Fresh from the Trench: Week 1

Our first few finds have turned up, via some diligent and patient excavation to work through the tamped-down surface our trench. Even though we cover the site, the surface of the soil still forms a crust that we remove with our trowels, and we call this “cleaning.” We only take the thinnest of layers off the surface just to help us find those subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, color, texture, and moisture-retention differences that allow us to see different areas we call “contexts.” Each context has a number and has been recorded carefully, but after some time away, archaeologists like to look at a fresh cleaned surfaced to re-calibrate their mental picture of the site.

Sitting pretty next to some flagstones in the southern area of the trench was this lovely little styca:

Small, pale green (copper alloy) coin on drying light brown soil.

A 9th-century copper alloy coin called a styca.

A “styca” is a copper alloy coin from the 9th century, and its name comes from the Old English “stycce” for “piece.” These coins were minted at York for Northumbrian kings and archbishops. They were roughly the same size as the earlier Anglo-Saxon silver pennies found further south, and initially did contain silver like the pennies known as “sceattas.” The coinage became debased, eventually having little to no silver at all. The copper alloys were particularly common beginning around 830AD, and the low value of the coin actually made it more regularly employed for daily exchanges. These coins fell out of use, however, before 880AD, partly due to the presence of Vikings in York, but there seems to have been a gradual decline in the coins and the rise of anonymous and badly struck ones. We have found many stycas onsite but that doesn’t make their discovery any less fun!

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.

SOA Logo

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.

BRP image

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.


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:




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.



Pre-Season Excavation Round-Up

Jo Kirton gives us a round up of the pre-season excavation at the Castle site:

Over the past week the BRP welcomed 10 students and 2 of their lecturers from the Catholic University of America (CUA), to the project and the excavations within the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle.

Some of the CUA group and BRP staff celebrating Graeme's birthday

Some of the CUA group and BRP staff celebrating Graeme’s birthday

Thanks to the enthusiasm of the students and staff and a little luck with the weather, we had a really productive week.

After the usual site introductions the CUA group quickly removed the tarps that had been protecting Trench 3 and set about cleaning the trench from head to toe. As is normally the case with the initial clean-up, we found a number of finds, such as styca coins, Samian Ware pottery and a fair few Fe blobs.



Abby with her Samian pottery rim

Abby with her Samian pottery rim

Burnt wood and Iron from one of the beam slots and Abby with her Samian Ware find

Burnt wood and Iron from one of the beam slots

Throughout the week students were taught how to plan and section draw, use the Total Station and levelling kit, process small and bulk finds, and use the siraff tank for processing environmental samples.

Casey, Abbey and Michael tackle one of the section drawings for the southern beam slot

Casey, Abbey and Michael tackle one of the section drawings for the southern beam slot

The archaeology was pretty exciting this week and the students needed all their newly acquired skills to excavate and record what we found.

The elusive southern beam slot for the probable tenth century building was picked up in three sections, which gave us a pretty good idea of the size of the building. This also meant lots of section drawings and planning!

The southern beam slot became apparent in the sections of the southern latrine pit

The southern beam slot became apparent in the sections of the southern latrine pit

On the final day we were able to excavate what we think are parts of the western and eastern beam slots in the NW and NE corners respectively. The excavation of the eastern beam slot went as expected and we found the next surface, which is beginning to appear in various areas of the trench. The western beam slot whilst quite clear, raised questions about its association with the mortared surface, which it abuts – this needs further investigation but should prove pivotal for understanding the NW corner of the trench.

Chris and Alexandra excavating the western beam slot.....or is it????

Chris and Alexandra excavating the western beam slot…..or is it????

Dr Kopar, Marielle and Casey excavating the eastern beam slot with Ass Sup, Joe Tong.

Dr Kopar, Marielle and Casey excavating the eastern beam slot with Ass Sup, Joe Tong.

We also took the opportunity to remove several features from the SE corner of the trench around the ninth century metalworking building, which has been evident for several seasons. We were able to remove several external features, such as the flagged surface just outside one of the entrances, packing stones around the ‘doughnut’ shaped stone, which may have served as a drain and the hearth packing stones that sit between the metalworking building and the southern latrine pit.

