Monday, 25 October 2010

Archaeology Love

Bamburgh Castle
On Monday nights the Durham Medieval Archaeology Society offers seminars on current archaeological projects and research based on sites cira AD 400-1500. I decided to go to tonight's seminar since I had read a few things about the one of the presentations. (The seminar was on Bamburgh Castle - the thing I read about, and the reuse of prehistoric monuments in Anglo-Saxon settlements)  Both discussions where incredibly interesting. To begin (and I apologize if you find this to be a little boring, but I think it is incredibly fascinating!) Bamburgh Castle is about two hours north of where I live. Bamburgh Castle sits on the shores of the North Sea and spans over nine acres. Graeme Young (the speaker) focused his presentation on the inner ward where current archaeology is being conducted. In particular he focused on two trenches, one in the center and one off to the side located beside the Church. The archaeologists believe Bamburgh Castle has always been occupied as there is no evidence of burning or abandonment.  Focusing primarily on the Church site (they've found a lot of 12th century pottery there), Young showed pictures of the excavation, including -- and here is the exciting part -- under what they perceived as ruins was actually 12th century walls, the REAL Medieval Church ruins! The ruins that are above ground are actually folly ruins! The stone work dates back to the 19th century, crazy Victorians trying to seem cooler than they were! So after further excavations it seems that under the 19th century pretend ruins laid the original outter walls of the fortress. Young went into further details about the excavations and current archaeology, for instance between two 12th century walls and just under the 19th century wall were human remains separated from each other (Young believes the remains are from the same human-being but it hasn't been confirmed yet). As of today they are still doing research and archaeology excavation at Bamburgh Castle, hopefully getting the work published in the future. 

The second seminar was equally interesting, although not particularly my area of interest. Vicky Crewe presented an abridged version of her PhD dissertation about the reuse of prehistoric monuments in Early to Middle Anglo-Saxon settlements. She presented a few sample settlements, mostly in the middle regions of England, overall in her dissertation she reviewed 42 though. The interesting this about her seminar was that the settlements that did reuse prehistoric monuments either used them intrusively and built into them, or they built around them/incorporated them into their settlements, especially in cemeteries. Both seminars were really interesting and I'm glad I decided to go. 

All in all, I really hope to see Bamburgh Castle before I leave. And who knows, maybe I can secure a job or internship working there this summer! 

Some helpful links about Bamburgh Castle:

Sunday, 24 October 2010

And off I go

For the past three days the weather channel has called for rain showers, not surprising as I am living in England. Of course, Thursday and Friday remained bright and sunny so I had hoped that Saturday's forecast would also be a lie. I, however, do not have such luck. So, in the rain (thankfully just a little drizzle) my housemate, Barbara, and I decided to explore The Bowes Museum on the other side of County Durham. We walked to the train station (about 15 minutes away) and made it 6 minutes before the next train. 

The trains in England look nothing like MetroNorth or NJ Transit, not even Amtrak. They kind of resemble a mixture between a spaceship and an airplane. The seats are two by two and above them are digital signs that tell you whether or not the seat has been reserved and if it has for how long. It's a great concept, especially if you have a long ride and book your ticket early enough, then you know you'll have a seat for the entire ride. 

We took the train to the next stop southwest, Darlington (about 16 minutes) and then walked to the bus stop on Tubwell Row (how adorable are these names?). Again, we made it just in time for the bus to Barnard Castle (the town where the museum is located). I didn't see much of Darlington, but I did manage to see the marketplace. Not as adorable as Durham's, if anything I would say it is more modernized. 

It was my first time riding a bus in the UK so I had Barbara go first so I can see what to do. You don't need a bus ticket before getting on which is nice when you're running late, but you can only pay cash or purchase an unlimited bus ticket per year or semester (I'm debating if I want to get one). You then tell the driver where you are traveling to and they charge you accordingly. Since we both only had 10 pounds and no smaller change, Barbara bought our outbound tickets because buses also don't offer a lot of change. She also told me that in some cities you throw your money into a tin (kind of like old-school tollbooths where you throw in exact change) regardless if you have the exact or not. Of course, you have to pay over not under the ticket price. 

