What we did this summer: Bamburgh castle excavation 2018

Looking back at this year’s excavation season it is satisfying to see the results that were achieved. The cobble surface, first seen in 2016, has been fully exposed within the trench. In addition the process of integrating the BRP excavation with the northern area, previously excavated by Dr Brian Hope-Taylor, has really advanced. In fact next year we will be able to move the two trenches forward as one.

In the case of the cobbles, rather than a single feature with clear edges, the surface was found to be a complex composed of multiple layers and patches with a rather diffuse edge that blended into the adjacent layers. It was clear that understanding this structure fully and dissecting its varied components is going to be a challenging task, but hopefully a rewarding one. We have made a start but a lot more work needs to follow. At present this complex structure is thought to date from the 7th to 8th centuries AD, based on two radiocarbon dates from the adjacent Trench 8 and the stylistic date for the bird mount that was found on the surface.

In addition to exposing the cobbles we removed a number of adjacent layers to expose what we believe to be, at least part, of the contemporary surface around the cobbles and identified a number of features in the process. Some of these were clearly structural, which means that at present our best understanding is that we have a yard (the cobbles) around which other timber buildings are likely to have stood. It is tempting to see this arrangement as an act of deliberate planning, probably under royal supervision.

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The structural cobble surface fully exposed within the trench

As with the overlying 9th century layers, we see the cobble surface and its surrounding structures as having an industrial function, as ash and waste material continues to be a substantial component of the excavated layers. We are not clear if this remains primarily metal working, but we are now at a similar level to what appears to be a metalworking area in the Hope-Taylor trench (comprising a hearth and a water channel). The animal bone evidence recovered was substantial and varied, so one thing we can be sure of is that the workers in this area continued to live well and dispose of food waste within their working environment.

Finally in order to better understand Hope-Taylor’s ‘lower pavement’, that appears to be a wall foundation running along the western boundary of his trench, rather than a path, we excavated an area of undisturbed archaeological layers that had formed the base for our stepped entrance into the trench. This appeared to reveal that the foundation turned a right angle and extended beyond the limit of the trench and did not continue to the south. This excavation also revealed the presence of a pit filled with rubble including a squared stone block covered in mortar that we hope to further reveal and recover next season.

The BRP team would like to thank Will Armstrong and his castle staff who make us feel so welcome. Particular mention should go to Lisa for her help with getting the metal finds off for x-ray and Stuart for assisiting with the above photograph with his Cherry Picker. We are grateful to The Society of Antiquaries of London for a generous grant towards the assessement of the full site metal archive which is ongoing, and to the Mick Aston Fund of the Council for British Archaeology for a grant to assisit with our outreach programme. I would also personally like to thank our wonderful team of archaeological staff for a great summer. Roll on 2019.

Graeme Young

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Public Outreach in Bamburgh Village

Julie Polcrack, Public Outreach Officer here!  The main goals of public outreach efforts this season were to: 1) give the public a basic understanding of archaeological excavation and post-excavation practices, 2) allow the public to ask questions about archaeology in general, 3) inform the public about our current findings at the castle, and 4) encourage a general interest in cultural heritage. We sought to accomplish these goals through trench side activities, hands-on activities in Bamburgh Village, and public lectures in the Bamburgh Pavilion. These activities were made possible by a grant from the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund supported by both the CBA and Historic England. To learn more about this please see Community Outreach Activities and Bamburgh Outreach 2018.

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Every day, on the trench-side, we have been engaging visitors with various core post-ex activities, predominantly undertaking finds washing and sorting. This has provided the opportunity for visitors to handle the artefacts as they are excavated from the trench. Our activities down in Bamburgh Village have also involved hands-on learning. Below are some examples of the types of activities we created to help visitors understand how we draw information from the finds we unearth during our excavation.

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Members of the public reading about excavations at the castle and looking at pottery

Activities

What Is It?: Mystery Artefact Demonstration

This activity is designed to demonstrate how archaeologists use artefacts to discern how past people lived. We ask our participants to first hold the object and then guide them through identifying what the artefact is. We also ask them to describe the object. It works best if you ask people to pretend that they cannot see the object and describe it as though they are on the phone. They commonly describe what the artefact is made of, its size, its shape and potential uses for the object. This activity gets them really thinking about the artefacts and begins the interpretative process.

