Bamburgh and the Last Kingdom what’s the real story? Part 1- a real Uhtred??

Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Last Kingdom’ books, and the related TV series, has generated a huge amount of interest and a considerable fan-base. As Bamburgh features so prominently in the story, as the original home of the protagonist – Uhtred – and its recovery by him was one of the main long term plot drivers, its fair to say that Bamburgh is now more widely known than it was before. We experienced this during our excavation seasons, as every year we seemed to chat to more and more fans, many of whose visit to Bamburgh had been inspired by the books and the TV series.

Bamburh Castle today. The principal palace fortress of the Earls of Northumbria and a place so important to Uhtred. It would have looked very different in his day but was even by then almost certainly a stone fortress.

We are of course delighted that so many people have been inspired to learn more about the early medieval period as a result, but its not always easy to give simple answer to some of the more common question – such as: how much of the story is real? That is not an easy question to answer as the books are very well researched and draw a great deal from historical reality, but of course in the end they are a work of fiction telling a good yarn! In the next few blogs we will aim to cover the areas where the story touches on historical reality and what Bamburgh would have been like at that time. We very much hope that the answers will be interesting and if it leads to a few more people learning about an extraordinary place then we see that as a very good thing.

Was there a historical Uhtred?

This is one of the most frequently asked question we hear. And the answer is annoyingly both yes and no! There is, as it happens, more than one Uhtred in this period associated with Bamburgh and one of them stands out as having inspired the character of the books. He lived at a later time and so was not present for the real historical events described in the books but much of his story and character will seem familiar. In fact in the historical note at the end of the first book Bernard Cornwell informs us that although his Uhtred is a fictional character he represents a real family who did indeed have a member called Uhtred. He also tells us that he has an ancestral link to this family. With these few clues its easy to identify the historical Uhtred that lies behind the character of the books and who has gone down in history as Uhtred the Bold.

‘Uhtrede eorle’ as his name appears in Version C of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (wiki commons)

He was born some time in the later 10th century and became the Alderman or Earl of Northumberland in the early 11th century. These two terms represent a noble of great rank, alderman being the Old English (OE) title and earl the Old Norse (ON), we will use earl in this blog as it very much became the norm in this later period. He is clearly the inspiring character as there are many elements of his story that will seem familiar. He was of course first and foremost a renowned warrior and was also connected to the kings of the house of Wessex, even marrying a daughter of that royal house. His king was Aethelred the Unready, a king descended from Alfred the Great but of very different character indeed! This Uhtred, like the Uhtred of the books, was married a number of times and had enemies and allies within the Viking descended community of the Danelaw and the north.

Part of an illustrious family

So far so very like the Uhtred of the books, but what else do we know of him? He was the son of the Earl of Northumberland called Waltheof and had a brother called Eadulf. Uhtred’s Father’s name – Waltheof – was an OE name derived from and ON name and the name Uhtred itself was from OE. This mix of Viking and Anglo-Saxon naming within the family was very typical of a hybrid culture that developed over many generations within the Danelaw and the North of England. Our historical knowledge of the period is very dependent of course on those who were literate and what they thought important enough to write down. As literacy was very much a church thing, the records are often a little biased towards what was important to a monastic community. The idea of keeping a year by year historical record of events had started in the 8th century as an attempt to compile follow on records continuing on from Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. This tradition of record keeping was given a great boost when Alfred the Great encouraged the keeping of such annals in order to promote literacy and to ensure that the deeds of his dynasty would be remembered. The results of this initiative survives to us today as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (in fact a series of parallel chronicles compiled in different monasteries) but these only became properly detailed in the 11th century. We will see that gaps in our knowledge are a real problem for earlier times and we will often be left to speculate.

