New early medieval building

It has been a busy few days on site in the West Ward. Weather has managed to vary between glorious and wet and windy but we have made good progress and at least one very exciting find. We have 11 post-holes in an L-shape close to the western trench edge and this must be part of a timber building that mostly lies to the west of the trench between it and the defensive wall.

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The post-holes can be seen in the centre of the photo. Nine are visible and two more are present in a pit close to the section edge.

The building sides exposed measure some 6m by 2m but the building is likely to be larger than that. We may be seeing most of the length north-west to south-east but the building is certainly a good bit more than 2m wide.

We are uncertain of its date at this time but it is unlikely to be later than the 7th century AD and could be 6th century. The is just room to explore ‘within’ it to see if we can recover trace of floor surfaces. Something to keep us busy over the next few days.

 

 

BRP on BBC Countryfile

The BBC Countryfile programme has been filming at Bamburgh and BRP have been lucky enought to be involved. We were interviewed about the Bowl Hole burial ground as well as the castle site.

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Anyone interested will be able to catch the programme live this Sunday (16th August) on BBC 1 at 7:00 pm or via the BBC iplayer.

We have also made it back to the castle to complete our Trench 3 excavation so expect some updates soon.

 

 

The Accessing Aidan Project and the BRP

As some of you may know, the Bamburgh Research Project (BRP), has been working closely with the Accessing Aidan project, lead by the Northumberland Coast AONB and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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

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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.

Bmaburgh Bones

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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.

 

A Day in Archaeology: the CBA’s Digital Festival of Archaeology

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Have you ever wondered what archaeologists really do?  Do they just dig or are there other aspects to their work? A Day in Archaeology showcases “a day in the life” of archaeologists from all over the UK. It also explores pathways into the profession and, this year, the impact of the C-19 pandemic on individuals and organisations. The day is part of the Council for British Archaeology’s ‘Festival of Archaeology‘ and one of our Director’s, Jo, happens to work for them, so she has put together a blog post focusing on her time with the BRP and the impact C-19 has had on the project.

You can read the blog here: Jo’s ‘A Day in Archaeology’ Blog 

Update concerning Covid 19

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As with most organisations Bamburgh Research Project has been been monitoring the developing situation with Covid 19 and trying to come up with a clear plan on how to respond. I am sure it will be no surprise to hear that as the situation is changing so rapidly it is really rather difficult to make plans with certainty at the moment, and probably won’t be for some time  so with reluctance we have closed bookings for the summer field school as we feel certain that it would not be repsonsible to try to run in June and July as planned.

It seems sensible at the moment to postpone until at least the late Summer or Autumn. As things become more certain we will update you here and on the website.

If anyone wishes to be added to an email list to be notified when the bookings are open again then we can be contacted through the website.

 

 

2020 Fieldschool details to be announced early in the New Year

2019 was a busy year for the Bamburgh Research Project and it looks like 2020 will continue in the same way. With support from Bamburgh Estate we have been completing the excavation element of Trench 3, the trench located in the West Ward of the castle, to help us complete the work started by Brian Hope- Taylor in 1960. Our aim was always to publish the study of a complete archaeological sequence through the archaeology here. A sequence that we now know extends from the late Bronze Age to the modern era.

One of the most important elements of this is that here at Bamburgh we have what appears to be a continuous occupation sequence from the late Roman to the high medieval including the still quite poorly understood fifth and sixth centuries AD. It was an important transitional period that helped attract Dr Hope-Taylor to the site and remains an important issue to be understood in the region today. We aim to complete Trench 3 excavation in March and April this year and then embark on the challenging but important process of writing the site up to publication.

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A more immediate publication challenge is the completion of the monograph of the Bowl Hole cemetery excavation. We are currently working on this and aim to have made very real advances this year with publication proceeding an academic symposium and story telling festival with the Bamburgh Bones project in 2021.

