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.

Finds Update for Week 2

This week has been a particularly fascinating week for finds, especially in Trench 1. Not only has it produced the most interesting and the largest quantity of finds (unusual in comparison to previous weeks/years), but it has given us artefacts with valuable dating information.

We have two sherds of Roman pottery from context 1272. Both items are plain Samian ware sherds. Samian ware is roughly dated from the 1st to 3rd Centuries AD, but usually from the 2nd Century in Britain. As both sherds are undecorated, and un-diagnostic in terms of structural elements, they may prove difficult o date and provenance. We hope that a specialist should be able to tell far more about both of these areas from the fabric and glaze etc.

During the 2009 season, a silver Short-Cross Penny was recovered from the same context. These are dated from 1180 – 1247 AD. Although we’re excavating at an earlier part of the context, it’s unusual for Samian ware of 2nd to 3rd Century date to be recovered from the same layer, particularly when the northern half of the trench in this area has so far appeared broadly contemporary with the south. This large gap in the dating of finds coming from the same layer indicates that we may need to be looking for a pit which has either disturbed earlier contexts below, or has been filled with a deposit from another location-which contains earlier material or is earlier in date. There is also the possibility that the items could have been ‘collected’ and saved/inherited for use or decoration from an earlier time period.

This week we also got our first firm date for this area of the trench in the form of a half–Styca fragment from context 1261. The copper alloy styca is a half-Styca with a modern break to one side, and the half-break appears to be archaeological. This could be a purposeful break, such as those used on later medieval currencies to halve the value of the coin. However it is most likely to have broken in the ground.

Bone Tool

Bone Tool, found in Trench 1

This bone tool was recovered from Trench 1 earlier this week. The bone is worked into a point at one end and shows some possible signs of working at the widest flattest end. The point itself appears to have been shaped for a specific function. The tool could have been used for puncturing (e.g. in leather working), or as a needle/ hook in loose textile work. The shape of the point also lends itself to the idea of a writing stylus but this is unlikelt, as styluses are usually made from iron.

Media Update

At the beginning of the week we covered the opening of our new project at the Bradford Kaimes. As well as filming the opening of the trenches, we had discussions with project leader Kristian Pedersen, to find out what they were trying to discover and why that particular area was of interest.

Our main area of focus this week has been on Trench 1, which has – as you’ve already seen – been producing some very interesting archaeology. Trench 3 has also been covered by the media team, who have covered the excavation of the cross section of the pit there and documented the continuing search for its edges.

Both trenches have also been photographed in detail to add to our photographic record. Going into the future, we hope to make this material available online. 

Our first podcast is also nearing completion, so watch this space in the next few days. Carl Letman has been working hard on getting more media material ready to upload to the website too.

Carl edits footage in the Media Room.

Trench 3 Update

This week in Trench 3,  we’ve continued to investigate the intrusive pit, 3234. We’ve narrowed down the area of the cut and will record its extent next week. We’ve also uncovered a number of different stone features just outside the cut which may represent structural foundations.
 
We’re beginning to make more sense of this area of the trench now, and hope to continue to clarify our ideas and interpretations as digging continues. 

Assistant Supervisor Dan Bateman, and students Kate Salter and Martin Bickerdyke working on the pit feature in trench 3.

Trench 1 Update

This week in Trench 1, we’ve been working on several contexts. The larger of these contexts, 1272, is a dark grey silty surface that is visible towards the southern half of the trench directly east of what is left of the medieval paving surface. It dates to c. 11th / 12th centuries AD. In taking down this context, we have uncovered a fired clay surface which appears to be a hearth. There have been various small finds from this area, including two pieces of samian ware pottery, a stone tool and a bone pin/tool possibly used for working with textiles. Trench Supervisor Neal Lythe believes that these finds – partiularly the samian ware, which is Roman in date – may be indicative of a pit feature in Trench 1 that we have yet to see clearly.

Assistant Supervisor Anj Hird and student James Wright wetting down Trench 1.

The surfaces to the north of the hearth are a little more complicated than first thought. In this area, we have uncovered what appears to be at least one pit, a small midden deposit of bone and shell and quite a large area of burning. Further excavation of the next few days will hopefully reveal more about the archaeology in this part of Trench 1.

The western half of Trench 1 was also cleaned at the start of the week. This area seems to be a lot earlier than the rest of the trench, as there is a lot less stratigraphy in this area. In addition, during the clean-up we found a styca which dates this area to approximately the 9th century, several centuries earlier than other contexts. We plan to return to this earlier area in the later stages of excavation.

“Digging for Britain” at the Bamburgh Research Project

We’ve been playing host to the BBC and 360 Production today. They’ve been filming with us for their upcoming programme “Digging for Britain”, a series which follows some of the summer’s biggest and most significant archaeological projects in the UK. It’s been a busy day all round for us!

We’ll bring you an update on Trench 1’s increasingly interesting finds tomorrow – we’ve had a lovely bone tool and some worked flint from the same context as the samian ware we reported on earlier in the week, in addition to some worked flint. We’ll also tell you more about the features coming up in Trench 3 – we’re starting to make little bit more sense of the archaeology this season!

