In Trench 1 we have two structures, identified in previous seasons, one of timber construction and believed to be of middle Anglo-Saxon date and a second robbed out stone building of middle to late Anglo-Saxon date. They are aligned on the gate cleft of St.Oswald's gate, known to have been in use since at least the 8th century, and are likely to have been the halls where a gate warden lived, controlling access to the fortress. We hope to reveal the full extent of the structures as we carefully excavate through the delicate stratigraphy.
There are floor surfaces,intercutting post holes, gullies and hearths. We are particularly looking for clear dating evidence amongst the many finds.
Why did we dig here?
Trenches 1 and 2 were the first trial trenches excavated within the Castle by the Bamburgh Research Project. They were located at the far northern extent of the West Ward with the intent of investigating the defences of the fortress, as a surviving stack of medieval masonry still stands in the area built into the 20th century perimeter wall.
Our initial excavations revealed traces of the early defences of the Saxon fortress, that were preserved as a series of post holes along a beam slot, indicating a hefty box rampart attached to a timber palisade.
The passage of steps leading to St.Oswald's Gate was the early entrance to the castle mentioned in monastic annals dated to 774 AD collated by Simeon of Durham in the 12th century.
Under the slabs of the late 18th century staircase the bedrock was worn smooth and it became clear that we had revealed the early stone steps of the original entrance to the Anglo Saxon fortress.
Archaeology in Trench 1
Trench 1 and 2 were amalgamated into what is now Trench 1, an open area excavation that has been dug in stages. In the main body of the trench a detailed stratigraphy has been investigated, and among the discoveries have been two phases of a large early medieval hall that may have served as a residence for the castle gate wardens, as it's position alongside the entrance of St.Oswald's Gate is ideal for controlling access to the west ward.
The first phase of this building was a timber hall broadly dating to the 7th century, and this was later replaced by a smaller stone hall that went out of use by the 11th century. In recent years we have expanded the trench further towards Oswald's Gate to reveal the full extent of the Saxon halls, and we are currently discovering evidence that we speculate may indicate an arched gate construction extending over the main rock cut passage.
Trench 9 was the re-excavation of a further Hope Taylor trench, this one extending from the back of the St.Oswald's Gate steps up the hill towards the windmill. Hope Taylor's excavations were detailed on a plan drawing recovered by the RCAHMS and returned to us in 2006. He had excavated a series of small trenches, Cuttings B and C and D, that radiated out from the windmill mound.
Trench 9 (Hope Taylor's Cutting D) was particularly interesting to us as it extended down towards our Trench 1, allowing us to further investigate the Anglo-Saxon entrance to Bamburgh through St Oswald's Gate. The gate lies in a natural cleft in the bedrock and is reached down a series of steps, first mentioned in a text of AD 774, which is how we know the entrance is of such antiquity. Hope Taylor had uncovered mortared settings for earlier steps, the masonry for which had been robbed away, which were likely to have been of medieval date. Beneath these, a series of stratified deposits had been excavated and we recorded these in section, but we will be unable to fully interpret them until our own excavation in the main trench reaches a similar level. There are a few years to go yet.
One of the standing sections, with a very high sand content, collapsed overnight. When we cleaned it up and cut the section back we discovered a burial of horse and cow skulls overlying the robbed out medieval steps, indicating that they had been deposited in the post-medieval period.
It is difficult to understand the nature of such a deposit, dumped as it is in one of the entrances to the castle, but it is just possible that it was associated with the occupation of Bamburgh by the Forster family, who owned the estate from the beginning of the 17th century to the middle 18th century and were known to be a somewhat colourful bunch. Ultimately, Trench 9 will be published as part of the Trench one report, which will be written once the trench has been completely excavated.