Glass and Lithic Assessment Results for Trench 8

As part of the BRP’s ongoing post-excavation analysis of Trench 8 in the West Ward of the Castle (click here for a full description of the research project funded by the Royal Archaeological Institute) we have commissioned specialist analysis of the lithic and glass recovered from the trench.

The lithic and glass assemblages are small but still important when trying to date and interpret the complex stratigraphy in the trench. We recovered ten worked flints, five of which had been re-touched. This assemblage included a probable Mesolithic microlith blade, a thin side and end scraper (see below) and examples of microdebitage. With the exception of the blade fragment, the flint was undiagnostic in terms of their date, which means they could date from the Mesolithic to the Bronze Age. However, as we are currently excavating the early medieval phases of this area of the West Ward and recently recovered pockets of disturbed Roman material, evidence of prehistoric activity is welcome and is indicative of what we might expect in future seasons.

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Retouched thin side and end scraper from context 825

Only two fragments of glass were recovered from Trench 8. One was a post-medieval utility bottle, made from thick, olive green glass. The second fragment is much earlier. The fragment is very small, very pale blue-green to colourless, thin and flat. It is almost completely covered in opaque surface corrosion, even on the break surfaces. This obscures the view of the interior glass, but also suggests that the glass is potash-based and dates to at least the late Anglo-Saxon period, and more likely to the medieval period. Based on our current understanding of the stratigraphy in this area, it is suggested that this fragment came from the bottom of the twelfth to thirteenth century midden deposit, which covers much of the early medieval deposits in this area.

We will combine this information with that available from the metalwork and pottery analysis, plus the radiocarbon dates to hone our understanding and interpretation of Trench 8.

Plans for the Summer

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As it is only a matter of weeks now to the start of the excavation at Bamburgh Castle this seems a good time to write a little about our plans for the season. It promises to be a busy few weeks as we have funding from the Society of Antiquaries of London to assess the bulk of the metalwork from the West Ward.  We will need to prepare all of this to be safely transported to our conservator in addition to the normal excavation and post excavation work.

Pre-season update

The section of the Hope-Taylor Trench as it joins with Trench 3

In Trench 3 we are close to revealing the extent of a new structural surface that appears to be rather substantial. It is made of rounded beach cobbles and we revealed several metres of this in a narrow sondage in previous season. The question remains what is this – part of a building? Or is it a yard or path? It appears from the section (photo above) that it is on a similar level to a stone foundation for a timber structure that Brian Hope-Taylor revealed in the 1970s that may be associated with a socket stone. So we have no doubt that some buildings are present in this phase, but are we looking at more metal working similar to the phase above? We are determined to get some answers this summer.

2018 Funding Success with the Society of Antiquaries of London

The Bamburgh Research Project are pleased to announce that the Society of Antiquaries of London have kindly awarded us £4700 to undertake continuing post-excavation analysis of the material recovered within the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle.

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The project ‘Forging Castle Space’, will focus on the metalwork recovered from early medieval contexts in Trench 3. The funding will allow us to assess and plan the conservation of 7,200 fragments of early medieval metalwork, spanning the 8th-11th centuries, plus conserve a 25% sample of all styca coins recovered.

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The Bamburgh Bird. One of the many early medieval artefacts recovered from Trench 3.

Upon completion of the project the metalwork will be better understood in terms of its function, origin and date, plus its purpose for deposition within an associated building, likely used for working metal (You can read more about the building here: Castling, J. and Young, G. L. 2011. A 9th Century Industrial Area at Bamburgh Castle, Medieval Archaeology, Vol. 55, 311-317). This data will allow us to better understand the function of the building, its associated area and the broader 8th-11th century horizon in this area of the castle. The data generated will also inform ongoing excavation and aid us in our attempt to contextualise earlier excavations (1959–74) for which we only have a partial archive surviving.

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9th-10th century ‘metalworking’ building

The long-term goal is to establish the character and significance of early medieval activity, as this was pivotal in creating the spatial and material precedent upon which the post-Conquest castle complex developed.

