my third summer with the anglo-saxons

What up boyos!!!

I’m back in Edi for ~one final week~ before bouncing across the ocean for a limited show two-year US tour in search of jobs and education. I’ve lined up a fancy new part-time job (more on that later), enrolled in my ~graduate~ classes, and forced my dad to pick up his grown-adult-child’s vaccination records so I can prove to KU I’m not an plague carrier! As it turns out I’ve been vaccinated twice for meningitis!

However, for the past six weeks I’ve been surviving in the No Phone Dead Zone of Northumbria.  It was my third year with the Bamburgh Research Project and my second year on staff.  This year I was the Assistant Finds Supervisor.  I’ve chatted about the site and my responsibilities previously in various posts but the gist of the position was to assist the Finds Supervisor in cataloguing and keeping all the finds that come out of the trench.

I also specialised in teaching Small Finds Illustration – basically drawing the ‘shiny’ or special finds that come out of the trench like worked bone, carved stones, or exceptional metal work.  I’ve always been ~artistically~ inclined, but I learned how to do technical drawings my third year of university and really liked it.

However, one thing I learned from the season is that I really, really, need to invest in a new computer if I want to seriously pursue digital finds illustration.  Especially considering I almost certainly have an illustration project lined up with the BRP which could transition over to my Masters!  My current laptop is a Grand Old Lady at this point and my poor baby crashed four times causing me to lose more than one illustration over the season.

I’ll provide two different examples of my work from the season below:

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Besides teaching illustration, I supervised the reorganising and moving of the bulk finds from the Castle Windmill to our storeroom inside the castle.  The Project decided that instead of storing all the bulk finds (shell, charcoal, mortar, animal bone, etc) in year boxes they would be stored in artefact type boxes.  This will make it much easier for future study of a particular artefact type.  However, it basically took all season to inventory boxes and create a new cataloguing system.

On a social note, Ben and Alven ‘surprised’ me with visit during the last weekend.  Their original plan was to show up and actually surprise me which I’m very glad they didn’t because I hate surprises.  Ben took the train up from London and Alven took the the train down from Edinburgh.  I picked both of them up from Berwick.

That weekend was also the BRP Reunion so not only did both of them get to meet the students and current staff but many of the Oldies from the project as well.  And of course, while it had been sunny all week – it rained all weekend.  Both of them got drenched on the beach and I forced them to stand next to the space heater.

However, I think between working on site and drinking in the pub, Ben and Alven got a truly well-rounded archaeological experience.  Alven worked a bit with the animal bone since he’s studying zoology and, while, we don’t have an cranes on site for Ben to gush over we do have an EDM which uses ~lasers.~

It was a really nice weekend.  Alven is still being a public nuisance in Edinburgh (HE CRAWLED OUT THE WINDOW OF MY FLAT!!!)  but I’m really glad that I got a chance to say farewell to Ben this time in the bright sun instead of the Edinburgh bus station at night.  There were still tears but I’d say it wasn’t as ~traumatic~ this time around.

And that was the season.  Lots of teaching and drawing and cataloguing.  But as always, I really enjoyed my time with project.  It’s given me invaluable archaeological experience which will only make it easier for me to get that dream job with UNESCO.

I am already looking forward to next summer.  Things are going to be a bit different – we are moving trench locations and there might be opportunities for me to work with both the Castle Museum and the Project.  Again, this might transfer to my Masters.  There are also some other potential summer projects which I am currently trying to make work.  More on those when I know myself.  Fingers crossed.

But, this past Saturday, Gregor drove down to Bamburgh to pick me up from the campsite.  There was a slight issue getting the bike in the car but we eventually found an Allen key.  I said farewell to the rest of the staff and Gregor and I booked it back to Scotland with time to spare.

I’ve got just over a week left here in Scotland and I plan to enjoy every second I have left here in Edinburgh.  These past four years have gone by far too quick – expect a very emotional post in the next week.  More on that soon.

byyeeeee.

 

 

 

Poulton Research Project 2018

I arrived back in Edinburgh on Saturday after spending the last two weeks in Chester working on site with the Poulton Research Project.  This is my second season back at at the site, which if you’re a keen reader of this blog you’ll know to be a 13-15c Medieval Chapel with surrounding graveyard (read about my first season here).  The excavations focus on the medieval burials – but there is plenty else around the site from Prehistoric, ‘Celtic’ Iron Age, and Roman.

