Trench 3 gives us a glimpse into the industrial heart of the Anglo Saxon fortress. The stratigraphy is complex and deep with multiple phases of buildings and industry of all kinds from hints of high status metalworking, to blacksmithing, and even making mortar for stone buildings. There are cobbled paths and metalled walkways leading to a small workshop and grand timber halls that span the width of the trench. This is archaeology to challenge and delight in equal measure, with all manner of finds revealed on a daily basis.
Why did we open this trench?
Trench 3 was opened in 2001 in the West Ward. It began as a 30m trial trench designed to locate the edges of Dr. Brian Hope Taylor’s excavations undertaken in the 1970′s, but long since backfilled. Dr. Hope Taylor died before he was able to publish the site he had excavated. The RCAHMS were able to retrieve archive material from Dr. Hope Taylor’s home after his death. This incomplete archive was from another era in archaeology. Current best practice is to ensure that work can be reinvestigated from site records. In the 1970s however, more emphasis was placed upon gathering information specific to the excavator’s vision of the past.
Reconstructing this excavation from the surviving records alone was not possible so we devised a strategy to open an extensive new area to the east of Hope Taylor’s trench, with the intention of excavating the sequence of layers, down to the same level that Hope-Taylor had reached. Our hope was that in all likelihood many of these deposits would extend into his excavation, greatly aiding our interpretation of Hope-Taylor’s site.
The Buried Excavation
The full extent of Dr. Hope Taylor’s excavations had been revealed by 2002. The removal of the trench backfill revealed a layer of plastic sheeting and fertilizer bags that had been laid in 1974 to protect the archaeology. The archaeology that remained surprised us all. When the plastic was removed we could see that Hope Taylor’s excavation had stopped at a densely occupied area of Saxon industry. Hope Taylor’s excavation methods could be clearly seen as many of his layer tags, grid pegs and baulks were preserved. It was apparent that he was not digging in the same open area style we use today. There was evidence of ash and burning perhaps indicative of metalworking, and there were stone lined water channels. One of the more interesting features was an early mortar mixer that Hope Taylor referred to as the ‘gin-gang’. The mixer’s presence indicates the use of mortared stone buildings within the castle early in the Anglo Saxon period, direct evidence of which was encountered by the Bamburgh Research Project in the Inner Ward in 2004 and 2007.
Trench 3 Extension into Un-Excavated Archaeology
Our parallel excavation has demonstrated a full sequence of occupation that extends from modern layers, and down through a midden (waste dump) during the later medieval period, through to increasingly complex deposits as we encounter the layers that pre-date the Norman Conquest. The Anglo Saxon period is characterised by timber buildings with rubble foundations of various styles and sizes, from grand halls to small workshops.
The large porch on the left of the picture above seems to be for a building that would have extended to cover most of the trench. There are pathways and cobbled or paved areas and layer upon layer of ash from intensive industrial activity and metalworking. Many of the deposits are full of animal bone and there is evidence of terracing of the bedrock.
Styca Coin Hoard
A large number of small copper and silver alloy coins called stycas have been discovered across the site, and these and other small finds offer the best dating evidence, until our Carbon-14 samples are processed. We have identified a small stone founded timber building that contained a hoard of these coins and a scatter of many more on the surface around it. This strongly suggests that the building is of the same date as the coins, and that is the early 9th century. The other small finds, when they can be dated, are also consistent with this, so we are reasonably confident of this dating at the moment. The building was likely used by metalworkers; in fact the presence of iron objects including two pattern welded swords found in the vicinity and small fragments of highly decorated gold may point to rather high status production. Hammerscalesampling has been conducted across the area, and this has produced evidence of extensive smithing including high temperature welding consistent with the production of iron objects such as weaponry.
Trench 8 was excavated in 2006, and it is located just to the east of our extension to Trench 3, partly joining it where our barrow run is currently located. This trench was a re-excavation of Hope Taylor’s first major trench, BX1, excavated between 1960 -1962. Little survives of his records except for this detailed section drawing recovered by the RCAHMS. We re-excavated the trench because it was narrow and had been cut rightthough to the earliest deposits above the bedrock, and it was also the location where Hope Taylor found the famous ‘Bamburgh Sword’ pattern welded blade. The small forge building in the south eastern half of our Trench 3 extension may have been associated with this remarkable find. The section through the site stratigraphy has proved to be useful in making the link between our excavation and Hope Taylor’s, and we were also able to excavate two baulks that Hope Taylor had left in under disused water pipes. The stratigraphy revealed a considerable depth of occupation below the Anglo Saxon layers, with significant features and finds from the Romano-British periods including Roman pottery. Below that, we discovered metalled surfaces of the prehistoric period. Our earliest flint find makes the base of this sequence a Neolithic pit.
The future plan for Trench 3 is to excavate it to the depth that Hope Taylor’s excavation stopped, so we can finally have one large area of contemporary occupation open. At this point, the first phase of our excavation in the trench will be complete and publication will be the next step. Beyond that, there is still a major site to be investigated to understand the pre-Anglo Saxon fortress, which we’ve only glimpsed in the current trench through deep medieval middens that have cut through into Roman and earlier deposits.