We have already made great strides towards understanding this period in the West Ward, as we have recently completed the post-excavation analysis of Trench 8, which sits immediately adjacent to Trench 3. Funding from the Royal Archaeological Institute has enabled us to determine a stratigraphic sequence from the modern to the Roman period using the artefacts recovered and C14 dates to identify and date contexts. You can learn more about this project here: Trench 8 RAI Grant.

If you would like to join us this season to help us undertake the excavation of this fascinating site or work more specifically with our post-ex team (artefacts and environmental material) please visit our website for more information: http://www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

 

 

 

The archaeology Field School is filling up

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We are very happy to say that although booking has only been open for a few weeks, we are already more than 50% booked. There is still plenty of space left but some weeks are beginning to look quite full, so if you are thinking of joining us this summer then do drop us a line soon if you are not flexible in the weeks that you can join us.

This summer the excavation runs from June 17th – July 20th.  We will be excavating in the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle on early medieval layers and we are offering two programmes:

Excavation and Post-Excavation and

Post-Excavation only

book anywhere from one to five weeks. However, we recommend booking two weeks minimum for a well rounded experience. Our dates are listed below:

  • Week 1: June 17th- June 23rd
  • Week 2: June 24th- June 30th
  • Week 3: July 1st- July 7th (waiting list only)
  • Week 4: July 8th- July 14th (waiting list only)
  • Week 5: July 15th- July 20th (waiting list only)

Tuition is £275 per week, which will cover all on-site excavation and post-excavation activities. You can learn more about what this covers by visiting our website.

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Accommodation must be booked separately. There are many options for accommodation in the area to suit every budget and we are happy to offer suggestions. However, we do encourage all participants to stay in close proximity to BRP staff, as this allows staff and students the opportunity to get to know one another in a social setting and there are friendly faces around should you need a helping hand. This year our staff will be staying at Budle Bay Campsite

Note: There have been several changes to the field school such as our training schedule and when you are expected to arrive. Even if you have booked in years past we encourage you to read-through the updated website pages.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Launch of our 2018 Archaeology Field School

 

Booking details are now available for our 2018 field school season, which runs from June 17th – July 20th.  The field school will operate out of Bamburgh Castle and we are offering two programmes:

Excavation and Post-Excavation or Post-Excavation only

You can book anywhere from one to five weeks. However, we recommend booking two weeks minimum for a well rounded experience. Our dates are listed below:

  • Week 1: June 17th- June 23rd
  • Week 2: June 24th- June 30th
  • Week 3: July 1st- July 7th
  • Week 4: July 8th- July 14th
  • Week 5: July 15th- July 20th

Student spaces are limited, so we encourage you to book your place as soon as possible.

Tuition is £275 per week, which will cover all on-site excavation and post-excavation activities. You can learn more about what this covers by visiting our website.

Accommodation must be booked separately. There are many options for accommodation in the area to suit every budget and we are happy to offer suggestions. However, we do encourage all participants to stay in close proximity to BRP staff, as this allows staff and students the opportunity to get to know one another in a social setting and there are friendly faces around should you need a helping hand. This year our staff will be staying at Budle Bay Campsite

Note: There have been several changes to the field school such as our training schedule and when you are expected to arrive. Even if you have booked in years past we encourage you to read-through the updated website pages.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Medieval and Anglo-Saxon Metalworking at Bamburgh Castle: the results of the Trench 8 assessment and conservation

As part of the BRP’s ongoing post-excavation analysis of Trench 8 in the West Ward of the Castle (click here for a full description of the research project funded by the Royal Archaeological Institute) a collection of 165 metal objects were sent for x-ray and assessment. Of these, the copper alloy and lead objects were found to be in good condition but the iron objects were poorly preserved with significant surface loss on some.

Of the metal artefacts recovered, 19 were recommended for conservation. Funding was provided by Bamburgh Castle to undertake the conservation where the artefacts were appropriately cleaned and stabilised. These have now been returned to the Castle in the hope that some will go on long-term display within the Castle’s archaeology museum and the rest will be carefully stored for future research.

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Trench 8 under excavation in 2008

The 165 objects ranged in date from 7th century – 1970’s. The majority of the collection is made up of medieval iron nails (85) with various other objects, including horseshoes, a key, bolts and a buckle also dating to this period.