I’ve scanned in my excavation log for your reading pleasure and for an extra challenge of reading my smudgy handwriting. Enjoy.

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Bamburgh Castle Excavations 2018

I just arrived back to Edinburgh last night from working excavations at Bamburgh Castle.  The castle is located south of Edinburgh, across the English border into Northumberland.  While it was largely rebuilt in the 1890s, the foundations are those of a large Anglo-Saxon coastal stronghold with close connections to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne (the site of Viking raids in 793 CE).  The excavations are focused in the outer-ward of the castle (roughly the 6/7c CE) in an area of metal working and industrial activity. If you want to read more about the site check out this article from Archaeology Magazine.

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I was on site working as an Assistant Environmental Supervisor, in the role I oversaw and taught students the process of floating samples taken during excavation, drying, sieving, and sorting.  I also completed my own admin tasks helping out Alice (Environmental Supervisor) and Tom (Post-ex Supervisor) to make sure all the paperwork was complete for Graeme (Site Director).

An aside: flotation is a process by which soil samples from the trench are put into a tank of water and broken up by hands and jets.  This allows for the organic material like charcoal and seeds to float to the top and be collected in a flot bag and the heavier, inorganic material to sink to the bottom to dry and be weighed and sorted.  It’s really great for recovering information about what people were eating and growing as well as what sort of wild plants grew in an area.

If you remember, I attended Bamburgh last summer as a student.  They must have found my jokes funny, as this year I was invited back as staff.  While it was the same site, it was totally different experience and gave me valuable time in a supervisor/management role.  I am so grateful for the team at the Bamburgh Research Project for the opportunity!

Just having turned 21 and still in my undergraduate studies, I was the youngest member on staff.  Truthfully, at first, I was worried I wouldn’t be up to par for the job or that trying to teach students who were often older than me would be a little difficult.  It reminded me a lot of my time practicing tae-kwon-do.  Since I earned my black belt at 8, I was simultaneously the youngest but also one of the senior students.  This meant that despite my age, I had a leadership role.  I learned how to teach a variety of ages and experience levels.  And honestly, as I’ve learned, if you can teach a class of 10-year-olds how to spar correctly and safely you can pretty much do anything.

But anyway, back to the archaeology.

Keeping those lessons in mind, I moved quickly into my supervising role.  In a passing comment from other staff members, I ‘turned flotation into a well oiled machine.’ We quickly moved through the sample backlog from years’ past and put the Enviro team in a really good starting place for next season.  And while I wasn’t the one actually doing most of the work this year, I learned just as much about archaeology as I had the year before.  Teaching a skill really does imprint it further.  Likewise, taking part in the ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspects of the excavation connects all the separate pieces together.

And while it made me realize how much I actually did know about my chosen field of study, it revealed what I also didn’t know.  And that was okay.  One of my biggest pet peeves of any leadership is when a leader refuses to admit they don’t know something.  As I experienced, it’s okay to admit you don’t know something.  A good leader learns just as much from their students as a student learns from a good leader.

I also learned how to quickly adapt to challenges.  We had a large sample which was taken from a shell midden last season (oddly enough, it was a sample that I had taken myself so I only had myself to blame for the mess it created).  It was 2 15L buckets of heavy organic material that when floated broken down into fibers and blocked the mesh, causing the flot bag to silt up.  The team and I had to divide the samples into smaller buckets and mix in hot water and sodium bi-carb to break down the organics.  Then we left the buckets to sit for a few days.  After the weekend, the buckets were finely ready to float.

Besides working on the environmental side of the excavation, I also taught pottery and finds illustration.  It was really fun to teach and again really helped to further ground the skills I had learned this year in my Archaeological Illustration course.  I also got hoisted 90 feet in the air to take site photos so that was pretty neat.

I’m sad to see the season over so quickly as I truly enjoyed my time on site.  Seeing both sides of an excavation was a really unique opportunity and I glad that I was able to do my part to make this season successful.  As worried as I was at the beginning, my fears quickly went away as I got into the flow of the excavation and grew more confident in my understanding of the processes and my abilities to teach.  The rest of the staff was so supportive and because they believed in me – I believed in myself.  And as my first experience in a management role on a prominent excavation – I’m pretty proud of the work we accomplished.

Today, I’m back in Edinburgh to run errands and wash my clothes, but then it’s back down south for another excavation.  More on that to come.

