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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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.

 

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

 

2018 Funding Success with the Society of Antiquaries of London

The Bamburgh Research Project are pleased to announce that the Society of Antiquaries of London have kindly awarded us £4700 to undertake continuing post-excavation analysis of the material recovered within the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle.

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The project ‘Forging Castle Space’, will focus on the metalwork recovered from early medieval contexts in Trench 3. The funding will allow us to assess and plan the conservation of 7,200 fragments of early medieval metalwork, spanning the 8th-11th centuries, plus conserve a 25% sample of all styca coins recovered.

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The Bamburgh Bird. One of the many early medieval artefacts recovered from Trench 3.

Upon completion of the project the metalwork will be better understood in terms of its function, origin and date, plus its purpose for deposition within an associated building, likely used for working metal (You can read more about the building here: Castling, J. and Young, G. L. 2011. A 9th Century Industrial Area at Bamburgh Castle, Medieval Archaeology, Vol. 55, 311-317). This data will allow us to better understand the function of the building, its associated area and the broader 8th-11th century horizon in this area of the castle. The data generated will also inform ongoing excavation and aid us in our attempt to contextualise earlier excavations (1959–74) for which we only have a partial archive surviving.

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9th-10th century ‘metalworking’ building

The long-term goal is to establish the character and significance of early medieval activity, as this was pivotal in creating the spatial and material precedent upon which the post-Conquest castle complex developed.

We have already made great strides towards understanding this period in the West Ward, as we have recently completed the post-excavation analysis of Trench 8, which sits immediately adjacent to Trench 3. Funding from the Royal Archaeological Institute has enabled us to determine a stratigraphic sequence from the modern to the Roman period using the artefacts recovered and C14 dates to identify and date contexts. You can learn more about this project here: Trench 8 RAI Grant.

If you would like to join us this season to help us undertake the excavation of this fascinating site or work more specifically with our post-ex team (artefacts and environmental material) please visit our website for more information: http://www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

 

 

 

The archaeology Field School is filling up

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We are very happy to say that although booking has only been open for a few weeks, we are already more than 50% booked. There is still plenty of space left but some weeks are beginning to look quite full, so if you are thinking of joining us this summer then do drop us a line soon if you are not flexible in the weeks that you can join us.

This summer the excavation runs from June 17th – July 20th.  We will be excavating in the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle on early medieval layers and we are offering two programmes:

Excavation and Post-Excavation and

Post-Excavation only

book anywhere from one to five weeks. However, we recommend booking two weeks minimum for a well rounded experience. Our dates are listed below:

  • Week 1: June 17th- June 23rd
  • Week 2: June 24th- June 30th
  • Week 3: July 1st- July 7th (waiting list only)
  • Week 4: July 8th- July 14th (waiting list only)
  • Week 5: July 15th- July 20th (waiting list only)

Tuition is £275 per week, which will cover all on-site excavation and post-excavation activities. You can learn more about what this covers by visiting our website.

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Accommodation must be booked separately. There are many options for accommodation in the area to suit every budget and we are happy to offer suggestions. However, we do encourage all participants to stay in close proximity to BRP staff, as this allows staff and students the opportunity to get to know one another in a social setting and there are friendly faces around should you need a helping hand. This year our staff will be staying at Budle Bay Campsite

Note: There have been several changes to the field school such as our training schedule and when you are expected to arrive. Even if you have booked in years past we encourage you to read-through the updated website pages.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Medieval and Anglo-Saxon Metalworking at Bamburgh Castle: the results of the Trench 8 assessment and conservation

As part of the BRP’s ongoing post-excavation analysis of Trench 8 in the West Ward of the Castle (click here for a full description of the research project funded by the Royal Archaeological Institute) a collection of 165 metal objects were sent for x-ray and assessment. Of these, the copper alloy and lead objects were found to be in good condition but the iron objects were poorly preserved with significant surface loss on some.

Of the metal artefacts recovered, 19 were recommended for conservation. Funding was provided by Bamburgh Castle to undertake the conservation where the artefacts were appropriately cleaned and stabilised. These have now been returned to the Castle in the hope that some will go on long-term display within the Castle’s archaeology museum and the rest will be carefully stored for future research.

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Trench 8 under excavation in 2008

The 165 objects ranged in date from 7th century – 1970’s. The majority of the collection is made up of medieval iron nails (85) with various other objects, including horseshoes, a key, bolts and a buckle also dating to this period.

The Early Medieval period is also well represented within this collection. This is not unexpected as Trench 8 lies in close proximity to the 9th-10th century metalworking building located in Trench 3, where a large styca hoard and other examples of Anglo-Saxon metalwork have been discovered (for more info see Castling, J. and Young, G. 2011, A 9th Century Industrial Area at Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, Medieval Archaeology, Medieval Britain and Ireland, Vol. 55, 311-317). Earlier excavations undertaken by Dr Brian Hope-Taylor (see link above) also recovered the famous Bamburgh Sword (click here to watch a lecture about the Bamburgh sword) and axe head in this area. The Anglo-Saxon material recovered from Trench 8 included a possible clench-bolt, which are often associated with boat building, wagon and building construction, a pair of shears indicative of sewing or personal grooming, a copper alloy strap end with parallels from the Anglo-Saxon port of Hamwic and three copper alloy styca coins.

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Shears before and after conservation

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Early Medieval copper alloy strap end

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Styca coin

There are 23 fragments of lead off cuts, which suggests lead was being worked in the vicinity.

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Selection of lead off cuts recovered from Trench 8

Notably, evidence of Brian Hope-Taylors earlier excavations undertaken in the 1960’s and early 1970’s is seen in the metalwork with a 1974 penny – the last year of the earlier excavations, aluminium foil and modern nails all being recovered by the 2006 BRP excavation team.

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1974 penny recovered during the 2006 dig season

The team also found in-situ finds tags from Hope-Taylor’s excavation, which have helped us understand some of the surviving paperwork and find spots of key small finds from his excavation.

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One of Hope-Taylor’s small find tags

There are numerous other objects that will require further research to date and identify parallels. These include a iron blade, hooked tag and socketed arrowhead, plus a probable copper alloy weight for a fishing net.

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Iron blade with tang before and after conservation

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Socketed arrowhead

There is still further research to be undertaken on the metalwork assemblage from Trench 8 but the initial results suggest the site was particularly active from the 8/9th century through to the 14th century. The information will be combined with that provided from the other material assemblages, such as the pottery, glass and lithic, to build a picture of life in the West Ward. This in turn will be used to support the data gathered from the larger BRP Trench 1 and Trench 3 excavations, and contextualise the unpublished and partial record from the Hope-Taylor excavations – one of the BRP’s primary research objectives within the Castle.

Future blog posts will look at some of the other material assemblages and report on the radiocarbon dates that will help provide clues toward the dating of various complex features observed in Trench 8.

Excavation Season 2018

We are running a little later than usual in announcing details about our summer excavation, but plans are in hand and we aim to make some more detailed announcements this month.

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Trench 3 with the new strucctural surface exposed in the narrow trench. Looking forward to seeing more of this in 2018!

Excavation at Bamburgh Castle will be five weeks this summer, as it was last year. Given that excavation within Trench 1 was completed last season, this year we will only be excavating in Trench 3. Our aim will be to expose an 8th century structural surface within the trench, but we are also seeking to move our post-excavation forward as well. It will be slightly smaller team than usual so probably best to book early, if you are able, once the website is updated. In the mean time if you want to be added to an email list to be contacted as soon as the details are finalised then do get in touch graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk