As we get close to announcing the details of the new season of projects, its nice to see a positive write up by one of the participants of last year’s excavation. Hilary was present for the full season and seems to have enjoyed her time with us. You can see her article here
This year we will be undertaking the excavation on the outworks in July (three weeks starting 2nd July) and a week of post-excavation work in September (starting 10th September). Keep looking in here for the full details in the next few days!
We are planning two different activities this year – the normal excavation and a new post-excavation week
The Summer excavation season will be 3 weeks in July 2023
We will be continuing our excavation on the outworks at St Oswald’s Gate. The dig will run for three weeks in July 2023, starting Sunday 2nd of July. The aim is to get information up on the website and bookings open very early in the New Year. If anyone wants to be added to the contact list to be notified as soon as the info and bookings go live feel free to email us at email@example.com
We have had two really good seasons on this site already and made some fascinating discoveries – such as the survivng stone arch into what must be the wellroom at the base of the Tower of Elmund’s Well (check out some of the blogs below for reports on the work so far). This year we will finish the site and find out what trace is left of the well itself.
What is the Post-Excavation Taster Week?
In addition to the normal excavation season, we will also be offering a Post-Excavation taster Week which will be an introduction to work on the archive from previous seasons. This includes recording the artefacts recovered, processing the environmental samples taken, digitising the drawings and survey information. This work generates a physical and digital archive, which connects all the pieces of information together. It takes far longer (in most cases) than the actual field work and often takes place in the lab or at the desk.
We are still working out the most appropriate date for this (week starting the week of 8th May is very softly pencilled in at the moment) but as with the excavation, details will follow soon and again you are welcome to ask to be added to the list to be notified (firstname.lastname@example.org) as soon as bookings open.
St Oswald’s Gate is written about as the entrance to the fortress of Bamburgh in the 8th century AD and very likely the route that you made your way up onto the rock plateau since the earliest settlements were constructed in the late Bronze Age. Our current work is investigating this entrance, the access routes up to the entrance and the structures and outworks built to control this access over many generations. If you want to catch up on some of the reposts on the earlier season of work, in September 2021, you can find it here.
In our second season of work on the area of the cottage and tower we continued to remove rubble from within the cottage structure as well as to further investigate the wider outworks.
We knew from both map and plan evidence, and our initial work in removing rubble from the ruins of the cottage, that they extended below the present ground level. We were less certain if this was a case of the ground level being raised considerably by the accumulation of wind blown sand or whether a basement level had been dug into the ground at the time of construction. It may well turn out to be the case that both are somewhat true. The full depth that it may reach, below the current ground level, started to become apparent when we found the top of a stone archway, having already excavated a considerable depth of fill from within the structure. This arch would have led into the small room that we believe contained the well (it is depicted there on a plan of c. 1803).
In a previous report we discussed the entranceway to the cottage and how it was realigned so this time we concentrated on the room that we think contained the well and was almost certainly part of the tower mentioned in the medieval records. This small room almost certainly started out as the medieval tower of Elmund’s Well and was later incorporated into the cottage. At the end of the last season of work we had revealed the top of the third flight of steps down into the building. The first two had been comprised of two short flights of stairs each at right angles to the one before. The third flight turned again through a right-angle to align with the first and extended down from a small landing.
Investigation of the tower and well room
One of the first exciting discoveries of the new season of work was the presence of two splayed lights (open window-like features) in two of the walls. Only the base of the features survived, but their form, rather like arrow loops, strongly suggested that they were medieval features and were our best indication yet that this part of the structure was indeed the part of the building that originated as a medieval tower.
Removal of the rubble was a slow process but eventually this was greatly advanced by two of the castle staff and a small machine excavator being on site for a day. As more and more of the structure emerged it became increasingly obvious that multiple phases were present, showing many different building and alteration events in the history of the structure. The archway had been very well constructed and was a very solid structure standing to a considerable height. The steps that led down to it were built from cruder stone and some had clearly been reused. They were also rather worn suggesting they were of some age as well.
