The Auckland Project – a treasure trove at trench twelve

Molly Bird

After my first experience of the Auckland Castle excavation in 2021 was interrupted by Covid, it’s been great to be back in the trench shovelling dirt and sifting for treasure. Unlike last year, when I was working in the ongoing trench excavating the medieval chapel, I’m working on the front trenches along the main path. At first, I wasn’t overly happy as I had wanted to see the progression of the Chapel. That changed when I kept uncovering treasure while watching the happy dogs on their walks – the occasional one infiltrating the trench! I was also grateful for the little shade we got as the Chapel site was a boxed-in sauna! With the company of the dogs and the discovery of finds, I was in for one amazing first week of excavation!

Site overview

The site itself is located in Bishop Auckland, in what is essentially the back garden of the Prince Bishops throughout the castle’s occupation. As a site that underwent a series of redesigns with each bishop, especially with the new chapel under Bishop Cosin (17th Century), it provides a wealth of information to be uncovered surrounding such rebuilds in terms of both materials, earlier features, and dumping sites. The Chapel site provides a picture of Bek’s Chapel (14th Century) from before the Chapel seen in the castle today and is still yielding finds despite excavation having begun last year. In front of the screen, the trench from last year has now been reburied and repurposed as a spoils heap after having revealed remnants of a gatehouse and early wall. Following this excavation, Trench 12 on the other side of the entrance shows signs of a potential continuation of the wall to the East, a culvert relatively central, and a dumping ground with some evidence of a potential wall coming through in the West (that’s where I am!).

Daily activity on-site

As strange as it may sound my first task in the trench was to clean the dirt. Yes, you read that right. Cleaning the dirt lets us see what it is we’re working with so it’s clearer where to start digging out more trenches. For us, this meant labelling a series of soils as different varieties of chocolate from dark to milk to fudge – a little ginger thrown in for good measure. Once that was organised, out came the mattocks and spades. The mattocks and spades proved challenging work in the heat, especially when encountering clay deposits, but it is also strangely therapeutic. It’s also very rewarding how much progress you can make. I think that’s enough about the site and spades though, you’re here for the finds.

Finds big and small

With every mattock more finds popped up from shards of glass to bone to pottery. Some of the most intriguing finds, however, are what are called ‘small finds’ or ‘registered finds’. In just this one area four different small finds were discovered: an iron door hinge and iron door furnishings found by fellow students, an iron handle (possibly for a door), and an iron stake found by me. These of course are not the only interesting things excavated though. My favourite finds from Friday are a piece of glazed pottery and a clay pipe with the maker’s mark imprinted on it!

With the first week now done, I have 2 days to rest up and then I can’t wait to get back to the site for another week and see what we find!

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Molly Bird

Hi, I’m Molly, a second year Anthropology and Archaeology student at Josephine Butler. Apart from being fascinated by the study of humans, I also have a passion for all things creative and am a member of the Creative Writing society and my college DnD group! I’m also an aspiring fantasy author and have begun to write a series. You can follow both my writing and university progress on my twitter (@Mollie_Grace_) and my personal website (

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