Saffron Walden Common Dig Day 5

What an amazing day!

By the end of the day, in Trench 1 the bottom of the ditch had been reached, with enough time remaining to clean up the section.  Reaching the bottom of the ditch was the hoped-for aim for today, so everyone’s pleased it’s been achieved.  This is testament to the fanstastic efforts made by the Trench 1 team, who have managed to dig better and faster with every successive day on site.  The ditch which has been revealed is now clearly evident as a beatiful V-shaped feature  cut around 2m deep into the natural chalk geology.   100% sieving of the spoil from the ditch showed the 1m wide excavated slot to contain few finds, with just a few few fragments of animal bone found, pig being the most common identifiable species, providing proof (as if it were needed!) that this is a man-made feature.   There is little else with which to date this section of the ditch, which seems to have been kept thoroughly cleaned out while it was in use.

Trench 1 is now ready for planning and section drawing, which will enable the students to experience another part of the archaeological process and learn a whole new range of skills.

The Trench 1 team with archaeological supervisor Cat Ranson celebrate their completed excavation, with the V-shaped profile of the ditch clearly visible in front of them in the section of the trench.

But it was Trench 2 which was the real star of the day today.  Everyone on site, including visitors, and anyone following this blog will be aware that this trench has been something of a challenge – the ditch is not as clearly defined in this trench, and at times it was even difficult to be certain that the feature being dug was indeed a ditch at all!  Like the ditch in Trench 1, it had produced virtually no finds at all.  But today, Trench 2 came up trumps…

Archaeological supervisor Jessica Rippengal watches carefully over excavation of the ditch in Trench 2, with the gently curving bands of successive fills visble in the section

…As the Trench 2 diggers, like those in Trench 1, put in another  superb collective effort using their increasingly well-honed mattocking skills to good effect to shift a huge amount of spoil, the sides of the ditch, faint at first, became increasingly clear.  It is defined by a silty brown deposit of a  buried soil/turf  line, similar, although fainter, to that in Trench 1.   This was encouraging, even if this trench, like Trench 1, continued to produce very few finds, even with 100% of the spoil sieved.  However, with perfect dramatic timing (just before we were due to be visited by BBC Radio Essex!), the silt in the very bottom of the ditch began to reveal: pottery sherds!  Even better, it produced lots of  them, many of which are large and completely unabraded, showing they haven’t been moved around in the soil at all.  Several are adjoining sherds from the same vessel, many still coated with soot from the last time they were used as cooking pots still clearly visible on the outer sides.  Perserverance by the Trench 2 students and supervisors had been rewarded in the best possible way by finding exactly the evidence we were hoping for (dateable artefacts) – but had begun to suspect might simply not be there!

Two of the students excavating Trench 2 finding some of the first sherds of medieval pottery in Trench 2

Provisional examination suggests the pottery sherds are likely to be 12th – 13th century AD in date – if so, they will date to the period when the castle was built, and consitute the best possible evidence that the ditch we’ve found is indeed part of the outer bailey of the castle, showing that it really did run across the top of the Common.  A long-standing theory will finally have been proved!

The Trench 2 team proudly showing off their medieval finds

Pottery from Ditch in T2
And here is some of the pottery itself.  The black colour of many of the sherds on the left of the image is the soot from cooking still adhering to the outer surfaces.

Digging will continue in Trench 2 early tomorrow, as the bottom of the ditch needs to be more clearly defined, and its southern side is still proving a puzzle, while at the very southern end of the trench some other mysterious features, much shallower, are still being investigated. More on that tomorrow…

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