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The Nevern Castle Project - Dig Diary Summer 2010


Sunday 20 June 2010

The summer dig at Nevern Castle is underway. The first day was spent removing the backfill that was replaced to protect the trenches at the end of the spring excavation. By the end of the day the trenches were cleaned, ready for a fresh start on Monday. Unlike the spring dig the weather is set fine for the first week.

Monday 21st June 2010

“To boldly go where man has gone before!” Excavation of the pits within the Great Hall has started. These pits were possibly dug for clay for bonding the stone walls in the later phase of the castle.

A small mini-digger, carefully watched by an archaeological supervisor, was used on part of the inner Castle (area P) to take down the topsoil (the depths having been checked during the spring dig). However, the top of an unexpected wall was encountered so more hand (pick–and-shovel) work will now be done.

A section is being cut through the ‘middle bank’ in site D. After machining, the clay has baked almost solid. The other area being worked (area N) inside the inner bank is being lowered down to a spread of flat stones.

Good progress for two days!

Trench DD. Possible cooking area at south end of trench sealed under tail of bank

Trench N. Cleaning a possible clay floor possibly associated with postholes and planning what may turn out to be slate steps

Cleaning the top of the wall on the square tower on the inner castle

Trench DD. Slate spread on front (north) of bank

Trench P. The wall around the inner castle and the new found wall appear to be contemporary

Trench BB. Digging the clay pits under the floor level of the Great Hall


Friday 25th June 2010

Over the last couple of days, one of the main interests has been the scatter of pottery fragments from trench N. There have been a number of bits of cooking pot, still coated in soot, a large handle from a jug or pitcher, possibly for serving water or ale, and also a few fragments of tableware, probable Chester-type ware, from the early 1100s. This ‘Chester-ware’ is quite easy to recognise as it is stamped with a crude flower decoration.

Elsewhere in the area of the Great Hall (site BB) excavation continues of the pits probably dug for clay to bond the stone walls of the later phase of the castle. A lot of digging here and little in the way of finds. Soil samples have been taken, which will be sieved back in Durham looking for burnt seeds and charcoal.

In Area P – we have dug down to roof slates from when the castle was abandoned in 1195. Recording of the bank sections (Trench DD) is taking place before digging of the trench is completed as the bank is drying out. Excavation will start as soon as this is finished.

Kate, the Cadw inspector has had her first visit to the site and the work programme for the rest of this dig has been agreed.

The Inner Castle

View of Trench P through the Outer Bank


Saturday 26th June - Friday 2nd July 2010

Dry and sunny conditions on the site today allowed work to progress well. Cathryn, Adrian and Dr Chris Caple recorded, planned and continued to investigate the possible clay surface and postholes of Trench N. Over in Trench BB the digging of the clay pits/ early Anglo-Norman defensive ditch continued. In Trench P Sam and Selina extended the excavations to reveal more of the walls of the inner castle. Clearing at the south side of the square tower has also been started.

There were a number of visitors to the site, including many from Pembrokeshire and some from as far a field as the US, Australia and New Zealand, as well as academic visitors from Welsh and English Universities. CADW also visited the site to discuss conservation options for the inner castle. Given the unfavourable wet conditions, the students had a day off digging to visit local historical sites, including Nevern Church.


Sam recording the inner castle

Holly excavating the south side of the tower


Saturday 3rd July 2010

A bright sunny day set everyone off to good start, and work progressed well in the trenches. In Trench BB John continued to work around the walls of the Great Hall and the defensive ditch, whilst over in the inner castle Holly made substantial progress cleaning back from the walls of the Tower in trench G. Over in Trench N the students worked hard to define the clay and slate surfaces inside the bailey. In Trench P Sam recorded the possible courtyard of the inner castle, following which Selina and Paula began to remove this layer to reveal the slate level below.

Visitors from the local area as well as tourists came to see the excavations today, and all enjoyed guided tours of the castle in its beautiful surroundings.


Walking through the Outer Banks of the castle


Sunday 4th July 2010

A very damp start to the day was not enough to deter the intrepid diggers! Work continued to progress in the most suitable trenches, and by the afternoon the sun was shining on us once again. The walls of the inner castle and the tower are now being pursued to reveal the corners previously obscured by vegetation and soil, and the courtyard floor has been removed to reveal the slate layer beneath, a few sherds of pottery brighten the wet morning. In trench N work continues to progress well despite the complexity of the area and difficult conditions, and finds of pottery lift the spirits of all the diggers.

In the afternoon we were very pleased to have a visit from the Royal Archaeological Institute, and as the sun came out after lunch visitors poured in from Pembrokeshire, south Wales, as well as tourists from the US and Europe. All enjoyed guided tours and many of the local visitors were excited to see the progress of the sites excavations and parts of the castle which haven’t been seen since the 12th century now revealed.