And The Summer Excavation Is…

Drum roll please….

Schela Cladovei in Romania! 

I know, what you’re thinking, ‘Romania!?!’ And yes, it’s definitely outside of my wheelhouse, but this is the perfect opportunity for me to go out and try something completely new (and fulfill my dreams of becoming Lara Croft sshhh archaeologists can still be cool).

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Here’s the excerpt from the Uni about the site:

Set in one of the most remarkable archaeological landscapes in southeastern Europe, the Iron Gates, the site of Schela Cladovei, which was occupied in turn by the last hunter-gatherers and first farmers of the region, is arguably the most important Mesolithic Neolithic settlement to survive flooding of the Danube Valley following the construction of two massive hydroelectric dams.

The site will work with Neolithic Skeletal remains and I will receive training in Osteo-Archaeology!  This is an invaluable skill in archaeology, especially if I want to work on medieval sites in the future that nearly always have graveyards around them (those darn anglo-saxons and their inhumations!)

I’ll be on site for three weeks from the end of May to the middle of June.  I will finish up my last exam in May and then hop a plane to Romania!  I am so excited for this opportunity!  It will be brand new part of the world that I have never seen before and I cannot wait to be on site.  Being abroad has really taught me the value of a bigger world view.  I have come into contact with people and ideas from all over the world and I think in this new globalised world we need more people who understand more cultures than just their own.

(Side tangent: conflict always stems from a lack of understanding…)

Yes, archaeology is the study of material culture from the past, but underlying all of that is the question of explaining our present.  We cannot even attempt to understand the present without understanding our past and arguably vice versa.

So anyway, the excavation has been ongoing since 1965 by Edinburgh University and still is lead by a professor here at the University so I will receive training and work alongside the faculty from here in Edinburgh.  We will be staying in a house very close to the site and will have the opportunity to not only attend on-site lectures but get out and travel to other archaeological sites in Romania, Serbia, and Bulgaria.

We might even see some vampires. (Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula was from Transylvania a region in Romania.)

I looked around a lot for excavations and while I found some really interesting ones in Northern Scotland (there was one excavating medieval turf houses near Aberdeen) they were not long enough to fulfil my First Year 3 week requirement (bummer).  But, I am still in contact with those site coordinators, so maybe in the passing years I will be up there.

But, for the summer I will be in Romania!  And I cannot be more excited for it!

This brings me to my second point.

(WARNING I AM REALLY NOT TRYING TO SOUND LIKE A PRETENTIOUS TWAT)

I honestly can’t believe how amazing my life is at the moment.  I’ll only be 19 in April but I am already living in a foreign country attending a world class university.  I have friends from all over the world.  I have seen hundreds of years of history just on my walk to class this morning.

If someone would have told me my freshman year of high school that I would be sitting in a coffee shop overlooking the Royal Mile writing about how I will be attending an archaeological excavation in Romania I probably would not have believed them.

I guess it’s just a testament to hard work paying off.  And maybe a little bit of luck, if you believe that luck is being prepared to seize the opportunity when it comes and not letting it pass you by.

Some F. Scott Fitzgerald for you, ‘Our lives are shaped by opportunities, even the ones we miss.’

Which, I know I am in no place to talk much (still a first year, guys!). I guess I have some credibility to talk to those people still in high school reading this… it’s so worth it.  Write every essay like it’s the most important paper in your life.  Read everything you are given.  Don’t stop trying to push yourself because it pays off.  Talk with your teachers, they are there to help you. (Bless my high school teachers for putting up with my shitty antics.)

Don’t be afraid to pursue a crazy dream.

Because, every last second pays off.

Just go for it.  There’s this quote from Amelia Earhart, ‘the best way to do it is to do it.’  I think it’s great.  So many people just talk about what they want in life and never go out and actually do it.  As Yoda says, ‘do or do not, there is no try.’

It might not be the cool thing, a lot of people are too caught up in trying to be popular and forgot to first like who they are themselves.  You’ll be ostracized.  You’ll be called a ‘teacher’s pet’ or a ‘know it all.’ But, that’s fine.  Embrace it.  You’re in school to learn so that one day you can be the smartest and happiest human you can be.  High school is full of groupthink.  And that’s perfectly okay, some people feel more comfortable in a group.  Some people like having others around them that are exactly the same.  I just know that I never did.