The bus ride itself wasn't bad, it took about 30 minutes to reach Barnard Castle. I have to say, the north east really does have a billion sheep farms! It felt like every five minutes we passed a different farm with fields full of sheep. When we finally arrived in Barnard Castle we had to kind of guess it was our stop because the driver doesn't call out "last stop!". But you kind of figure it out since everyone else is getting off. The Bowes Museum was only 1/4 a mile away so we walked there. The sun was peaking through the clouds at this point but there were still a few occasional drops of rain. 
The Bowes Museum
Barnard Castle, United Kingdom

The Silver Swan
The Bowes Museum, founded by John and Josephine Bowes, was built solely to become a museum. During their marriage the Boweses traveled throughout the world purchasing rare and beautiful art. Including the museum's most famous exhibit The Silver Swan. It was built in the 1770s and is a fully functional mechanical silver swan. It is life-sized and plays for only 34 seconds once a day (unless under repairs). The Bowes Museum also houses other exhibits, such as a huge and impressive porcelain and ceramic exhibit. They have porcelain from all over Europe dating back to the 17th century for some. I really enjoyed looking at the fashion and textile exhibit as well as the exhibit on English interiors (they removed actual walls from houses for this display). I'm a little jealous of the grand fireplaces that we displayed. They also had an exhibit that featured the story of John and Josephine Bowes. This exhibit included a family tree where I learned that the Queen Mother is John Bowes' great-great niece. They even had a small exhibit on her visiting the museum and at one point they included her fashion as an exhibit. 

After the museum we walked around Barnard Castle (from what I understand I think Barnard Castle is the village within the town of Teesdale). We stopped for a late lunch at a tea show. We had first tried a couple of pubs but it turns out they stop serving around 2pm and break until 7pm. Thankfully there was a little tea shop. Afterwards we walked around a little more (Barbara had been to the town before and knew of a nice vintage shop she wanted to check out), unfortunately everything closes at 5pm so we decided to hop back on the bus and head home. All in all I had a lot of fun. I'm hoping next weekend to travel to Edinburgh for Halloween/a pagan festival the Scots celebrate where they paint themselves blue. 

Sunday, 17 October 2010

A delayed start

Hi all. Sorry this has taken me three and half weeks to start. I kept meaning to start, but I never really sat down. So, I figured while my courses are still slow maybe I should actually start! To catch everyone up, I left for Durham, England on Wednesday, September 23rd. I took a flight to Copenhagen, Denmark for a lovely 4 hour and 45 minute layover where I pretty much just sat down with my computer and a book and read. Danish is a very interesting language to hear spoken. It definitely wasn't what I had expected it to sound like (especially after seeing it written). I arrived safe and sound in Durham at 1pm on Thursday, September 24th. Since I was on a flight from another EU country I was the only person who didn't get the luck of going through the speedy customs line. However, I stopped a man who, feeling sorry for me (I was online behind close to 50 Asian exchange students) lead me to the front of the line. After I got my passport and visa checked at customs (I held my breath the entire time) I grabbed my suitcases and walked outside in the crisp Northeastern English air. Let me just explain, Newcastle Airport is beyond tiny, Copenhagen was too for that matter. Both are comparable to Stewart Airport. After grabbing a taxi I sat back and enjoyed the 25 minute ride to Durham. 

My first weekend in Durham was fairly quiet. A housemate, Tom, who was only staying until the end of September, invited myself and two other housemates to a friend's barbecue. I was still pretty tired from adjusting myself to 5 hours ahead, but the party was nice. It was 80s theme and let me just tell you, the Brits don't fool around! Everyone, with the exception of my housemates and I, were decked out and looked completely authentic in 80s gear. Kind of put my themed party costumes to shame. The following day (Sunday, September 26th) I went on a small tour of Durham city and once that ended I went on one of Durham Castle (which is owned by the university and during terms houses students). I had also previously visited Durham Cathedral (built between 1093 and 1133) which is beyond amazing. Absolutely breathtaking. If anyone ever plans a trip to the northeast I highly suggest stopping in Durham, if only for the Cathedral. Every day around noon you can hear the bells (not from my house, I live a little too far from them) but when you walk through the city centre you can hear definitely hear them. They are enchanting and I cannot wait until the Christmas season. 

