What we did this summer: Bamburgh castle excavation 2018

Looking back at this year’s excavation season it is satisfying to see the results that were achieved. The cobble surface, first seen in 2016, has been fully exposed within the trench. In addition the process of integrating the BRP excavation with the northern area, previously excavated by Dr Brian Hope-Taylor, has really advanced. In fact next year we will be able to move the two trenches forward as one.

In the case of the cobbles, rather than a single feature with clear edges, the surface was found to be a complex composed of multiple layers and patches with a rather diffuse edge that blended into the adjacent layers. It was clear that understanding this structure fully and dissecting its varied components is going to be a challenging task, but hopefully a rewarding one. We have made a start but a lot more work needs to follow. At present this complex structure is thought to date from the 7th to 8th centuries AD, based on two radiocarbon dates from the adjacent Trench 8 and the stylistic date for the bird mount that was found on the surface.

In addition to exposing the cobbles we removed a number of adjacent layers to expose what we believe to be, at least part, of the contemporary surface around the cobbles and identified a number of features in the process. Some of these were clearly structural, which means that at present our best understanding is that we have a yard (the cobbles) around which other timber buildings are likely to have stood. It is tempting to see this arrangement as an act of deliberate planning, probably under royal supervision.

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The structural cobble surface fully exposed within the trench

As with the overlying 9th century layers, we see the cobble surface and its surrounding structures as having an industrial function, as ash and waste material continues to be a substantial component of the excavated layers. We are not clear if this remains primarily metal working, but we are now at a similar level to what appears to be a metalworking area in the Hope-Taylor trench (comprising a hearth and a water channel). The animal bone evidence recovered was substantial and varied, so one thing we can be sure of is that the workers in this area continued to live well and dispose of food waste within their working environment.

Finally in order to better understand Hope-Taylor’s ‘lower pavement’, that appears to be a wall foundation running along the western boundary of his trench, rather than a path, we excavated an area of undisturbed archaeological layers that had formed the base for our stepped entrance into the trench. This appeared to reveal that the foundation turned a right angle and extended beyond the limit of the trench and did not continue to the south. This excavation also revealed the presence of a pit filled with rubble including a squared stone block covered in mortar that we hope to further reveal and recover next season.

The BRP team would like to thank Will Armstrong and his castle staff who make us feel so welcome. Particular mention should go to Lisa for her help with getting the metal finds off for x-ray and Stuart for assisiting with the above photograph with his Cherry Picker. We are grateful to The Society of Antiquaries of London for a generous grant towards the assessement of the full site metal archive which is ongoing, and to the Mick Aston Fund of the Council for British Archaeology for a grant to assisit with our outreach programme. I would also personally like to thank our wonderful team of archaeological staff for a great summer. Roll on 2019.

Graeme Young

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Bamburgh Castle Medieval and Anglo-Saxon Metalwork Analysis and Conservation

Here at Bamburgh Research Project we are now in our fourth week of excavation. Staff and students have been focusing their efforts on revealing and recording a 7-8th century cobbled surface in the south-east of the trench. To learn more watch our latest trench update from Director, Graeme Young, who explains progress so far: Trench 3 Update.

As well as the excavation in the trench we also have a post-ex team working with students to record the finds and paleoenvironmental material as it is recovered. They are also working really hard prepping all the medieval and Anglo-Saxon metalwork from Trench 3 for analysis and conservation as part of our Society of Antiquaries funding (you can learn more about this project here: SOA Grant).

 

We have sorted, boxed and listed all the material and the metalwork assemblage has now gone to our specialist conservator, Karen Barker. Karen will stablilise, x-ray and provide a conservation assessment for us. The details we gather from the assemblage will form part of a interim excavation report and key items will be selected for conservation and display in the Archaeology Museum at the Castle.

 

Karen has begun to x-ray the thousands of metal artefacts, which is particularly exciting when looking at corroded items, as the form and detail of objects is often revealed at this stage.

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X-ray of Trench 3 iron objects

This is one of the early x-rays from the assemblage with various iron objects, including buckles, knives, a couple of nails and a possible door hinge.

We will update the blog as more information becomes available.

 

Thanks to the Society of Antiquaries of London for their grant support.

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Cobbled Surface in the Southeast Corner of Trench 3

The Bamburgh Research Project has made some excellent progress in Trench 3 this season.  In the video below, Director Graeme Young discusses the 7th/8th century cobbled surface recently uncovered in the southeast corner.  We are not completely certain what the use of the surface was, but Graeme offers a few different interpretations.