We’ll also update you on the progress of the Bradford Kaimes – Jo, the BRP supervisor on site, called us from a very peaty trench to let us know they’ve reached organic material today.

“Digging for Britain” will be broadcast over this summer; as soon as we have dates, we’ll let you know! In the mean time, you can catch a glimpse of the project on this week’s Countryfile.

Update from the Bradford Kaimes Project

The Bradford Kaimes are located in North Northumberland in England, less than forty kilometres from the Scottish Border. It’s surrounded by an extensive wetland that formed in the Late Glacial period and was a large lake system throughout the Holocene. Many sites are known in this region, from Mesolithic and Neolithic scatters, to Bronze Age cairns and votive deposits, Iron Age hillforts and Medieval villages – there’s certainly a lot to this landscape.

The Bradford Kaimes Project, running concurrently with the Bamburgh 2010 season, seeks to survey a fprmer lake area, and to undertake exploratory excavations of sites from different periods.  The project has been undertaken in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, with Postdoctoral Fellow Kristian Pedersen leading the team on site alongside the BRP’s Archaeology Supervisor Jo Kirton. Work started earlier this week and has been progressing steadily.

Yesterday, I visited the site for the first time and was given the tour by the staff and students based there.

As with most of the local area, the walk to the excavation site from the drop-off point by Hoppen Hall Farm offers some fantastic Northumberland scenery:

On the way to the Bradford Kaims.

The Kaims site, with the East Coast Main Line close by.

While very pretty, the heat of the afternoon made the walk a sticky one – I certainly didn’t envy the people who were digging there all day!

Trench 1

Trench 1 at the Bradford Kaims, showing a geological sequence.

The first trench put into the Kaims has offered a geological sequence, but no finds or features. The Kaimes excavation is finds-poor – it’s a big contrast to the Castle site, which is finds wealthy.

Trench 2

Sarah Nichol and Mathias Jensen explain what they've been doing in Trench 2

Trench 2 reaches the natural water table of the area. There are some features in this trench, and after some deliberation, we think it likely that these are related to Victorian pipe work – Sarah uncovered a fragment believed to be piping as she began to dig the feature you can see below:

Sarah Nichol indicating the feature thought to relate to Victorian pipe work.

Again, as work continues, we’ll be revisiting this interpretation.

Trench 3

Scholarship Student Alex Stevens explains the features of Trench 3 to me.

Trench 3 was opened further down the slope from Trench 1, closer to the railway line. There is a feature in the trench, though we’re not certain what it may be yet!

Alex points out the detail of the feature in Trench 3

You can just about make out the feature in the photo above: on the right of the trench above there is a lighter patch of ground. This is a white clay material, which is likely geological. Adjacent to this is a compact area of light brown clay, which is also thought to be geological (the white clay may be intruding upwards through the brown clay layer).

Cut into this light brown clay is a roughly semi-circular feature – this is visible above as the darker patch indicated by Alex’s trowel. The material is dark brown silty clay with charcoal inclusions. Within this feature is a further, secondary cut which has a very different compaction.

The charcoal inclusions in the primary cut lead us to believe that the feature may be man made, given that charcoal very rarely occurs naturally. However, we’re not sure what the feature actually is; suggestions thus far include a sheep burial and a rubbish pit associated with the construction of the nearby railway. The secondary cut may even be a result of bioturbation, by either tree/plant roots or burrowing animals. We’ve had no finds from this trench yet, so we’ll keep working and hope that a clearer picture emerges as we dig down!   

I left the staff and students of the Kaimes taking a break in the sunshine just as I returned to site:

Taking a well-deserved break in the afternoon.

There’ll be more news from the Bradford Kaimes over the next few days – if you’d like to make sure you get all the latest news and discoveries, you can subscribe to the BRP blog by clicking on the box to the right of your screen.

Finds Update – Roman Pottery and Worked Stone

We’ve had some great finds from Trench 1 yesterday and today. Of particular interest are two fragments of roman pottery (possible samian ware), from a context that is currently thought to be medieval. We also had a piece of worked stone from the same context.

The roman pottery fragment recovered from Trench 1 yesterday.

Second roman pottery fragment still in situ in Trench 1

Worked stone fragment, Trench 1

Roman pottery in a medieval context suggests that there may be a pit or other cut feature nearby – as we work, we’ll be re-visiting this initial, very tentative interpretation. We’ll let you know what we find!

Digital Surveys Working Images

These are some of the amazing working images from Digital Surveys, who came in to begin survey work of the BRP’s archaeology over the weekend – thanks to Ben Bennett for allowing us to give you a sneaky peek at the work he’s doing!

Aerial view of Trench 3

View out over the West Ward over Trench 3 again.

View of the windmill (our site offices) looking over Trench 3

It’s worth clicking on these pictures to view larger versions – the detail is amazing and we’re really looking forward to working with Ben and Digital Surveys more in the future. There’s a lot of exciting things we could do with these images!