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Hen Caerwys Dig Diary 2013


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This Dig Diary charts the progress of the second season of excavations at Hen Caerwys deserted medieval village in Flintshire. The excavation is taking place between the 24th June and 6th of July and is being run by Cadw and Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust with help from local volunteers.

Monday 24th June 2013

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

The digging starts . . . . .

It’s rather like the start of a new school term a new season at Hen Caerwys. Some familiar friends from the past couple of seasons, some new recruits visitng this important medieval settlement site in rural Flintshre for the first time. People milling around, discovering who’s who and getting a preliminary idea of what’s expected of them. So a tour of the site, an induction geared to health and safety and practical issues, and the ritual erection of the site tent, the same one as last year, but this year without the written instructions to confuse and mislead us.

And after the rise of the tent, the removal of spoil from last year’s trench 3, the excavation of a section across one end of a cottage set in its own enclosure which we didn’t quite have the time to complete in July of last year. So we unrolled plastic sheeting over it and a small mechanical digger then covered it over with earth and stone from the spoil heaps, quite a lot of earth and stone in fact as we are now finding. So we hope to finish uncovering it tomorrow so that we can then finish trowelling off the layer within the interior of the building, expand the original trench a little on the north-east side in order to expose more of what appears to be a compartment wall, and who knows perhaps recover more residual Roman pottery, one of the surprises of last year. We also plan to open up some other small trenches, all of course with scheduled monument consent from Cadw, but we’ll leave a description of these to future dig diary entries.

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Tuesday 25th June 2013

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Exposing the northern wall of one of the cottages.

For an archaeological dig, it’s difficult to beat the wooded glades of Hen Caerwys on a sunny summer day. And today has been such a day. There was still some of last year’s spoil to remove from Trench C across the cottage but this was largely completed by lunchtime, the only hold up being a family of very young fieldmice whose nest lay beneath the sheeting that we put over the cottage walls and interior at the end of last season. As we contend that this is an ecologically friendly excavation the mother mouse was left to her own devices, carrying her young to a safe bolt hole amongst the stones. By early afternoon as the photo shows, the northern wall of the cottage was looking much as it did last year with bare limestone outside it, and work had started on cleaning the less impressive southern wall. As you, the reader, can see, this isn’t an official excavation photo yellow buckets scattered around, brushes lying idle by the side of the trench, water bottles within easy reach. It reflects the excavation in progress, showing the site as it is actually is, not the immaculate site that is specifically tidied up for that final photograph that constitutes the permanent record.

And so to a new trench, E, in a part of the Hen Caerwys site that we haven’t examined before. There is a second group of house (or perhaps more strictly building) platforms at Hen Caerwys, remote from those further south which were known to the Flintshire Historical Society in the 1960s and where we had Trench B last year. The second group (off to the south-west of the cottage) have not as far we can tell been excavated before, and Trench E is set across one of the smaller platforms which shows signs of a building on it. At present all we have done is strip the trench of its matting of roots and grass, after Mike the owner of Hen Caerwys strimmed off the summer vegetation. Tomorrow we shall start cleaning up the exposed soils.

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Wednesday 26th June 2013

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Thomas, one of the student volunteers from the University of Chester, at work on one of the cottage walls.

Progress on all three trenches today - three because we have opened yet another new trench as a result of the enthusiastic turn out of our community volunteers.

In Trench C, the surface of the soil deposit in the interior of the cottage has been cleaned and a coupe of post-medieval potsherds have been recovered. The south wall of the cottage is now well-defined, certainly better than it was last year, and our photo shows Thomas, one of student volunteers from the University of Chester at work below the wall. Trench E across the platform is around 3m by 4m in size. Lots of limestone rubble has been exposed after the removal of the upper spread of soil - well we wouldn’t expect anything else at Hen Caerwys. But already some variation is beginning to show in the level of this material and we are wondering whether the floor within the building is stepped. To add to the interest, right next to the edge of the trench and close to where Will Davies (of Cadw) is trowelling there is a small next of wild bees. Our risk assessment may need to be revised!

