Excited to get back to Trench 3

It was quite late in the season last year when the new decorated copper alloy mount was discovered in Trench 3. We had been investigating once of the sections of the Hope-Taylor excavation from the 1970s, trying to make sense of the stratigraphy alongside our own and working out if the surfaces did indeed slop down from north to south. During this process we extended into our trench from the section, excavating a narrow slot down to a lower horizon. This revealed a new well laid cobble surface and it was from this level that the copper mount was recovered.

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Trench 3 from the west showing the section extended across the far side of the trench to reveal the new cobble surface.

Looking at it still encrusted with soil we thought that we might have the head of a dragon, but x-ray and conservation quickly revealed that this was a mistake. we were looking at it the wrong way around and it was a different kind of beast entirely.

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The bird as first conserved

On Monday morning we will start excavating again and expanding the slot trench and investigating the new cobble surface will be a high priority. Are we in a building or was the find dropped on a yard or road surface? Time will tell but I feel it could be an interesting summer.

Our Lecture Series for the 2017 Season

Anyone in or visiting the Bamburgh/Belford area during the next five weeks are welcome to attend our  Wednesday evening public archaeology lectures at the Bell View Centre in Belford, Northumberland.

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No booking is required and entry is free, though any donations to the project to cover the cost of renting the venue is gratefully received.

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.

 

3-Dimensional artefact location mapping in Trench 3, Bamburgh Castle

Ryan Leckel, undergraduate student of the Applied Social Science Department at University of Wisconsin-Stout, has received a grant of more than $2,000.00 to help with his pilot study in 3-dimensional visualisation of small find locations in Trench 3 at Bamburgh Castle. The study will gather and input data from the site records in order to produce a 3-D model of the site in which the distribution of the finds can be visualised alongside the trench plans. It is hoped this will prove an invaluable tool for identifying patterns of finds on the site and greatly aid interpretation. One of the trickier aspects of such analysis will be asking the right questions of the model.

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Trench 3 Excavation

It is great to see staff and students wanting to work on project data so we are delighted that this is just one such ongoing project. We are really looking forward to this collaboration in the weeks ahead and we will update you as the work progresses- hopefully with some really nice images.

Bookings to join us on the excavation are still open, though some weeks are getting close to being full, so we would encourage anyone still thinking of joining us this summer to get in touch soon.

Click here to go to the booking page.

 

British Academy/Leverhulme Funding Awarded to the Bradford Kaims

We are very pleased to announce that an application to the British Academy/Leverhulme ‘Small Grants’ fund has been awarded for the Bradford Kaims. A total award of £9,490 has been awarded to Richard Tipping, Tom Gardner, and Paul Gething on behalf of the Bradford Kaims investigations to support a comprehensive sequence of radiocarbon dating for the prehistoric landscape, which has been under investigation since 2010.

This award will allow 26 radiocarbon dates to be sought from a suite of archaeological and natural deposits across the landscape at the Bradford Kaims, focussing upon the large burnt mound in Trench 6, and a sequence of well-preserved peat deposits immediately adjacent to this site. The generous support of this award, in addition to the £756 attained from Heritage at Risk and Northumberland County Council in November 2016, and the £1,500 attained from Northumberland County Council in October 2016 will allow the dating of the site and surrounding landscape to extend to 32 radiocarbon dates in addition to the 5 dates already attained across the site. With this scientific and chronological support, the ongoing interpretation of the archaeology at the Bradford Kaims can make a significant impact upon our understanding of the patterns of prehistoric activity in North Northumberland.

We are very grateful to the British Academy/Leverhulme for their support. If you want to volunteer on our final excavation season at the Bradford Kaims (11th June – 16th July 2017), then please email our team at paulgething@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk to discuss volunteering opportunities, or get on touch at colekelly@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk if you would like to apply for a student position on the excavation.

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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!