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.’

Great news about our Inner Ward publication

The blogs describing our excavations at Bamburgh Castle naturally tend to be concerned with the excavations in the West Ward, where the majority of our work, like Brian Hope-Taylor’s before us, has been concentrated, but now and again we have had the opportunity to do some investigations at the heart of the fortress, the Inner Ward. This is the summit of the hill where the Keep now stands alongside the re-constructed medieval buildings and where we know from the pages of Bede that the church that held the relics of St Oswald had had formerly been built. We can also imagine the great hall of the kings of Northumbria here, once the focus of the palace complex.

BC04 Chapel 12

The chapel under excavation in 2004. Two trial trenches were located to investigate features identified by geophysical survey.

The main body of work was undertaken in 2004 and 2008, but we also conducted geophysical survey in advance of that as well as a modest excavation in the centre of the ward with Time Team in 2010. We have blogged about some of this work in the past: https://bamburghresearchproject.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/the-chapel-excavations-2008/ Now we are delighted to have a substantial paper published detailing all of this work in the Archaeological Journal, which is the journal of the Royal Archaeological Society. It’s terrific to have had this opportunity, aided by a grant from the RAI as well as the HLF and the Mick Aston Fund. It has taken a lot of work, not just by the BRP authors Jo Kirton and Graeme Young, but also by the editor Howard Williams and our anonymous referees.

It is the largest publication on Bamburgh so far (you can check out the others here) and intended to be the first of many as we increasingly concentrate on publishing our work. It will be in libraries free to access next year but until then you will need to be a member or have institutional access (Archaeological Journal). Long before then we aim to publish more popular articles on the results, and we will keep you posted on progress.

 

 

 

Looking back at this year’s work in Trench 3

Trench 3 has set us some real puzzles in recent years and made it hard to be certain we were excavating in a single phase. In simple terms this means that we wanted to be confident that the surface of the site we had exposed represented a single period in time. We made excellent progress with this once we had uncovered a 9th century AD metalworking area complete with a smithy and linked it to a contemporary timber building to its immediate north. Last year and this year to we have been excavating down to the surface beneath the two buildings and back in time to the beginning of the 9th century, even into the 8th century.

At the end of last year we uncovered a pebble surface in the central and eastern part of the trench and we continued to reveal this during this year. Finding an intrusive later medieval pit in the process. This summer we removed an enigmatic wall, thought to be some kind of revetting structure, probably associated with the smithy. Stripping this away has really brought home to us just how close we are to reaching the base of Brian Hope-Taylor’s 1970’s excavation north of the old sewer pipe, long since removed, that divided his dig into two halves. We are now only centimetres from being level with him and have high hopes of joining the two digs together next year. It will take a while longer to reach the same levels he reached to the south of the sewer pipe as he dug deeper there reaching the 7th century or earlier.

wall

Removing the crude stone wall

pebble surface

The (small) pebble surface fully exposed on the western side of Trench 3

One of the more fascinating investigations this season was the cleaning and straightening of the section that formed the north side of this deeper Hope-Taylor excavation. We did this to better understand the way the layers were behaving. We strongly suspected that they sloped gently down to the south and west – and indeed the section revealed they did. Important for us to know if we were not to get confused as we dig deeper.

ht strat

The straightened Hope-Taylor section ready for recording. His deeper excavation on the left side of the photograph still mostly covered in tarps and soil.

The west end of this section revealed stone structures and colourful stratigraphy, almost certainly industrial waste associated with earlier metalworking. This was beneath a stone linear that Hope-Taylor called his lower pavement that extends along the western limit of his excavation. We are unsure what this represents. It may be a foundation for a timber building, if so a large one, or a path inside the western defensive wall line to the ward. Something to investigate next year.

t3 strat

The ‘lower pavement’ beneath the right end of the ranging rod with the industrial layers beneath.

We decided to dig a narrow sondage (a sounding trench) continuing this section into our excavation area in order to investigate what the next horizon down looks like. This revealed a well constructed surface composed of quite substantial pebbles. It looks like a yard surface or a floor surface within a structure and may be related to the pebble surface to the north, though clearly they are not the same feature as the northern surface is constructed of much smaller pebbles. Whatever it turns out to be we can’t wait to explore it further.

trench 3

The trench close to the end of the season. The sondage has been extended to the east section and the (large) pebble surface is visible even from this distance.