 

Digging through the 8th century AD

After the first few days back on site at Bambugh Castle the excavation is up and running and we are starting to make some visible progress. The first week always involves some catching up with where we were, but even so we are now moving forward and excavating down to an extensive cobble surface that we previously indentified in a narrow sounding trench.

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Always plenty of recording to be done in the first week.

We have been speculating just what this cobble structure represents for a while now so its good to be getting on with the process of exposing the feature in full and answering this question. At the moment this Director’s opinion is that it will turn out to be a building platform, but a yard surface or even a road are also in the running.  Time and hard work will tell.

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More of the cobble structure being revealed in Trench 3

2018 Project Design: what will the BRP be focusing on this year?

Before the start of the excavation season the BRP directors compile a list of aims and objectives based on what we we want to achieve during this period. This includes how we plan to excavate and record the site, strategies for undertaking post-excavation research, our aims for teaching both staff and students, and what we hope to achieve in terms of our outreach.

We have created a detailed Project Design, which provides background information about the site and previous work undertaken. This is then used to inform our detailed plans for the summer, as set out in the latter part of the Project Design. You can access this document here: Bamburgh Research Project Design 2018

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Overview

This year we will be focusing our attention on excavation of Trench 3, where the main body of our teaching will be undertaken. This will be supported by our finds and paleoenvironmental teams.  We will also be prepping the bulk of the medieval and early medieval metalwork to go for specialist analysis thanks to funding from the Society of Antiquaries. Recent funding from the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund has also allowed us to expand our outreach activities, which you can learn more about here: 2018 Outreach Activities

If you have any questions about our plans please email graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

 

 

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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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.

Further Funding Success for the BRP with the CBA’s Mick Aston Archaeology Fund

The Bamburgh Research Project have kindly been awarded £988 from the Council for British Archaeology’s Mick Aston Archaeology Fund, which is supported by Historic England.

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The BRP will use the funding to enhance our outreach outputs. It will facilitate free, daily, trench-side activities for visitors to Bamburgh Castle, encouraging them to explore the history of the site (prior to the upstanding remains), through hands-on activities and guided tours. It is also the aim of the project to undertake free activities within Bamburgh Village for those unable to access the Castle. This will engage both local residents and tourists. The latter will be supported by a free evening lecture series, throughout the duration of the excavation.

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Director, Graeme, giving a site tour of the Castle

Trench-side and and village activities will include:

  • Hands-on teaching sessions undertaken by BRP pottery specialist and animal bone specialist
  • Finds washing
  • Finds sorting
  • Finds illustration
  • Handling collection (animal bone, pottery etc.)
  • ‘Show and tell’ activity, where more significant/rare items are displayed and discussed by BRP staff
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Some of our younger volunteers visiting Trench 3

The funding will primarily be used to purchase equipment and hire venues for the village activities.

A timetable of planned activities will be added to the blog in due course.

Plans for the Summer

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As it is only a matter of weeks now to the start of the excavation at Bamburgh Castle this seems a good time to write a little about our plans for the season. It promises to be a busy few weeks as we have funding from the Society of Antiquaries of London to assess the bulk of the metalwork from the West Ward.  We will need to prepare all of this to be safely transported to our conservator in addition to the normal excavation and post excavation work.

Pre-season update

The section of the Hope-Taylor Trench as it joins with Trench 3

In Trench 3 we are close to revealing the extent of a new structural surface that appears to be rather substantial. It is made of rounded beach cobbles and we revealed several metres of this in a narrow sondage in previous season. The question remains what is this – part of a building? Or is it a yard or path? It appears from the section (photo above) that it is on a similar level to a stone foundation for a timber structure that Brian Hope-Taylor revealed in the 1970s that may be associated with a socket stone. So we have no doubt that some buildings are present in this phase, but are we looking at more metal working similar to the phase above? We are determined to get some answers this summer.

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

 

 

 

Excavation Season 2018

We are running a little later than usual in announcing details about our summer excavation, but plans are in hand and we aim to make some more detailed announcements this month.

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Trench 3 with the new strucctural surface exposed in the narrow trench. Looking forward to seeing more of this in 2018!

Excavation at Bamburgh Castle will be five weeks this summer, as it was last year. Given that excavation within Trench 1 was completed last season, this year we will only be excavating in Trench 3. Our aim will be to expose an 8th century structural surface within the trench, but we are also seeking to move our post-excavation forward as well. It will be slightly smaller team than usual so probably best to book early, if you are able, once the website is updated. In the mean time if you want to be added to an email list to be contacted as soon as the details are finalised then do get in touch graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk