The Bamburgh Research Project Finds department has a huge task each year processing the finds from the site. Artefacts are divided into two categories, bulk finds and small finds. Students are actively involved in all of the post excavation work we do, from initial discovery and recording of the finds in the ground, though to the basic cleaning, sorting, database entry, drawing and photography of each item.
We find massive quantities of some items, such as pottery, slag and animal bone, fish bone and shell from food refuse. In the Anglo Saxon period the royal fortress received tax in the form of livestock, a good deal of which was consumed on site, where the remains were also discarded. It would be impractical to record each of these objects individually, so we record them by type and context. e.g.the animal bone from one layer may fill many bags and several museum boxes!
Unique or personal objects including things like bone tools, glass and metalwork fall into the category of Small Finds. We record the exact location co-ordinates in 3 dimensions of all small finds as well as the context information. Many finds require specialist conservation and need to be carefully looked after as they can be very delicate. We repackage these items individually and if necessary seal them into airtight containers with silica gel to control moisture whilst they remain in our archive awaiting specialist analysis.
We have many small finds, so we welcome students who wish to practice their artefact illustration skills and we also provide the necessary training and equipment to enable beginners to have a go. Particularly good drawings may eventually be included in BRP publications.
Bulk finds such as animal bone typically need to be washed and dried before they are repackaged and stored in our archive. This provides an opportunity for students to handle a lot of different materials and to get used to recognising the artefacts we commonly find on site.
What we can learn from finds
Because we are excavating in the ‘working’ part of the fortress, we find many artefacts relating to evidence of military occupation, industrial processes and manufacture, of everything from textiles, wood, bone, ironmongery, weaponry, armour and even high status gold fittings.
Arms and Armour
Bamburgh is a naturally defensible fortress, and we frequently find artefacts that are associated with martial activity.
The famous ‘Bamburgh Beast’ was discovered by Brian Hope Taylor in his 1970’s excavations. We have uncovered more intricately worked gold in our excavations. These objects can often be very small, so keep your eyes peeled!
One of our most remarkable finds was this hoard of Anglo Saxon coins known a Stycas. In the ground they appeared like a clump of ash, which we excavated as one block. In the lab, the conservators were able to prize apart each individual coin. The minor contemporary value of stycas may indicate a sophisticated monetised economy at Bamburgh where even the humblest items could be bought with coins.
Carved Bone and Jet
Although wood is not preserved on site, we have many examples of jet and carved bone items. Everything from combs, weaving tools, religious charms or tokens, and even dice gives us a sense of the personal lives of the people who occupied the fortress.
Glass comes in many forms on site, from bottles to window glass to beautiful beads.
Bamburgh has produced a very large amount of pottery from the medieval and post-medieval middens in Trench 3 and layers throughout the site. During the 11th century, Bamburgh had a unique type of pottery which has been dubbed ‘Bamburgh Ware’. As we excavate into the Anglo Saxon period, pottery has become a rare discovery, but when we do find fragments they are particularly interesting. Features that have been cut into Roman and earlier deposits produce a variety of pottery styles from those earlier periods