 

Looking back at this seasons work in Trench 1

When we set out at the start of the season we were fairly confident that this would be the last year of excavation in Trench 1. There seemed only a limited number of questions left to be answered and since we had exposed boulder clay and bedrock over the full area of the trench at the end of last season, it’s not as if there was much more to dig. Trench 1 always seems to have more secrets to reveal though, so the appearance of more post-holes and small features, due to slow weathering, and the difficulty of answering one of our last research goals, frustrated us in the end. I can’t say I am sad to have a little more to do next year.

We started the year with two outstanding research goals. The first was to complete the investigation of the corn-drying kiln (a kiln or oven used to dry damp cereal for use or storage) in the north-west corner of the trench and the second was to further investigate the timber defensive rampart leading to St Oswald’s gate and also to see if we could also trace evidence of the rampart along the northern limit of the perimeter of the site. It presence here had long been speculated on but never proved.

The kiln has been a fascinating feature, constructed from fired clay set around laths of timber that would have at one point supported a domed top, fragments of which we find broken and forming a substantial part of the fill of the bowl. It also contained a considerable quantity of charred cereal grain that will help us learn a little more about the diet of the inhabitants. The kiln was likely used to dry damp grain on its way into the fortress for long term storage. This would explain its location close to the entrance at St Oswald’s Gate. At the moment we have a series of potential dates for the kiln based on archaeomagnetic samples. The most likely period of its use is the late Anglo-Saxon period, but a radiocarbon date will be needed to confirm this.

Kilndouble

The kiln at the start of the season (left) and following complete excavation (right)

One aspect that has intrigued us about the kiln for a while is that it underlies the earliest phase of high medieval wall, which is probably 12th century in date. The edge of the rock plateau is close by so when the kiln was in use there must either have been a much thinner stone wall or no defensive feature at all, given that a timber rampart would have been at a severe risk of burning down if right next to a kiln. We know that we have at least two phases of timber defence on the west side and that the kiln cuts and post-dates the latest of these. This summer we have further investigated this, excavating more of the later rubble foundation for a timber sill beam to reveal a series of post-holes beneath it. On the same alignment. The post-holes are spaced about 0.5m apart and, like the sill beam, almost certainly represent the inner face of a box rampart.

rampart

The norther part of the stone rubble rampart foundation excavated to reveal two earlier post-holes that formed an earlier phase of the feature

We have long speculated that the rampart likely continued around the fortress perimeter on the north side and have even seen what appeared to be a linear formed from a stony clay extending in the right place and on the right alignment for this. We began the excavation of a slop through the boulder clay across the trench to try and investigate this idea. We assumed that if the spread was to represent the former fill of a timber rampart then we would have re-deposited boulder clay on a boulder clay surface that had not been disturbed. The theory seemed reasonable but proving it has turned out to be much harder than thought. The boulder clay turns out to be more variable and mixed than we thought from its surface and, not at all surprisingly, hard to dig! By the end of the season we had a number of potential post-holes, a series of enigmatic patches of apparently burnt clay and no clear buried surface. Unable to make firm conclusion just what this evidence means, we will be conducting a limited amount of further excavation next year. Hopefully we will be able to get some secure answers, but if not then at least we will have done everything we could to reveal this last secret.

boulder clay

Trench 1 looking west with our sondage into the boulder clay marked by the ranging rod. Lots of confusion at the north end but no certainlty about just what we are excavating yet!

 

St Aidan’s ossuary in the news again

St Aidans

St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh

An event hosted at St Aidan’s, Bamburgh by the Bamburgh Heritage Trust will provide a further chance to view the ossuary and learn more about its creation and the lives of those buried there more than 1200 years ago.

Follow the link to see more details and information on how to book your place.

http://www.northumberlandgazette.co.uk/news/local-news/rare-chance-to-visit-ossuary-at-bamburgh-1-8076237

Laying the Bowl Hole Skeletons to Rest

Skeleton been recorded

It seems both a long time ago and strangely almost like yesterday that we uncovered a cyst burial (a grave cut outlined with slabs of stone) and realised that we had identified the location of the lost burial ground at the Bowl Hole. Memory is a funny thing! Over the 15+ years since that weekend we have undertaken an extensive excavation, followed by a successful collaboration with Durham University, aimed at analysing the skeletons and understanding as far as we are able the story that they have to tell us.

