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 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-32131379).

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.

Some thoughts on the chapel

The castle chapel, now a ruin in the north-east corner of the Inner Ward, has been the subject of a quite a lot of archaeological work during our time at the castle. In fact we are working on a publication (supported by the Royal Archaeological Institute and by the Mick Aston Archaeology Fund) that will bring together the various phases of work that will be published later this year.

The chapel under excavation in 2004. Two trial trenches were located to investigate features identified by geophysical survey.

The chapel under excavation in 2004. Two trial trenches were located to investigate features identified by geophysical survey.

Excavation has been undertaken both within the chapel and in the former flower beds along the north, east and a short stretch of the south sides. Broadly speaking what this tells us is that we have a post-medieval ruin built upon the foundations of a former medieval building. No early, or modern, laid floor surface survived anywhere within our trenches. What we did identify was an earlier trench, a little less than a metre wide, dug inside the medieval foundations. This would appear to be an antiquarian ‘wall-chasing’ trench, excavated to follow and expose the earlier foundations. This may well date back to the Sharp era as, the antiquarian, Cadwallader Bates reported that the medieval chapel foundations had been found when a huge volume of wind blown sand was excavated from the Inner Ward. It was clearly onto these earlier foundations that the masons began their reconstruction efforts in the late 18th century, as shown in the transcriptions from the previous blog.

We have no evidence that the reconstruction was ever completed, certainly no drawing, painting or photograph, that we know of, shows the church as anything but a ruin. My own pet theory is that at some point the reconstruction effort was turned into an antiquarian vision of a ruined chapel. A deliberate folly!

The chapel, we see today, is a relatively plain rectangular structure with a semicircular apse. The chancel and nave were demarked, one form the other, by a simple narrowing of the rectangular main body of the building, by a pair of buttresses. Its hard to imagine this simple building containing an organ loft and fireplace, though the windows can still be seen within the apse. Perhaps the nearest we can get to resolving this is to imagine a relatively tall building, with a half-height organ loft, perhaps above the chancel, and a small fire-setting in one of the walls to warm the organist on a cold winter’s day. Nothing wrong with a little bit of a mystery though!

Graeme Young

Continuing Developments in Trench 3

Trench 3 has had a busy few days as we continue to explore the post-holes in the NW corner and the relationship between the porch/threshold feature and another stone feature to the north. 

The very obvious and firmly compacted large circular post-hole in the NW corner has now been fully excavated.  The large stones in the eastern half were very compact with little soil amongst the stones, whereas the western half was less compact, containing more soil amongst the stones.  The post-hole goes all the way down to the bedrock and quite deep.  Below, Harry can be seen removing the last of the post-hole’s fill.

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Meanwhile, excavation on the porch/threshold feature has continued.  A few weeks ago, the feature was cross-sectioned and the stone to the west were removed.  In the following days, the contexts directly under the western porch stones were excavated.  The north third of the porch sat on top of context 3366 (a variable burning layer), whereas the south two-thirds sat on top of context 3443 (a dumping deposit containing a lot of large bones).  Below you can see Alex assisting with the section drawing of the porch.

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This morning, we began the removal of the remaining porch stones.  Texana and Tristan got the exciting opportunity to lift the large stones that have been a landmark in trench 3 for the last few years!  Several of the stones have mortar attached to the bottom, which may indicate that the stones have been reused from another structure.

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We will continue to work on the porch area during this last week of excavation, so check the blog for future updates!

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(Assistant) Supervisors Maria Buczak and Stephanie Chapman

Another installment in the Staff Profiles. With the departure of Joanne Kirton two weeks ago, the two very capable Trench 3 Assistant Supervisors, Stephanie and Maria, have taken over the running and excavation of Trench 3. Despite seeming somewhat overwhelmed with their new responsibilities at times, those of us standing on the sidelines are marveling at how well they are adapting to the challenge. (I, myself, am at once jealous of their “Trench-Supervisor” status and giddy at the thought that it’s not me having to muddle my way through complex archaeology). In honor of their accomplishments, and with the sudden awareness that the season is moving along, here are their profiles.

Maria Buczak

Position: Assistant Supervisor in Trench 3

 Responsibilities: Supervision of excavation, involved with general running of trench

 How did you get involved with the project?

I first volunteered with the BRP as a student in 2010 and enjoyed it so much that I have come back each summer since. This is the first year I’ll be here the whole season as staff though, and I’m pleased to say that I’m enjoying it immensely so far!

I’ve learnt so much from the project over the years – both about Bamburgh and its history, and archaeological excavation and techniques in general. This project is certainly the best project for teaching that I’ve ever been on and everyone’s so eager to share their knowledge and ideas. Each season is also just great fun -there’s always something going on in the evenings and everyone is so friendly and immediately accepts every newcomer as one of their own.

 What are your hopes for the season?

During the rest of the season, I hope to really get to grips with trench 3 and exactly how a good investigation of such a complex trench should work. I’m eager to see what comes from our excavations in the southern end of the trench. In particular, I would like to see what else we can find out about the possible metalworking structure and associated features we have in this area, as their exact nature and relationships are still not properly understood. It would be great to get some more results back from the hammerscale sampling as well as this has the potential to contribute a great deal of information about the nature of this area of the trench. The finds so far – e.g. our amazing inscribed(?) stone plaque and puzzling ‘doughnut stone!’ – are suggesting its going to be a promising season in trench 3.

Stephanie Chapman

Position: Assistant Supervisor, Trench 3

Responsibilities: To assist with the supervision of Trench 3, teaching excavation techniques and other archaeological skills.

How did you get involved with the project?

I came as a student in 2011 after hearing about the project through the Archaeological Institute of America’s website. I needed excavation experience and am especially interested in North Western Europe during the early middleages.

What do you do out of the season?

I have just finished the third year of my PhD in Early Medieval Art and Archaeology at the University of Missouri. In addition to being a graduate student, I am also a Teaching Assistant for the Art History and Archaeology Department and the Architectural Studies Department.

Hopes for the rest of the season?

Seeing as Jo (the Trench 3 Supervisor) will be leaving after week 4, I hope to obtain a better understanding of the various contexts and features within Trench 3 before she leaves and that Maria and I can continue her plans for the trench after her departure. We have just began to excavate what is believed to be a metal working building in the SE corner, so I am especially excited to see what new development arise–as the area is already proving to be quite interesting!

Anything you would like to add?

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