Blackfriary 2011 – the season is unfolding…

Blog by Emma Lagan – 31st May to 10th June

Emma at Trim Castle

Emma at Trim Castle

Tuesday, May 31: Today we started work in cutting 3 (and for those of you in the US this is our trench or pit; basically, our square/rectangular working space).  The cutting is 15m long and 6.3m across. We began mattocking back some more. The northwest corner has this barren semi-circle where the stone rubble just stops. This is probably because it is part of the cloisters, which would have been empty anyway, and then the rubble just ended. The rest of it contains medium to large stones that would have been rubble parts of this wall. About 3m from the southwest corner there is a highly concentrated area of mortar and stone that runs for about a 1.5m within the western facing wall, suggesting that it was at one point the rubble core of the northern wall of the church.

In order to try and determine what we have as far as different features (layers) go, Laura and I began excavating a sondage (a trench within our larger trench) to the south of the rubble area.  Elizabeth and Rebecca, began working on the north side of the rubble area, where they seem to have found a straight line of very large stones suggesting that the stones were a part of something.  The only disheartening bit is the fact that the stones are not held together by mortar, so they could also just be collapsed bit. We won’t know until we get further.

In cutting 1 they worked more on planning the section/wall faces. They found a small bit of medieval pottery. In our cutting, Megan found a piece of brick that would have been used for firing pots in a kiln (for supporting it).  They’re very small, but a bright/burnt orange color.  She noticed it when she stopped by, and I found some more bits of it.  Coming from the clean-back layer, it just went into the finds tray (location isn’t as important because it was already disturbed).

The weather today was crazy.  It was cloudy then sunny then cloudy then sunny.  Cold when cloudy, warm when sunny.  Working doing physical labour like we were it was a bit irritating, but hey I’ll take it. My parents keep telling me I’m bragging about the fact that “oh it might hit 70 on Friday” when it’s into the 90s at home.  He he!

Wednesday, June 1:   Today was a scorcher…it made it up to 70!  It was gorgeous.  In my cutting we started work this morning just planning on pulling it back to expose a lot of the large pieces of rock to see if we were getting any sort of wall.  As it is, it mostly just looks as if it’s collapsed pieces.  So what we decided to do was to just pull down the entire thing about 10cm by mattocks and shovels to see what we could find.  So instead of the four of us (me, Laura, Elizabeth and Rebecca), we added a lot more to help with the task.

Fin said that next week we will likely be (shocker!) opening up cutting 2.  I’m so excited!  I did a little happy dance that had Fin laughing hysterically.  The great thing about this is that it wasn’t touched after I left it last year, so once we get it cleaned out, it’s just where I want it to be.  I don’t know how it’s going to work with who comes into it with me.  I’ve finally stopped looking around for people from last year, but I don’t know if that will change again once this cutting is open.  I’m very, very, very territorial about it.  I asked the girls if they wanted to come in with me, because they’re absolutely amazing (I love them so much!) but they’re kind of protective over their strip in cutting 3 because they started there.  I don’t blame them.  Poor Laura is torn because she started in cutting 2 last year but also started with 3 again this year.  She’ll figure it out.

Today we went on a field trip.  I was kind of sad because I wanted a field trip on my birthday, but whatever.  We went to Monasterboice to learn about the High Crosses, which used to teach the Bible.  After that, we went to Mellifont and learned all about the construction and changes of the abbey.

The Gang at Monasterboice

The Gang at Monasterboice

Before we went on the field trip, we had continued work in our cutting.  We have found some sandstone blocks that Steve said were probably used as a base stone for something.  Sandstone is coarser grained than the other stones, which are limestones, and is used as a decorative stone. You can see it everywhere else.  Going against that for a moment, however, limestone was what those three cylindrical structures were made out of.  Steve said this limestone, which is highly fossiliferous, is not from the Trim area, and would have been imported, and worked as a marble.

High Cross at Monasterboice

High Cross at Monasterboice

Friday, June 3: Today got up to about 24C/75F, so it was quite a scorcher for us.  Basically, we all stayed in cutting 3 today, with only two people in cutting 1.  We worked assembly line style to get some of the smaller rocks up out of the area.  Two mattocker’s, two rock collectors and three shoveler’s.  It worked pretty well. It was efficient! (A shout-out to my engineering majors….you know who you are).

