The Bamburgh Bird: Unique 8th century Anglo-Saxon decorative metal work discovered at Bamburgh Castle

Near the end of last summer’s excavation season we made a marvellous new find of national significance; a beautifully decorated copper alloy bird mount. The decorated fragment is small, 23mm by 12mm, but decorated with an intricate zoomorphic representation of a bird, characteristic of early medieval North European art. The star find has since been undergoing careful conservation to reveal an intricately decorated artefact that is a window into the art of a lost era of early medieval royal society.

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Our first view of the conseved find (Karen Barker, Conservator)

Initial comments from a number of experts has suggested that the bird mount is unique, with no direct parallels and likely to be 8th century in date. It is fascinating that the new image appears to hark back in time to the bird of prey motifs of the 6th and 7th centuries AD and could represent a descendant of these earlier styles just as ‘the later 8th century York helmet, is an update of the form known from the earlier Sutton Hoo, Staffordshire and Wollaston helmets’.

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The bird is a realtively thin copper allow piece undecorated on the back anmd likely to have been mounted onto a larger artefact.

The find, excavated by Harry Francis, was recovered from a cobbled surface revealed at the base of a narrow trench that was excavated to identify the next occupation surface at the southern part of Trench 3.  This was revealed as a well constructed surface just centimetres below the well dated 9th century metal working building. At this time there were a number of smaller kingdoms and Northumbria was one of these. The palace fortress of Bamburgh was one of the most important places in Northumbria at that time and we have evidence of metal working, probably associated with the production of arms and armour for the warriors of the royal court in our excavation. In summer 2017 we will continue our investigations of the find spot and we hope to discover if it represents an earlier period of metal working or some other activity. At the moment our investigation of this horizon is at such an early stage we are unsure if the find came from within a building or from a yard surface or path where it may have been dropped. We are very much looking forward to getting back on site and continuing our excavations.

Francis Armstrong and his son Will, owners of Bamburgh Castle have commented that ‘the Bird is a spectacular discovery. It is a beautiful artefact and we are proud that it has been found here at Bamburgh. Finds like this help us to connect with the Castle’s history and it is wonderful when we get the opportunity to display these ancient wonders so our visitors can enjoy them close up. We are grateful for the work the BRP do here at the Castle and we have a great time working with them unearthing the stories that Bamburgh Castle has to tell’.

Research into the new find is ongoing and we aim to have a short publication ready later this year. The bird will be on display at the castle, open 10.00am to 5pm until 29th October, with many other fascinating finds including pattern welded swords and intricately decorated gold work. You can also come and chat to the archaeologists on site when visiting the castle between June 11th and July 15th.

Further Funding for the Bradford Kaims

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We are pleased to announce that the Bradford Kaims has been awarded a further sizeable funding grant from the Society of Antiquaries of London, through the Margaret and Tom Jones Fund. Margaret and Tom Jones directed the long-standing and revolutionary excavations at Mucking between 1965 and 1978, which was taken as an excellent example of a large scale prehistoric to Medieval landscape survey and excavation. The fund has been set up to further encourage innovative work into assessing large archaeological landscapes, and we are honoured to have the support of the Society for our work in Northumberland.

We have been awarded a total of £10,363 to conduct a series of geophysical analyses across the Bradford Kaims landscape with community volunteer help and training. The grant will also fund a sequence of 11 new radiocarbon dates, the use of a mechanical excavator to help us expand our excavations at Hoppenwood Bank, and specialist geoarchaeological research into the soil systems in action at Hoppenwood Bank and around the site. This combination of techniques, alongside our planned open area excavations, geomorphological analyses, and volunteer based training system, should allow a comprehensive analysis of the significance of the wider landscape and its archaeology across the Bradford Kaims, and provide a lasting legacy in archaeological training for students and volunteers.

If you wish to volunteer at the Bradford Kaims project, please contact director director Paul Gething at gething1966@gmail.com, and if you wish to work with us as a fieldschool student, please register for our fieldschool, between the 11th of June and the 15th of July, at http://bamburghresearchproject.co.uk.

Tom Gardner, Project Officer

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Students and community volunteers in training at the Bradford Kaims, 2015.

Royal Archaeological Institute Funding for the Bamburgh Research Project

The Bamburgh Research Project has been awarded £3030 to undertake the post-excavation analysis of Trench 8 situated within the West Ward of the Castle.

