The Bamburgh Bird: Unique 8th century Anglo-Saxon decorative metal work discovered at Bamburgh Castle

Near the end of last summer’s excavation season we made a marvellous new find of national significance; a beautifully decorated copper alloy bird mount. The decorated fragment is small, 23mm by 12mm, but decorated with an intricate zoomorphic representation of a bird, characteristic of early medieval North European art. The star find has since been undergoing careful conservation to reveal an intricately decorated artefact that is a window into the art of a lost era of early medieval royal society.

bird_cropped

Our first view of the conseved find (Karen Barker, Conservator)

Initial comments from a number of experts has suggested that the bird mount is unique, with no direct parallels and likely to be 8th century in date. It is fascinating that the new image appears to hark back in time to the bird of prey motifs of the 6th and 7th centuries AD and could represent a descendant of these earlier styles just as ‘the later 8th century York helmet, is an update of the form known from the earlier Sutton Hoo, Staffordshire and Wollaston helmets’.

BRP image

The bird is a realtively thin copper allow piece undecorated on the back anmd likely to have been mounted onto a larger artefact.

The find, excavated by Harry Francis, was recovered from a cobbled surface revealed at the base of a narrow trench that was excavated to identify the next occupation surface at the southern part of Trench 3.  This was revealed as a well constructed surface just centimetres below the well dated 9th century metal working building. At this time there were a number of smaller kingdoms and Northumbria was one of these. The palace fortress of Bamburgh was one of the most important places in Northumbria at that time and we have evidence of metal working, probably associated with the production of arms and armour for the warriors of the royal court in our excavation. In summer 2017 we will continue our investigations of the find spot and we hope to discover if it represents an earlier period of metal working or some other activity. At the moment our investigation of this horizon is at such an early stage we are unsure if the find came from within a building or from a yard surface or path where it may have been dropped. We are very much looking forward to getting back on site and continuing our excavations.

Francis Armstrong and his son Will, owners of Bamburgh Castle have commented that ‘the Bird is a spectacular discovery. It is a beautiful artefact and we are proud that it has been found here at Bamburgh. Finds like this help us to connect with the Castle’s history and it is wonderful when we get the opportunity to display these ancient wonders so our visitors can enjoy them close up. We are grateful for the work the BRP do here at the Castle and we have a great time working with them unearthing the stories that Bamburgh Castle has to tell’.

Research into the new find is ongoing and we aim to have a short publication ready later this year. The bird will be on display at the castle, open 10.00am to 5pm until 29th October, with many other fascinating finds including pattern welded swords and intricately decorated gold work. You can also come and chat to the archaeologists on site when visiting the castle between June 11th and July 15th.

Lottery grant for the Bamburgh Heritage Trust

The plans for a new heritage centre at St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh, that will bring the story of the early medieval Bowl Hole burials to life has taken a big step closer with the awarding of a development grant to the Bamburgh Heritage Trust by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Bowl Hole Excavation Project was undertaken by Bamburgh Research Project (BRP) and Durham University and has produced a wealth of academic information about some of the earliest Christian inhabitants of Bamburgh. The burials are contemporary with the early medieval palace site currently under investigation within the castle by the BRP (places still available for this season’s excavation) and together give an extraordinary insight into what is often called the Golden Age of Northumbria.

brp-reburial-27

Some of the early medieval skeletons on their way from the castle to St Aidan’s Church during the reburial ceremony in 2016

The new funding represents an important step forward in bringing these results to the wider public. If you have not already seen it then do read Tony Henderson’s terrific article in the Chronicle, which details the work undertaken at the Bowl Hole and the planned project outputs.

If you would like to take part in this years excavations at Bamburgh Castle and/or our prehistoric wetlands site at the Bradford Kaims, please contact field-school coordinator  colekelly@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk or visit www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk.

 

3-Dimensional artefact location mapping in Trench 3, Bamburgh Castle

Ryan Leckel, undergraduate student of the Applied Social Science Department at University of Wisconsin-Stout, has received a grant of more than $2,000.00 to help with his pilot study in 3-dimensional visualisation of small find locations in Trench 3 at Bamburgh Castle. The study will gather and input data from the site records in order to produce a 3-D model of the site in which the distribution of the finds can be visualised alongside the trench plans. It is hoped this will prove an invaluable tool for identifying patterns of finds on the site and greatly aid interpretation. One of the trickier aspects of such analysis will be asking the right questions of the model.

DSC_0715

Trench 3 Excavation

It is great to see staff and students wanting to work on project data so we are delighted that this is just one such ongoing project. We are really looking forward to this collaboration in the weeks ahead and we will update you as the work progresses- hopefully with some really nice images.

Bookings to join us on the excavation are still open, though some weeks are getting close to being full, so we would encourage anyone still thinking of joining us this summer to get in touch soon.

