On my return the Black Friary this year to work for a few days on the excavation, the site has been transformed. The opening of three new excavation cuttings (trenches) particularly the large Cutting 3, uncovering the northern side of the church nave and the southern side of cloister, has started showing the scale of the remains of the friary hidden for centuries beneath this overgrown field.
There is now also a site office, canteen and other facilities. No more, as last year, the daily treks up and down Haggard Street to the site with wheel barrows laden with tools and equipment to the house that served as the site office, canteen and store.
The team this year consists of a mix of Irish and international students from the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK led, by the ever enthusiastic and energetic Fin O’Carroll the site director.
Last season the main focus was on trying to understand the few significant pieces of visible masonry on the site surviving from chancel area of the Friary church. On my first couple of days on the site (4th-5th August), I get to witness and participate in some of the exciting discoveries made this season which are giving an insight to the Black Friary and the lives of the people of Trim in the medieval period. This year as mentioned in previous blogs both burials and a large quantity of disarticulated bone has been uncovered particularly in that part of Cutting 3 located in the nave of the church. It is likely that the church was used for burial long after the dissolution of the Friary in the 16th century. Many of the burials were then disturbed when the remnants of the Friary were used as a source of building stone in the 18th century. Particularly poignant is the infant burial Siobhan and Jessica excavated.
Siobhan, studying anthropology, in the US is an expert on identifying bones and also giving an initial interpretation of the remains uncovered. A skull excavated by Ian and myself was that of a man of around 50 years who was in good health but may have met a violent death and had previously been wounded. Though in good condition his worn teeth give insight into his diet; the medieval milling process resulted in a lot of grit in the milled flour – the lack of dental decay Fin informed us, is due to the lack of sugar in the medieval diet.
Excavating skeletal remains is, I find out, very slow painstaking work with many pauses to photograph and plan as the work progresses. In the new Cutting 4 a small piece of a cloister column is uncovered.
When I return to site in the last week of August I am greeted with the news that in Cutting 4A, the southeast corner of the cloister has been located, but more significantly remnants of some of the cloister arches have been found. The stone work uncovered is of very high quality. The fact it is a fossilised limestone which is very hard to work, Fin relates, is further indication that the Black Friary was a high status site and a building of considerable significance in Medieval Trim. This reflects the status of its patron Geoffrey de Geneville. A mason’s mark on a sandstone column recovered connects us to the skilled masons who worked on the construction of the Friary.
As it is the final week of the Field school much of the work this week is completing section drawings and plans of the features uncovered. But in Cutting 3 the lower body of a possible in situ burial has been uncovered by Amy and Isabelle in what may be a wall chamber in the church nave. When these bones are recorded and lifted beneath this burial they uncover another skull and what turns out to be a charnel pit.
The week ends with visits from classes from the local primary school. I even learn from the varied questions the kids ask, for example an initial assessment of the age of a skull can be made from sutures between the bones which knit as you get older.
And so my few days at the Black Friary come to an end. Siobhan, Aimee and Isabelle also bid farewell as the 2011 season ends.