2013 Staff Positions

It’s nearing the end of week three of the 2013 season, and it is with great pleasure that we run through the staff and their positions for the season. We thought we would try something new, since no doubt you have all seen plenty of pictures of us already.

Starting with the always busy windmill team:

We have golden girl Kirstie Watson as Finds Supervisor and team comedian Jeff Aldrich will be Finds Supervisor from next week, and Laurel Nagengast is the new Finds Assistant Supervisor in 2013.Image

Then there is the lovely Emily Andrews and Natalie Bittner, who make up the two Media Supervisors in 2013. You may already be familiar with the girls, Emily having organised this years’ Sponsume fundraising, and Natalie manning the Twitter and Facebook accounts.


Lauren Nofi has taken the reins of Environmental, adding to her portfolio which already includes Outreach. If you have time to take one of her Trench Tours, she will give you an overview of the work undertaken over the last few years.Image

And in the Trenches:

Graham Dixon returns to the castle this year to supervise Trench 1, and Jessica Garratt is back in her Assistant Supervisor role.  There’s a lot of work happening down there this season, so keep an eye on the blog for their regular updates.


Stephanie Rushe-Chapman has taken over as Trench 3 Supervisor. The hardworking Anne Hartog joins her as Assistant Supervisor, and the girls are hard at work in the NW corner of the trench as we speak.Image

Once again, Neal Lythe is Supervisor of the Bradford Kaims Project, with Jackie Scott, Dave Green and Tom Gardner as his Assistant supervisors.


And because Director Graeme Young gave his tacit approval for this blog when he asked “Can you make me one with a dragon wrapped around a windmill?”, here it is. GraemeBanner


A few thoughts from the Archaeolgical Director at the end of another season

I thought it best to start with the castle excavation and post something on the Kaims later, as we will be continuing with this project till the end of the year.

A few things stand out when I look back on the summer. The appalling volume of rain that fell so consistently is certainly among them, but despite all the weather something else sticks in my mind and that is that despite all that the drenchings, mud and even floods it was amazing the way our staff and students kept their morale up and enjoyed themselves regardless. Thankfully we had plenty of productive, and even some sunny, days too.

We made steady progress in Trench 1 overall, and identifying what is likely to be the east side of the Middle Saxon timber building is a major step forward. After all, exposing the extent of the two buildings revealed in the original trench was the major reason we extended the trench to the gate cleft in the first place. As ever there were plenty of enigmatic features to make us scratch our heads too, a stone lined sunken feature, that could be a structure, probably the most perplexing. An intriguing puzzle for next season without a doubt.

The cut in the boulder clay that we think marks the eastern side of the Middle Saxon timber building in Trench 1.

Trench 3 has some of the most complex stratigraphy I have encountered as an archaeologist and has been a challenge for some years now. The trench lies in a cleft between two areas of raised bedrock and has been used as a dumping ground for waste material, which has raised the ground level up within the cleft, expanding the surface area available for occupation, a little at a time, in successive phases. Evidence from the last few seasons has pointed to this area being used as an industrial zone in the early medieval period.

A detailed understanding of the stratigraphy has been harder to pin down than this broad understanding. We know from the sections that some of the layers are uneven and that the surface has sloped in some periods. A factor which has caused us concern in the past, when distinguishing between layers has proved difficult. What is to stop us digging different phases together thinking they are one period? This year the often extremely wet weather has helped, as the moisture content of the layers has aided colour definition. It has been possible as a result of this to trace some of the stratigraphy in the northern part of the trench more clearly and get a better idea of the phasing.

The wall in the north-west corner seems to be a little later than the main part of the trench. As a result we concentrated much of our efforts in this area this season.  This structure has had two components to it. A substantial wall extending from the western limit of excavation and a thinner wall, at right angles to it, that extended from the bedrock in the north. This season we have identified a series of surfaces within the building, including a well-laid pebble surface that extended beneath the thinner wall, indicating that this was a partition and explaining the difference in scale between the two structural elements. There is a disturbed area separating the two walls, making a clear understanding of the building they define harder to come by. That said I think it likely that the main wall originally extended to an area of flat bedrock a short distance to the east. This would make the structure a little larger than originally thought with some 4m by 2m exposed within the trench. On its north side we have the bedrock slope that rises up beneath the windmill exposed, suggesting that the building, if this it what it was, had been constructed stepped onto the bedrock slope.

