End of Season Blog – Trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims

Whilst part of the season was slowed down by heavy rain, we still managed to get a lot of exciting work done in Trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims this year. We started the season by extending the trench 3m on the south-east-side and 5m on the north-west side with the help of a JCB and its lovely driver, Martin. The main reasons behind this were to find the extent of our large early Bronze Age burnt mound, and to identify any associated archaeology lying on the periphery of the mound itself. Almost as soon as we stopped excavating with the machine we found a large rim sherd of mid-Bronze Age cord-impressed pottery in the northern extension of the trench. When this area was cleaned further, more sherds of the same pot were found and we were able to fit the pieces together, giving us an idea of its original shape and size (see earlier blog post for more details here). Also identified upon the opening of the northern extension were the articulated remains of a sheep sitting within a sub-circular but poorly defined pit. The skeleton was investigated by the BRP’s resident bone expert Tom Fox and was then excavated by staff and students together. Due to its position cutting through a system of alluvial silts covering the burnt mound, it is relatively modern, but still provided our students with the opportunity to excavate articulated remains, which is a bit of a rarity at the Bradford Kaims.

 

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Bone expert Tom Fox cleaning up the post-Medieval sheep in Trench 6.

In the centre of Trench 6, our investigation was focussed on a complex sequence of post holes and pits just north-east of our wooden trough, which make up a variety of structures and associated burnt features which interface directly with several burnt mound deposits. A large oblong ‘fire pit’ which was discovered last year was half-sectioned by students, and turned out to be much more confusing than originally thought! What we thought would take a few days to bottom and sample turned into weeks of work and recording, due to the many cuts and recuts found in the feature, alongside heavy rain in the middle of our season. On completing our half-section however, we have been able to work out the sequence as being the repeated cutting and filling of a long rectilinear pit cut into the natural clays at the base of Trench 6. The fills were a sequence of charcoal rich deposits thought to represent in situ firing events, sealed by lenses of natural clay that was partially fired. These deposits were later cut by two small pits and a post hole to further complicate the sequence. Our working hypothesis is that this feature represents a ‘fire pit’ or ‘earth oven’, where a fire was laid, stones heated, and then was filled with food and sealed with clay and vegetation in order to trap heat and allow an oven-like cooking system to form. At the end of the season we took four micromorphological samples to test this hypothesis, so will report on these in the off season once they have been analysed by a specialist.

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The half-section of the ‘fire pit’ in Trench 6 being excavated by students Tom and Lianne, with Fionnuala, and Courtney excavating the beam-slot beyond this.

The line of post holes running south-east to north-west in centre of the trench was cut short by the edge of the trench, so another positive that came out of the northern extension was the ability to investigate this possible structure further. This has also proven to be a complicated sequence, with recuts of various features suggesting that there are at least two structures on site. While we have yet to finalise the nature of these structures, it appears that we have an earlier A-frame structure built onto a levelling dump over the ‘fire pit’, and then a later reuse of one side of this structure with the addition of a beam slot, which may have covered the trough in the centre of the trench.

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Students Oda and Erin recording the half-section of the ‘fire pit’ in Trench 6, with Fiona and Sofi excavating post-holes beyond them, and even further, Project Manager Rachel Brewer and Assistant Supervisor Katie Walker lifting our Bronze Age pot.

Even though our plan had been to permanently close Trench 6 and completely backfill it this season, we have left the central area near the wooden trough open to allow us to return next year and investigate this particular feature, and its relationship with the structures in the wider trench, further. It has been a fantastic and exciting season in Trench 6 this year, and we would like to thank all of the students and community volunteers who have been extraordinarily helpful to us. Thank you, and we hope to see you next year!

Rachel Moss – Trench 6 Supervisor and University of Edinburgh, and Katie Walker – Trench 6 Assistant Supervisor and University of Edinburgh.

End of the Season at the Bradford Kaims Trench 42

The focus of our excavations on the south-side the Bradford Kaims in the 2017 season have been our investigations of Trench 42, located on the promontory of glacial sediments which juts out into the fenland. Trench 42 was first opened in 2012 and again 2016, during last year’s very wet season. It is sited on higher ground and provided us with an opportunity to continue excavating when the rest of the site was flooded.

