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.

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


Detailed Finds Analysis, Trench 1 and Trench 3


Trench 1 has produced a succession of very exciting finds this week:

Copper Alloy / Gold Leaf Harness Fitting

This fitting adds to a pre-existing collection of 58 horse harness fittings of similar type that have been uncovered in Trench 1. The fitting was found in the same context (1242) that has recently been producing finds from an earlier context. However, it may be that we are currently excavating a baulk of archaeology that exists on the previous edge of the trench as a set of access steps. If this is the case, then the fitting is not necessarily out of sequence.

 Decorative Glass Bead

 This is the first large decorative bead from Trench 1. It’s a rich cobalt blue in colour, although the patina of the object makes this colour harder to see unless it is held up to the light. Glass beads are a relatively common find. However, Trench 3 has previously been more associated with beads of any material. The style and size of bead is also different from the norm. Most beads from both the Bowl Hole Burial Ground and the trenches in the West Ward are small, doughnut shaped and clear or pale in colour. This bead is most similar, although much larger, and deeper in colour, to some flower-shaped beads in the Brian Hope-Taylor archive.

 Without research, we’re uncertain of the dating of this bead, but through stylistic typologies it should be possible to date effectively. In the trench itself, the bead came from the step area of 1242 and so could possibly be from around the same period as the horse harness fittings, above the probable 11th/12th Century ‘Bamburgh Ware’ Pottery assemblage.

 Copper Alloy Kite-Headed Pin

 This is one of the most exciting finds ever to come out of Trench 1, even. This is a Kite-Headed Pin which is roughly dated to the 11th Century.  It was excavated from context 1272 which is the layer underneath the metalled surface, from which a Silver Short-Cross Penny, dated from 1180 – 1247 AD, was recovered last season. The pin would therefore fit in reasonably well with the dating sequence (as it is from a great deal lower/earlier in the context) in this part of the trench. However, this is also the context from which three pieces of Samian were recovered last week. It could be argued that this pin (and the third piece of Samian) gives strength to the idea that these pottery sherds have come from a pit cutting context 1272, because the pin helps to solidify the dating of the surrounding area.

 This find is particularly exciting as the project has previously discovered two other of these items, but neither of them has been in situ and one of them is very hard to provenance at all.

 Copper Alloy Pin (Two Fragments)

 A copper alloy pin shaft was recovered from Trench 1 this week. The object has a modern break at the very tip where point has broken off during excavation, and an old break at the widest end where the shaft would have continued and either formed a plain head, a perforated head or a decorated head. There is a possibility that this pin could indicate part of a second Kite-Headed Pin –  perhaps we have a pair? Metal detectorist David Ross, who visited the project earlier in the week,  helped us search for more non-ferrous metal work in the area of the finds, but we could not locate any other fragments in the ground.

 Pottery Sherd

 We’ve recovered a third piece of Roman Samian Ware from Trench 1 this week. As with the previous fragments, the sherd is undecorated red slip plain-ware. However, this fragment may be slightly more diagnostic because it may be a section of the object’s rim.

What is particularly interesting about this find is that most of the reverse and some of the front of the object is covered in mortar residue. This residue could help us explain, with or without the presence of a pit in context 1272, the earlier finds being excavated from this layer. It is possible that fragments of earlier items are being used (purposefully or accidently) as inclusions in building materials at a later date. Once the building is destroyed/damaged or decayed the objects may come loose and appear as lone items again. Other objects – broken and complete – are quite often found trapped within mortar e.g. iron horseshoe nails and Medieval green glaze pottery.

Worked Bone Object

A worked bone object was also recovered from Trench 1 this week. Based on context and stylistics alone, a date of 11th Century or earlier is most likely. The object is U-shaped of hollowed bone, and it is hard to tell whether the item is complete or broken in antiquity with much worn breaks. It could be possible that originally the material formed complete circle. There are no obvious signs of perforations for fittings such as tacks.

