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DIG DIARY FOR PORTHCLEW CHAPEL EXCAVATION, AUGUST 2009

Introduction

Following on from the excavation in 2008, the Dyfed Archaeological Trust are undertaking a second season of excavation at Porthclew chapel, Freshwater East. The site is proving to be very interesting and is shedding important light on early medieval chapel sites in Pembrokeshire!


Last year we investigated several enclosure ditches surrounding the remains of the chapel, and tried to establish the extent of the cemetery. Carbon dates from these ditches suggest they date from 550AD to 810AD and 1010AD. So now we know the site does have early medieval origins.

This year we hope to investigate several intruiging features shown on the geophysical survey, which we suspect may be part of a settlement surrounding the chapel. What we don’t know is how old the settlement may be and how it relates to the early medieval ditches.

Following a few hitches, this year's dig diary is now up and running, so if you can’t visit the excavation itself (there is a tour every day except Thursdays at 3 pm until August 21st) visit the dig diary to catch up on developments and discoveries!

The project is funded by Cadw and run by the Dyfed Archaeological Trust and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.

Dig Diary Porthclew Excavation 2008

 


Having already located and opened the trenches with a JCB, the digging begins.


The sense of déjà vu is added to by some familiar weather!


But despite the weather, we make a start cleaning up the trenches to discover what lurks below.

Day 1 - Monday August 3rd

This year the team includes archaeology students from Nottingham, Cardiff and Lampeter universities, and local volunteers, many of whom also with us last year.

 

 


Cleaning up in Trench 2

Day 2 - Tuesday August 4th

Another damp day, but despite this we continue cleaning the trenches and begin to excavate some features. This year we are concentrating on some curious shapes visible on the geophysics survey from last year. We hope trenches B and D will reveal evidence of buildings, possibly a settlement associated with the chapel and cemetery. In both trenches we discover sandy areas that may be evidence of the buildings we hope to find. The other three trenches (C,E and F) are smaller and have been placed to find out about other intruiguing features on the geophysics survey. Trench A is being held in reserve.






 


Each layer we excavate is given a ‘context’ number and its characteristics are recorded on a ‘context sheet’.


The edges of each feature that is discovered is drawn to create a plan of the site.

Day 3 - Wednesday August 5th

At last the weather has improved and we can make good progress cleaning and excavating to clarify what types of features are revealed in the trenches.




 

 


Our first day off, and the team hit the beach!

Day 4 - Thursday August 6th





 

 



In trench C we are hoping to find part of a possible livestock enclosure and another feature suggested by the geophysical survey.


In Trench B we have uncovered the top of a curving wall and a spread of rubble. Underneath is a thick layer of wind blown sand. Could this be part of a building?


In the rest of the trench several stone lined ‘Cist’ graves and ditches are becoming apparent. These too are buried underneath a thick layer of sand.


Members of the Pembrokeshire Detectors club visited the site to scan the spoil heaps for missed finds...


...
and discovered a medieval belt decoration from Trench D!!

 

Day 5 - Friday August 7th

We start to investigate the smaller trenches.






 

 



In Trench D, there is also an area of sand which may hide part of another building, first, however, we are investigating some other curious patches of sandy soil to see if they are significant.


In Trench F work begins on what at first looked like a cow skeleton, but is now looking more complicated!


In Trench B we start to remove the sand from inside the possible stone walled building.

Day 6 - Saturday August 8th

 





 

 



Half of the sand has now been removed from the possible building in Trench B. A dark organic layer of sand lies just above the floor and there is evidence of a fireplace on the edge of the trench.


In Trench D we continue to clean and carefully excavate, but it is proving very difficult to identify features and the hoped for building is beginning to look doubtful.

Day 7 - Sunday August 9th





 

 



The floor of the building in Trench B has been completely revealed and is looking impressive.


In the rounded corner of the house there is a fireplace indicated by a round black stain. The large rock in the wall is probably intentionally placed to act as a fire-back for reflecting heat. To the right of the fireplace, the gap in the wall is probably a ‘smoke-hole’ to allow smoke from the fire to escape. The house is cut into the surrounding ground so the floor is below the ground level outside the building. Charcoal from the hearth will enable us to date the building.


While cleaning the floor we find a small pierced stone disc. This may be a loom weight.

Day 8 - Monday August 10th






 

 



Today we were visited by a group of volunteers who are involved in a new project called ‘Arfordir’. This project intends to involve local volunteers in monitoring and recording the effects of coastal erosion (you can find details here). The group were introduced to the various techniques and procedures of archaeological excavation.


In Trench C we begin to investigate some possible post-holes that may be part of another building. The tops of these features contained a lot of bone and pieces of green-glazed medieval pottery.


In Trench E we have located the possible livestock enclosure ditch, but it is not very substantial. Its fill contained limpet and winkle shells, which presumably were eaten by the ancient inhabitants of Porthclew.

Day 9 - Tuesday August 11th






 

 



The main trenches are really beginning to get very interesting and we continue to clarify the edges of several ditches and graves.


Having removed all the sand it now looks like we will have to remove a layer of stony rubble before the trench finally reveals its secrets!


In trench C we may have discovered part of a post-built building.


In Trench F the ‘cow skeleton’ has become a ditch; in fact it has become two ditches, with a later pit cut through the ditch fills. We have recovered many animal bones and shells from this trench, suggesting domestic rubbish was thrown into it. The latest theory is that this ditch marks the edge of the settlement area.


We also get visitors from locals and people holidaying in the area as news about the excavation spreads.

Day 10 - Wednesday August 12th





 

 


Day 11 - Thursday August 13th

Our Second well earned day off. Today some of the team have been taken on a sea Kayaking adventure by the owner of the Porthclew Chapel site.




