Online Lecture Recording – Bamburgh Bowl Hole Cemetery: life and death in an early medieval palace

One of our project Directors, Graeme Young, recently had the opportunity to share some of the work of the BRP with Chester Archaeological Society.

Graeme’s talk focussed on the excavation and subsequent post-ex research based on the skeletal assemblage lifted from the early medieval burial cemetery situated outside Bamburgh Castle.

Blurb: The Bowl Hole cemetery site at Bamburgh in Northumberland is a rare example of a burial ground associated with an early medieval royal residence, giving us an insight into the palace population during what is often referred to as Northumbria’s Golden Age. Some 91 discrete burials were recovered at the site between 2001 and 2007 and subjected to detailed analysis at Durham University. As well as the sex, age, stature and pathology of the individuals a detailed isotope analysis of all individuals with teeth present was undertaken giving an extraordinary insight into the diverse regional and national backgrounds of the palace population. Results which were both unexpected and exciting!

Please Note: this video does contain images of human remains

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Bowl Hole cemetery and individuals buried there the Bamburgh Bones Digital Ossuary contains all the information and a searchable database. You can access this here: Digital Ossuary

2021 Dig Season Update: research focus, booking info and staff applications.


As you may know we intend to run our field school this year from 4th September – 24th September (we may add a further week if demand exceeds expectation).

We do think this is far enough in the future to take bookings without feeling too much pressure to react to every variation in the current government roadmap. That said, we very much recognise that any plans will of course be subject to alteration if the situation demands it, so we will be offering full refunds in the case of the need to cancel. This should allow you to book with some confidence that any deposit or payment in full is safe.

If you would like to find out more about the field school and/or book a place please visit our website here: BRP Field School

Upstanding medieval masonry outside St Oswald’s Gate

Staff Applications

The BRP is currently advertising for staff to join us during the 3 week excavation. You can find out more information here: Staff Positions for the 2021 Field School

What is the current focus of the field school?

This season we are excavating and surveying at St Oswald’s Gate and in the area of the medieval outworks that still stand beyond it. This is the only area of the castle that remains significantly a medieval ruin!

Area of focus for the 2021 excavation season

The outworks beyond St Oswald’s Gate are a complex multi-phase set of substantial structures dating from the medieval to post-medieval date. Sited to contain a well and to dominate a small harbour serving the castle that is known to have been in use up to the middle 13th century. The surviving outworks represent a rare case of unreconstructed early masonry that is is available to study without the issues of dealing with extensive later alteration and refacing.

This area of the castle provides and ideal opportunity to undertake survey and phasing of the build in conjunction with
excavation to identify further traces below ground. The earliest elements are likely to be 12th century in date with a number of phases of later medieval alterations and additions. The medieval outworks were later incorporated into 18th century structures that included a cottage built into a medieval tower that is known to have survived into the 20th century but is now lost under ivy.

What type of work will we be undertaking?

Excavation will aim to recover currently buried foundations or traces of the robbing of walls, as well as early ground surfaces and dating evidence for the phases of build and use. In addition to excavation, we intend to undertake a detailed 3D survey and structural recording exercise and process this as part of our post excavation work. We will use GIS and some CAD programmes for this as a teaching opportunity. The aim will be to create a stone by stone series of elevations from rectified photography. There is a possibility, if time and resources allow, that some degree of consolidation work may be undertaken to preserve any revealed masonry in consultation with the castle staff.

Join the BRP for a free webinar as part of the Festival of Archaeology this October.

Bamburgh Castle: digs, dirt and discoveries!

Join the BRP, for a live, interactive, online webinar on October 25th at 2.00pm, as part of the Council for British Archaeology‘s Festival of Archaeology Part II.

The free webinar will explore the discoveries made at the Castle and its environs over the last 20 years. This will include:

  • The early medieval (7th-8th century) Bowl Hole Cemetery unearthed in the sand dunes below the castle and our work to bring the remarkable discoveries into the public realm through the award winning Bamburgh Bones Digital Ossuary.
  • Learn about the discoveries made within the Inner and West Wards of the castle, spanning some 3000 years, including a Viking period metal-working site, defensive structures, a possible early-medieval stone chapel and Roman walls. We also have a very new and exciting discovery to share with you, made in the final days of this years dig season (you may know all about this if you are a regular blog reader of course!).
  • We will also share our top ten finds from the excavations (we have over 12,000 small finds and rooms full of bulk finds)!

Send us your questions

You will also have the opportunity to ask the project archaeologists your questions on the day or send your pre-prepared questions to

How to sign-up

If you would like to join us for this event please register here:

Support the work of the BRP

If you would like to help the BRP in these odd times, our fundraiser is currently open in the hope that some of our supporters will be happy to contribute a little to our post-excavation costs, which in many ways we hope will be just as informative (and is just as important!) as the excavation itself.

Belay that Last Update!

Errm…so yeah this is a little embarrassing but mostly inspiring: shortly after announcing the closure of our fundraiser a few things happened in rapid succession.

First, previous donors reached out asking to send more support before we closed for donations. (Inspiring.)

Then, former students and former staff reached out asking how they could help, if not by donating money, donating time to make sure we have all the resources we needed. (Also inspiring.)

We were also approached on our personal social media by hopeful donors who didn’t get a chance to donate during our brief appeal window. (Inspiring as well, but how did you even find us???)

We spoke it over as a team and decided to reopen the appeal and shift gears slightly. The funds previously raised saw us through the final week of excavation, and for that we are so incredibly grateful. But we also have specialist analysis to undertake while we finish going through the mountain of data we accrued. If you choose to donate, either again (thank you we love you) or for the very first time (we love you too), the new funds are to be earmarked and used specifically for the post-excavation work. This includes things like radiocarbon dates, specialist pottery analysis, environmental process and artistic reconstructions. Let us know if you have any other questions about this next phase of the research.

Here is the link to the fundraiser page. Thank you for all your support!

The Accessing Aidan Project and the BRP

As some of you may know, the Bamburgh Research Project (BRP), has been working closely with the Accessing Aidan project, lead by the Northumberland Coast AONB and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The project is in the process of exploring previously hidden secrets and insights into the lives of Bamburgh’s early medieval past (c. 450-1100). These stories have been unveiled through new cutting-edge interpretation, helping the public to re-imagine Northumbria’s Golden Age. Much of the information used is based on the data generated by the BRP during the excavation of the Bowl Hole from 1998-2007. You can read more about the excavations here: Bowl Hole Cemetery

Excavation BH


The ossuary entrance in the crypt

In 2016 the excavated remains were interred within the crypt of St Aidan’s and the crypt and church have now become the focus for an interpretive display and unique interactive digital ossuary. It tells the story of 110 skeletons dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries unearthed from what is believed to be the burial ground for the royal court of Northumbria.

The Digital Ossuary

The Digital Ossuary is now available online, as part of the Bamburgh Bones website and contains details of all the individuals excavated from the burial ground. You can find out information about how they were buried, any grave goods recovered, evidence of trauma and pathologies and much more. In time, the project will be adding details about their diet and origin based on isotopic analysis. You can filter the ossuary entries by what we have discovered about them.

Bmaburgh Bones


Each entry includes what we know about the individual along with a photo, drawing and map. The photo shows how they were discovered in the Bowl Hole graveyard.

The funding from the project will also allow the BRP and our research partners to bring together all the data and interpretation from the excavation into a final publication planned for next year, a seminal moment for the BRP!

If you would like to learn more about the project please visit the Bamburgh Bones website, you can also follow them on Twitter @BamburghBones and Instagram @bamburgh_bones.


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 

Bamburgh Research Project Excavation Season 2020 – Field School Details

The BRP 2020 Field School will once again be based at Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland Coast. We are in the process of finishing our last trench in the West Ward of the Castle and will be turning our attention to the exterior structures surrounding the Castle.