Previous excavations uncovered an extensive but relatively thin burnt mound deposit (4203), which has been provisionally dated to the Early Bronze Age. The surface beneath the burnt mound (4217) was cut by numerous negative features, notably a large roughly rectangular cut, filled with burnt material. This cut feature [4214] is headed at one end by a rectangular limestone slab that has had a hole drilled through the middle and is associated with four post-holes, located at each corner of the feature. The working hypothesis is that this cut feature was a firing pit, although its exact function remains unknown. Our excavations on the south-side for this season centred around this possible fire pit.

The first week of excavation was spent re-opening Trench 42 to reveal the fire pit, and to help with this the trench was subsequently extended five meters to the north-west, with the intention of revealing any features associated with the pit. After the turf was removed we immediately came down onto the remainder of the large burnt mound deposit (4203) that overlies [4214], which extended across the entirety of the extension.

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Students and volunteers extending T42 and exposing the blackened Bronze Age burnt mound deposits (4203).

The extension was cleaned, photographed, and planned to record the extent of the burnt mound. We then removed and sampled the burnt mound deposit for radiocarbon dating and plant macrofossil identification, which will hopefully provide secure dating evidence for the activity in this area of the Bradford Kaims site, and shed light upon fuel-use strategies associated with the burnt mound.

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Students removing the burnt mound material in a sampling grid, exposing the subsoils beneath it. The fire-pit can be seen as the upright stone to the extreme right of the image.

At the end of week three we extended the trench by another 3m towards the south-east where no burnt mound underlay the topsoil. Upon doing this, we came straight down to a sand based prehistoric land surface (4217), into which the burning pit had been cut and, and extended across the entirety of Trench 42. On top of this context we found various pieces of worked and unworked flint. Notably, this included a beautiful triangularly shaped weapon head (which has been described in a previous blog).

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EnterStudents and staff extending T42 to the south-east in poor weather, showing the consolidated fire pit in the centre of the image, cut into the (wet!) sand-based prehistoric land surface. a caption

In the following cleaning of the trench we identified multiple negative features that may be connected to the fire pit and the wider use of the area. Among them are at least three possible post holes which seem to form a right angle near the northern corner of the fire pit and could be part of a built structure. Further investigations were interrupted by the end of the season so we have not yet been able to finalise our full interpretations. For now, the site is interpreted as a complex series of burnt mound deposits focussed around a large fire pit, with a previous structure present in the area, all sitting upon a post-glacial land surface which has been a site for multiple episodes of flint working and use. We hope to come back in future and get another chance to discover the wider function of the area, and to provide a more holistic picture of the prehistoric activity that once occurred on the promontory at the Bradford Kaims.

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Volunteers Barbara and Trina excavating a slot (in better weather) through the basal burnt mound deposits onto the prehistoric land surface, encountering numerous cut features.

In addition to this excavation, a geophysical survey and an archaeomagnetic dating study were conducted in the area of the promontory. The results of the geophysical survey seemed to point out some areas of interest. Time permitting, only one of these was test-pitted during the final weeks of the season and turned out sadly to be the cut of a Victorian drain pipe. However, this survey also showed the extent of the burnt mound exposed in Trench 42 as a spread reaching 20m in diameter, as well as identifying numerous smaller anomalies believed to be more burnt mound deposits and other features in the area. When we return to Trench 42, we will also be investigating some of these features, and will keep you posted on our blog!

Charlie Kerwin, Trench Supervisor and University of Nottingham, and Franzi Leja, Assistant Supervisor and University of Bamberg.

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.