Every person to their own, just do what makes you happy.

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is just go out there and carpe the f*ck out of that diem. And the diem after that… and after that… you know, honestly just go carpe vitam.

Go learn as much, experience as much as you can.  But, don’t rely on others to get you there.  Ask for help, learn from your peers, but make sure that you are carving your own way yourself.  And remember not to live too much in the past, I know as a historian that’s a hard statement for me to say, but seriously yesterday is gone.  Move on.  Keeping climbing upward and reaching out for stuff and eventually it will all come together.  I remember this summer when I first arrived in Edinburgh I knew that everything had been worth it.

I’m here now, but that doesn’t mean the hard work is over.  If anything the prep is over and the hard work has just begun.

Okay, time to buy a trowel and work on my Romanian.

A Break from Studying

One of the many blessings of studying archaeology in Scotland… is, well, being in Scotland.

Today, I decided to take a break from my Archaeology revisions and go out and visit a real archaeological site.  And, not just any site… a 14th century castle.

** HIGH LEVELS OF GEEKING OUT BELOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED **

Normally, back home if I wanted to look at a medieval castle I would have go online or look at pictures in books… this morning I walked 2.5 miles from my dorm room and was at the foot of Cragmillar Castle, a castle with its foundations in the 14th century but had been built on until the 17th.

I met up with two friends from Mountaineering, Gregor and Felix, at the entrance to Holyrood Park around 11 AM this morning.  From there we walked the 2.5 miles bike path that lead from the park to the castle (you know because Mountaineers don’t need the bus).  It was a really nice morning as well, and quite unusually warm for December.

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CASTLE. YASSSSSS.

This was one of the best castles I have ever seen.  It was so well preserved and we basically had the entire place to ourselves.  There were a few other people around but only toward the end of our visit.  And also, this castle was basically completely open.  You could go everywhere, up stairs, down stairs, on the parapet, through tunnels, into rooms… barely anything was blocked off.  I cried on everything.

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The castle was build in three layers, the innermost Tower House was built in the 14th century, the first layer of walls was 15-16th, and the outermost walls were 17th.  The castle has a long history, Mary Queen of Scots was even rumored to have stayed there!  It was also surprising navigable.  Many of the room connected into one another and because of the openness of the site, you really got a good feeling as to how people would have moved around the castle during their day to day life.

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on da roof.

We started outside and worked our way around and then inside.  Everything was there… chamber rooms, fireplaces, a great hall, TOWERS!! even a dungeon en-suite prison cell (more on that later).

(click through the slideshow to see more pictures)

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in the dungeon prison cell contemplating my escape on the ensuite toilet. #theusual

The castle was bought by the Preston family in the 1600s and they decided they wanted to buliding a pool in the shape of a ‘P.’ You know, what else do you do with your extortionate amount of money… build a name pool right next to your castle!

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the infamous p pool

Parts of the castle even showed evidence of being two or three stories.  You can tell this from the post-holes of the sides of the walls where the wood floor boards would have been or when three fireplaces line up along the wall… often times the chimneys would be connected over a few different floors.  This would have made the middle levels quite toasty during the Scottish winters.

(Also, geeky side note on the fireplaces… you could still see the smoke and soot staining in a lot of them.  I recognized it because the marks were really similar to the fire marks I saw in Knossos in Crete this March.)

Just so you can see how close the castle is to the center of Edinburgh… you can see Edinburgh castle in the middle of this photo taken from the top of Cragmillar. The university is right below.  My dorm is just below the Crags on the far right.

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party on the parapet.

After the castle, we stopped by Black Medicine Coffee (which fun fact is owned by JK Rowling’s brother in-law) for a late lunch and coffee. A few more friends stopped by, everyone is sorting out plans for next week.  A lot of my friends are leaving in the next few days, but there are a few that are sticking around as long as I am.  They are looking to go out and see a bit more of Scotland.  I have four days after my last exam, so I’ll see what sort of other ruins I can find.

It was truly a fantastic day.  And it made me realise just how lucky I am to go to University here.  If I had chosen to stay in the states visiting an archaeological site, let alone a castle, would have never been possible.  It really adds a new element to my studies, just the other day I was reading about medieval castles for my exam and today I went out and actually got to visit one (read: cry all over).

Okay, I’m back to studying for my archaeology exam but I will leave you with this picture of me failing at cartwheels in front of the castle.

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cartwheels!