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A replica salt cellar, bone spindle whorl, and whetstone

To guide your participants, you must give hints and clues that lead them to the proper conclusion. Typically you give hints about the period of time when the artefact was made or the context in which the artefact was used (e.g. – textile making). In this activity, the public gets an idea of what archaeologists have to do when they excavate an artefact and have to identify it. It also encourages participants to think about what types of objects they will leave behind for future archaeologists and what it will tell them about life today.

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Participants trying to figure out the mystery artefact

Pottery of the Past

Using pottery sherds from the assemblage uncovered at Bamburgh, we can give the public a tangible way of seeing the different time periods our site spans. When going from Roman Samian ware to Anglo-Saxon pottery, you can ask participants about the physical differences they see and then explain what lies behind these differences – type of clay, inclusions, glaze, slip used in the pottery; where the pottery was made; when the pottery was made; whether it was made on a wheel or it was hand thrown; etc. You also try to ask questions that will get your participant to think about the nature of preservation and why archaeologists typically find sherds instead of whole pottery vessels.

After showing off the Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and Medieval pottery to participants, we will offer different activities to complete. Children and parents can put together a paper pot that they can take home with them or they can try to reconstruct a broken plate. Both of these activities get people to consider pottery reconstruction and the reconstructive nature of archaeology as a whole.

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Participants reconstructing a paper pot

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Participants reconstructing a broken plate

Worked Bone Artefacts

The Bamburgh Research Project has a substantial collection of worked bone finds uncovered in excavation and a number of replica bone tools and objects from friend of the project, David Constantine. This entire collection not only gives the public an insight into the type of finds we uncover, but it also shows them the variety of uses for animal bone in the early medieval world.

The trench-side and Bamburgh Village activities, supported by the free lecture series, are aimed at encouraging Bamburgh residents and visitors to explore the areas history, learn a little about archaeology and hopefully have a bit of fun along the way. We hope to expand our outreach over the next 12 months, so watch this space!

Bamburgh Castle Excavation End of Season Lecture

Please come join us tonight (July 17, 2018) at 7 PM for a free public lecture at the Bamburgh Pavilion (on the green in front of the castle). The Bamburgh Research Project team will be giving an end of season round-up lecture of this years discoveries at the Bamburgh Castle Excavation.

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The West Ward excavation

Bamburgh Castle Medieval and Anglo-Saxon Metalwork Analysis and Conservation

Here at Bamburgh Research Project we are now in our fourth week of excavation. Staff and students have been focusing their efforts on revealing and recording a 7-8th century cobbled surface in the south-east of the trench. To learn more watch our latest trench update from Director, Graeme Young, who explains progress so far: Trench 3 Update.

As well as the excavation in the trench we also have a post-ex team working with students to record the finds and paleoenvironmental material as it is recovered. They are also working really hard prepping all the medieval and Anglo-Saxon metalwork from Trench 3 for analysis and conservation as part of our Society of Antiquaries funding (you can learn more about this project here: SOA Grant).

 

We have sorted, boxed and listed all the material and the metalwork assemblage has now gone to our specialist conservator, Karen Barker. Karen will stablilise, x-ray and provide a conservation assessment for us. The details we gather from the assemblage will form part of a interim excavation report and key items will be selected for conservation and display in the Archaeology Museum at the Castle.

 

Karen has begun to x-ray the thousands of metal artefacts, which is particularly exciting when looking at corroded items, as the form and detail of objects is often revealed at this stage.

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X-ray of Trench 3 iron objects

This is one of the early x-rays from the assemblage with various iron objects, including buckles, knives, a couple of nails and a possible door hinge.

We will update the blog as more information becomes available.

 

Thanks to the Society of Antiquaries of London for their grant support.

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Third Public Lecture of the Season Tonight at Bamburgh Pavilion

Please come join us tonight (July 10, 2018) at 7 PM for a free public lecture at the Bamburgh Pavilion.  Tom Fox of the Bamburgh Research Project will be giving the lecture ‘Searching for humour in dark places: an investigation of humoral theory in the Early Medieval’.  Learn how scholars can use scientific means of investigating human remains to better understand diet, culture and society in the Early Middle Ages.

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Tom Fox investigating sheep skeleton at the Bradford Kaims

Cobbled Surface in the Southeast Corner of Trench 3

The Bamburgh Research Project has made some excellent progress in Trench 3 this season.  In the video below, Director Graeme Young discusses the 7th/8th century cobbled surface recently uncovered in the southeast corner.  We are not completely certain what the use of the surface was, but Graeme offers a few different interpretations.

