Have you ever wondered what archaeologists really do? Do they just dig or are there other aspects to their work?A Day in Archaeology showcases “a day in the life” of archaeologists from all over the UK. It also explores pathways into the profession and, this year, the impact of the C-19 pandemic on individuals and organisations. The day is part of the Council for British Archaeology’s ‘Festival of Archaeology‘ and one of our Director’s, Jo, happens to work for them, so she has put together a blog post focusing on her time with the BRP and the impact C-19 has had on the project.
Edoardo Albert and Paul Gething , the authors of Warrier: A life of war in Anglo-Saxon Britain are doing an online webinar about Bamburgh, its history and its archaeology, for the York Festival of Ideas at 1pm on Sunday 7 June. It’s open to anyone to sign up for and its free so please do chack it out via this link: york festival of ideas.
As with most organisations Bamburgh Research Project has been been monitoring the developing situation with Covid 19 and trying to come up with a clear plan on how to respond. I am sure it will be no surprise to hear that as the situation is changing so rapidly it is really rather difficult to make plans with certainty at the moment, and probably won’t be for some time so with reluctance we have closed bookings for the summer field school as we feel certain that it would not be repsonsible to try to run in June and July as planned.
It seems sensible at the moment to postpone until at least the late Summer or Autumn. As things become more certain we will update you here and on the website.
If anyone wishes to be added to an email list to be notified when the bookings are open again then we can be contacted through the website.
The BRP 2020 Field School will once again be based at Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland Coast. We are in the process of finishing our last trench in the West Ward of the Castle and will be turning our attention to the exterior structures surrounding the Castle.
The field school will run for five weeks from 21st June – July 24th. You can find out more information about how to book here: Booking details
New Excavation Site
The focus of the dig season this year will be two-fold. Firstly, we will begin new excavations to explore the presence of a proposed exterior ditch. The proposed work will investigate the alignment, depth and profile of the castle ditch close to the main gate. By characterising the stratigraphic layers within the ditch and sampling them for dating evidence and evidence of waste disposal we hope to generate an insight into the material culture of the castle from an ordered sequence of layers that will greatly aid in the interpretation of the extensive, but more complex and disturbed stratigraphical sequences recovered elsewhere in the castle, principally the West Ward. In addition, the profile and alignment, depth of the feature will aid in interpreting how it fits into the landscape setting and visual arrangement of the site and the impact it was intended to have on those approaching the gate.
A public pathway runs through the area of the ditch today beneath the entrance into the castle through the main gate. Here, as a result of erosion, numerous finds have been reported to the castle staff by members of the public and even found by the archaeological team when passing by to the village. The investigation of the area will be used to aid in making management decisions, to ensure the preservation of the area and also in order to recover an easily relatable stratigraphic sequence to aid in dating the pottery assemblage already recovered. In particular, the dating of ‘Bamburgh ware’ in relation to its use date and the layers above and below its introduction and end of use. We already know that there is some depth to this feature from cores cut through in 2003 that revealed over a 1m of stratigraphy. None of these appears to have reached bedrock due to encountering stones in the full, so its true depth remains to be explored.
Our second focus for the season will be post-excavation. Tuition covers a variety of areas, as we have an active on-site finds department and a environmental processing area. Our work will focus on the material excavated from the ditch and the West Ward excavations, including our early-medieval, Roman and prehistoric contexts. Participants will have the opportunity to:
undertake environmental sampling techniques
wet-sieving and sorting residues and flots (search for ‘environmental’ on our blog to see lots of info about this element of the project)
The application for the 2020 field school is now live and can be found here. We have decided that we can keep the fees at the same level as last year. We also aim to continue with the same general accommodation options and the exact details for this will follow soon.
We will offer as ever both experience with excavation and post-excavation, though with a few changes from last year, so expects further announcements to keep you fully up to date in the days and weeks ahead.
Applications for limited staff positions will follow soon.
2019 was a busy year for the Bamburgh Research Project and it looks like 2020 will continue in the same way. With support from Bamburgh Estate we have been completing the excavation element of Trench 3, the trench located in the West Ward of the castle, to help us complete the work started by Brian Hope- Taylor in 1960. Our aim was always to publish the study of a complete archaeological sequence through the archaeology here. A sequence that we now know extends from the late Bronze Age to the modern era.
