Fresh ABOVE the Trench

Our trenches in the outworks include a lot of extant masonry, and it has been one of the goals of this season to get a better handle on the different phases of construction by looking at architectural choices, stone type, mortar, and the like. In our effort to do that, we really needed an eye in the sky to help us see the alignments, and more noticeably the lack thereof, of the visible masonry.

The cutest lil drone.

Today we had a special treat, as friends of the project David and Annie brought their drone to the site. We had special permission from the Castle team to fly the drone over the outworks, but in general drones are not allowed over the Castle or the Site of Special Scientific Interest (due to biodiversity) that abuts the Castle. Do NOT bring your drone to the Castle, please and thank you.

A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) whose use can be recreational, commercial, or military. Over the last few decades, we’ve seen an increase in the use of aerial photography via drone in archaeology. Forward-thinking archaeological teams have been using imagery taken at height to search for, record, and monitor archaeological sites for nearly a century. Aerial archaeology in the UK can be traced back to RAF intelligence-gathering and the enduring legacy of O.G.S. Crawford, who pioneered aerial archaeology methodologies starting with the Stonehenge landscape and founded the journal Antiquity. We last had aerial photography taken all the way back in 2013, and here’s an image of us (Constance, Lauren, and Graeme are somewhere in there) caught by the camera nearly a decade ago:

Drone technology has certainly streamlined since then. Getting the photo above was a very involved process, requiring specialised computer equipment to translate the signal onto a teeny, tiny monitor that the supervisors crowded around. This time around? A small four-rotor box (a “quadcopter”), a controller that looked like it came from a video game console, and an iPad. It was a mind-blowingly simple set-up, but years of aviation, video, and wireless technological innovation were needed to bring us to this moment.

Here is a sneak peek of some of the images we captured today:

Trench 5b from above.
Trench 5d with the postern gate in the bottom left corner.

A Prince, An Octocopter, and Many Hands: Wrapping up with “This Week in Photos”

So we’ve finished wrapping up the 2012 season. In order to commemorate the final push, I thought we might have our second ever BRP “This Week in Photos”.

Graeme and Gerry with HRH Prince Charles on the beach below Bamburgh Castle

It was a rather eventful week, with a Tuesday visit from HRH Prince Charles to Bamburgh Village, a spectacular introduction to archaeological aerial photography from an octocopter on Wednesday, and the closing down of the trenches at both the Bradford Kaims and the castle from Thurday to Saturday.

Frantically cleaning Trench 3

Everyone lending a hand

On Thursday, students and staff alike got down on hands and knees (literally) to clean the trenches for our visit from our A.P. Horizons Friends, Paddy and Jack.

A.P. Horizons Boys Paddy and Jack

Even Finds Supervisor Kirstie was (forcibly) lured out of the windmill to make sure Trench 3 was spic-and-span for the octocopter’s aerial photographs.

All our ducks in a row… cleaning S to N in T3. Admire the clean lines in the rather dry trench

While I’m reluctant to admit it, in case I jinx it, the beautiful weather we’ve been having the past week has made the task infinitely more difficult.

Bone dry soil in T1 making cleaning difficult

A view of the E trench wall in T1 (now stone-walled) and the bone-dry soil










T1 in particular was complaining of bone-dry soil, making it both near impossible to clean properly, as well as very difficult to differentiate between contexts. The students were able to take some final levels and complete the end-of-season trench plan.

Planning Trench 1 is a group effort

Taking a few final levels before tarping over Trench 1

Matthew and Amin taking levels at T1











Despite the complaints, both Trenches were clean by the time Paddy and Jack showed up at 5 pm with the illustrious octocopter. As they set up near Trench 1, we all gathered on the castle walls to observe the show.

A view of T1 and the octocopter from the windmill walls

Watching from the wall

I don’t think I’ve seen us all so united in our excitement this entire season. If only we’d had popcorn…

Supervisor Alex and Directors Graeme and Gerry gather round … to get a real-time birds-eye-view of the trenches

After a tour over T1, the boys set up at T3 to repeat the process.  They finished up the evening with a flyover above Bamburgh Castle. I can’t wait to see the shots.

