Dig Berkeley Week 1 - Trench 8 Roundup

Trench 8 from above in 2018

The first week of three back at Berkeley was a busy and hot flurry of activity. After 15 seasons, this will be our final year working here and our plan is to complete Trench 8 (started in 2009) which has a full extent of 15m x 50m but has now been partially backfilled. It is the largest and most archaeologically dense of the 19 trenches we have excavated at Berkeley since 2005. This is a slice through the full width of Nelme’s Paddock on a slope leading up to St Mary’s Church and Berkeley Castle. 
Trench 8 looking east (upslope) after cleaning in 2019
So far, Trench 8 has taken us back in time from Georgian kitchen gardens to the English Civil War, late Medieval, the Norman Conquest and Anglo-Saxon periods with a smattering of Roman finds, but no definite Roman features as yet….. Unfortunately, as all good things come to an end, so does the University of Bristol’s Berkeley Castle Project. Our project Directors are moving onto other things - Professor Mark Horton is retiring from the University of Bristol (but of course, not from archaeology!) and Dr Stuart Prior has plans to investigate a new site.

Before getting muddy, our 1st year students were given a tour of Berkeley Castle and the town environs by Mark and Stuart to help them put their trench work into a wider context. Our public engagement team, headed up by 3rd year student Gabija Ulkyte and overseen by Project Field Technician Kostas Trimmis, got set up and brainstormed ideas for our forthcoming visits, events, blogs and social media posts. We have a camera from the BBC Four TV programme ‘Digging for Britain’ to document our Berkeley excavation work and could potentially end up featured on a forthcoming programme. We also have a ‘friends and family’ visit from members of our Anthropology and Archaeology Department at the University of Bristol, a local school visit and an open evening in the final week. In addition, Kostas showed students how to take orthophoto images and create 3D models of walls and other stone features from the trench and taught geophysical survey in the Edward Jenner Museum garden and the inner keep of Berkeley Castle.

Students excavating Tudor levelling layer in southwest corner

Trench Supervisors, Dr Siรขn Thomas, Emily Glass and Dr Adrian Chadwick are keeping our students busy and they spent the first couple of days weeding and cleaning as well as refreshing the edge of excavation sections. This gave our students the chance to get familiar with using a variety of tools, particularly the very important trowel. The western end of Trench 8 has a much denser concentration of archaeology and contains features which range in date from Saxon to Tudor, due to various levelling and re-levelling efforts for buildings and drainage works. 

Straightening up trench sections to define features in the southwest corner

In the southwest corner of Trench 8 we appear to have demolition or formation deposits that relate to a Tudor pub which once stood beyond the limits of the trench. In the northwest corner of Trench 8 we have a wall and robbed-out wall, both on an E-W alignment and a stone-filled beamslot and circular stone feature. These could potentially be related to the Norman layout of Berkeley town, but this will only be confirmed when they are excavated next week.

Excavation of deposits within NNW-SSE ditch

 We also have a ditch running NNW-SSE, which was subsequently re-cut when a wall [8400] was constructed along the same alignment. Sections through this feature were dug and recorded last year and we are now removing and sieving the remaining fills for artefact retrieval in the hopes of securing solid dating evidence. Based on the stratigraphy of surrounding deposits and features we think the ditch is Early/Mid Saxon and the wall Late Saxon, although we would like to confirm this with pottery evidence.

Student Anna looking for finds during excavation of wall [8400] construction cut backfill

Remnant of wall [8400] being excavated – these large stones are like ones used in the foundation of an Anglo-Saxon building we excavated previously and may have been reused from an even earlier structure

The eastern end of the trench was mostly completed down to natural or subsoil in 2017, we only have a few layers of reddish sandy clay to investigate and a posthole to complete. As our trench is on a slope, soils tend to get washed downhill in wet weather and ‘creep’ due to gravity and could therefore be masking earlier archaeological features. To confirm that we have reached the end of the archaeological deposits we have cut two test-pits into these layers against the north and south trench sections. In the hunt for natural geological layers, this is the only time when not finding artefacts is a good thing!

Students excavating a slot through pink clay layers against northern trench section

We did find plenty of artefacts in the rest of the trench. During the general clean we found fragments of bone, pottery, iron nails, shell and glass, and also a bowl fragment of a clay tobacco pipe with a maker’s mark stamp on the heel representing Richard Berryman who operated from Bristol from 1619 to 1650 (see earlier blog: https://bristoldigberkeley.blogspot.com/2019/05/interesting-discovery-branded-clay-pipe.html).

Clay tobacco pipe with ‘RB’ stamp on heel found during trench clean up

From the Tudor layers in the southwest corner, we retrieved some thick pot base fragments with a partial glaze remaining. From photographs, our pottery specialist, Paul Blinkhorn, tentatively identified these as belonging to the base of a Brill/Boarstall ware jug, most likely 13th-14th century by the glaze, which fits nicely with our Tudor levelling deposits!

Pottery base fragments dating to 13-14th century from Tudor corner

Our most notable discovery this week has been two bone discs, known as epiphyses, which are believed to be from the tail of a young porpoise! In no way can we take credit for working out what these were – they were identified from photographs by Professor Jacqui Mulville and Dr Julia Best, both of Cardiff University and to whom we are very grateful for their time. Both epiphyses were found in the backfill of wall [8400] construction cut by two eagle-eyed students working on the sieving team. There is more of this deposit to sieve, so we are on the lookout for more! The whole question of porpoises at Berkeley is another matter needing thought and perhaps a whole new blog! 

Two tail bones from a young porpoise found in the backfill of wall [8400] construction cut

Our first week back at Berkeley has been a good success and all our students have worked hard in the heat and in getting used to a type of exercise that they don’t normally do! We are looking forward to getting back to it and will keep posting our progress and any significant discoveries, reinterpretations or finds. Tomorrow, we plan to announce our week 3 open evening and hope to see some of you there. That’s all for now!

Emily Glass


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