Posted by: archaccess | August 5, 2015

Dunwich Dig – Day 9

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.

An impressively deep test pit!

An impressively deep Test Pit 10!

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.

Keen seiving and finds spotting at Test Pit 12

Keen seiving and finds spotting at Test Pit 12

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.

Sarah in lucky Test Pit 13

Sarah in lucky Test Pit 13

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.

Finishing the mammouth task of backfilling Trench 4

Finishing the mammouth task of backfilling Trench 4

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.

Pub trip for Carenza's final dig summary

Pub trip for Carenza’s final dig summary

Posted by: archaccess | August 3, 2015

Dunwich Dig – Day 8

Day 8 of our Touching the Tide funded dig at Dunwich began with more glorious sunshine and some new faces, including several young volunteers.

Carrying on from where yesterday’s blog left off, John and his stalwart team now have a clearer understanding of the road extension, put in to explore the hollow-way and find road surface(s). As the archaeology seemingly implied the day before, the extension does indeed contain a medieval clay floor with several deposits underneath, including a potentially pre-Norman Conquest layer. This deposit sits on the natural and contained a high percentage of Thetford ware – a pottery type that was unhelpful made either side of 1066, although John (our resident pottery expert) believes that an earlier date is more likely in this case.

Thetford ware from Trench 3's extension

Thetford ware from Trench 3’s extension

All of this is very interesting, yet distinctly un-road like. It now seems that if St. James’s Street is a modern descendent of a medieval road, as suggested by the location of St. James’ Leper Hospital at its western end, then it did not continue along the line of the presently visible hollow-way, which must be post-medieval in date.

Down in the car park, Trench 4 volunteers managed the herculean effort of backfilling the western, watery half of the trench (slot A). Whilst vast quantities of soil were being shifted, digging continued in slot B. The pottery coming up from this deep slot may contain a greater proportion of Thetford ware, although before the wet black soil has been washed off them, all pottery identification is more speculative then certain.

Backfilling Trench 4 - Cat and Fran's herculean effort to shift mountains of soil!

Backfilling Trench 4 – Cat and Fran’s herculean effort to shift mountains of soil!

With Trenches 1 and 2 closed, everyone else spent today busily digging test pits. After a promising start yesterday, Test Pit 5 in the woods south of Greyfriars continued down for around a metre before hitting the natural geology and was filled with much medieval pottery. The lack of later finds suggests that this test pit along the Middlegate hollow-way contained undisturbed medieval deposits. Test Pit 5 was also joined by Test Pit 8, opened 30m further north and nearer to Greyfriars monastery; finds of less pottery and more roof tile in Test Pit 8 hint that changes in land use occurred in relation to Greyfriars and/ or a medieval road underneath the current hollow-way.

Jess's test pits south of Greyfriars

Jess’s test pits south of Greyfriars

Moving back within the town boundary, excellent progress was made on the series of test pits spaced at 10m intervals between Trenches 2 and 3. Started yesterday, Test Pits 6 and 7 nearest to Trench 2 also revealed relatively shallow topsoil above bright yellow natural sand. With an enthusiastic group of volunteers, including two keen future archaeologists, the next two test pits (9 and 11 – there is some logic behind the numbering system!) were opened up this morning and, due to speedy digging, Test Pit 12 was even started after lunch.

Test pit excitment with a keen future-archaeologist!

Test pit excitment with a keen future-archaeologist!

As predicted, the archaeological deposits became increasingly deeper as we moved towards Trench 3. Interestingly, a relatively high quantity of animal bone (mostly sheep-sized) came up from the bottom of Test Pit 11, along with a mixture of medieval and post-medieval pottery. Whilst still very disturbed and mixed up, it looks like the test pits are moving towards areas of occupation, as the animal bone and larger sherds of pottery in Test Pit 11 appear to have travelled around in the ground less than the heavily worn pottery found in Test Pits 6 and 7.

The final new venture of the day was Test Pit 10, dug in the back garden of one of the Coastguard Cottages due to a kind offer from the owner. The cottage sits on a rise near the present cliff edge to the south of the beach café, between Trenches 3 and 4, and is thought to be the location of The Hospital of the Holy Trinity (also known as Maison Dieu). Given that test pits are only a metre square, it is unsurprising that no structural remains of the hospital were found. Instead, Test Pit 10 did what test pits do best – provide an insight into the depth and date of deposits in a particular area. Continuing for circa 1m before reaching natural, the archaeological layers in Test Pit 10 went back to the early medieval period, with sherds of Thetford ware appearing in the bottom deposit. Along with the Thetford ware from Trenches 3 and 4, it seems that around the time of the Norman Conquest, the occupation of western Dunwich lay in the area closest to the harbour.

