Thursday, 29 August 2013

The final week

It may have been the volunteers’ last day of digging on Friday but, for the CAF team, work at Elagh continued this week with the final bits of excavation and recording being carried out.

Things got even more interesting in Trench 3 late on Friday afternoon when some of the volunteers uncovered three postholes below the buried soil horizon between the ditch and revetting wall.  A further clean-up of the area also uncovered a series of possible stakeholes.  These features were excavated and the soil from the postholes sampled.  The features are most likely the remains of structures and indicate that there was occupation in this area of the site prior to the digging of the ditch and construction of the bank.  A clean-up of the NE end of the trench revealed a series of stones laid down onto the buried soil to form an area of rough paving.

Stakeholes in Trench 3

 In Trench 5, three stakeholes were found in the same area as the postholes that were uncovered on Day 6.  At the opposite end of the trench (where we thought we might have the start of a ditch) our interpretation has changed.  A closer look at the stones filling this area shows them to be both regular in shape and construction, leading us to speculate that they may form some kind of foundation/footing layer for another part of the castle.

 Stones in Trench 5

In Trench 4, the week has been spent recording and drawing the final plans and sections.

We would again like to thank all the volunteers who helped out during the excavation, as well as the landowner for facilitating our investigations of the site.  Hopefully we can come back to Elagh Castle at another time.

The CAF team will be back excavating in Derry on 9th September- check this blog to keep informed. Volunteering will again be coordinated through NorthWest volunteers:

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Day 7 - Exciting finds in Trench 4!

Due to health and safety concerns the excavation of the ditch in Trench 3 had to be halted as it is now 1.5 metres deep.  The ditch being so deep and steep sided lends to the theory that it is a defensive feature associated with O’Doherty’s Tower.   John and Sean were then able to begin excavation of the bank which allowed us to reveal the extent of the revetting wall and expose the original ground surface beneath the bank.  It is hoped that this deposit will provide very useful dating evidence.     

Revetting wall and original ground surface in Trench 3 

Some very exciting discoveries were made while excavating in Trench 4 today. Layers or buried burnt earth and stone continued to be excavated from the bank material at the north-western end of the trench. A fine and intact example of a flint end-scraper, which would have been a used as a tool by people in prehistoric times, was uncovered from this layer along with a rectangular stone object.  After careful examination this object has been noted to be smoothed in places and scored with fine lines in others, with two definite grooves at one end. From careful observation of these wear patterns we have identified the object as a whetstone (used for sharpening metal blades). The layer associated with these artefacts was also rich in large fragments of charcoal and many small fragments of burnt bone; therefore it was necessary to sample the material for further analysis and extraction of material which can then be used to provide a radiocarbon date for this layer within the bank. Many thanks to Denise, Eilis, Caolan, Connor and Bettina for all their hard work, especially with the careful sieving of all the excavated material today, picking out everything that could be missed in the swift removal of bank material.  

Flint scraper and whetstone found in Trench 4

Over in Trench 5, we began the excavation of the clay layer. This layer appears to be coming down onto the natural subsoil, into which the second post hole is cut. That post hole will be excavated tomorrow. In the south-west end of the trench, we are still following the slope of what we think is the natural subsoil down from the rocky outcrop. It is still diving down, and we are getting closer and closer to thinking we may have some sort of ditch here! Tomorrow will hopefully shed some more light on this. Many thanks to Clare, Jan, Conall and Li for all their help.

Excavation of the clay layer in Trench 5

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Day 6

After yesterday’s good discoveries, the team were keen to get stuck into another day of digging.

In Trench 3, excavation of the ditch is progressing well.  We have discovered a loamy layer which we think is the original ground surface.  The ditch has been cut through this layer and it was then buried under the revetment wall and redeposited subsoil during the construction of the bank.  This original ground surface extends to the north-western end of the trench; we will remove this layer once the ditch and bank have been fully excavated.

John excavating the ditch in Trench 3

It was a hive of activity in Trench 4 today.  The animal skeletons have been recorded and removed, below which was a layer of sticky clay which contained bottle glass.  This was directly overlying the natural bedrock and subsoil.

Two cuttings have been made into the platform are in the middle of the trench, this has revealed a burnt clay deposit containing a lot of charcoal.

Cutting through the platform in Trench 4 showing the burnt clay deposit

At the bank to the north-western end of the trench the burnt clay deposit revealed yesterday was sampled for further investigation back at Queens.  As well as containing an abundance of charcoal there were also fragments of burnt bone.

In Trench 5, the excavation of the slot trench was completed, revealing two postholes in the eastern corner of the trench. One of these was excavated and sampled today. These postholes and the slot trench likely relate to a structure being present here in the past. In the south-west of the trench, the levelling up deposits were removed. These revealed that the grey clay that is present in the extension is continuing on past the rock outcrop and diving down onto a layer that we think may be the natural subsoil.

Post holes in Trench 5 (the one to the top of the photo remains unexcavated)

Thanks to our volunteers éilis, John McL, John H, Jan, Clare, Bettina, Rebecca, Sean, Li, Conall and Olcan

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Day 5..loads of volunteers!

