Thanks to our successful (and ongoing) fundraiser we were able to undertake an extra week of excavation to explore the newly discovered roundhouse. Our additional dig time was a busy few days but did prove very productive. We were able to use a machine (thanks to the castle for funding this as well as a good part of the additional wages and to Rob for his skilled driving) to open up a substantial part of the Hope-Taylor 1970 excavation that had up until now, remained backfilled.
In this new area we had the space to trace a little more of the roundhouse wall foundation as it extended beneath the later early medieval mortar mixer, which we half removed. As is so often the case, frustratingly, the wall foundation terminated after a few more foundation stones were uncovered. At first a little disappointing but when we realised that the floor surfaces and the traces of daub also stopped we suddenly realised that this may be an entrance and therefore a lot more interesting than a little more of the wall. To add to this there was a small line of stones similar to the wall foundation extending from where the wall stopped that just might be a trace of a porch.
The little trench we were able to dig on the other side of the mortar mixer was restricted by the need to keep it clear of the standing sections but we were able to identify angular stones just like elsewhere in the roundhouse foundation and a patch of daub against the section. This makes it very likely we were seeing at least further traces of the roundhouse wall beginning to appear. Though we were perhaps forced just too far to the south to be right on top of the wall continuation.
So it seems we now have good reason to assume we have an entrance facing, broadly, south-west, which would make sense, as it would maximise the light that reached the inside of the building on winter days and is very common for roundhouses because of that. It also makes particular sense on our site as this is down slope so would also prevent rain-water running in.
The next phase of work will be off-site when we process the plans and digitise the records. We also have samples to be processed that include radiocarbon dates that will allow us to develop a much clearer picture of when the roundhouse was in use. In addition to the normal palaeoenvironmental samples, we have a block from the floor surfaces that a colleague may be able to utilise to undertake detailed micro analysis.
After some thought we have decided to keep our fundraiser open in the hope that some of our supporters will be happy to contribute a little to the post-excavation, which in many ways we hope will be just as informative (and is just as important!) as the excavation itself.
We are back on site for an additional week with the intension of further investigating the roundhouse. The one area we can realistically hope to further expose more of this structure is to the south of Trench 3, where it extends into an area that Hope-Taylor excavated in the 1970s. We had left this area alone before, for access reasons, but as we come to the end of the work in the trench this area now enables us to get close to the level of the roundhouse by simply removing Hope-Taylor’s backfill.
We knew from his surviving archive that he had excavated deep into the site stratigraphy to reach as early as the sixth to seventh centuries AD. he revealed an early medieval mortar mixer that we have only seen part of so far so this extension will allow us to fully record this before digging beneath it where the roundhouse wall runs. Two amazing features for only a few days additional work seems quite the bargain.
If you are able to support the continuing work then you can find our fundraiser here.
The discovery of the roundhouse was very exciting and really does add a nice new dimension to our understanding of Bamburgh. We had seen evidence of occupation in the Roman and Iron Age before in the form of limited amounts of animal bone and a few pottery sherds. This is the first time we have clear evidence of a building of such a date and in fact quite a substantial one. Given that this low lying area of the West Ward, away from the highest status areas, does suggest that it could well be one of many extending all the way up to the top of the rock in the Inner Ward.
As a result of such an exciting discovery we are working on getting back to site for a further week of excavation during which we hope to trace the building a little further and take some specialist samples for laboratory examination.
I am sure you will not be surprised to hear that good research can at times be expensive so we are always very grateful for the support we get. If you may be able to help at all then please do follow this link below and make a contribution.
It seems sometimes in excavation buildings can be like buses and arrive in pairs! Following on the heels of our early medieval post-hole building we now have a roundhouse.
The curving foundation can be seen on the left side. Robbed out, as it rises, but still respected by the floor surfaces.
At least two phases earlier than the early medieval post structure we have part of the stone foundations of a substantial roundhouse (more than 10 m diameter) with what appears to be some surviving floor surfaces.
We can only guess at the date at the moment, but from its place in the stratigraphy it is more likely to be Romano-British than Iron Age. It certainly has the potential to be a fascinating bit of evidence for continuity of occupation from the Roman period into the age of the early medieval kings.
We are not excavating this week but hope to be back to do a little more work soon. This little breather should give us a chance to catch up on a little post-excavation work and do a more detailed blog over the next few days.
One of our Director’s, Graeme, also talked about the discovery with castle staff on video here:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.