As promised – the excavation of Blackfriary Burial 1 Cutting 3

Blackfriary E4127: Burial 1- Cutting 3

A burial was discovered on Thursday evening the 9th of June, at the north end of Cutting 3 where it extends into what is believed to be the cloister garth. The first remains that were uncovered were the bones of a foot. The burial was discovered just under the topsoil in cutting three about 20cm beneath the modern surface. It is believed to be located in the cloister of the friary.

During the initial stages of excavation, some loose disarticulated human bone (DHB) and teeth were discovered. A plan was drawn of the area, (Dwg 3.5; Sheet 5), and this records the 7 fragments of DHB associated with the burial. Photographs were also taken during these stages.

On Monday 13th June, Ciara Travers, osteoarchaeologist, came to supervise excavation of the burial and to inform/aid archaeology students in this. There were 3-4 students working with Ciara throughout the day on excavating the entire skeleton which had to be fully exposed before it could be removed from the grave cut. At this time, the skeleton was determined to be a juvenile due to the length of the long bones as well as the presence of un-fused epiphyses. Special care must be taken during excavation to uncover all of the epiphyses. A juvenile skeleton recording sheet was completed at this time.

Ciara Travers Osteoarchaeologist instructing students on excavating and recording skeletal remains

The skeleton was completely exposed in the grave cut on the morning of Tuesday June 14th. Excavation levels were taken of the feet, the pelvis, and the skull. The feet were found at 62.085 m OD, the pelvis was found at 62.075 mod, the skull was found at 62.125. Photos were taken at various stages during excavation. A mid-ex plan was completed (Dwg 3.12; Sheet 12).

Mid-ex – skeleton has been fully exposed for excavation

After recording the skeleton in situ, students began to systematically remove the skeleton, starting from the skull and working down to the feet. As each skeletal part was removed following a specific order and list, it was then placed into labelled bags, which were punctured to allow the bone to dry and avoid condensation inside the bag. On this day, 14th June 2011, excavation was completed unto the pelvis.

Blackfriary Burial 1 Cutting 3 – hands placed over the pelvis

The bones were in a damper soil, making them especially fragile during excavation, particularly the ribs and the vertebrae. During excavation, bones were kept intact as much as possible. At this stage, a soil sample from behind the skull was bagged. Various soil samples will be taken from other parts during excavation, especially from the pelvis and the feet. The skeleton was carefully covered over for protection overnight.

Joanne, Nikki & Laura excavating, bagging and labelling

Ciara Travers with Shantel, Ian and Meaghan

Megan, Laura, Emma and Andrea

On the Wednesday June 15th, we continued removing the skeleton. Work started on the pelvis. During this time, excavation took place behind the skull and shoulder region in order to uncover the scapula and clavicle. Pieces of bone were found in this area. They were bagged and labelled by the student’s own ability to identify from which skeletal part it came. Cervical vertebra 1, commonly known as the Atlas, was carefully removed at this time along with other cervical vertebrae in the area. Photos were taken during the process to record the excavation. Two students also worked on the excavation and cleanup of the skull. After the removal of excess soil, the remnants of the skull were cleaned with a damp sponge. The top half of the skull does not survive. The pieces of the cranium were then wrapped in bubble wrap and placed into a labelled plastic bag. The excavation of the entire skeleton was completed by the end of that day. The following morning, Thursday June 16th, the skeleton was moved the project post-ex facility, to clean the bones.

In the meantime, a small sondage was dug running north to south across the area of the lower legs in order to find a burial cut. A grave cut and grave fill were difficult to discern, but feature sheets for the cut and fill were completed, F310 and F311 respectively. At this time, more DHB and associated animal bones and fragments were discovered. Dwg 3.13; Sheet 13 records the location of the major fragments of bone. All bone was kept, so that the osteoarchaeologist can determine which are human and which animal. Most of the bone was bagged and labelled as DHB with the exception of definite animal bone.

Identifying and cleaning disarticulated human bone

The articulated skeleton was carefully cleaned using lukewarm water, sponges, toothbrushes, and ‘dental’ tools. Cleaning progressed over the course of two days, Thursday 16th & and Friday 17th of June. The skeleton was left to dry on newspaper. The following Monday, June 20th, the soil samples from the hands, feet, pelvis skull, vertebrae and ribs were wet sieved using a sieve with 1mm apertures. The samples were left on newspapers to dry. The skeletal remains were then wrapped, using bubble wrap if extremely fragile, and re-bagged and labelled. Smaller, associated bones and epiphyses were placed in smaller bags and placed into a larger bag with the appropriate corresponding label.

The following day, Tuesday 21st, the remaining samples were wet sieved and laid on newspaper to dry. Packaging and re-bagging the remaining bone was completed. Two students worked on the dried soil samples. They removed the manageable bone fragments and put them into labelled bags. There are a total of six bags containing bone fragments from soil samples. During the cleaning and packaging process, a post excavation juvenile recording sheet was completed, giving an account for the bones that were retrieved. There was no retrieval of the sternum, the hyoid, or the left clavicle.

On Friday June 24th, the bags were packed into museum boxes. The remains are in one larger brown cardboard box with an accompanying smaller blue cardboard box containing the DHB and associated animal bones, as well as 2 small, clear plastic containers; one contains the DHB numbers 1-7 and the other DHB 8 and 9 with one find not associated with burial one, cutting three, but rather is a find from cutting two. Finds 1-7 are marked on drawing 3.5 sheet 5. The brown box contains 26 bags; the blue box contains 5 bags. All boxes are labelled with their contents.

Blog entry by Nikki Long June 24th 2011

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About blackfriary

The Irish Archaeology Field School (IAFS) is Ireland’s leading provider of university accredited, site based archaeological research and training. The Blackfriary research project is part of a community archaeology project, based in Trim, Co. Meath. Blackfriary is a 13th century Dominican abbey site; the archaeology includes the buried remains of the medieval abbey and graveyard. Students that participate in the excavation experience and practice all aspects of archaeological excavation processes, learning from experts and leaders in their field, and contribute to an established archaeological research project. IAFS have been excavating at Blackfriary since 2010; students participating have come from all over the works including the Australia, Canada, Europe and the USA.
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