Bamburgh Research Project
Bamburgh and Yeavering are important early medieval palace sites of the Northumbrian Kingdom, sited in modern North Northumberland only 26km apart. The two sites would have been intimately connected in the 7th century AD playing important roles in the administration of the kingdom and the development of royal authority, but connections did not stop at the abandonment of the Yeavering site or the demise of Northumbria as both were excavated by Brian Hope-Taylor in the second half of the 20th century.
Of the two sites only Yeavering was properly published by Hope-Taylor, yet even here a true understanding of the site will depend on further work. In the case of Bamburgh bringing the work started by Hope-Taylor and continued by the Bamburgh Research Project (BRP) to full publication can only be enhanced by cooperation between the BRP and the Gefrin Trust. Comparison between the two sites will inform us greatly by bringing to light important differences and aiding interpretation where there are similarities.
The impressive castle at Bamburgh sits upon a prominent volcanic outcrop on the Northumbrian coast. The site reveals evidence of human activity from at least the Iron Age and possibly earlier. The rock appears to have been occupied in the late Roman Iron Age, and in the Post-Roman Iron Age became a fortified stronghold known by its British name of Dinguoaroy. (in Historia Brittonum 61 & 63).
The Northumbrian scholar, Bede, writing in 731AD records that in 547AD the Anglo-Saxon Ida and his sons occupied Bamburgh, that it was the capital of Bernicia, and that its name was later changed to 'Bebbanburgh', 'after Bebba, queen of a later king'. It is said to have,'first been enclosed by a stockade, and thereafter by a rampart' (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, E. AD 547); such a succession was confirmed in excavations by the northern ramparts in 2016.
Following the Viking raids on this coastline in 793AD and founding of the Scandinavian capital York in 863AD it continued as an important political centre despite a documented attack by the Vikings in the later 10thC. In the 11thC AD the later medieval castle was built.
In 1959-60 Brian Hope-Taylor opened two trenches in the West Ward of the castle (Trial Trench 1 and 1A), followed by a further two trenches outside the castle gate in 1961-2. Later between 1970 and 74 he excavated a further five trenches radiating down from the rock on which the windmill stands (A, B,C,D & E), the first of which, Area A, represented a fairly substantial open area excavation. The photograph here is of Trench 9.
Record of his excavations are slight, consisting only of the finds recovered, some notes and photographs, and a short account of the earlier excavations.
In 1996 the Bamburgh Research Project was established to provide through research and excavation, a context for this largely unpublished archive. The trench in the central ward was reopened, with post-in-trench and sill-beam timber buildings and two areas of paving, considerable evidence for 9thC metalworking and a mortar-mixing pit or probably 8th century date. Extending Hope-Taylor's trenches in the west ward revealed early historic timber and stone rectangular buildings aligned E-W flanking St Oswald's Gate.
In 1997 excavation of an early medieval Christian cemetery in the dunes to the south of the rock revealed 79 inhumationgraves and the skeletal remains of more than 100 individuals. Of later 7th - 8thC date around 1 in four of the graves were outlined by stone cists. Current research suggests a high status cemetery associated with the royal palace.
The burials represent the remains of a cosmopolitan population of diverse geographical origins of all ages from neonate to elderly and both males and females.
Research and excavation by the Bamburgh Research Project is continuing.