One of the most important elements of this is that here at Bamburgh we have what appears to be a continuous occupation sequence from the late Roman to the high medieval including the still quite poorly understood fifth and sixth centuries AD. It was an important transitional period that helped attract Dr Hope-Taylor to the site and remains an important issue to be understood in the region today. We aim to complete Trench 3 excavation in March and April this year and then embark on the challenging but important process of writing the site up to publication.
A more immediate publication challenge is the completion of the monograph of the Bowl Hole cemetery excavation. We are currently working on this and aim to have made very real advances this year with publication proceeding an academic symposium and story telling festival with the Bamburgh Bones project in 2021.
The fieldschool is also to go ahead this summer
Anyone wishing to attend the BRP fieldschool in the summer of 2020 should keep an eye on this blog and the website in the next couple of weeks as we plan to announce details of the new season very soon.
We will be digging for five weeks from June 21st to July 24th and opportunities for learning excavation and also post excavtion will be available as always.
BBC North East and Cumbria visited for some interviews with the project a few months ago and the programme is out this evening on BBC 1 North East. Hopefully we made it into the final edit but either way its made by a local team with a really good track record in documentary broadcasting so should be very much worth a watch.
It’s been a busy week on site, so we thought it was time for a little update on what’s been happening.
Excavation underway in Trench 3
Iron age or Romano-British pottery
One of the most notable finds this week came out of the north-west corner where Constance has been working. Towards the end of last week, she uncovered a flagstone surface which appears to be the base of a post pad. Just to the south of this we found some sizeable pieces of Iron Age or Romano-British pot sherds. What stands out about this pot is that on the base you can see the wood grain of the surface it was shaped on.
Pottery of Iron Age or Romano-British date from the north of the trench
Excavating some of the cobbles
As part of our plan for this off season excavation we are compiling a north to south section that will run the length of the trench and allow us to her lots of relationships between different parts of the site. As part of this section we’ve started taking off a 2-metre strip of the cobbled surface, this will be the first time we get a decent look at what is happening underneath (currently, it’s just more cobbles!).
Tom has finished his sondage
In the north area of the trench we have completely excavated a 2m x 1m sondage (sounding trench) down to bedrock. This small trench has provided us with a look at some of the earliest archaeology within the trench, from the early medieval all the way down to the prehistoric. We’ve had some interesting finds come out of this area that include Samian ware, Iron Age or Romano-British pottery, a bent coin and even a broken copper ring! We have been able to track how the bedrock at this end of the trench forms the side of the cleft in which Trench 3 sits and how steeply the bedrock drops off. The other side of the rock cleft lies beyond the Armstrong Museum and rises up to carry the cross wall that divided the West and East Wards of the castle.
Long time readers of the blog may recall that Paul Gething, one of our four directors of the Bamburgh Research Project, and Edouardo Albert published a book ‘Northumbria the lost Kingdom’ a little while ago. I am sure you will be excited to hear that a new book by the pair is now out. This time it is based on some of the evidence from our burial ground at the Bowl Hole and is called: ‘Warrior a life of war in Anglo-Saxon Britain’.
You can hear an interview with the authors by Dan Snow here:
When we did our round-up of the 2019 Summer dig a few weeks ago we did say we that we had some news of work that would be happening over the next few months, so I think its high time we told you what it is! There have been a number of changes at the castle this year, and more are planned. Amongst these are additions to the experience of visiting the West Ward, where the old Trench 1 has been backfilled and landscaped, and now there is the intention to add more public activities from next summer. As our major excavation (Trench 3) rather sprawls over a substantial area of the ward it is rather in the way of this so following discussion with the castle, we are doing a staff dig to complete the excavation by next spring. We are able to do this due to a generous grant from the estate that will pay many weeks of wages and because we had pretty much reached he same level as Dr Hope-Taylor had managed in the 1970s, so all that remains is to excavate a sufficient sample down to the earliest occupation beneath the Hope-Taylor levels.
Just started and we already have a new stone-lined hearth uncovered
By adding this deeper sample we will have a full sequence from the prehistoric to the modern era. We will of course have to sample the earliest deposits over a much smaller area. This is necessary because of the time available but also unavoidable due to the need to step the area in for safety reasons due to the depth we need to reach. This could be as deep as 4m below ground level in places.
We will have a smaller team than usual so will not be able to do as many social media posts as we would like as we need to concentrate on the excavation, but we do intend to keep you informed as well as we can.
It will be the end of an era for the BRP but not the end of our work at Bamburgh as future projects are already being developed.