Jack piloting the octocopter

Approaching T3









Friday was the last full day of work at the castle for most of us. Trench 1 was tarped and stone-walled along the E section wall. Trench 3 finished planning the SE corner and tarped over it.

Taking down the N quadrant in the NW corner of T3

While some students continued to excavate the N and S quadrants of the NW corner, others worked on planning the NE section of T3. Supervisors from both T3 and T1 frantically worked on closing contexts and writing up context sheets and end-of-year summary reports.

Short-term T1 Ass-Sup Constance drawing up a final plan of T1

Finds Supervisors Jeff and Kirstie finished box-indexing and cataloguing the day’s finds.

Kirstie and Jeff sorting finds

Once lost finds, re-discovered in a cleaning of the Keep

And only with the wonderful and much needed help of some of the BRP students did I survive the day and manage to accomplish most of what I set out to do for environmental.*

Nat flotting 2010 and 2012 Kaims samples

* A special shout out to Sarah, Liam, Natalie, and Americ who helped sort samples, record heavy discard, clean out the flot tank, and any number of other enviro things I asked them to do. Without their help, my role as environmental supervisor might have finally turned me “mental”. Thanks, guys!

A somewhat-sane me, taking a brief pause from the environmental to peek at T1 and listen in on Lauren’s trench tours

We were all hard-pressed to find a spare moment even for tea between taking down the mess tent, washing dishes and duckboards, and doing post-excavation odds-and-ends. Full-season BRP-er Lauren did manage to squeeze in a final tour of the trenches for the public, however.

Lauren engrosses the public in tales of T1 and the adventures of it’s archaeologists

I tagged along for the first time this year and was surprised and delighted to learn things about the start of the project, Brian Hope Taylor’s hoard of records and finds, and the caslte’s dynamic history that I never knew. Lauren’s interest and wealth of knowledge provided an exciting glimpse into the archaeology of Bamburgh Castle, that even I, a long-time BRP-er enjoyed immensely. Thanks Lauren!

Loyal BRP-ers ensure “The Moose” is preserved for posterity

A very warm shout-out to all this season’s staff, volunteers, and students! We couldn’t have accomplished as much as we did without all your hard work and enthusiasm. So, thank you!

The sun sets over the BRP

Finally, while the trenches have been tarped over or back-filled and the windmill locked up, the archaeology continues (albeit in a somewhat more limited form). We’ve got more posts to come in the following weeks and months. Closing up the Kaims. BRP Bloopers. Bamburgh Beast Body Art. Publications. How-to Archaeology. And so much more.

So, don’t disappear, blog-followers. You might miss something interesting. 😉

“Finds Flash!” … and an octocopter!

Our apologies for a short post today. We have a number of blog ideas on the docket, but end-of-season tasks are limiting the amount of time we can spend writing and configuring photos for the blog. 

However, in order to leave you with something to tide you over for the day, Kirstie, our Finds Supervisor, suggested we post a few photos of two of our nicer “shiny” finds from yesterday’s cleaning of Trench 3.

Carved bone comb handle

Carved bone bead (note the small etchings on the side)

And here are a few photos from yesterday’s exciting venture with the octocopter. More to come on this.


Have a great evening everyone!

Trench One, signing off.

Trench 1 Dictators (pardon me… supervisors) Alex and Jess

Good god, it’s almost at the end of another season in T1. This year has been one of the most challenging I can remember, with the weather not only making the archaeology more difficult, but also turning the campsite into a swamp!I think it’s fair to say that I had hoped to get more done this year than we actually did. BUT (and it’s a but that justifies its capital letters), the work we did manage to do has been pretty important, and answers a number of questions we had about the trench (I think we’ll skip the questions it’s raised for now!).

Constance supervising work in T1

From the beginning of the season, our main objective has been to better understand the timber and stone buildings in the trench, how they interact with other and the rest of the trench. In this respect, I think we’ve succeeded, despite the now notorious ability of T1 to throw in anomalous features at every possible opportunity.

