Clare Castle excavations, Day 7 (Wednesday 29th May)

The penultimate full day’s digging on the Clare Castle dig again saw many new discoveries and more evidence uncovered which will help us understand more about this important site.

Tench A has once again proved finds-rich but remains tantalising. As the day dawned with heavy rain, this trench, with a clay layer across its base, proved a challenge for all those digging as boots grew heavy with mud at every step. A large team including five under-16 year-olds rose manfully to this challenge, determinedly searching the excavated spoil for even the smallest finds. Gradually the grey clay layer was exposed across the whole of the trench, with very little in the way of artefactual evidence to indicate it wasn’t the natural, although the trench seems too high for this to be likely at this point. Yesterday’s rectilinear feature was cleaned up and shown not to be a grave cut, although we are not yet sure what it was as it has not been completely excavated yet. Immediately to its south a dark deposit was revealed which contained large sherds of green-glazed 13th – 14th pottery century and lots of animal bone. This deposit has now been shown to continue westwards across the trench, underneath the grey clay layer (which we can now clearly see is not the natural).

Trench B had another great day, with the two cut features in the south of the trench now looking like three or possibly four separate (but associated) features of late Anglo-Saxon of early Norman date – we are now confident that by tomorrow we will finally be able to say what these are… At the other (north) end of the trench a section across the deposit these features cut into produced numerous flint flakes of late Neolithic or Bronze Age date and nothing later, indicating that this area was occupied in the prehistoric period, but not thereafter until at least the ninth century.

In Trench C, Alex Pryor has taken over from Jessica for a couple of days. Despite having recently dug in Libya, he was typically undeterred by the cold wet weather in Clare today or the groundwater now present in a trench dubbed ‘the swamp’ by one of the volunteers! Or, indeed, by the fact that it is looking increasingly likely that most, if not all, of the excavated features are of modern date. A plastic Capri-Sun drink sachet found within the make-up of the bank, about 20cm below its top, is clearly of no great antiquity(!). Looking on the positive side, this does mean we know more about the date of the feature than before, and it remains possible that these later deposits are piled up on top of earlier ones which will be revealed in excavation tomorrow. However, if we’re honest, this is now looking unlikely! A great demonstration of the value of community archaeology such as the Clare dig was however given during the 3.30 pm site tour when one local resident visiting the excavations offered to bring in an aerial photograph, apparently from the early 20th century, when the area was clear of trees, which may help us interpret what we are seeing in the trench in its wider context.

In Trench D a 0.5m wide section has been cut across the spread of light-coloured gravel along the side of the mostly robbed-out wall. Yesterday we were not sure if this was a gravelled terrace outside the building or the footings for the wall, but the section has shown that it is a shallow gravel path, lined on the side away from the wall with a tiled border. At the other end of Trench D, a largish post-hole has been found, close to the far end of the robbed-out wall. Excavation of the post-hole showed it to be packed with stones and a Tudor brick: the use of this final item is particularly useful as it obviously great dating evidence for the post hole, which we think is part of temporary scaffolding erected in order to demolish the building in the 16th century. This, of course, dates to the same period as the Cistercian ware cup sherd found on Monday, presumed then to be dropped by a thirsty Tudor demolition worker. We just hope he hadn’t consumed too much of the ale it’s likely to have contained when he went up the scaffolding!

Tomorrow will see the last full day’s digging. Let’s hope the weather is kind to us – and the archaeology equally so…

Carenza Lewis

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