Clare 2 – Day 1

Well, today was the first day of our second excavation at Clare Castle this year – following up the discovery in May of human burials in the area where we feared the pre-modern archaeology might have been entirely destroyed by the railway line. The presence of at least two burials in the area west of the platform stirred up a huge amount of interest and raised a number of questions (listed on the previous post with the dig handout). For those reasons the Managing a Masterpiece project (funed by the Heritage Lottery Fund) managed to find resources for another community excavation to try and answer some of those questions – or at least, in the short time available, to provide some more evidence for interpretation and management of the site in the future. Out of the larger number of local people who applied to volunteer on the dig, we were able to give 21 places, with all these taking part for the whole five-day duration of the dig, enabling volunteers to see the whole process through from start to finish.

We made an excellent start today, despite the somewhat inclement weather! Knowing from the May excavations that the medieval archeology in this part of the site is covered by half a metre or so of 19th and 20th century ballast meant that we could take off this material with a mini-digger, saving a huge amount of back-breaking work which was mostly dug by hand in May!

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The mini-digger begins to remove the top-spoil and railwayballast, watched by the earliest of the volunteers to arrive on site

By mid-morning this had been removed from the whole of the 10m x 3m trench, and the volunteer team could begin trowelling across the exposed surface to see what medieval features might be present.

It quickly became apparent that there are at least two more burials in the new trench, and possibly several more. This confirms our suspicions that the cemetery continues beyond the area of the two burials we found previously – the new trench is 10m from the old one, which gives us a better idea of the minimum size of the cemetery. Obviously it could go a lot further, but we won’t be able to find out how far from this excavation!

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Archaeological supervisor Cat Ranson talks with volunteers about the features appearing in the trench

Just as exciting (possibly even more so) , are some hints of possible building footings in the form of discrete spreads of chalky/mortar-rich material, which may be from walls.

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Features at the south end of the trench included a white feature which may be the remains of a wall and, immediately to its left, a smaller, darker feature which may be a grave cut

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Volunteers trowelling across the newly-exposed trench, looking south. The white patches may be strctural remains, perhaps relating to walls or column bases.

By the end of the day, there were also signs of an earlier pit becoming apparent.

So the good news is that there are a lot of archaeological features in this small trench, and they are exactly the sort we were hoping for, as they relate very directly to what turned up before and so will help us find out more about the questions we are most interested in. So there’s a lot for everyone to work over the next four days! And for today, many thanks especially to everyone who helped put up the gazebos which provided some shelter from the morning’s rain!

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