Diggers' Diaries: Bamburgh Castle
Our Dig It! excavation competition winners Maddison (8), James (11) and Jack (14) joined the archaeological team from the Bamburgh Research Project on Saturday 9th July for a fun-filled, action-packed, and somewhat wet day of archaeology. Our winners were looking for evidence of earlier occupation at the beautiful and imposing Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland coast.
Dodging the rain
The weather forecast for our winners' day at Bamburgh Castle was a bit damp, so we decided to get Maddison, James and Jack straight into the trench to dig before the promised rain began. There was just time for a quick introduction to Bamburgh Castle: it sits on a natural outcrop of rock, overlooking the sea, and the site has been occupied since at least the Bronze Age. The dig team from the Bamburgh Research Project have been working there since 1996, and are now working on layers of the site that date to the Anglo-Saxon period around the 9th century AD.
Armed with their brand-new trowels, kindly supplied by YAC's friends at Past Horizons, Maddison, James and Jack set to work. There were lots of finds of animal bone and teeth; Maddison uncovered a piece of vertebrae, and Jack found a pig's tooth. This type of evidence helps the archaeologists to work out what people living at the site would have eaten. One of the archaeologists working near Jack found a large piece of horn – we all joked that it came from the rare Northumbrian unicorn!
Our star find of the day was discovered by James. He found a 9th century iron object, which the archaeologists think may have been a belt buckle!
Another fab find made whilst we were on site was a strange bone object; it was about 8cm long and had either been polished or smoothed through being handled. Everyone who picked up the object immediately held it like a pen; it sat really snuggly in the hand. We all thought it might have been used as a stylus for making marks, perhaps on a wax tablet.
Maddison, James and Jack learnt about what happens to small finds after they are discovered. Small finds are all the objects found on a site that are special, unique or unusual; they aren't necessarily small! Bulk finds are the objects that are found in large quantities, like building materials, animal bones and shells.
Each small find is carefully recorded, and given a special number. The archaeologists make sure they know which context, or layer, it was found in. Small finds are mapped on the site grid too, so that the post-ex team (who are responsible for writing the story of the site after the excavation has finished) can build up a 3D picture of all the archaeology and finds. Finally, the small finds are painstakingly cleaned, usually with a dry brush, and are then put in a separate labelled bag for the finds specialists to examine.
The filthy flotation tank!
The weather took a definite turn for the worst after lunch, when the promised rain arrived... it made perfect sense, then, to get even wetter in the flotation tank! The flotation tank is used to sieve soil samples from the site, using water and a fine mesh. The process is part of the environmental archaeology undertaken on an archaeological site. Small pieces of environmental evidence, such as burnt seeds and charcoal, float out of the soil sample, and archaeologists can use these to build up a better picture of past environments and diets.
Our winners said...
The most interesting thing that I learnt was how to catalogue and clean finds. My favourite thing was digging and learning about different materials. Maddison (8)
My best find of the day was a belt buckle. If I had to describe my day in five words, I'd say: exciting, enjoyable, happy, nice ... RAINY! James (11)
The best thing about the day was finding pieces of animal bone and brushing finds. My best find was a pig's tooth. Jack (14)
Site Director, Graeme Young, has already said we're welcome again next year... and although he can't promise a day of sunny digging, the team from the Bamburgh Research Project can promise awesome archaeology! So keep visiting the YAC website, because you could be one of our winners in 2017...