Update on the off season excavation in Trench 3

It’s been a busy week on site, so we thought it was time for a little update on what’s been happening.

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Excavation underway in Trench 3

Iron age or Romano-British pottery

One of the most notable finds this week came out of the north-west corner where Constance has been working. Towards the end of last week, she uncovered a flagstone surface which appears to be the base of a post pad. Just to the south of this we found some sizeable pieces of Iron Age or Romano-British pot sherds. What stands out about this pot is that on the base you can see the wood grain of the surface it was shaped on.

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Pottery of Iron Age or Romano-British date from the north of the trench

Excavating some of the cobbles

As part of our plan for this off season excavation we are compiling a north to south section that will run the length of the trench and allow us to her lots of relationships between different parts of the site. As part of this section we’ve started taking off a 2-metre strip of the cobbled surface, this will be the first time we get a decent look at what is happening underneath (currently, it’s just more cobbles!).

Tom has finished his sondage

In the north area of the trench we have completely excavated a 2m x 1m sondage (sounding trench) down to bedrock. This small trench has provided us with a look at some of the earliest archaeology within the trench, from the early medieval all the way down to the prehistoric. We’ve had some interesting finds come out of this area that include Samian ware, Iron Age or Romano-British pottery, a bent coin and even a broken copper ring! We have been able to track how the bedrock at this end of the trench forms the side of the cleft in which Trench 3 sits and how steeply the bedrock drops off. The other side of the rock cleft lies beyond the Armstrong Museum and rises up to carry the cross wall that divided the West and East Wards of the castle.

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Tom’s sondage extending from the deep latrine pit

Paul and Edoardo have a new book out

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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:

Listen to the interview here

And if you want to check out more books by Eduardo this is the link to his website

 

We are back digging at the castle

When we did our round-up of the 2019 Summer dig a few weeks ago we did say we that we had some news of work that would be happening over the next few months, so I think its high time we told you what it is! There have been a number of changes at the castle this year, and more are planned. Amongst these are additions to the experience of visiting the West Ward, where the old Trench 1 has been backfilled and landscaped, and now there is the intention to add more public activities from next summer. As our major excavation (Trench 3) rather sprawls over a substantial area of the ward it is rather in the way of this so following discussion with the castle, we are doing a staff dig to complete the excavation by next spring. We are able to do this due to a generous grant from the estate that will pay many weeks of wages and because we had pretty much reached he same level as Dr Hope-Taylor had managed in the 1970s, so all that remains is to excavate a sufficient sample down to the earliest occupation beneath the Hope-Taylor levels.

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Just started and we already have a new stone-lined  hearth uncovered

By adding this deeper sample we will have a full sequence from the prehistoric to the modern era. We will of course have to sample the earliest deposits over a much smaller area. This is necessary because of the time available but also unavoidable due to the need to step the area in for safety reasons due to the depth we need to reach. This could be as deep as 4m below ground level in places.

We will have a smaller team than usual so will not be able to do as many social media posts as we would like as we need to concentrate on the excavation, but we do intend to keep you informed as well as we can.

It will be the end of an era for the BRP but not the end of our work at Bamburgh as future projects are already being developed.

Bamburgh Castle Early Medieval Metalwork Conservation: Iron Objects

As part of the Bamburgh Research Project’s (BRP) funding from the Society of Antiquaries of London (SOA) (learn more about the project here: SOA Funding Success), the BRP have been working with a conservator to identify metal objects that may require additional research and conservation to help preserve them and, in some instances, reveal new details about their form or decoration. The latter is particularly pertinent for iron objects, as corrosion often masks the finer detail of many objects.

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Funding from the SOA and Bamburgh Castle has enabled us to have all the early medieval metalwork from the castle conserved. We recently received the conservation report for all the iron objects. Below you can see some of the before and after images of key items from the assemblage.

Angled back Seax with fuller and whittle tang. Swirls indicative of pattern welding, seen in x-ray and during conservation.

 

Object BC08 6531 sf 3234 has been identified as a small C-shaped fire-striker of probably eighth to tenth-century date, but further research would be required to confirm this.

Each conserved item is returned to the BRP with before and after photographs and an individual conservation report, noting what work has been undertaken, any suggested further work required and how to best store the object(s) in long term storage. You can see an example of such a report here: Iron Fire-striker Conservation Record

Eventually, we aim to create a new museum display within the Castle, so visitors can see the conserved metalwork and learn how this material has added to our understanding of the sites development, particularly in the West Ward of the castle where we have discovered a 9th-10th century metalworking area.

Join the Bamburgh Research Project as part of the Festival of Archaeology

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.

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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.

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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.

To book your place simply visit the Festival website and follow the instructions: sign-up to the BRP Festival event

 

Trench 3 – then and now

Looking back on our photo archive, to select some additional images for the newly updated website, it has been just too tempting not to post some images to show you Trench 3 in its earliest days compared to now.

Trench 3 is the focus of the 2019 excavation season, as we continue to work through the Anglo-Saxon deposits and marry the Hope-Taylor excavation limit with our own.

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Close to the beginning in 2002. We had the year before identified the location of Hope-Taylor’s trench and now began our open area excavation with a little mechanical help.

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By the end of 2002 the trench was already close to the size we know today, even if nothing like so deep.

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Up to date, Trench 3 at the end of the excavation in 2018

The story continues this summer for six more weeks starting June 16th. We would love you to join us and the details are below:

You can book anywhere from one to six weeks. However, we recommend booking two weeks minimum for a well rounded experience. Our dates are listed below:

  • Week 1: June 16th- June 22nd
  • Week 2: June 23rd- June 29th
  • Week 3: June 30th- July 6th
  • Week 4: July 7th- July 13th
  • Week 5: July 14th- July 21st
  • Week 6: July 22nd- July 27th

Student spaces are limited, so we encourage you to book your place as soon as possible.

Tuition is £280 per week, which will cover all on-site excavation and post-excavation activities. You can learn more about what this covers by visiting our website.

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Update on the Discovering Aidan Project

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.

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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.

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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.

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Launch of our 2019 Archaeology Field School

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We are delighted to announce that booking details are now available for our 2019 field school season, which runs from June 16th – July 27th. The field school will operate out of Bamburgh Castle and we are offering two programmes:

Excavation and Post-Excavation or Post-Excavation only

You can book anywhere from one to six weeks. However, we recommend booking two weeks minimum for a well rounded experience. Our dates are listed below:

  • Week 1: June 16th- June 22nd
  • Week 2: June 23rd- June 29th
  • Week 3: June 30th- July 6th
  • Week 4: July 7th- July 13th
  • Week 5: July 14th- July 21st
  • Week 6: July 22nd- July 27th

Student spaces are limited, so we encourage you to book your place as soon as possible.

Tuition is £280 per week, which will cover all on-site excavation and post-excavation activities. You can learn more about what this covers by visiting our website.

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Excavation of Trench 3 at 8th century levels

Accommodation must be booked separately. The staff are staying at Budle Bay Campsite and we very much encourage you to join us there for a more communal experience. Most who join the dig find making new friends and the social side of the excavation just as much fun as the dig itself.  Budle bay offers a variety of options from basic camping to booking your own Eco Hut. Options for space in the Bunkhouse that we are booking for staff are also available but do contact us to ensure that places are still available in it before booking with the campsite.

Note: There were a number of changes to the field school last year, such as our training schedule and when you are expected to arrive. Even if you have booked in years past we encourage you to read-through the updated website pages.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.

The BRP’s new website is taking shape

It has taken some time, and a good bit of work, but the new website is now up and beginning to take shape. There is still a lot of work to be done, as its pretty sparse, but this is a deliberate choice as we want to do a big update of the content as well as the look of the site. We also hope that it will be a step forward in joining up our media footprint and should be easier to navigate around and find content.

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One thing to look out for soon will be our announcement of the details for our 2019 excavation season. It will be modelled on the 2018 and will run in June and July and I am glad to say we are getting close to deciding the dates. Just as with last year Post-Excavation will be one of our main focusses as well as further exploring the new 7th century cobble surface in Trench 3. We have a busy couple of weeks ahead but are aiming to have the new season details announced, and the booking open, by mid November, so not long to wait now.

What we did this summer: Bamburgh castle excavation 2018

Looking back at this year’s excavation season it is satisfying to see the results that were achieved. The cobble surface, first seen in 2016, has been fully exposed within the trench. In addition the process of integrating the BRP excavation with the northern area, previously excavated by Dr Brian Hope-Taylor, has really advanced. In fact next year we will be able to move the two trenches forward as one.

In the case of the cobbles, rather than a single feature with clear edges, the surface was found to be a complex composed of multiple layers and patches with a rather diffuse edge that blended into the adjacent layers. It was clear that understanding this structure fully and dissecting its varied components is going to be a challenging task, but hopefully a rewarding one. We have made a start but a lot more work needs to follow. At present this complex structure is thought to date from the 7th to 8th centuries AD, based on two radiocarbon dates from the adjacent Trench 8 and the stylistic date for the bird mount that was found on the surface.

In addition to exposing the cobbles we removed a number of adjacent layers to expose what we believe to be, at least part, of the contemporary surface around the cobbles and identified a number of features in the process. Some of these were clearly structural, which means that at present our best understanding is that we have a yard (the cobbles) around which other timber buildings are likely to have stood. It is tempting to see this arrangement as an act of deliberate planning, probably under royal supervision.

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The structural cobble surface fully exposed within the trench

As with the overlying 9th century layers, we see the cobble surface and its surrounding structures as having an industrial function, as ash and waste material continues to be a substantial component of the excavated layers. We are not clear if this remains primarily metal working, but we are now at a similar level to what appears to be a metalworking area in the Hope-Taylor trench (comprising a hearth and a water channel). The animal bone evidence recovered was substantial and varied, so one thing we can be sure of is that the workers in this area continued to live well and dispose of food waste within their working environment.

Finally in order to better understand Hope-Taylor’s ‘lower pavement’, that appears to be a wall foundation running along the western boundary of his trench, rather than a path, we excavated an area of undisturbed archaeological layers that had formed the base for our stepped entrance into the trench. This appeared to reveal that the foundation turned a right angle and extended beyond the limit of the trench and did not continue to the south. This excavation also revealed the presence of a pit filled with rubble including a squared stone block covered in mortar that we hope to further reveal and recover next season.

The BRP team would like to thank Will Armstrong and his castle staff who make us feel so welcome. Particular mention should go to Lisa for her help with getting the metal finds off for x-ray and Stuart for assisiting with the above photograph with his Cherry Picker. We are grateful to The Society of Antiquaries of London for a generous grant towards the assessement of the full site metal archive which is ongoing, and to the Mick Aston Fund of the Council for British Archaeology for a grant to assisit with our outreach programme. I would also personally like to thank our wonderful team of archaeological staff for a great summer. Roll on 2019.

Graeme Young

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