Background

In 2006 the BRP inherited a large, partial archive generated by Dr Brian Hope-Taylor during excavations in the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, the archive is in poor condition and many major elements are missing. This prompted the BRP to conduct a parallel excavation and re-excavate areas of Hope-Taylor’s trenches in an attempt to integrate the two archives and help fill some of the significant gaps in the Hope-Taylor record.

Trench 8 was opened in 2006 based on Hope-Taylor’s interim report that noted over 2000 years of stratified deposits in this area of the West Ward. Discoveries included a 7th to 9th-century industrial metalworking area, whose finds include pattern-welded swords and decorated gold artefacts, likely associated with the Northumbrian royal court. The re-excavation of this area in 2006 located new finds, including undisturbed evidence for Neolithic occupation, and significantly, the remains of Hope-Taylor’s section labeling, allowing us to understand where many of the surviving finds from the excavation were found, as well as providing the opportunity to see, in section, what the BRP might expect to encounter in future excavation seasons.

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Trench 8 excavated in 2006

You can read a detailed summary of the Trench 8 excavation in a earlier blog post by Director, Graeme Young: The Excavation of Trench 8, 2006

Project Aims

The current project will amalgamate the artefactual assemblages from the Hope-Taylor and BRP excavations into one contemporary archive. We will evaluate and analyse the metal-work, pottery, and the small lithic and glass assemblages from Trench 8, plus commission four radiocarbon dates for key stratigraphic horizons. The BRP has also secured in-kind donations to cover the cost of the worked bone, animal bone and paleoenviromental assemblages, which together, will ensure Trench 8 is finished and ready to be published.

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Sword and axe fragments recovered from the Hope-Taylor archive, excavated from the Trench 8 (Hope-Taylor’s ‘Trial Trench 1’).

The BRP wishes to thank the Royal Archaeological Institute for their continued support of the project. Previous funding from the RAI in 2012 provided the final post-excavation costs enabling us to complete the Inner Ward excavation report, more information can be found here: Inner Ward Excavation Report

Excavating with the Bamburgh Research Project

If you would like the opportunity to excavate with the Bamburgh Research Project please visit www.bamburghrearchproject.co.uk for more information. We operate two sites, one within the West Ward of the castle where we are currently excavating through early medieval layers and the Bradford Kaims, a prehistoric wetland within the castle environs. The field school runs for five weeks from June 11th- July 15th.

 

 

Lottery grant for the Bamburgh Heritage Trust

The plans for a new heritage centre at St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh, that will bring the story of the early medieval Bowl Hole burials to life has taken a big step closer with the awarding of a development grant to the Bamburgh Heritage Trust by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Bowl Hole Excavation Project was undertaken by Bamburgh Research Project (BRP) and Durham University and has produced a wealth of academic information about some of the earliest Christian inhabitants of Bamburgh. The burials are contemporary with the early medieval palace site currently under investigation within the castle by the BRP (places still available for this season’s excavation) and together give an extraordinary insight into what is often called the Golden Age of Northumbria.

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Some of the early medieval skeletons on their way from the castle to St Aidan’s Church during the reburial ceremony in 2016

The new funding represents an important step forward in bringing these results to the wider public. If you have not already seen it then do read Tony Henderson’s terrific article in the Chronicle, which details the work undertaken at the Bowl Hole and the planned project outputs.

If you would like to take part in this years excavations at Bamburgh Castle and/or our prehistoric wetlands site at the Bradford Kaims, please contact field-school coordinator  colekelly@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk or visit www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk.

 

New carbon dates for the Bowl Hole

We would like to thank the Northumberland AONB for further generous grant support for our ongoing project with The Bamburgh Heritage Trust (BHT), aimed at telling the story of the Bowl Hole early medieval burial ground.

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Skeleton 440 during our 2007 excavation. An unusual grave surrounded by stake-holes

The site, thought to be under threat of erosion, was investigated by the BRP between 1997 and 2007 and involved the excavation and recording of 91 individual graves. Thankfully although there is evidence of erosion in the past, at the moment the site appears to be relatively stable. Nevertheless the investigation of the site has really advanced our understanding of Bamburgh in the this early period. Particularly informative has been the analysis of the skeletons undertaken by Durham University by Dr Sarah Groves under the supervision of Professor Charlotte Roberts. The work has resulted in numerous presentations and academic publications but the next task will be to publish the final results in a book and present them to the public. In order to enable this we have teamed up with the BHT with the aim of creating a visitor centre at St Aidan’s Church, Bamburgh. Its a long term project and the latest carbon dates are just one small step along the way, but no less valuable to us.

We already had a number of dates from the site, but as it is a complicated site, in use as a burial ground over many generations, probably from the seventh century to the ninth, we need as many dates as possible to identify if the focus of burials moved over time or if the origins of the people changed over the generations.

The AONB generously funded five new dates costing close to £2000. The graves dated were carefully selected to add to our understanding of how different parts of the burial ground may have been in use at different times and also singled out some of the more interesting individuals based on their isotope data (that tells us what part of the UK or Europe they grew up in) and burial style. We are currently feeding the new information into the site interpretation, but the results are promising. One new revelation is that one of the animal bone fragments dated, from a grave in the central-eastern part of the cemetery, came back with a Romano-British date! We do not think that the grave is from this period, but it does suggest that animal bone, probably food waste, was present in the ground to be disturbed when the grave was cut in the early medieval period. We have good evidence for occupation of the castle at that time but that activity now extends well beyond the castle to the south is interesting and poses quite a few new questions for the future. Its unlikely they were living there, but could they have been working close to the sea, fishing or making salt?

 

Spaces filling up for our 2017 Archaeology Field School

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Student places for our field school this summer are filling up. Given that we have reduced our season to 5 weeks we expect that the numbers of students attending per week to be higher.

The BRP is dedicated to ensuring our excellent teaching standards remain unchanged. To continue to offer our high staff to student ratio we will therefore be placing limits on the number of student who can attend each week. Some weeks are already getting close to full capacity.

We encourage those who are interested in booking a place at the field school to submit their application as soon as possible.

Find the Application Form Here

It’s going to be an amazing summer! We are already counting down the days!

The Bradford Kaims awarded Moray Endowment Fund grant

We are pleased to announce that Tom has been awarded a small grant from the Moray Endowment Fund of £1992 for comparative research into the geoarchaeology of burnt mounds and associated soils, most of which will be undertaken at the Bradford Kaims, with a smaller study being conducted on Allt Thuirnaig burnt mound at Inverewe, in the north-west of Scotland.

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Tom taking micromorphological samples through peat deposits at the Bradford Kaims

The Moray Endowment Fund is an internal funding body of the University of Edinburgh, where Tom is currently undertaking his PhD studying the wider geoarchaeology of burnt mound deposits across Great Britain and Ireland, for which the Bradford Kaims forms a core case study. This funding will allow us to look in great detail at a larger suite of micromorphological samples from the burnt mounds at the Bradford Kaims, and from the fills of some relict streambeds associated directly with the burnt mound use. Thin section micromorphology, a technique in which Tom is becoming well versed, involves the microscopic analyses on in situ sediments and soils, and seeks to better understand what archaeological sediments consist of, where they came from, how they got to where they are now, and the processes that have changed them since they were deposited.

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Thin section micrograph of micromorphological samples through the burnt mound in Trench 6 at the Bradford Kaims

Through this form of study we already know that some of the earlier burnt mounds at the Bradford Kaims were deposited seasonally probably in summer and autumn, and vary widely in their fuel types from small Roundwood charcoal through to grasses and sedges. From this, and with our wider landscape analyses, we are able to better understand the movements and activities of people living around the Bradford Kaims in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, and how they interacted with their environment.

We thank the Moray Endowment Fund for their support, and all of our readers for their continued attention!

 

Student bookings now being taken for our 2017 Field School Excavation

Our 2017 student booking form is now available.

Our season will last 5 weeks from June 11- July 15th and will cost £300 per week.

This will include camping accommodation and access to modest cooking facilities. Unlike previous years, a tent will be provided for you upon your arrival. Be aware you will not be permitted to use your own tent.

You can find more information on our website. If you have any further questions please don’t hesitate to get in touch: colekelly@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

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If there is anyone interested in a staff position who has not yet applied, please do so ASAP.

 

Update about our 2017 field school dates

It has been a bit quiet on the blog so we just wanted to give our followers a quick update about next season.

We will be running a five week field school season next year from June 11th through July 15th.

We expect the student applications to be available in the next few weeks and will post an update when they are available. If there are any groups who would like to make arrangements for next year please get in touch:

graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk