Excavations 2021

Responding to the completion of the Research Agenda, Durham University, with the Trust, has embarked on developing a new field survey and excavation project. Led by Sarah Semple and Tudor Skinner from Durham University, with Roger Miket (Gefrin Trust) and Brian Buchanan (East Washington University), a pilot phase of work was completed in 2021 designed to test anomalies revealed via geoprospection and establish secure dating and phasing for the archaeological activity on the gravel terrace.

This was supported by a new programme of extensive geophysics investigating the terrace and its immediate surrounds. Two excavation trenches were opened in Hope Taylor’s Area C at the northern edge of the gravel terrace. These successfully relocated Hope Taylor’s Building C1, and careful re-excavation uncovered the burnt timbers of Building C1, left in situ, and revealed new aspects of the architecture of this building.

Our excavations were also situated to explore an untested anomaly present on previous aerial photography, resulting in the identification of a new early medieval structure, part sunken and cut into the northern slope of the plateau. Excellent preservation in this new building had protected working floor levels and finds of animal bone, teeth and charcoal deposits have provided a secure, well-stratified sequence of materials suitable for scientific dating. Further, discoveries of bead fragments, clay loom weights (unfired and fired) pictured here and an iron knife, all associated with floor levels, strongly suggest this structure served as a multi-purpose, multi-phase workshop area, perhaps open-sided to the north.

Evidence of subsequent repairs to the structure and later infilling of the feature after abandonment point to periodic use at different times for varied activities.

Post-excavation work is still underway, but discoveries secured within in situ sequences, faunal remains and opportunities to sample sealed deposits potentially rich in organic and carbonised remains promise exciting results. Cart-based and hand-held geomagnetic survey has also delivered a more detailed picture of the environs, identifying a wide range of new multi-period features, including new potential early medieval structures, potential circular features close to the western outer ditch of Hope-Taylor’s Great Enclosure on the terrace and a second multi-vallate enclosure immediately east of the palace site.
The team will follow up in September 2023 with a second season of work focused on the area to the north of the palace complex and sampling the outer ditch of the Great Enclosure.

We are deeply grateful to our funders. The 2021 season and post-excavation work was generously supported by the Society of Medieval Archaeology, the Medieval Settlement Research Group, the Society of Antiquaries London, The British Academy and Durham University. The project has been undertaken in collaboration with Archaeological Services Durham University and Archaeological Research Services Ltd.