The object is decorated with a multiple concentric circle design, typical of worked bone from Bamburgh. These circles have appeared many times before on combs, dice and practice pieces, and seem to stay relatively unchanged right through the dating sequences; pieces of decorated bone from the high medieval layers look almost exactly the same from layers such as these which are pre-11th C (if the find is of the date of deposition).

The shape of the object (if broken, or as one of two halves) would lend itself to being used as part of a handle for a knife, comb or tool, (similar examples have been found at Whithorn).


All of the finds from Trench 3 this week come from context 3234 which is the pit discovered in 2009. Key finds from this pit include two copper alloy stycas, and a Long Cross Silver Penny. A probable roman grey-ware rim sherd also came out of the pit. Work this season has focused on finding the extent of the pit, and in carrying out this process; many new finds have been discovered.

Iron Chain Mail Rings

Two iron chain mail rings have been excavated from pit 3234. Although now corroded and swollen, these would originally have been small, fine wire loops which would have made up part of a continuous area of body armour.

In 2008 we uncovered a substantial amount of chain mail in Trench 3. Metallurgist David Sim investigated these finds for us and found that most of the metal had mineralised through corrosion making it difficult to assess the metal content.

Pottery Sherd

Trench 3 is becoming more and more aceramic the deeper we excavate, which is fully expected once hitting pre12th/13th Century layers. However, as this fragment is from the pit area, and is not green-glaze, it could help us date the pit fill.

The fragment is a body sherd of yellowish –orange fabric, containing large, sparse quartz inclusions. The sherd is sooted on the one face which indicates burning. In profile the sherd is ridged but not repeatedly.  This could be one of the first instances of ‘Bamburgh Ware’ from Trench 3, but a specialist would need to study this for us to gain any further information.

Iron Tool

A possible iron tool was recovered from the pit excavation. Although the object is in two main fragments (the main break is in the centre of what remains) and is not necessarily complete, it is clear that the fragments form a long U-shape which is wider at one end than the other. The object shows fairly heavy corrosion, and on the inside of the U-shape, there is what appears to be either a focused area of corrosion or some kind of metal working debris- possibly a slag-type material.

This object appears to be some kind of tool- possibly a gauge for coring in woodworking.

Another possibility is that this is metal-working equipment, perhaps a spout of some kind, possibly to pour liquid metal from one vessel to another. This may account for the slag-like material on the inside surface; however caution must be applied as many object and bulk finds from Trench 3 are often found covered in a slag-like residue and may just have been in the vicinity of metal-working. The focused nature of the slag-like material on this object however, may suggest otherwise.

We must also be careful not to create finds types which ‘fit’ an already known theory. For example, we know that Trench 3 is synonymous with metal working (similar to Trench 1 and its heavy production of horse equipment), and need to be careful not only to think in the metal-working field and to make sure we think outside the box with un-certain finds identifications.

Trench 3 Finds Update

Trench 3 has produced its own glass bead this week:

Glass bead from Trench 3

The bead’s blue colour is quite clear. The find has been provisionally identified as a melon bead of a Roman or potentially Anglo Saxon date. In addition to the bead, trench 3 has produced several rings of chainmail:

Iron chainmail ring from trench 3.

 This iron ring joins several others that have been recovered from Trench 3 in previous seasons, and adds to the large number of metal finds from our biggest trench.

Trench 1 Finds Update

Trench 1 has continued in its tradition of producing some very lovely finds this week.

This fragment of worked bone is thought to be Saxon in date; our Finds Supervisor Kate Clarke and her assistants Kirstie and Emma have been working to identify what kind of object this fragment may have been part of.

Decorated bone fragment from 1272.

Detailed close-up of the bone object.

We’ve also had a glass bead come up from this trench. The bright blue colour suggests a roman date, though this is very tentative at the moment.

Glass bead from Trench 1.

