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.


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’.

BRP image

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.

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.



Another week in the Finds Department


The Windmill during a brief respite from the rain.

Good morning from the post-excavation department! We have had a busy few weeks processing some intriguing finds including a possible iron stylus, a worked stone bead, several bits of unidentified burnt clay discs, and a potential lead pendant, to name a few.


Finds Illustration

Environmental supervisor Thomas Fox has kept our students engaged at the flot tank processing environmental samples from last year while Post-ex supervisor Jeff Aldrich has been taking advantage of the poor weather to give students the a chance to illustrate and process our finds.


Students Katie and Kelly sorting environmental flotation samples.

The students have also had the opportunity to learn a bit of post-excavation from Bradford Kaims processing finds, including a plethora of worked wooden stakes and the resultant paperwork led by trench supervisor Becky Brummet. Because of its distance from civilisation, it is a separate process at each site: the Castle and the Kaims.


Students Joe and Rachel filling out timber recording sheets.

With the sun shining and the winds calmer, the students and staff will have ample time in the trenches to find us some new artefacts, hopefully further fleshing out the story of Bamburgh Castle.

And so it has begun…

Week one is well underway here at Bamburgh Castle and things are picking up for the 2016 dig season!

Trench One

Trench One was left uncovered over the winter and allowed to weather and next week the students will begin investigating whether this exposure has revealed any discrete features or contexts not previously visible.

This week, excavation began around the base of the Medieval curtain wall at the kiln feature in preparation for photogrammetry. Once the photogrammetry is complete the feature will be sampled for environmental processing.


Trench Three

Trench Three is almost completely de-tarped and cleaning has begun in preparation for the start of season trench photo. This cleaning removes the washed in silt and weathering from the past 10 months from the surfaces and features within the trench, including wall slots and the 1970s test pit from Brian Hope Taylor’s excavations.

The trench has already yielded its first small find – a possible metal stylus uncovered by student Ayesha.



The Finds and Environmental department has been hard at work this week getting ready for the season and updating the databases. The flotation tank is pumping, and everyone seems to be enjoying it.


As part of our traditional introduction to the site, students started the week washing bulk find material from last season. This helps to introduce them to the stages of post-excavation processing, and familiarises them with the common artefact types and materials found on site – very helpful when they begin excavating!


More news on the way soon!

Bookings Now Open for Our 2016 season!

We hope you can join us for the Bamburgh Research Project’s

20th Anniversary Season!


2016 marks 20 years since the founding of the Bamburgh Research Project. Over the years we have introduced hundreds of students and community members to the wonders of archaeology. We don’t know how the time has passed so quickly. Regardless, there is TONS of archaeology just waiting to be discovered in what is sure to be an amazing season.

Our dates for next season are June 6th- July 30th

Find the Booking Form and Information here.

We hope to be able to offer several community events throughout the season that are not to be missed! More information will be available in the weeks leading up to next season.

Applications for staff members will open shortly.

A confused person’s guide to Trench 1

We thought it might be helpful, for regular users of the blog, to put up annotated photographs of our two trenches, as I am sure at times it is difficult to imagine just where the individual buildings and features lie. In this blog we will start with Trench 1.

Trench 1, labelled to identify the key features, facing north

Trench 1, labelled to identify the key features, facing north

As regular readers will be aware, Trench 1 lies at the northern tip of the fortress, at the lowest point of the bedrock plateau. Here we have unearthed evidence of the early phases of defensive structures built in timber together with a rather substantial timber hall. On the photograph you can see this as a shaded outline with the outline of a later stone hall superimposed on top of it. It is perhaps only when you outline it so clearly that its full scale becomes apparent. As we have described before it completely dominates the gate cleft (in the bedrock) to its south-west, which is the earliest known entrance to the fortress.

The stone building has been assumed to be the later of the two, but it is only this season, whilst investigating the area where the two structures come close to each other in the north-east corner, that we have proved that this is indeed the case. The date of the stone structure’s construction is uncertain, but it appears to have been robbed out before the Norman Conquest.

