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.

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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

Fresh from the Trench: Week 5

Today one of our students was working in the very weird northwest corner of the trench. He was taking down the last quadrant left to excavate when he discovered a small, chunky bit of glass. It was his first day in the trench, and found this:

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The glass is bluish, with pale yellow striping on one side. The thickness and curve suggest it was probably a bangle or bracelet. How can we date it since we find artefacts from multiple time periods in that weird part of the trench? The composition (as evidenced by its color) and form all suggest we are looking at a Roman object. Whether it belonged to a Roman citizen or a Celtic-speaking Iron Age inhabitant of the settlement site presently encircled by the Castle is unknown. What we do know however is that it’s likely from after the 1st century AD, when Roman glass production become more efficient both technologically and economically and its presence became more widespread.

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Roman glass was made from sand and natron (to help the silica of the sand melt at a lower temperature). The lime found naturally in the sand actually prevented the finished glass from dissolving in water. The natron, known as soda ash or sodium carbonate, is the very same natron the Egyptians used in mummification, maybe even from the very same source they used that the Romans later appropriated for their glass industry, Wadi El Natrun in Egypt. The Romans began making clearer glasses as their technology improved, but many fragments show us that their glass would retain a bluish-green hue if untreated with other elements and minerals.

We are quite lucky that this small fragment was never recycled as “cullet,” or the broken glass melted down to be reused in glass furnaces. Had the Anglo-Saxons found it, it might have been melted and worked into a bead. Maybe that’s what happened to the missing pieces? Instead, it survived as a little piece of personal adornment of a person who lived over 1,500 years ago. What a life it must have led!

 

Pottery Assessment for Trench 8, Bamburgh Castle

As part of the BRP’s ongoing post-excavation analysis of Trench 8 in the West Ward of the Castle (click here for a full description of the research project funded by the Royal Archaeological Institute) we have commissioned specialist analysis of the pottery recovered from the trench.

Pottery reports are hotly anticipated by many archaeologists, as they often offer insight into site function and phasing. The Bamburgh Research Project recovered 651 sherds of pottery from Trench 8 in 2006. The assemblage is predominately dated to the 13th-14th centuries, which is not unexpected, as a series of large medieval midden deposits cover much of the West Ward excavations around Trenches 3 and 8.

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Trench 3

The most significant element of this assemblage is a type of 12th-14th century pottery that has not been found elsewhere and has been termed ‘Bamburgh ware‘. Bamburgh ware makes up a large portion of the assemblage (24%). We have noted this pottery elsewhere in the Inner Ward of the Castle. However, in order to understand its manufacture, source of the raw materials, function etc. it is important that we recover and record as many fragments as possible.

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Examples of medieval pottery sherds from Trench 8, including Bamburgh ware (bottom left)

 

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Bamburgh-type ware

There was evidence of earlier pottery types, including Stamford ware (10th-12th century) and Gritty ware (11th-13th century), two of which were hand-made.

Notably, no Roman pottery was identified in the assemblage, despite Roman period contexts been identified through Radiocarbon dates.

We will use the data recovered from the pottery assemblage and amalgamate it with the glass, lithic and metalwork reports. We have also undertaken five radiocarbon dates, which together with the paper archive from the excavation, will be used to create a detailed stratigraphic sequence and interpretation. This will aid future excavation in the West Ward.

2018 Funding Success with the Society of Antiquaries of London

The Bamburgh Research Project are pleased to announce that the Society of Antiquaries of London have kindly awarded us £4700 to undertake continuing post-excavation analysis of the material recovered within the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle.

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The project ‘Forging Castle Space’, will focus on the metalwork recovered from early medieval contexts in Trench 3. The funding will allow us to assess and plan the conservation of 7,200 fragments of early medieval metalwork, spanning the 8th-11th centuries, plus conserve a 25% sample of all styca coins recovered.

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The Bamburgh Bird. One of the many early medieval artefacts recovered from Trench 3.

Upon completion of the project the metalwork will be better understood in terms of its function, origin and date, plus its purpose for deposition within an associated building, likely used for working metal (You can read more about the building here: Castling, J. and Young, G. L. 2011. A 9th Century Industrial Area at Bamburgh Castle, Medieval Archaeology, Vol. 55, 311-317). This data will allow us to better understand the function of the building, its associated area and the broader 8th-11th century horizon in this area of the castle. The data generated will also inform ongoing excavation and aid us in our attempt to contextualise earlier excavations (1959–74) for which we only have a partial archive surviving.

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9th-10th century ‘metalworking’ building

The long-term goal is to establish the character and significance of early medieval activity, as this was pivotal in creating the spatial and material precedent upon which the post-Conquest castle complex developed.

We have already made great strides towards understanding this period in the West Ward, as we have recently completed the post-excavation analysis of Trench 8, which sits immediately adjacent to Trench 3. Funding from the Royal Archaeological Institute has enabled us to determine a stratigraphic sequence from the modern to the Roman period using the artefacts recovered and C14 dates to identify and date contexts. You can learn more about this project here: Trench 8 RAI Grant.

If you would like to join us this season to help us undertake the excavation of this fascinating site or work more specifically with our post-ex team (artefacts and environmental material) please visit our website for more information: http://www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

 

 

 

Week 4 in Trench 3, Bamburgh Castle

Last week’s main focus was on the north-east corner of Trench 3, as we were investigating the possibility that the area is in fact a Romano-British occupation layer. Questions have been raised recently about whether our previous identification of the area, as currently dating to around the 9th Century (believed so due to the beam-slot cut of our 9th Century Anglo-Saxon timber building) no longer holds, due to a large number of Roman finds appearing both this season and ones previously. This is not typically a cause for reinterpretation as artefacts from earlier periods do appear from time to time in negative features, such as pits and post-holes, but these were also appearing in normal stratigraphic layers. These finds include a section of a Roman glass bracelet, both Roman greyware and Samian pottery and, from a previous season, a Roman fibulae brooch.

 

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Part of the collection of Roman finds from the NE area of the trench.

 

To add to our current mystery, this area is cut by a number of negative features, which is making this puzzle all the more exciting to figure out. We have discovered a 9th century timber beam slot, an anglo-saxon post-hole, a high medieval pit and another possible anglo-saxon pit all in this corner. It is also difficult to see a relationship between the dated areas of the trench and this corner because there is a large WW1 test latrine pit isolating it on one side, it goes into our trench edges on two more, and finally it backs onto a higher portion of bedrock on the last. Finally towards the end of the week a stone linear feature was seen in the section of the beamslot and so work began to investigate it, which led to us reaching bedrock around 0.35m below our current level. This could give an explanation for why this area was occupied before the areas with lower bedrock levels, however more investigation is needed before we rule out any other theories.