Friday 29 July, 2011
The site has changed so much in the past few days! Here is the update:
Earlier in the week we began to excavate features that contradict our original understanding of Blackfriary. For example, there were numerous burials almost running into the cloister wall, and there was a feature that appeared to be a wall with a layer of soil underneath and large stones beneath that.
We were puzzled as to why there were so many burials in the vicinity of the cloister and why there appeared to be an earlier wall under the one we had found, let alone one with a layer of soil beneath.
Accumulated soil would indicate the passage of time, but where was the original wall? In addition, there was clay in some areas around the cutting, but not in all. Clay is important because it indicates a natural soil layer rather than one interrupted by people. Why would we easily find clay in some places and dig endlessly to find it in others?
To find out, we first cut a quadrant in the southeast corner of the possible wall. We didn’t find clay, but were even more puzzled by the unusually high density of butchered animal remains, which would not be consistent with the layout of the abbey (yes, Blackfriary is actually an abbey). In further quest of the clay layer, Gwen and Laura dug another sondage along the south side of the cloister wall while Ian and I dug one running west from the quadrant. There was still no clay layer. The next plan of action was to just completely demolish the entire section. While this may sound completely reckless, it was actually quite effective. We began digging first thing in the morning, and in the late afternoon, we finally found the clay layer! We were still confused, though, as to why the layer seemed to jump. It was clearly present on one side of the newly cut area, and then absent throughout most of it until it reappeared almost exactly in line with the possible wall (which by this point had been promoted to actual wall). Horrified, we thought we were going to have to continue the grueling process for yet another day. Luckily for us, the Gods of Archaeology had mercy and blessed Fin with a divine epiphany. The mysterious clay-void was a robber trench!
Post–medieval(?) thievery – a robber trench dug to remove the large stones from the base of the wall
A robber trench, Fin explained, is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a ditch that people used to steal the large stones at the bottom of a structure after its use had expired. They would have dug a large pit along the foundation of the wall into the clay that would have previously lined its base. This accounts for the gap in the clay. As for the plethora of material found between the two clay sections, this is accounted for by the rubble that would have filled the trench over time. The mystery of the Quest for Clay has been solved! At least for now, that is!
This week four students will be going home or continuing travels elsewhere, and their last day on site was Friday. Mary Claude will be flying back to Quebec, Malika to Washington State, Morgan to Georgia, and Gwen will take a detour to Croatia before heading back to the North Carolina. To celebrate their time here, we went out for a bit on Friday evening to eat, drink, and share embarrassing stories! It was wonderful fun, and we will really miss everyone very dearly! Oh yes, and congratulations to site supervisor Megan on being accepted to University College, Dublin! Again, we will miss everyone who is leaving very much. Safe travels and best of luck in school!