Progress with the Bamburgh Castle Trench 8 publication

We always have a quiet period on the blog following the excavation season but although work has slowed we are still busy. The current focus for the Bamburgh Castle excavation is on producing a publication centred on our re-evaluation of Brian Hope-Taylor’s first excavation in the West Ward of the castle that he undertook in 1960. The Bamburgh Research Project emptied the backfill and re-drew the sections in 2006, taking the opportunity to sample excavate two baulks of material that Hope-Taylor had left in place. We have been fortunate to receive some funding support from the Royal Archaeological Institute towards a good part of the specialist analysis costs and to fund some radiocarbon dates. More information about this can be read here on a previous blog post.

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Combining the H-T and BRP small find locations in QGIS using georeferenced to import Hope-Taylor’s section to our section drawing. Fun but not entirely straight forward.

We now have reports on the pottery and glass and reports on the flint and metalwork are close to completion. Graeme Young, one of the BRP Directors, is currently working on illustrations that compare the original Hope-Taylor records with our own. Not as easy a job as you would imagine as one set of records was compiled in feet and inches and the second, forty six years later, in metric. The two records also show the many changes in excavation techniques that have taken place as well. Given that the trench represented some 2000 years of occupation, and produced some amazing finds, it is definitely worth the effort.

Worked Flint from Trench 42 at the Bradford Kaims

Franzi Leja – Assistant Supervisor and the University of Bamberg, Germany

During this season Trench 42, situated on the south-side of the Bradford Kaims excavation area, was extended to measure at 13 m by 5 m, intended to reveal potential structures related to a large pit and the post holes surrounding it in the centre of the trench, exposed in the 2016 season. Unlike in the western half of the trench, there was no burnt mound underneath the topsoil, which came straight down to the prehistoric land surface into which the trough and the other features were cut. In the south-east-corner, a modern horse-shoe was discovered in the topsoil, but shortly after this, sitting on top of the light and yellowish sand based land-surface that we were aiming for, a large worked flint point was discovered.

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It is triangular in shape with the two retouched sides being slightly convex. They have been knapped and retouched, with the bulb of percussion at the tapered end. As the flint is so thick, it suggests that the currently tapered end is in fact the base, with the point having snapped off leading to the discard of the tool. Our first assumption was that this was an arrow head, but the thickness and length of the tool, when complete, suggests it could be something like a spear head. Our provisional dating for the site suggests that this is a Bronze Age tool, but we wait for specialist analysis to further prove this.

Beyond this initial evaluation, the discovery of the flint lends credence to the idea that the land-surface which we came down upon is contemporary with, and associated to, the burnt mound in this area, and that the artefact scatter which also contained flint working debris, suggests an associated activity going on in the periphery of the burnt mound.

More Bronze Age Pottery!

In a previous blog post, we shared our exciting pottery find from Trench 6 at the Kaims site: a single rim fragment of cord-impressed pottery with a tentative Bronze Age date.  In our 4th week of the season, a further 21 fragments turned up in the same area!  The find included two more rim pieces, four with cord impressions, and 17 undecorated fragments of various sizes from (we believe) the lower portion of the vessel.

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Pottery fragments lying in situ in Trench 6 before excavation

After giving the collection a gentle wash, we were surprised to see that on the surface of several of the fragments are what appear to be small finger nail impressions running in horizontal lines in the fired clay.  They don’t appear to be intentional decoration, so they could be marks left by the vessel’s Bronze-Age creator during the forming process.  If after further analysis our suspicions are confirmed, this would be very exciting for us, because this find will be a rare glimpse of an individual person’s fingerprint on this landscape.

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Pottery fragments after washing

When the new pottery was compared with the original fragment, we found that the three rim pieces fit together, along with the remaining two decorated pieces.  This gives us a much more reliable idea of the possible size of the vessel, which might have had a rim as wide as 45cm.  Right now we think we might have the remnants of a very large bowl or jar.

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The 5 decorated pieces that fit together

One fragment revealed another feature of this vessel: a thin, raised band of clay running along the middle of the vessel, right at the bottom of the criss-cross, cord-impressed band of decoration near the rim.

Due to the poor quality of the clay and low firing temperatures, the vessel would not have successfully held liquid, but could have been used for food storage.