After we did that, we also took some levels and did a few sketches to get an idea of what we were looking at.  Right now, it’s not looking like an intact wall at all, with no real mortar holding the rocks together.  So it looks like tumble. But that’s alright, I looked at the geophysics today, and the area that we’re working in doesn’t show up as well on the geophysics as the immediate left of where we are working.  So what we’re getting matches what the geophysics shows.

Cutting 2 should be opened up next week.  So long as it is opened sometime while I am here and can work on it for a day or two.  Ciaran showed up today to see how it was going.  It was so great to see him again.  He’s coming back not next week, but the week after, which should be grand (Ian yelled at us Americans for saying awesome: “The Grand Canyon is awesome,” he said, “your sandwich is not.”).

Shannon, Nikki and I were also joking about the apple ipod apps, and I had gone “Why isn’t there an app for this!?” It turned into a thing for the rest of the day. (why is there no geophysics app? why is there no digger app? all that stuff).

Tuesday, June 7: Today was a short day on the dig.  Fin wasn’t feeling so well, so we cut our day an hour short so she could get some rest.  We got two new girls, Laura (#2) and Joanne.  Laura 2 and Shantel finished taking the gravel out of cutting 1, so all of the work is done on that, for right now at least.  I’m sure we’ll be getting back to that at some point today.

We continued work in cutting 3 where we continued to pull back the dirt to try and expose more rocks and see if we could determine anything else about the rubble.  It’s pretty interesting because the layer that was mostly barren at the north end of where the wall should be is now starting to show some large stones, some centimetres lower than where the south side of the wall had shown.

In order to get more of a bearing on it, Fin had me do section profiles every two meters on the side of the baulk/wall of the cutting.  Basically this meant I made a to-scale chart of what the different layers looked like and how much there was of that layer (how thick it was in centimetres) for that particular meter reading on the wall.  If we really need to, we can string these together to create a sort of make shift section of the entire wall to see what we have going on and where some changes occur (where the soil is very mortary or where the clay like dirt disappears).

The Human Mandible

The Human Mandible

Meghan and Nikki actually found a piece of human jaw in cutting 3 today.  It caused quite a stir because it is definitively human, what with the teeth present and all.  Not the first of human remains that we’ve found, but definitely the most distinguishable thus far.  Not really much else attached to it other than that part of jaw bone.

And then much to my extreme happiness, we started opening cutting 2!!!  I was so excited.  Megan says if I could be in love with an inanimate object, I would be in love with that hole.  We still have a lot to dig out.  I’m digging out my sondage form last year. Sam’s sondage, Sam/Jess’ sondage and Rob/Ryan’s sondage are all also in the process of being exposed.  Sam and Sam/Jess’ are the most distinguishable besides mine right now.  It’s really weird to see it taking shape again, and to know how much further we have left to go, without them being there.  But hey, I’ll manage. And I’m quite happy digging out *my* area.

Cutting 2 about to re-open

Cutting 2 about to re-open

Wednesday, June 8: The one year anniversary of the first day on site at Black Friary!!
So today was a very annoyingly drizzly/not/drizzly/not/sunny/drizzly/not day.  Was pretty chilly until about 6 pm, when we were already home.  And then it got sunny.

Today cutting 3 continued to clean back (keep in mind, this is a 15×6 meter cutting, it takes a lot of work to clean back the layers!) and made preparations to plan.  I spent my morning in cutting 2 obsessively digging out my cutting from last year.

The sondage I was working in last year came clean first.  It was weird to see it again.  Needs a bit of cleaning up after some of the dirt fell in and such, but hey.  Ian finished digging out Sam/Jess’ area from last year, at the south western side of the cutting, which was mostly comprised of tumbled stone from the wall.  When Shantel went to make tea, I took over her work on Rob’s area in the south east corner, where the masonry was found last year, and where I’m hoping to focus my attention this year (If we go another 10cm down from the level we’re already at in that sondage, we’re hoping to find the bottom of the collapsed masonry (Geoffry)).  Last was Sam’s bit, which Laura started working in and Ian and I finished uncovering (well, Ian did the last bit while I sat in the office going over the cutting 2 binder trying to put sketches and information together, remembering what was what and what we were doing). My favourite was the feature sheet which I wrote which only says “this is a sandy layer” (Thanks self from one year ago, for all that information.  I appreciate it).  I honestly don’t remember exactly what Sam was working on there, he would probably remember much better than I would…all I remember is that it had a lot of complicated layers.

