What do we have here? Archaeologists uncover ancient tower at Auckland Castle

Aerial photograph of Durham University students excavating the foundations of the tower and the bridge. Credit: Durham University

The remains of a medieval tower have been discovered under Auckland Castle.

Archaeologists from Durham University also found coins from the reign of Henry VI and supports for a bridge and entranceway to an earlier castle, dating back over a thousand years.

The "exceptional" finds on the lawns of the castle have been reburied to keep them preserved.

Photograph showing the steps and central wall of the tower after the excavation Credit: Durham University

Professor Chris Gerrard from Durham University's Department of Archaeology said: "We were delighted to find the striking steps of the tower, which have been remarkably well preserved.

"We also discovered the walls of the cellar, which includes the remaining of a ceiling, a barrel vault which would have curved over the heads of those standing on the medieval floor beneath."We conducted substantial research on the sections found and were able to discover that the tower suffered a series of structural failures when the building had to be repaired due to collapse or subsidence.

"The fascinating thing about Auckland Castle is that, until recent excavations, we didn’t know much about its medieval layout."

The University says it's one of the largest excavations of a bishop's house in Europe.

According to historians, the tower would have dominated the surrounding countryside and "could be seen for many a mile". It would have given the household a grandstand view of the landscape out across bishop's park with its animals, fishponds, woodland and rivers.

What other artefacts did the dig uncover?

A jetton, or 'reckoning counter', dating from 1350-80, was found in one of the basement rooms of the tower. It would have been used as a counter on a large board to help with addition and subtraction, like an abacus.

Jetton, or 'reckoning counter', dating from 1350 - 1380 Credit: Durham University

The team also discovered a silver penny dating from the reign of Henry VI, which was minted by the Bishops of Durham between 1427-30. At the time, it would have been worth a gallon of ale or a couple of dozen eggs.

Henry VI silver penny, minted in Durham 1427-30. One face shows the crowned facing bust, the other a cross with three pellets. Credit: Durham University

The excavations conducted by the team this year, form part of a wider project which previously exposed the lost late 13th century chapel of Bishop Bec.