Geoarchaeology at the Bradford Kaims

Becky Scott – Assistant Supervisor (Geoarcheology) and PhD Candidate, University of Reading

Following on from our blog post about the geophysical survey carried out at the Kaims this year, we have been busy ‘ground-truthing’ the anomalies seen just to the North of Trench 6 – that is, identifying whether the magnetic anomalies seen on the survey are archaeological features or not. Of course, like most endeavors, we have had varying degrees of success! The first few test pits that were dug contained nothing but colluvium (sediment that has been deposited downslope, often known as hill or slope wash) even after digging up to a metre. We then decided to take some cores around the area that showed the magnetic anomalies to the North of Trench 6 using the Dutch auger, which is essentially a long pole about 1 metre long with a T-handle and a screw-like head at the bottom which collects and retains sediment. Dutch augers are particularly useful for hard and wet sediments so worked very well through our silty clay colluvium. After taking a number of cores (with the excellent help of our two Young Archaeologists Club competition winners!) we eventually came up with some lovely layers of charcoal and burnt material, so we set to work digging three more test pits. Two of these test pits were more much more successful, particularly Test Pit 75 which showed a charcoal layer almost 30cm thick (see Figure 1 below).

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Figure 1. SE-facing section of TP75 showing three very distinct layers: Top soil, colluvium and a ~30 cm thick charcoal and stone rich layer.

 Test Pits in the wider landscape

As well as ground-truthing the results of the geophysical survey, we have also been collecting samples for geoarchaeological analysis from some larger test pits dug by our new friend, The Big Digger. For those unfamiliar, geoarchaeology is an approach to archaeology which utilises techniques from the earth and environmental sciences to answer archaeological questions. In real life it mostly involves getting really, really muddy and pondering sediment sequences for long periods of time…

The main aim was to take samples from the colluvium in the wider landscape (identified during coring by Dr. Richard Tipping and Coring Supervisor Anna) for radiocarbon and pOSL (portable Optically Stimulated Luminescence) dating and micromorphology (the study of in-situ soils and sediments in thin section) to provide us with a proxy for human activity in the immediate area (see Figure 2 below). Colluvium results from human activity, particularly agriculture, and therefore can tell us about past agricultural processes in the wider landscape as it represents a period of soil erosion due to ploughing, over-grazing, and the removal of trees. Under gravity these sediments are then transported downslope. Sometimes, if geoarchaeologists are lucky, ancient soils will be preserved underneath the colluvium allowing us to infer a period of stability and identify the environmental conditions before the land was cleared. The nature of the colluviation also gives information about what processes caused it to erode, and how high the energy of its erosion was.

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Figure 2. Students Oda and Daniel taking OSL samples in the extended section of T6 with Anna and Becky, and Director Paul also working hard in the background. Samples for pOSL were taken vertically down the sequence from the section by inserting tubes into the face of the section, removing gently and quickly securing with tape to ensure no light entered the samples. They were then labelled with a sample number and an arrow indicating the end that had not been exposed to light, ready for laboratory analysis.

Figure 2. Students Oda and Daniel taking OSL samples in the extended section of T6 with Anna and Becky, and Director Paul also working hard in the background. Samples for pOSL were taken vertically down the sequence from the section by inserting tubes into the face of the section, removing gently and quickly securing with tape to ensure no light entered the samples. They were then labelled with a sample number and an arrow indicating the end that had not been exposed to light, ready for laboratory analysis.

pOSL will hopefully allow us to identify the rates of erosion in the area, with the radiocarbon dates from the peat below effectively acting as an ‘anchor’ to identify when this erosion (and therefore agricultural clearance) began. Once the thin sections are made, micromorphology will allow us to identify the depositional and post-depositional processes occurring at the microscale.

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).

Geomorphological Survey at the Bradford Kaims

 Anna Finneran, Coring Supervisor and PhD Candidate, University of Durham

In 2017 the Kaims coring team has benefitted from many dry days, and persevered through some soaking days. Here’s a quick update on the accomplishments of Dr. Richard Tipping and field school students this season:

The Bradford Kaims branch of the BRP since 2010 has conducted a landscape-scale interdisciplinary investigation of a large fenland associated with our archaeological sites.  Excavations have uncovered multiple burnt mounds, structural remains, and artefacts.  Human activity spans at least the Mesolithic through the Bronze Age.  The features and material culture represent an industrial area.  Conspicuous in its absence, however, is evidence for domestic activity in the landscape. In contrast, palaeoenvironmental reconstructions present a rich aquatic environment, characterised by two large lakes throughout the Holocene and populated with unique flora and fauna, potentially attractive for long-term habitation.  The landscape surveys this season have sought to look beyond the Neolithic and Bronze Age by incorporating geomorphology, geophysics, soil micromorphology, and excavation to describe both the natural landscape and the human activity throughout the Holocene.