Tomorrow I’m going to have to haul the binder and the plans from last year out to the cutting to try and make sense of what was what and what still needs to be cleaned and all that fun stuff.  Right now I’m looking through pictures from when we closed up last year to try and get an idea of how much dirt is still covering cutting 2 on the extremities, because there was no tarp covering the edges–just the pits.

Oh! And the best part?  They backfilled it with our spoil heap from last year.  Oh yes, that’s right.  While digging out my sondages, I came across chunks of mortar, chunks of stone, bits of glass, bits of modern pottery and even a spoon that I very, very, very distinctly remember throwing into the spoil heap the first time.  And back it went.  So it made the uncovering process a bit difficult, and is going to make it even more so for the areas not covered in the tarp, or where the tarp broke and the dirt seeped through. Good times!!

Then, we spent the afternoon at Slane.  We ate lunch, and then we had a good quarter of an hour in which we wandered around the ruins of the monastery trying to figure out what was what, and spot things like the gargoyle, the coat of arms, etc.  It was very interesting to be able to see what had been redone when something was collapsed–i.e. there are fortified walls that didn’t used to be such.  I don’t know how recent they were…but they were definitely not original.  It kind of made it more difficult to try and figure out what had been what, but it was still cool.  There was this one area that I would have loved to get up to, to check out and try and understand better, but there is no way up to it anymore….

The Hill of Slane

The Hill of Slane

Once we were done with that, we walked up to this hill fort construction which was very, very cool.  It had an embankment, and then a very steep man-made hill which Megan and I had fun traipsing up and then sliding down (literally, too steep to walk down, but to ground and slide).

When we were done with both of these tasks, Steve brought us together to talk about what it was we had done, and how observation and recording are two essential parts of archaeology. Especially with the way things change and the limited time frames you can have doing something.

The Hill of Slane - inside the college

The Hill of Slane - inside the college

After Slane, we spent about twenty minutes wandering around Bective Abbey.  That was also impressive because you can see the different centuries of work that were done there.

Thursday -Friday, June 9-10: Today and yesterday I spent in cutting 2.  Laura and I are working on connecting sondages 2 and 3 in the northwest corner to see if we can make any sense of the different features/layers and how they apply to cuttings 1 and 2 (which essentially abutt the north baulk of cutting 2).  Before-hand that meant a lot of looking back through the register and plans from last year, fixing some mistakes and reducing some levels that hadn’t been reduced yet.  After we got down the first layer, Fin had us go into cutting 1 and see if we could make connections between what we saw in that cutting and what we saw in cutting 3 so that we could try and make sense of what happened and what features to give cutting 3.

The students in cutting 3 have been learning how to plan.  They think they have the collapsed part of the north wall of the church in the southern end of the cutting (I know, I know, confusing directions).  They also have what could be the wall to the cloister.  There’s a gap between the two bits of rubble.  So today and yesterday they got out the planning boards and worked on measuring and drawing.

Them bones

Them bones

Also, the big find in cutting 3 is the human remains in what would have been the cloisters.  Right now it’s looking like a right foot and a skull, which are spread over a meter apart (I unfortunately do not have the exact spread).  This is not in the same area that the mandible was found in the other day. The osteoarchaeologist is coming on site Monday to tell us more!



About Irish Archaeology Field School

The Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS) is Ireland’s leading provider of university accredited, site based archaeological research and training. Our archaeological and heritage programs include research projects in a number of locations in Ireland, including in Co. Wexford and Co. Offaly (with satellite schools frequently undertaken elsewhere). We provide credited and uncredited programs (and internships) for novice and experienced students, and also specialise in the preparation of purpose-built faculty led programs incorporating excavation, historical research, remote sensing, non-invasive survey, ground investigation, landscape assessment etc. Whilst our programs are excavation-centered and aimed primarily at students of archaeology, anthropology and history, courses are open to all, and are guaranteed to give you an enriching and thoroughly worthwhile study abroad adventure.
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One Response to Blackfriary 2011 – the season is unfolding…

  1. Jessica says:

    Great entries, Emma!
    I wish I could be there and see the progress in the three cuttings (especially the sondage Sam and I worked on in Cutting 1). It will be really interesting to find connections between all three cuttings.
    I’m looking forward to learning what the osteoarchaeologist has to say.

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