The immediate family tree of Uhtred

We know from such records that our historical Uhtred had connections with Aldhun the Bishopric of Durham as he married Ecgthryth the bishop’s daughter. This is a reminder that the world of the 10th and 11th centuries was rather different to how we often imagine the medieval period. Perhaps this is because we are generally more familiar with the better documented later Middle Ages, where a celibate clergy was the norm. At this earlier time the church, particularly in the north (where so much had been disrupted during the Viking Age) could be something of a family business with clerics a little like landed aristocrats. This seems to have been the background to Uhtred’s marriage as it was associated with a number of estates going to Uhtred as a dowry. Through this connection Uhtred was involved in the creation of the new site of the church of St Cuthbert at Durham, and was noted to have helped to clear the area for the new monastery in AD 995. This may be a clue as to the period in which that marriage occurred and suggests to us that Uhtred was of a grown up at this time. Before the creation of this new monastery in the loop of the River Wear at Durham the relics of St Cuthbert and his monastic community had been centred on a church at Chester-le-Street where they had settled in AD 883. This religious community of course had begun its monastic existence on Lindisfarne, a site closely associated with Bamburgh geographically and historically. During the later 9th century they travelled for many years across Northumbria seeking a new home, before settling in County Durham. We are told that the community undertook this long journey fleeing the Vikings whilst looking for a new and safer place of residence. That they ended up closer to the Viking Kingdom of York than when they started may tell us that the location of the new monastery and its lands may have had more to do with the creation of a religious buffer zone between York and Bamburgh than the story that comes down to us and why the some of the most powerful dynasty in the region had such a close connection with the Bishop’s family.

Second marriage

We are not sure how long Uhtred was married to Ecgthryth but we hear of a second marriage that took place before 1005. This was to a woman called Sige, daughter of Styr son of Ulf. Marriages of aristocrats at this time were mostly very political affairs or even just something of a business transaction. This second marriage seems to have been very much political, connecting Uhtred with a powerful and wealthy Danish family. Perhaps this was intended to generate leverage and influence to the south of their own heartland that lay north of the River Tees. We will see that this political relationship between those who controlled the two former parts of the Kingdom of Northumbria, north and south of the Tees River, will be a theme that we see again and again. We will also see that this second marriage of Uhtred will have huge ramifications for his fate and that of his decedents for several generations.

Invasion and battle

The story of Uhtred’s third marriage begins with a conflict from further north. Malcolm II who had just become King of Scotland, raided into Northumbria in 1005 AD. Perhaps this was an attempt to show off his military ability and add to his prestige, as he had come to the crown having killed his predecessor in battle and may not have felt entirely secure on the throne. Whatever the reason behind the conflict it did not go to plan. Uhtred’s father seems to have been old and infirm and chose to seek refuge in Bamburgh rather than seek battle. The same could not be said of his son Uhtred who raised a force and met Malcolm in battle relieving a siege of Durham and inflicting a defeat on Malcolm. It was reported that Uhtred then decorated the walls of Durham with the heads of his defeated enemy.

As a result of this victory Aethelred king of England, who had had few military successes against a new generation of Viking enemies, clearly desired a connection with this successful warrior and therefore arranged a marriage of Uhtred to one of his daughters. This would have involved Uhtred setting aside his current wife Sige, an action that surely damaged or broke the connections with her family. It is very likely that this weakened Uhtred’s position in the north, loosing him important allies that seem to have played a part in his recent victory, and all for an alliance with a weak king whose reign would end with his own heir in rebellion against him.

At the time a connection by marriage to Aethelred was likely to have seemed a good route for him to have political influence at the royal court. At first it seems to have have worked well for both Uhtred and Aethelred. It did not though, stand in the way of Uhtred making a ruthless decision when needed. Such as when in 1013 he switched allegiance to Swein of Denmark when Aethelred’s position became so weak Uhtred must have felt it threatened his remaining in power as Earl. He changed sides again when Swein died, but this time he appears to have been more closely associated with Edmund (later called Ironside) Aethelred’s oldest surviving son who was in a position of near open rebellion to his sick and ailing father. Ruthless politics as this may have been it did not work out well in the longer run.