The results have been fascinating and we very much look forward to sharing them with you in the future, through further academic papers, a long awaited monograph and, we hope, a popular publication and visitor centre. Much of this work lies in the months ahead but tomorrow a long awaited and important landmark in the story of the site will happen when we undertake the reburial of the skeletons at St Aidan’s church in Bamburgh. We always intended to rebury them following their study and ST Aidan’s, a church whose foundation is as old as the cemetery site, is the perfect place to be their final resting place.

You can read a little more about the service in the article below. If you have the chance to attend then please do.

http://www.northumberlandgazette.co.uk/news/local-news/final-committal-of-anglo-saxon-skeletons-after-creation-of-ossuary-1-7975389#ixzz4COCrIfrQ

New article on our excavations at Bamburgh Castle

Slide 8

The windmill office in the West Ward, between our two excavation trenches

Archaeology, the magazine of the Archaeological Institute of American has published an article on our excavation work at Bamburgh Castle. It is available online here:

Stronghold of the Kings of the North

 

The King in the North – a talk

The Friends of St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh have organised a talk by Max Adams on his biography of St Oswald. It is at St Aidan’s at 4:00 pm Sunday 24th April. Entrance if £5.00 and includes afternoon tea.

Max Adams lecture poster

Writing a biography of an early medieval king is a challenge, so succeeding in writing an acclaimed one, as Max has, suggests we will be in for a treat. Do make it along if you get the chance.

Exciting news about the Bowl Hole early medieval burial ground

We are very happy to announce that we have received £1890.00 grant for additional carbon dates for the Bowl Hole skeletons from the Sustainable Development Fund of the Northumberland AONB.

excavation in 2005.JPG

The Bowl Hole early medieval cemetery site, excavated by the BRP between 1998 and 2007 has since been the subject of intensive scientific analysis by a team at Durham University led by Professor Charlotte Roberts. The results are very exciting and those of you with an interest in the academic papers produced so far should have a look on the website hosted at the university (https://www.dur.ac.uk/research/directory/view/?mode=project&id=278).

BRP are currently working with the Bamburgh Heritage Trust to see the skeletons respectfully re-interred in the crypt at St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh, and to produce a new display bringing the research results to the attention of the public. The new dates will aid us in narrowing down phasing and greatly add to our ability to interpret this amazing site.

A confused person’s guide to Trench 1

We thought it might be helpful, for regular users of the blog, to put up annotated photographs of our two trenches, as I am sure at times it is difficult to imagine just where the individual buildings and features lie. In this blog we will start with Trench 1.

Trench 1, labelled to identify the key features, facing north

Trench 1, labelled to identify the key features, facing north

As regular readers will be aware, Trench 1 lies at the northern tip of the fortress, at the lowest point of the bedrock plateau. Here we have unearthed evidence of the early phases of defensive structures built in timber together with a rather substantial timber hall. On the photograph you can see this as a shaded outline with the outline of a later stone hall superimposed on top of it. It is perhaps only when you outline it so clearly that its full scale becomes apparent. As we have described before it completely dominates the gate cleft (in the bedrock) to its south-west, which is the earliest known entrance to the fortress.

The stone building has been assumed to be the later of the two, but it is only this season, whilst investigating the area where the two structures come close to each other in the north-east corner, that we have proved that this is indeed the case. The date of the stone structure’s construction is uncertain, but it appears to have been robbed out before the Norman Conquest.

We are on less certain ground on the western side of the trench where we have a massive laid stone boulder foundation, for what we believe to be a timber wall, that we are interpreting as part of an early phase of defences. This is based on its general alignment with the break of slope of the bedrock, and the presence of a large timber post-setting that could have carried an archway across the gate cleft itself.

The later medieval defences are much better understood, as we have written records surviving from the 12th century to help in our interpretation. The later medieval gate is built in two phases, the first dating from the later 12th century with a 13th century widening, presumably to carry a breteche (an extension like a balcony built over a gate, with openings in its base to shoot projectiles or drop objects through). The gate widening and breteche are likely to be contemporary with the glacis built in front of the gate that we have no direct dating evidence for.

The tall stack of surviving medieval curtain wall that survives on the northern wall line would once have extended all the way around the seaward side of the West Ward, just as the 20th century wall does today.