Map of all trench and test pit locations

Map of all trench and test pit locations

The archaeology of medieval Dunwich is beginning to reveal some of its story and it will be sad to leave tomorrow (although whether everyone will still feel the same after the mountains of backfilling that await us tomorrow remains to be seen… ). It’s always fantastic to be able to introduce more people to archaeology, but it was a particular privilege today to be the first dig that our two young volunteers have been on – if today is anything to go by, we may all be out of a job in a few years time!

Posted by: archaccess | August 3, 2015

Dunwich Dig – Day 7

After a busy Open Day the day before, day 7 of the Dunwich dig began with a quieter start. Having said goodbye yesterday to some fantastic volunteers who had been with us since the beginning, it was good to see several new faces this morning.

With Trenches 1 and 2 speedily backfilled and numerous diggers now trench-less, the decision was made to open up several test pits (mini trenches only a metre square). Test pits are great for quickly gaining an impression of what was happening, so one was opened up in the woods south of Greyfriars and another two in-between Trenches 2 and 3. The former (Test Pit 5) is outside the town ditch, Pales Dyke, and next to a hollow-way that may be Middlegate – one of the medieval town’s western entrances, along with St. James’s Street. Medieval pottery started appearing from the first sieveful, and by the end of the day and at a depth of 60cm, topsoil rich in medieval pottery is still continuing.

Test Pit 5, south of Greyfriars

Test Pit 5, south of Greyfriars

Test Pits 6 and 7 are part of series being dug at 10m intervals between Trenches 2 and 3 (with test pit numbers working from low to high, where Test Pit 6 is the nearest to Trench 2). The depth of archaeological deposits above the natural sand varies drastically from Trench 2 to Trench 3, so one of the purposes of these test pits is to see where this change occurs. Unsurprisingly, Test Pit 6 hit natural after circa 40cm of top and subsoil, as did Trench 2, although Test Pit 7 reached the slightly deeper depth of 60cm before hitting sand sterile of human activity.

This seems a good point to break for a cake update, which has unfortunately been missing for the last few days due to exciting archaeological finds. Despite a lot of hard work, our volunteers have not been wilting away due to a steady supply of wonderful cakes – mostly provided by Bill, from Touching the Tide, our funders. The cakes haven’t lasted long enough to photograph, but we had amazing Victoria sponges on Friday (one kindly made by Julia), honey and ginger cake yesterday and flapjack today.

Returning to the archaeology, Trench 4 has now hit the water table at its western end (slot A) so can go no further. Intriguingly, the cut of a feature sloping towards the harbour and a possible posthole were seen before the slot had to be abandoned, but as only a little of the features were exposed they are hard to interpret and Cat, Trench 4’s supervisor, is still dwelling on what they might mean.

A watery slot A in Trench 4

A watery slot A in Trench 4

At the car park end, slot B, a depth of 2.5m (8 foot 3’’) has now been reached and another feature cut has been found – as the cuts in slot A and B both slope in the same direction, they can’t be either edge of the same feature, so must relate to two different things. On a visitor note, we were still fairly busy in the car park today with lots of people coming to see what we’ve found, and Trench 4 even had a visit from a newt!

Trench 4's newt visitor (if you squint you can see the newt, promise!)

Trench 4’s newt visitor (if you squint you can see the newt, promise!)

Last, but by no means least, John’s Trench 3 did start an extension further north across the hollow-way this morning. Surprisingly, instead of finding a road surface as expected, a clayey layer began to appear that looks suspiciously like another floor surface or the natural. Either way, road surfaces of any date are lacking, implying that the hollow-way is post-medieval rather than the medieval continuation of St. James’s Street. Whilst the hollow-way can be seen on the 1880s Ordinate Survey map, which is reliably accurate, it may be that an earlier 16th century map showing St. James’s Street continuing along the present hollow-way is not as accurate as previously thought. Hopefully tomorrow more will become clear!

Road extension in Trench 3

Road extension in Trench 3

Posted by: archaccess | August 2, 2015

Dunwich Dig – Day 6

With the sun shining and early morning visitors already filling the car park, the Open Day on Day 6 of the Dunwich dig began with a promising start. Fortunately, we had an hour’s leeway between arriving on site and the start on the Open Day in which to set up (or hide yourself away at the bottom of a trench, for those feeling less talkative). First job of the day was setting up a display table in the car park by Trench 4, showing both a representative sample and the best of our finds, and helping our wonderful funders – Touching the Tide – to set up their stand. Aided by the blissful weekend weather, crowds of visitors quickly started amassing for Carenza’s hourly tour around the trenches. Largely due to being on ITV regional news the night before, we were even honoured to have some visitors who had travelled to Dunwich specifically to see the dig!

Open Day

Lots of Open Day visitors!

Having reached natural sand yesterday, most of the Trench 1 volunteers moved on to pastures (or digging territory) new, leaving Jess and Sarah to finish the final trench drawings and records – a process hampered by the best efforts of some moles to collapse one side of the trench. Whilst Jess and Sarah dealt admirably with this unusual problem, the rest of Trench 1 volunteers began digging through the topsoil of Trench 2 in earnest. Under the supervision of Laura, newly arrived from Cambridge that morning, Trench 2 took their archaeological mission seriously and quickly dug through the pottery rich topsoil and less find-filled subsoil only to find natural sand below.

Opening of Trench 2 under the watchful eye of Laura

Opening of Trench 2 under the watchful eye of Laura

Given the depth of archaeological deposits in the other trenches, Trench 2 was expected to be the same, yet barely went down half a metre. At least the Trench 2 team can now say they’ve managed the impressive achievement of starting and finishing a trench in one day! The excitement of archaeology comes from never knowing what you will find, and Trench 2 has shown that this previously unexplored area of the medieval town was not densely occupied; excavation is never pointless, as even an absence of archaeology tells us something.

Continuing with the discovery of natural sand, John’s Trench 3 along the continuation of St. James’s Street exposed more of the compacted clay layer south of the road, revealing that it is probably a medieval floor surface. Digging through the clay, including a thin layer of burnt clay, the deposit underneath was found to contain comparatively less pottery and of an earlier date than that seen higher up. Predominately dating to the 11th and 12th centuries, the pottery suggests this context relates to occupation at Dunwich from around the time of the Norman Conquest and Doomsday (which is the first undisputed record of a settlement here). Not to feel left out, the next layer Trench 3 hit was natural sand, meaning that this trench can also been recorded and finished now; although there were muttering of a small extension tomorrow, going further across the road…

Geoff exploring underneath the clay floor in Trench 3

Exploring underneath the clay floor in Trench 3

To return to the busy Trench 4, added excitement came mid-morning with the realisation that the sandy sections are now in need to shoring, due to the considerable depth reached by a lot of speedy digging. Slot B didn’t quite reach the sandy layer seen in slot A, so there is no update yet on whether the stakeholes found yesterday continue between the two. However, a lot of medieval finds are still coming up, suggesting that oysters, fish, cattle and sheep were popular food sources.

Trench 4's new shoring

Trench 4’s new shoring

In terms of the Open Day, judging by our visitors’ book and the enormous size of Carenza’s five tours, we reckon the Dunwich dig had at least 300 visitors across the day (if not more!). It was wonderful to be able to share our finds and the archaeology of Dunwich with so many visitors and great to see how much our heritage matters to people, regardless of whether living nearby or far afield. We hope everyone enjoyed the Open Day as much as we did!

Posted by: archaccess | August 1, 2015

Dunwich Dig – Day 5

So much happened during Day 5 of the Dunwich dig that we are spoilt for choice of where to begin. To keep things fair, we’ll go in reverse trench order to yesterday (and arguably keep you waiting for the best until the end… ).

Trench 4 in the car park, supervised by Cat, began in full force with an extension towards the harbour edge – if you imagine a mattock and shovel-welding soil shifting competition between several members of the team, you practical saw the extension underway yourself! The sophisticatedly-named A and B slots, either side of the pipes, have also continued downwards at a rapid rate, with undisturbed medieval layers producing lots of oyster shells and animal bones now reached. Slot A, the furthest from the car park, also hit a yellow sandy deposit containing several small stakeholes (i.e. small circles of slightly darker soil). As the three stakeholes are in a line, it will be interesting to see if they continue into slot B when the same pale sandy layer is reached tomorrow.

Trench 1 extension

Trench 4’s early morning extension

Up in the trees at Trench 3, John and his team of volunteers have also made it through the post-medieval deposits and are now into a layer producing only medieval pottery. As the sherds are larger and less well-worn that the medieval pot found higher up in the trench, we can be confident that they haven’t moved far and that this is not just a post-medieval layer with earlier pottery still hanging around in it. Tantalisingly, a compacted clay surface is starting to appear south of the hollow-way – this may prove to be a floor, although more of it still needs to be exposed.

Trench 3

Trench 3 contemplating their possible medieval floor

However, the most exciting finds of the day came from Trench 1. With the fallen section of Greyfriars’ boundary wall taken up the day before, excavation of the deposits underneath continued and by tea break a collection of exciting finds had been amassed. John’s pottery expertise came to the rescue and he identified several sherds of much speculated over pottery as Iron Age and another as Anglo-Saxon – whilst made about a thousand years apart, both types of pottery are relatively poorly made and thus are comparatively rare finds.

Even more amazingly, two flint tools were also found (along with medieval pottery, showing that they have been moved from where originally deposited). One is a flint flakes several centimetres in length that has been beautifully retouched – flint-fanatic speak for chipping off small pieces along an edge – to make a scraping tool. Despite being a bit bashed at the top, the skilfully retouched edge implies that it was made between three and five thousand years ago during the Neolithic or Bronze Age.

The other flint tool is our star find of the day – a hand-sized flint nodule worked (well, more bashed than nicely worked) on both sides of one end to create a chopping type tool. It is possible that this crudely made tool dates from hundreds of thousands of years ago, during the Palaeolithic era which began before the appearance of anatomically modern Homo sapiens. We need to hear back from a specialist before anything can be said for certain, but it certainly proved to be an exciting day of many surprises!

Today's star find!

Today’s star find!

As Trench 1 has now reached natural sand (a layer with no human-made finds in it at all), final recording work for it has begun, allowing Trench 2 to be opened up at the end of the day. Tomorrow we have the open day and several new volunteers joining us, so hopefully the lucky streak of amazing finds will continue for a little longer!

Posted by: archaccess | July 31, 2015

Dunwich Dig – Day 4

With a flurry of excitement at realising we were in that morning’s East Anglian Daily Times, causing much discussion of who had and hadn’t made it into the photos, day four began. Despite an ominous black cloud mid-morning, the promised rain held off and everyone had a good start to the day with several exciting finds.

Up in Trench 1, Jess and her now well-trained volunteers rushed to finish digging their extension, started the previous day, down to the same level as the rest of their trench. Mission accomplished, the fallen section of wall was drawn with the aid of an improvised tile plumb-bob (beautifully purpose-made courtesy of Geoff) and a short interlude to rescue another archaeology seeking newt.

Sarah with 'Bob' - an improvished tile plumb-bob to help draw Trench 1's plan.

Sarah with ‘Bob’ – an improvished tile plumb-bob to help draw Trench 1’s plan.

After break, work began taking up the fallen wall in order to explore what lies beneath. A currently favoured hypothesis is that the sandy material underneath the rubble comes from soil cast up during the digging of the town ditch, Pales Dyke, which is known to run along the eastern boundary of Greyfriars’ precinct. However, with a prehistori

c (possibly Iron Age on the grounds it looks ‘a bit grotty’) flint core and flake, mixed in with a few medieval finds, hinting at much earlier activity in the area of Dunwich, Trench 1 may still have many surprises for us yet.

Trench 1

Trench 1

John’s Trench 3, along the continuation of St. James’s Street, is steadily working down towards medieval deposits, although still appears to be in post-medieval layers; as shown by the discovery of a not-so-ancient door knob (which at least provided the source of many jokes and much entertainment!). On a more archaeological note, a sherd of Middle Saxon Ipswich ware (made AD 700-850) and potentially several pieces of Late Saxon Thetford ware add significantly to the Saxon finds from Dunwich and offer hope that we may find further, much sought-after evidence of Saxon occupation.