Click here to go to the booking page.

 

British Academy/Leverhulme Funding Awarded to the Bradford Kaims

We are very pleased to announce that an application to the British Academy/Leverhulme ‘Small Grants’ fund has been awarded for the Bradford Kaims. A total award of £9,490 has been awarded to Richard Tipping, Tom Gardner, and Paul Gething on behalf of the Bradford Kaims investigations to support a comprehensive sequence of radiocarbon dating for the prehistoric landscape, which has been under investigation since 2010.

This award will allow 26 radiocarbon dates to be sought from a suite of archaeological and natural deposits across the landscape at the Bradford Kaims, focussing upon the large burnt mound in Trench 6, and a sequence of well-preserved peat deposits immediately adjacent to this site. The generous support of this award, in addition to the £756 attained from Heritage at Risk and Northumberland County Council in November 2016, and the £1,500 attained from Northumberland County Council in October 2016 will allow the dating of the site and surrounding landscape to extend to 32 radiocarbon dates in addition to the 5 dates already attained across the site. With this scientific and chronological support, the ongoing interpretation of the archaeology at the Bradford Kaims can make a significant impact upon our understanding of the patterns of prehistoric activity in North Northumberland.

We are very grateful to the British Academy/Leverhulme for their support. If you want to volunteer on our final excavation season at the Bradford Kaims (11th June – 16th July 2017), then please email our team at paulgething@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk to discuss volunteering opportunities, or get on touch at colekelly@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk if you would like to apply for a student position on the excavation.

British_Academy_logo

New carbon dates for the Bowl Hole

We would like to thank the Northumberland AONB for further generous grant support for our ongoing project with The Bamburgh Heritage Trust (BHT), aimed at telling the story of the Bowl Hole early medieval burial ground.

BH07 skel 440, oblique, with stakes 451 (a)

Skeleton 440 during our 2007 excavation. An unusual grave surrounded by stake-holes

The site, thought to be under threat of erosion, was investigated by the BRP between 1997 and 2007 and involved the excavation and recording of 91 individual graves. Thankfully although there is evidence of erosion in the past, at the moment the site appears to be relatively stable. Nevertheless the investigation of the site has really advanced our understanding of Bamburgh in the this early period. Particularly informative has been the analysis of the skeletons undertaken by Durham University by Dr Sarah Groves under the supervision of Professor Charlotte Roberts. The work has resulted in numerous presentations and academic publications but the next task will be to publish the final results in a book and present them to the public. In order to enable this we have teamed up with the BHT with the aim of creating a visitor centre at St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh. Its a long term project and the latest carbon dates are just one small step along the way, but no less valuable to us.

We already had a number of dates from the site, but as it is a complicated site, in use as a burial ground over many generations, probably from the seventh century to the ninth, we need as many dates as possible to identify if the focus of burials moved over time or if the origins of the people changed over the generations.

The AONB generously funded five new dates costing close to £2000. The graves dated were carefully selected to add to our understanding of how different parts of the burial ground may have been in use at different times and also singled out some of the more interesting individuals based on their isotope data (that tells us what part of the UK or Europe they grew up in) and burial style. We are currently feeding the new information into the site interpretation, but the results are promising. One new revelation is that one of the animal bone fragments dated, from a grave in the central-eastern part of the cemetery, came back with a Romano-British date! We do not think that the grave is from this period, but it does suggest that animal bone, probably food waste, was present in the ground to be disturbed when the grave was cut in the early medieval period. We have good evidence for occupation of the castle at that time but that activity now extends well beyond the castle to the south is interesting and poses quite a few new questions for the future. Its unlikely they were living there, but could they have been working close to the sea, fishing or making salt?

 

Spaces filling up for our 2017 Archaeology Field School

11113040_10100746417894778_6096004361636219970_o

Student places for our field school this summer are filling up. Given that we have reduced our season to 5 weeks we expect that the numbers of students attending per week to be higher.

The BRP is dedicated to ensuring our excellent teaching standards remain unchanged. To continue to offer our high staff to student ratio we will therefore be placing limits on the number of student who can attend each week. Some weeks are already getting close to full capacity.

We encourage those who are interested in booking a place at the field school to submit their application as soon as possible.

Find the Application Form Here

It’s going to be an amazing summer! We are already counting down the days!

The Bradford Kaims awarded Moray Endowment Fund grant

We are pleased to announce that Tom has been awarded a small grant from the Moray Endowment Fund of £1992 for comparative research into the geoarchaeology of burnt mounds and associated soils, most of which will be undertaken at the Bradford Kaims, with a smaller study being conducted on Allt Thuirnaig burnt mound at Inverewe, in the north-west of Scotland.

img_3404

Tom taking micromorphological samples through peat deposits at the Bradford Kaims

The Moray Endowment Fund is an internal funding body of the University of Edinburgh, where Tom is currently undertaking his PhD studying the wider geoarchaeology of burnt mound deposits across Great Britain and Ireland, for which the Bradford Kaims forms a core case study. This funding will allow us to look in great detail at a larger suite of micromorphological samples from the burnt mounds at the Bradford Kaims, and from the fills of some relict streambeds associated directly with the burnt mound use. Thin section micromorphology, a technique in which Tom is becoming well versed, involves the microscopic analyses on in situ sediments and soils, and seeks to better understand what archaeological sediments consist of, where they came from, how they got to where they are now, and the processes that have changed them since they were deposited.

figure-8

Thin section micrograph of micromorphological samples through the burnt mound in Trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims

Through this form of study we already know that some of the earlier burnt mounds at the Bradford Kaims were deposited seasonally probably in summer and autumn, and vary widely in their fuel types from small Roundwood charcoal through to grasses and sedges. From this, and with our wider landscape analyses, we are able to better understand the movements and activities of people living around the Bradford Kaims in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, and how they interacted with their environment.

We thank the Moray Endowment Fund for their support, and all of our readers for their continued attention!

 

Student bookings now being taken for our 2017 Field School Excavation

Our 2017 student booking form is now available.

Our season will last 5 weeks from June 11- July 15th and will cost £300 per week.

This will include camping accommodation and access to modest cooking facilities. Unlike previous years, a tent will be provided for you upon your arrival. Be aware you will not be permitted to use your own tent.

You can find more information on our website. If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch: colekelly@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

flyer photo 2017.jpg

If there is anyone interested in a staff position who has not yet applied, please do so ASAP.

 

Dating Funding Awarded to the Bradford Kaims

We are pleased to announce that the Bradford Kaims site has been awarded two small funding grants to undertake radiocarbon dating of some of our features across Trench 6, and to tie our coring activities in with the rest of the excavations. The funding was sought immediately after the end of the 2016 season to clarify the dates of certain areas of the excavation uncovered this year.

Primarily, we have been awarded £1500 from the Northumberland County Council Community Chest scheme to date a series of preserved hazelnut shells through our large wooden platform feature in Trench 6, following on from the £1,000 grant we received from this fund in 2015 to enable community volunteer involvement. We selected hazelnut shells as the datable component as they are a very short-lived ecofact, only absorbing base carbon from the atmosphere for a short period (<1 year), rather than over longer periods such as other carbon-storing ecofacts can do. Dating oak (Quercus) for example, can provide discrepancies of up to 500 years, as it can be such a long-lived tree. As the first grant from this fund allowed dozens of community volunteers to come on to site and work with us, especially on the platform area, we thought it appropriate to use the second grant awarded from the Community Chest to date that area of the site, to finalise the good work that our volunteers have done. Many thanks to the Community Chest fund and all of our volunteers for their support and help!

img_3282

Community volunteers digging the platform

Our second grant is slightly smaller, a total of £756 awarded to us through the Heritage at Risk and Northumberland County Council Conservation Grant for two more radiocarbon dates on our platform area, which will finalise its dating and allow us to tie this feature into our other chronologies across the site. Hopefully these two dating grants can be used as pump-primer funds on dates to help us get further funding from across the site and landscape. Hopefully we will have more good news for you all soon!

Tom Gardner

 

Bamburgh Castle bone pendant cross published

We are having a small scale publication feast at the moment as David Constantine’s article on a bone pendant cross from the West Ward at Bamburgh Castle has also just been published. It appears to be a rare example of a plain cross pendant in bone or antler, which makes it rather special.

pendant

Pendant, front and back views

Here is the reference to the full article and I have quoted the abstract below as a teaser.

An Osseous pendant cross from Bamburgh, Northumberland. Constantine, D. in I. Riddler, J. Soulat and L. Keys (eds): The evidence of material culture: Studies in honour of Professor Vera Evison. 219 – 230. Éditions Mergoil (2016)

Abstract:

‘The majority of known cross pendants from the Anglo-Saxon to Medieval periods are manufactured in metal, with a few known in jet. During excavations at Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland, a cross pendant of antler/bone came to light. As the excavation data did not provide firm dating evidence, further research was required to correctly place the pendant chronologically. This paper presents the results of that research, as well as a brief discussion of the pendants material and manufacture, and of the possible connections it suggests with the Insular church in Northumbria. Comparisons are made with typologically similar examples in metal, stone, jet, ivory carvings and manuscript artwork in order to try and offer a suitable timeframe for the pendant’s use. The results show that similar crosses in various media appear from the seventh century onwards, but this simple example is better placed in the late Saxon period.’