A few thoughts from the Archaeolgical Director at the end of another season

I thought it best to start with the castle excavation and post something on the Kaims later, as we will be continuing with this project till the end of the year.

A few things stand out when I look back on the summer. The appalling volume of rain that fell so consistently is certainly among them, but despite all the weather something else sticks in my mind and that is that despite all that the drenchings, mud and even floods it was amazing the way our staff and students kept their morale up and enjoyed themselves regardless. Thankfully we had plenty of productive, and even some sunny, days too.

We made steady progress in Trench 1 overall, and identifying what is likely to be the east side of the Middle Saxon timber building is a major step forward. After all, exposing the extent of the two buildings revealed in the original trench was the major reason we extended the trench to the gate cleft in the first place. As ever there were plenty of enigmatic features to make us scratch our heads too, a stone lined sunken feature, that could be a structure, probably the most perplexing. An intriguing puzzle for next season without a doubt.

The cut in the boulder clay that we think marks the eastern side of the Middle Saxon timber building in Trench 1.

Trench 3 has some of the most complex stratigraphy I have encountered as an archaeologist and has been a challenge for some years now. The trench lies in a cleft between two areas of raised bedrock and has been used as a dumping ground for waste material, which has raised the ground level up within the cleft, expanding the surface area available for occupation, a little at a time, in successive phases. Evidence from the last few seasons has pointed to this area being used as an industrial zone in the early medieval period.

A detailed understanding of the stratigraphy has been harder to pin down than this broad understanding. We know from the sections that some of the layers are uneven and that the surface has sloped in some periods. A factor which has caused us concern in the past, when distinguishing between layers has proved difficult. What is to stop us digging different phases together thinking they are one period? This year the often extremely wet weather has helped, as the moisture content of the layers has aided colour definition. It has been possible as a result of this to trace some of the stratigraphy in the northern part of the trench more clearly and get a better idea of the phasing.

The wall in the north-west corner seems to be a little later than the main part of the trench. As a result we concentrated much of our efforts in this area this season.  This structure has had two components to it. A substantial wall extending from the western limit of excavation and a thinner wall, at right angles to it, that extended from the bedrock in the north. This season we have identified a series of surfaces within the building, including a well-laid pebble surface that extended beneath the thinner wall, indicating that this was a partition and explaining the difference in scale between the two structural elements. There is a disturbed area separating the two walls, making a clear understanding of the building they define harder to come by. That said I think it likely that the main wall originally extended to an area of flat bedrock a short distance to the east. This would make the structure a little larger than originally thought with some 4m by 2m exposed within the trench. On its north side we have the bedrock slope that rises up beneath the windmill exposed, suggesting that the building, if this it what it was, had been constructed stepped onto the bedrock slope.

The NW corner viewed from the west. The more substantial wall crosses from the right of the photo and the partition from the left. You should be able to make out the pebble surface extending beneath the partion.

So what was it? Well I have had fantasies of a defensive tower, fanciful perhaps, but not entirely beyond the realms of the possible, given its relative proximity to the eastern edge of the fortress. We have no evidence of mortar construction associated with the walls so stone foundations for a timber building seems likely. One additional fact is also clear, the recovery of metal small finds in this north-west corner is much lower than that in the area of our ‘metalworking’ building. This is good evidence that we have structures with very different functions and likely of different phases too.  Our current interpretation is that the NW building is later in date than the middle 9th century and therefore a phase or more later than the ‘metalworking’ building.

A good season, which has left us with plenty of questions to get our teeth into next time.

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