Ipswich ware from Trench 3

Ipswich ware from Trench 3

Down in the car park, Trench 4 made the best of having to work around the two pipes running through the middle and took the opportunity to dig down deeper, with a slot at either end. Still rejoicing at having made it through the plastic-wrapped filled topsoil, Cat and her hard-working volunteers were rewarded with many medieval finds, including the complete base of a 14th century glazed ale jug. Even more excitingly, several fragments of painted medieval window glass were found – such high status finds are likely to have come from the nearby Hospital of the Holy Trinity (Maison Dieu). John was also able to confirm Cat and Carenza’s suspicions that two large sherds from Trench 4 are indeed Thetford ware; together with Trench 3, we have now taken the count of Saxon pottery sherds found at Dunwich from one to two hands.

Painted medieval window glass

Painted medieval window glass

There are high hopes for planned westward extension of Trench 4 tomorrow, away from the car park and nearer to the harbour’s edge.

Tom displays the 14th century jug base from Trench 4

Tom displays the 14th century jug base from Trench 4

Fingers crossed the sunny weather will hold out for what promised to be another exciting day tomorrow!

Posted by: stourarch | July 30, 2015

Dunwich Dig – Day 3

With a full complement of volunteers, Day 3 of the Touching the Tide Dunwich Dig really saw a lot of earth shifted and features revealed. 

Jess and Carenza discuss the wall feature in Trench 1


Glazed floor tile

Trench 1 located between the cliff edge and the Greyfriar’s boundary wall have extended by a metre to the north to further explore their wall feature. It does indeed carry on and once the newly exposed area is cleaned and recorded it will be lifted to try and discover any dating evidence beneath. Tantalisingly, a fragment of glazed medieval floor tile was found just on top of the feature, an indication of a high-status building.

Trench 3 along the continuation of St James’ Street produced the first finds to pre-date the building of the Greyfriar’s Friary in the form of at least two sherds of Thetford ware. This type of pottery was produced c. 900-1150AD, so could even be evidence of Dunwich’s occupation prior to the Norman Conquest. Also, a few sherds of imported pottery, probably from what is now Belgium, indicative of Dunwich’s importance as a large port.

Thetford ware (top) and import ware

And, Trench 4 located at the edge of the medieval harbour (sited in the modern beach car park) revealed two features of its own – two modern drain pipes. However, the team has developed a strategy to carry on digging around the drains at both the eastern and western edges of that trench. 


Cat exposes the first of the two drains in Trench 4
The finds washing team yesterday did an absolutely brilliant job and now the finds all sparkle and are displayed beautifully for those popping in to the museum to see what’s happening. 

The finds
We also had a photographer out from the East Anglian Daily Times, so make sure to check out that article. It will be shared on our blog once it’s been made available online. And, a big thanks to the Suffolk County Council natural environment team for paying us a visit on their tour round the coast yesterday. 


The SCC team out for a tour of the site
Stay tuned to the blog to see what turns up and remember to come see us on our Open Day, Saturday 1st August. 

Posted by: stourarch | July 29, 2015

Dunwich Dig – Day 2

Day 2 of the Touching the Tide Dunwich Dig saw many Day 1 volunteers returning for more action. The camaraderie and esprit d’corps has already started to develop as has a real sense of trench loyalty – an example of how community archaeology really brings people together. 
Trench 1 near the outer edge of the Greyfriar’s Friary ruins, supervised by Jess Rippengal zooarchaeologist from the University of Cambridge, uncovered the first feature of the Dunwich Dig. The Trench 1 team carefully cleaned and recorded the wall feature and today’s plan is to remove it and see what lies beneath. Is it an in situ wall? Is it collapsed rubble from an earlier wall? Or, is it something else? Keep an eye on the blog to see what happens! 


Jess and Sarah record the feature

Trench 3 along the continuation of St James’ Street, under the supervision of John Newman archaeologist and pottery expert, slaved away removing topsoil from the raised end of that trench and finally found the bottom of the top soil. Thankfully, no further WWII implements have revealed themselves, however, interestingly, the finds from the lower layer of the topsoil were predominantly of a 17th-18th century date. We are heading in the right direction!


John and Geoff shift soil from the hollow of Trench 3
The “car park trench”, Trench 4, supervised by Cat Ranson, ACA archaeological supervisor, is really the face of the Dunwich Dig. As coach loads of visitors and tourists come to the seaside for their fish and chips or their ice creams they pop along to Trench 4 to see what’s happening. 