Lots of volunteers on site today resulted in a productive day, with lots of discoveries being made in each of the trenches.

In Trench 3, excavation of the ditch fill continued, this was rewarding with éilis finding a musket ball in the deposit.  The deposit in the middle of the trench, which was previously thought to be the subsoil, is actually redeposited subsoil which forms a low bank.  Interestingly at the northern edge of the bank there appears to be a small revetment wall, 2 courses high.  

Cleaning of the revetment wall in trench 3

The musket ball found in trench 3

Lots of interesting new discoveries were made in Trench 4 today, with the very helpful voluntary assistance of Gregory, James and Denise. Excavation of the bank at the NW end of the trench revealed several compact layers; the uppermost of these consists of a mixture of earth and stone with a few fragments of 20th century ceramics and a perforated roofing slate. Beneath this was a layer of large sub-rounded stones which was removed today to reveal a fairly level layer of burnt clay with an abundance of charcoal. Tomorrow this will be sampled for retrieval of dating material, before being fully excavated.

Excavation of the Trench 4 extension also continued today; the bank material found here slopes sharply down towards the north towards a line of stones which run roughly east to west and seem to have the remnants of building mortar still clinging to them. In the space or pit between the bank and the stones, a number of articulated skeletal animal remains have been found. These appear to be canine and at least three in number. Due to their fragile state these will have to be carefully uncovered and recorded in situ before being removed for further examination at a later date. An intact clay pipe bowl with a decorative edging was also recovered from the same soil which surrounds these bones and has been roughly dated to sometime in the 17th century.
Clay pipe bowl found in trench 4

In Trench 5, the hearth feature was a lot smaller than we anticipated, but it still shows that there was a singular episode of burning in this area.  Cut into the grey clay at the NE end of the trench was a shallow slot trench running roughly east-west.  Both these features were sampled, with the hope that there will be some environmental material for dating.  At the opposite end of the trench, the stony deposit is currently being excavated.

Thanks again to our volunteers John H, Jan, Rebecca, éilis, John McL, Pearl, Li, Conall, Olcan, Gregory, Denise and James.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Day 4

In Trench 3, the upper ditch fill continued to be excavated and it seems that stony deposit is being revealed.  The trench was then planned which meant that the volunteers could began removing the stones at the SE of the trench.

Trench 3: excavating the section through the possible ditch fill

A 3m2 extension has been made to the SW edge of Trench 4. Removal of the sod and topsoil revealed continuation of the bank which was found earlier at the NW end of the trench. This bank appears to be constructed of several layers of compact stone and earth and curves around from the NE through West to the SE. We may also have evidence of a stone platform in the centre of trench 4 but this has yet to be investigated further. Between this potential platform and the newly unearthed section of bank, a thick layer of dark loam was removed and found to contain some charcoal, a struck flint and a hone stone (for sharpening knives). Excavation of the bank material at the NW end of the trench has begun and is revealing several episodes of construction. Hopefully more of the story in trench 4 will unravel with further excavation tomorrow.
Hone Stone found in Trench 4

In Trench 5, excavation of the shattered stone deposit continued.  This revealed that the clay deposit at the NE end of the trench continued to the bedrock outcrop at the middle of the trench.  On the other side of the bedrock there is a band of tightly packed stones and a band of softer soil, these may be levelling deposits, but we won’t be sure until they’re fully excavated.  In the afternoon we extended the trench by 3m2 to the NE in order to reveal the extent of the clay occupation deposit.

Clay occupation layer in Trench 5

Thanks to our volunteers John McL, éilis, Gregory, John H, Shannon, Pearl, Bettina, Rebecca and Anthony.

Day 3 (& some really nice photos..)

In Trench 3, the stones to the SE were trowelled, to define them and to establish their extent.  At the opposite end of the trench, the volunteers started to excavate a section through the possible ditch fill.   Although initially there were plenty of finds from the topsoil, artefacts have become few and far between.

In Trench 4, the remainder of the 19th and 20th century debris that was filling the space between the two banks at the NW end of the trench was completely removed revealing a steep sided rock-cut feature approximately 80cm width. A thin skim of clay was found under the modern debris covering the bedrock surface. No artefact material was found in this layer but a few lumps or mortar material were found which may imply that a structural feature once stood in close proximity and has since been removed or robbed of stone for use elsewhere.

Excavated rock cut feature 

In Trench 5 the day was spent excavating the shattered stone deposit that was present across the trench.  This revealed a layer of light grey clay to the NE end of the trench.  This clay layer was associated with a small layer of burning, visible only in the section face.  This probably represents a period of occupation at Elagh.
Trench 5

Archaeologists and volunteers having a well deserved break

Thanks to our volunteers éilis, Gregory, John and Rebecca and thanks to Bettina for providing the photos.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Day 3 - Stuart & the Dragon

Here's a sneak preview of Stuart with one of the finds of the site...

