Further investigation of the roundhouse and a fundraiser

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.

A sherd of pottery we recovered from the stone wall base

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.

https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-bamburgh-roundhouse?utm_medium=email&utm_source=product&utm_campaign=p_email%2B4904-welcome-wp-v5

Iron Age or Romano-British Roundhouse!

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:

The Accessing Aidan Project and the BRP

As some of you may know, the Bamburgh Research Project (BRP), has been working closely with the Accessing Aidan project, lead by the Northumberland Coast AONB and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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

Excavation BH

crypt

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.

Bmaburgh Bones

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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.

 

A Day in Archaeology: the CBA’s Digital Festival of Archaeology

A Day in Archaeology twitter card people

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.

You can read the blog here: Jo’s ‘A Day in Archaeology’ Blog 

Update concerning Covid 19

bamburgh pano

 

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.

 

 

Application to the 2020 Fieldschool is now live on 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.

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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.

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

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.

new hearth

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.

Round-up: Week 2

This week was very busy, and even with some uncooperative weather, we made a lot of headway in the trench and with some of our post-excavation work. Our flotation tank is up and running, so we have started processing samples from the first week of the season with students. The finds department has been digitizing records, as well as guiding some of the students into more advanced technical drawing of small finds. In addition, they worked on some 3D models of Brian Hope-Taylor’s old trench to better understand what he was seeing. We hope to show you those as well as models of our excavation when they are finished.

Along the western edge of the trench, we started working at the base of a section wall we re-cut that stands adjacent to Brian Hope-Taylor’s trench containing the mortar mixer (SW corner of trench). The upper pavement he had originally encountered seems to continue in our excavation.

Brown-haired girl kneels in front of wall of earth, large paving stones to her left.

The upper pavement of which Hope-Taylor spoke, in an area adjacent to his original excavations.

We lifted some of those paving stones, which revealed a large deposit of snail shells and, as we cleaned, some really beautiful but compact stratigraphy.

Layers of soil alternating bark brown, orange, grey and ashen, above large paving stones.

The stratigraphy under the upper pavement on the western edge of the trench north of the mortar mixer.

Near the trench entrance ramp, we dug a sondage to examine a possible pit. Nearly-whole oyster shells were stacked in a small pile in the sondage. We extended our mini-trench along a stone alignment and discovered a beautifully incised spindle whorl (seen here in both drawing and photo).

Small brown rectangle of lower soil with narrow stones aligned along the bottom of the image.

Sondage looking south; shell deposit to left and spindle whorl found centre-right.

The northwestern corner of the trench was cleaned and reexamined, and it remains one of the weirdest areas of the trench going back nearly a decade. This time, what stood out was that the corner was retaining moisture differently from the adjacent areas; we call this differential drying. This tells us that there is something preventing the soil from draining and drying at the same rate, be it the composition of the soil (for example, a lot of clay) or the presence of something, natural or human-made, underneath it.

Yellow tripod in right background, triangle of grey-brown soil bordered on two sides by angular grey stones.

NW corner of the trench; tripod for our total station, which is a surveying tool that measures distance electronically by bouncing light off a prism.

Lastly, in the southeast corner of the trench, we planned all the cobbles of our 7th/8th-century yard surface and began removing them! This layer of cobbles had been exposed for a while, so lifting many of the loosest stones was extremely satisfying. And underneath? So far…more cobbles. Stay tuned!

Four adults crouch to lift small grey and blue cobbles and place them in yellow buckets.

Everyone wanted to get in on lifting the cobbles!

 

Way Back Wednesday: Week 2

This Wednesday we have taken a fantastic iron arrowhead out of the archive to share because it looks very…shall we say…sharp. The pointy end is 5cm, while the other end is socketed, meaning it has a round opening that would be slid over a wooden shaft and secured with hide glue (a glue technology that goes back thousands of years involving stewing animal hides treated with lime).

BC04 SF1616 Before (2)

BC04 SF1616 Before (1)

Before conservation.

 

This medieval weapon would have likely been used for hunting rather than warfare, but in a pinch would certainly do the job if needed. Our arrowhead is slender with a triangular head and diamond or oval cross-section, suggesting it could have had multiple uses. Armour-piercing arrows from the medieval period, which we call bodkins, tend to be thin, squared and tapered to a point or even chisel tip, but without barbs; they are more successful against mail and plate armour than broadhead arrow points (large triangular heads with barbs) which themselves caused more damage to flesh. We can get an estimate of our arrowhead’s date simply by looking at the typology provided by Oliver Jessop’s 1996 typology which calls it a “multipurpose triangular arrowhead (MP1).” It is a bit longer than the example he provides, but we are relatively confident that that is just a minor variation of the same type. The London Museum’s earlier typology from the 1940 catalog call it a “type 2,” but they used a much narrower classification system. Unfortunately, these socketed arrowheads were in use a long time, from about the 11th to 15th centuries, so it is at this moment that we turn to our excavation record! We can look at the data from the context in which it was found, examining the context’s location in the trench and the other artefacts associated with said context. From our records, this arrowhead was found in a 13th-century occupation layer that may have been associated with a timber building.

BC04 SF1616 After (2)

BC04 SF1616 After (1)

After conservation.