And finally Trench F. Our first trench at Hen Caerwys in 2011 was across the bank of an enclosure, rectangular in shape but with rounded corners. My belief has always been that this was primarily a stock enclosure, probably associated with the cottage that we are examining in Trench C, though not everyone agrees with me. The only visible ‘relationship’ between the enclosure bank and another feature is with a field bank which appears to be of earlier date and was cut away when the enclosure was constructed. To test this we have decided to put a trench where the two intersect, in the hope (probably overly ambitious) that we can reveal one running under the other. At the moment all we have is a lot more limestone rubble, but we may find when we have put a section through the field bank that at least we have a buried soil beneath it.

And after the rise of the tent, the removal of spoil from last year’s trench 3, the excavation of a section across one end of a cottage set in its own enclosure which we didn’t quite have the time to complete in July of last year. So we unrolled plastic sheeting over it and a small mechanical digger then covered it over with earth and stone from the spoil heaps, quite a lot of earth and stone in fact as we are now finding. So we hope to finish uncovering it tomorrow so that we can then finish trowelling off the layer within the interior of the building, expand the original trench a little on the north-east side in order to expose more of what appears to be a compartment wall, and who knows perhaps recover more residual Roman pottery, one of the surprises of last year. We also plan to open up some other small trenches, all of course with scheduled monument consent from Cadw, but we’ll leave a description of these to future dig diary entries.

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Thurdsday 27th June 2013

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

We spent the day working on Trench E, supervised by the capable Cadw inspector Will Davies, the bee charmer. The weather wasn’t so good as the rain started pouring down around lunch, but morale stayed up (despite my glum face in the photo!) and we carried on through. Firstly we began to clean up any loose top soil and make the trench look presentable for record pictures. The trench was then divided into sections and we began to clear away stone in one section to gauge any differences in the layers. We also spent a large portion of the day hiding away in the trees from the rain, and the bees!

There was a great atmosphere in our trench today, which kept us motivated and enthusiastic. It was full of people sharing stories of previous digs and random tales. This is my (Mai’s) second year on the dig and it remains as fun as it did during the first year, even when the weather does not keep up. It is wonderful to be able to learn more about the site as the dig progresses.

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013


Mai and April, University of Sheffield.

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Friday 28th June 2013

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

In spite of some truly foul weather, work on Trench E continues apace, our dogged team of Alison, Stuart and Graham seemingly undeterred by hours of continuous ducking. This trench is located across one of the apparently undisturbed group of platform buildings to the south-west corner of the site, located in a similar position to those explored by the Flintshire Historical Society in the 1960s, and partially by us in 2011 and 2012. We are hoping that this building will provide comparative evidence for the construction of the house, its platform and, crucially its date and function from any finds that are recovered - are these platforms contemporary with the other group?

At the moment this is another tale of rubble filling an entire trench, in this case over a 4m-wide section across the width of the platform from wall to wall. This mostly sits amongst topsoil, suggesting that it represents the final collapse of the building but is beginning to become more compact as we gradually remove it. This will hopefully give way to a floor at some stage, although having looked at similar surfaces last year, there are nagging doubts about whether one has survived. We still have plenty of time to resolve this question.

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Saturday 29th June 2013

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Not so many volunteers today - it is Saturday after all. So we abandoned work on Trench F (see entry for 26th June) and concentrated on the other two trenches. It would by good to report that we are now clearer on what is happening in both as a result of the team’s efforts but I don’t think I have convinced myself that this is the case.

In Trench C - the cottage trench - we have removed more material from the interior of the building and are still undecided as to whether we have cut through the unrecognised (and unrecognisable) floor, which certainly seems more likely. The deposits that we are excavating contain darker patches which give the impression of disturbed ground, and there are anomalies which might be features or simply variations in a wholly natural subsoil. And in the second compartment over which we have extended last year’s excavation, we haven’t yet been able to detect a floor surface, nor are we convinced that we have found the face of the compartment wall.

In Trench E which Will reported on yesterday, a central baulk has been left in the trench and the rubble to either side of it is in the process of being removed. The picture should make this clearer. On the left Graham and Ed are cleaning up what looks suspiciously like natural limestone, though with little sign of a working floor above it, while at a higher level on the right Caroline and Alison are still exposing rubble which must be collapsed material. Very little medieval material has yet come to light - some bits of bone have been found, and also a fragment of prehistoric flint, but the medieval pottery that would confirm the date of the platform is annoyingly elusive.