The main aim of the 2017 season in terms of this geomorphological mapping was coring and sediment description at locations known to contain or likely to contain layers of colluvial accumulation (or slopewash). Colluvial accumulation would result from episodes of erosion on slopes descending towards the fenland basin. Geomorphological analyses from previous seasons concluded that no natural sediment erosion occurred on steep slopes around the fenland. Any erosion on gentler slopes may then be ascribed to archaeological, and potentially agricultural, activity.

The coring team conducted coring transects across the landscape, inserting a metal tube (or sediment core) into the soils and sediments of the fenland and its surrounds, to chart the different types and depths of material.  We successfully identified layers of colluvium within layers of peat, representing episodes of agricultural destabilisation of the slopes, at numerous points. Following reconnaissance, five locations were selected for a combination of analyses including soil micromorphology and pOSL analysis (see Becky Scott’s blog in a few days for more detail on this!).

Another aim of the geomorphological investigations in 2017 was working in tandem with Graeme Attwood’s magnetometry survey to define buried anomalies. Coring and sediment description preceded excavation of 1 x 1m test pits over the most promising anomalies. The anomalies to the NW of Trench 6 proved to be burnt mounds, as hoped. However, the anomalies in the form of two parallel lines between Trenches 11 and 9 were found to be ditches for Victorian age drainage pipes.

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Despite our pipe-related set-backs, one lost (but later retrieved) core, and numerous small injuries and sprains, the coring team successfully completed our aims for this season with positive and encouraging results for the future. Next season we hope to continue to investigate the natural landscape and the human impact upon the environment throughout the Holocene, and hopefully use the analyses of colluvial deposits and the dating material provided by the fenland to gain a more in-depth understanding of how people across the Bronze Age and Iron Age influenced their landscape.

More Bronze Age Pottery!

In a previous blog post, we shared our exciting pottery find from Trench 6 at the Kaims site: a single rim fragment of cord-impressed pottery with a tentative Bronze Age date.  In our 4th week of the season, a further 21 fragments turned up in the same area!  The find included two more rim pieces, four with cord impressions, and 17 undecorated fragments of various sizes from (we believe) the lower portion of the vessel.

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Pottery fragments lying in situ in Trench 6 before excavation

After giving the collection a gentle wash, we were surprised to see that on the surface of several of the fragments are what appear to be small finger nail impressions running in horizontal lines in the fired clay.  They don’t appear to be intentional decoration, so they could be marks left by the vessel’s Bronze-Age creator during the forming process.  If after further analysis our suspicions are confirmed, this would be very exciting for us, because this find will be a rare glimpse of an individual person’s fingerprint on this landscape.

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Pottery fragments after washing

When the new pottery was compared with the original fragment, we found that the three rim pieces fit together, along with the remaining two decorated pieces.  This gives us a much more reliable idea of the possible size of the vessel, which might have had a rim as wide as 45cm.  Right now we think we might have the remnants of a very large bowl or jar.

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The 5 decorated pieces that fit together

One fragment revealed another feature of this vessel: a thin, raised band of clay running along the middle of the vessel, right at the bottom of the criss-cross, cord-impressed band of decoration near the rim.

Due to the poor quality of the clay and low firing temperatures, the vessel would not have successfully held liquid, but could have been used for food storage.

End of an era as Trench 1 at Bamburgh Castle closes (1999 to 2017)

Long long ago (in a different century) we first opened Trench 1 at Bamburgh Castle. It was the Bamburgh Research Project’s first ever trench within the castle as our previous work had been centred on the Bowl Hole burial ground and desk based research. Its end has been predicted for a couple of seasons now, but each year more post-holes and features seemed to weather out and become visible, frustrating our plans to close the trench. This year though we dealt with the last few of those and even further investigated the glacial deposits at the base just to be certain that nothing lay hidden. We have officially closed the trench and it is under semipermeable membranes waiting for backfilling.

