Bamburgh’s Bowl Hole Burials
In the winter of 1816/1817 violent storms tore away centuries of accumulated sand creating the vast dune fields that surround the castle. The storms also uncovered a number of graves in a depression called the Bowl Hole.
The archaeological research at Bamburgh, spanning two decades, has unveiled a diverse Anglo-Saxon community from 1,400 years ago. The excavation of the Bowl Hole cemetery by the Bamburgh Research Project revealed a mix of burial customs, suggesting early Christian practices amid remnants of pagan traditions. The individuals, likely high-status and associated with the Bamburgh fortress, enjoyed good health but suffered from severe dental issues, possibly due to a rich diet.
Isotope analysis of the skeletons exposed a surprising diversity in their origins, with less than 10% being local to Bamburgh. Some had roots in the British Isles, particularly the west coast of Scotland and Ireland, while others traced longer journeys from continental Europe and beyond. Noteworthy cases include a man from Scandinavia who arrived much earlier than the documented Viking raids and another from Spain or Italy who may have been a metalworker. The remains of young children revealed their mothers’ migratory paths, showcasing journeys from southern Spain or North Africa to cooler climates, possibly the Mediterranean or France, before settling in Northumbria. These findings provide a nuanced understanding of the complex lives and migrations of the Anglo-Saxon community at Bamburgh.
Above all, the skeletons tell a story of a cosmopolitan, outward-looking community with close ties both to the rest of Britain and to continental Europe. They speak of migration and far-reaching journeys that, 1,400 years ago, brought people from far and wide to live, work, and form a flourishing creative centre – a melting pot that produced such virtuosic (and culturally diverse) manuscripts as the Lindisfarne Gospels. Probably made at the eponymous island monastery c.AD 720, this lavishly illuminated book combines Mediterranean, Anglo-Saxon, and Celtic elements in its spectacular decorations.