Selina excavating the courtyard floor


Monday 5th July 2010

A sunny day ensuring happy diggers! Progress was made in trench BB, as diggers tried to find the bottom of a large ditch and understand its later infilling prior to the construction of the possible grand hall. Excavations in the inner castle revealed more of the tower walls and possible courtyard/ hall. A group of stones found at the base of the tower wall on the south side were a reminder of the realities of this castle's turbulent history – did Hywel Saes really sack the castle himself or was it under attack before it was abandoned? Imaginations were fuelled. Over in trench N more ceramics were found, and a large slightly enigmatic pit was under investigation – possibly used for clay extraction and later as a refuse pit. In trench P (at the outer bank) excitement ensued as an earlier level appeared below the Anglo-Norman bank – was there an earlier medieval or even Iron Age phase? Only further exploration will reveal the answers.

Visitors to the site today were pleased to see the progress, many were local and a few tourists from England the US came and enjoyed the mysteries of the castle as it was uncovered before there very eyes.


John in Trench BB

Tuesday 6th July 2010

We were spoilt again by the weather today as the sun shone on us for the whole day despite predicted showers. Work around the inner castle continued to reveal the walls of the tower and associated structures, and produced a large quantity of pottery. In Trench N the large pit continued to defy explanation but also produced interesting pot sherds and a few nails. In Trench BB the search for the bottom of the ditch continues, and was planned and recorded before being extended. In Trench P at the outer bank, the exposure of an earlier apparently burnt layer was pursued as the trench was extended from the south end. At its northern end a volunteer digger tirelessly worked through a thick layer of slate, which appears to have been part of a collapsed wall.

Visitors once again came form far and wide – from England, Scotland and the US, as well as from St. Dogmaels and Trimsaran, and all enjoyed seeing the excavations in full swing. Local visitors were amazed to see the remains of a castle right on their doorstep that they had never previously known.


Wednesday 7th July 2010

Rained off in the morning.

Thursday 8th July 2010

Day off for everyone.


Friday 9th July 2010

A very wet start to the day slowed the pace but did not deter the diggers! Work continued in trench N (inside the bailey), up on the bank and over in the inner castle the team began to uncover more of the tower walls. In the afternoon the sun came out and progress sped up, and much of trench BB was recorded and sections drawn by Vicky. Despite the gloomy weather a number of visitors came to the site today, including the Cardiff Archaeological Society and many from the local area. Everyone was excited to see the castle and the progress of the excavations after only a few weeks of hard work.


Saturday 10th July and Sunday 11th July 2010

An increasingly warm and sunny weekend and a happy team! Work progressed, and as well as thorough recording in the trenches (drawing sections, planning and photographs) new areas of the inner castle were excavated. By Sunday crucial information regarding the walls of a possible courtyard were beginning to come to light, the corner of the tower was completely uncovered and the walls cleaned and prepared for recording.

Visitors over the weekend came from all over south west Wales, including Merthyr Tydfil, St.Dogmaels and Nevern, as well as Scotland, England and the United States. Some visitors had spent time at the site years earlier whilst on holidays, and were amazed to see the castle being uncovered, and others knew it as a childhood playground which had always sparked their imaginations. Everyone enjoyed guided tours of the site and seeing the archaeologists hard at work!


Final recording in Trench D

Trench N – almost down to natural

Trench P – ammunition stones?

Wednesday 14th July 2010

We are into the final few days of the dig. Heavy rain has slowed us down, just when we should be going full tilt. However, conditions are improving with only intermittent rain.

Trench BB: This trench is now finished. The first features now appear to be the early (Anglo-Norman) ditch with banks on either side. These banks seem to have been levelled into the ditch before the Great Hall was constructed in stone.

Trench D: Through the centre of the middle bank, may now show an earlier phase of bank: for how much earlier we will have to wait for the results of radiocarbon dating on the charcoal samples taken. On the outer face of the bank there is a deposit of large slate slabs, possibly from a stone facing of the last defensive structure on the top of the bank.

Trench E: a small trench dug south of the motte in the top of the bank. This has discovered (yet) more clay deposits for the bank with slates at the north end possibly sliding down from the tower on the motte.

Trench N: Almost wholly down to the natural clay subsoil, but we are checking for any hidden features.

Trench P: on the south side of the “square tower” there is a deposit of what appears to be ammunition stones – either these were on the tower and have been deposited during its demolition, or were near the access to the perimeter wall where they could be dropped over onto any attackers.

The “square tower” is now sub-square with a rounded SE corner. Investigation of the NE corner will have to wait for another season, as there are a lot of large tree roots and there is just not enough time left.

In the evening over sixty local people attended a tour of the site led by Chris Caple; they looked at a selection of the finds and were treated to an exhibition of Nine Men’s Morris being played by the students. Everyone was impressed with the progress this summer.

Trench P – “Square tower” rounded SE corner (supported by us on drystone buttresses)

Trench P – area north of tower nearing finish of archaeology

Landscaping on the top of the motte

Open evening

Playing Nine Men’s Morris plus a few of the finds

Friday 16th July 2010

The trenches are now being backfilled by machine, except for trench E which was filled in yesterday by hand. A couple of students left yesterday for graduation and the rest will be leaving today or tomorrow. Some hope to be back next summer and the entire local volunteer team wish to return.





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