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Some Trench 1 staff from present and past were there for the last day. Left to right- Constance Durgeat, Alex Stevens, Marsaili Heatley, Graham Dixon and Graeme Young. Former supervisors not pictured: Graeme Attwood, Neal Lythe, Phil Wood, Matthew Claydon.

Some of the earliest features have been the most difficult to identify and interpret, cut into boulder clay and often having a fill very close to the surrounding natural in both colour and composition. At this lower level the site resembles a moonscape with craters cutting craters. A definite challenge for our continued interpretation during post-excavation.

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We made a list of the senior staff from the trench for a time capsule

There will be many more blogs on the trench in the future as we work to write it up and publish it but today I thought I would post a few early photos as contrast to the trench today. Many thanks to all of the supervisors, assistant supervisors, and hundreds of students who worked in trench one over the years.

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A junior Trench 1 from 2001, a small version of what it became!

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Part way through the high medieval sequence with the consuction cut for the early 20th century wall on the right

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A thanks to the many students who worked hard and recorded diligently over many years

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The last days of the trench with sondages across the boulder clay – just in case!

Geophysical Survey at the Bradford Kaims Uncovers a Possible Prehistoric Settlement

On the 17th and 18th of June, Graeme Attwood*, from Magnitude Surveys came to the Bradford Kaims to conduct a geophysical survey of the landscape surrounding the site. The survey produced some intriguing results which provided exciting information for future excavations of the wider archaeological landscape.

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Graeme Atwood from Magnitude Surveys performing a geophyiscal survey at the Bradford Kaims using a fluxgate gradiometer.

The geophysical survey conducted at the Kaims used a hand-pulled fluxgate gradiometer, a type of magnetometer, which measures magnetism. Magnetic survey is used in archaeology as it can detect magnetic anomalies in the ground, which may indicate the presence of subsurface archaeological features. The magnetic geophysical survey investigated a total area of approximately 2.3 hectares in order to assess the below ground archaeological potential of the Bradford Kaims, conducted as part of our wider investigation of the landscape. Our investigations integrate excavation, field walking, survey and paleoenvironmental coring to evaluate the extent and nature of human exploitation of this wetland environment.

The magnetometer survey was conducted in five areas across the landscape of the Bradford Kaims, both in the wetland areas that are the focus of our current excavations and of the hills surrounding them. The survey produced a number of magnetic anomalies, suggesting that a wide variety of archaeological features are sitting below the surface.

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Map showing the five areas in which geophysical survey was conducted at the Bradford Kaims

The fifth area investigated in the survey covered our excavations on the South-Side of the wetland. The results indicated an archaeological feature which is thought to be another large burnt mound, one of the features found across this site. We are confident of this interpretation as a small portion of the mound has been excavated in previously seasons. Part of our remit is to test the accuracy and scope of the geophysics by excavating the anomalies. This is working extremely well, giving huge scope for future work.

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Results from the fifth area of survey showing magnetic anomaly 5a which has been interpreted as a burnt mound

The most exciting results, however come from the investigations of the wider landscape. The third area of magnetometry survey on Hoppenwood Bank near our area of excavation revealed positive magnetic anomalies with a strong archaeological character. Two large circular features; one measuring 13m in diameter, the other 14.5m in diameter, were identified. These circular features are similar to the magnetic anomalies produced by round houses. This suggests we may have identified a prehistoric, possibly Iron-Age settlement, at the Kaims! Within the large outer ring of what we think may be round houses, a series of smaller sub-circular anomalies were also identified. These features are between 0.75m and 2m in diameter, possibly produced by pits and post-holes which may indicate an internal structure to the large circular features which strengthens are interpretation that these may be roundhouses. The evidence that we may have discovered a settlement becomes more convincing when we consider the series of positive anomalies that have been found across the south-eastern portion of the third area. These anomalies are thought to be produced by the presence of pits and similar cut features, suggesting human activity in this area, strengthening the argument for the presence of a settlement. Settlement activity of this type is very rare in Northumberland and very exciting.

