We Are Legally Required Not to Make This Title a Pun About St. Oswald’s Arm

The Inner Ward of Bamburgh Castle holds many secrets, and one of the most interesting at hand (…sorry, couldn’t help it) is the church of Saint Peter/chapel of Saint Oswald. Across from the modern staterooms stands a small ruin. Don’t be fooled, however, because the ruins were modified during the Victorian Age! There seems to have been an intention to rebuild a chapel on the spot even in the 18th century, but it was never completed and dismantled early in the 19th century. It was extremely fashionable to have ruins on your property if you were wealthy, and if you didn’t have actual remnants of historical buildings, you could simply commission some. There was a certain romance in the decaying masonry of peoples long since gone. We call the false ruins found scattered on estates throughout the country “Victorian follies.” The folly that demarcates the holy space at the top of the Bamburgh rock does contain the tiniest bit of 12th-century Norman masonry in the far corner, but otherwise only preserves a rough guess at where the Anglo-Saxon period church would have stood. The Anglo-Saxon church is mentioned in a few key chronicles of the period, including Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of English People) written by the Venerable Bede. In Bede’s time, the church was dedicated to Saint Peter, but Norman records suggest the same site became the chapel of Saint Oswald.

Manuscript excerpt featuring Saint Oswald; man with brown hair, sceptre, and globe.

Excerpt from Spencer 1, folio 89 reverse. (New York Public Library.)

Oswald was son of a Bernician king who had been sent to exile after the death of his father; he was victorious over the numerous rival communities and kingdoms during his reign, and he was regarded as the overking of the English, called Bretwalda. The northern kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira were joined for perhaps their most successful stretch by Oswald. The royal city of this now-united-but-only-temporarily kingdom was Bamburgh, at the time called Bebbanburh. The origin of that name seems to stem from the name of the wife of Æthelfrith, descendant of King Ida who was the first recorded Anglian king of Bernicia (547AD). Oswald encouraged the Celtic Christianity brought by Aidan (from Iona but later founder of Lindisfarne), making the united Northumbria a Christian kingdom.

Bede’s Ecclesiastical History is also full of many juicy little morsels about Anglo-Saxon kings, and King Oswald is no exception. One anecdote of Oswald’s piety witnessed by Aidan, bishop-turned-saint, is recounted by Bede:

At dinner, the two men received word that outside a crowd of beggars had amassed hoping the king would spare some food. Oswald immediately sent his silver plate piled with food out to them and had the plate broken up and pieces given to each. Aidan was so pleased by such a gentle and generous king, he held the hand that had offered relief to the poor of his kingdom and blessed him that his arm and hand would never wither. When Oswald was defeated by Penda, last pagan king of the Mercians, his head and limbs were struck from his body. The arm and hand were eventually recovered and sent to Bamburgh, where they lay in a reliquary of silver.


The apse encircling the 19th-century bell is the only extant Norman masonry.

In 1997, 2000, and finally in 2010, the BRP did some geophysical surveys of the area where the Victorian folly now stands; the first year involved survey of resistivity (which measures how an electrical current travels through the ground), the second was ground-penetrating radar, while the last involved both methods, this time with the help of Channel 4’s Time Team crew. The initial data were promising, suggesting a vaulted crypt might lay beneath the ruins. After subsequent excavation, numerous features on the church site were discovered and recorded, but none that matched the anomaly from the surveys. One theory is that the shape was actually a signature of the subsurface material that had been flipped when the data were compiled. The area did however suggest Romano-British occupation, medieval construction phases, and post-medieval disturbance during the Armstrong rebuild period. All in all, the trenches, although not containing a crypt with or without a 1,377-year-old hand, proved incredibly valuable in our understanding of some of the Inner Ward of the castle.

So was this where Saint Peter’s church actually stood? What happened to Oswald’s miraculously uncorrupted arm and hand? Well, we aren’t quite sure. As much as we love solving mysteries with archaeology, a mystery that continues to remain just out of reach tantalizingly urges us forward to reassess our approaches and previous interpretations.

Geophysical Survey at the Bradford Kaims Uncovers a Possible Prehistoric Settlement

On the 17th and 18th of June, Graeme Attwood*, from Magnitude Surveys came to the Bradford Kaims to conduct a geophysical survey of the landscape surrounding the site. The survey produced some intriguing results which provided exciting information for future excavations of the wider archaeological landscape.


Graeme Atwood from Magnitude Surveys performing a geophyiscal survey at the Bradford Kaims using a fluxgate gradiometer.

