Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Update from the trench: alignment's not just for the stars.

Previous excavations in Berkeley Castle’s butterfly garden (2005 - 2006) and The Berkeley Arms pub (2009) uncovered archaeological evidence for what is believed to be enclosure ditches that mark the outer limits of the Anglo-Saxon Minster precinct. Artefacts such as pottery sherds and several coins from the tenth century assisted in dating the construction of the ditches. These outer enclosure ditches were aligned at 010° from the north and are shown on Figure 1 as the outer blue line.

However, during further excavations of Trench 8 in 2015, a structure dating to the ninth century was excavated in the south east section of the trench, and found to have an alignment of 356
° from north. Constructed of robbed Roman masonry, Professor Mark Horton explains that the building was dated to the eighth or early ninth century through the excavation of three coins from the reign of Coenwulf, the King of Mercia (796 - 821 CE).


Figure 1. A map showing the excavated wall and building, and the possible outer and inner precinct boundaries. (Author: Alex Birkett. Map sourced: OpenStreetMap 2017)

During this season a wall has been excavated to the west end of Trench 8 that is constructed from robbed Roman masonry similar to the aforementioned structure. This wall was visible during previous years but is being excavated this season as we have reached the context in which it was built.

Over the past few days the feature has been drawn and half-sectioned, and students have taken soil samples which will be used for wet sieving to identify environmental specimens such as charcoal and oyster shell fragments, as well as smaller artefacts that may have been missed during excavation.

The wall feature excavated this season is of the same alignment (356°) as the ninth century structure and the Church of St Mary's, situated roughly 55 metres to the east, which follows the original contour of the hill on which they are situated. Professor Mark Horton believes this similarity in alignment links it to the origins of the Church. Although construction of the Medieval church began in 1225, aspects of the structure are believed to predate this, with an original construction date in the Anglo-Saxon period. The later Church structure includes reused stones with carvings and the foundations of a tower from the Anglo-Saxon period.
The current interpretation of this new wall feature is that it forms an inner precinct wall, see Figure 1, enclosing the previously excavated building and the earlier Anglo-Saxon church, which would likely have been much smaller than the current church. The wall appears to end just before the northern section of the trench and it is thought that this may represent an entrance through the wall into the inner precinct. As excavation progresses though the date and function of this wall will become clearer and so we are looking forward to finding out more information throughout the next few days.

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