Countryfile: Bamburgh Castle door surprises Matt Baker
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Britain is well-known for its Roman history, the country having been conquered by the empire in 43 AD under Emperor Claudius. Remnants of the Romans’ time can be found scattered across the country, from Hadrian’s Wall in Brampton to the Temple of Mithras in London, Brading Roman Villa to the Verulamium Theatre in St Albans. While 2,000 years have passed since they first arrived, more and more relics continue to be found.
This included a stunning roundhouse unearthed in the grounds of Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland in 2020.
Archaeologists digging there found remnants that suggested the building may have once been as large as 65 feet (20 metres) in diameter, and likely belonged to a member of society of relative importance.
Excavators working at the site said the find could help shed light on a little known period of British history: the transition from Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England.
The roundhouse actually predates Bamburgh Castle, which is thought to have first been built in the sixth century, at least 500 years after the Roman occupation of Britain ended.
Graeme Young, the project’s director, described it as a “remarkable find” and one of the “most important” made at the site.
He believes the roundhouse is at least 2,000 years old.
A stone feature was found within the structure which had been destroyed during World War 1 after it was dug through and used as a latrine.
However, the researchers believe it could have been a storage area inside the roundhouse where animal hides were kept.
Mr Young noted how it was by luck that the team stumbled upon the ruins, and explained: “It was sheer chance that we decided to dig that little bit further in the final days of digging here at the castle, otherwise we would have missed it.
“To find a roundhouse in the north with such a well-preserved sequence of floor surfaces is very rare, but what is exciting is that it may help us fill the missing jigsaw pieces of continuity in Bamburgh’s history.”
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He went on to describe the structure of the building: “From the curve and by the ‘eye of faith’ you can sort of see that it is probably up to 10 to 20 metres in diameter, so it is a big building.
“We are looking at the vestigial foundations but almost all of it would have been big solid timber above ground with a conical thatched roof, with, I assume, a doorway pointing somewhere south.”
The goal of the ongoing project is to find out who might have lived at the site.
Early signs indicated it may have been a member of the middle classes, potentially a fisherman.
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Mr Young told the Daily Mail: “There are an awful lot of periwinkle shells here which can be used as food but it is often used as bait for fishing and it is not impossible that this building is used for fishing, we are right next to the sea after all.”
Because of the roundhouse’s position — at the top of a hill — Mr Young said only the most important members of the nearby community would have been able to lay claim to such a vantage point.
He said: “I don’t think this is the very top tier of society, but we are inside the hillfort as it would have been then so I’m guessing they would have been reasonably important.
“It’s a big house, so it’s either built for a particular purpose or it’s built for someone who is of sufficient status to have a large structure associated with them.
“We don’t really know [who would have lived here], but we have a few clues!”
Bamburgh Castle was previously excavated in the Sixties, with researchers back then concluding that the site had been occupied for around 3,000 years.
The fresh roundhouse discovery allowed researchers to determine that the site is “effectively prehistoric”.
Mr Young said he did not believe it was old enough to be from the Iron Age.
Rather, he suggested that it is Romana-British — part of the culture that came as a result of Rome’s occupation and remained after it left.
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