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Hen Caerwys
14th July
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18th July

Hen Caerwys Dig Diary, 2011


This Dig Diary gives progress of the excavations at Hen Caerwys deserted medieval village in Flintshire, over a long weekend in July. The dig was run by Cadw and Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust with help from local volunteers.

Thursday 14th July 2011

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2011

Removing the topsoil.

The first day of our short excavation. Hen Caerwys spreads over several acres, and knowing where to start presents the first problem. We’re leaving the house sites for the present and looking instead at a rectangular enclosure that occupies a part of the plateau behind the houses and is outlined by a wide but low bank which can be seen in the accompanying photograph. It is probably later than the fields belonging to the settlement, for in one place it appears to have been built over a field boundary.

We’ve decided to investigate the bank by opening a trench over the top of it and down into the interior of the enclosure, where recently a geophysical survey revealed a vague mark (or more technically an anomaly) which could represent traces of a house site but equally might signal no more than a change in the nature or depth of the soil.

Our trench is around 15m long and 3m wide and our community volunteers, mostly from the Caerwys area but several from further away, have spent a hot day mattocking and shovelling off a matting of vegetation roots and topsoil. They have revealed the upper surface of the stone bank around the enclosure, and have made a start on removing the deposits of stone and soil inside the enclosure. How deep these are, we have no idea, but we should have a better idea tomorrow.

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Friday 15 July 2011

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2011

The structure of the bank exposed.

Good progress today. With around ten local volunteers working in the warm weather, we have continued to clear the interior of the enclosure within the trench. In places we appear to have reached the bedrock, flattish, fissured limestone. The overlying soil is thin, in places less than 20cm deep, and regrettably there is no trace of any medieval activity in this part of the interior. Outside the enclosure bank we have reached the bedrock (see the slab-like limestone in the front of our photograph), and the rubble and soil that overlay this produced the first find of the excavation – but not one that was expected for it was a prehistoric flint fragment.

We have left the bank itself untouched, other than for some cleaning, in order to plan it, hence the tape and the metal grid planning frame in the photo. There are hints in the appearance of the bank rubble that it may have been faced with slabs in the front, and perhaps too at the back, with small rubble fragments forming the core. So it may have been a wall rather than a bank, and work over the weekend should confirm this.

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Saturday 16 July 2011

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2011

Visitors enjoying a talk from Will Davies. .

The first of our two open days — more than fifty people turned out in better weather than had been promised by the forecasters. In the trench through the enclosure, the interior has been almost entirely cleared of soil down on to the natural limestone, the surrounding bank has been planned and photographed and we have started to remove some of the collapsed material on its outside in the anticipation that we’ll encounter a wall face.

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2011

We have also opened another trench, this one in the area where the excavations took place in the 1960s. The results from one excavated house site were published in late 1979, but it was only very recently that we realised that a second house was also examined in that early period of digging. We believe that this second house lay quite close to the first, but only a few notes and rough plans survive for the second house, and the purpose of our new trench is to tie in what remains on the ground with what is shown on one of the plans. The initial signs are promising, but tomorrow will hopefully confirm our assumptions.

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Sunday 17 July 2011

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2011

Some very wet archaeologists open up a small extension to the main excavation. .

We have been less fortunate today. The heavens opened mid-morning and it rained continuously up until the time we left the site. Remarkably our community volunteers still came to dig and despite the appalling conditions kept in good humour throughout the afternoon – and we had another 18 visitors.

The main trench is now almost complete. Limestone bedrock has been exposed on both sides of the enclosure bank and the bank itself is gradually being removed. We have also opened a small extension to the trench (see photo) further into the enclosure in order to examine another anomaly noted in the geophysics survey, which could represent an earlier field bank that crossed the site.

In the second trench sporadic wall foundations are interrupted by spreads of rubble which could be collapsed material, but this remains to be established, and we’re still not absolutely certain that we are in the correct place for the second house whose rough plans were encountered in the archives recently.

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Monday 18 July 2011

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2011

Work continues

The last day of our short excavation which fortunately remained dry for much of the day. In the main trench we removed some of the bank but unfortunately didn’t have the time to complete the excavation. There’s still no sign of a wall face to the bank and it appears on present appearance to have been largely a dump of limestone rubble, though one that was originally higher than it is now, for there is a considerable amount of collapsed material on either side of it. The trench has now been backfilled and the profile of the earthwork returned to its former state, but we laid down polythene across the trench (see photo) so that we can quickly find the level that we had reached, when or if we return to excavate in a future year.

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2011

In the small extension to the main trench which featured in yesterday’s photo, we could find no trace of the earlier filed bank, but we did encounter a distinctive change in the bedrock that almost certainly accounts for the geophysics anomaly. On a positive note, we found a small horseshoe in this area yesterday and didn’t give much thought to it (see photo). But a bit of research in the evening suggests that it could be of a medieval type – it will need to be seen by a specialist to confirm that this is the case.

In the second trench, we cleaned up the walls a little more and exposed a layer of compacted limestone rubble across almost the entire trench. A small cutting through the rubble suggests that it may be bedded down in a light-brown clay-like soil that could be of natural origin, but again we’ll have to wait until next year to find out.



The future

We’ve now finished the dig, at least for this year, but it’s not the end of our interest in Hen Caerwys. On an optimistic note, it’s perhaps more a beginning. There is much that we still have to learn about this settlement site, about the landscape around it, and the past work that has been done here. Over the winter months we plan to do small pieces of research when time allows, and we thought we would keep readers up to date by expanding our dig diary into a project diary. Probably every fortnight we’ll add a short piece to the diary, so on or about 1st August look out for our first contribution. And if you have any thoughts or ideas about Hen Caerwys, or know anything about its past history, do drop us an email, either to Will (at Will.Davies@Wales.GSI.Gov.UK) or Bob (at bobsilvester@cpat.org.uk).

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2011

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