Bookings Now Open for Our 2016 season!

We hope you can join us for the Bamburgh Research Project’s

20th Anniversary Season!


2016 marks 20 years since the founding of the Bamburgh Research Project. Over the years we have introduced hundreds of students and community members to the wonders of archaeology. We don’t know how the time has passed so quickly. Regardless, there is TONS of archaeology just waiting to be discovered in what is sure to be an amazing season.

Our dates for next season are June 6th- July 30th

Find the Booking Form and Information here.

We hope to be able to offer several community events throughout the season that are not to be missed! More information will be available in the weeks leading up to next season.

Applications for staff members will open shortly.

The Many Successes of Challenge Week

Though the current installation of the Archaeology Basics video series by the students from Ashington Learning Partnership is at an end we have one more in store for you. Now you can hear from the students themselves about their experiences throughout the project. It’s really quite inspiring stuff!

Brian Cosgrove, the lead teacher for the project had this to say:

“Challenge week was, without doubt, a fantastic success with all of the students taking part finding their niche in the project. They didn’t want to leave on the final day! They want to follow up the work on Test Pit 63. Naturally I have to thank the ‘stars’ of our four little videos. Tom Gardner needs extra praise for the time and effort he dedicated over the three days; working with the students and welcoming them into the team on site. They really did feel a part of the Kaims project and finding the timber in the trench was inspiring. I would (of course) like to thank Graeme, Paul, Cole, and everyone at the BRP and the Kaims for making an opportunity like this available to our students. I hope we can build on this in the future.”

What a Year we have had in Trench 9

A final blog post from Trench 9 Supervisor, Tom Lally.

Although the 2015 Bamburgh Research Project season is now over, and Trench 9 backfilled and returfed, there is plenty to be excited about when it re-opens next year. At the halfway mark this season, things were reasonably straight-forward in our interpretation of the trench. It appeared that it would be a matter of easily removing context by context and coming down onto the natural surface. We were wrong. Since then Trench 9 has thrown up all sorts of new and exciting features and finds, which means 2016 should be a really intriguing season. Just as Trench 3 did, this blog will be split into area-by-area portions regarding the key features we found this season.

Wooded Area (NW Corner)
In my last update we had only just started to reveal this wooded area within our peat layer uncovered last season (see link below). Since then, student Tom Fox spent a week removing the peat around the wood to further reveal its extent. During this excavation he found a large amount of wood that appeared to be in alignment across the peat bog and over to Trench 11. Our initial interpretation is that this area may be the start of another wooden platform at the Kaims. This theory is strengthened by the finding of several upright timbers, which could be pegs that people used to stake down the wood to create the platform, as well as some intact hazelnuts and hazelnut shells (see link below), just like those found along the large wooden platform in Trench 6 and Trench 10! We may extend the trench around this wood next season to reveal more of it and gain a better understanding as to whether it is indeed part of another wooden platform or not.

 Student Tom planning the possible wooden platform

Student Tom planning the possible wooden platform

Mesolithic Post and Post-Hole
As was mentioned in my last blog, and in the recent blog post by Assistant Supervisor Franzi Le (see link below), our Mesolithic post and post-hole has been a rather unique find in Trench 9 this season. What started out as a simple piece of wood being revealed by student Rachel Moss during a trench clean, has now become a very interesting and important feature within the trench. Volunteer Bob during excavation of the post-hole found two pieces of bone/horn and a piece of Mesolithic flint to provide us with a date for the feature, as well as finding in situ pieces of wood within the post cut.

Wood pieces found within post-hole

Wood pieces found within post-hole

Since then we have continued to reveal around the post-hole, even extending the trench in order to find the extent. In this we have found even more sizeable wood pieces, most of which we believe to be fragments from one large post as opposed to several stakes. We have lifted several of these pieces which are being stored correctly and safely during the off-season. On further reveal of the wood in the extension, it is also starting to look similar to that of platform wood with all pieces lying down flat and all facing the direction of Trench 11. As is the same with the wood in the NW corner, this area will require further investigation next season to determine what people were using this post-hole for and if the wood in close proximity is also part of a wooden platform.

