Back up and working in Trench 3

Once we get the tarpaulins off and the site clean again there is always the same feeling of never having been away, despite the months that have past. This year we are back to contemplating the connections between our excavation and the surface that Brian Hope-Taylor reached in his last season in 1974, just as we were last July. Over the last couple of seasons we have been slowly inching our way towards this great ‘joining up’, and although it might sound like a straightforward task accomplished by simply digging down to the same level, this is not the case; the trench slopes down to the west and the south. This means that surfaces that were the same date are not at the same physical level in different parts of the trench. The whole trench, after all, is in a natural cleft in the rock, in-filled over perhaps two thousand years. A good illustration of this is what Hope-Taylor called his ‘Lower Pavement’, a stone surface that stretches along the west side of his excavation.

pavement

The pavement at the base of the rather green section. It seems that there is a gap that may be a little more than just a thin layer of soil covering part of it.

At the moment we are working on the baulk (an unexcavated bank of ground) that Hope-Taylor left in beneath a sewer pipe that physically joins our two excavations together. This is a key to linking our recorded archaeology to his. To its north the layers within his trench are only around 10cm below ours, but to the south he excavated deeper and into earlier deposits, which has left a tall standing section. We cleaned and re-recorded this last year and continued it into our main excavation to the east. It was during this process that the decorated bird mount was found. One more incentive to get down to this lower level this season.

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The deeper part of Hope-Taylor’s excavation is still under cover (foreground) but we have uncovered the section to aid our comparison to our own levels (being planned on the right).

Of course life in Trench 3 is never simple, so at the west side of the baulk, in the spot where the ‘Lower Pavement’ joins the baulk, there is a gap before it is seen again in the section of Hope-Taylor’s deeper excavation. We are currently investigating if this absence is due to the presence of a pit that cut through the stone feature.

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.

 

Bamburgh Castle, Trench 3 – Hope Taylor nearly in reach!

As the level of Brian Hope Taylor’s 1974 excavations gets tantalisingly close, Trench 3 staff continue the process of gradually joining our excavations to his.

 

 

This is achieved through the removal of features and contexts which are stratigraphically higher in sequence including a stone wall (possibly 9th Century) last week, underneath which a number of finds were discovered. Our progress is described in the video below.

 

 

Bamburgh Castle, Trench Three – Week 2

Week two was in stark contrast to the week before in terms of weather. Where previously we had beautiful sun, week two featured persistent cloud, broken by drizzle and rain. However, contrary to what you might, think it’s been great weather for doing archaeology! The weather has allowed us to identify context boundaries features in trench 3 which were not previously visible.

 

IMG_3373

Graham and Izzy (Trench 3 Supervisor and Assistant Supervisor) taking advantage of the rain to study exposed contexts.

 

Work has started on re-excavating Brian Hope Taylor’s Trench 1. This excavation lies partially underneath our access ramp. This was done to see if there was evidence of a pebble surface which appears elsewhere on site. No pebbles were seen, however in their place the section revealed a medieval pit which had previously been obscured. It turns out that both Brian Hope Taylor and excavations in 2009 had missed this feature, and it only came to light this year. A reminder of how changeable the soil can be across different conditions!

 

IMG_3830

The section showing the medieval pit, the edge is marked by the stone inclusions.

 

Over in the north-west area of the trench work has continued on the stone feature laying on a burnt deposit just on the bedrock. This has now been half-sectioned and revealed a further sandy band directly underneath the stones. Our initial interpretation of this is that it may be a supporting post pad for a structural timber, sat on top of a consolidating layer.

 

IMG_3964

Half-sectioned stone feature.

 

This week has also seen us finish the high medieval pit in the north-east area of Trench 3. This feature was spotted at the end of last year, and appears to have been cut from higher up in the stratigraphic sequence. Previously found in the pit was High Medieval green-glazed pottery. While completing the pit this year, and interesting lead object was discovered. Ideas about its use are varied. While it looks somewhat like a pendant with its curled loops, this piece may also be a medieval treasury tag, or a rough out for casting. Investigation and research of the artefact will continue this week.

 

 

 

 

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

 

Fire of the North’ 2014 Cuthbert – Northumbria’s First Nature Warden

We have been sent some information about an events programme that may well interest the readers of our blog.. Details below:

A unique venture bringing together three iconic National Nature Reserves and three major national organisations – Lindisfarne NNR (Natural England), Farne Islands NNR (National Trust), and St Abb’s Head NNR (National Trust for Scotland) – around the figure of Cuthbert, the ‘Fire of the North’, and evoking a time when the ancient kingdom of Northumbria straddled what is now England and Scotland.

On the evening of 4 September this year beacons/fires will be lit on the Inner Farne AND St Abb’s Head to celebrate the ‘Fire of the North’s links with the wider region and its nationally/internationally important nature reserves. There is also a programme of linked walks/talks at each National Nature Reserve leading up to the 4 September event.

PROGRAMME OF EVENTS

Mon 25 August (St Aebbe’s Day)
St Abb’s Head NNR – Liza Cole and John Woodhurst
Liza, the National Trust for Scotland’s Senior Ranger at St Abb’s Head NNR will talk about the Reserve, whilst local historian John will explore Cuthbert’s links to St Abbs, stressing the importance he gave to nature and the animal kingdom.
Meet at St Abb’s Head Nature Centre (Grid Ref NT 913674) at 1pm to walk to Kirk Hill, the site of St Aebbe’s Anglo-Saxon monastery.

Thurs 28 August
Inner Farne NNR – National Trust Rangers and John Woodhurst
John will meet the 11, 12, 1 and 2 o’clock sailings from Seahouses to the Inner Farne, and in a short walk/talk offer the opportunity to find out more about Cuthbert’s links to the Farnes, referencing the archaeology with sites extant today, and stressing Cuthbert’s self-sufficient lifestyle as a hermit. NT Rangers will also be on hand to talk about the wildlife of the Inner Farne.

Standard boat booking from Seahouses to Inner Farne (NT landing fees apply to non members – see NT website for details), and meet John and NT Ranger on landing.

Sun 31 August (St Aidan’s Day)
Lindisfarne NNR – Laura Scott and John Woodhurst
Reserve Warden Laura will talk about Lindisfarne NNR, and John will do his regular walk/talk, ‘Cuthbert – Lindisfarne’s First Nature Warden?’.

Meet at Window on Wild Lindisfarne building (Grid Ref NU129419) at 12.30 pm to walk around the Harbour, along the Heugh, across to St Cuthbert’s Island, and back via the ‘Sacred Corridor’ to St Mary’s Church.

Thurs 4 Sept at Dusk ca.8.30-9.00pm (St Cuthbert’s Day)
‘FIRE OF THE NORTH’
Beacons/Fires to be lit on Inner Farne and St Abb’s Head
NT Rangers will repeat the beacon/fire from last year near the lighthouse on Inner Farne.
St Abb’s Head beacon/fire will be on a hill close to St Abb’s Head lighthouse, with a linked walk from Kirk Hill to the site led by Daniel Rhodes, National Trust for Scotland Archaeologist (meet foot of Kirk Hill – Grid Ref NT914687 at 7.30). John will lead a group from the Window on Wild Lindisfarne building (meet 7.30) to the Watchtower on the Heugh to view, weather permitting, both beacons/fires. Along the way he will give a shortened version of his ‘First Nature Warden’ talk.

ALL WALKS/TALKS ARE FREE.
FOR MORE INFORMATION PHONE OR EMAIL:
Lindisfarne – 01289 381470 or laura.scott@naturalengland.org.uk.
Inner Farne – 01665 576874 or Rebecca.Hetherington@nationaltrust.org.uk.
St Abb’s Head – 01890 771443 or lcole@nts.org.uk.

Please wear suitable footwear and be prepared for all weather. Bring a drink/snack. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Quiet Saturday

Its a quiet Saturday in the castle. The new features exposed in Trench 3 are being planned, and with a little time to spare the author is working on the Trench 3 matrix. This brings to mind the fact that we have a stratigraphic puzzle to solve regarding the new stone structure and its relationship to the newly traced timber hall. Which came first? A look through what we have of Brian Hope-Taylor’s photographs has not helped. There is no sign of such a stone structure, nor of the construction cut for the timber building. Yet one certainly, and the other probably, passed through the northern part of his main excavation. This may well reflect on the partial survival of his archive, as it is unlikely he missed them. It seems it will be down to us to resolve this within our own excavation area. Watch this space next week.

The stone feature, beyond the T-shaped ranging poles, and the construction trench, barely visible foreground, must have crossed within Hope-taylor's trench.

The stone feature, beyond the T-shaped ranging poles, and the construction trench, barely visible foreground, must have crossed within Hope-Taylor’s trench.