The Early Medieval period is also well represented within this collection. This is not unexpected as Trench 8 lies in close proximity to the 9th-10th century metalworking building located in Trench 3, where a large styca hoard and other examples of Anglo-Saxon metalwork have been discovered (for more info see Castling, J. and Young, G. 2011, A 9th Century Industrial Area at Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, Medieval Archaeology, Medieval Britain and Ireland, Vol. 55, 311-317). Earlier excavations undertaken by Dr Brian Hope-Taylor (see link above) also recovered the famous Bamburgh Sword (click here to watch a lecture about the Bamburgh sword) and axe head in this area. The Anglo-Saxon material recovered from Trench 8 included a possible clench-bolt, which are often associated with boat building, wagon and building construction, a pair of shears indicative of sewing or personal grooming, a copper alloy strap end with parallels from the Anglo-Saxon port of Hamwic and three copper alloy styca coins.

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Shears before and after conservation

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Early Medieval copper alloy strap end

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Styca coin

There are 23 fragments of lead off cuts, which suggests lead was being worked in the vicinity.

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Selection of lead off cuts recovered from Trench 8

Notably, evidence of Brian Hope-Taylors earlier excavations undertaken in the 1960’s and early 1970’s is seen in the metalwork with a 1974 penny – the last year of the earlier excavations, aluminium foil and modern nails all being recovered by the 2006 BRP excavation team.

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1974 penny recovered during the 2006 dig season

The team also found in-situ finds tags from Hope-Taylor’s excavation, which have helped us understand some of the surviving paperwork and find spots of key small finds from his excavation.

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One of Hope-Taylor’s small find tags

There are numerous other objects that will require further research to date and identify parallels. These include a iron blade, hooked tag and socketed arrowhead, plus a probable copper alloy weight for a fishing net.

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Iron blade with tang before and after conservation

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Socketed arrowhead

There is still further research to be undertaken on the metalwork assemblage from Trench 8 but the initial results suggest the site was particularly active from the 8/9th century through to the 14th century. The information will be combined with that provided from the other material assemblages, such as the pottery, glass and lithic, to build a picture of life in the West Ward. This in turn will be used to support the data gathered from the larger BRP Trench 1 and Trench 3 excavations, and contextualise the unpublished and partial record from the Hope-Taylor excavations – one of the BRP’s primary research objectives within the Castle.

Future blog posts will look at some of the other material assemblages and report on the radiocarbon dates that will help provide clues toward the dating of various complex features observed in Trench 8.

Excavation Season 2018

We are running a little later than usual in announcing details about our summer excavation, but plans are in hand and we aim to make some more detailed announcements this month.

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Trench 3 with the new strucctural surface exposed in the narrow trench. Looking forward to seeing more of this in 2018!

Excavation at Bamburgh Castle will be five weeks this summer, as it was last year. Given that excavation within Trench 1 was completed last season, this year we will only be excavating in Trench 3. Our aim will be to expose an 8th century structural surface within the trench, but we are also seeking to move our post-excavation forward as well. It will be slightly smaller team than usual so probably best to book early, if you are able, once the website is updated. In the mean time if you want to be added to an email list to be contacted as soon as the details are finalised then do get in touch graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

Progress with the Bamburgh Castle Trench 8 publication

We always have a quiet period on the blog following the excavation season but although work has slowed we are still busy. The current focus for the Bamburgh Castle excavation is on producing a publication centred on our re-evaluation of Brian Hope-Taylor’s first excavation in the West Ward of the castle that he undertook in 1960. The Bamburgh Research Project emptied the backfill and re-drew the sections in 2006, taking the opportunity to sample excavate two baulks of material that Hope-Taylor had left in place. We have been fortunate to receive some funding support from the Royal Archaeological Institute towards a good part of the specialist analysis costs and to fund some radiocarbon dates. More information about this can be read here on a previous blog post.

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Combining the H-T and BRP small find locations in QGIS using georeferenced to import Hope-Taylor’s section to our section drawing. Fun but not entirely straight forward.

