Update on The Bishop Big Dig

June 2022


One of the digs at a Cockton Hill residence.

Students taking part in the Bishop Big Dig have been working hard excavating a number of sites around Bishop Auckland to learn about archaeology and local history first hand.

Working with Mr Blackburn, one of our Learning Support Workers, a team of archaeologists from Durham University, and volunteers from the Auckland Project, the group of 12 students have so far excavated sites at the Bishop of Durham’s private residence in Etherley Lane, a cottage at Newton Cap, a church and private home on Cockton Hill Road, pictured above, and Bishop Auckland Market Place.

As part of the year-long project, students who are all in Year 8, thave been taking part in either a weekly excavation or an archaeology-themed learning activity such as cleaning and recording artefacts. The Bishop Big Dig will continue until December 2022.

Recently, students visited the Auckland Castle and Chapel, where they enjoyed a guided tour of the rooms which have all been faithfully restored in different time periods. They also visited the ongoing chapel dig to see the remains of the 14th century chapel that is currently being unearthed, and listened to a talk on the importance of the find. Students were even allowed to view and handle the artefacts that have been discovered at the site.

Whilst at Auckland Castle, the group also took some time to explore the beautiful grounds and the Deer Park, where they had an excellent time using an app called Actionbound to follow clues leading to some of the historical features of the landscape. This app allows users to play digitally interactive scavenger hunts to lead them on a path of discovery using GPS coordinates.

In a special session with archaeology specialist, Dr Louisa Gidney, students learned how to date fragments of pottery and saw examples of pots dating back hundreds of years. Dr Gidney is an expert in animal bones and an all-round oracle on most things from ‘the past’.

In one of the most recent digs at the Alms Houses in the Market Place, the group were joined by the film crew from the BBC’s programme, Digging for Britain. Hosted by Professor Alice Roberts, this BBC Two programme follows a year of British archaeology, joining up the results of digs and investigations across the length of the country. Two of our students were interviewed by the Professor about their involvement in Bishop Big Dig and we are looking forward to seeing the show on TV when it is aired in January 2023.