A Kite Pin brooch dating from the decades around AD1000 excavated from the West Ward of Bamburgh Castle. The kind of clothes fastening that someone like Uhtred would have been familiar with or even used.

Betrayal and murder

Cnut, Swein’s son who had taken control of his father’s army at his death was now the rival that Uhtred and Edmund must resist, but things did not go well. Cnut outflanked Uhtred and invaded Northumbria when Uhtred was in the midlands with Edmund. Uhtred being one of the most important and powerful figures in the north was always going to be key to how Cnut dealt with the north, he needed him as at least something of an ally or he needed him out of the picture. Finding his enemy in a position to cut him off from his land and earldom Uhtred opened negotiations. Hostages were exchanged between them to assure good conduct and a meeting arranged. At a place called Wiheal – that might be modern Wighill in Yorkshire. We are told that Uhtred arrived with 40 of his followers only to be attacked and killed in ambush by the forces of one of his enemies who had been lying in wait for them concealed behind the hangings in the hall! A suitably dramatic end to a life of adventure. This act was likely a consequence of both one of Uhtred’s earlier marriages and the complex power politics of the North. More of this later.

The historical Uhtred was clearly a warrior like his namesake in the book and had indeed some points that the fictional version may have drawn on, but he was a man of a very different era. This brings us back to his family, its connection to Bamburgh and the question – can this be traced back to the same time of the books, when the kingdom of Northumbria fragmented under attack from a Viking army in the middle of the 9th century and the later reign of Alfred the Great? We will look at this next time.

If anyone is intrigued to learn more, get some hands on experience of archaeology and a tour of the site there are still places available on the Taster Week and all are welcome.

Post-Excavation Taster Week: Bookings Open Now!!!

Dates: 26th – 30th September 2022


Bookings are OPEN for a 1 week post-excavation taster.


Two people sorting finds from the environmental flotation system
Participant recording artefacts

What is post-excavation?

Archaeology is not all about digging. In order to turn the data gathered through excavations or surveys (for example) into information that can be used to interpret a site and/or plan further investigations, archaeologists must process this data during the ‘post-ex’ phase.

This includes recording the artefacts recovered, processing the environmental samples taken, digitising the drawings and survey information, for example. This work generates a physical and digital archive, which connects all the pieces of information together. It takes far longer (in most cases) than the actual field work and often takes place in the lab or at the desk.

Post-Ex at the Bamburgh Research Project

Here at the BRP we have generated a lot of post-excavation work in the last 20 years. We undertake much of the initial post-ex on site, where we wash and process the small and bulk finds, we process our environmental samples and we catalogue much of the records and photographs we take. However, there is still much work that is undertaken during the off-season by our staff and more that is sent away for specialist analysis. We thought this year we might bring some of this ‘behind the scenes’ work back to the Castle and share it with a small cohort of interested individuals.


What is the Post-Excavation Taster Week?

We offer quality training in archaeology with an emphasis on practical hands-on experience. The post-excavation taster week will use the BRP’s extensive archive, which consists of material from the prehistoric to the medieval periods, as the basis for an introduction to the different post-excavation techniques and research methodologies employed by the project.

We are still planning the daily schedule but the week will include:

Please Note: we are also in the process of organising a visits by a conservator but these are yet to be confirmed.


Who is it for?

Our training is open to people of all skill-levels and abilities, with particular interests accommodated where possible. We particularly wish to offer a fun and educational experience to beginners and non professionals.

Please get in touch with us if you have any questions about access, facilities, etc.

BRP is open to anyone aged 18 and over. 

Who will be teaching me?

Professional field archaeologists and post-excavation specialists.

How much does it cost?

The post-excavation taster week costs £300 pp and covers 5 days of training in a small group of between 6-8 people. This covers the cost of the tuition, tours and the trip to Lindisfarne.