Contemplating the confusing archaeology of Trench 1

For example, to determine which of our main buildings came first, stone or timber, we wanted to excavate in the NE corner of the trench where the two intersect, to see which building was cutting the other. However, after the first trench clean of the season, it became clear that there was a large pit, cut straight through this relationship.Grrrr.

Amy excavating the unfortunately placed pit

Thankfully, there was enough of the two buildings left in the pit edges for us to pretty much say for sure that the timber building comes first.

We’ve also just finished excavating the slot for the SE wall of the timber building. At least until it’s cut by another feature. Which is also cutting the rubble foundations for another building. Of course.

Supervisor Alex and students excavating the slot for the SE wall of the timber building

With the end of the season fast approaching, our work will be focused on the excavation of a sondage along the whole eastern edge of the trench, allowing us to construct a drystone wall to keep the section intact over the winter.

Liam cleaning along the east wall of the trench.

Sue cleaning the ditch(1316) in the middle of T1. (Note the partial stone wall in the background, which we aim to continue)

Finally, a whole trench plan and, weather permitting, an aerial trench photograph from our friends at Horizon AP.

And that’ll  be us done for another season. We’ve had a great bunch of students, some fascinating archaeology and a family of kestrels now calls T1 home. It’s been a good year, let’s face it.  A massive thank you to T1 Ass-sup Jess for doing an amazing job this year, and as always to the students who make T1 the people’s republic that it is.

Trench 1 Uniform. T-shirts are for sale.

All Hail Trench One!

Coring, Volunteers and Wooler First School

Over the weekend the Bradford Kaims Wetland Heritage Research Project was in full swing coring at the site, plus local volunteers and Wooler First School helped out with some post-ex finds washing.

We also have more volunteering opportunities, so read on to find out.

Graeme’s Report

Last Friday we were back on the Hoppenwood bank site at the Bradford Kaims, having had something of a rain induced break in our programme, to do some more coring with Richard Tipping (To see the previous outing with Richard click here) . This time we were investigating the peat deposits immediately to the west of our ‘hearth’ site. We had been doing a little coring of our own, in Richard’s absence, in this area and had identified a thin marl layer within the peat, in some of the cores that appeared to slope!

The sloping marl layer found in the core

By putting in a new transect of cores with Richard, from the trench edge outwards, we have mapped the subsurface contours of the ground surface as it existed before the lake deposits and peat layers developed. In doing this we profiled the sloping edge of the lake as it shelved down beneath the peat. What came as a surprise was that we soon picked up the rise of the opposite bank, well before we reached the Winlaw Burn, only a few tens of metres away. This shows us that the lake areas to the south drain northwards through a very narrow channel that passes right by the ‘hearth’, before quickly opening out again to the north. It is hard not to see the positioning of our unusual site being in no small part driven by this topographic feature.

The channel as suggested by the coring

This is a very intriguing new discovery, the full implications of which will take time to properly understand.  Looking at the first edition Ordnance Survey map it is clear that the Winlaw Burn has been canalised and back in the mid-19th century meandered a little further to the west. This raises that possibility that there could be more than one channel to the stream, though whether they were ever contemporary we do not yet know.

Later that day we also ran a small workshop in Bamburgh village pavilion, having invited anyone interested in the community to come along and help out. We did some finds washing, starting the process of cleaning the finds recovered during our field walking late last year.

Local volunteers working their way through the field-walking finds

On Tuesday we were at Wooler First School to do a brief introduction to our work and to introduce the children to the joys of washing more of the field walking finds. This proved to be hugely popular, in fact even the quite large quantity of finds that we had brought along only just managed to keep them busy till lunch. The children are coming out to see the site in June. Let’s hope they enjoy that just as much.

Volunteering – Gerry updates us on the field work opportunities for May.

The next fieldworking days will be Thursday 10th May.  Richard Tippingwill also be out again with us on May 17th to 20th along withGSB’s Graeme Atwood who will be doing some geophysics on the Saturday and Sunday. We are also planning to be on site on Wednesday 23rd May.