The geophysical survey conducted at the Kaims used a hand-pulled fluxgate gradiometer, a type of magnetometer, which measures magnetism. Magnetic survey is used in archaeology as it can detect magnetic anomalies in the ground, which may indicate the presence of subsurface archaeological features. The magnetic geophysical survey investigated a total area of approximately 2.3 hectares in order to assess the below ground archaeological potential of the Bradford Kaims, conducted as part of our wider investigation of the landscape. Our investigations integrate excavation, field walking, survey and paleoenvironmental coring to evaluate the extent and nature of human exploitation of this wetland environment.

The magnetometer survey was conducted in five areas across the landscape of the Bradford Kaims, both in the wetland areas that are the focus of our current excavations and of the hills surrounding them. The survey produced a number of magnetic anomalies, suggesting that a wide variety of archaeological features are sitting below the surface.

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Map showing the five areas in which geophysical survey was conducted at the Bradford Kaims

The fifth area investigated in the survey covered our excavations on the South-Side of the wetland. The results indicated an archaeological feature which is thought to be another large burnt mound, one of the features found across this site. We are confident of this interpretation as a small portion of the mound has been excavated in previously seasons. Part of our remit is to test the accuracy and scope of the geophysics by excavating the anomalies. This is working extremely well, giving huge scope for future work.


Results from the fifth area of survey showing magnetic anomaly 5a which has been interpreted as a burnt mound

The most exciting results, however come from the investigations of the wider landscape. The third area of magnetometry survey on Hoppenwood Bank near our area of excavation revealed positive magnetic anomalies with a strong archaeological character. Two large circular features; one measuring 13m in diameter, the other 14.5m in diameter, were identified. These circular features are similar to the magnetic anomalies produced by round houses. This suggests we may have identified a prehistoric, possibly Iron-Age settlement, at the Kaims! Within the large outer ring of what we think may be round houses, a series of smaller sub-circular anomalies were also identified. These features are between 0.75m and 2m in diameter, possibly produced by pits and post-holes which may indicate an internal structure to the large circular features which strengthens are interpretation that these may be roundhouses. The evidence that we may have discovered a settlement becomes more convincing when we consider the series of positive anomalies that have been found across the south-eastern portion of the third area. These anomalies are thought to be produced by the presence of pits and similar cut features, suggesting human activity in this area, strengthening the argument for the presence of a settlement. Settlement activity of this type is very rare in Northumberland and very exciting.

Results from the third area of survey showing the circular magnetic anomalies; 3a and 3b that have been interpreted as possible Iron-Age round houses.

This enthralling discovery has put all of the Kaims team in high spirits and we are planning to excavate the area of the settlement, next season. The geophysical anomalies identified in this survey have opened up the possibility of an exciting future for excavation of the Bradford Kaims!

*Afterword from Paul Gething: Graeme Attwood was a regular at the BRP for almost a decade. He came as a young student, became a staff member and eventually went on to run T1 in the Castle. He left the BRP to do postgrad work in Geophysics. He has returned often to visit and occasionally to do small scale work in Bamburgh and at the Kaims. He recently started his own geophysics company in Bradford, which is thriving. He went far above and beyond what we reasonably expected of him on a furiously hot few days. I have always admired his work ethic, but he surprised me with just how much he can do. It was a great pleasure to welcome Graeme back to the BRP and fantastic to work with him again and I look forward to working with him again in the future. I also look forward to seeing his business go from strength to strength.

Kaims Video update – Burnt mounds?

This is the latest video in our Bradford Kaims Wetland community heritage dig series. Last time we gave you coring, this time it’s all about the features. What exactly are we digging up? The sites themselves are remarkably well preserved and subtly different, and our excavations are revealing that the promontory identified by Richard Tipping’s coring was extensively used, with multiple sites of burned stones, intermittent pits and exciting results from the geophysics.

Get your fists ready… “Team Kaims!”

Coring with Matt Ross in Trench 42

I know I mentioned at the end of yesterday’s post that today’s blog would focus on coring at the Kaims. It turns out that everyone else has things they wanted to post as well, so “Coring with Matt Ross” is going to be delayed a few days. We are, however, continuing with the Kaims theme. The first of today’s posts is written by Kaims Coordinator Neal Lythe and provides an update on this seasons progress. The second of today’s blogs (to be posted later this evening), is written by Laurel Nagengast, “a true Kaimanoid”, about her experience with the Bamburgh Research Project and Bradford Kaims Project.

On that note, if any of our past students and/or volunteers would like to contribute a blog about their experience with us (to be posted in the off-season) please feel free to leave a message on our blog, on the Bamburgh Research Project facebook page, or on my facebook page (Megan Taylor).

 Kaims Update Week 7

Gerry, Media Director, filming the excavation of Trench 42

What a season it’s been so far at the Kaims. We have done numerous test pits. We re-excavated trench 4, to help understand context relationships in trench 6. We’ve performed numerous coring transects. And we’ve opened a series of brand new trenches in the adjacent field, based on the findings from the archaeological magnetometry survey performed by our friends at G.S.B.Prospection.

Based on the data supplied by G.S.B., we opened Trench 42 and immediately came down onto archaeology less than 10cm below our feet. We have also attempted to pinpoint various other anomalies, by placing a number of test pits in the immediate vicinity. After several weeks of digging–and, lets face it, horrendous weather–we have uncovered some cracking archaeology and some very nice finds, which include what is believed to be a sherd of prehistoric pottery, a very nice flint arrowhead, numerous flint scrapers and quite a lot of flint debotage (see “A Day at the Kaims” post).

Initial view of the stone slab that suggested a possible cist or cairn

The excavation of Trench 42 is progressing well, as we continue to uncover more and more of the large stone feature very similar to the one found in trench 6.  The presence of the large stone slab in the middle of the stone feature suggested a possible cist or cairn. Further excavation over the last few weeks has led us to revise our initial theories, and we now fairly certain we are dealing with a burnt mound, though as of yet, we cannot say what it may have been used for.

Hilary in the early stages of excavating the burnt mound

Numerous burnt mounds have been excavated all over Britain as well Northumberland itself. An example of these type of mounds is Titlington Mount in north Northumberland (report published by Peter Topping, 1998).

There are several lines of thought as to what these mounds are used for:  a sauna, meat curing, iron or copper extraction and even beer making. Further excavation at the Kaims site will hopefully expand our knowledge of burnt mounds in general, and more specifically, give us insight into how our ancestors were utilizing the wetland area of the Kaims. Initial assessment of several of the environmental samples taken from Trench 42 revealed surprisingly little. Contrary to our hopes, flotation produced very few, if any burnt seeds/grains, and minimal amounts of charcoal. In fact, the predominant content of the flot residue was modern wirey stems (aka roots). Hopefully, some of the samples yet to be flotted, will produce better results.

The effects of the rain

Week 7 started with rain and the loss of several true Kaimanoids. However, with a break in the terrible weather and reluctant acceptance of our loss, we moved on with more archaeology. Trench 55 looks nice and juicy, with several features poking through. The current theory is that they could be structural, and which may or may not relate to the activity in trench 42. As we are rapidly running out of time, we are quickly trying to record everything as is and we will not be excavating any features that we have in either of the two trenches this season.

“Represent!” (T-shirts are for sale)

In what is my last week, I have to say that this has been my favourite season on the project so far. Yes, even for someone who is not a pre-historian. I would like to thank all of the people for their hard work at the Kaims this year, you have all been fantastic. It’s been a pleasure to help teach you and I hope you all have a great time. We have uncovered some fantastic and interesting archaeology and we have had great fun along the way. To the True Kaimanoids, I have one thing to say, and I am sure you all know what that is. … Get your fists ready… “Team Kaims!!!!!” — Neal Lythe

Kaims crew, assemble!

Today Kaims Supervisor Graham Dixon reports on the first couple of weeks down at the Bradford Kaims

The Kaims is wet, we all know this. Trench 6 is located next to and in a peat bog. Mix this with a months worth of fairly constant rainfall, and we have something like this.

Trench 6, cleaned up and ready for photography…wait what?

What better time than now to open a new trench in the middle of Embleton’s Bog?

A couple of weeks before the start of the season, the Kaims played host to ex project member Graeme Atwood and Jimmy Adcock of GSB Prospection Ltd. The team of geophysicians ran a magnetometry survey over a spit of raised land which kicks out into Embleton’s Bog, the intention being to find more possible areas of occupation which relate to our already ever expanding site. Magnetometry surveys measure and map out the patterns of relative magnetism in the soil, often affected in the past by burning and the movement of soil. The results were very positive.

The geophysics map of the Bradford Kaims new site, courtesy of GSB.

 The circular, red anomaly represents an area of burning, which we hoped would prove to be similar to that already unearthed in trench 6. With permission from the land owner of the next door field, and a rare sunny day overhead, the Kaims team started to de-turf.

At the suggestion of the geophysics team, a 2 metre by 20 metre trench was plotted out cutting right through the middle of this anomaly. Our intention was to uncover either end of the area of burning in order to understand its extent fully. Just below the topsoil in what is now Trench 42, approximately 15 cm down, we came onto the burnt layer, paydirt. Kaims aficionados may recognise how similar the dark, burnt layer of soil is to what we have found in the previous seasons overlying the paved hearth feature in Trench 6. Again this has turned out to be packed full of broken up burnt stone. And in the middle of this, right at the centre, lying on one of its narrow edges, appeared a large flat slab of stone.

The stone slab from Trench 42, just after deturfing.