Wednesday, September 29th was the first day of the "pre-term" meaning I could register with the university. For a college as big as Durham University it's surprising that they are behind in the electronic age. I had to go to about five different locations to fully register (and, ironically there was a mishap with my form so I'm still not technically enrolled). I had a few more days to kill before I met with my department and finished my enrolment process so Sunday, October 3rd my two housemates (Doris - from Southern Germany and Kate - from Massachusetts) and I went to Newcastle for the day. The morning was raining, but figuring that it's England we didn't let that stop us and went anyway. Note! Sundays are a lot like Bergen County hours. We wanted to go to a museum to get out of the rain, well museums in Newcastle (and as I do further research, seems in most of the UK) are only open in the afternoon on Sundays. So, to kill more time we went to a pub to have lunch (cost me about 7 pounds for a burger, fries, and a beer). As we were finishing up a mob of people came in to watched football. The experience was really something, if I can manage it I would love to get tickets and see a football game live. The energy is insane. We spent the rest of our afternoon at a small museum that was essentially a mini Museum of National History. The most interesting exhibit was on Hadrian's Wall, which is a wall that stretches from one coast of England to the other. It was built by the Romans as a way to keep out those damn Scotsmen! There's still parts of the wall and surviving forts just outside of Durham. One of these weekends I plan on going out there. From what I've read there are artefacts laying everywhere. When we left the museum, the sun was of course shining bright. Unfortunately for us it was almost 5pm and everything was shutting down so we decided to head back home. 

Tuesday, October 5th was the day I had been waiting for. I was finally able to complete my enrolment and choose my modules (courses). The MA program here seems almost laughable compared to what goes in to securing an MA in the United States. To start, I am only taking 3 modules for the ENTIRE YEAR! One, Research and Study Skills (RSS) is a year-long course that will give me everything I need to know about working in the field of archaeology as well as helpful hints if I want to continue and get my PhD or to secure a job. The other two modules - Archaeology of Towns in Britain: 12th-18th centuries (the current one I'm taking) and Archaeology of Burial Practices in Britain: 12th-18th centuries (taking it next term). Can you guess which centuries I'm focusing my studies on? So far, I've had two classes for the Towns module. The first one was an archaeological tour of Durham city with my professor pointing out lots of original Medieval houses and structures, as well as Victorian ones and store fronts that were placed over original Medieval fronts. There is a huge prison hidden behind all the pretty houses and building, my professor knows one of the officers and is hoping to take us into one of the offices because in the attic are original Medieval structural beams. I'm pretty excited. And don't worry about the prison, there are really high walls and barbed wire, plus my house is pretty far and up a nice hill so, I doubt any escaped killers will end up at my doorstep. My second class of the Towns module was an archaeological tour of the Cathedral (she even pointed out a fake wall that was built for a scene in Harry Potter. It's kind of a pointless wall, it's more of a extra pillar in a corner). The Cathedral was more interesting to me because with every new Bishop a new section was added or a new design was imprinted on one wall, but because everything was done by hand a Bishop would die because the rest of the wall was completed. If you look closely at the small details within the Cathedral's wall you'll see a lot of mismatch patchwork. 

In the ten days that has passed since my registration I've been keeping myself busy around the house. I haven't done much more exploring since I finally ran out of my original funds last week and am waiting on my money from my US account to transfer over to my UK one. Once I have it, I have lots of local trips I want to embark on. In January I already have a week-long trip planned out when Wayne visits. It's going to start in London and work down southern England and up the west coast and border of Wales. When we finialize everything I'll be sure to add more details. I apologize for the delay in creating this blog and I apologize if any of my updates seemed rushed. I promise now that this blog has been created I will update at least once a week!