Assistant Supervisor Franzi working on the wood in the extension around the post-hole

Assistant Supervisor Franzi working on the wood in the extension around the post-hole

Mesolithic Hearth
Arguably the most exciting and most important feature in Trench 9 now is our recently discovered Mesolithic hearth. This feature was found almost by accident by student Carrington during the removal of a context above but which we didn’t believe went as deep as it did. Initially it was just a large piece of clay that came off, but which contained a heavy concentration of charcoal underneath. We were stunned at the amount present in this once piece of clay and so after further reveal we uncovered a metre-by-metre area of charcoal, which also contained burnt stones and sandstones (see link below).

 Hearth found late in the season

Hearth found late in the season

Upon further investigation we also came across a small piece of flint, believed to be a Mesolithic bladelet, which has provided us with a date for this feature, and a very small fragment of burnt bone within it! We now believe it to be a hearth used by the people of this area thousands of years ago. During the investigation we also uncovered a possible channel dug just to the west of the hearth, which may have provided a water source, and may tie into the final and most impressive feature discovered in Trench 9 this season.

Water Channel (left) and Mesolithic Hearth (right) in Trench 9

Water Channel (left) and Mesolithic Hearth (right) in Trench 9

Possible Sweat Lodge
The feature found latest in the season and that is causing all kinds of excitement for next season is our possible sweat lodge (see link below). The area where it sits was first pointed out to us by Director Paul as a possible burning pit after some discolouration became clearly visible after an overnight rain. It was noted but not investigated, until a full trench clean was conducted in the last fortnight prior to trench photos being taken.

'Burning Pit' feature when first identified

‘Burning Pit’ feature when first identified

After the trench clean, the feature began to stand out even more, and a clear ring of different coloured soil was identified. The trench clean also identified a large number of stake holes that appear to all situate within the circular feature, as well as some clearly burnt stones scattered throughout. From this evidence, it looks very much like a sweat lodge used by Native Americans, which is typically a dome-shaped structure held up by multiple stakes and covered in natural materials. The feature appears to measure 2.5m x 3m wide and is situated just up slope from the Mesolithic hearth. It is from the close proximity and stratigraphic sequence that we believe that the water channel, hearth and circular feature are all contemporary, and hence why we believe the feature is a sweat lodge. With a water source, somewhere to heat up stones, and a structure in which to sit all so close together, it provides us with our strongest interpretation at the present time. Further investigation will definitely take place in this area next season, so hopefully from that we can have a firmer understanding of the uses of these three features by prehistoric people.

The possible Sweat Lodge in Trench 9

The possible Sweat Lodge in Trench 9

As well as all these impressive features, Trench 9 is still scattered with archaeology. There are loads more stake holes dotted around the trench, some of which are in interesting alignments and may be contemporary with some of the above mentioned features. To the south of the sweat lodge are possible areas of burning closely associated with the lodge itself, as well as our Neolithic plank and stake holes arrangement discussed in my last blog post which still needs some investigation. So as you can see, Trench 9 is absolutely loaded with archaeology. It was thought that we would be able to close the trench by the end of this season, but with all these features and finds and possible features still to be investigated, Trench 9 will re-open again next season. The main focus next season will be to determine what and if the water channel, hearth and sweat lodge area are contemporary, but we will also investigate some of the other features dotted around the trench to come up with a full interpretation for the entire trench.

On a personal level, Franzi and I would like to thank all the staff, students and volunteers who have assisted us with our excavations this year. You have all been an absolute pleasure to work with and teach, and we both hope you have learnt a whole lot. We look forward to seeing you all again in 2016.


Bye for now!
Franzi & Lally.

All good things must come to an end…. An end of season wrap up of Trench 3!

As week eight of the 2015 excavation season comes to its end, let’s reflect back on what we achieved and discovered this season. This blog will come to you in bite-size, area-by-area portions! How handy!