End of an era as Trench 1 at Bamburgh Castle closes (1999 to 2017)

Long long ago (in a different century) we first opened Trench 1 at Bamburgh Castle. It was the Bamburgh Research Project’s first ever trench within the castle as our previous work had been centred on the Bowl Hole burial ground and desk based research. Its end has been predicted for a couple of seasons now, but each year more post-holes and features seemed to weather out and become visible, frustrating our plans to close the trench. This year though we dealt with the last few of those and even further investigated the glacial deposits at the base just to be certain that nothing lay hidden. We have officially closed the trench and it is under semipermeable membranes waiting for backfilling.

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Some Trench 1 staff from present and past were there for the last day. Left to right- Constance Durgeat, Alex Stevens, Marsaili Heatley, Graham Dixon and Graeme Young. Former supervisors not pictured: Graeme Attwood, Neal Lythe, Phil Wood, Matthew Claydon.

Some of the earliest features have been the most difficult to identify and interpret, cut into boulder clay and often having a fill very close to the surrounding natural in both colour and composition. At this lower level the site resembles a moonscape with craters cutting craters. A definite challenge for our continued interpretation during post-excavation.

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We made a list of the senior staff from the trench for a time capsule

There will be many more blogs on the trench in the future as we work to write it up and publish it but today I thought I would post a few early photos as contrast to the trench today. Many thanks to all of the supervisors, assistant supervisors, and hundreds of students who worked in trench one over the years.

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A junior Trench 1 from 2001, a small version of what it became!

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Part way through the high medieval sequence with the consuction cut for the early 20th century wall on the right

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A thanks to the many students who worked hard and recorded diligently over many years

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The last days of the trench with sondages across the boulder clay – just in case!

Amazing pottery from the Bradford Kaims

Last week we had a JCB at the Bradford Kaims to extend Trench 6. When cleaning this new extension, Project Officer Tom Gardner found one of the most exciting finds this site has ever seen: a large fragment of Bronze Age pottery. After giving it a wash, we discovered that the pottery was decorated with cord impressions making a criss-cross shape on its outer surface. The sherd is part of the pot’s rim, and thumb imprints can be seen where its creator was shaping it.

Although twisted cord impressions are common in Neolithic pottery, this sherd was found in a context that is likely contemporaneous with Bronze Age radiocarbon dates. Neolithic pottery is also extremely rare in the North East of England which led us to conclude that it was in fact Bronze Age.

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Project Manager Rachel Brewer is currently doing an archaeological pottery drawing from the sherd to gauge how large the pot could have been, then it will be sent to our finds department for further analysis!

Watch this space.

Introducing the 2017 Bradford Kaims Staff

Paul Gething – Site Director

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I’m Paul. I believe that good PPE is the key to good excavation.

Post-script by Tom Gardner; Other than being flippant in return emails, Paul Gething is from Yorkshire, has been a professional archaeologist for many decades, and directs our excavations with suitable aplomb and style. When not excavating, Paul is a school governor and magistrate, as well as a writer who has published widely upon the medieval period and the history of Northumbria. He likes ale and fun & games.

Tom Gardner – Project Officer

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Hi. I’m Tom, and I’m from Glasgow in Scotland. I am a PhD student in Geoarchaeology at the University of Edinburgh. I have been working at the Bradford Kaims for 6 years, after coming as a student in 2012. What I love most about the project is the camaraderie between staff and students on site, and in our post-work social scene. I am in charge of overseeing the archaeological investigations at the Kaims, and this allows me to get stuck in to the soil science, as is my want. Outside of work, I enjoy sitting around in the campsite having a quiet drink, and participating in the many pub quizzes of Belford.

Rachel Brewer – Project Manager

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Hello, everyone, I’m Rachel Brewer and I’m from Illinois, U.S.A.  After participating as a student in 2014 and working as an assistant supervisor in 2016, I’m excited to be back with the Bradford Kaims Project in the role of Project Manager.  I have a B.A. in History from Southern Illinois University and an M.A. in Archaeology from Cardiff University, Wales.  I’m particularly interested in the Anglo-Saxons and early medieval pottery, but I’ve enjoyed the excavation opportunities, work environment and people at the BRP so much that I keep returning! Back home I work as a secondary English teacher, but I love being involved in fieldwork during the summer holidays. I look forward to meeting and working with all of you!