Visitors flock to Trench 4
Yesterday, although numbers were down in this trench, spirits were high and a lot of topsoil was shifted. Both site director, Dr Carenza Lewis, and Touching the Tide project manager, Bill Jenman, mattocked, shovelled and dug their way through tonnes of earth. Further medieval clues were again revealed with more pottery and further glazed roof tile turning up. But the topsoil is still carrying on and, indeed, embedded in the topsoil at both the east and west ends of the trench are hints at Dunwich Beach’s more recent past – two WWII-era barbed wire fence posts. 

The rain came down fervently in the last few minutes of the dig, but if spirits and bodies were dampened it was all soon made better by delicious cake back at base….thanks, Bill!


The dig carries on until Tuesday, 4th August. A few volunteer spaces remain; please email for further information. 

Posted by: archaccess | July 28, 2015

Dunwich Dig – Day 1


Dunwich Dig 2015 has commenced! Access Cambridge Archaeology and the HLF-funded Touching the Tide  have joined forces once again to bring a community archaeology project to the Suffolk Coast. The nine-day event, 27 July – 4 August, will see a series of 4 trenches being opened and excavated throughout the village of Dunwich on Greyfriar’s Trust property. Supervised by archaeologists from ACA, the trenches are being excavated by local volunteers. Some spaces are still available. If you’re interested in joining the dig, get in touch at

The headquarters for the duration is the Reading Room (behind the Dunwich Museum) where you can pop in to view the finds and find out more information, or simply have a tour round the trenches – there are signs, arrows and maps dotted throughout the village to guide you.

Nina and Carenza greet members of the public to Trench 4

Nina and Carenza greet members of the public to Trench 4

Pop in to Trench 4 in the beach car park. Sited at the edge of the medieval harbour and near the Hospital of the Holy Trinity this area could be rich in pottery. It’s also near the Beach Cafe, famed for its fish and chips. Follow the signs up the footpath to Trench 3 which is placed along the medieval continuation of St James’ Street. We’re investigating the road’s date and construction. Then carry on up the path along the cliff edge to Trench 1 just outside the wall of the Greyfriar’s Friary. Trench 2 will be opened later in the week.

The story so far:

Yesterday was mainly spent clearing back and opening the trenches, although signs of medieval Dunwich have already started to appear. Trench 4 in the car park contains the strongest evidence so far with several sherds of medieval pottery and one tantalising glazed roof tile, evidence of a nearby high status building, possibly the Maison Dieu hospital.

Glazed medieval roof tile - possibly from the Maison Dieu Hospital

Glazed medieval roof tile – possibly from the Maison Dieu Hospital

Trench 3 shifted loads of soil yesterday, but are still really in the top soil layer. However, this was not without a moment of panic as remains of a potential unexploded ordnance were uncovered. It could simply be an unexploded “paint can”, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Possible ordnance from Trench 3....

Possible ordnance from Trench 3….

Searching for the remains of medieval St James' Street in Trench 3

Searching for the remains of medieval St James’ Street in Trench 3

Trench 1 are also still in the top soil, but a possible darker feature, either modern or an earlier pit perhaps, appeared in the southwest corner. Lots of potential!

Trench 1 along the edge of the Friary wall

Trench 1 along the edge of the Friary wall

Follow our blog or come out and see us to see what is revealed as the dig goes on. Our Open Day is Saturday 1st August when tours of the site will be given by site director, Dr Carenza Lewis. We look forward to welcoming you on site!

Posted by: archaccess | July 21, 2015

Riseley 2015 Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA)

The penultimate HEFA of the 2015 season took place 8th – 10th July in Riseley, Bedfordshire. A total of 37 Year 9 & 10 students from Sharnbrook Upper School, Hastingsbury Business and Enterprise College, Stratton Upper School, and St Thomas More Catholic Teaching School excavated 10 archaeological test pits throughout the village. Members of the Riseley Historical Society also excavated a test-pit. The pits were dispersed throughout the village and were located on Rotten Row, Gold Street and the High Street.

TP 7 get stuck in!

TP 7 get stuck in!

The test pits were organised by Michael Stubbert of the Riseley Historical Society and the beacon school coordinator was Radha Randhawa from Sharnbrook Upper School. The site for the two digging days was the Riseley Village Hall. This is the second year ACA have held a HEFA in Riseley; previous findings and reports can be found here.