The fieldschool is also to go ahead this summer

Anyone wishing to attend the BRP fieldschool in the summer of 2020 should keep an eye on this blog and the website in the next couple of weeks as we plan to announce details of the new season very soon.

We will be digging for five weeks from June 21st to July 24th and opportunities for learning excavation and also post excavtion will be available as always.

 

Paul and Edoardo have a new book out

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Long time readers of the blog may recall that Paul Gething, one of  our four directors of the Bamburgh Research Project, and Edouardo Albert published a book ‘Northumbria the lost Kingdom’ a little while ago.  I am sure you will be excited to hear that a new book by the pair is now out. This time it is based on some of the evidence from our burial ground at the Bowl Hole and is called: ‘Warrior a life of war in Anglo-Saxon Britain’.

You can hear an interview with the authors by Dan Snow here:

Listen to the interview here

And if you want to check out more books by Eduardo this is the link to his website

 

Way Back Wednesday: Week 6

Today’s artefact from the archives was set aside for one of the project’s very dear friends to take a look at, and his conclusion was a possible bombshell. Zooarchaeology is one of the strengths of our staff this season, but there’s always more to learn, so we invited David Constantine, zooarchaeologist and specialist in bone-working, to look over some of our more curious cases. There was a small unassuming bit of cow rib with linear incisions on it, but it didn’t quite look like butchering or de-fleshing, and it came out of a high medieval (11th-13th centuries…ish) layer. We played around with the lighting, as changing the angle of the light source can help both etching and carvings in relief stand out a bit better. And suddenly, these lines started to look a little bit more purposeful. Are they tally marks? Or something else?

After much back and forth, we may…just maybe…have some runes on this little bit of bone! Runes used in Germanic languages tend to be very linear, making them more easily carved on stone, bone, and wood. The question then becomes, whose runes? The likely answer is the runic system used for Anglo-Saxon writing known as the “futhorc” or “fuþorc.” (Click here and scroll down to the fifth paragraph for a reminder on how to pronounce that weird-looking letter!) This rune system is intrinsically tied the runic system of the Viking Age as both are descended from an earlier corpus known as the Elder Futhark (roughly beginning in the 2nd century). The futhorc is used in Frisia, one of the Anglo-Saxon homelands, and makes its way to Britain during the 5th-7th centuries; its displacement begins due to the rise of the Roman alphabet employed by the arriving Christian missionaries. Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions, however, are still used into the 12th century! There are only about 200 surviving futhorc inscriptions, so if these are proper runes we’ve got something pretty cool in our archive.

Did you notice how “futhorc” and “futhark” sound similar? Both words are literally just an elision of the first few sounds of the rune alphabet. By the way, the word “alphabet” is just the smushing of “alpha” and “beta” from the first two letters of the Greek writing system (itself descended from the Phoenicians) that heavily influenced the Roman alphabet allowing you to read this very blog post.

Carved bits and bobs have been found in northern European contexts of both the futhorc and Viking Age Younger Futhark (9th-12th centuries) on small portable items like bits of wood and bone known as runesticks, but also on large carved runestones. The well-known (and beloved here at the project) Franks Casket contains numerous runic inscriptions carved into whale bone panels and likely originated here in Northumbria in the 8th century.

Whale ivory box with low-relief carvings of various well-known tales and Anglo-Saxon runes.

The 8th-century Franks Casket depicts a variety of scenes from the biblical to the folkloric. Photo courtesy of the British Museum.

Runes were clearly a major part of early Germanic writing culture, and they feature prominently in several of the Exeter Book riddles, as well as a poem known as the “Old English Rune Poem” whose original has since been lost but describes 29 Anglo-Saxon runes. The runic alphabets employed from the 2nd century get revamped over the years and become associated with magic and mystery. Authors like Tolkein and the creators of other intricate fantasy universes have seized on this popular image of runes, and it doesn’t seem they are disappearing any time soon from our collective consciousness.

Chart of Anglo-Saxon runes, transliteration, and phonetic value.

