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HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED WHAT HISTORY LIES BENEATH YOUR LAWN?

 

ABOUT THE BISHOP BIG DIG

The Bishop Big Dig is an ambitious archaeological project exploring the history of Bishop Auckland. Throughout 2022, a team of professional archaeologists from Durham University and The Auckland Project together with volunteers and students from King James I Academy will dig hundreds of test-pits across Bishop Auckland town. Our aim is to, for the first time, map the archaeology across the town and hopefully answer some of those burning questions we all have, like how big was medieval Bishop Auckland, where does the Roman road go, and what was here before the Romans….

We need your help to complete this project. So that we can fully explore the history of this town we need your gardens and land to dig in. Causing minimal damage to your garden, we use a tried-and-tested method called ‘test-pitting’ (see below) which involves digging 1x1m holes and recording what we find.

Do you have a garden or plot of land that you’d be happy to let us dig in? If so, please get in contact using the form below. If you have more questions, then please check out our FAQs below. If you want to chat, then we would be delighted to hear from you.

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WHAT IS TEST-PITTING?

Test-pitting is an established archaeological method for understanding the historical development of towns, villages and landscapes through discrete and unobtrusive excavation.

Normally when you think of archaeologists digging you might think of big, open area digs like those on Time Team, which involve lots of archaeologists and involve the stripping of vegetation over large areas. While that is the main method of excavation used by archaeologists, it isn’t very practicable for understanding very big areas, like villages, towns or cities.

Test-pitting involves digging lots of small 1x1m holes across a town and analysing the finds (like pottery, metalwork and bone) from all these holes to understand the spread of archaeology across the town. This helps us to understand how the town evolved and where archaeological sites might still survive.

When we dig a test-pit, we use a very specific method which causes the minimal amount of damage to the landscape while extracting the most amount of information possible.

We use a very large sheet of thick pond-liner with a 1x1 metre hole cut of the middle, and dig through this hole using it as our template, just like surgery. This way we try to keep as much spoil on the sheet, and avoid walking over your garden. The soil removed the hole is then sieved into large builders rubble-sacks. We dig until we hit the natural geology, or until the hole gets too deep (normally around 1-1.5m). At the end of the day we record the stratigraphy in the hole, and fill it back in, ensuring that we put the soil back in the same order it was removed. That way, the top soil is returned to the top. If we have removed any turf, then that is also replaced. While the hole will be visible initially (normally it mounds a bit at the top), within a few weeks it should settle and return to normal.

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NEWS

HAVE YOU HEARD US ON BISHOP FM?

ON THE 9TH OF FEB, ARCHAEOLOGISTS JOHN AND CAROLINE WERE INTERVIEWED ABOUT THE BISHOP BIG DIG BY GARY BURGHAM. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN. THANKS GARY!

This is your Service Description. Use this space to explain this service in more detail.

Recording Studio

COME TO OUR FIRST THE BISHOP BIG DIG ROADSHOW ON JULY 30TH!

On the 30th July we will be hosting our first Roadshow at No. 42 in the Market Place. You can see some of our finds, bring your own discoveries in to be identified by our experts, and learn a little about archaeology and this town. We will have lots of fun tasks which are suitable for the whole family!

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DID YOU CATCH US IN THE BISHOP PRESS THIS WEEKEND?

THE TEAM WERE DELIGHTED TO BE FEATURED IN THE BISHOP PRESS THIS WEEKEND. IF YOU MISSED IT AND WANT TO GIVE IT A READ THEN FOLLOW THE LINK HERE. THANKS ARCHIE AND LEE!

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

WILL THERE BE ANY DAMAGE TO MY GARDEN, AND WHAT WILL YOU DO TO PREVENT UNNECESSARY DAMAGE?

We have a tried and tested method to prevent needless damage to your garden or the place we are digging.

Firstly, we lay a big sheet of thick pond-liner and additional tarpaulins around where we would like to dig. This pond-liner has 1x1m (3ft) hole cut out of it which we use as a template, just like in surgery.

We remove the soil in layers and sieve each layer into construction sacks. This way, all the soil is contained in the bags and it means we can put the soil back in the hole as it came out. This means that your top soil remains on top.

We try to dig to the natural geology, but if that is too deep we will normally dig to between 1-1.5m. After we photograph the hole and record anything we see, we will fill it back in, and if any turf was removed we place that back.

You will be able to see where we’ve been for the coming days and weeks. For some reason, whenever you put soil back in a hole it never fits quite as it did. There will be some mounded or raised ground on top, but over the coming weeks and months it will settle and you’ll soon forget we were ever there.

In the past people have been interested in us digging areas they intend to develop as a veg patch, or to plant a tree. They’ve needed a hole or some turned over ground, and we’ve done the hard work!

I HAVEN’T RECEIVED A POSTCARD THROUGH MY DOOR BUT PEOPLE I KNOW HAVE, WHY IS THAT?

We have been trying to get around to everyone living around the centre of Bishop Auckland, but it takes time! We have been prioritising areas of high archaeological potential, which means that we have analysed maps, previous archaeology, aerial photographs and other data to conclude that there is a high chance we might find some really interesting results in those areas.

But even if you haven’t received a postcard, you can still get involved! We need to dig in as many areas as possible, so just drop us an email, give us a call or send in the form at the bottom of this website.

WHAT KIND OF GROUND DO YOU NEED TO DIG A TEST-PIT?