The well room, as perhaps we can now call it, continues to be an odd feature. When originally uncovered it seemed broadly rectangular, with internal dimensions close to 4m north to south and nearly 2m wide east to west. There was, right at the start, the impression that there were few if any right angles at the corners where walls joined and this has been confirmed as we have excavated deeper and exposed more of the walls. The east wall, that was the continuation of the east wall of the outworks was seen to curve inwards at the north end of the room. On the other side, where the arch has now been found, the stone wall that contains the arch also curved in to narrow the room at this north end. This odd shape then appears to be a deliberate feature of the build. Fanciful thoughts that the structure might turn into a D-shaped tower were ended when more of the north wall was exposed, showing it to be without any curve. Variations in the build of the room suggest a structure much altered over the centuries and with many phases to unpick. The lower courses of the east wall (uncovered so far) are butt jointed to the south wall and so not the same building event. A missing stone in the south wall that marks a gap that seems to penetrate right through the wall also suggests this is a deliberate feature. Clearly a lot of work remains next season to properly interpret the history of the building
The outworks are also producing unexpected results
The outworks were also further explored. Last season we looked at a small section of narrow wall, but this proved to be frustratingly difficult to understand so this year we have expanded the areas we excavated to gather a better and wider picture. The new area of excavation was next to the path that extends through the postern towards the village, a narrow gap between what was thought to be the oldest stretch of standing wall and the broad wall containing the postern. This narrow wall contained an archway that is tall and quite narrow that has long intrigued us as possibly quite early in date. Some of the stonework low in this wall certainly seems to be a good match for 11th to 12th century work. This little triangle had been looked at many years before, but this time was dug and explored to as great a depth as we were able. This revealed the foundations of the early, thinner stone wall and showed that the thinner wall ended abruptly, likely cut to allow for the later broad wall to pass across it. This seemed to confirm that the broad wall was, as expected, the later of the two.
This broad wall was also investigated at its east end where it approached the bedrock on which the castle stands. It was expected that it would simply extend to where the rock rises up, but like so much at Bamburgh turned out not to be so simple. It stopped well short of the bedrock and in what appears to be a deliberate gap, that was later in-filled with rubble and earth in a crude wall-like blocking. The wall was well above ground level at this point so it seems an unlikely spot for a second entrance so this feature remains a bit of an enigma to be further investigated.
This same broad wall was further investigated to the west of the cross-wall with the archway and found to be constructed of at least two walls that joined in an unusual overlap. Again confirming the complexity of the outworks and their numerous build phases. The foundations showed it to be a very substantial structure and a discontinuity in its exposed internal face associated with a rubble spread within hinted at the presence of a feature now lost.
Can we fit some of our new discoveries into the historical records?
As the medieval tower that formed the core of the structure had been named after a well it is possible that it had been constructed deliberately to control access to this important resource as well as to dominate the small harbour present beyond the outworks to the west. The tower was already old enough to be in need of repair in 1249-50, which suggests it had stood for some time. We think it is not unreasonable to put its construction back to the 12th century. This entry in the records (The History of the Kings Works, 1976) also describes works and repairs to the adjoining barbican before St Oswald’s Gate. It is possible that the broad wall with its postern gate leading out towards the village could be the result of this building work. Its form and style are at least consistent with work of this age.
If the stone tower did originate in the 12th century then we really would have expected it to be square or rectangular and not the odd non-parallel sided structure that is currently emerging as we empty the rubble from within it. At least its relatively small size is consistent with such an early date and is close to that of the two 12th century towers on the north wall of the Inner Ward and single, probably 12th century, tower on the south wall of the Inner Ward. All around 5m externally on their longest sides and with narrow loops for windows within the wall. There is also the issue of the name of the Well. Elmund may be a variation of Ealhmund an Old English name, which suggests that the well predates the conquest. It may be asking a lot of the investigation to find evidence of structures predating even the 12th century but we can hope.
There is a good deal of work still to be done it seems as the outworks have proved to be a complex subject whose building sequence is only just beginning to be understood. We are also excited to find what traces remain of the well itself and that is before we consider what might be found within it.
Join us this September!
If you are intrigued by any of these discoveries and would like to learn more in a hands on experience, we are running a post-excavation taster week open to all who want to learn a bit more about how archaeology uncovers evidence of the past. Info can be found here.
Bookings are OPEN for a 1 week post-excavation taster.
What is post-excavation?
Archaeology is not all about digging. In order to turn the data gathered through excavations or surveys (for example) into information that can be used to interpret a site and/or plan further investigations, archaeologists must process this data during the ‘post-ex’ phase.
This includes recording the artefacts recovered, processing the environmental samples taken, digitising the drawings and survey information, for example. This work generates a physical and digital archive, which connects all the pieces of information together. It takes far longer (in most cases) than the actual field work and often takes place in the lab or at the desk.
