Monday, 14 October 2013

Monday - all done and dusted..

From early Thursday morning Tommy and Paddy started to return the trench back to a car park and filled it up with truckloads of gravel. The tar was laid over the weekend and site huts and fences removed first thing this morning, before it was handed back to DRD.

Thank you to everyone who visited and volunteered - the archaeology was fabulous but the warm welcome and interest the people of Derry took in the site and the team was fantastic and what we will remember most about our five weeks in the car park. All being well, it won't be too long before we're back again...
The trench almost fully back-filled
The tool shed being collected
the site back to how it was - just waiting on some white lines...

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The last day

Today was officially the last day. We finished the final recording and laid down terram so the site is ready for backfilling tomorrow morning. We were also visited by Dr Brian Lacey - the man who came to Derry to dig this site some 39 years ago and author of Siege city: the story of Derry and Londonderry [the site bible...].

Brian Lacey, Paul Logue (NIEA) & Emily [posing for the Derry Journal photographer..]

The team! 
laying down the terram before the backfilling starts tomorrow morning

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Day 22 & the last day of digging

We finished excavating today. Brian and Dermot excavated the ditch which extends beyond the edge of our trench. It measured 1.3m in depth and had large stones at the bottom with a silty layer above them and a layer of slump above that again. No pottery or other dateable artefacts were found in the ditch fills although it must date to the 12th-14th century or earlier as it was sealed by layers dating to this period. Perhaps it is Early Christian in date and is a vallum associated with the Columban monastery...?? We have taken bulk samples and hopefully some of these will include organic material that can be radiocarbon dated.
We did some recording and excavated two other small pits in the box trench and then cleaned up the site and took our final post-excavation photos. We will complete the last of the recording tomorrow, clean and pack-up the tools, finds and samples and prepare the site for back-filling which will start early Thursday morning.
Dermot and Brian excavating the ditch early this morning
Vertical photo of the trench - the excavated ditch section is in the bottom right
circular, cut stones - gaming pieces? weights?
Stewart using the telescopic pole to take vertical photos of the trench

Monday, 7 October 2013

Final week

We have reached subsoil in our box-trench, and in theory the 'bottom' except that there are features cut into the subsoil. These include a stone-packed posthole that Stuart excavated today (it did not produce any pottery or other dateable artefacts) and a probable ditch with multiple fills. We have just one side of the ditch in our trench and the fills are producing more medieval pottery including decorated coarseware (probable Everted rim ware). We have also continued to excavate the medieval stoney/gravel layer in the 'middle' of the main trench which has exposed a series of large stones and boulders. These do not form a meaningful structure but clearly represent rubble/tumble from a structure of some sort. We will examine these more closely tomorrow to see if there are any cut faces or traces of mortar.

the stone-packed posthole (mid-excavation)
Stuart recording the posthole
 fish hook with barb - found while sieving by Linda
thumb-impressed sherd of pottery
decorated coarseware

Friday, 4 October 2013

Friday and we reach the bottom

A day of sunshine and showers. We also reached the bottom by which we mean we have reached subsoil or 'natural' as we sometimes call it, i.e. the glacial till. The till is the sediment (clay, sands, gravels, stones) which was deposited by glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age about 11,000 years ago. All known human activity in Ireland post-dates this, therefore once we reach this level there is no reason to excavate any further. This is located at about 3.5m below the surface of the car park at this point. It is likely, however, given the slope of the hill, that the depth of the archaeology and the thickness of the overburden (i.e. garden soils, hardcore and gravel, etc.) is much less as you move 'up-slope' and towards Bishop Street.
Brian excavating down onto the subsoil which is a vivid orange-brown colour though it doesn't show up so well in this photo

We also recovered another silver coin (bringing our total of silver coins to three) - a nice way to end the week! And lots more medieval pottery which we hope a medieval-pottery specialist will be able to look at next week. As we have now determined the depth of archaeology that survives, which was one of the main goals of the excavation, we are on target to finish up on site by the end of next week. We plan to complete excavation and recording by Wednesday after which we will start to reinstate the site and return it back to being a car park.

Today's sieving team - Volunteers John and Flavio and Grace (CAF)
Flavio (who is determined we find a wall, or possibly some eyeballs or even a penguin....)

Today the Fountain Primary school visited the site on their second visit though for one of the pupils it was his sixth visit!
the silver coin [not very photogenic]

some of the decorated medieval pottery found on site today

Thursday, 3 October 2013

A wet day in the trench

A short blog-entry as today it rained - a lot! Despite this we did make progress. Brian and Dermot excavated and recorded two intercutting pits: one had quite a bit of charcoal though no evidence of in situ burning. Both pits produced animal bone and medieval pottery and presumably are simple medieval rubbish pits. Sieving was a bit of a challenge though we did go through all the material and recovered more pottery and bone.
The trench abandoned after a serious downpour 
 Brian and Dermot excavating their two pits
a lovely day on site..

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Day 18

Not a bad day - two coins! One of copper alloy and the other of silver. Both were heavily corroded and no writing or images could be discerned. The silver coin had been cut in half. It was white when it came out of the ground and then oxidised rapidly and turned purple.

the silver coin
the copper alloy coin
We also excavated the hearth and lifted the cut and dressed stone. The stone is chamfered (for a doorway or window?) and has several scratchings and cut marks and what appears to be an incised 'A' - a possible masons mark or graffiti?


We continued to excavate down through the box-trench and are still turning up medieval pottery and animal bone. Towards the end of the day we uncovered a cut feature at the southern end of the trench which we will investigate further tomorrow.