Day 2

It was a productive morning on site, with things starting to get quite interesting in the trenches. Unfortunately in the afternoon the rain set in and we were rained-off. In Trench 4 it still looks as if the large stones at the south-eastern end of the trench are structural, with occasional mortar now appearing between the stones. At the north-western end we appear to have two steeply-sloping banks constructed of highly compact earth and stone. Excavation of the fill between these features has unearthed a deep-filled rubbish pit containing 19th to 20th century detritus, probably used to rapidly fill the gully between the two banks. Amongst the artefacts recovered are the remains of a car door (!), some fine china, glass bottles from 'J. McAllister & Son of Ballymena' and a pair of old leather boots!

In the south-eastern end of Trench 3 there is a concentration of stones which may be the footings of a small building. Subsoil has been revealed in the middle of the trench and to the north-western extent there is a dark soil which may be the fill of a ditch. Tomorrow we are extending the trench, hoping to find the far side of this possible ditch.

Over in Trench 5 the cobbled surface has been removed revealing the underlying shattered bedrock surface.

It will be interesting to see what Friday brings. Let's hope the weather is better for digging!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Day 1

Today was the first day of the volunteer-led excavation at Elagh. Three trenches have been opened, one on top of the rocky outcrop to the west of the upstanding masonry, another on the lower ground to the south-east and a third on the lower ground to the north. The first trench (Trench 4) is the most promising in terms of evidence for structural masonry. We have an area of large rounded stones which are associated with a deposit containing fragments of mortar. Further excavation will tell us more about this feature. Interesting finds from this trench have included a small brass handle and two sherds of 17th-century stoneware.

A view of Elagh castle and the rocky outcrop on which it sits

In the second trench (Trench 3) we are still excavating the plough-soil but 17th and 18th century artefacts have been turning up. 

In the third trench (Trench 5) we have what looks like a cobbled surface. Hopefully a good day's digging tomorrow will reveal some of Elagh castle's secrets.

Trench 4

And finally, a big thanks to all our enthusiastic volunteers - many hands make light work!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Elagh Castle - geophys & trench locations

The August excavation at Elagh Castle follows-on from work undertaken by the CAF earlier this year on behalf of the NIEA - a geophysical survey (February) and an evaluative excavation (March).

The results of the survey have enabled five target-features to be identified for further archaeological investigation. Two of these, on top of the mound, were opened in March (Trenches 1 and 2), and Trenches 4 and 3 (Trench 3 will be a bit smaller than what is suggested on the plot below..) will be excavated this August, time and weather permitting.

A plot of the geophysical survey results with suggested trench locations and targets highlighted in red

TRENCH 3: A low resistance arc surrounding the base of the outcrop was noted in the survey. This may mark the location of an artificial ditch, perhaps some 3m in width, or may be natural where water has accumulated. More intriguing is the fact that this possible ditch seems to be placed to the rear side of another geophysical anomaly ('white line') that may be a stone wall surrounding the northern edge of the outcrop. The location of this anomaly is exactly in line with the field boundary to the western side of the monument. This could mean that the feature is the robbed-out stretch of boundary wall to the north of the castle, or – alternatively – that the western boundary lies on the line of a medieval (or earlier?) boundary wall, the northern remains of which have now been shown up through the geophysical survey. Given this, the ditch anomaly may represent either a natural feature or a ditch that predates the construction of the stone boundary wall; establishing whether the wall is of Medieval or Early Modern date might in turn help explain the date and function of the ditch. This would require a large excavation trench to resolve.

TRENCH 4 Both Davies and Swan (1939, 203) and Jope et al. (1950, ) noted the existence of a what seemed to be the foundation course of a small building located at the south-west corner of the summit enclosure. From its location on the perimeter of the enclosure it can be speculated that this feature is the remains of a wall-tower designed to provide additional defensive strength to this corner of the castle. To establish whether this is indeed the case we will open a small excavation trench across the line of this feature.

Davies, O., and Swan, H.P., 1939: “The Castles of Inishowen”, Ulster Journal of Archaeology 2, 178-208.

Jope, E.M., Jope, H.M., and Johnson, E.A., 1950: “Harry Avery’s Castle, Newtownstewart, County Tyrone: Excavations in 1950”, Ulster Journal of Archaeology 13, 81-92. 

We're Back! LegenDerry DIG No. 2 coming up...

We are heading back to Derry to dig at Elagh Castle, also know as Doherty's Tower next week.

Volunteers are welcome to join in the dig (August 14th- 23rd) - please register with the North West Volunteer Centre

A bit about the castle (from the NI-SMR) -

This was an Irish castle probably dating to the 14th century. It was an O'Doherty stronghold until 1600 when it was abandoned and part demolished by the English. O'Doherty reclaimed it in 1608, but lost it to Chichester who used it for a garrison. It was leased by 1621, and by 1665 had fallen into disrepair. There is evidence remaining of a curtain wall in at least two places west of the existing tower. This tower retains traces of a portcullis slot and is likely to be the surviving portion of a double-towered gateway. There are also traces of a corner tower in the SW of the outcrop on which the castle stood. The various contemporary reports suggest the castle consisted of a lofty square keep with semi-circular towers projecting from two of the angles.