We now have reports on the pottery and glass and reports on the flint and metalwork are close to completion. Graeme Young, one of the BRP Directors, is currently working on illustrations that compare the original Hope-Taylor records with our own. Not as easy a job as you would imagine as one set of records was compiled in feet and inches and the second, forty six years later, in metric. The two records also show the many changes in excavation techniques that have taken place as well. Given that the trench represented some 2000 years of occupation, and produced some amazing finds, it is definitely worth the effort.

End of Season Blog – Trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims

Whilst part of the season was slowed down by heavy rain, we still managed to get a lot of exciting work done in Trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims this year. We started the season by extending the trench 3m on the south-east-side and 5m on the north-west side with the help of a JCB and its lovely driver, Martin. The main reasons behind this were to find the extent of our large early Bronze Age burnt mound, and to identify any associated archaeology lying on the periphery of the mound itself. Almost as soon as we stopped excavating with the machine we found a large rim sherd of mid-Bronze Age cord-impressed pottery in the northern extension of the trench. When this area was cleaned further, more sherds of the same pot were found and we were able to fit the pieces together, giving us an idea of its original shape and size (see earlier blog post for more details here). Also identified upon the opening of the northern extension were the articulated remains of a sheep sitting within a sub-circular but poorly defined pit. The skeleton was investigated by the BRP’s resident bone expert Tom Fox and was then excavated by staff and students together. Due to its position cutting through a system of alluvial silts covering the burnt mound, it is relatively modern, but still provided our students with the opportunity to excavate articulated remains, which is a bit of a rarity at the Bradford Kaims.

 

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Bone expert Tom Fox cleaning up the post-Medieval sheep in Trench 6.

In the centre of Trench 6, our investigation was focussed on a complex sequence of post holes and pits just north-east of our wooden trough, which make up a variety of structures and associated burnt features which interface directly with several burnt mound deposits. A large oblong ‘fire pit’ which was discovered last year was half-sectioned by students, and turned out to be much more confusing than originally thought! What we thought would take a few days to bottom and sample turned into weeks of work and recording, due to the many cuts and recuts found in the feature, alongside heavy rain in the middle of our season. On completing our half-section however, we have been able to work out the sequence as being the repeated cutting and filling of a long rectilinear pit cut into the natural clays at the base of Trench 6. The fills were a sequence of charcoal rich deposits thought to represent in situ firing events, sealed by lenses of natural clay that was partially fired. These deposits were later cut by two small pits and a post hole to further complicate the sequence. Our working hypothesis is that this feature represents a ‘fire pit’ or ‘earth oven’, where a fire was laid, stones heated, and then was filled with food and sealed with clay and vegetation in order to trap heat and allow an oven-like cooking system to form. At the end of the season we took four micromorphological samples to test this hypothesis, so will report on these in the off season once they have been analysed by a specialist.

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The half-section of the ‘fire pit’ in Trench 6 being excavated by students Tom and Lianne, with Fionnuala, and Courtney excavating the beam-slot beyond this.

The line of post holes running south-east to north-west in centre of the trench was cut short by the edge of the trench, so another positive that came out of the northern extension was the ability to investigate this possible structure further. This has also proven to be a complicated sequence, with recuts of various features suggesting that there are at least two structures on site. While we have yet to finalise the nature of these structures, it appears that we have an earlier A-frame structure built onto a levelling dump over the ‘fire pit’, and then a later reuse of one side of this structure with the addition of a beam slot, which may have covered the trough in the centre of the trench.

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Students Oda and Erin recording the half-section of the ‘fire pit’ in Trench 6, with Fiona and Sofi excavating post-holes beyond them, and even further, Project Manager Rachel Brewer and Assistant Supervisor Katie Walker lifting our Bronze Age pot.

Even though our plan had been to permanently close Trench 6 and completely backfill it this season, we have left the central area near the wooden trough open to allow us to return next year and investigate this particular feature, and its relationship with the structures in the wider trench, further. It has been a fantastic and exciting season in Trench 6 this year, and we would like to thank all of the students and community volunteers who have been extraordinarily helpful to us. Thank you, and we hope to see you next year!

