As week eight of the 2015 excavation season comes to its end, let’s reflect back on what we achieved and discovered this season. This blog will come to you in bite-size, area-by-area portions! How handy!
One of the first things on our to-do list this season was to continue excavating the timber building. We started exploring the beam-slots to this building back in BC13. Beam-slots, for the confused reader, are trenches dug to contain either a horizontal timber beam to form the foundation of a building, or more likely a series of upright timbers in a construction style called ‘post-in-trench’ by archaeologists.
Understanding the western beam-slot sufficiently to be confident that we had associated the correct linear cut with our building, proved to be difficult, and took a great deal of time. By the time the 2015 season started, we were finally confident of it, an only the southern part of the eastern beam-slot and the southern beam-slot remained un-excavated. Both these beam-slots could be seen in section thanks to the presence of three of the WWI test latrine pits (which we are pretty sure, were not used for their intended purpose, but do make good archaeological test pits).
The middle section of the southern beam-slot offered a pleasant surprise; two teminals to the construction cut marked a central doorway into the building. Fascinatingly this lay directly in the line of a pebble path in the south east corner of the trench, that ran parallel to our metalworking building (we excavated this a few seasons ago). The association of the two buildings through the presence of the path does not seem too optimistic. This means we can date the new building to the middle 9th century AD, as we a great deal of dating evidence for the metalworking building. .
This discovery motivated us to take some hammerscale samples within the boundaries of the timber building, to see if it had, at some point, been used for metalworking purposes. The low finds recovery from within the building though does make us wonder if it could have had a timber floor, which would make thethe layers within it part of an aerlier phase. Something to work out next year. Either way the sampling will hopefully be informative and not be wasted.
Elusive paving feature
You may remember from earlier blogs this season that we excavated a rectangular paved feature, consisting of 3-4 large flat slabs with two vertical flat stones to the north and south. When we originally uncovered this feature in BC13 we briefly interpreted this as a drain-feature, but quickly discarded this theory, as we could trace it no further. Sadly, excavation produced no clear-cut “Eureka!” moment, and it remains enigmatic. Our best guess, based on the realtively central location within the building, is that the horizontal slabs were put into support a large post or beam that was one of the roof supports.
The north-west corner was mostly left alone until the last two weeks of excavation. When we did return there, our main idea was to dig down two large and deep contexts, not expecting to encounter any features in the process. But as always, whenever you don’t count on finding anything, you do.
Firstly, we finally took down our large ‘jaggedy rock’ context, which took up most of the north side of the NW-corner of the trench. As expected, most of this context went down onto bedrock. However, we also found a small, circular feature consisting of small flat stones, with a diameter of about 45cm. We are choosing to excavate this feature next season, but our current interpretation is that it served as a way to level off the ground with the bedrock to the west.
Also, to the south of the NW-area, we dug down onto a large rectangular stone that looked suspiciously like it was part of a structure. Further excavation showed a line of large stones going east and then making a turn to the south of the trench. This shows that we may be dealing with the corner of a building, that might be largely extending westward outside of the trench.
Brian Hope Taylor
This season has also dealt with the partial uncovering of Brian Hope-Taylor’s tarped area. Brian Hope-Taylor excavated at Bamburgh Castle in the early 60’s and early 70’s, and since we are almost down to the same level as the northern part of his trench, we are close to joining up the two excavation areas! BHT left us with some exciting features to excavate next season, including a drain feature and a hearth area.
Eastern side of the trench
In the eastern side of the trench, next to the eastern beam-slot to our timber building, we uncovered a pebbly surface’. As we continued excavation, this narrow strip of pebbles expanded into what we now think is either a pebble path or pebbled surface which slopes down as it extends more eastward. We are still working on finding its southern extent and finding out if it extends west of the eastern beam-slot (which would make it earlier in date than the timber building).
Lastly, to the north of our pebble context we have located what seems to be a high-medieval pit-feature. We found several shards of pottery from this period, together with two styca’s, finds that shouldn’t be in the same context under normal circumstances. This means that a pit was dug down from above (probably in the 11th-12th centuries), through 9th century layers (explaining the styca’s), which was then filled up with both the Anglo Saxon and high-medieval material. We will finish this pit next season.
So there you have it! Right now we are in the process of finishing off excavation on all the features we are currently working on; namely the pebble path/surface in the east and the potential new structure in the north-west. We will use the last two days of the excavation season to plan and level the most recently excavated areas, finish off all the necessary paperwork, and then, finally, tarp up the trench to protect it from weathering.