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

Ashington Academy Challenge Week at Bamburgh Castle

Recently Brian Cosgrove and Catrina Clements of Ashington Academy brought three of their pupils, Liam Clark, Ethan Elliot and Ben Hardy up to Bamburgh Castle for Challenge Week. Although we had officially finished the dig the weekend before we were happy to host them and in fact left a little corner of the site open for them to work in.

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Ben Hardy, left and Ethan Elliot, right excvating our troublesome layer

We had a plan to investigate a small block of deposit that might provide clues to help us resolve a problem with Trench 8, our re-evaluation of Brian Hope-Taylor’s Trench 1 from 1960. The deposit was a small triangle of isolated stratigraphy between Trench 8 and Trench 3. it was the continuation into Trench 3 of a confusing layer that we identified when we re-evaluated the Hope-Taylor trench. This layer that produced a limited amount of glazed pottery, now seems to reach down well into the early medieval period (see the section below). It confused us at the time of the re-evaluation in 2006 and now we have excavated much deeper in Trench 3 we have more information and it appears to extend from the 12th to the 9th centuries. As such it spans far too large a period of time for a single phase of activity and must surely represent a series of layers that we are failing to differentiate between. Elswhere in Trench 3 we have clearly different events and structures from this 300 year period. That fact that it is up to 0.4m thick is a further clue that we are missing changes that are simply very hard to see.

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The digitised east facing section of Trench 8 as re-recorded in 2006. Layers 806 and 820 are part of a known series of deep midden deposits that date from the 13th centuy to the 15th century. Directly beneath is the probalematic layer, 825, that extends in section all the way to a series of layers and features that we can now date. Thin layers 828 and 863, along with the large post-hole 835 are all provisionally dated to the 9th century. The cobble feature 827 is likely to be even earlier and 8th century.

Excavation within Trench 3 has also revealed that the stratigraphic layers get deeper to the south and west and that near Trench 8 the accumulation of deposits over time was slower and shallower. As we are currently writing up Trench 8 for publication it would be very useful to be able to demonstrate if this deep deposit really did comprise more than one stratigraphic layer. So we decided that we would excavate a sample of the surviving deposit in three successive units, in a verticla sequence, separating the finds and taking a sub-samples for flotation from each. We hoped that we just might be able to see changes in the finds or identify material we could date from each unit, as a test of our idea.

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Liam Clark helping out with recording

Brian and Catrina and their small team helped to excavate the layer in its units, take the samples and for good measure we processed one on site with them as well. As normal we identified and collected the finds as we dug, sieved all the deposit through a 6mm grid and 3D located the one small find, a piece of lead. We were not able to differentiate layers in plan as we dug them any better than we were in the section. Animal bone was common throughout the three units, but the only pottery sherds came from the upper one. Interesting, but far too limited evidence to form any conclusions yet. We will further analyse the finds and samples over the next few weeks, but may need to date each unit through radiocarbon assay to stand a chance of coming up with solid proof.