Roundhouse Update

Thanks to our successful (and ongoing) fundraiser we were able to undertake an extra week of excavation to explore the newly discovered roundhouse. Our additional dig time was a busy few days but did prove very productive. We were able to use a machine (thanks to the castle for funding this as well as a good part of the additional wages and to Rob for his skilled driving) to open up a substantial part of the Hope-Taylor 1970 excavation that had up until now, remained backfilled.

In this new area we had the space to trace a little more of the roundhouse wall foundation as it extended beneath the later early medieval mortar mixer, which we half removed. As is so often the case, frustratingly, the wall foundation terminated after a few more foundation stones were uncovered. At first a little disappointing but when we realised that the floor surfaces and the traces of daub also stopped we suddenly realised that this may be an entrance and therefore a lot more interesting than a little more of the wall. To add to this there was a small line of stones similar to the wall foundation extending from where the wall stopped that just might be a trace of a porch.

The roundhouse showing the gap under the sectioned mortar mixer that we think is the entrance

The little trench we were able to dig on the other side of the mortar mixer was restricted by the need to keep it clear of the standing sections but we were able to identify angular stones just like elsewhere in the roundhouse foundation and a patch of daub against the section. This makes it very likely we were seeing at least further traces of the roundhouse wall beginning to appear. Though we were perhaps forced just too far to the south to be right on top of the wall continuation.

So it seems we now have good reason to assume we have an entrance facing, broadly, south-west, which would make sense, as it would maximise the light that reached the inside of the building on winter days and is very common for roundhouses because of that. It also makes particular sense on our site as this is down slope so would also prevent rain-water running in.

A plan extracted from out partially digitised records

Next Steps

The next phase of work will be off-site when we process the plans and digitise the records. We also have samples to be processed that include radiocarbon dates that will allow us to develop a much clearer picture of when the roundhouse was in use. In addition to the normal palaeoenvironmental samples, we have a block from the floor surfaces that a colleague may be able to utilise to undertake detailed micro analysis.

Fundraiser

After some thought we have decided to keep our fundraiser open in the hope that some of our supporters will be happy to contribute a little to the post-excavation, which in many ways we hope will be just as informative (and is just as important!) as the excavation itself.

Back to work and making progress

We are back on site for an additional week with the intension of further investigating the roundhouse. The one area we can realistically hope to further expose more of this structure is to the south of Trench 3, where it extends into an area that Hope-Taylor excavated in the 1970s. We had left this area alone before, for access reasons, but as we come to the end of the work in the trench this area now enables us to get close to the level of the roundhouse by simply removing Hope-Taylor’s backfill.

Machining down though the Hope-Taylor backfill to uncover the mortar mixer

We knew from his surviving archive that he had excavated deep into the site stratigraphy to reach as early as the sixth to seventh centuries AD. he revealed an early medieval mortar mixer that we have only seen part of so far so this extension will allow us to fully record this before digging beneath it where the roundhouse wall runs. Two amazing features for only a few days additional work seems quite the bargain.

If you are able to support the continuing work then you can find our fundraiser here.

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:

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 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.

IMG_6138

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.

IMG_5550

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.

IMG_5920

Tom’s sondage extending from the deep latrine pit

Fresh from the Trench: Week 2

At the beginning of the week, we started cutting back an old section on the western wall of the trench just north of the mortar mixer (southwest of trench). We excavated an area adjacent to Brian Hope-Taylor’s trench that marks the southwest of our trench. The area was partially overgrown near the old baulk and briefly was home to some trench stairs. On the way down to Brian Hope-Taylor’s upper pavement, we found two objects representing a few thousand years of material culture: medieval scissors and a prehistoric flint blade.

Dark grey flint blade.

Late Neolithic flint blade.

This flint is likely from the Late Neolithic due to its shape and the evidence along the edge and face that show how it was retouched. Flint is often found within chalk or limestone deposits, so where lakes and rivers once stood hundreds of millions of years ago that became sedimentary rock. Some scholars believe that human migration in search of resources may not just have been for flora and fauna, but also the presence of stone fit for tool-making. The chalk ridge in southeastern England once connected to northern France and exploring early humans might have sought out these areas as worthy sites to exploit. What some call the “Stone Age” can more specifically been divided into the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic, which mean Old, Middle, and New Stone Age respectively. The Neolithic in Britain spans roughly 4000-2500BC, and is marked by specific stone tool types, megalithic construction, and the advent of farming. Flint-knapping is the process of making tools out of flint or chert and involves a hammerstone striking off flakes to shape a usable blade or flattened point.

Flint is extremely sharp, even microscopically so, which has led to an interesting push by some medical professionals to switch to flint blades because of their sharpness and the lesser likelihood of spreading germs trapped on their surface (whereas a surgical steel scalpel under a microscope will have a visibly rounded edge, and imperfections on the surface could spread infection). Unfortunately, there is not really a major flint-knapping industry in place to produce medical grade blades; the community of contemporary skilled flint-knappers often include traditional indigenous craftsmen, experimental archaeologists, and re-enactors/living history interpreters.

In addition to cutting and scraping, flint creates sparks when struck by steel. This is perfect for starting campfires or for a particular generation of firearms known as flintlocks. In colonial American contexts such as southeastern Virginia in the 1770s, we can examine gun flints from the Revolutionary War and reasonably deduce which fighting faction used the flint in question: the British used grey flints and only squared half while rounding the other, the French used square orange flints which could be used in either direction, and the Americans used British-sourced flints but often cut in the French style.