Goodbye flagstones!

A hive of activity!

As part of the excavation of all these features the CUA group were able to complete cut and deposit sheets and learn how to take and record environmental samples.

As well as working in the trench, our visitors were able to tour the interior of the Castle, visit the locations of the Chapel and Bowl Hole excavations, make a trip to St Aidans in the village and head out to Lindisfarne. They are now touring significant Northumbrian sites in the North East, such as Hexham, York, Durham and Jarrow. We hope they have fun and learn a little along the way!

Hexham Abbey from the seventh century cript steps

Hexham Abbey from the seventh century cript steps

The main dig season starts Monday 2nd of June. We will have all the latest on the excavations at the Castle and the prehistoric wetlands site out at the Bradford Kaims.

Bamburgh Castle Excavation

Work continues at the castle today, cleaning the trenches in preparation for digging proper.

Cleaning back in Trench 3

Lauren and her horn

Small finds include a styca coin, a blue bead and some objects yet to be identified (see below, maybe you can help!).

Our first styca coin of the season. In previous years we have had many, including a group that constituted a hoard.

Glass bead from T3 found by Josephine

Although we have this labelled as a bone ring we are not entirely sure what it is. We also found a couple last year. Any ideas?

Excavation Season 2012. Project Director’s Overview: the archaeology

Project Director (there’s a few of them for those of you who are confused!), Graeme Young, gives us an overview of his hopes for the coming excavation season at Bamburgh Castle and our wetland site out at the Bradford Kaims.

Graeme’s Overview

Trench 1

In both of the castle trenches this year we will be investigating Anglo-Saxon buildings. In Trench 1 we have two structures, identified in previous seasons, one of timber construction and believed to be of middle Anglo-Saxon date and a second a robbed out stone building of middle to late Anglo-Saxon date. They are aligned on the gate cleft, known to have been in use since at least the 8th century, and are likely to have been the halls where a gate ward lived, controlling access to the fortress. If we can reveal the full extent of the structures we hope this will help us understand their architecture better and also to clarify their date range. I am particularly keen in the Trench 1 area to try and demonstrate if we have continuity of occupation from the middle Anglo-Saxon to the 12th century, as this period is poorly represented in Trench 3. To see the end of season report from last year click here.

Trench 1 facing W

Trench 3

In Trench 3 we have already identified one small building, which we believe to be associated with metalworking. There certainly is a large concentration of metal finds in the vicinity as well as clear traces of hammer-scale, which results from smithing. Further sampling and processing of hammer-scale this season may well shed a great deal of light on exactly where this smithing was undertaken. In addition at the northern end of the trench we have an unusual stone surface that we have interpreted as a porch or entrance to a substantial timber hall the extent of which we aim to trace this year. To see the end of season report for Trench 3 click here.

T3 facing SW

The Kaims

In the Kaims this summer we want to compile topo maps,  both surface and sub-surface, of the lake edge in the vicinity of the ‘hearth’ feature and also try to investigate the close dry land area in order to find an occupation site to go with our processing site. Further work will be to expand the topo, test pitting and coring along the lake edge, as time permits.

Test pitting at the Kaims

Over the next few weeks we will also be hearing from all the staff who will be working alongside Graeme and Gerry. There will be plenty of old faces but some new blood as well.

The story of ‘Find of the Day’

Last year the Bamburgh Research project teamed up on Twitter with other excavations across the country including Cosmeston Archaeology out of Cardiff University, the Silchester Dig run by Reading Uni and Binchester run by Durham Uni.

Over the course of the summer we were able to share our finds as they came out of the ground. This led to #findoftheday’ on twitter, in which we posted our favourite find of the day for everyone to see. Over time we were joined by other digs both in the UK and abroad.

To take a look at how the experiment progressed and the many wonderful finds we all discovered during the summer please click here

The BRP are ready for a re-match this summer!

Below are a few of our favourite finds from last year.

Early medieval brooch