Timber building

One of the first things on our to-do list this season was to continue excavating the timber building. We started exploring the beam-slots to this building back in BC13. Beam-slots, for the confused reader, are trenches dug to contain either a horizontal timber beam to form the foundation of a building, or more likely a series of upright timbers in a construction style called ‘post-in-trench’ by archaeologists.

Understanding the western beam-slot sufficiently to be confident that we had associated the correct linear cut with our building, proved to be difficult, and took a great deal of time.  By the time the 2015 season started, we were finally confident of it, an only the southern part of the eastern beam-slot and the southern beam-slot remained un-excavated. Both these beam-slots could be seen in section thanks to the presence of three of the WWI test latrine pits (which we are pretty sure, were not used for their intended purpose, but do make good archaeological test pits).

The middle section of the southern beam-slot offered a pleasant surprise; two teminals to the construction cut marked a central doorway into the building. Fascinatingly this lay directly in the line of a pebble path in the south east corner of the trench, that ran parallel to our metalworking building (we excavated this a few seasons ago). The association of the two buildings through the presence of the path does not seem too optimistic. This means we can date the new building to the middle 9th century AD, as we a great deal of dating evidence for the metalworking building. .

This discovery motivated us to take some hammerscale samples within the boundaries of the timber building, to see if it had, at some point, been used for metalworking purposes. The low finds recovery from within the building though does make us wonder if it could have had a timber floor, which would make thethe layers within it part of an aerlier phase. Something to work out next year. Either way the sampling will hopefully be informative and not be wasted.

The outline of our new building and the pebble path that assciates it with the metalworing building. Coincidently its entrance lies in the same area as the stone theshold of the overlying large timber hall of probable 10th century date.

The outline of our new building and the pebble path that assciates it with the metalworing building. Coincidently its entrance lies in the same area as the stone theshold of the overlying large timber hall of probable 10th century date (also shown).

Elusive paving feature

You may remember from earlier blogs this season that we excavated a rectangular paved feature, consisting of 3-4 large flat slabs with two vertical flat stones to the north and south. When we originally uncovered this feature in BC13 we briefly interpreted this as a drain-feature, but quickly discarded this theory, as we could trace it no further. Sadly, excavation produced no clear-cut “Eureka!” moment, and it remains enigmatic. Our best guess, based on the realtively central location within the building, is that the horizontal slabs were put into support a large post or beam that was one of the roof supports.


The north-west corner was mostly left alone until the last two weeks of excavation. When we did return there, our main idea was to dig down two large and deep contexts, not expecting to encounter any features in the process. But as always, whenever you don’t count on finding anything, you do.

Firstly, we finally took down our large ‘jaggedy rock’ context, which took up most of the north side of the NW-corner of the trench. As expected, most of this context went down onto bedrock. However, we also found a small, circular feature consisting of small flat stones, with a diameter of about 45cm. We are choosing to excavate this feature next season, but our current interpretation is that it served as a way to level off the ground with the bedrock to the west.

Also, to the south of the NW-area, we dug down onto a large rectangular stone that looked suspiciously like it was part of a structure. Further excavation showed a line of large stones going east and then making a turn to the south of the trench. This shows that we may be dealing with the corner of a building, that might be largely extending westward outside of the trench.

Image 3 - NW

The stone linear in the NW-corner of Trench 3.

Brian Hope Taylor

This season has also dealt with the partial uncovering of Brian Hope-Taylor’s tarped area. Brian Hope-Taylor excavated at Bamburgh Castle in the early 60’s and early 70’s, and since we are almost down to the same level as the northern part of his trench, we are close to joining up the two excavation areas! BHT left us with some exciting features to excavate next season, including a drain feature and a hearth area.