While only a few inches of this is currently visible out of the bottom of the trench, the mere presence of an unnaturally placed upright stone is enough excite your average archaeologist. Just poking out of the soil, the stone also looks like it has been pierced, as there is a circular hole in one side. This is not shown on its opposite side, as we have not dug downwards like the antiquarians of old, but this will be resolved as soon as the time is right. Our first thoughts, a Bronze Age cist burial. These are formed by placing large slabs into a box shape. These are held together by the weight of the stones, along with smaller packing stones beneath the soil they are in. I hasten to add at this point that it is difficult to tell anything for certain, however a cist burial, cut into an area of burnt and cracked stone would be a great piece of archaeology for our students to witness, and learn from. While no secure dating evidence has come out of the new trench so far, cist burials are generally seen in the Bronze Age. This would make it far from contemporary with our middle to late Stone Age site in the field next door. Having said this, it would be great to find that the site has been used and re-used for multiple phases of occupation throughout the past.

More to follow, but till then, Kaims out.

Video Update – Peat Cores

Bradford Kaims Update – Coring with Richard Tipping from the University of Stirling

This video was created by volunteer, Ruth, who has been participating in the excavations and coring all year. Her film shows the processes of coring and how this work fits into the overall understanding of the ancient landscape changes. We’re very grateful to Ruth for sifting through the hours of footage to make this summary!

Coring, Volunteers and Wooler First School

Over the weekend the Bradford Kaims Wetland Heritage Research Project was in full swing coring at the site, plus local volunteers and Wooler First School helped out with some post-ex finds washing.

We also have more volunteering opportunities, so read on to find out.

Graeme’s Report

Last Friday we were back on the Hoppenwood bank site at the Bradford Kaims, having had something of a rain induced break in our programme, to do some more coring with Richard Tipping (To see the previous outing with Richard click here) . This time we were investigating the peat deposits immediately to the west of our ‘hearth’ site. We had been doing a little coring of our own, in Richard’s absence, in this area and had identified a thin marl layer within the peat, in some of the cores that appeared to slope!

The sloping marl layer found in the core

By putting in a new transect of cores with Richard, from the trench edge outwards, we have mapped the subsurface contours of the ground surface as it existed before the lake deposits and peat layers developed. In doing this we profiled the sloping edge of the lake as it shelved down beneath the peat. What came as a surprise was that we soon picked up the rise of the opposite bank, well before we reached the Winlaw Burn, only a few tens of metres away. This shows us that the lake areas to the south drain northwards through a very narrow channel that passes right by the ‘hearth’, before quickly opening out again to the north. It is hard not to see the positioning of our unusual site being in no small part driven by this topographic feature.

The channel as suggested by the coring

This is a very intriguing new discovery, the full implications of which will take time to properly understand.  Looking at the first edition Ordnance Survey map it is clear that the Winlaw Burn has been canalised and back in the mid-19th century meandered a little further to the west. This raises that possibility that there could be more than one channel to the stream, though whether they were ever contemporary we do not yet know.

Later that day we also ran a small workshop in Bamburgh village pavilion, having invited anyone interested in the community to come along and help out. We did some finds washing, starting the process of cleaning the finds recovered during our field walking late last year.

Local volunteers working their way through the field-walking finds

On Tuesday we were at Wooler First School to do a brief introduction to our work and to introduce the children to the joys of washing more of the field walking finds. This proved to be hugely popular, in fact even the quite large quantity of finds that we had brought along only just managed to keep them busy till lunch. The children are coming out to see the site in June. Let’s hope they enjoy that just as much.

Volunteering – Gerry updates us on the field work opportunities for May.

The next fieldworking days will be Thursday 10th May.  Richard Tippingwill also be out again with us on May 17th to 20th along withGSB’s Graeme Atwood who will be doing some geophysics on the Saturday and Sunday. We are also planning to be on site on Wednesday 23rd May.

Please come along if you can, dressed for weather, and wellies are recommended. As usual no experience is necessary, and it should be fun as we will be digging. If you would like to volunteer please send an email to Graeme Young at graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk or call him on 07711187651 as we will be limited to around 20 volunteer places per day.  We very much hope to see you there!

Getting There
The site is located at Hoppen Hall Farm – to get there you will need to take the B1341 between the A1 and Bamburgh.
Heading towards Bamburgh, you pass over the main rail line level crossing just past Lucker, then take the first right hand turn along a rough track heading up hill towards Hoppen Hall farm and cottages. The site is accessible only by prior arrangement, and there are holiday lets near the area we will be parking as well as the main farm house so we ask that all participants show due care and respect the privacy of the residents and guests. We will park and gather together by the main farm buildings, then walk through the fields for around ten minutes to access the wetland site.
Video Editing 
I’m hoping some of you will take an interest in doing some video editing of the footage we’ve been taking of the site. It’s a good way to re-familiarise yourself with the progress so far and help me decide what to put in the video reports. If anyone is interested please email me as I don’t think this is something everybody will want to do, but you’re more than welcome!