The field school will run for five weeks from 21st June – July 24th. You can find out more information about how to book here: Booking details

New Excavation Site

The focus of the dig season this year will be two-fold. Firstly, we will begin new excavations to explore the presence of a proposed exterior ditch. The proposed work will investigate the alignment, depth and profile of the castle ditch close to the main gate. By characterising the stratigraphic layers within the ditch and sampling them for dating evidence and evidence of waste disposal we hope to generate an insight into the material culture of the castle from an ordered sequence of layers that will greatly aid in the interpretation of the extensive, but more complex and disturbed stratigraphical sequences recovered elsewhere in the castle, principally the West Ward. In addition, the profile and alignment, depth of the feature will aid in interpreting how it fits into the landscape setting and visual arrangement of the site and the impact it was intended to have on those approaching the gate.

A public pathway runs through the area of the ditch today beneath the entrance into the castle through the main gate. Here, as a result of erosion, numerous finds have been reported to the castle staff by members of the public and even found by the archaeological team when passing by to the village. The investigation of the area will be used to aid in making management decisions, to ensure the preservation of the area and also in order to recover an easily relatable stratigraphic sequence to aid in dating the pottery assemblage already recovered. In particular, the dating of ‘Bamburgh ware’ in relation to its use date and the layers above and below its introduction and end of use. We already know that there is some depth to this feature from cores cut through in 2003 that revealed over a 1m of stratigraphy. None of these appears to have reached bedrock due to encountering stones in the full, so its true depth remains to be explored.



Our second focus for the season will be post-excavation. Tuition covers a variety of areas, as we have an active on-site finds department and a environmental processing area.  Our work will focus on the material excavated from the ditch and the West Ward excavations, including our early-medieval, Roman and prehistoric contexts. Participants will have the opportunity to:

  • undertake environmental sampling techniques
  • wet-sieving and sorting residues and flots (search for ‘environmental’ on our blog to see lots of info about this element of the project)
  • clean and sort bulk materials such as animal bone and small finds, such as metalwork and worked bone.
  • prep finds for long-term storage
  • undertake cataloguing, including database and archive management
  • together this will aid in developing your identification and assessment techniques for a variety of material assemblages


How do I get involved and apply?

  1. Read the Booking Details page and the FAQ page
  2. Decide if you will be staying at the Campsite or not
  3. Fill out the Application Form
  4. You will then receive an email from the BRP staff
  5. Pay the deposit to secure your place
  6. Book your accommodation


A computer reconstruction of the stone building in Trench 1

We have been fortunate to have Jet Jansen, of York University, undertaking a project for us on a computer model for one of the buildings in Trench 1. Here is a little right up of the work from her:

stone building

The basic model

For my placement with the Bamburgh Research Project, I made a 3D reconstruction of a stone building based on the robber trench found in Trench 1. When making a reconstruction I normally look for 4 kinds of information:

  • A site plan for the outlines of the structure I am trying to reconstruct. On this I would look for any remaining walls or posts, or negative features such as a robber trench.
  • Section plans of any remaining features of the building, such as walls.
  • Other finds associated with the structure, such as building materials that are no longer in situ or any artefacts that can give an indication who occupied the building, or how it was used.
  • Any archaeological or historical evidence of buildings of the same time/function from other places.

If there is a lot of this information available, it can be relatively easy to make a reconstruction. For the building in Trench 1, however, there was not much evidence. Only half a robber trench was found, so the full outline of the building is unknown. There are also no walls left and the associated finds were a few stones and a lead fragment. Additionally, there is not much evidence on early medieval buildings of stone, and most of these buildings are churches. Since the building lies close to St Oswald’s gate, we think it is more likely to be a defensive structure than one of a religious nature, which means that the surviving churches are not exactly perfect material to base the reconstruction of the building in Trench 1 on, but that is the evidence there is, so that is also what I worked with.