For these reasons, flint is therefore one of the most influential stones in human history, and it often doesn’t really get its due!

New article from the Bradford Kaims published in the Archaeological Journal

At the start of this year we were happy to see the publication of the first of a raft of new articles based on the Bradford Kaims site, which the BRP have been excavating since 2010. This article, Assessing the contribution of integrated geoarchaeological approaches to understand the formation and function of burnt mounds: the example of Hoppenwood Bank, North Northumberland, focusses on how we used environmental science to unravel how Mound 1 at the Bradford Kaims was formed. The article includes some methodological consideration on the use of phytoliths for understanding fuel use (spoiler, it didn’t work) but largely deals with the micromorphological record, which was far more useful. As this research came off the back of Tom Gardner’s MSc results and includes some of his PhD results, we must thank generous funding from the Carnegie Trust and the Moray Endowment Fund which supported Tom’s work, as well as the funders of the Bradford Kaims; the British Academy, the Society of Antiquaries of London, the Royal Archaeological Institute, and the Duke of Northumberland.

You can read the article for more details here, and if you can’t access it, then email us or comment on our Facebook page with a request, and Tom can send along the PDF.

Gardner, T.H., 2019, Assessing the contribution of integrated geoarchaeological approaches to understand the formation and function of burnt mounds: the example of Hoppenwood Bank, North Northumberland, Archaeological Journal, 176, pp. 51-83.

End of the Season at the Bradford Kaims Trench 42

The focus of our excavations on the south-side the Bradford Kaims in the 2017 season have been our investigations of Trench 42, located on the promontory of glacial sediments which juts out into the fenland. Trench 42 was first opened in 2012 and again 2016, during last year’s very wet season. It is sited on higher ground and provided us with an opportunity to continue excavating when the rest of the site was flooded.

Previous excavations uncovered an extensive but relatively thin burnt mound deposit (4203), which has been provisionally dated to the Early Bronze Age. The surface beneath the burnt mound (4217) was cut by numerous negative features, notably a large roughly rectangular cut, filled with burnt material. This cut feature [4214] is headed at one end by a rectangular limestone slab that has had a hole drilled through the middle and is associated with four post-holes, located at each corner of the feature. The working hypothesis is that this cut feature was a firing pit, although its exact function remains unknown. Our excavations on the south-side for this season centred around this possible fire pit.

The first week of excavation was spent re-opening Trench 42 to reveal the fire pit, and to help with this the trench was subsequently extended five meters to the north-west, with the intention of revealing any features associated with the pit. After the turf was removed we immediately came down onto the remainder of the large burnt mound deposit (4203) that overlies [4214], which extended across the entirety of the extension.

T42 blog fig. 1

Students and volunteers extending T42 and exposing the blackened Bronze Age burnt mound deposits (4203).

The extension was cleaned, photographed, and planned to record the extent of the burnt mound. We then removed and sampled the burnt mound deposit for radiocarbon dating and plant macrofossil identification, which will hopefully provide secure dating evidence for the activity in this area of the Bradford Kaims site, and shed light upon fuel-use strategies associated with the burnt mound.

T42 blog fig. 2

Students removing the burnt mound material in a sampling grid, exposing the subsoils beneath it. The fire-pit can be seen as the upright stone to the extreme right of the image.

At the end of week three we extended the trench by another 3m towards the south-east where no burnt mound underlay the topsoil. Upon doing this, we came straight down to a sand based prehistoric land surface (4217), into which the burning pit had been cut and, and extended across the entirety of Trench 42. On top of this context we found various pieces of worked and unworked flint. Notably, this included a beautiful triangularly shaped weapon head (which has been described in a previous blog).

T42 blog fig. 3

EnterStudents and staff extending T42 to the south-east in poor weather, showing the consolidated fire pit in the centre of the image, cut into the (wet!) sand-based prehistoric land surface. a caption

In the following cleaning of the trench we identified multiple negative features that may be connected to the fire pit and the wider use of the area. Among them are at least three possible post holes which seem to form a right angle near the northern corner of the fire pit and could be part of a built structure. Further investigations were interrupted by the end of the season so we have not yet been able to finalise our full interpretations. For now, the site is interpreted as a complex series of burnt mound deposits focussed around a large fire pit, with a previous structure present in the area, all sitting upon a post-glacial land surface which has been a site for multiple episodes of flint working and use. We hope to come back in future and get another chance to discover the wider function of the area, and to provide a more holistic picture of the prehistoric activity that once occurred on the promontory at the Bradford Kaims.

T42 blog fig. 4

Volunteers Barbara and Trina excavating a slot (in better weather) through the basal burnt mound deposits onto the prehistoric land surface, encountering numerous cut features.

In addition to this excavation, a geophysical survey and an archaeomagnetic dating study were conducted in the area of the promontory. The results of the geophysical survey seemed to point out some areas of interest. Time permitting, only one of these was test-pitted during the final weeks of the season and turned out sadly to be the cut of a Victorian drain pipe. However, this survey also showed the extent of the burnt mound exposed in Trench 42 as a spread reaching 20m in diameter, as well as identifying numerous smaller anomalies believed to be more burnt mound deposits and other features in the area. When we return to Trench 42, we will also be investigating some of these features, and will keep you posted on our blog!

Charlie Kerwin, Trench Supervisor and University of Nottingham, and Franzi Leja, Assistant Supervisor and University of Bamberg.

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.

flint

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.