The Excavation of Trench 8, 2006

Project Director, Graeme Young, tells us about Trench 8 which was excavated in 2006 and provides a fascinating introduction to the work of Dr. Brian Hope-Taylor who will feature more prominently in forthcoming blogs.

Trench 8 (2006)

We have over the last few months been posting short articles on the various trenches that have been excavated over the years, by the BRP, to investigate both the castle site and its surrounding environment. The work of Dr Brain Hope-Taylor has figured quite prominently in these updates, appropriately so given the scale of his previous work at the castle. In reporting on Trench 8 we come to the very beginning of Hope-Taylor’s time at Bamburgh, as it represents our re-investigation of his first ever trial trench.

The fully excavated Trench 8 photographed facing north west at the end of the 2006 season. Trench 3 can been seen in the background under tarpaulins for the winter.

Hope-Taylor’s Trench 1 was known to us right from the start of our investigations as he published a short article on it in the University of Durham Gazette in 1960. In it he described some seven phases of archaeology that he defined as, Prehistoric, early Roman and late Roman, which was followed by deposits that he identified as fifth to sixth century, from sherds of pottery that he was familiar with from his Yeavering excavation together with sherds that he speculated as representing possible imports. This period is one of the least well understood in our history so it is frustrating that we have not been able to identify these pottery sherds in the Hope-Taylor archive. Hope remains though that future work will help us better understand his interpretation, as potential imports would be fascinating if we can identify them.

Summing up the trench excavation for the Media Department at the end of the season. Filmed from within Trench 3

The elusive 5th to 6th century phase was followed by a broader Anglo-Saxon phase, that contained evidence of a building, and was dated by styca coins. Something very familiar to us from Trench 3. Immediately above this a collection of metalwork was found. These included the two famous pattern welded swords, the investigation of which by the BRP and the Royal Armouries after they were recovered from the Hope-Taylor archive made quite a stir in the press. Probably in no small part due to one of them being a very rare example of a six stranded sword, and as such of incredible sophistication. Dr Hope-Taylor identified a single phase of later medieval activity and reported the use of the West Ward as a midden, just as we later found with our Trench 3.

Hope-Taylor’s Trial Trench 1 had always been of interest to us, because it was known to have produced a full sequence through the West Ward, indicating how long the castle had been occupied, and also because of the remarkable find of the swords. Frustratingly we could not accurately locate the trench as there was no location plan in the short article and all we had to go on was a photo of the trench under excavation that Professor Richard Bailey had been kind enough to find for us. It was first on the list for re-excavation as soon as we had access to the Hope-Taylor plan that showed the location of his trial trenches in the West Ward. In fact once we had flipped our tapes over, so we could measure out in feet and inches, and laid it out we realised that we could see the corner of it just extending into Trench 3. Though we had assumed that this intrusive feature was one of the WW1 practice latrine pits seen elsewhere in the trench. This was very positive in a way as it meant that looking at the trench would give us advance warning of what was coming in Trench 3 and, in the longer term, would allow us to refine our understanding of Hope-Taylor’s trench using the much more extensive evidence of our main excavation.

Looking at the trench proved to be very informative and quite complicated too, as it was a substantial trench and also quite deep. Dr Hope-Taylor had battered the trench back so that the sides sloped, in order to make the excavation safer. Nevertheless we securely shored the deep end of the trench as we hand-dug the backfill from it. The sections when cleaned up showed layer upon layer of accumulated material and numerous layers of stones. Likely, in many cases, to have been laid as deliberate surfacing. Dr Hope-Taylor knew he had reached prehistoric layers as he had recovered crude coil-built pottery sherds from beneath the layers he had dated the Romano-British Period. We were able to go one better. By excavating the soil layers left in as a baulk beneath a sewer pipe we were able to conduct our own small-scale excavation. Right at the base of this we found a pebble and stone surface, cut through by post holes, beneath which we recovered a small assemblage of flint that Kristian Pedersen has dated to the Neolithic Period. This suggests that we could have occupation of the castle rock at Bamburgh stretching back 5000 years.

One of the earliest features identified at Bamburgh. The post-hole is cut into the glacial boulder clay right at the base of the stratigraphy and is associated with a small assemblage of Neolithic flint.

We also found clear evidence of the early medieval buildings that Hope-Taylor had referred to in the form of large post-pits and at least one linear feature of hard compacted rubble that could well have formed the foundation to a sill-beam timber building.

A quarter section of a massive post-hole of broadly early medieval date. Very likely one of the features mentioned by Dr Hope-Taylor in his 1960 text. A pebble surface just beneath the horizontal ranging rod is likely to be the ground surface associated with the building,though one of the big packing stones would have stood just above this level.

One surprising find that particularly fascinated us, were a series of aluminium labels that Hope-Taylor had left stuck into the sections. Amazingly the writing on them was still legible and we were able to discover the location of a number of the small finds present in the Hope-Taylor archive. Frustratingly no label marked the find spot for the swords so we were unable to locate them any more accurately than could be deduced from the text of the short report.

The swords and axe after conservation, which were found in the area where T8 was situated.

There was a happy ending to this though, as one of our former staff, Marsaili McGregor, spent some time working on the various Hope-Taylor archives, held at the Scottish Royal Commission, found a familiar looking section drawing that proved to be the missing main section of the trench as drawn by Dr Hope-Taylor in 1960. And on it was written ‘sword’ and a line drawn to where X very much marked the spot, which just goes to show that you never know how the pieces that make up the puzzle will come together.

2 thoughts on “The Excavation of Trench 8, 2006

  1. Pingback: Contagions Round-up 18: A Load of Links « Contagions

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