For many students, a career in archaeology starts with watching Time Team, then a few years studying archaeology in their textbooks, but then one finally steps into a trench in their first archaeological dig. In June 2022 I, and other students, joined the team of the Bamburgh Research Project at Bamburgh Castle. Bamburgh Castle towers over a wide, white sand beach and overlooks the Farne Islands – including Lindisfarne. Dogs run back and forth on the beach, catching sticks and diving on the waves. How they don’t freeze, I don’t know. First settled 3000 years ago, the castle saw Kings and Queens come and go. Currently, it is in the ownership of the Armstrong family.
With the Bamburgh Research Project (BRP), I spent 4 weeks digging trenches, scanning through archives, and brushing bones, shells and other bits of the past. I met friends, and fellow archaeologists – some students, and I connections that I will have for life. There were people from Texas, California, the Isle of Skye, and the Netherlands. Students and staff have come from the four corners of the world to this site. This resembles those of the past, people from the four corners of Europe and the Mediterranean journeyed to Bamburgh and Lindisfarne. Archaeologists even found people from North Africa and North Scandinavia. Incredible! Each archaeological season uncovers more secrets hidden underneath the earth, and I am keen to find out what they find in the future. Last year, in 2022, they found a staircase leading down to (hopefully) an Anglo-Saxon well. How Exciting!
Something I didn’t know before the trip was how exhausting it would be after just four weeks. I knew excavating will be tough – lifting buckets of dirt, running up the hill to the windmill for tea break, and kneeling in holes…it was bound to be exhausting. By the end of four weeks, my face and arms were significantly more tan, and I was tired. After a weekend of rest, I was ready to go back. The four weeks were so fun and full of activities, it went rather quickly.
What does one do in four weeks of an archaeological dig? During the day we were split into different groups – the trench diggers (or trench wenches as we said), the environmental sample sorters, and the post excavation finds sorters. We swapped between these three stations each day. Each day we crossed our fingers to be with our favourite digging buddy – luckily we all got along well so we always had a friend with us.
The day started with driving to the castle from the campsite, if you were in the car with the BRP’s outreach archaeologist then you were in the party car and thus expected to jam to Lady Gaga. Then, a day of digging, brushing and sorting. By the end of the day, everyone is tired and keen for a rest. At the campsite, everyone has a choice of sitting at the bunkhouse outdoor chairs to hang, or to relax as one wished. On Monday it was BBQ night, Tuesday is lecture night, Wednesday was quiz night, and Thursday was pub night. Busy week!
So the four weeks weren’t purely focused on digging 24/7. We dug, sorted and brushed by day, and made friends in the evening.
This was the first dig I took part in. I was in my undergraduate degree and I learnt valuable skills – how to trowel, how to sit in the trench properly, and more! If you’re keen to be a part of an Archaeological dig, I can’t recommend the Bamburgh Research Project enough.