The NW corner viewed from the west. The more substantial wall crosses from the right of the photo and the partition from the left. You should be able to make out the pebble surface extending beneath the partion.

So what was it? Well I have had fantasies of a defensive tower, fanciful perhaps, but not entirely beyond the realms of the possible, given its relative proximity to the eastern edge of the fortress. We have no evidence of mortar construction associated with the walls so stone foundations for a timber building seems likely. One additional fact is also clear, the recovery of metal small finds in this north-west corner is much lower than that in the area of our ‘metalworking’ building. This is good evidence that we have structures with very different functions and likely of different phases too.  Our current interpretation is that the NW building is later in date than the middle 9th century and therefore a phase or more later than the ‘metalworking’ building.

A good season, which has left us with plenty of questions to get our teeth into next time.

Kaims Video update – Burnt mounds?

This is the latest video in our Bradford Kaims Wetland community heritage dig series. Last time we gave you coring, this time it’s all about the features. What exactly are we digging up? The sites themselves are remarkably well preserved and subtly different, and our excavations are revealing that the promontory identified by Richard Tipping’s coring was extensively used, with multiple sites of burned stones, intermittent pits and exciting results from the geophysics.

Unusual Find from Trench 1

Check out our latest video from the media department at the BRP. It looks at an unusual find from Trench 1. Is it rare Anglo-Saxon pottery or even an unused crucible?

The four fragments with scale

Four fragments 


New Dates for Volunteering

We continue to conduct excavation and coring out at Hoppen Hall, near the Bradford Kaims. This work explores a prehistoric lake edge with archaeological features dated to at least 4500 BC. We welcome volunteers on this project. If you would like to learn more about this project click here. To see the blog reports to date click on the bradford kaims in the tag cloud to the right of the screen.

The next fieldworking days will be Tuesday 10th (with possible further days this week depending on demand)Wednesday 18th, Saturday 21st (a possible seminar day TBC), Monday 23rd and Friday 27th of April. There will also be a specialist weekend – 17th to 20th of May – with Palaeo-environmentalist Richard Tipping and Geophysics team GSB.

Please come along if you can, dressed for weather and wellies are recommended. As usual no experience is necessary, and it should be fun as we will be undertaking a number of activities including, excavation, recording and coring. If you would like to volunteer please send an email to Graeme Young at graemeyoung@bamburghresearchproject.co.uk or call him on 07711187651 as we will be limited to around 20 volunteer places per day.  We very much hope to see you there!

Getting There

The site is located at Hoppen Hall Farm – to get there you will need to take the B1341 between the A1 and Bamburgh.  Heading towards Bamburgh, you pass over the main rail line level crossing just past Lucker, then take the first right hand turn along a rough track heading up hill towards Hoppen Hall farm and cottages.  The site is accessible only by prior arrangement, and there are holiday lets near the area we will be parking as well as the main farm house so we ask that all participants show due care and respect the privacy of the residents and guests.  We will park and gather together by the main farm buildings, then walk through the fields for around ten minutes to access the wetland site.

Below are a number of photographs taken recently by one of our volunteers, Ruth Brewis.

Coring in the trench extension

New test trenches

Planning features for the site record

Gerry filming volunteers cleaning the trench

Cleaning the trench

Bradford Kaims Update and Video Overview of the Project

Project Director, Graeme Young, brings us up to date on the work and the involvement of volunteers at our prehistoric wetland site out at the Bradford Kaims, west of Bamburgh Castle.

Graeme’s Report

In the last couple of visits to the site at Hopenwood Bank, near the Bradford Kaims, we have been trying to improve our understanding of the sequence of events that go together to make-up this rather enigmatic site. At the moment, having cleaned and examined the old sections, I now think that we have two layers sealing the fired stone feature. These are in turn covered over by the soil profile that extends up to the present turf line.

Of the two layers that cover the stone ‘hearth’ the most interesting is the dark layer that contains huge amounts of charcoal and fractured stone and that directly overlies the hearth.

The ‘hearth’ feature freshly unearthed in 2010

It is tempting to assume that it represents, at least in part, the charcoal and ash from fires that once burned on the hearth, but the truth is we have no evidence for the date of this layer and indeed the way in which it buries the hearth, putting it beyond any effective use, could well indicate that it is a later event. All we can really say is that it is very unlikely to be modern, as we would have expected to have found some trace of pottery or clay pipe by now if it was. I suspect we will have to wait till we have a carbon 14 date to resolve this.

The pit feature, located close to the east side of the hearth, which we cleaned last time has been half sectioned and recorded in the last two visits.

The pit being excavated and recorded

The section of the excavated pit, facing north. The feature may represent a double post-hole.

It is quite a substantial feature surviving to a depth of 0.25m, but is likely to have been somewhat eroded so was likely deeper. It has a rather dumbbell shape, which makes me wonder if we could have a double post-hole, or a post that was re-set. We will have to keep our eyes open and see if we can find more of these features. Could we for instance, have a structure of some kind around the hearth?

As well as working on the main site we have been cleaning and investigating the narrow trench excavated as an extension to the west, into the area of the lake margin. We had previously identified the top of the peat horizon, and this has made it clear just how close the main site lay to the lake edge. We have now started to use coring to further explore the relationship of the wetland deposits to the dry land to its east.

Coring within the trench extension, the main excavation area in the background.

The first two cores were located at the western end of the narrow trench working from the deeper deposits back to the dry land. We are using a 2m interval between the cores. This has already been informative as we have seen a substantial shallowing of the layers of peat and sediment we encountered in the two cores, even over this short difference.

A detail of the second core, showing something of a slope in the sediment and peat layer. This might be indicative of rather steeply sided lake edge.

This suggests the edge of the lake is quite a steep bank! More coring next Saturday should help us confirm this.

Below is video taken from our Winter Lecture Series, which briefly outlines the volunteering opportunities with this project.

More volunteering dates to follow and a sample of the photographs taken by volunteers.

Video Lecture: West Ward Excavations, 2011

Please take a look at the winter lecture given by Project Director, Graeme Young, discussing the 2011 excavation season at Bamburgh Castle.

Update on Gold Assemblage from Trench 3, Bamburgh Castle

Last week the Bamburgh Research Project was lucky enough to have a visit from Early Medieval gold filigree expert, Dr Niamh Whitfield.

Dr Whitfield visited the castle to look at the gold first hand and share her thoughts on the five pieces unearthed to date with Project Directors, Graeme Young and Gerry Twomey, plus myself, Jo Kirton.

Dr Whitfield measuring the dimensions of the various gold pieces in the museum

Gerry and myself taking photographs of the cleaned gold pieces in their museum case

Dr Whitfield was able to demonstrate through comparable archaeological material that the pieces that we have found at Bamburgh are typical of the 7th-8th century. For example, the famous Bamburgh Beast, unearthed by Brian Hope-Taylor in the 1970’s, has strong comparisons with objects from the Staffordshire hoard and images from the Book of Durrow.

The most recent gold find from the West Ward excavations at Bamburgh Castle

Reverse of the gold filigree object

The most recent piece of gold to be discovered at the castle (see above) has decorative techniques that appear on many examples of decorative gold work from this period, particularly the border patterns. However, it was noted that the swirling pattern is less regular than other known pieces including another example of gold filigree decoration unearthed in Trench 3 (see the picture below). However, the shape of the object – a half moon – was harder to place and requires further research to suggest a provenance for the mounting.

Gold filigree decoration found in previous seasons

The piece below appears to be missing its centre mount, which Dr Whitfield believes would have been coloured glass. Again the form was hard to place but it does look comparable to the centre of some brooches.

Gold fitting missing a probable coloured glass centre.

Dr Whitfield intends to return to the project over the summer, so she can examine the gold under a microscope, which may provide further insight into the manufacturing techniques and the decorative design. It will also give us the opportunity to show her the trench in which these objects were discovered and who knows, we may have more to show her!