Uncovering Trench One and a Giant Post Pit

Constance, Supervisor of Trench 1, and assistant Clare, give us an update:

We’ve had a busy month in Trench 1 investigating a series of possible guard houses. We have finally excavated to a low enough level that we are able to uncover the rest of Trench 1 that has been under tarp for the last three years. Now that the whole trench is revealed we’ve started the major task of cleaning. The first order of business will be cleaning the fill from the old sandbag wall which has eroded into our sections.


Success as we take away the last dirt from our tarp. You can see the eroding sandbags in the background.

We’ve also worked on a post hole that is cutting one side of our stone building. We thought it was going to be fairly simple but instead of normal packing stones we ended up with an enormous dolorite boulder which made the excavation process more difficult than expected!


Isabelle going the distance to find the edges of the post hole in what I like to call Trench-Planking

Since breaking it up with a sledgehammer wasn’t practical we decided that the best solution was to roll it. Now that it is out of our way we can finish excavating this interesting feature. To see more about this post pit watch this short video:

When is a Sunken Featured Building not a Sunken Featured Building?

Sunken featured building (SFB for short) is a term used in early medieval archaeology alongside the German term Grubenhaus (plural Grubebhauser) to describe a particular type of small to medium sized timber building, constructed in northern Europe from the 5th to the 12th century AD. Such structures are part of a tradition of buildings with sunken floors, or partially subterranean elements, that span thousands of years of use. In this wider sense the term pit-house (Pit-house) is often used.

A reconstructed SFB or Grubenhaus at Bede's World (Wiki commons)

A reconstructed SFB or Grubenhaus at Bede’s World (Wiki commons)

In Trench 1 we have been referring to traces of a structure in the SE corner of the trench as an SFB. In this case we have been using the term as short hand, as although the structure is slightly sunken into the ground, it does not have many of the characteristics we would expect of an early medieval SFB. They tend to be relatively easily identified as cut features, although often eroded. Ours, though broadly rectangular, is quite difficult to define and seems to have been formed from erosion of a floor rather than having been deliberately dug. Also classic SFB’s tend to have post-holes located centrally to the short walls, indicating a gabled roof. Our feature, so far, appears to have a central post, supported by a re-used quern stone.

Our rather amorphous, sunken floored structure is shallow and less than distinct compared to a classic SFB.

Our sunken floored structure is shallow and less than distinct compared to a classic SFB.

Other factors also place our enigmatic feature outside of the general tradition. It is not associated with an industrial or workshop area. That lies in the area of Trench 3. Most of all, SFB’s are found on very different subsoils, such as sands and gravels, where excavation below ground level is a relatively easy option to increase the internal volume of a building. Our strange feature lies on boulder clay, which is pretty difficult stuff to dig. Ask any of our excavators!

In the next few days we should have excavated the last of the material within the hollow. Already we are seeing what appear to be features beneath it. The interesting question will be, are these features associated with the overlying structure, or a new phase of activity beginning to show up.

Trench One’s sunken featured building slowly reveals its secrets

The SFB under investigation

The SFB under investigation

Regular readers of the blog will recall that we have been investigating a sunken feature building (often called an SFB for short) in the south east corner of Trench 1 Some new evidence for our ellusive sunken featured building within Trench 1). Its broadly rectangular shape is formed from a shallow hollow in the ground, very likely the result of a deliberate structural cut, filled with a grey-brown silt with a substantial stone content. SFB’s are common on early medieval sites, but tend to be found on subsoils such as sands and gravels, that are easy to dig into, rather than the much more intractable stony boulder clay we have at the base of Trench 1. This makes us a little cautious about our interpretation of the feature at the moment and we would not be surprised if further investigation leads to new twists in the story.

The newly identified quern stone we believe was re-used as a post support

The newly identified quern stone we believe was re-used as a post support

Earlier we identified, what we believe to be a socketed stone that was well sited to be a central roof support. This interpretation of the stone’s final role appears to be still valid, but further investigation has revealed that its a broken, or roughed out, upper stone of a rotary quern. In addition we have two sherds of pottery associated with the feature. Both have an incised decoration on the outside of what is a course fabric. At the moment we are assuming that these sherds are early/middle Saxon in date. Hopefully the decoration will allow a specialist to date them a little closer than we can at the moment.

