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:

New early medieval building

It has been a busy few days on site in the West Ward. Weather has managed to vary between glorious and wet and windy but we have made good progress and at least one very exciting find. We have 11 post-holes in an L-shape close to the western trench edge and this must be part of a timber building that mostly lies to the west of the trench between it and the defensive wall.

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The post-holes can be seen in the centre of the photo. Nine are visible and two more are present in a pit close to the section edge.

The building sides exposed measure some 6m by 2m but the building is likely to be larger than that. We may be seeing most of the length north-west to south-east but the building is certainly a good bit more than 2m wide.

We are uncertain of its date at this time but it is unlikely to be later than the 7th century AD and could be 6th century. The is just room to explore ‘within’ it to see if we can recover trace of floor surfaces. Something to keep us busy over the next few days.

 

 

BRP on BBC Countryfile

The BBC Countryfile programme has been filming at Bamburgh and BRP have been lucky enought to be involved. We were interviewed about the Bowl Hole burial ground as well as the castle site.

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Anyone interested will be able to catch the programme live this Sunday (16th August) on BBC 1 at 7:00 pm or via the BBC iplayer.

We have also made it back to the castle to complete our Trench 3 excavation so expect some updates soon.

 

 

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

We are back digging at the castle

When we did our round-up of the 2019 Summer dig a few weeks ago we did say we that we had some news of work that would be happening over the next few months, so I think its high time we told you what it is! There have been a number of changes at the castle this year, and more are planned. Amongst these are additions to the experience of visiting the West Ward, where the old Trench 1 has been backfilled and landscaped, and now there is the intention to add more public activities from next summer. As our major excavation (Trench 3) rather sprawls over a substantial area of the ward it is rather in the way of this so following discussion with the castle, we are doing a staff dig to complete the excavation by next spring. We are able to do this due to a generous grant from the estate that will pay many weeks of wages and because we had pretty much reached he same level as Dr Hope-Taylor had managed in the 1970s, so all that remains is to excavate a sufficient sample down to the earliest occupation beneath the Hope-Taylor levels.

new hearth

Just started and we already have a new stone-lined  hearth uncovered

By adding this deeper sample we will have a full sequence from the prehistoric to the modern era. We will of course have to sample the earliest deposits over a much smaller area. This is necessary because of the time available but also unavoidable due to the need to step the area in for safety reasons due to the depth we need to reach. This could be as deep as 4m below ground level in places.

We will have a smaller team than usual so will not be able to do as many social media posts as we would like as we need to concentrate on the excavation, but we do intend to keep you informed as well as we can.

It will be the end of an era for the BRP but not the end of our work at Bamburgh as future projects are already being developed.

End of Season Thoughts

It has been a busy but productive excavation season and, as always, seemed to come to a close all too soon. Thankfully it seems very likely that one of our principal objectives for the summer, which was to identify a building, or buildings, associated with our large and impressive-looking cobble surface, was fulfilled. We had been looking for post-holes or beam slots of a series of modest to small buildings that would front onto the cobbles. This was based on the metalworking building/forge that we had seen in a later (9th century) layer, that was build alongside a pebble pathway. It was quit a modest-sized building and, as we were looking for other industrial style workshops, it made sense that they would also be quite modest in size.  As is often the case in archaeology, what actually was found turned out to be a little different. Instead of a series of smaller structures, we have now identified a large building at least 9.6m north-east to south-west. It extends beyond the trench towards the sea and as we have only seen clear evidence of two of the walls, we are far from certain about its width.

Rather than seeing evidence of the building itself, what we found was that the edges of two cobble and pebble surfaces align at 90 degrees (a right angle, like the corner of a rectangle) and therefore appear to outline the space where two sides of a structure once stood. As we only have its outline in general so far, we are still uncertain if, like the later 9th century one, it was associated with metalworking or some other industrial style activity. It does include in its floor space a hearth and stone-lined water channel that was uncovered by Hope-Taylor, but it seems likely that this is an earlier phase of activity so not evidence of what our newly discovered building was for.

This year we were also fortunate to have a donation to fund some radiocarbon dates, and we used them to confirm the date of the cobble surface and some potential associated features in the main section that passes through the Hope-Taylor area. As this is an important–and very likely deliberately-planned–surface, being able to more closely date this will help to interpret it better, and, just as importantly, interpret the features and structures associated with it. This new dating has confirmed that the cobble and pebble surfaces that outline two sides of the large timber structure discussed above are of the right date to be contemporary and are mid-7th to mid-8th century.

In addition to investigating the cobble surface and the features around it, we have also been looking at the west trench edge and Hope-Taylor’s ‘lower pavement’. We have long thought this was likely to be the foundation for a substantial timber building or structure rather than a pavement and further work seems to have confirmed this. Last year we thought that we found a southern limit to it, and this year we have further investigated what appeared to be gaps spaced along its length. We thought these might be indications of post-holes for raking supporting timbers (think of them as buttressing the main structure on a diagonal), but as no post-holes were found, we are now thinking that we were looking at this the wrong way! Perhaps we have a series of extensions from the line of the stone foundation and not pits cut into it. If this is so, then we still have raking supporting timbers, but they are based on extensions to the surface and would be more consistent with the main wall which must be a beam or series of posts set onto the slab stone foundation.

lower pavement explanation

It is a little annoying when a blog tells you to keep checking as we have some important announcements to come, so I feel I should apologise for doing this now! The truth is we do have some really exciting projects for the next few months, but are just not quite in a place to announce them yet. It does mean though that the blog will be a good bit more active this autumn and winter than it normally is, which I hope is good news.

Graeme Young, Director

 

 

Fresh from the Trench: Week 6 – Two for the price of one!

Within minutes of each other, we found two very curious artefacts, and admittedly we are a little confused by both.

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The first was a bit of glazed pottery from the very bottom of a late medieval pit in the north of the trench. It is quite unlike most of the pottery we find anywhere in the trench, and initially the chocolate-y brown on beige caused some unwanted ceramic flashbacks for some of us to a particularly hideous slipware (pottery decorated with creamy clay that turns a different colour when fired, often with browns on yellows and vice versa) we see in the 17th-18th centuries (so we guess you could call them flashforwards?). We of course don’t think the pottery is that recent, but it is certainly giving off some major post-green-glaze vibes that suggest the very end of the medieval period. A tinge of green-glaze is still there, but the dark smears on the light background give the whole fragment the appearance of a sundae stirred as it melts. This sherd is curved but rather thick, but if it is part of a rim, we can place it on a chart of ruled concentric circles (or get out a good old-fashioned mathematical compass to measure the arcs and use a little maths) to determine how wide the mouth of the vessel it came from was. We are thinking it more likely might be a piece of a handle. Rims, bases, and sometimes handles can help us deduce vessel type or even a possible date range! We are still scratching our heads on this for now.

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The second artefact is even more mysterious, and we are absolutely stumped. It’s worked stone, but for what purpose? The two prongs are reminiscent of our leather hole-spacer, but the short circular tab is not really ergonomic enough for getting the same kind of leverage to actually punch a hole as the bone tool as it can only be grasped and pinched between the thumb and forefinger.. This is something we need to experiment with and brainstorm further. The object was excavated from the very weird northwest corner of the trench that never dries and sometimes produces Roman material. This little stone thingamabob was inside a pit abutting the bedrock. Any ideas or guesses are welcome!