Durham University student on the excavation of Auckland Castle


Durham University students have helped uncover the secrets of Auckland Castle in County Durham. In the second of a two-part series, Molly Bird, an archeology student, shares more of her findings.

In these pages, last week, I recounted my first week of digging at Auckland Castle, including the multitude of interesting finds we unearthed.

To sum up, the past week has provided a lot more events on the discovery side, with each day only discovering more.

My last week has been more eventful in other respects instead, with finds becoming rarer as the week progressed.

To start the week, Monday was still making a lot of discoveries, but not with the same amount or interest as the previous week. It was mostly more bits of bone and glass.

Rather, the main focus this week was to transition to the next context using pickaxes – for which the weather was definitely better despite the rain.

Due to some discoveries, the pickaxe work continued on Tuesday morning with even more rain, but by lunch we had found another context under our chocolate soil of rounded stones which we cleaned with trowels after the lunch.

This required a background sheet and photographs of the area before continuing the excavations. After which, we resumed work to remove the sharpest stones from the south end. With the amount of progress we’ve made, we were certainly off to a promising, if less glamorous, start to the week. Wednesday was sure to change that.

If you had taken a moment to look out your window or if you were outside at the mercy of it on Wednesday, you would have seen the snow falling in white streams. Snow we stood on taking stone levels in our trench to determine their depth.

It was an interesting and informative experience, but the freezing temperatures and snow were certainly not ideal. Luckily for us, it only took about an hour to learn and realize before we could warm up again.

Originally, geophysical surveys were planned for the day, but they were canceled – after standing still in the snow all morning, I was a bit grateful, if not a bit disappointed.

When the snow subsided we were treated to an extended lunch to warm up and work out the plan for the rest of the day, resulting in an early return trip. It was disappointing to cut the day short but with the weather conditions I was looking forward to a hot shower when I got home.

Thursday was then also canceled and Friday was made optional. Between volunteering, digging and the weather, I had decided with other students that it was in my interest to stay home and recover more while other students braved the conditions to work on the chapel of Bek.

Coming back to the site on Monday with the warmer conditions and the sun shining was somewhat surreal after how we left the site on Wednesday, and I was looking forward to my last day of excavating my area of ​​the trench. As we left it, we started digging into the south end stones with pickaxes, finding bits of bone and pottery along the way.

Before we could get very far, I was informed by Dr. Tudor Skinner that the geophysics would continue and, alongside other students, we headed out with the equipment into the deer park. It was a very different experience to the rest of the excavation, offering a more relaxed pace. Although we didn’t find the Roman bridge we were hoping for, it was a fun experience. With that, my time at the Auckland digs has come to an end and I look forward to hearing more about the finds the next group of student archaeologists will find this summer at Trench 12!

Durham University’s Department of Archeology is ranked eighth in the world in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2022. For more information visit www.durham.ac.uk/archaeology

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