How do I book a place?

Please visit the BRP’s website and take a look at the Post-Ex Taster Week page. At the end of the page is the details on how to book and pay for your place.

PLEASE NOTE: the week will only run if the BRP receive enough bookings to make the week viable (more info on website).

Any questions? Email: graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk

Museum Monday

This Monday, we’d thought we take a bit to talk about the re-installation of some of our most interesting artefacts in the Castle’s state rooms. For years, many of the conserved finds from the BRP and Brian Hope-Taylor’s excavations were tucked away in a little room at the far end of the gift shop in their own little exhibit. The only problem was that folks would reach the gift shop and often go no further. We were stumped as to how to draw attention to the artefacts and information placards when there was delicious fudge and souvenirs in the previous room. A few years ago, some of the artefacts were integrated into the existing state rooms displays, Our one-of-a-kind (okay, one of, like, three in all of northwestern Europe) 6-billet pattern-welded sword was logically in the armoury on the first floor of the keep; it’s uniqueness was sometimes not recognised when displayed amongst the shiny and sharp medieval and post-medieval bladed weaponry. While this melding of artefacts into existing spaces increased the quantity of eyeballs on the artefacts, it still felt like something was missing. How could we best use these artefacts to tell the stories of Bamburgh Castle?

The past year has allowed the curators to combine cutting-edge technology and some tried-and-true, good old-fashioned museum display protocol to give us a more holistic glimpse into the three millennia of occupation of the site.

The first room, what was the medieval kitchen, has been streamlined to focus on five particular assemblages in detail. The large wooden model of the castle is still there, but it is now joined by video screens and a projected animation on the upper story wall. The video screens stand behind the glass display cases or freestanding artefacts. This room features the Bamburgh Beast and filigreed thumbnail (both of gold) each in a minimalist mount, while the carved-interlaced stone chair-arm is positioned as it would have been during its period of use to really help you understand the wear patterns on the leading edge where great kings would have rested their fingers. Each video panel shows magnified views of the objects as castle owner Frankie Armstrong pleasantly and engagingly shares further information about the objects in his family’s care. From these short videos, you really get a sense that a deep responsibility to the stewardship of this shared heritage is the underlying driver for this revamped exhibit.

As you wind your way through the adjacent rooms, you eventually reach the salon where the curators have taken great care to give voice back to half of the population that is often written out of history elsewhere: the women. Here at Bamburgh, however, formidable women stand out to us through the material culture individuals whose names are now lost to us and the documented works for the public good by named post-medieval owners. The salon, a heavily gendered space in the early modern period, is the perfect matrix for these snippets of women’s history through objects. We hope in the future to see this exhibit expand to include more historically gendered objects (such as latch-lifters and girdle tools) and really engage with this idea of performed gender and femininity. As the named women hold elite status as well, so we hope to be a part of developing the artefacts on display to include objects associated with lower status women in our long history here.

The ground floor of the keep is our next stop, where there is now an interactive dig touch-panel. It allows you to excavate computer-animated grid squares of our former Trench 1 and Trench 3 to find artefacts that our team discovered over the years.

The traditional museum display case are also used in the base of the keep, with cases full of interesting artefacts and small placards describing them. The cases are now mostly organised by theme, allowing you to see every-day items like stycas, knives, and dice, and the more high-status and ornate material grouped together as well. Also, the fantastic sword we discussed earlier has found a home in the lower level of the keep.

You can still come visit us to the end of this week to chat about the archaeology with our team up at the windmill in the West Ward, and then take a walk through the state rooms to see some of our best finds in their new displays!

THRIPS SWARM

Sunday was rolling along rather pleasantly, from an overcast morning to a glorious afternoon…but with the warmth and the burning off of the mist, we were invaded!

It wasn’t Vikings (who never took the castle, by the way, and we have almost no archaeological evidence of them in the castle environs)…

It wasn’t tourists…

It was the dreaded THUNDERBUG!

