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

Progress with the Bamburgh Castle Trench 8 publication

We always have a quiet period on the blog following the excavation season but although work has slowed we are still busy. The current focus for the Bamburgh Castle excavation is on producing a publication centred on our re-evaluation of Brian Hope-Taylor’s first excavation in the West Ward of the castle that he undertook in 1960. The Bamburgh Research Project emptied the backfill and re-drew the sections in 2006, taking the opportunity to sample excavate two baulks of material that Hope-Taylor had left in place. We have been fortunate to receive some funding support from the Royal Archaeological Institute towards a good part of the specialist analysis costs and to fund some radiocarbon dates. More information about this can be read here on a previous blog post.

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Combining the H-T and BRP small find locations in QGIS using georeferenced to import Hope-Taylor’s section to our section drawing. Fun but not entirely straight forward.

We now have reports on the pottery and glass and reports on the flint and metalwork are close to completion. Graeme Young, one of the BRP Directors, is currently working on illustrations that compare the original Hope-Taylor records with our own. Not as easy a job as you would imagine as one set of records was compiled in feet and inches and the second, forty six years later, in metric. The two records also show the many changes in excavation techniques that have taken place as well. Given that the trench represented some 2000 years of occupation, and produced some amazing finds, it is definitely worth the effort.

Ashington Academy Challenge Week at Bamburgh Castle

Recently Brian Cosgrove and Catrina Clements of Ashington Academy brought three of their pupils, Liam Clark, Ethan Elliot and Ben Hardy up to Bamburgh Castle for Challenge Week. Although we had officially finished the dig the weekend before we were happy to host them and in fact left a little corner of the site open for them to work in.

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Ben Hardy, left and Ethan Elliot, right excvating our troublesome layer

We had a plan to investigate a small block of deposit that might provide clues to help us resolve a problem with Trench 8, our re-evaluation of Brian Hope-Taylor’s Trench 1 from 1960. The deposit was a small triangle of isolated stratigraphy between Trench 8 and Trench 3. it was the continuation into Trench 3 of a confusing layer that we identified when we re-evaluated the Hope-Taylor trench. This layer that produced a limited amount of glazed pottery, now seems to reach down well into the early medieval period (see the section below). It confused us at the time of the re-evaluation in 2006 and now we have excavated much deeper in Trench 3 we have more information and it appears to extend from the 12th to the 9th centuries. As such it spans far too large a period of time for a single phase of activity and must surely represent a series of layers that we are failing to differentiate between. Elswhere in Trench 3 we have clearly different events and structures from this 300 year period. That fact that it is up to 0.4m thick is a further clue that we are missing changes that are simply very hard to see.

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The digitised east facing section of Trench 8 as re-recorded in 2006. Layers 806 and 820 are part of a known series of deep midden deposits that date from the 13th centuy to the 15th century. Directly beneath is the probalematic layer, 825, that extends in section all the way to a series of layers and features that we can now date. Thin layers 828 and 863, along with the large post-hole 835 are all provisionally dated to the 9th century. The cobble feature 827 is likely to be even earlier and 8th century.

Excavation within Trench 3 has also revealed that the stratigraphic layers get deeper to the south and west and that near Trench 8 the accumulation of deposits over time was slower and shallower. As we are currently writing up Trench 8 for publication it would be very useful to be able to demonstrate if this deep deposit really did comprise more than one stratigraphic layer. So we decided that we would excavate a sample of the surviving deposit in three successive units, in a verticla sequence, separating the finds and taking a sub-samples for flotation from each. We hoped that we just might be able to see changes in the finds or identify material we could date from each unit, as a test of our idea.

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Liam Clark helping out with recording

Brian and Catrina and their small team helped to excavate the layer in its units, take the samples and for good measure we processed one on site with them as well. As normal we identified and collected the finds as we dug, sieved all the deposit through a 6mm grid and 3D located the one small find, a piece of lead. We were not able to differentiate layers in plan as we dug them any better than we were in the section. Animal bone was common throughout the three units, but the only pottery sherds came from the upper one. Interesting, but far too limited evidence to form any conclusions yet. We will further analyse the finds and samples over the next few weeks, but may need to date each unit through radiocarbon assay to stand a chance of coming up with solid proof.

The Trench 3 ‘doughnut’ has been lifted

An unusual worked stone that we have been referring to as the ‘doughnut’ has been a familiar feature in the southern part of Trench 3 for the last few seasons at Bamburgh Castle. It was first revealed in 2011, but it took two further seasons to lower the ground surface around it sufficiently for its unusual form to become apparent.

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The metalworking building roughly outlined by the stones used for its foundations with the top of the ‘doughnut’ just visible 1m outside the west wall, in the lower- left of the photo.

It lay immediately west of the metalworking building and is broadly contemporary with that structure, which would make it middle 9th century AD in date. The wear pattern on the side suggests that the top third of the stone was uncovered above the surface for sufficient time for it to wear and erode more than the base which appears to have been set into the ground. We believe therefore that it was inserted into a cut which we have struggled to see.  The presence of a small number of what are likely packing stones reinforces this interpretation.

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As removed sitting right side up. The unusual form and perforation is visible (scale 0.5m demarked with 10cm units).

The stone is difficult to interpret and has been suggested as a socket for a timber pivot, a socket for a standing cross, which would be exciting but sadly is rather unlikely give its circular shape. It could also to have been set as a soakaway, given that it is perforated all the way through. Now we have lifted it and examined it seems likely that it started life as a mortar as the upper part of the perforation is smooth and the lower crudely cut through. Our best guess is that it was a large mortar re-used as a pivot stone.

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In the side view the more eroded upper third of the stone is seen to the right (scale 0.5m)

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The base of the stone. It is just possible to see tha the last part of the perforations is quite crudely chiselled unlike the upper part which is finished or worn to be relatively smooth. Also just visible are a series of shallow dimples unevenly arranged around the hole (scale 0.5m).