Close up of the glass bead, with the strong blue colour clearly visible.

In addition to this, we’ve had a few nice metal finds this week. This is a kite headed pin, dating to around the 11th Century. This is one of several pins that have been found on site: conserved examples are currently on display in the museum inside Bamburgh Castle.

Kite pin from Trench 1.

We’ve also had yet more fragments of horse harness from this area, adding to the equine finds from the trench to date:

Iron horse harness fitting, Trench 1.

Flotation Tank Up and Running!

After replacing our worn out water pump, our environmental flotation tank is now up and running. Trench 1 Supervisor Neal Lythe and Assistant Supervisor Anj Hird set up the tank earlier in the week, and are now able to process samples. Lynne Lowrie, an environmental archaeologist working with NAA, kindly helped us start work, and will be joining us throughout the season to help process samples and analyse the resultant flot. 

We plan initially to clear the backlog of samples from previous seasons, before moving on to samples collected in the 2010 season. Environmental sampling seeks to locate organic remains, often on a very small scale, that we would otherwise miss. We can extract seeds, carbon pieces (like charcoal), insect and plant remains – these tiny things can help us learn more about the environment that people were living in, the kinds of farming people were engaged in, as well as the things people ate.

Trench 3 Update

This week we’ve continued to investigate the extent of the intrusive medieval pit and have succeeded in uncovering several possible cuts and edges. As is common with such a complex site, this has posed more questions than it has answered! A number of contexts which were previously invisible in the northern end of the trench have been uncovered, greatly confusing the sequence.

Significantly, we’ve revealed what appears to be a primary fill in the south west quadrant of the pit. Following drawing and photographing of the section and plan views, 3234 (which has been shown to be the secondary fill) has begun to be excavated, uncovering a number of small finds, mostly of iron, as well as several pieces of green-glaze (13th-14th century) pottery – which confirms, along with the rubble fill, that we are still excavating the material deposited within the pit.

We have also begun to clarify the extent of a number of surrounding contexts (particularly 3239 in order to understand the burnt material which is beneath it), with the intent of planning, photographing and subsequently excavating these layers in the next few weeks.

Trench 1 Update

Trench 1 has continued to produce some very interesting archaeology and exciting finds this week. More of the medieval paving surface has been removed. The paving was overlying context 1272, which regular readers may remember as the dark grey silty surface that produced some interesting – if a little perplexing! – finds last week. We’ve continued to excavate this area and have had yet more finds come out, including a piece of decorated bone.

In a separate area, we have excavated material from around a feature that is believed to be a hearth with a probable 12th century date. In doing this, we’ve uncovered at least two possible post holes, and a linear slot in which the hearth seems to sit.

In terms of finds, Trench 1 has thus far produced a medieval glass bead, another sherd of roman pottery, a copper kite pin similar to those found in previous excavations, and a decorated bone object (as yet unidentified).

Over the next few days, we’ll be photographing and planning areas of the trench. After that, we aim to exacavate and learn more about the two possible post holes, and to quarter section and sample the hearth.

Metal Detectorist on Site

The BRP is pleased to welcome metal detectorist David Ross onto site today. David, who has worked with NAA on the recent A1 project, is working on the Castle site and at the Bradford Kaims to identify areas where metal appears, and what kind of metal we might expect to find in those areas. This will prove very helpful to us as excavation continues. I’ll be speaking with David later today, and will be bringing you an interview with him later this week.

Digging for a Day

The BRP is welcoming Bamburgh Castle Stone Mason Kevin Lawson and his mother, Joan, on site today. They’re digging with us for just one day day under ourDig for a Day programme. Having spent some time in Trench 3 and Trench 1, they went on to explore some of the recent and interesting finds that this season has produced so far.

Kevin Lawson working hard in Trench 3.

Joan Lawson, working happily in Trench 3.

We’ve very much enjoyed having Kevin and Joan with us today, and look forward to having others join in with us in the future!