Based on Ernst Heeger’s illustrations from Beiträge zur Naturgeschichte der Insecten. Als Beiträge zur Fauna Oesterreichs, a text in German held in the Smithsonian collections. This is from a section on thrips, but using the old synonymous name “physopod.”

In recent memory, most of us can only recall a single nightmarish day in 2019 when they swarmed the castle. But today, oh, today was much worse than that day. We all know that insects, spiders, and earthworms are a standard part of the job of excavation. We’ve made our peace with that, and usually those little bugs get relocated or brushed away gently, no harm, no foul. But not today.

Today, these little pests covered our arms and necks, so small that you’d be surprised how you could feel every footfall of each miniscule foot. But their little feet were so irritating, tap-dancing across our sun-cream-sticky flesh! No, they didn’t bite us, but they crawled over every inch of exposed skin. They landed on our lips and were smushed as we aggressively tried to wipe our faces clean. They flew into our eyelashes and poked us in the eyes. They squirmed into our ears and nostrils. It was revolting.

So in preparation for all-out war tomorrow, we have done a little reconnaissance on our enemy:

Common blossom thrips with measurements.
Vivek Kumar, University of Florida’s Entomology and Nematology Dept.

SCIENTIFIC NAMES: Thysanoptera (order with over 6,000 species), Thrips (genus with about 280 species)

The genus and generic name for the creature comes from the Ancient Greek for “woodworm,” which is weird because they are definitely not worms (annelids). The University of Chicago’s Classical language app Logeion cites the Lewis & Short Latin dictionary: thrips, thripis (m.), transliterated from the Greek θρίψ. The Greek is found in the Liddell & Scott Greek-English lexicon, but the citations are a bit harder to find. Pliny the Elder refers to the woodworm literally in several passages of his Natural History, for example while describing the resistance of tree species to infestation. Martianus Capella (Late Antiquity/early 5th century, but studied and used throughout Carolingian education discourse) also uses the word, but as a synonym for worthless things, in Book II, Section 164 of his De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii (“On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury”). You can also access the Perseus database on which the app is based here.

OTHER ALIASES:  thunder flies, thunderblights, storm bugs, storm flies, corn flies, corn fleas, corn lice, harvest flies, harvest bugs, freckle bugs

DESCRIPTION: 0.5mm-15mm long, slender body, two pairs of fringed or feathery wings folded over its back, only the left mandible (lower jaw), usually black or brown in adult stage except for a few species that stay yellowish like juveniles

As there are over 170 species found in Britain, it would be folly to detail them all, but they all share the same basic characteristics. They have a slurpy tube (that’s not the scientific name) through which they secrete saliva into their food that starts the digestion process and then suck it all back up. Remember those gross little feetsies we mentioned above? They have a grippy pad on each of its six feet called an “arolium” that inflates with the bodily fluids of the insect and helps it climb in any direction, defying both gravity and common decency. There are an astonishing number of thrips-centred websites.

KNOWN HANGOUTS: often among cereal crops and flowers, and, apparently, Bamburgh Castle for the weekend

ACTIVE TIMES: hot and humid weather, and particularly weather systems that can form thunderstorms (correlation, not causation, by the way), in the UK flourish between April-September

They’ve been around since about 300 million years ago, long before the dinosaurs (but probably annoyed them too when they showed up) and around the time of the dolerite magma injection that intruded into the sandstone at Bamburgh. Their entire life-cycle takes about a month, but they can lay 100 eggs in that time. Some can complete their life-cycle in two weeks if the temperature is high enough!

PROS:

Some thrips are pollinators, which is almost always a good thing and why we should be nicer to insects like bees. Some species prey on other thrips, the eggs of wasps and moths, and mites (which are not insects because they only have two body parts). Others eat fungi. Thrips also have a cool means of flight that is worth reading about.