Please come along if you can, dressed for weather, and wellies are recommended. As usual no experience is necessary, and it should be fun as we will be digging. If you would like to volunteer please send an email to Graeme Young at or call him on 07711187651 as we will be limited to around 20 volunteer places per day.  We very much hope to see you there!

Getting There
The site is located at Hoppen Hall Farm – to get there you will need to take the B1341 between the A1 and Bamburgh.
Heading towards Bamburgh, you pass over the main rail line level crossing just past Lucker, then take the first right hand turn along a rough track heading up hill towards Hoppen Hall farm and cottages. The site is accessible only by prior arrangement, and there are holiday lets near the area we will be parking as well as the main farm house so we ask that all participants show due care and respect the privacy of the residents and guests. We will park and gather together by the main farm buildings, then walk through the fields for around ten minutes to access the wetland site.
Video Editing 
I’m hoping some of you will take an interest in doing some video editing of the footage we’ve been taking of the site. It’s a good way to re-familiarise yourself with the progress so far and help me decide what to put in the video reports. If anyone is interested please email me as I don’t think this is something everybody will want to do, but you’re more than welcome!

Bamburgh Village: Part 3

A little while back Project Director, Graeme Young, began a blog thread about Bamburgh Village. In this post we pick up where he left off. To see the earlier posts click here and here.

Today Graeme brings us into the post-conquest period exploring the remnants of the medieval village including the leper hospital and the Dominican Friary.

Bamburgh  Village and the Church in the late medieval.

In the last blog entry I was looking at the evidence we have from the Anglo-Saxon period. This amounts, pretty much exclusively, to evidence for the foundation and early history of St Aidan’s church, as we have so little information regarding the secular settlement that must have surrounded the church. Sadly, at the moment, the best we can add archaeologically is apparent evidence of absence in the form of the geophysical surveys undertaken around the village (To see the report for this click here). These have revealed a series of enclosures and features in the fields to the south, west and to some extent also immediately west of the church. None of these anomalies are reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon settlements seen elsewhere in the region, such as at Yeavering (Aerial photography, excavation and geophysics) Milfield and Sprouston (both known from Aerial photography). This suggests that we are looking at activity of a different period, in the main I suspect prehistoric and some later medieval activity being represented. It is dangerous to read too much into an absence of evidence but in this instance, and given the close proximity the Anglo-Saxon settlement is likely to have had to the village, it is very likely that the Anglo-Saxon settlement lies hidden beneath the present village.

Bamburgh Village

At the end of the last article on the village we had reached the slightly better documented Norman era and found St Aidan’s Church in the hands of an ‘Algar’ the priest. Aelred of Rievaulx, our source for Algar also noted that there was a tradition of a monastic community at Bamburgh from the late Northumbrian period. When we look at the early maps of the village there is a clear, and rather large, sub-rectangular enclosure attached to and extending from the south and west sides of the church yard marked out in field boundaries and walls. It is quite big enough to contain West House, Radcliffe House and perhaps tellingly the Glebe. A glebe is an area of land within a manor allocated to the support of a priest. So could we be looking at the lands owned by Algar, perhaps even the preserved outline of an early monastic enclosure?

We are on less speculative ground with records that note the granting of ownership of the church properties at Bamburgh to Nostell Priory in 1121. The grant included the church within the castle, but it took them some tome to take possession as they could not occupy the site until the death of Algar, who lived till 1171. Although Nostell lay in Yorkshire, some considerable distance from Bamburgh, the priory was associated with St Oswald and seems to have acquired the grant through their connections at the royal court.

A leper hospital lay on the edge of the civil settlement, located in an enclosure to the south of the triangular village green. The 3rd Edition Ordnance Survey map depicts the hospital enclosure and also marks the site of the leper’s well. A grass grown hollow-way can be seen extending from the wooded ridge, south of the castle, back towards the hospital site, its western line marked by a series of boundary plots. This hollow-way almost certainly represents one of the borough of Bamburgh’s principle  medieval streets, Spitalgate, named after the hospital site. The hospital was dedicated to St Mary Magdalene and was in existence by the year 1256. It contained a hall, pantry, kitchen and other chambers enclosed within its bounds, according to an inquiry of 1376. Part of its lands seem to have derived from the extensive holding of the Nostell community in the village.