The students worked in mixed-school groups of 3 or 4 and were supervised by sixth-form students from the schools involved.

Cat, Laure and Paul tour around the test pits

Cat, Laure and Paul tour around the test pits

After receiving a briefing on Day 1 from Dr Carenza Lewis, Director of ACA, about how to excavate and record the test pits, the students went out and started digging (in the glorious sunshine)! Cat Ranson, ACA archaeological supervisor, and Laure Bonner, ACA administrator, toured the test pits providing guidance on excavating and recording techniques as well as identifying finds. Paul Blinkhorn, pottery specialist, was also on site on Day 2 to help identify finds and date pottery sherds. We were also joined both days by Nina O’Hare, archaeological intern from the HLf-funded Touching the Tide project.

Having experts on hand to provide real-time feedback about finds and dates is highly appreciated by the participants and is always included in the feedback: “I have gained knowledge and insight about archaeological finds from experts – I may study archaeology in the future!” (BT) The finalised pottery report can be found here.

Paul identifies pottery at TP5 (note the chickens photobombing in the background)

Paul identifies pottery at TP5 (note the chickens photobombing in the background)

This year provided the first evidence of the Early Anglo Saxon settlement with a sherd of 5th-7th century pottery. This came from the community-dug test pit on Gold Street. In 2014, the same garden produced Late Saxon pottery and a probable medieval wall. This year, further Late Saxon pottery was discovered along the High Street indicating that perhaps the original Saxon settlement was located to the south of the current church, and in the later Anglo-Saxon period moved further to the southeast.

TP11 with members of the Riseley Historical Society

TP11 with members of the Riseley Historical Society

Lots of interesting finds came from this year’s HEFA. Test Pit 8 on the High Street uncovered a Victorian rubbish pit which contained not only loads of tile, but glass bottles, a porcelain bell, a pendulum etc.; a very interesting collection of Victoriana!

Lots of tile at TP8

Lots of tile at TP8

But, the aims of HEFA are many and once the practical archaeological portion had been completed, it was time to learn more about higher education. Students spent Day 3 of the HEFA at the University of Cambridge. They learned about how their hard work contributes to ongoing university research, including the study of Currently Occupied Rural Settlements, and how to develop and deploy skills for life, learning and employment such as data analysis, communication skills and team working. Carenza’s lecture on the CORS project was commented on afterwards: “I enjoyed gaining knowledge on previous settlements and the way in which they have developed in the UK.” (RA)

Nina checks out the finds tray

Nina checks out the finds tray

HEFA students also had the opportunity to tour around and have lunch at one of the colleges here at Cambridge: Peterhouse, Robinson, Pembroke and Emmanuel. Students always enjoy this opportunity and specifically commented in feedback, “I enjoyed having the tour of the university to find out a bit more about what uni life is like, especially at Cambridge, from someone with first-hand experience.” (FH)

TP1 hit the clay early on

TP1 hit the clay early on

After lunch, Dr Sam Lucy, admissions officer for Newnham College, gave a presentation about life at university, the University of Cambridge and future choices. Comments afterwards included, “I now understand what A-Levels to take and why to take them.” (JP) and “I’ve gained lots of information about university life and things to consider when applying to university.” (FH)



This was followed by a presentation on how to structure and present a written account of the excavation by Dr Jenni French, Research Fellow at Peterhouse. The mark scheme and additional information about the written assignment can be found here.

In feedback after the HEFA, 95% of participants rated the event as “Excellent” or “Good”. General comments in feedback from the students included, “I was not expecting to have so much independence when it came to digging the pit and this made the experience all the more enjoyable.” (BT), “The people were lovely, the instructions were clear, good fun!!” (RH) and “I enjoyed doing something new and different and creating for myself a new experience and using my creative thinking skills to guess what objects were.” (BG). Staff commented, “Excellent outreach programme to open eyes of prospective university students.” (BW) and “The students have gained not only transferable skills, but have been enlightened about the high expectations and demands of Cambridge University.” (IM)

An extra helper at TP5

An extra helper at TP5

ACA would like to thank the students and staff of all the schools involved, the supervisors and the residents of Riseley for making this another successful HEFA. Special thanks go to Michael for organising the pits and to Radha for coordinating the students and staff.

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