We can’t dig on hardstanding (tarmac, paving, concrete etc), or in areas with lots of trees where the roots may pose a problem. We are also always mindful of pipes/electrical cables/gas pipes beneath the ground, so if you know they are there then please tell us. Otherwise, we can dig in most places, particularly in flowerbeds, veg patches, or lawns.

 

CAN I DIG MY OWN TEST-PIT AND TELL YOU WHAT I FIND?

While you can of course do as you wish on your property, we won’t be able to use any information from a test-pit we have not dug. That is because we use very specific scientific methods and well-established methodologies which mean that all our data derived from the test-pits can be effectively compared and analysed.

As professionally trained archaeologists and experienced volunteers, we can also interpret the results with the benefit of lots of experience and knowledge. Archaeology is not always arranged in the ground in logical levels, and often the results can be difficult to understand.

We urge that if you would like to participate, then please get in contact with us. We are very happy to have you help us while we dig, and we can talk you through the ways we do it and what the findings mean.

If you have found interesting artefacts in your garden before, then do let us know. That might give us some good hints about where we should be digging!

WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH ANYTHING YOU FIND?

Unless we find anything which constitutes Treasure under the 1996 Treasure Act (https://finds.org.uk/treasure/advice/summary), then it will belong to homeowner (not the tenant if the property is rented). But we are requesting that, for the duration of the project, we hang on to all finds so we can analyse them and possibly put them on display. At the end of the project, these will be returned to you if you wish. 

In the very unlikely event that we find some especially important and interesting archaeological feature, we will not exceed the limits of the agreed test-pit, but we might discuss with you the possibility of excavating at your property in the future.

 

I’M WORRIED ABOUT SAFETY AND COVID-19. WHAT WILL YOU DO TO ENSURE MY SAFETY?

We take health and safety very seriously. We will ensure that everyone participating in the project follows national and local guidance. We have a thorough risk assessment process and will implement measures to mitigate any safety and Covid-19 risks, including mask-wearing, social distancing, sanitising equipment and hands, and lateral flow testing. If you have concerns about this, want to know more details or have a specific set of measures you’d like us to follow, please do get in touch to discuss it with us

I HAVE DOGS/OTHER OUTDOOR ANIMALS. WILL I NEED TO PUT THEM AWAY?

While lots of the team love pets, not everyone does, and archaeology trenches aren’t always safe for animals to be near. So yes, we would prefer it if they could be kept inside of in a different secure part of your garden. But do talk to us if you have concerns about this.

HOW MANY PEOPLE WILL DIG THIS TEST-PIT?

We usually have between 3-4 people involved in the test-pitting procedure. These include the person digging the hole, someone sieving all the soil, someone carrying buckets and recording finds.


When we are digging with the pupils from King James I Academy there will be an addition responsible adult with them and another professional archaeologist who’ll drop in to check progress.

If you or your child would like to join in, then do let us know!

 

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO DIG A TEST-PIT?

It usually takes a full working day to dig and record a test-pit. We start at 9am and will work until it is complete, usually around 4 or 5 pm. That includes backfilling the hole.

I AM NOT AVAILABLE ON A WEEKDAY, CAN YOU DIG A TEST-PIT ON A WEEKEND?

We are quite flexible, and we will hopefully be able to work around your availability. If you let us know your availability then we will try to work something out.

WILL THIS COST ME ANY MONEY?

Absolutely not! We do all this archaeology for free and you gain exciting new knowledge about the history of your house and town.

 

I’M NOT SURE, CAN I TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT THIS?

Of course! Our contact information is at the bottom of the page. Please drop us an email or give us a call and we will get back to you.

I HAVE SPACE IN MY GARDEN FOR LOTS OF TEST-PITS. WOULD YOU LIKE TO DIG MORE THAN ONE?

Yes please! For us, the more holes the better, so we would love to dig more holes if you’ll let us and your garden is big enough.

WHAT WILL YOU DO IF YOU HIT A WATER PIPE/GAS MAINS/UNDERGROUND ELECTRICITY CABLE?

Because we are hand-digging these holes, there isn’t much risk of us breaking  cable or pipe. However, it would really get in the way of our work and slow us down. If you know where your mains services run, then please let us know in advance and will try to avoid them.

This also applies to pet burials, the foundations of sheds or patios, or any other subterranean feature which will prevent us being able to dig a hole effectively.

 

I COME FROM A NEARBY VILLAGE (E.G. ESCOMB/COUNDON/HIGH ETHERLEY). ARE YOU INTERESTED IN DIGGING IN MY GARDEN?

Right now we are focusing this project on Bishop Auckland town, but in the future we are keen to expand to the surrounding area. If you are keen, then please let us know and we’ll hang onto your details for future projects.

I WANT TO TAKE PART IN THE DIGGING TEST-PITS. CAN I JOIN YOU?

The best way you can take part is by letting us dig a test-pit in your garden or any land you own. If you’d like to chat about this further then please get in touch using the details below.

 

STAR FINDS

 
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We found this very well-preserved 1948 cupro-nickel George VI sixpence in Test Pit Mary a few weeks ago. All sixpence coins were made of silver until 1920, when they made them 50% silver. In 1947 however, The Royal Mint started making totally cupro-nickel coins, and this is a really early example of this new type of coin.

CONTACT

Thanks for submitting!

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