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Sunday 30th June 2013

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Today Hen Caerwys became the centre of the universe for three young and budding archaeologists. Rowan, Daisy and James were the lucky winners of the Young Archaeologists Club ‘Dig it’ competition. Their prize was to gain their first experience of an archaeological dig and help us unravel the mysteries of this enigmatic site (as well as a YAC archaeologist’s tool roll and a Cadw goody bag). We spent the morning working as landscape detectives, following the various earthworks that reach out across the site (at times, round and round in circles) and, amidst the woodland, discovered hidden platform houses tucked into the hillside. Imaginations ran wild as to who lived in each house, who may have had an ‘extension’ tacked on at right angles to their house and what it might have been used for.

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

After lunch Trench F saw the main benefits of this new energy and fresh blood. The two banks (the north to south linear and the central enclosure) were exposed within the limits of the trench and we began to excavate a metre-wide slot through the north to south bank. If you need rubble removal specialists I can recommend three very capable individuals! The silt left behind was cleaned up admirably and the trench edges are now some of the straightest on the site! Our new recruits learnt about recording their work and levels have now been taken across a considerable area.

Slowly we’re beginning to understand the construction of this bank. The next task is to try and unravel the relationship between this and the main enclosure. Watch this space!

Caroline

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Monday 1st July 2013

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Some progress in all three trenches today. In the cottage trench (C), we have finally confirmed to our satisfaction that the ‘features’ that we have been cleaning and puzzling over within the walls of the building are of natural origin. Some may have been no more than variations in the natural subsoil while one could have been the disturbance left by a tree bole and root system, many centuries before the cottage was built. This means that when we have completed one or two small pieces of excavation on C and drawn the main section, we will have finished with this trench.

In trench E on the medieval building platform we are now down to the natural bedrock in one part of the excavation (with, in our picture, Will Davies standing on it whilst planning) and in the other part (here being excavated by Mai and April) we are still in rubble collapse but there are also indications of a more compact stony layer which could be a floor surface. Not, I think, that we are in a house. I suspect this may have been an ancillary structure such as a barn, although Will may not agree with me.

And finally in Trench F, Caroline has pretty well finished cutting a section through the north to south bank which she reported on yesterday. There is no clearly defined buried soil layer beneath the bank, but intermittent patches suggest that originally there was one into which limestone rubble has subsequently been compacted. On top of the natural limestone was another prehistoric flint fragment. At this rate we shall end with more prehistoric material than medieval!

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Tuesday 2nd July 2013

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Laura managed to get all of the data that she needed despite the POURING rain!

Today Hen Caerwys hosted a forensic grave excavation experiment. Laura Evis from Bournemouth University was invited by Cadw to come and run her experiment at the Hen Caerwys site. Laura’s research is focused on forensic archaeology, and she specialises in testing excavation and recording methods for excavating forensic graves.

Having arrived at Hen Caerwys she was given a tour of the archaeological site, and was directed to the area in which she would be creating the simulated grave. Cadw had already dug out the grave and so all that was left to do was for Laura to backfill the pit with lots of different types of “evidence” – different soils and modern artefacts. After which Ian, one of Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust’s trusty archaeologists excavated the grave to try and find all of the evidence and work out how the grave had been created.

The experiment ran for a few hours and whilst the archaeologist was busy excavating, Laura stood over him and wrote notes and took photographs (see the picture). Every time a piece of evidence was found it was placed into a specialist forensic bag and stored away for later processing – just like on the television shows. Overall, the experiment was a great success, perhaps the most impressive fact was that they both stayed outside working whilst it was absolutely pouring with rain – that’s dedication.

Laura Evis

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Wednesday 3rd July 2013

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Will Davies of Cadw tells children from the local primary school all about the dig

With all the interest in Laura Evis’ experiment yesterday, we didn’t consider the other aspects of an eventful day. In fact, Old Caerwys met New Caerwys inasmuch as we had a visit from the local primary school. Investigating the remains left behind by their ancestors, the pupils were guided around the site by Will Davies. They identified the remains with skill and knowledge, inquisitively asking questions about the site and the methods used by the archaeologists. Their interest has now been sparked and future historic enquiries required by the curriculum will now be focused towards this local enigma.

