The continued archaeological investigation of Bamburgh Castle , once the palace site of the early medieval kings of Northumbria, has revealed a marvellous new find of national significance.
The copper alloy fragment is small, 23mm by 12mm, but beautifully decorated with an intricate zoomorphic representation of a bird, characteristic of early medieval north European art.
The discovery was the star find of the Bamburgh Research Project’s (BRP) 2016 summer excavation and has since been undergoing careful conservation to reveal an intricately decorated artefact that is a window into the art of a lost era of early medieval royal society.
Initial comments from a number of experts has suggested that the bird mount is unique, with no direct parallels and likely to be 8th century in date.
It is fascinating that the new image appears to hark back in time to the bird of prey motifs of the 6th and 7th centuries AD* and could represent a descendant of these earlier styles just as the later 8th century York helmet , is an update of the form known from the earlier Sutton Hoo, Staffordshire [helmet pieces in the Staffordshire Hoard perhaps?] and Wollaston helmets.
Bamburgh Research Project Director, Graeme Young, said: “The find was recovered from a cobbled surface revealed at the base of a narrow trench towards the end of the 2016 excavation season.
“The layers above date to the 9th century, immediately before the time of Alfred the Great and the before York became the Viking town of ‘Yorvik’ [Jorvik] and 100 years before there was a single kingdom of England. At this time there were a number of smaller kingdoms and Northumbria was one of these.
“The palace fortress of Bamburgh was one of the most important places in the kingdom and we have evidence of metal working, probably associated with the production of arms and armour for the warriors of the royal court in our excavation.
“In summer 2017 we will continue our investigations of the find spot and we hope to discover if it represents an earlier period of metal working or some other activity.
“At the moment our investigation of this horizon is at such an early stage we are unsure if the find came from within a building or from a yard surface or path where it may have been dropped. We are very much looking forward to getting back on site and continuing our excavations. Who knows what other finds await us this summer!”
Francis Armstrong and his son Will, owners of Bamburgh Castle said: “The bird is a spectacular discovery. It is a beautiful artefact and we are proud that it has been found here at Bamburgh. Finds like this help us to connect with the castle’s history and it is wonderful when we get the opportunity to display these ancient wonders so our visitors can enjoy them close up. We are grateful for the work the BRP do here at the castle and we have a great time working with them unearthing the stories that Bamburgh Castle has to tell.”
The bird will be on display at the castle, open 10.00am to 5pm until 29 th October with many other fascinating finds including pattern welded swords and intricately decorated gold work.
*cf birds on The Sutton Hoo Purse-Lid