As the closing date for votes is coming up on Monday 8th February it seems a good moment to remind anyone planning to vote that time is running out. It is definitely special that the award is decided by public vote so we are really urging everybody to go on line and vote for the project at www.archaeology.co.uk/vote. The winners will be announced during the virtual Current Archaeology Live! conference on 26th-27th February.
Some exciting news! The Bamburgh Bones Project that presents the results of the BRP Bowl Hole cemetery excavation has been nominated for a Current Archaeology award. The project’s press release, below, has all the information and a link to enable voting. The winners are chosen by the public, so we would be very grateful for your support.
The Bamburgh Bones partnership are thrilled to announce that the Bamburgh Bones project has been nominated in the Research Project of the Year category of the 2021 Current Archaeology Awards. Each year the nominations are based on projects featured within Current Archaeology over the last 12 months, and the Bamburgh Bones project featured in the magazine at the beginning of the year to coincide with the opening of the crypt and associated digital ossuary to the public.
The award is decided by public vote and we are really urging everybody to go on line and vote for the project at www.archaeology.co.uk/vote. Voting is open until 8th February, and the winners will be announced during the virtual Current Archaeology Live! conference on 26th-27th February.
The nomination is a fabulous recognition of many peoples hard work over the last twenty years from all the excavators and supporters to Prof Charlotte Roberts of Durham University and Graeme Young, Dr Jo Kirton and all the Bamburgh Research Project staff and volunteers. The many years of excavation, analysis and research culminated last year in the creation of the Bamburgh Ossuary in the beautiful 12th century crypt of St Aidan’s church.
The 2nd crypt, viewed from a new platform, houses 110 individual zinc charnel boxes each containing an Anglo-Saxon ancestor excavated from the Bowl Hole. Interpretive displays and animation together with a unique interactive digital ossuary at St Aidan’s Church and online – bamburghbones.org, 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.
Now, with the help of technology, the secrets these people took to their graves 1,400 years ago have been unlocked and brought to life for a 21st century audience thanks to a £355,600 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and support from Northumberland County Council, and the beautiful 12th century crypt of St Aidan’s church is open to the public once again.
The Accessing Aidan project is a collaboration between the Northumberland Coast AONB Partnership, St Aidan’s Parochial Church Council, Durham University, Bamburgh Research Project and Bamburgh Heritage Trust.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
And if you want to check out more books by Eduardo this is the link to his website
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.
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.
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.