We are on less certain ground on the western side of the trench where we have a massive laid stone boulder foundation, for what we believe to be a timber wall, that we are interpreting as part of an early phase of defences. This is based on its general alignment with the break of slope of the bedrock, and the presence of a large timber post-setting that could have carried an archway across the gate cleft itself.

The later medieval defences are much better understood, as we have written records surviving from the 12th century to help in our interpretation. The later medieval gate is built in two phases, the first dating from the later 12th century with a 13th century widening, presumably to carry a breteche (an extension like a balcony built over a gate, with openings in its base to shoot projectiles or drop objects through). The gate widening and breteche are likely to be contemporary with the glacis built in front of the gate that we have no direct dating evidence for.

The tall stack of surviving medieval curtain wall that survives on the northern wall line would once have extended all the way around the seaward side of the West Ward, just as the 20th century wall does today.

The Castle Windmill

Built upon a prominent outcrop near Oswald’s Gate, the Castle Windmill stands as the highest structure within Bamburgh’s West Ward. Up until fairly recently popular opinion held that the windmill was built under the leadership of Dr. John Sharp. As it turns out, due to the research of Carol Griffiths, it has been determined that the Castle Windmill was not constructed until after his death.


Background on Dr. John Sharp (1722-1792): With the death of his father, Thomas, Dr. Sharp was made head of the Lord Crewe’s Trustees in 1758. Fronting the money for many of the original fees, Dr. Sharp planned to create a welfare state centered at Bamburgh Castle. Throughout the latter half of the eighteenth century he is responsible for developing several charitable programs within the village, included the creation of a school at the castle, aiding in ship repairs, installing a signal gun, providing free admittance to a surgeon and, in 1786, implementing life boat services. On many occasions the Trustees also purchased large quantities of corn that would have been ground down and sold, along with other goods, at a reduced rate to impoverished members of the community (Source: Lord Crewe’s Charity).

This is where the confusion on the windmill’s original construction date comes into play. The fact that corn was being ground down and stored within the castle and the village while Dr. Sharp was the head of the trustees led to the general belief that the windmill was built during his lifetime. In fact, according to Carol Griffith, there is no mention of the use of a windmill in any of the documentation correlated with the purchase of corn throughout the late eighteenth century. Within the medieval records there is mention of a horse mill. Director Graeme Young believes it is possible that the purchased corn was being ground in a similar manner until the building of the Castle Windmill.

In truth, documentation shows that the Trustees ordered the construction of the Windmill on the 20 of March 1800. This would have been eight years after Dr. Sharp’s death. Although he was not around to witness its construction, the Castle Windmill still stands as a symbol of his legacy.

Today: For the past several years the Windmill has been used by The Bamburgh Research Project as staff offices and as a storage facility for all of the finds being discovered within the castle. Since its creation in 1996, the BRP has uncovered over seven thousand finds from inside Bamburgh’s walls.

If you want to learn more about Bamburgh in the 18th century you can find more information about Carol Griffith’s book,  Bamburgh ‘Ghosts’-Voices from the 18th Century, by clicking here.

The West Ward jet crucifix

Readers of our Facebook page may have seen the BBC article relating to the medieval graveyard identified during work at St John’s College, Cambridge University (

The reason it gained particular interest from out team is due to the rather fine jet crucifix, depicted towards the bottom of the article. This was amongst the few finds recovered on this site, but we had, during our excavation in the West Ward at Bamburgh Castle, dug through a substantial midden deposit of 12th to 15th century date that contained numerous finds. Amongst the more unusual was a fragment of a jet crucifix, that seems to closely resemble the one recently unearthed in Cambridge.

The West Ward crucifix

The West Ward crucifix

We need a more up to date photo with a scale, but you can see the resemblance above. The Bamburgh crucifix is a little under 3cm across and is currently on display at the archaeology museum in Bamburgh Castle.