Post-Ex at the Bamburgh Research Project
Here at the BRP we have generated a lot of post-excavation work in the last 20 years. We undertake much of the initial post-ex on site, where we wash and process the small and bulk finds, we process our environmental samples and we catalogue much of the records and photographs we take. However, there is still much work that is undertaken during the off-season by our staff and more that is sent away for specialist analysis. We thought this year we might bring some of this ‘behind the scenes’ work back to the Castle and share it with a small cohort of interested individuals.
What is the Post-Excavation Taster Week?
We offer quality training in archaeology with an emphasis on practical hands-on experience. The post-excavation taster week will use the BRP’s extensive archive, which consists of material from the prehistoric to the medieval periods, as the basis for an introduction to the different post-excavation techniques and research methodologies employed by the project.
We are still planning the daily schedule but the week will include:
guided tour of Bamburgh Castle, related Anglo-Saxon burial ground and the new ossuary and Bamburgh Bones exhibition
guided visit to Lindisfarne
Please Note: we are also in the process of organising a visits by a conservator but these are yet to be confirmed.
Who is it for?
Our training is open to people of all skill-levels and abilities, with particular interests accommodated where possible. We particularly wish to offer a fun and educational experience to beginners and non professionals.
Please get in touch with us if you have any questions about access, facilities, etc.
BRP is open to anyone aged 18 and over.
Who will be teaching me?
Professional field archaeologists and post-excavation specialists.
How much does it cost?
The post-excavation taster week costs £300 pp and covers 5 days of training in a small group of between 6-8 people. This covers the cost of the tuition, tours and the trip to Lindisfarne.
How do I book a place?
Please visit the BRP’s website and take a look at the Post-Ex Taster Week page. At the end of the page is the details on how to book and pay for your place.
PLEASE NOTE: the week will only run if the BRP receive enough bookings to make the week viable (more info on website).
This week we have had the students rotating through even more jobs than last week! In addition to finds washing and sorting and digging crews, we designated teams to work on environmental processing and the massive finds database we are building.
The most talked-about find in the environmental sample was a large crinoid! Crinoids are sea lilies (related to starfish and urchins), which first appeared on earth 300 million years BEFORE the dinosaurs. There are still extant species today! During the medieval period, the bits of their stem column worked as natural beads, because often they are found with a round or star-shaped hole in the centre. Locally, they are known as “Saint Cuthbert’s beads.” If we find any more, we will for sure do an in-depth post on them!
In the castle’s labyrinthine lower levels, we worked on updating and reconciling data in our finds archives and confirming shelf-marks. Boxes of interesting finds were opened, reassessed, passed around, and discussed while doing this archival work. We even found material that was discovered, recorded, and bagged by Constance and Lauren back when they were new staff in 2013!
During finds washing and sorting of early medieval contexts, several pieces of worked bone were discovered, including what looks like a toggle. We also had an strange tooth that was possibly worked which at first looked like bear, but it may actually have belonged to a seal. Wild bear (as opposed to imported bear) extinction is hard to date, as no one agrees what part of the medieval period they disappear, but seals are still present around the Farne Islands visible from the castle.
In the trenches, digging slowed down aside from the removal of the rubble in the two chambers split by the masonry-and-brick stacked walls. The arch has been further revealed!
We have also begun to shore up walls and ground surfaces to prepare for the removal of the massive bits of rubble. Hard hats are now required in the rubble areas.
The trench team started recording the masonry via photograph and then via plan. Photographs are taken on a digital DSLR camera in colour, and each is recorded in a catalogue. We use large poles as scales to represent up to two metres!
Planning involves drawing the features and contexts in the trench to scale. What’s great about planning is that you don’t need to be a great artist to do it; when you use a planning frame like pictured below, you simply have to copy each square of the frame into a set of boxes on the grid paper. It’s like in colouring books, where you have to move a picture from the left-hand page into empty boxes on the right-hand page.
We hope to clear more rubble out next week once everything is recorded thus far!
It has been quite the year but we are now hopeful of our excavation running this year. We have decided it was safer to go later than usual to allow for further vaccination and reduce the risk of a new surge forcing a cancellation.
We have set up three weeks as available to be booked from the 4th September to the 24th September and are happy to consider adding a fourth week if the earlier weeks fill up. We remain aware that circumstances can still get in the way so we have decided that full refunds will be available right up to the excavation start date to allow booking with confidence.
