Where does time go? Somehow we have already reached Day 9 – the last day of our Touching the Tide funded Dunwich Dig. Despite the high risk of being asked to backfill at some point during the day, a fair number of wonderful volunteers turned up to see the dig through to the very end. We were also joined by several more aspiring archaeologists, eager to have a go at digging before all the trenches and test pits are filled back in.
With the exception of some final recording work (photographing and drawing), all trenches and most test pits were finished off yesterday, only leaving Test Pits 10, 12 and the newly opened 13 to be dug today. Although it was suggested yesterday that Test Pit 10, between Trenches 3 and 4 in the garden of 1 Coastguard Cottages, had reached the natural underlying geology at 1m, some impressive digging by one of our younger volunteers showed that archaeological deposits actually went down to a depth of 1.2m. The remains of the religious hospital, Maison Dieu, Test Pit 10 was searching for may not have survived, but it is interesting that almost all the earlier Thetford ware pottery has come from excavations nearer to the harbour.
Equally impressive skills were seen at Test Pit 12, where our other young archaeologist proved eagle-eyed at spotting finds. Test Pit 12 is the penultimate test pit in the line between Trenches 2 and 3 and again showed that archaeological deposits get deeper going north, nearer to St. James’s Street. However, plastic was unfortunately found at a depth of 80cm, just above the natural sand; meaning that the layer can only be as old as the plastic and that the medieval pottery found in within it has moved around a lot.
As all Time Team fans will be well aware off, exciting things have a habit of appearing at the last minute and Test Pit 13 did just that. The last test pit in the line, nearest to Trench 3, was opened this morning by some of our now well experienced volunteers, who admirably rose to the challenge of digging, recording and backfilling a test pit before the end of the day. Excitingly, Test Pit 13 revealed that the gradually sloping yellow sand of the underlying natural geology suddenly drops away and the depth of archaeological deposits on top, containing evidence of human activity, increases massively.
This may not immediate sound exciting, but bear with us as we promise it is an important discovery! Trenches 2 and 3 are on a slight hill, so the natural geology slopes down from 2 to 3. At some point early on in Dunwich’s history, possibly soon after or even before the Norman Conquest of 1066, people decided to cut into the sand of the slope to make a flat terrace for building on – two of these building floors were found in Trench 3. (If you picture a sponge cake with thin chocolate icing, where someone has taken a piece out of the edge and filled it back in with icing, that’s what the slope looks like if the cake is the natural and icing the archaeology.) As we can see the natural dropping down in Test Pit 13 where it has been cut away, we can be fairly sure that the whole area between Test Pit 13 and the far end of Trench 3 was terraced and contains deep layers of archaeology, including the remains of medieval buildings, probably houses or workshops. These buildings would have run along a street, along as one of the floors is underneath the currently visible hollow-way, the road must have been further to the north than the present hollow-way.
Moving from bad food analogies to actual food, Bill once again provided us with tea break sustenance, this time in the form of scones – all the more appreciated given the amount of backfilling that was going on. Amazingly, by 3 o’clock every last bit of soil had been shifted to fill back in all of our four trenches and nine test pits (fuelled in no small part by scones and the promise of the pub, should we finish early). In the Reading Room base, behind Dunwich Museum, the finds washing team had also been spectacular and managed to wash virtually all every last find, and with such a wonderful team of volunteers all of the equipment was soon packed carefully into the van and the Reading Room cleaned.
Over the last 9 days, the Dunwich Dig has not only shown that the archaeology here holds so much more potential for telling us more about the settlement’s history that previously thought, but it has also allowed many people to get involved in archaeology and actively contribute to increasing our understanding of Dunwich. We could not have done the dig without our wonderful funders, Touching the Tide (including Bill’s amazing cakes) and all of our enthusiastic and generally all-round fantastic volunteers, who have been an inspiration to work with! A huge thank you to everyone who has been involved in some way or visited the dig – hopefully this may not be the end of our time in Dunwich.