When making a 3D reconstruction it is necessary to create the basic shape of the building you are reconstructing first. This includes the position and height of the walls, the shape of the roof and the location and size of the door and windows. The position of the walls can be based on the robber trench. Since we don’t have the robber trench for the east wall, it is not possible to say with certainty how far the building extended to the east. Logically, the maximum size it could have been is to the edge of the plateau/the wall of the ward. The stones in the east indicate that it is likely that the building extended till at least that point. For this reconstruction, I chose to place the east wall on these stones, so this reconstruction shows the minimum size of the building. There is no evidence for this building to be a multi-story building, so the reconstruction of the building only has a ground floor.

The position of the door was based on the function of the door and the position of the building. Since the wall on the south side is quite close to the gate cleft of St Oswald’s gate, it is unlikely that there would be a door in this wall. After all, it is not sensible to put a door where there is a high risk of people falling down quite a steep drop after a few steps. However, since this building is thought to be a defensive structure, it would be likely that the door would be in such as position that the people in the building could reach the gate in as short a time as possible. Therefore, the door in this reconstruction is located on the east wall, near the corner with the south side, so that the gate could be reached without having to run around the building first.

The defensive nature of the building was also taken into account when making the windows. If the building was a gate house of sorts, the people would want to be able to see as much of the gate as possible, but also would not want to have too big windows. The style of windows was based on a small and simple window from Escomb Church.

The surviving churches of that time and the stone buildings from a slightly later period have gable roofs, so that is the type of roof used for this reconstruction as well. The lead fragment that was found could have been part of the roof, so the reconstruction of the building was given a roof of lead.

After the shape of the building is done, it needs to be given textures. The stones for the walls were chosen to resemble the walls of the churches, wood was used for the door and the roof was given a lead plating texture. After the texturing, the reconstruction is more or less finished. For the end product it is possible to make animations with the model or to edit it into a photo of the trench, or it can be left just as it is.

stone building placed

The model placed into one of our site photographs

Join the Bamburgh Research Project as part of the Festival of Archaeology

The Bamburgh Research Project (BRP) will hosting a weekend of free activities as part of the Council for British Archaeology’s annual Festival of Archaeology.


Join the BRP on the 20th or 21st of July to explore 2000 years of activity at Bamburgh Castle on their annual excavation within the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland.

The BRP have been excavating through 2,000 years of occupation at Bamburgh Castle. As we excavate, we undertake environmental sampling of the different archaeological layers. These are processed on the trench-side where bones, seeds, charred remains and small artefacts (including coins, gold-filigree decoration and beads) are recovered.

Festival 5

As part of the Festival of Archaeology the BRP are hosting four half-day sessions where members of the public can work with our Environmental Supervisor to process our samples and record the material we recover. This will include specialist training with a flotation tank, tuition in recording the processed material and identification of archaeobotanic material in our on-site lab funded by the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund.

To book your place simply visit the Festival website and follow the instructions: sign-up to the BRP Festival event


Funding Success with the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund

The Bamburgh Research Project (BRP) have had further funding success with the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund for the second year-running. The fund is supported by the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and Historic England. Building on the success of last years funded outreach project based at Bamburgh Castle and Village (more info here: MAF 2018 Project), the BRP have secured additional funding to extend their outreach activities.

logosThis year the BRP will be offering visitors the opportunity to work with our palaeoenvironmental team. The project will allow the project to invest in additional processing equipment and a new microscope that will allow staff, students and visitors the opportunity to investigate the environmental samples taken from Bamburgh Castle. These samples can provide insight into 2000 years of activity at the Castle rock. You can learn more about this process here: Enviro Intro and Video Tutorial


This is part of the siraf tank where the fine residue is captured in a sieve for processing.

The BRP will be hosting two local Young Archaeologists’ Clubs to take part in post-excavation work, including working with the paleoenvironmental team, and we will be hosting winners of this years DigIt! Competition, who will have the opportunity to join our excavation for the day.


Previous DigIt! competition winners with the BRP

Funding is also supporting the BRP to provide a free weekend of palaeoenvironmental training and onsite access to the dig, as part of the CBA’s Festival of Archaeology. You can find out more about this event and sign-up here: BRP Festival of Archaeology Event

The Bamburgh Research Project is very grateful to the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund for supporting our outreach work for a second year running.