Rachel Moss – Trench 6 Supervisor

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I’m Rachel – otherwise known as ‘Moss’ – and I will be returning to the Bradford Kaims this year as a supervisor. I first started excavating at the Kaims as a student in 2014 and have been coming back ever since. I have spent most of my time at the site in Trench 6 and can’t wait to discover more of its secrets this year. I also love the experimental archaeology we carry out every season, from making pottery to brewing prehistoric beer.

I am currently studying for my undergraduate degree in archaeology from the University of Edinburgh. In my spare time I enjoy reading, good food, travel, and trips to St Mary’s to watch Southampton FC whenever I’m at home down south.

I can’t wait to get back for the start of this season and meet all the students and community volunteers coming to join us!

Anna Finneran – Coring Supervisor

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Hi, I’m Anna and I’m from Maryland. I completed a BA and MA at Durham University and this autumn I am returning to Durham to begin a PhD. I first joined the BRP as a student in 2014. This year I will be assisting Dr. Richard Tipping.

Charlie Kerwin – Trench 42 Supervisor

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I’m Charlie and I have just moved back home to London after finishing my undergraduate degree in BSc Archaeology at the University of Nottingham. This will be my fourth year at the BRP, I first came to the BRP as a student in 2014 and became a staff member in 2016 when I undertook the role of Assistant Supervisor on the South Side of the Bradford Kaims. I’m excited to be returning this year as Supervisor of the South Side. In my academic studies my main interest was not actually within prehistoric archaeology, rather they lay within gender archaeology and the Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods. However, the incredible preservation offered by the wetland conditions at the Bradford Kaims immediately caught my interest and has kept me coming back. Although I am looking forward to overseeing the South Side and I am keenly anticipating what archaeological features will be uncovered during this season’s excavations, it is really the people that have made me return year after year. I’m always thrilled to get to see and work with the great team at the Kaims each season and I am also looking forward to getting to know all the new people who will be visiting the project.

After this season, I’m hoping to continue my education. However, I am leaving the field of Archaeology (with some regret) to pursue an MSc in Development Studies at SOAS University of London.

Franzi Leja – Trench 42 Assistant Supervisor

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In my fourth year of returning to this amazing project, I once again put my studies in Bamberg, Germany to a little rest and look forward to the experiences awaiting me and everyone attending the BRP. At my home university I currently work at the department of Geoarchaeology analysing charcoal and am writing my bachelor thesis about vegetation reconstruction. My role in this year’s season will be the assistant supervisor to Trench 9 and Trench 11 at the Bradford Kaims. Our plans and hopes for 2017, including new survey methods, got me extra excited and I cannot wait to reunite with old friends and meet new ones!

Katie Walker – Trench 6 Assistant Supervisor

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I am Katie, and I am from Inverness. I am currently finishing my 3rd year at the university of Edinburgh. This year I am an assistant supervisor in Trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims. I am most looking forward to the mighty craic!

Becky Scott- Assistant Supervisor

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I’m Becky and I will be returning to the Kaims this year as an Assistant Supervisor because I enjoyed my time here so much in 2015! I have an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science and have recently finished an MSc in Environmental Archaeology at the University of Reading where I will be starting my PhD in September. My main interests are Palaeolithic (particularly Lower Paleolithic) and Mesolithic environments, and the use of terrestrial carbonates in archaeology.  I hope you enjoy this photo of me in my element on the coast of Wales looking for Mesolithic footprints. Hopefully the weather at the Kaims will be slightly better than this…

Cuthbert – Dog

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I am Cuthbert. I joined the team in 2015. I’m a dog and I’m friendly but quite slobbery. My favourite type of site is one with a ball.

Our Lecture Series for the 2017 Season

Anyone in or visiting the Bamburgh/Belford area during the next five weeks are welcome to attend our  Wednesday evening public archaeology lectures at the Bell View Centre in Belford, Northumberland.

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No booking is required and entry is free, though any donations to the project to cover the cost of renting the venue is gratefully received.

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.

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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’.

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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.

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.

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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.

 

Spaces filling up for our 2017 Archaeology Field School

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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!