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.

 

 

 

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.