Rachel Moss – Trench 6 Supervisor and University of Edinburgh, and Katie Walker – Trench 6 Assistant Supervisor and University of Edinburgh.

End of the Season at the Bradford Kaims Trench 42

The focus of our excavations on the south-side the Bradford Kaims in the 2017 season have been our investigations of Trench 42, located on the promontory of glacial sediments which juts out into the fenland. Trench 42 was first opened in 2012 and again 2016, during last year’s very wet season. It is sited on higher ground and provided us with an opportunity to continue excavating when the rest of the site was flooded.

Previous excavations uncovered an extensive but relatively thin burnt mound deposit (4203), which has been provisionally dated to the Early Bronze Age. The surface beneath the burnt mound (4217) was cut by numerous negative features, notably a large roughly rectangular cut, filled with burnt material. This cut feature [4214] is headed at one end by a rectangular limestone slab that has had a hole drilled through the middle and is associated with four post-holes, located at each corner of the feature. The working hypothesis is that this cut feature was a firing pit, although its exact function remains unknown. Our excavations on the south-side for this season centred around this possible fire pit.

The first week of excavation was spent re-opening Trench 42 to reveal the fire pit, and to help with this the trench was subsequently extended five meters to the north-west, with the intention of revealing any features associated with the pit. After the turf was removed we immediately came down onto the remainder of the large burnt mound deposit (4203) that overlies [4214], which extended across the entirety of the extension.

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Students and volunteers extending T42 and exposing the blackened Bronze Age burnt mound deposits (4203).

The extension was cleaned, photographed, and planned to record the extent of the burnt mound. We then removed and sampled the burnt mound deposit for radiocarbon dating and plant macrofossil identification, which will hopefully provide secure dating evidence for the activity in this area of the Bradford Kaims site, and shed light upon fuel-use strategies associated with the burnt mound.

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Students removing the burnt mound material in a sampling grid, exposing the subsoils beneath it. The fire-pit can be seen as the upright stone to the extreme right of the image.

At the end of week three we extended the trench by another 3m towards the south-east where no burnt mound underlay the topsoil. Upon doing this, we came straight down to a sand based prehistoric land surface (4217), into which the burning pit had been cut and, and extended across the entirety of Trench 42. On top of this context we found various pieces of worked and unworked flint. Notably, this included a beautiful triangularly shaped weapon head (which has been described in a previous blog).

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EnterStudents and staff extending T42 to the south-east in poor weather, showing the consolidated fire pit in the centre of the image, cut into the (wet!) sand-based prehistoric land surface. a caption

In the following cleaning of the trench we identified multiple negative features that may be connected to the fire pit and the wider use of the area. Among them are at least three possible post holes which seem to form a right angle near the northern corner of the fire pit and could be part of a built structure. Further investigations were interrupted by the end of the season so we have not yet been able to finalise our full interpretations. For now, the site is interpreted as a complex series of burnt mound deposits focussed around a large fire pit, with a previous structure present in the area, all sitting upon a post-glacial land surface which has been a site for multiple episodes of flint working and use. We hope to come back in future and get another chance to discover the wider function of the area, and to provide a more holistic picture of the prehistoric activity that once occurred on the promontory at the Bradford Kaims.

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Volunteers Barbara and Trina excavating a slot (in better weather) through the basal burnt mound deposits onto the prehistoric land surface, encountering numerous cut features.

In addition to this excavation, a geophysical survey and an archaeomagnetic dating study were conducted in the area of the promontory. The results of the geophysical survey seemed to point out some areas of interest. Time permitting, only one of these was test-pitted during the final weeks of the season and turned out sadly to be the cut of a Victorian drain pipe. However, this survey also showed the extent of the burnt mound exposed in Trench 42 as a spread reaching 20m in diameter, as well as identifying numerous smaller anomalies believed to be more burnt mound deposits and other features in the area. When we return to Trench 42, we will also be investigating some of these features, and will keep you posted on our blog!

Charlie Kerwin, Trench Supervisor and University of Nottingham, and Franzi Leja, Assistant Supervisor and University of Bamberg.