The to sherds of pottery, decorated by incised lines. Whilst not joining fragments, they may be part of the same vessel

The two sherds of pottery, decorated by incised lines. Whilst not joining fragments, they may be part of the same vessel


Some new evidence for our elusive sunken featured building within Trench 1

Last season we were pretty sure that we had identified a sunken features building on the south side of Trench 1. Not necessarily a Grubenhaus, but something with a sunken or eroded floor. We were struggling to properly identify its sides then, but a little winter weathering seems to have helped, and we now have a pretty good rectangular plan. Best of all we have just unearthed a socketed stone, right in the centre of the structure, that almost certainly carried a post to support the roof.

The dark stain marks the general area of our sunken structure

The dark stain marks the general area of our sunken structure. The pivot stone is visible in the area under excavaation.

A closer vew of the socket in the stone that we believe marks the base of a post that supported the roof.

A closer vew of the socket in the stone, that we believe held the base of a post that supported the roof.

So began the first day of our regular season.

Trench one must have been feeling a little neglected, since we only opened trench three last week when the Catholic University students were visiting. We pulled back the tarps yesterday to discover that it was covered in an extensive layer of greenery. Its looking a lot better now.

Cleaning up the sunken building area within Trench 1

Cleaning up the sunken building area within Trench 1

Internet booking is now open for the 2014 field season

The windmill in the West Ward, between our two excavation trenches

The windmill in the West Ward, between our two excavation trenches

We are very happy to let you all know that booking is now open on our website for the 2014 field season. Particular thanks are due to Emily Andrews for her work on the website.

Starting  Monday, 2nd June, we will be running for our usual eight weeks up to Sunday 27th July 2014. Of particualar interest this year will be tracing the extent of the Neolithic timber platform and seeing what exciting new finds emerge from the waterlogged peat layers.  Remember to book early to ensure you get your choice of week.



Excavation at the Bradford Kaims wetland site in 2013. A waterlogged Neolithic timber platform is just starting to emerge

Excavation at the Bradford Kaims wetland site in 2013. A waterlogged Neolithic timber platform is just starting to emerge


First Trench 1 update of 2013

Trench 1 has been making good progress during the first two weeks. In particular we have identified structural evidence within the layers on its eastern side. Two small post-holes have been sectioned and sampled and a linear stone spread, thought to define the line of a timber wall or partition, has also been identified. It is not at all clear what wider structure or building these features are a part of at this time, but hopefully this will resolve itself in due course as we clean the wider trench.

Structural linear and two post-holes under investigation.

Structural linear and two post-holes under investigation.

What is clear, however, is that this linear cuts and post-dates at least one pit. This is potentially interesting as we may now be reaching the level at which numerous pits will become visible. This is of particular interest as this was the case within the first part of the trench, excavated a few years ago. If we are arriving at a similar level there is a very real possibility we will be able to see structural patterns emerging between the two parts of the site. Identifying the phases and dates of these features will be another problem altogether.

Field School 2013

Don’t forget there are still spaces available for the field school with us in Bamburgh this summer.

Survey techniques

Survey techniques

We will teach you excavation methods, site recording, artefact processing and much more.

Nat and Liam in the flot tank

Nat and Liam in the flot tank

Camping accommodation is provided along with your tuition, which is great value at £235. We stay in nearby Belford, where there are all the mod-cons (Like a Co-Op, Pubs, Takeaways and stores!) and we have a great social life onsite too.

For more information, go to http://www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk/
or join us on Facebook or twitter (@brparchaeology)

Rock Cut Features

Project Director, Graeme Young, provides a little more information about the rock cut features within Trench 1.

Graeme’s Report

We have been discussing the two Anglo-Saxon buildings identified within Trench 1 for a while now so I thought I would post a photo taken late this season that shows up their relationship to the gate rather well.

Both buildings are aligned on the gate cleft, a natural gap in the volcanic bedrock, rather than the external perimeter wall. We believe this is one of the clues to their function, as they are perfectly sited to dominate the entrance. The photo below shows the dolerite bedrock as exposed in Trench 1. The steep smooth side of the natural cleft is visible on the left with the steps and paved area of the modern entrance just visible. The top of the rock shows the smooth surfaces that formed when the volcanic rock solidified millions of years ago and between them man-made cuts that form the foundation slots of the two buildings.

Stone cut foundations of the two Trench 1 buildings.

The narrow slot, immediately to the left of the ranging rod, extending into the photograph, is that of the timber building. Some fill remains within it, though it has been emptied closer to the camera where the modern steps have truncated it. Immediately above it, to the right in the photograph, is the flattened ledge along which the stone wall would have extended. The angle of the photograph, looking down towards the gate, does show how much the two buildings, separated by time but so close to one another in space, would have towered over the entranceway, filling the vision of those entering the fortress. A suitable characteristic for the hall that housed the authority that controlled access to a site as important as Anglo-Saxon Bamburgh.

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. 😉