Brian Hope-Taylor’s excavation of the Northumbrian palace at Yeavering has long defined how many archaeologists and historians understand life in early medieval Britain. Although a seminal excavation, Hope-Taylor’s chronology is often called into question and proper understanding of the development and role of this site in the longue durée remains elusive. Cropmarks, geophysical survey and infrared aerial photography all now underline that the site is complex, both in extent and in development, and raise significant questions over Hope-Taylor’s relative sequence.
Recent field research at Sutton Courtenay (Brennan and Hamerow 2015), Lyminge (Thomas 2018) and Rendlesham (Scull et al. 2016), as well as discoveries at the Pictish centre of Rhynie in Aberdeenshire (Noble et al. 2019), have each presented compelling evidence for the extensive and multi-period nature of comparable early medieval elite centres.
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 Professor Sarah Semple and Dr Tudor Skinner from Durham University, a pilot phase of work is currently proposed, focused on both excavated and, as yet, untested crop-mark features to the north east of the site. A programme of survey and excavation, underpinned by scientific dating, aims to elicit a more precise chronology for the site, establish an understanding of its prehistoric and historic extent and development and generate new insights into the changing character of this long-term focus of activity.
The first pilot phase comprises a small-scale endeavour focused on area C1. Here the plan is to re-excavate an area opened originally by Hope Taylor that revealed a sunken-featured structure and test a new, previously unexcavated, crop-mark feature to the north of this. In both instances, the work will identify if deposits survive suitable for high-resolution radiocarbon dating. If funding allows, the team will also test the use of extensive geochemical survey, utilising portable XRF spectrometry.
Covid-19 has delayed plans at present, but we are optimistic that this first phase of work can go ahead in 2021-2022. Scheduled Monument Consent is in place and funding has been generously offered by the Society for Medieval Archaeology and the Medieval Settlement Research Group. The work will take place in collaboration with Archaeological Services Durham University and, funding permitting, XRF survey will be initiated in partnership with Archaeological Research Services Ltd.