Dunwich Dig – Day 8

Day 8 of our Touching the Tide funded dig at Dunwich began with more glorious sunshine and some new faces, including several young volunteers.

Carrying on from where yesterday’s blog left off, John and his stalwart team now have a clearer understanding of the road extension, put in to explore the hollow-way and find road surface(s). As the archaeology seemingly implied the day before, the extension does indeed contain a medieval clay floor with several deposits underneath, including a potentially pre-Norman Conquest layer. This deposit sits on the natural and contained a high percentage of Thetford ware – a pottery type that was unhelpful made either side of 1066, although John (our resident pottery expert) believes that an earlier date is more likely in this case.

Thetford ware from Trench 3's extension
Thetford ware from Trench 3’s extension

All of this is very interesting, yet distinctly un-road like. It now seems that if St. James’s Street is a modern descendent of a medieval road, as suggested by the location of St. James’ Leper Hospital at its western end, then it did not continue along the line of the presently visible hollow-way, which must be post-medieval in date.

Down in the car park, Trench 4 volunteers managed the herculean effort of backfilling the western, watery half of the trench (slot A). Whilst vast quantities of soil were being shifted, digging continued in slot B. The pottery coming up from this deep slot may contain a greater proportion of Thetford ware, although before the wet black soil has been washed off them, all pottery identification is more speculative then certain.

Backfilling Trench 4 - Cat and Fran's herculean effort to shift mountains of soil!
Backfilling Trench 4 – Cat and Fran’s herculean effort to shift mountains of soil!

With Trenches 1 and 2 closed, everyone else spent today busily digging test pits. After a promising start yesterday, Test Pit 5 in the woods south of Greyfriars continued down for around a metre before hitting the natural geology and was filled with much medieval pottery. The lack of later finds suggests that this test pit along the Middlegate hollow-way contained undisturbed medieval deposits. Test Pit 5 was also joined by Test Pit 8, opened 30m further north and nearer to Greyfriars monastery; finds of less pottery and more roof tile in Test Pit 8 hint that changes in land use occurred in relation to Greyfriars and/ or a medieval road underneath the current hollow-way.

Jess's test pits south of Greyfriars
Jess’s test pits south of Greyfriars

Moving back within the town boundary, excellent progress was made on the series of test pits spaced at 10m intervals between Trenches 2 and 3. Started yesterday, Test Pits 6 and 7 nearest to Trench 2 also revealed relatively shallow topsoil above bright yellow natural sand. With an enthusiastic group of volunteers, including two keen future archaeologists, the next two test pits (9 and 11 – there is some logic behind the numbering system!) were opened up this morning and, due to speedy digging, Test Pit 12 was even started after lunch.

Test pit excitment with a keen future-archaeologist!
Test pit excitment with a keen future-archaeologist!

As predicted, the archaeological deposits became increasingly deeper as we moved towards Trench 3. Interestingly, a relatively high quantity of animal bone (mostly sheep-sized) came up from the bottom of Test Pit 11, along with a mixture of medieval and post-medieval pottery. Whilst still very disturbed and mixed up, it looks like the test pits are moving towards areas of occupation, as the animal bone and larger sherds of pottery in Test Pit 11 appear to have travelled around in the ground less than the heavily worn pottery found in Test Pits 6 and 7.

The final new venture of the day was Test Pit 10, dug in the back garden of one of the Coastguard Cottages due to a kind offer from the owner. The cottage sits on a rise near the present cliff edge to the south of the beach café, between Trenches 3 and 4, and is thought to be the location of The Hospital of the Holy Trinity (also known as Maison Dieu). Given that test pits are only a metre square, it is unsurprising that no structural remains of the hospital were found. Instead, Test Pit 10 did what test pits do best – provide an insight into the depth and date of deposits in a particular area. Continuing for circa 1m before reaching natural, the archaeological layers in Test Pit 10 went back to the early medieval period, with sherds of Thetford ware appearing in the bottom deposit. Along with the Thetford ware from Trenches 3 and 4, it seems that around the time of the Norman Conquest, the occupation of western Dunwich lay in the area closest to the harbour.

Map of all trench and test pit locations
Map of all trench and test pit locations

The archaeology of medieval Dunwich is beginning to reveal some of its story and it will be sad to leave tomorrow (although whether everyone will still feel the same after the mountains of backfilling that await us tomorrow remains to be seen… ). It’s always fantastic to be able to introduce more people to archaeology, but it was a particular privilege today to be the first dig that our two young volunteers have been on – if today is anything to go by, we may all be out of a job in a few years time!

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