Posted by: archaccess | May 30, 2013

Clare Castle Day 8 – Thoughts on Trench A as digging finishes

Well the last full day’s digging has now been completed. Just the final recording, finds washing and backfilling to go (well, with just a little more last-minute race-to-the-bottom digging on one trench). The writing-up stage of the Clare Castle dig when we’ll have had the chance to identify, consult, review and compile all the evidence, will inevitably change a few of our hot-off-the-trench interpretations of the archaeology, but here’s an upsum from today for Trench A. Reports from other trenches will follow as soon as I have a moment (the final hours of a dig tend to be very busy, hence there are no films from today as we just haven’t had a moment to take any film)

Trench A – hmm, very interesting (again). The supposed rectilinear feature has been shown to be the top of a sandy orange natural deposit (possibly itself re-deposited during medieval digging or building), which has been steeply cut away on the west side. This ‘natural’ seems to reappear about 4m to the west, and the cut into it is at least 1.5m deep (we haven’t been able to get to the bottom in time available). It may be a quarry pit (dug to provide material for constructing the earthworks of the motte and bailey castle. Alternatively, it may be a ditch, as there are signs of a bank built up on its eastern side. This area is close to the original entrance linking the inner and out castle baileys and so a bank and ditch here might be part of elaborate earthworks built to embellish and protect the entranceway linking the two parts of the castle. The ditch/pit contained several fills rich in animal bone and pottery. Most of this is yet to be dated (actually, quite a lot of it is yet to be washed!), but it may contain some earlier wares than previously found in this trench. If so, this will be the first evidence we have for pre-late 13th century activity in this part of the site – and if further thoughts do indicate that the cut is indeed a ditch, then it will look very much like new evidence for an earlier layout of the earliest castle. One of the fills of this feature is a very black ashy layer contianing slag, which looks like evidence for metal-working on this site.

Trench A section Day 8

Trench A as the excavation finished (above). The trench itself  is the central lower area, with the rangin pole across the middle (the area around the edge of this is the 1m wide step we cut on Tuesday to keep the trench safe as it got deeper).  The section in Trench A showing the steep slope of the pit/ditch which cuts into the orange layer on the right-hand side of the centre, with this just visible reappearing on the left-hand side (an unexcavated baulk occupies the middle of the trench).  Successive fills of this ditch/pit are light brown, black and light grey.  These contained huge amounts of dmoestic refuse, with the black layer seemingly also containing waste from light industry, possibly iron-working/smithing.

And finally, Trench A did eventually produce a few human bones. They were all from feet, all disarticulated and all jumbled within layers with 13th/14th century domestic refuse, so appear likely to come from an earlier burial (or burials) on the site which was/were disturbed in the 13th or 14th century. On balance of probability, these are therefore likely to be pre-Norman, as we would expect that any burials post-dating the late 11th century (when the Clare estate passed into the hands of the family who continued to own it until the late 14th century) would have been respected. It’s also likely these bones are from the same source as the previously found human bones from near this trench, as the bones we found are exactly the sort – small and not obviously human to the untrained eye – which are missing from the earlier collection, which has now been returned to Clare.

A great week’s excavation on Trench A and thanks to everyone who took part as volunteer on this – and to Access Cambridge Archaeology’s Cat Ranson for her superb supervision of this excavation, especially in the somewhat trying wet conditions over several days!

Carenza Lewis

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