 

 



The ditches and grave cuts in Trench B are now clear, and we can begin to excavate them.


In this picture we can see that a ditch has cut through one of the cist graves, revealing that it has a stone slab base.


Taking the bull by the horns, we decided to remove a layer of rubble in Trench D, that we thought was masking some features. And finally we can understand what is going on. It now seems that instead of one building, we have two buildings on top of each other. Both buildings are constructed with wooden posts. the ditches you can see in the picture would have contained wooden foundation beams on which the houses were built. The two houses are on different alignments , which is why the ditches in the photo below appear to cross eachother. It will be very interesting to find out if the wooden buildings are earlier in date than the stone walled building in Trench B.

Day 12 - Friday August 14th





 

 



We continue to look for post holes in Trench D, concentrating in the area around the clearest building. This was probably a yard area in which a variety of activities were carried out. We have found plenty of charcoal, animal bone and pottery in this area. What we really need, however, is more evidence to prove there is more than one building here.


In Trench F we have uncovered a layer of stones. At first we thought this might be the wall of a building, but closed investigation suggests the stones may be lying in the bottom of a third ditch on this alignment. This supports the idea that it may be an important boundary ditch.


In Trench B, we have excavated a shallow ditch that cuts through a cist grave. In the photo, the stone slabs on the bottom of the grave have been partly revealed. We now know that the ditch was cut at a later date than the burial, but how long ago…..?


O
nly further excavation will tell us the answers….

 

Day 13 - Saturday August 15th

 




 

 



Now that we are getting better at distinguishing archaeological features from the natural geology, we have one last look In Trench E, to see if we can spot any more features.


In Trench D we catch up with drawing and recording the ditches and post-holes.


In Trench F, the newly discovered ditch is added to the plans.


In Trench B it now appears that the cist graves may be cut by two ditches. Last year we obtained a date of AD810 from the larger ditch shown. This suggests the graves may be earlier than this. By unravelling the order in which archaeological features were created, we can work out how the history of the site has developed through time. Archaeologists call the sequence of layers that build up on a site 'stratigraphy'.

Day 14 - Sunday August 16th


 




 

 



The team continues to dig to unravel the secrets of Trench B


We also begin to carefully clean up around some of the burials to get some idea of their number and alignment.


No more features have been found in Trench E. It is officially declared finished!

Day 15 - Monday August 17th

 




 

 



Despite further searches for post-holes, we have decided that there is only really evidence of one building in Trench D. It may, however, have had a shed built on the end. There is also no surviving evidence of a floor surface in the building. Could it have had a suspended wooden floor? Perhaps the building was not a house and did not need a proper floor.


In Trench C, the post holes and a shallow depression may represent part of another building. This would explain the presence of the large pieces of pottery from this trench, but there is too little evidence to be certain.


In Trench B we finish digging out part of the fill of a ditch that was filled in before the stone walled house was built but which could be traced across its floor. The same ditch cuts through some of the cist graves.

Day 16 - Tuesday August 18th

 




 

 



Today an environmental archaeologist from Lampeter University visited the site to take samples for special analyses. Using a metal tin, we removed a block of soil through the organic layer above the floor of the building and the fireplace in Trench B. By studying this block of soil in the laboratory, we can look for evidence of microscopic pollen and evidence of how the layer was formed.


If pollen survives, it may provide evidence of whether the building was thatched or not, or if it had a floor covering. Samples from the fireplace will hopefully provide evidence of what fuels were used, as well as what plant foods were being eaten.



Having cleaned up around some of the burials in Trench B, we can now see that they have been partially disturbed by ploughing, and also cut through by the wall of the stone building. What does this tell us about the cemetery and the chapel when the house was built?

Day 17 - Wednesday August 19th

 




 

 


Day 18 - Thursday August 20th

Our last day off! Some of the team go to sample the delights of 'Oakwood' and in the evening we retire to the pub for a fine meal an in-depth intellectual discussion on the origins of civilisation and the finer points of early medieval archaeology (not!).




 

 



Our last day on site. Today we concentrate on last minute planning and recording in Trench B, as well as packing up all the finds and equipment.


As is often the case, later features can destroy evidence of the order in which earlier features were created. Here, the point at which two ditches meet, is cut by a pit and a post hole…sometimes archaeology can be very confusing!


We remove some of the stones from the walled building in Trench B to try and find out if there was a blocked up doorway or window. The results suggest a possible threshold of flat stones. During this investigation we also find two rusty iron objects that we can x-ray to see if they will provide supporting evidence for a doorway.


A final photo of the DAT staff and university students before we all depart.

Day 19 - Friday August 21st

So. What has the second season of excavation told us about the Porthclew chapel site? A huge amount! We have proven that there were buildings at the site, which may suggest there was a settlement at Porthclew from the start of the early medieval period that could have lasted several hundred years.

There are many other strands of evidence that also need to be considered, such as place name and historical evidence. We also need to think about how the environment and surrounding landscape may have changed over time. Was the settlement at Porthclew brought to an end by the relentless build up of sand dunes in the 14th century?

Many of the details will only be revealed when we have finished studying the pottery, bones and other finds, but we can certainly say that the history of Porthclew and Freshwater East is much longer than previously thought and will make an important contribution to our understanding of how people lived in Pembrokeshire throughought the middle ages.

Many thanks to all the volunteers that helped on the dig. We would not have been able to achieve as much as we have without your involvement and energy! Again, a huge thank you to the landowners for their permission to dig and their boundless generosity and enthusiasm!

Cheers everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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