The second day of the ‘Return to Clare’ dig started with a decision to extend the trench by just over 1 square metre. Despite the hard work this was going to involve (the mini-digger no longer being on site), we decided this was a good idea in order to allow us to see at least one burial in its entirety. As all the remains we uncovered yesterday looked as if they would disappear into the section at either the head or the feet end, this was only going to be possible with an extension. So we set to work moving back the spoil heap around the planned extension and then assigned a crack team to digging out the layers of modern make-up associated with the railway. Many congratulations to Dave, Martin, Roger, Tom and Aldous, who completed the lion’s share of the digging on this, with great good humour and equally great technique used to great effect.
While the extension was being dug, the rest of the team finished off cleaning up the surface of the trench so it could be planned mid-morning. Several areas of the trench have spreads of moratr, chalk or flint which contrast with other areas which are entirely free of these, and we wanted to record this before we began excavating any other features, in case they relate to the presence of structures which have left no other sub-surface trace. Once this was completed, work commenced on excavating two of the possible grave cuts and three other features which appear to be more structural. These yielded a number of surprises!
It rapidly became clear that the first burial had been extensively disturbed in antiquity: the skull was far too far away from the humerus (upper arm bone) and far too close to the pelvis, and turned out to be piled together with several other bones and teeth (of both human and animal origin) and a bit of burnt detritus in the centre of a small pit. It looks as if this pit, which was itself dug in the medieval period, disturbed the burial and left the bones it disturbed in the bottom. The only part of the burial which appears in situ is the left humerus, and a few of the left ribs. We deduce from this pattern of disturbance that the burial must be earlier in date than the pit.
The second burial, indicated by the presence of a skull, has not yet been excavated as this is where the extension was dug, but by the end of the day the overburden had all been removed leaving this ready to be excavated tomorrow. A third suspected grave cut turend out to contain no evidence for human bone, and this is now interpreted as more likely to be a small ditch or foundation slot for a timber structure. On the subject of structures, we also found a small post hole in the northern end of the trench, an area largely devoid of human remains.
A further grave cut was more unexpectedly revealed mid-trench on the edge of the suspected large pit. The burial here is more intact than the first, although it is notably lacking a skull. This was probably removed in antiquity when the burial was disturbed by one of the chalk/mortar features noted yesterday, which may be the base of a wall.
Overall then, by the end of today, it is looking as if the graves are generally relatively early in the sequence of medieval activity, pre-dating later building (possible) and activity of a generally domestic nature including pit digging in this part of the site. Although we have no conclusive dating evidence, this, along with the fact that most of the pottery from the graves found in May was Thetford Ware dating to 850-1100 AD, leads us to suspect that the graves may well be earlier than the post-Norman Conquest motte and bailey phase of the castle…