Here at the BRP we have been giving our 2021 dig season a lot of thought. As you can imagine there are a lot of factors to considers. Given the new UK Government roadmap to re-opening the country during the spring and summer, and the expected demand on campsite and other accommodation options from late June to August, we felt that we needed to run a season either earlier than usual or later. As things stand, if we go for an early season it would be very risky as there is a very real prospect that delays in the government roadmap will occur at some point in response to any rise in infection rates as different sectors are re-opened across the UK.
As a result, we have decided to plan a late season after the peak of the holidays has passed. We are aiming for three weeks in September with the option of a fourth if the first weeks fill up quickly. We do think this is far enough in the future to set up the website and take bookings without feeling too much pressure to react to every variation in the government roadmap. That said, we very much recognise that any plans will of course be subject to alteration if the situation demands it, so we will be offering full refunds in the case of the need to cancel. This should allow you to book with some confidence that any deposit or payment is safe.
This will be the first of a series of posts aimed at keeping you all informed as our plans start to firm up over the next few days. We will also make a special announcement when the booking form on the BRP website goes live.
It has been a long and difficult process for us all, coping with the pandemic, but we do hope that there is real cause for optimism about running a dig season late in the summer and very much look forward to seeing some of you there!
The project is in the process of exploring previously hidden secrets and insights into the lives of Bamburgh’s early medieval past (c. 450-1100). These stories have been unveiled through new cutting-edge interpretation, helping the public to re-imagine Northumbria’s Golden Age. Much of the information used is based on the data generated by the BRP during the excavation of the Bowl Hole from 1998-2007. You can read more about the excavations here: Bowl Hole Cemetery
The ossuary entrance in the crypt
In 2016 the excavated remains were interred within the crypt of St Aidan’s and the crypt and church have now become the focus for an interpretive display and unique interactive digital ossuary. It tells the story of 110 skeletons dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries unearthed from what is believed to be the burial ground for the royal court of Northumbria.
The Digital Ossuary
The Digital Ossuary is now available online, as part of the Bamburgh Bones website and contains details of all the individuals excavated from the burial ground. You can find out information about how they were buried, any grave goods recovered, evidence of trauma and pathologies and much more. In time, the project will be adding details about their diet and origin based on isotopic analysis. You can filter the ossuary entries by what we have discovered about them.
Each entry includes what we know about the individual along with a photo, drawing and map. The photo shows how they were discovered in the Bowl Hole graveyard.
The funding from the project will also allow the BRP and our research partners to bring together all the data and interpretation from the excavation into a final publication planned for next year, a seminal moment for the BRP!
If you would like to learn more about the project please visit the Bamburgh Bones website, you can also follow them on Twitter @BamburghBones and Instagram @bamburgh_bones.
The application for the 2020 field school is now live and can be found here. We have decided that we can keep the fees at the same level as last year. We also aim to continue with the same general accommodation options and the exact details for this will follow soon.
We will offer as ever both experience with excavation and post-excavation, though with a few changes from last year, so expects further announcements to keep you fully up to date in the days and weeks ahead.
Applications for limited staff positions will follow soon.
Yesterday was our last day on site for the field school, but there will be some bits and bobs to take care of over the next few weeks for each of the departments as we approach the off-season. The off-season is the time we get some of our work published, send out artefacts for conservation, ship the environmental sample flots to the lab, apply for funding, and plan out next season!
We floated, sorted, and bagged numerous samples from this season and cleared up some of the backlog of older samples.
The finds team led digitisation of our finds catalogues and the eventual physical removal of boxes from our old office in the Windmill, our temporary office in the castle apartments, and the long-term archive room under the staterooms. We’ll be storing most of our material securely off-site in the future!
In the trench, we excavated a pit abutting the Lower Pavement at the centre of the western side of the trench as well as the ash deposits to the northeast of the western latrine pit and to the north of the eastern latrine pit. We also invited a team of specialists to take some samples of the hearth to the south of the western latrine pit.
We also planned the entire trench the past two days to get a final picture of Trench 3 in all its messy glory.
For all of us here at the BRP, we thank you for keeping up with us this summer! We hope to keep the blog posting occasionally in the off-season with interesting bits about next season. Please check back in the next few weeks for a closing word from Director Graeme Young, as well as a few thoughts for the next phase of the project.