CONS:

Thrips can destroy crops by eating their tissues from aesthetic damage like stippling/mottling or silvery patches (and little poo stains), to the formation of galls, to full defoliation of plants. They can also spread about 20 different plant viruses, such as the Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. In addition, they are extremely invasive and have been found on every continent. Thrips can also reproduce asexually, where the female lays eggs without a mate. Numerous gardening websites also warn that they become pesticide-resistant quickly, and that biological control (like increasing natural predators) is preferable to chemical control.

THE PLAN:

  1. Wear long-sleeves to cover up.
  2. Cry deeply.
  3. Borrow some of the repellent the Australian students brought all the way from the only continent that is actively trying to harm you.
  4. Get back to work.

Back in Action for 2022!

Welcome back for the 2022 season!

Seven people sitting around a table with wash basins outside the windmill overlooking the West Ward of Bamburgh Caslte with the grey masonry and pink sandstone of the castle apartment tower in the background.

We are all so excited to be back on-site today with a fresh bunch of new students, and some familiar faces among the staff (more on us tomorrow) as well as former students who’ve signed back on as staff (more on them next Monday). We’ve got FOUR action-packed weeks planned for you all, so follow along on here and your preferred social media site:

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Our first and hopefully most straightforward goal for the season is to bottom out the tower and find Elmund’s well (discussed in this blog post about the wells from last season)…or at least find traces of it. None of us are truly expecting an empty shaft with potable water, but everyone is at the very least expecting that yours truly, against the basic premise of self-preservation and scientific safety, will offer to taste-test whatever mud or sludge lays at the bottom.

Foreground : dune grase, centrer: masonry sunken into the ground in a reversed squared C-shape; background: ivy-covered wooden fence with the dunes and North Sea in the very distance.
Trench 5b footprint of the tower just a little worse for wear.

We also would like to do a full outworks extant masonry survey to get a better grasp on the complicated and numerous phases of construction. There are bits of wall that show signs of at least half a dozen separate rebuild or refacing events! We would also like to generate a to-scale model using Electronic Distance Measurement (a method of survey called EDM for short) of the masonry.

Green plant -covered masonry with stone steps and a stone arch looking up towards a sail-less windmill, with a partly cloudy sky behind.
Looking up towards the castle from Trench 5B; note the multi-coloured masonry around the arch.

Our post-excavation goals, in addition to keeping up with processing of finds, will include a bit of housekeeping; we’ve recently moved our archives and want to make sure everything is where it should be and easily-accessible via our cataloguing system. We’ve got plenty of finds from last season to finish washing and sorting, and there will hopefully be a similar abundance of material from our excavations of the next few weeks.

We are happy to once again have the specialist staff (previously unavailable due to travel restrictions) and workspace to begin processing environmental samples again. Our main means of processing will be through flotation, and a primer on our methods can be found here. In short, flotation allows tiny artefacts and ecofacts from coins and beads to bones, snail shells, and seeds to be separated from the soil matrix. The characteristics and chemistry soil itself can also tell us about what was likely going on in a certain area of the trench during a certain time. This season we will be covering seed identification and a bit of soil science here on the blog.

Finally, we hope to enhance our database of finds with a new system of key words. We also would like to eventually integrate the Brian Hope-Taylor material we have in our care into our existing system.

End of Season Director’s Round-up

This Director’s 2021 Round-up Report will split into two posts. This blog post is a round-up of previous work undertaken in the excavation area and sets out what our aims were for the 2021 season. The second post will look at how the actual excavation results matched up to what we expected and will look forward to next season and its new goals.