Caroline

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Ken Brassil (National Museum of Wales) and and Fiona Gale (Denbighshire County Archaeologist) talk to Bob and Will

Yesterday and today work continued on Trench C, but we have almost finished there, and mostly it is the recording - in plan and section - that remains. Some questions, sadly, probably we won’t be able to answer, particularly the nature of the floor in the cottage. Quite a lot of effort is going into Trench E and today we were assisted by the new director the Clwyd-Powys Trust, Paul Belford, who seems to have enjoyed getting away from the office for a day (he took the second picture). More on Trench E tomorrow. Trench F is beginning to unravel the relationship between the main enclosure bank and the ‘field’ bank that runs up to meet it. A line of substantial limestone slabs revets the rubble of the enclosure bank, suggesting that the field bank is later as its rubble lies against the revetment. And to cap the last couple of days we have opened Trench H on one of the several lateral platforms (lying along the contours) that accompany the ordinary building platforms that lie at right angles to the contours. We have assumed that the lateral platforms were the bases for ancillary buildings on the evidence of one excavated here in the 1960s - hopefully Trench H may confirm this.

Caroline and Bob

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Thursday 4th July 2013

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Alison working on the revetment

Trenches E and F have provided the interest today. In the former a sizeable group of volunteers have been carefully stripping away the rubble within the building, and it now looks although we have finally got a gravely floor surface with some burnt material embedded in it. What is perhaps even more exciting is that we may have three post-holes, rounded sockets in the natural limestone two of which lie close to the centre of the building and a third by one of the walls where there could have been an entrance. Getting enthused by post-holes may seem a bit ‘anorakish’, but it’s worth remembering that we have now been searching for such features over two seasons. However, before we get too carried away, there could conceivably be other explanations for these small circular holes in the limestone - we need to find more.

Trench F you will recall has a line of upright slabs which look to be revetting the rubble of the bank of the rectangular enclosure on which we have expended a fair amount of effort over the three seasons that we have been at Hen Caerwys. Our photo shows Alison at work on the revetment. On the basis of the site plan we (or perhaps I should say ‘I’, because I’m not certain that Will Davies shared my view) thought that the enclosure had been laid over the top of an earlier field bank. A couple of days ago it looked as though the relationship was the other way around - the revetment slabs held back the enclosure bank with the field bank rubble piled against it, implying that the latter was a later feature. But now there’s another possibility - the field bank rubble seems to run under the revetment slabs which returns us to the original hypothesis that the field bank is earlier. Unless, of course the revetment slabs were a later insertion?!

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Friday 5th July 2013

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

A nice clean trench

The penultimate day of Hen Caerwys 2013, and we are beginning to wind down this season’s work. Last year was marked by a pandemonic last day with lots of recording still to do, an open day for visitors and a site to close down - determined that this year will be different!

Trench C is finished. My colleague, Ian, completed the final the recording there yesterday. Will’s Trench E has been cleaned up again (see the image) and the recording of sections and updating of site context records is underway. In Trench F Caroline has also been recording the dumps of stone, the sections through them and the revetment slabs shown in yesterday’s picture. And in Trench H on the lateral platform we have removed much of the overlying topsoil and are down to limestone rubble across almost all of the excavation, allowing us tomorrow to protect the site with sheeting before covering it over until next year.

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Saturday 6th July 2013

The last day, so to round off the dig diary we’re showing a selection of images of people at work from the last couple of weeks. We hope that you’ve enjoyed keeping up with what we’ve been doing - we hope to return next year!

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Ian and Tom digging Laura’s grave pit

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Ian photographing a wall of the cottage (Trench C), watched by Irene

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Caroline ponders on what to do next in Trench F

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Laura explains to Mike why she has filled half a pit with sand

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Caroline balances cautiously beside Trench F, admirably supported by Keith

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Neil, James and Irene get to grips with Trench H

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Irene plans more stones in H

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

The excavators at rest

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Ian planning in Trench C

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Tom and Chris recording Trench F

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Rachel drawing a section in Trench E

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

Rachel, Chris and Caroline admire Will’s drawing technique

CPAT photo, Hen Caerwys, 2013

The Hen Caerwys tent team show how to take a tent down in ten minutes flat

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Bob Silvester & Will Davies


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