When we first started excavating Blackfriary, we thought we had a reasonably clear idea of what we were going to uncover. Archaeology, however, is humbling in the fact that you can dig all you want, and the result will not always be what you expected. Welcome, everyone, to Cutting 3.
When Fin left this morning for a meeting in Dublin, little did she know of the impending chaos that is the third cutting of Blackfriary. The day certainly started out innocently enough, each team member having been given a specific task to perform under the supervision of Gian Marco. Malika was to create a sondage, or test pit, on the western wall of the cutting. Gwen was to finish excavating an infant burial; Laura N. and I were to create sondages on the southeast side of a stone tumble with the goal of finding the subsoil, which is the natural layer of earth that exists apart from human interaction. Finally, Morgan and Mary Claude were to plan the cloister wall. Planning, for all you non-archaeologists, is a very tedious process which involves taking a grid and mapping each item within the grid onto a corresponding grid drawing.
Fin was gone no more than an hour before these plans began to crumble faster than the stone tumble. Gian Marco, an experienced archaeologist, seemed to sense the danger, and left us in Steve’s charge at tea time! Malika, for one, continued to find more and more human bone until she finally came across what appeared to be a cranium.
Now, if you’ve ever had the opportunity to properly excavate a human skull, you are aware that it is a long and tiring process and very different from television shows where they have the whole entire skeleton excavated in about ten minutes. In reality, there is absolutely no chance of this ever happening, especially when the bone with which you are dealing is hundreds of years old, and much of it falling apart at your fingertips. Malika, who apparently has been blessed with the gift of bone-radar from the Archaeology Gods, also found a smaller cranium, a vertebra, a rib, a calcaneous (ankle bone), and tarsals (foot bones).
This would all be very lovely, aside from the fact that we are supposed to be excavating a church and not a cemetery. One of the questions we must now address is why there are human burials where we expected to find a church wall. Malika, however, did a fantastic job of patiently excavating the cranium, which actually turned out to be a nearly complete skull, cutting short her lunch break and staying late.
As for Laura and I, our sondages changed form often throughout the course of the day. The original plan was to make one along the stone tumble running west to east, and another perpendicular along the side of the cutting heading south. Then we were to make a sondage within the west-east sondage, with the goal of finding the subsoil. With no prospect of subsoil, we continued digging until we were about two feet below the surface of cutting 3 with no end in sight. Instead of subsoil, we found massive rocks, similar to those used for building with evidence of human interaction.
What we ended up with was a very strange sequence of layers, with a wall at the top, a layer of soil below the wall, and a layer of collapsed rock below the soil. We are now adapting our sondage to the find by making it about two by one square meters, thus expanding out toward the south side of the cutting. Tomorrow we will likely continue with that goal in mind, and then off to Newgrange!
Perfect weather for visiting Boyne Valley Archaeological Park!
Melissa Clarke, Ohio State University
Blackfriary, 27 July, 2011