Rune chart from user aldomann on Deviantart.

The chart above shows the rune, transliteration (meaning the letter image for the sound we would write it as in modern English), and International Phonetic Alphabet phonetic sound. The IPA uses symbols to represent the different sounds humans have the ability to articulate, so you can match the symbol in the right columns to this interactive chart here so you can hear the sounds they each represent.

Fresh from the Trench: Week 6 – Two for the price of one!

Within minutes of each other, we found two very curious artefacts, and admittedly we are a little confused by both.

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The first was a bit of glazed pottery from the very bottom of a late medieval pit in the north of the trench. It is quite unlike most of the pottery we find anywhere in the trench, and initially the chocolate-y brown on beige caused some unwanted ceramic flashbacks for some of us to a particularly hideous slipware (pottery decorated with creamy clay that turns a different colour when fired, often with browns on yellows and vice versa) we see in the 17th-18th centuries (so we guess you could call them flashforwards?). We of course don’t think the pottery is that recent, but it is certainly giving off some major post-green-glaze vibes that suggest the very end of the medieval period. A tinge of green-glaze is still there, but the dark smears on the light background give the whole fragment the appearance of a sundae stirred as it melts. This sherd is curved but rather thick, but if it is part of a rim, we can place it on a chart of ruled concentric circles (or get out a good old-fashioned mathematical compass to measure the arcs and use a little maths) to determine how wide the mouth of the vessel it came from was. We are thinking it more likely might be a piece of a handle. Rims, bases, and sometimes handles can help us deduce vessel type or even a possible date range! We are still scratching our heads on this for now.

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The second artefact is even more mysterious, and we are absolutely stumped. It’s worked stone, but for what purpose? The two prongs are reminiscent of our leather hole-spacer, but the short circular tab is not really ergonomic enough for getting the same kind of leverage to actually punch a hole as the bone tool as it can only be grasped and pinched between the thumb and forefinger.. This is something we need to experiment with and brainstorm further. The object was excavated from the very weird northwest corner of the trench that never dries and sometimes produces Roman material. This little stone thingamabob was inside a pit abutting the bedrock. Any ideas or guesses are welcome!

Way Back Wednesday: Week 5

Orange-red potsherd with raised tree and bird decoration.In keeping with our Roman theme from yesterday, our Way Back artefact is this lovely bit of Roman pottery. It is known as Samian Ware or terra sigillita, an orangey-red often slightly-shiny type of pottery found throughout the western empire from around the late 1st century BC to the 3rd century AD. Samian refers to island of Samos, a Greek island where is supposedly originated, while the Latin name means “sealed earth.” Much of the Samian Ware we find was actually imported from manufacturers in the southern parts of Gaul, a region that corresponds to modern France and the western Rhineland of Germany. Some Samian ware is made on a potter’s wheel but the decorated type, like our piece, is made in a mould; either way they are then dipped in a fine slip (watery clay, kind of creamy to the touch, used to decorate vessels or bond ceramic parts) before being fired in a kiln.

Line drawing of Roman pottery sherd.

Illustrated by Finds Assistant Kennedy Dold.

We at Bamburgh sit between two walls…the stone forts and milecastles of Hadrian (started in 122AD) and the turf of Antoninus (started 142AD). This is truly a frontier zone for much of the Roman presence in Britain, so we can’t say for sure that our artefact belonged to a Citizen of Rome (capitalized as such because that was a strict legal status that afforded certain rights) or one of the Celtic-speaking peoples that lived in and around what became Bamburgh. There was certainly interaction, which we know from both archaeology and Roman primary sources, but the extent of the Roman presence and/or Roman merchandise diffusion at Din Guaire/Din Guayrdi (which is the name derived from Brittonic that scholars have projected back onto the site before it was named for Bebba around the turn of the 7th century…the origins of the Welsh-ish name is a whole other can of worms, to be honest) is still a bit of a mystery.