The Excavation of Trench 10, 2008

John Castling, one of the BRP’s archaeology supervisors, gives us an overview of the work carried out in Trench 10 during the 2008 excavation season.

John’s Report

In line with the BRP’s aims of recovering as much information as possible from the areas of the west ward investigated by Dr Brian Hope-Taylor, 2008 saw the opening of trench ten, a small but deep excavation located over BHT’s cutting C. This cutting was, presumably, located in order to investigate the windmill hill, which Hope-Taylor considered to be an obvious place for activity, given its prominence over the lowest end of the castle rock where the original Saint Oswald’s gate entrance was located.

Hope-Taylor's Cutting C, the original trench. Note the base of the windmill in the background.

Hope-Taylor's Cutting C, the original trench.

Cutting C, and thus trench ten, was positioned to the east of the windmill, at the base of its hill, in a relatively flat area which slopes from Oswald’s gate (and trench one) up towards the main area of the west ward (and trench three). As access to trench one is only (realistically) possible via this narrow area to the east of the windmill hill and west of Armstrong’s curtain wall, it was decided only to re-excavate the eastern half of cutting C, with further trench planned to cover the other half of the path.

Windmill Hill in the west ward of Bamburgh Castle

When I arrived at the BRP, work on trench ten had already begun, with the edges of Hope-Taylor’s cutting having been found, and a significant amount of his backfill removed to reveal the sloping profile of the bedrock beneath (alongside a plethora of jokes relating to trench ten being ‘the place where the bedrocks…’).

In this backfill a number of finds were uncovered. These were predominantly fragments of animal bone and pottery, and while they showed that Hope-Taylor had removed material rich deposits from his trench, it did little to show us anything of the area’s stratigraphy, due to their being in the backfill.

As we continued downwards, the bedrock continued to slope away to the east, with Hope-Taylor’s backfill remaining until a depth of approximately 1.5m. At this depth we found that two ‘steps’ of material had been left in situ along the northern and southern edges of the trench. These deposits were just under half a metre wide, and extended half a metre down before reaching the level shelf of the bedrock beneath the Hope-Taylor backfill in the centre of the trench.

The presence of these deposits can be explained by the necessity for securing the trench edges against collapse. In the BRP excavations we installed shoring equipment, whereas Hope-Taylor seems to have felt the need to step-in (that is narrow) his trench towards the base. This left us with two small areas of archaeology to excavate.

Marius excavating amongst the shoring equipment

Within these areas, a number of layers were determined, most of which contained pebbles, cobbles and rubble. Most layers were observed on both sides of the trench, suggesting that there was some uniformity across the area.

Trench 10

Trench 10 under excavation

A variety of finds were recovered, heavily dominated by a wide range of animal bone. The upper layers of these two steps produced a number of pieces of pottery, the most common form being early medieval green glaze, dating from the twelfth to thirteenth century AD. Several interesting individual finds were also recovered, including a small fragment of worked flint, a possible limestone gaming piece and a handful of iron nails.

When trench nine (beside trench one) was excavated, a cobbled area was uncovered, and it was considered likely that through the excavation of trench ten, we might find similar deposits. These could represent a continuation of a path or road leading from the fortress’s original entrance; St Oswald’s Gate, to the top of the plateau and the main part of the castle.

The layers of cobbling and rubble fill revealed by the excavations of trench ten may either have been a surface, or could have been used to level the area directly above the bedrock in preparation for a more delicately created surface. Some of the cobbled layers were reasonably firmly packed and could be considered surfaces, probably compacted by the passage of people or animals across the area. The cobbles were rather crude, and if they do indicate a surface, probably represent one akin to the rubble ‘hardcore sub-base’ surfaces often used by farmers in worn gateways. The bedrock may also show signs of being flattened, in the form of several worn, linear crevices in the base of the trench. However the evidence was far from definitive, and while it is clear there has been a series of layers of rubble build up, we were unable to explicitly identify any specific surface, although the presence of some road or path from Oswald’s gate to the rest of the castle seems probable.

Trench ten was fully backfilled at the end of the season, and it has always been intended that after several years of allowing the reinstated soil to settle, we would excavate the remaining half of Hope-Taylor’s cutting C. This will hopefully clarify the presence of any road or path, as well as offering the possibility to investigate the sequence of retaining sea walls in this part of the west ward.

The end of Trench 10

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