The trench around noon before we lifted the cut stone

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Potastic Day

The theme of today was lots of medieval pottery and multiple different types. Cormac confirmed the identity of the green-glazed sherds we found yesterday as being Scottish greyware and medieval in date (14th to15th century) while the two sherds of everted rimware (see previous two blog entries) he dated to the latter end of the tradition and of a probable 16th-17th century date-range.

The prize potsherd found today was a rim sherd and top of a handle with a sculpted face: two eyes, a beard and a mouth (a monk?). There was also a circular impression on the top of the 'head'. Dermot also found a corroded metal key.


We continued to mattock downwards, and to hoist and sieve buckets of spoil. We have worked down through a couple of different layers in our box-trench with no discernible features present but also with no tobacco pipe stems or musket shot or post-medieval pottery present. The absence of these finds and presence of medieval pottery throughout suggests that we must be in deposits dating to the phase of the Augustinian monastery.

 Linda Canning and Grace hoisting buckets of spoil

Monday, 30 September 2013

Week 4

A dark and murky day though we didn't get rained on. Quite a contrast to Saturday which was like a summer's day when we had 2010 visitors to the site!

Week 4 and the clock is ticking so we have decided to open a trench within a trench. This will hopefully allow us to identify the depth of archaeology that survives here and the nature and date-range of that archaeology.

Brian and Dermot mattocking off the top layer in the box trench

The horizon we are excavating is still yielding the ubiquitous animal bone but also produced multiple broken fragments of a green-glazed pot with a grey fabric and included the handle and a rim sherd (no basal sherds). This may be the same type of pottery as the medieval Scottish greyware Cormac McSparron found when excavating at St Augustine's church last year - we will need to compare them. We also found another rim-sherd of everted rim ware although the decoration is different to that found on Friday.

green-glazed pottery sherds including a strap handle
sherd of everted rim-ware
On Friday we also received a postcard to the dig site!! This is a definite first for all of us, and pretty cool. Thank you Ivor.
 Postcard from Ivor addressed to the site in the car park [the picture on the front is of Cormac' s Chapel, Cashel]


Friday, 27 September 2013

Day 15 Friday

Another good day and less scratching of heads.. We think we have the fills/layers of a pit/ditch/slope which are all dipping down at an angle. The ribbed glass we found yesterday in the upper layer has been dated it to to the late 13th to 14th century by Gregory (a glass-man who called by and has previously volunteered with us at Prehen) and identified it as coming from a goblet. Today Grace found a rim-sherd of everted rim-ware (also known as Ulster coarse ware). This pottery type dates to between the early-13th to early 17th century but as this piece was decorated with raised ribs it may be more tightly dateable.
We have also uncovered an area of burning, cut through by the burials, and associated with a large stone, a possible hearth stone. This is a piece of dressed stone with a pecked surface and presumably is reused - possibly from the monastery? 
Tommy and Paddy were also back and removed most of our spoil heap.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Open Day

Just a reminder that we will be having an Open Day at the site this Saturday 28th, between 10am and 3pm and everyone is welcome. The car park will be pay and display as usual. The site is located off Bishop Street Within, opposite the courthouse.

Aerial view of the city taken at the end of our first week on site (13.09.13). The Bishop Street car park and the excavation trench is visible towards the centre foreground of the picture. Photo by Gail Pollock, NIEA: Built Heritage.

Day 14

Today was a relatively quiet and slow day after the media madness of yesterday. Having said that, we started to count the numbers of visitors to the site from lunchtime and by 5 o'clock we had a tally of 420!
 A notable brief interlude after lunch when we had no visitors
We spent much of the day working on the western half of the trench. There has persistently been a subdivision within the trench with the burials and loamy garden/urban soil  into which the graves were cut confined to the eastern half of the trench while anomalous spreads, lenses and possible linear features (differentiated by the differential composition of the soil, e.g. darker or lighter in colour, mores/less clay or stones, etc.) distributed across the western half. We have speculated that the absence of burials in this area may mean that they were respecting a boundary of some sort. Much of the spreads of material in the western half are quite stony and relatively sterile and reminiscent of redeposited subsoil - possibly upcast from a bank latterly slighted and spread out when the city walls were built. The finds suggest we are in the 'Dowcra' phase of the development of the town (late 16th - early 17th century) so perhaps these deposits are the remnants of part of Docwra's fort.

We recorded and investigated some of these anomalous lenses and layers during the day, one of which yielded another musket shot (bringing the total to 6 so far) and a sherd of vessel glass with raised ridges.

 Brian recording and Tony Wilkinson (volunteer) excavating

Wednesday, 25 September 2013


Wahoo - we have a two week extension! The minister, Mark H. Durkan, visited the site this morning and made the announcement with much media interest (including UTV Live and BBC Newsline).

Environment  Minister Mark H. Durkan with, on left, Roisin Doherty, Museum Services, and Emily Murray, excavation director. (Photo - Tom Heaney, nwpresspics)
The Minister also made the announcement of our major find - a sherd of an Early Bronze Age urn dating to circa 2000 BC and a flint scraper. These are the oldest finds from the island of Derry and although we might have expected settlement here in the prehistoric period (the island is strategically located on a bend on the river Foyle, a major river, and protected on the opposite side by a stretch of bog), this is the first piece of positive evidence. Saint Colmcille was reputedly given the site on the island for his monastery by a local King Aed, who had a fort here. It was clearly deemed a defensible and strategic site in the early medieval period and presumably was viewed the same for centuries and millennia before.
We are, however, still excavating down through the post-medieval period - the two Bronze Age finds were not found in context and had been disturbed by later activity. Brian started to excavate down through a linear feature, a possible ditch, and produced another of the very small tobacco pipe bowls (date range 1580-1610) while Stuart started to excavate a small pit which produced multiple sherds of a green-glazed pot possibly medieval...

 View of the site at midday - section of wall (cut through by burials) bottom right