The excavation area seen from the base of the windmill. The surviving outworks are to the left of the excavation and the depression at the top of the image was the area of the former port, now silted up

The 2021 Excavation Area: what we know

The focus for the 2021 dig season was St Oswald’s Gate and the area of outworks below it. Regular readers of the blog will be quite aware that St Oswald’s Gate is known to have been the original entrance to the castle – with the current gate taking over the role of principal entrance at some point in the 12th century. We do not have an actual description of the construction of the Great Gate in the records that survive but there is fabric of this date in the vault of the Constables Tower that forms part of the complex entrance behind the Great Gate. So we can date the new entry arrangement within a few decades at least.

Sr Oswald’s Gate

We do have at least one, much earlier, record describing St Oswald’s Gate as the entrance, dating from from AD 774 that states – Bamburgh as ‘having one hollowed entrance ascending in a wonderful manner by steps’ – a clear reference to St Oswald’s Gate as we see it today. As we have radiocarbon evidence for the fortress being occupied since the 9th century BC, its reasonable to think this was the entrance to the site for 2000 years! So I am sure you can understand why investigating this area of the site is important to our understanding of the fortress and its long history.

One of the reasons that the gate remained in this area for so long, apart from being at a lower lying part of the bedrock and so more practical for access to the castle rock, is that it was able to service a small port that lay to the immediate north of the castle. It is logical then that this entrance and its access routes, and how they were used, goes back a very long time and is much older than the outworks that stand in partial ruins to this day. Nevertheless study of the various phases of the structures that do survive, and how they were likely used, will help us understand how the topography may have dictated long standing routes much older than the standing structures themselves.

Previous Investigation

The current phase of investigation is the second undertaken by us beyond St Oswald’s Gate (see images below). The first was way back in 2002 but was not continued as resources were needed elsewhere. It did though show us that the area was important and needed further work, so its good to be able to concentrate on this area now. The original work identified the phases of the St Oswald’s Gate main structure that we can match to the historical records. This included two phases of medieval build to the gate as well as identifying traces of timber elements of the structure known from records. The two phases should be 12th century and a 13th century widening and update to the structure. We also know of timber elements that were sent to Bamburgh from a castle at Nafferton that was for form a breteche – a defensive structure that juts out over agate to allow nasty things to be dropped on anyone attempting to force their way in.

There are a number of standing ruined walls outside of the gate forming outworks beyond the gate, sited we are sure, to control access to the gate itself and also how people would be able to move in the area. The structures that we see represent many phases of build, the earliest thought to be 11th to 12th century in date, extends south-west from the castle rock and is narrow in width and has a narrow tall archway passing through it that led towards the port area. Underlining the importance of the port if it was needed. This multiphase wall was then cut through by a newer medieval wall with a Postern gate that clearly led to the village. It is tempting to see this construction phase as responding to the creation of a new port in Budle Bay around the middle of the 13th century and we must assume that this means the little port goes out of use at this time. Perhaps a reason for rebuilding and realigning the outworks.

The Tower of St Elmund’s Well

One structure we were not able to identify in 2002 was the Tower at Elmund’s Well, known from documentary records to have been in the outworks and, rather obviously from the description, to have contained or guarded a well. We have records of the tower being repaired in AD 1250 so we know it was in place by then and if needing repair had likely been built some time before. This record mentions both the repair of the tower and the repair of the ‘barbican before St Oswald’s Gate’, which explains at least some of the phasing in the outworks that we see and perhaps records the remodelling that we see with the new wall and Postern construction.

The 1803 plan that shows the location of the well we are looking to identify

To guide us in finding and investigating the tower and well we have two plans that show the outworks in some detail. The earliest of these is from 1803 and is the only plan we have that shows the location of the well. The building, including what remained of the tower, is shown as L-shaped and entered by steps from the south-west and these steps led down to the well room at the west end. The second plan was compiled by Cadwallader Bates (an Antiquarian) for the 1st Lord Armstrong in 1895 and shows some alterations to the entrance but seems to confirm the general shape and arrangements.

The 2021 excavation was intended to help us interpret the build sequence and understand these alterations and also tell us if the plans are accurate. We were also very keen to be able to define the medieval elements from the post-medieval cottage and perhaps identify how early the tower was constructed.