The third ecclesiastical centre was a Dominican Friary, founded in 1265. The friary lay on the western edge of the borough, and gives us our best evidence for the extent of the urban spread of Bamburgh in the 13th century. The Dominicans liked to mix with the world and were attracted to major towns and settlement. They had centres in both Berwick and Newcastle, so their presence at Bamburgh is an indicator of the importance of the borough prior to the Scottish Wars. A few fragments of the friary buildings still survive, mixed in to the the housing estate on the south side of Radcliffe Road, just before Friars Farm. Dr Hope-Taylor undertook some limited excavation on the site in the 1960s, recovering three skeletons.

Relationships between the various ecclesiastical establishments in the borough were not always harmonious and on one occasion a quarrel led to a tragic results. The borough had a number of wells, but most had a tendency to dry up during a hot summer. One, said to be located within the boundariy of the hospital, called Maudeleys Well (Magdalene’s Well), was a secure source of water all year around and was as a result widely used by the community. At least until ‘certain friars preachers of Bamburgh, in a fit of passionate spite, killed a cur called Jolyff and threw it secretly into the well with stones around its neck’. A woman of the borough was sufficiently poisoned, to give birth to a dead child. The complaint reached the king, but does not seem to have been resolved quickly as the friars later blocked up the spring, which fed the kings mill, much to the frustration of the wider community.

BRP students and their own projects

Today we take a look at one of our international students, Nicolas Minivielle, who worked with the BRP in 2010. Nicolas came to us from France, as an experienced archaeologist, with the intention of gaining some insight into how British excavation was undertaken.

He is now involved in two projects in the south-east of France. One of which explores silver mining during the 11-14th centuries. The project has identified several stone structures dating to the 11-12th centuries and will be focusing on excavating this probable industrial area. The project runs from June 4th-31st 2012 and they are currently looking for volunteers.

Unidentified Structure

Crushing workshop

The other site that Nicolas is involved with is a medieval mining village in Brandes, south-east France. The village and its associated mines have been extensively explored. The 2012 season will investigate part of the industrial area for processing ore. This project runs from July 16th -August 31st.

Aerial view of the village of Brandes.

Nicolas is keen to foster links with other countries and sees this project as a way for foreign students to build international networks and gain experience of different types of archaeology, plus archaeological techniques and practice. If anyone is interested in this project please follow the link for more information or email Nicolas directly at

Field Work Update for the Bradford Kaims

Project Director, Graeme Young, gives us an update on the recent work undertaken at our Mesolithic/Neolithic site out at Hoppen Hall, near the Bradford Kaims.

In our last few visits to the site at Hoppen Hall near the Bradford Kaims, we have continued the work that has been ongoing for the last couple of years around the ‘hearth’ feature. We are hoping to increase our understanding of this enigmatic feature dated to 4000 to 4500 BC by archaeomagnetic dating. Just what it represents, and how it fits into the wider landscape still alludes us. I hope that through widening the area of excavation and sheer persistence  that this will work wonders. Click here to read an overview of past work at the site

The Aerial photography undertaken by  Horizon has been particularly useful. We always thought that this birds eye perspective would provide us with some great shots for publication, but it is surprising how much this change of perspective helps in seeing the bigger picture and how the individual components fit into a wider story. We know that the site lay close to the edge of a narrow channel, but it is apparent now that even to the south where the channel opens out we have a complicated picture including two separate bays. It must surely in the distant past, when there was still substantial open water, have been a prime area for attracting animals and perhaps for fishing too. Easier to see, therefore, why we have such clear indication of human activity. Albeit activity we are struggling to understand. Click here to see the results of Horizon AP’s most recent work for the project.

Initially we have been cleaning and planning, with the intention of better understanding the stratigraphy (the sequence of layers and features that tell the story of the order of events) so that we can hopefully understand the role that the site played when it was in use. Why for instance is there so much charcoal and burnt material here? Is this material waste material from a process that involved fires set on our burnt stone surface that they overlie. Or is there a substantial distance in time between them, if not a distance in space? We have also uncovered the presence of at least one substantial pit and are perhaps seeing traces of others too. If this is the case we can also ask if we are looking at a structure or further waste disposal.

The extension of the site to the south, cleaned up to show the extent of the burnt material in this direction.

Cleaning back towards the stone feature (seen behind the trowellers) has revealed at least one substantial pit. Planning of the trench extension is under way in the background.

Over the next few weeks we will be pursuing these inquiries and also opening a new trench down into the peat layers, that lie only metres to the west of the burnt stone surface. Hopefully finding evidence of material disposed of in the lake will add to our understanding of the site’s use.

Watch this space for updates.

If you are interested in getting involved with the project Click here for more information

Aerial Photography from the Bradford Kaims

Horizon AP have been back out at Hoppen Hall Farm and the Kaims Wetland site as part of the Bradford Kaims Wetland Heritage Research Project.

Horizon AP have spent time filming the area from an aerial cam. To see the process in action click here.  You can also take a look at the work they have already undertaken by clicking here. The video below comes from their first tester flight.

Link for video

Recent Work

The images below are from the most recent flight above the site and show the wetland topography, the open area excavation of the features dated to 4500-4000 BC and the trenches situation amongst this interesting landscape.

Embleton Bog

View of the target area

Aerial view of the open area trench with the new extension to the left

View of the trench and test pits with Embleton's Bog in the distance. Note the edge of the peat in the trench.

Relationship between archaeological features and the natural topography are made clear in this image.

Investigations at Bamburgh Village

Project Director, Graeme Young, gives us an insight into the little discussed investigation conducted around Bamburgh Village.

Bamburgh Village

It is perhaps no surprise that our blog concentrates on our recent or current excavation projects within the castle, Bowl Hole and Kaims, but we have also undertaken work to investigate Bamburgh Village too.

Our report on the geophysical survey undertaken in 2004, mostly on the south and west sides of the village, is available to download on our website, but we have also undertaken some research using maps, documentary records and shovel pitting within the village itself. Click to take a look at the report

Bamburgh Village

The village interests us because it has been occupied for a long time and has provided services to the fortress, as well as being a settlement and trading emporia important in its own right. The earliest records we have of the village tells us of the presence of a church used by St Aidan, almost certainly the predecessor of today’s St Aidan’s Church. It also tells of a civil settlement demolished by a Midlands king, Penda, who stripped it of timber to build a giant pile of firewood in an effort to burn the timber fortress, which surmounted the castle rock in the 7th century.

St Aidan's Church

We have very little evidence of this Anglo-Saxon village, which must surely lie somewhere beneath the modern village awaiting discovery, but by the later middle ages we find increasing records of the borough of Bamburgh. These give us a number of street names and the names of many of the townspeople too. The modern village street plan almost certainly preserves some of the medieval streets, but its quite likely that not all will be ancient. One thing is clear, we have more names of medieval streets than we have streets in the modern village, meaning that we have lost some! So, the question is, can we make sense of the medieval records and rebuild a plan of the medieval borough?

I will cover our current state of knowledge over the next few weeks, including Bamburgh’s ecclesiastical sites, which includes the search for the elusive hospital. Just now we will start with a photo that seems to offer us a possible candidate for a lost medieval street.

The photo shows the east end of the hollow-way from the castle. Its the broad linear depression that passes through the gap in the stone wall and off towards the village. You can make out ridge and furrow in the field too. You can also try tracing it on Google Earth as it is quite visible, particularly at its east end.

Extending broadly east to west and lying between the modern car park and the southern side of the village, lies what appears to be a hollow-way, an old and overgrown road. It can be traced on aerial photographs over two fields before being lost in the garden plots of the village. Though its line continues to be respected by garden walls, which suggests that they are respecting quite an ancient boundary. As we will see in future instalments it is just possible we can put a name to this lost street.