Results from the third area of survey showing the circular magnetic anomalies; 3a and 3b that have been interpreted as possible Iron-Age round houses.

This enthralling discovery has put all of the Kaims team in high spirits and we are planning to excavate the area of the settlement, next season. The geophysical anomalies identified in this survey have opened up the possibility of an exciting future for excavation of the Bradford Kaims!

*Afterword from Paul Gething: Graeme Attwood was a regular at the BRP for almost a decade. He came as a young student, became a staff member and eventually went on to run T1 in the Castle. He left the BRP to do postgrad work in Geophysics. He has returned often to visit and occasionally to do small scale work in Bamburgh and at the Kaims. He recently started his own geophysics company in Bradford, which is thriving. He went far above and beyond what we reasonably expected of him on a furiously hot few days. I have always admired his work ethic, but he surprised me with just how much he can do. It was a great pleasure to welcome Graeme back to the BRP and fantastic to work with him again and I look forward to working with him again in the future. I also look forward to seeing his business go from strength to strength.

Visit to the Heugh Excavation on Lindisfarne

We recently visited the ongoing excavation on Lindisfarne that is being undertaken by the Archaeological Practice as part of the Peregrini Lindisfarne Landscape Project. It’s a fascinating site and should be familiar to some, as it has been the subject of a number of news reports. The team have opened up a series of trenches on the Heugh, which is the long, narrow, dolerite rock promontory above and to the south of the medieval priory site in Lindisfarne Village. The Heugh has long been speculated to have been part of the early medieval monastery founded around 634 during the reign of King Oswald, as a daughter house of Iona. It quickly rose to be a site of great importance and remains famous for its association with Saint Aidan and Saint Cuthbert as well as being the place where the wonderful Lindisfarne Gospels were made.

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The foundations of the potential new church on the Heugh

Here the excavation team have found the almost complete foundation of a stone building, that all current evidence suggests is early medieval in date. Direct dating evidence is scant, but the near complete absence of later medieval and modern pottery from the structure, despite a considerable volume of material being excavated, suggests a time of construction when pottery was not in use. This, together with the absence of mortar bonding and the rather crude-tooled finish to the stones, adds up to a quite compelling argument that they have discovered a building from the early monastery. In addition, the ground plan, with what appear to be a chancel and nave, is very suggestive of a church which greatly adds to the excitement.

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The finish of the stones is mostly quite crude and no mortar bonds them together. It was a substantial structure though with wide foundations made of large blocks.

We know from textual evidence, particularly the writings of Bede, that Aidan’s successor Finan built a timber church that was later covered in lead. We also know from a later text that this church was removed to Norham as a relic when the monastery was partly abandoned in the 9th century. We can be certain then that this structure is not that church, but the site would have likely held several churches during its lifetime. The crude working of the stones, particularly of some sculpted stones that appear to form a trough or bowl, and part of a possible window, are very interesting as they may suggest builders that are beginning to come to terms with a new construction medium- stone instead of wood. As a consequence it is tempting to imagine this building as particularly early, but it is perhaps also possible that it could be later. In the Viking age many monasteries were abandoned, but the continued use of stone in the construction of monuments at Lindisfarne suggests that the site remained important, though the sculpted fragments of the 10th century and later often appear to be cruder and derivative. It is therefore possible that this structure could date from this later time, when the working of stone was not done with the same confidence or competence as the 8th and 9th centuries.

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Bamburgh Castle, Lindisfarne’s near neighbour, just 8.5km over the water!

It is tempting also to see the location on the height of the Heugh as meaning that the building was meant to be seen from a distance. It has a clear sight line to Bamburgh, the great secular palace site, and this may be no coincidence. We have evidence of pre-conquest stone architecture at Bamburgh and it is likely that the use of this medium was intended in both instances to reference Rome. In the case of a monastery, this would be the Catholic Church as the successor of Rome, and at the palace as legitimising rule through being the heirs of the Romans. This is a good lesson in why it’s important to study how a site fits into its wider world in order to properly understand it.