 

Second Public Lecture of the Season at Bamburgh Pavilion

Come join us tonight at 7 PM for a free public lecture at the Bamburgh Pavilion.  Julie Polcrack of the Bamburgh Research Project will be giving the lecture ‘Forging Castle Space: Anglo-Saxon Metalworking at Bamburgh Castle’.  Learn more about the tools and objects forged in fiery furnaces at the castle during the eighth through the eleventh centuries.

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Metal-working building in Trench 3

 

Community Outreach Activities: join us this summer at BRP

The Bamburgh Research Project has created a programme of free archaeology activities to run alongside the excavation this year. You can learn a little more about the background to this in an earlier blog post: Bamburgh Outreach 2018

Below is a list of forthcoming events that you can get involved with:

Bamburgh Village Archaeology Activities

Join us at the Cricket Pavilion in Bamburgh Village 2-4 p.m. on Monday 26th of June, Monday 2nd and 9th of July and Tuesday 17th of July.

We will be undertaking hands-on artefact work, including finds washing, sorting and illustration. We will also be displaying some of our more interesting and significant finds from the excavation. Everyone is welcome!

Bamburgh Village Lecture Series

Join us at the Cricket Pavilion in Bamburgh Village 7-8 p.m. We will be delivering the following free lectures:

Tuesday 26th June: Life and death at the early medieval palace of Bamburgh: the results of the excavation of the Bowl Hole cemetery site by Graeme Young

Tuesday 3rd July: Forging Castle Space: Anglo-Saxon Metalworking at Bamburgh Castle by Julie Polcrack

Tuesday 10th July: Searching for humour in dark places: an investigation of humoral theory in the Early Medieval by Tom Fox

Tom’s lecture will explore scientific means of investigating human remains to better understand their diet, culture and society.

Tuesday 17th of July: The Excavation of Bamburgh Castle: an end of season overview by Graeme Young

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Grave cuts been photographed by one of the past directors, Phil Wood, in the Bowl Hole cemetery

Bamburgh Castle Trench-Side Activities

The BRP will also be running daily trench side activities Saturday-Thursday every week until July 18th. These will take place 11 – 1 p.m. and again from 2 – 4 p.m.

If you are visiting Bamburgh Castle please visit us in the West Ward where you can see the excavation underway and undertake hands-on artefact activities. These will run on the trench side and in our bell tent. Activities include finds washing, sorting and illustration, handling and working with pottery or bone and displays of significant finds from the site.

Note: not all activities will run everyday and as these are undertaken outside it maybe necessary to cancel due to bad weather.

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If you have any questions please contact: graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

 

Meet the Staff!

Meet our team for the 2018 season!

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Name:  Texanna Day

Where are you from?:  Austin, TX, USA

What is your role at the BRP?:  Finds Assistant

What do you do when you aren’t at Bamburgh?:  I spend most of my time doing volunteer work throughout Austin and I practice aerial dance when I’m not doing that. I also make a mad lemon-zucchini bread.

 

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Name:  Tom Fox

Where are you from?:  Kingston-Upon-Hull, UK

What is your role at the BRP?:  Post-Excavation Supervisor

What do you do when you aren’t at Bamburgh?:  I’ve been working in commercial archaeology for the past eight months in Leicester and I’m going to the University of York in the fall to do an MSc in Bioarchaeology focusing on Bioisotopes and Zooarchaeology. For fun, I practice archery and shoot a long bow.

 

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Name:  Julie Polcrack

Where are you from?:  Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

What is your role at the BRP?:  Public Outreach Officer

What do you do when you aren’t at Bamburgh?:  Last August, I got my MA in Medieval Studies from Western Michigan University. Currently, I work as an interpreter at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. I also make some mean scones.

 

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Name:  Kelly Tapager

Where are you from?:  Huntsburg, Ohio, USA

What is your role at the BRP?:  Trench 3 Assistant Supervisor

What do you do when you aren’t at Bamburgh?:  I just graduated with my BA in Archaeology at Boston University. In the fall, I will be going to the University of York for my MSc in Bioarchaeology with a concentration in Human Osteology. In my free time, I do theatre for fun.

 

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Name:  Alice Wolff

Where are you from?:  Mountain View, CA, USA

What is your role at the BRP?:  Paleo-environmental Assistant

What do you do when you aren’t at Bamburgh?:  Last August I received my MPhil in Archaeology from the University of Cambridge and am starting my PhD in Medieval Studies at Cornell University in the fall. I also make excellent cappuccinos!