Eastern side of the trench

In the eastern side of the trench, next to the eastern beam-slot to our timber building, we uncovered a pebbly surface’. As we continued excavation, this narrow strip of pebbles expanded into what we now think is either a pebble path or pebbled surface which slopes down as it extends more eastward. We are still working on finding its southern extent and finding out if it extends west of the eastern beam-slot (which would make it earlier in date than the timber building).

Image 2 - pebble path

Pebble path in the eastern side of the trench.

Lastly, to the north of our pebble context we have located what seems to be a high-medieval pit-feature. We found several shards of pottery from this period, together with two styca’s, finds that shouldn’t be in the same context under normal circumstances. This means that a pit was dug down from above (probably in the 11th-12th centuries), through 9th century layers (explaining the styca’s), which was then filled up with both the Anglo Saxon and high-medieval material. We will finish this pit next season.

So there you have it! Right now we are in the process of finishing off excavation on all the features we are currently working on; namely the pebble path/surface in the east and the potential new structure in the north-west. We will use the last two days of the excavation season to plan and level the most recently excavated areas, finish off all the necessary paperwork, and then, finally, tarp up the trench to protect it from weathering.

Archaeology doesn’t respect (trench) borders

Apart from all the other exciting things that came up in Trench 9 in the last two weeks, this is an update on the happenings at the west border of the trench. Cleaning off our top context (9058) student Rachel Moss uncovered some wood in situ and at the end of the day we even had a group of features that included two post holes and five stake holes. We now know that the stake holes still sit in context (9058), other than the post holes which are sitting in a yellowish grey layer of clay underneath.

Let’s concentrate on the latter, since these two post holes withheld many surprises. After Rachel’s revealing of the wood, we were interested to see if it was anything structural and archaeological. One of our volunteers, Bob, then cleaned up around the piece of wood and found that it was clearly sitting in a circular cut. To discover the size and the shape of the feature we decided to half-section it and came across more wood! Also two pieces of bone were found right at the top of the fill – one of them possibly horn and the other may be tooth. And as if that was not enough a nice piece of flint showed off at the bottom of the cut! Flint finds are very welcome in prehistoric archaeology, because they are datable and the way it has been worked by prehistoric humans can tell us which period it is from. This blade seems to be from the Mesolithic; thus it is one of our oldest artifacts!


This is how unobtrusive the features appeared before we uncovered their substance.


After the excavation of the two post holes and four stake holes.

Getting back to the wood that appeared as three stakes, we were facing one difficulty. It seemed to be angled into the ground – right underneath the trench edge. This forced us to extend the trench by a square of 50×50 cm. Digging down to the context the wood lay in, we found a lot of Quartz, Chert, Seeds and a piece of Straw/Rooting, which are similar finds from the upper context. As we finally reached the top of the third timber it did not quite continue as expected. Instead of sitting in a cut, it lay horizontally on the yellowish grey context we suspect to be the Neolithic ground level. The size of the wood came as quite a surprise. Most pieces we had found previously were rather small in diameter. This piece however, was very typical of a post. Its ends show very uneven and irregular cuts that led us to believe that it had broken off in antiquity. A closer look at Timber 1 and 2 revealed they are not individual stakes either, but are likely pieces of the same post based on the breaks that appear to fit into each other. We like to consider all these pieces of wood as remains of one single post, but at this point there are no definite conclusions possible.


The extension and the fully excavated Timber 3 lying on top of the clay.

During the investigation of an area like this, where features change their appearance and thus new theories and thoughts come up on a daily bases, the documentation of this development is very important. Trench 9 supervisor Tom Lally recorded every new step on film, showing off the features and speaking about what was there before, what has been done meanwhile and how we would proceed. We deliberately included new thoughts, current interpretations and the opinion of the student who had been working in the area.

To provide substance for further processing and research, and thereby maintain the information this find holds, Timber 3 was lifted, recorded and is being stored safely. The next step will be to investigate the remaining wood in the cut of the posthole and hopefully come across more exciting archaeology! – Franzi-


Timber 3 after it was safely taken out.

Archaeology Basics Video Series: The Test Pit

Here is the forth and final in our archaeology basics series filmed and edited by the students from Ashington Learning Partnership. To see the first video in the series (The Trowel) and hear the story of the students involvement in media click here. To see the second video (The Mattock) click here. To see the third video (The Kettle) click here. Enjoy!

An in depth video of the Bradford Kaims by Archaeosoup Productions

We were lucky to have our friends from Archaeosoup Productions down to visit the Bradford Kaims for a more in-depth look around. Check out their video below!

They are a fantastic group who really excel at comprehensively sharing archaeology and heritage with the wider world. They are constantly uploading new videos to their YouTube page that are informative, educational, and just plain fun. Have a look through their videos by clicking here. You can also hire them for a wide variety of workshops, lectures, activities, and media production. Check out their website for more information. 

P.S. Don’t miss the ending!!

Archaeology Basics Video Series: The Kettle

Here is the third in our archaeology basics series filmed and edited by the students from Ashington Learning Partnership. To see the first video in the series (The Trowel) and hear the story of the students involvement in media click here. To see the second video (The Mattock) click here. Enjoy!

Experimental Archaeology – TIMBER!

At the Bradford Kaims we have been branching (sorry…) out into woodworking as a part of our Experimental Archaeology Programme. Similar to our brewing experiments where we have used hot-rocks due to evidence from the burnt mounds, we decided to try some woodworking due to the exceptional preservation of wooden material at the site. To assist us we had the help of local woodcarver Dave Robson, who kindly supplied us with several sycamore logs and rowan branches and to offer guidance in woodcraft. As well as utilising local specialists, we had community volunteers Barbara and Tim partaking in the experiments along with our students.

For our initial investigations, we have been looking into splitting wood (inspired by our potential Neolithic plank in T10!) to see how easy/difficult the process would have been only utilising resources available before metal working. To split a modern log a woodcarver might begin by creating a notch along the diameter of a log with a steel axe or froe before driving wooden or even steel wedges into this notch to prize the wood apart. Rather than using an axe however, we attempted to use bone “chisels” which we had created ourselves (by smashing the bones and subsequently grinding them on a piece of sandstone to create an edge.)


Our prehistoric bone “chisels” ready for action!

With the bone chisels ready, we used them in place of the axe, creating a groove across the diameter (through the central “pith” – the weakest part of the log) by holding the chisel in place and subsequently hitting it with a wooden mallet. Once our groove was created, we hammered oak wedges into the groove and proceeded to drive them into the wood with the mallet, trying to keep the wedges at an equal depth by hitting them alternately. Within minutes, the logs would make audible groans and cracks, before splitting apart down their length! We found that for the sycamore logs which we were using (admittedly not present in Britain until the middle ages so not found in our trenches) the bone chisels worked incredibly well for initialising the splitting, from there the wedge process was the same as it would be for modern log splitting. We were able to demonstrate that log splitting can certainly be achieved with little difficulty with prehistoric resources – though of course whether this was the manner for splitting logs prior to metal tools we are unable to know for certain.


Student Tom and community volunteer Barabara planking a split log

With logs split down the diameter, we moved onto further splitting in an attempt to plank our now halved logs. This came with mixed success, while splitting would go well initially on several occasions the split would shear off due to knots lower down the log. One of our best efforts came from students Tom and Sammi, who managed to split off a plank with minor shearing from the mid-way point. To flatten the plank, we used a flint axe provided by Dave Robson which allowed us to gradually create a flatter surface. Rather than cutting into the wood like a modern steel axe, the flint axe tended to shear off and tear the wood creating a rough surface. In order to smooth this, we used our polished bone chisels and knives like a modern plane to take off smaller chips of wood which made a surprisingly smooth surface!


One plank ready for further working

An enjoyable day was had by all of our participants, with students and volunteers alike surprised at how easily we were able to split the logs using little more than bone and wood! With our planks of sycamore we are hoping to continue our experiments further this week by trying to replicate artefacts found in our wooden platform again only using prehistoric tools!