We will go over how many of these questions we have answered this season and what remains to be done next year in our next blog post. For sneak peak, you can always look at our earlier blog posts…..

Week 3 in the Post-Excavation Department

 

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The Windmill – home to the Post-excavation Department.

 

Good morning from the Post-excavation Department! We have had a busy few weeks with a steady flow of students coming through eager to learn. Taking into account the better weather and the remarkable finds from the trenches, there is plenty to keep us busy!

 

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Thomas Fox, Environmental Assistant Supervisor, teaching students Katie and Weston.

 

With the amount of new finds, we are able to guide students through the initial processing stages: identifying, recording, and bagging the find. Archaeology at its core is about understanding the past from physical remains, so it is highly important to encourage diligent record keeping.

 

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Students Eden and Steffi finds washing.

 

With the new finds processed, the students are then given the opportunity to move to the next tasks: cleaning, sorting, and illustrating the finds. This allows them the chance to walk through the entire post-excavation process and therefore improve their critical thinking skills and encourage thought on the historic use of the artefact.

 

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Finds Supervisor, Jeff Aldrich, examining some of the finds from the Bradford Kaims.

 

Bradford Kaims has been updating their records to reflect the past several years of work. The finds have all been processed, it’s simply a matter of digitising and correlating the artefacts to their locations in three dimensions. Once the locations are correlated, we can store the finds for future study.

With three weeks down and new students ready to learn about archaeology, we’re getting things moving here at the Project and look forward to the next five weeks!

Bamburgh Castle, Trench 3 – Hope Taylor nearly in reach!

As the level of Brian Hope Taylor’s 1974 excavations gets tantalisingly close, Trench 3 staff continue the process of gradually joining our excavations to his.

 

 

This is achieved through the removal of features and contexts which are stratigraphically higher in sequence including a stone wall (possibly 9th Century) last week, underneath which a number of finds were discovered. Our progress is described in the video below.

 

 

Week 4 in Trench 3, Bamburgh Castle

Last week’s main focus was on the north-east corner of Trench 3, as we were investigating the possibility that the area is in fact a Romano-British occupation layer. Questions have been raised recently about whether our previous identification of the area, as currently dating to around the 9th Century (believed so due to the beam-slot cut of our 9th Century Anglo-Saxon timber building) no longer holds, due to a large number of Roman finds appearing both this season and ones previously. This is not typically a cause for reinterpretation as artefacts from earlier periods do appear from time to time in negative features, such as pits and post-holes, but these were also appearing in normal stratigraphic layers. These finds include a section of a Roman glass bracelet, both Roman greyware and Samian pottery and, from a previous season, a Roman fibulae brooch.

 

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Part of the collection of Roman finds from the NE area of the trench.

 

To add to our current mystery, this area is cut by a number of negative features, which is making this puzzle all the more exciting to figure out. We have discovered a 9th century timber beam slot, an anglo-saxon post-hole, a high medieval pit and another possible anglo-saxon pit all in this corner. It is also difficult to see a relationship between the dated areas of the trench and this corner because there is a large WW1 test latrine pit isolating it on one side, it goes into our trench edges on two more, and finally it backs onto a higher portion of bedrock on the last. Finally towards the end of the week a stone linear feature was seen in the section of the beamslot and so work began to investigate it, which led to us reaching bedrock around 0.35m below our current level. This could give an explanation for why this area was occupied before the areas with lower bedrock levels, however more investigation is needed before we rule out any other theories.

 

 

Trench 3 – Week 3 Update

In this video trench Supervisor, Graham Dixon, discusses the progress thus far and the plans for the weeks to come.

 

And a bonus video – a closer look at the small pit feature which yielded the decorated piece of Samian ware.

Samian Ware tweet photo

 

 

Stay tuned for our next video updates – coming soon!