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.
Due to the ongoing uncertainty around C-19 our planned excavation season in September will be small to help maintain a covid-secure site. We are, however, looking for a small number of additional staff.
2021 Excavation Dates: 4th September – 24th September (with a possible week long extension).
This year we will need a new Post Excavation Supervisor who can undertake all the day-to-day post-ex needs for the project. This will largely be focussed on the recovery, storage and processing of small and bulk finds. Experience of processing environmental samples would also be welcome. The Post-Ex Supervisor will also need to provide an introduction to the finds process and on-going support for students throughout the excavation. This position comes with accommodation and a stipend.
We are also looking for assistant supervisors to support our core staff. These roles are perfect for those who have a good grasp of fieldwork and/or post excavation skills and who are now ready to gain some experience of supporting others. Our onsite team will be on hand to guide you through this process as you learn and teach. These positions come with accommodation and a stipend.
Please Note: due to the ongoing uncertainty around international travel during the global pandemic, we are currently unable to take applications from outside the UK. We do not feel that it would be appropriate to encourage travel to the UK at this time or prudent to rely on staff being able to travel. As the situation develops we may be able to update this approach.
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!
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.
Anyone not currently living on the moon can’t but be aware that we are living through very difficult and rather frightening times! As a result it has been hard to make plans for the summer, and waiting for things to become a good deal clearer has up till now seemed the sensible option. Now we have a second Covid 19 wave very much here, as well as new variants, leading to a new lock-down in place in the UK. On the other side, more positively, vaccination is very much under way. As a result, it really is very difficult if not impossible to predict what the situation will be during the summer.
Just waiting for things to resolve themselves is not a very practical option now as it will leave us too little time to react, so we think it best to make some cautious plans now. It seems fair to assume that a number of restrictions will still be in place in the summer and should plan accordingly. It is also sensible to have a contingency for travel bans and sudden changes of regulation.
We will continue to work closely with Budle Bay campsite and Bamburgh Castle to ensure that the accommodation and the work environment are safe for all taking part. We have robust Covid-19 secure risk assessments in place to enable us to make decisions about the safety of the site and accommodation at regular intervals and as new guidance emerges.
We will be updating the website soon with more information, so please check back soon or follow our social media platforms for more updates.
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.
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.
The Bamburgh Research Project (BRP) will hosting a weekend of free activities as part of the Council for British Archaeology’s annual Festival of Archaeology.
Join the BRP on the 20th or 21st of July to explore 2000 years of activity at Bamburgh Castle on their annual excavation within the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland.
The BRP have been excavating through 2,000 years of occupation at Bamburgh Castle. As we excavate, we undertake environmental sampling of the different archaeological layers. These are processed on the trench-side where bones, seeds, charred remains and small artefacts (including coins, gold-filigree decoration and beads) are recovered.
As part of the Festival of Archaeology the BRP are hosting four half-day sessions where members of the public can work with our Environmental Supervisor to process our samples and record the material we recover. This will include specialist training with a flotation tank, tuition in recording the processed material and identification of archaeobotanic material in our on-site lab funded by the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund.
The Discovering Aidan Project has passed another landmark with the full funding for the project being approved by the Heritage Lottery Fund. A new article has been published by Tony Henderson in the Chronicle as well. The project will focus on the excavated Anglo-Saxon cemetery located just outside Bamburgh Castle.
St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh
The Bamburgh Research Project, who undertook the initial excavation and worked with Professor Charlotte Roberts of Durham University on the analysis of the skeletons, will be working with the AONB to provide support and information on the research so the full story can be told. In parallel, we are again working with Professor Roberts to see that the full academic report is published as a book. It is an exciting time and we are very much looking forward to what will be a landmark publication for BRP.
Skeleton excavated in the Bole Hole excavation in 2004
We may not be excavating at the Bowl Hole any more but work at Bamburgh Castle continues and we would be delighted for you to join us excavating a 7th century AD horizon this summer.