Detailed Finds Analysis, Trench 1 and Trench 3


Trench 1 has produced a succession of very exciting finds this week:

Copper Alloy / Gold Leaf Harness Fitting

This fitting adds to a pre-existing collection of 58 horse harness fittings of similar type that have been uncovered in Trench 1. The fitting was found in the same context (1242) that has recently been producing finds from an earlier context. However, it may be that we are currently excavating a baulk of archaeology that exists on the previous edge of the trench as a set of access steps. If this is the case, then the fitting is not necessarily out of sequence.

 Decorative Glass Bead

 This is the first large decorative bead from Trench 1. It’s a rich cobalt blue in colour, although the patina of the object makes this colour harder to see unless it is held up to the light. Glass beads are a relatively common find. However, Trench 3 has previously been more associated with beads of any material. The style and size of bead is also different from the norm. Most beads from both the Bowl Hole Burial Ground and the trenches in the West Ward are small, doughnut shaped and clear or pale in colour. This bead is most similar, although much larger, and deeper in colour, to some flower-shaped beads in the Brian Hope-Taylor archive.

 Without research, we’re uncertain of the dating of this bead, but through stylistic typologies it should be possible to date effectively. In the trench itself, the bead came from the step area of 1242 and so could possibly be from around the same period as the horse harness fittings, above the probable 11th/12th Century ‘Bamburgh Ware’ Pottery assemblage.

 Copper Alloy Kite-Headed Pin

 This is one of the most exciting finds ever to come out of Trench 1, even. This is a Kite-Headed Pin which is roughly dated to the 11th Century.  It was excavated from context 1272 which is the layer underneath the metalled surface, from which a Silver Short-Cross Penny, dated from 1180 – 1247 AD, was recovered last season. The pin would therefore fit in reasonably well with the dating sequence (as it is from a great deal lower/earlier in the context) in this part of the trench. However, this is also the context from which three pieces of Samian were recovered last week. It could be argued that this pin (and the third piece of Samian) gives strength to the idea that these pottery sherds have come from a pit cutting context 1272, because the pin helps to solidify the dating of the surrounding area.

 This find is particularly exciting as the project has previously discovered two other of these items, but neither of them has been in situ and one of them is very hard to provenance at all.

 Copper Alloy Pin (Two Fragments)

 A copper alloy pin shaft was recovered from Trench 1 this week. The object has a modern break at the very tip where point has broken off during excavation, and an old break at the widest end where the shaft would have continued and either formed a plain head, a perforated head or a decorated head. There is a possibility that this pin could indicate part of a second Kite-Headed Pin –  perhaps we have a pair? Metal detectorist David Ross, who visited the project earlier in the week,  helped us search for more non-ferrous metal work in the area of the finds, but we could not locate any other fragments in the ground.

 Pottery Sherd

 We’ve recovered a third piece of Roman Samian Ware from Trench 1 this week. As with the previous fragments, the sherd is undecorated red slip plain-ware. However, this fragment may be slightly more diagnostic because it may be a section of the object’s rim.

What is particularly interesting about this find is that most of the reverse and some of the front of the object is covered in mortar residue. This residue could help us explain, with or without the presence of a pit in context 1272, the earlier finds being excavated from this layer. It is possible that fragments of earlier items are being used (purposefully or accidently) as inclusions in building materials at a later date. Once the building is destroyed/damaged or decayed the objects may come loose and appear as lone items again. Other objects – broken and complete – are quite often found trapped within mortar e.g. iron horseshoe nails and Medieval green glaze pottery.

Worked Bone Object

A worked bone object was also recovered from Trench 1 this week. Based on context and stylistics alone, a date of 11th Century or earlier is most likely. The object is U-shaped of hollowed bone, and it is hard to tell whether the item is complete or broken in antiquity with much worn breaks. It could be possible that originally the material formed complete circle. There are no obvious signs of perforations for fittings such as tacks.

The object is decorated with a multiple concentric circle design, typical of worked bone from Bamburgh. These circles have appeared many times before on combs, dice and practice pieces, and seem to stay relatively unchanged right through the dating sequences; pieces of decorated bone from the high medieval layers look almost exactly the same from layers such as these which are pre-11th C (if the find is of the date of deposition).

The shape of the object (if broken, or as one of two halves) would lend itself to being used as part of a handle for a knife, comb or tool, (similar examples have been found at Whithorn).


All of the finds from Trench 3 this week come from context 3234 which is the pit discovered in 2009. Key finds from this pit include two copper alloy stycas, and a Long Cross Silver Penny. A probable roman grey-ware rim sherd also came out of the pit. Work this season has focused on finding the extent of the pit, and in carrying out this process; many new finds have been discovered.

Iron Chain Mail Rings

Two iron chain mail rings have been excavated from pit 3234. Although now corroded and swollen, these would originally have been small, fine wire loops which would have made up part of a continuous area of body armour.

In 2008 we uncovered a substantial amount of chain mail in Trench 3. Metallurgist David Sim investigated these finds for us and found that most of the metal had mineralised through corrosion making it difficult to assess the metal content.

Pottery Sherd

Trench 3 is becoming more and more aceramic the deeper we excavate, which is fully expected once hitting pre12th/13th Century layers. However, as this fragment is from the pit area, and is not green-glaze, it could help us date the pit fill.

The fragment is a body sherd of yellowish –orange fabric, containing large, sparse quartz inclusions. The sherd is sooted on the one face which indicates burning. In profile the sherd is ridged but not repeatedly.  This could be one of the first instances of ‘Bamburgh Ware’ from Trench 3, but a specialist would need to study this for us to gain any further information.

Iron Tool

A possible iron tool was recovered from the pit excavation. Although the object is in two main fragments (the main break is in the centre of what remains) and is not necessarily complete, it is clear that the fragments form a long U-shape which is wider at one end than the other. The object shows fairly heavy corrosion, and on the inside of the U-shape, there is what appears to be either a focused area of corrosion or some kind of metal working debris- possibly a slag-type material.

This object appears to be some kind of tool- possibly a gauge for coring in woodworking.

Another possibility is that this is metal-working equipment, perhaps a spout of some kind, possibly to pour liquid metal from one vessel to another. This may account for the slag-like material on the inside surface; however caution must be applied as many object and bulk finds from Trench 3 are often found covered in a slag-like residue and may just have been in the vicinity of metal-working. The focused nature of the slag-like material on this object however, may suggest otherwise.

We must also be careful not to create finds types which ‘fit’ an already known theory. For example, we know that Trench 3 is synonymous with metal working (similar to Trench 1 and its heavy production of horse equipment), and need to be careful not only to think in the metal-working field and to make sure we think outside the box with un-certain finds identifications.

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