TAG 2012: BRP Media

Just before Christmas, Liverpool University hosted the annual TAG conference, one of the premium venues for theoretical archaeology and new innovative methodologies. This year one of the sessions focused on ‘Archaeology and the Media’. As many of you will know the BRP has been using video recording for many years, spearheaded by Gerry Twomey. It seemed only right that the BRP should be represented.

Gerry starting his first paper in the Archaeology and the Media session at TAG 2012

Gerry starting his first paper in the Archaeology and the Media session at TAG 2012

Gerry gave two papers, the first of which explored the methodology implemented at Bamburgh, plus the problems encountered and solved along the way. The second part looked at clips from the BRP feature-long documentary exploring the early years of the BRP and the impact Dr Brian Hope-Taylor has had on the project. Both papers were presented to others working on similar projects or those hoping to develop a media aspect alongside archaeological investigations. The session was also streamed live to over 600 people.

A Prince, An Octocopter, and Many Hands: Wrapping up with “This Week in Photos”

So we’ve finished wrapping up the 2012 season. In order to commemorate the final push, I thought we might have our second ever BRP “This Week in Photos”.

Graeme and Gerry with HRH Prince Charles on the beach below Bamburgh Castle

It was a rather eventful week, with a Tuesday visit from HRH Prince Charles to Bamburgh Village, a spectacular introduction to archaeological aerial photography from an octocopter on Wednesday, and the closing down of the trenches at both the Bradford Kaims and the castle from Thurday to Saturday.

Frantically cleaning Trench 3

Everyone lending a hand

On Thursday, students and staff alike got down on hands and knees (literally) to clean the trenches for our visit from our A.P. Horizons Friends, Paddy and Jack.

A.P. Horizons Boys Paddy and Jack

Even Finds Supervisor Kirstie was (forcibly) lured out of the windmill to make sure Trench 3 was spic-and-span for the octocopter’s aerial photographs.

All our ducks in a row… cleaning S to N in T3. Admire the clean lines in the rather dry trench

While I’m reluctant to admit it, in case I jinx it, the beautiful weather we’ve been having the past week has made the task infinitely more difficult.

Bone dry soil in T1 making cleaning difficult

A view of the E trench wall in T1 (now stone-walled) and the bone-dry soil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

T1 in particular was complaining of bone-dry soil, making it both near impossible to clean properly, as well as very difficult to differentiate between contexts. The students were able to take some final levels and complete the end-of-season trench plan.

Planning Trench 1 is a group effort

Taking a few final levels before tarping over Trench 1

Matthew and Amin taking levels at T1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the complaints, both Trenches were clean by the time Paddy and Jack showed up at 5 pm with the illustrious octocopter. As they set up near Trench 1, we all gathered on the castle walls to observe the show.

A view of T1 and the octocopter from the windmill walls

Watching from the wall

I don’t think I’ve seen us all so united in our excitement this entire season. If only we’d had popcorn…

Supervisor Alex and Directors Graeme and Gerry gather round … to get a real-time birds-eye-view of the trenches

After a tour over T1, the boys set up at T3 to repeat the process.  They finished up the evening with a flyover above Bamburgh Castle. I can’t wait to see the shots.

Jack piloting the octocopter

Approaching T3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday was the last full day of work at the castle for most of us. Trench 1 was tarped and stone-walled along the E section wall. Trench 3 finished planning the SE corner and tarped over it.

Taking down the N quadrant in the NW corner of T3

While some students continued to excavate the N and S quadrants of the NW corner, others worked on planning the NE section of T3. Supervisors from both T3 and T1 frantically worked on closing contexts and writing up context sheets and end-of-year summary reports.

Short-term T1 Ass-Sup Constance drawing up a final plan of T1

Finds Supervisors Jeff and Kirstie finished box-indexing and cataloguing the day’s finds.

Kirstie and Jeff sorting finds

Once lost finds, re-discovered in a cleaning of the Keep

And only with the wonderful and much needed help of some of the BRP students did I survive the day and manage to accomplish most of what I set out to do for environmental.*

Nat flotting 2010 and 2012 Kaims samples

* A special shout out to Sarah, Liam, Natalie, and Americ who helped sort samples, record heavy discard, clean out the flot tank, and any number of other enviro things I asked them to do. Without their help, my role as environmental supervisor might have finally turned me “mental”. Thanks, guys!

A somewhat-sane me, taking a brief pause from the environmental to peek at T1 and listen in on Lauren’s trench tours

We were all hard-pressed to find a spare moment even for tea between taking down the mess tent, washing dishes and duckboards, and doing post-excavation odds-and-ends. Full-season BRP-er Lauren did manage to squeeze in a final tour of the trenches for the public, however.

