try out. Having listened in the the twitterings of other museums and heritage organisations, and having undertaken a little bit of research into possible approaches to apply, the BRP will be attempting some new and hopefully fun / interesting things in the near future. We hope that these experiments will be successful, but acknowledge that what works for others may not work for us, and that there’ll likely be some failures along with some successes!

We hope that you’ll join in with us in our experiment – the more people who participate, the better! If you’re already a Twitter user and would like to follow us, you can find us @brparchaeology. If you’d like to take part but don’t yet have a Twitter account, why not take this opportunity to experiment right along with us and sign-up for an account of your own at Once you’re signed up, there are helpful ‘how-tos’ to start you out!

Before we get started though, let’s go behind the scenes for a moment and take a look at who’s pushing the buttons behind the curtain. @brparchaeology speaks with one institutional voice. But the institutional ‘we’ is actually me – I’m Rachael Barnwell, the Project Administrator. I’m also @missbarnwell on Twitter. @PostXbrp is the feed from which our Finds Supervisor Kate Clarke speaks to the world. You’re very welcome to follow any or all of us through these feeds!

I’ll be starting to try new things out in the next few days, so keep your eyes open! We also welcome any comments and suggestions from you  – any ideas about the kinds of things you’d like to see us try, any tips or words of caution are all welcome!

Treasures of the Anglo-Saxons

Art Historian Dr. Janina Ramirez of Oxford University hosts this documentary that explores Anglo-Saxon art and material culture in the UK. The documentary explores iconic Anglo-Saxon artefacts, from the recently discovered Staffordshire Hoard to the stunning Franks Casket and the beautiful Lindisfarne Gospels. The documentary forms part of the BBC’s Norman season, which explores how the arrival of the Normans in 1066 impacted on British history. The documentaty is available to view and download to UK residents on BBC iPlayer until the 19th August.

Bamburgh and the North-East feature quite heavily throughout the programme; you’ll catch frequent glimpses of Bamburgh Castle and Holy Island, the gorgeous Northumberland landscape, and get a look inside Durham Cathedral and St. Peter’s Church at Jarrow.

The documentary is an interesting introduction to the iconography and art of Anglo-Saxon England, and indeed to some of the Anglo-Saxon archaeology and history of the region. Dr. Ramirezs’ narrative ties together a lot of different strands of scholarship, but remains accessible and suceeds in delivering an interesting narrative. Go take a look and let us know what you think!

Don’t forget you can catch the Bamburgh Research Project on the BBC’s Digging for Britain programme on Thursday 2nd September at 9pm.

Project Woruldhord, University of Oxford

For those of you who have yet to come across this, the University of Oxford’s Project Woruldhord is well worth a look. As the project’s website explains, the idea behind Woruldhord is quite simple:

Members of the public, of academia, of special interest groups are asked to submit via an online web site any images, documents, audio, video they have of material they would be happy to share with the rest of the world to further the study of Old English and the Anglo-Saxons.

We would welcome images of buildings, sites, artefacts; teaching handouts or presentations; audio of readings or interviews; video clips of crafts, sites; and so on. In fact anything that you feel would benefit teachers, researchers, and interested parties who wish to learn more about the Anglo-Saxons.

As well as building what I suspect will be a jolly useful and interesting on-line resource, the Wourldhord Project will be something of an adventure in on-line and community collection / curation. I’m really interested to see how the project comes together. You can also follow the project editor’s blog; each week, a highlight from the submissions to the archive to date will be picked out.

My favourite so far has been last week’s entry on Anglo-Saxon beads – potentially useful for us, given the BRP’s own collection of beads from this period!