Lauren engrosses the public in tales of T1 and the adventures of it’s archaeologists

I tagged along for the first time this year and was surprised and delighted to learn things about the start of the project, Brian Hope Taylor’s hoard of records and finds, and the caslte’s dynamic history that I never knew. Lauren’s interest and wealth of knowledge provided an exciting glimpse into the archaeology of Bamburgh Castle, that even I, a long-time BRP-er enjoyed immensely. Thanks Lauren!

Loyal BRP-ers ensure “The Moose” is preserved for posterity

A very warm shout-out to all this season’s staff, volunteers, and students! We couldn’t have accomplished as much as we did without all your hard work and enthusiasm. So, thank you!

The sun sets over the BRP

Finally, while the trenches have been tarped over or back-filled and the windmill locked up, the archaeology continues (albeit in a somewhat more limited form). We’ve got more posts to come in the following weeks and months. Closing up the Kaims. BRP Bloopers. Bamburgh Beast Body Art. Publications. How-to Archaeology. And so much more.

So, don’t disappear, blog-followers. You might miss something interesting. 😉

Meet the Staff of the BRP 2012: Trench 3

Today we have our next installment from the blog thread covering the hopes of each staff member for the imminent 2012 dig season. To date we have heard from both onsite directors, Graeme and Gerry, the Bradford Kaims staff and Trench 1. Today we will hear from the Staff of Trench 3. Archaeology Supervisor, Jo Kirton (that’s me by the way!) and the assistant supervisor’s, Stephanie Rushe-Chapman and Maria Buczak.

Trench 3 being cleaned and recorded

Jo

To see the staff profile from last year click here

This year will be short one for me, as I will be leaving before the season ends as I have a small matter of a PhD to finish. Nevertheless, I have grand plans for my shortened stay. Firstly, I want to see the Hammerscale sampling finished so we can get at the SW corner and lift the probable metal-working building. This will allow us to bring that area of the trench down to the 8-9th century layers that proved so interesting in the adjacent areas last year. My other main aim is to figure out whether the large areas of burning are associated with the ‘porch’ feature, which has been evident for some time. They are positioned on the same alignment, so I suspect they form part of a large timber building with a stone entrance, which burnt down leaving only the burnt-out post holes or beams for us to find.

The stone entrance and area of burning to the south

My other main interest this year is making sure we continue to keep everyone updated through the blog, plus the Twitter and Facebook accounts. I will be handing this over at the end of June and I hope to be able to follow the dig when I am in the office or out in the field. Long live the blog!!!

However, my primary aim for this season is to make sure Joseph Tong does not win the quiz. If I (I say, I but I mean Graeme) can do this then I will leave a happy lady.

Steph

Steph came to the BRP  from the States last year and soon made it into the ranks of BRP staff.

Stephanie holding a large cauldron fragment

I am really excited to be returning for my second year with the BRP! I am especially curious to see what new developments will be found in Trench 3. There seems to be so much going on, and I’d like to get a better understanding and a better ‘mental image’ of how the various features within Trench 3 relate to one another. I spent most of last summer taking down the baulk and searching for Brian Hope-Taylor’s large burning area, so I am particularly interested in what new discoveries will be unearthed in this area of Trench 3 and how they will match up with Hope-Taylor’s excavation notes.

On a more personal note, I am looking forward to spending another summer with such a great group of people—to be reuniting with friends and making new ones! I am finally officially finished with my PhD coursework at Missouri (yea!), so I also have a personal goal of doing a little academic reading each day in preparation for my comprehensive exams that will take place this autumn (yuck). But, there will still be plenty of time for fun!

See you all soon!
Stephanie

Maria

Maria is a new member of staff this year, having proved her metal at both the Kaims and the castle digs.

Maria sieving for finds at the Kaims

Like everyone else, I can’t wait to get back out to the castle and start digging again this year! I’m really looking forward to seeing what else will come out of Trench 3 – especially after the great results from previous seasons’ hammerscale sampling and, of course, Constance’s amazing gold find! It would also be great to try and test some of the theories people have come up with for this complicated, but very exciting, trench!

The social side of the project also promises to be just as fun as the last two years I have been at Bamburgh! Really can’t wait for the weekly BBQs, multi-weekly pub visits, impromptu football matches and, of course, to see what our amazingly creative forging team will be able to come up with this year!

The dig starts on Monday 4th, so expect a steady stream of blog entries and live tweeting from the trench edge. Hopefully we will have plenty of archaeology and antics to please everyone.