As we near the end of the excavation, many volunteers have finished their final days at the site. New trenches have been started while old ones have been abandoned. With the end in sight, and heritage weekend right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to review the progress so far, and what it means for our knowledge of the history of the precincts as a whole.
Broadly, the excavation area has revealed three different spaces, the garden space near trenches 5 and 6, the old pond space near trenches 3 and 4, and something entirely different near trenches 1 and 2.
One new trench, in the very front corner of the garden, has recently turned up layers and layers of garden. These layers continue to stretch down, and are expected to correspond with what has been found nearby, in what began as trenches 5 and 6.
5 and 6 give a long history of garden as well, but in some test pits material from the late 1600’s is now consistently turning up. The layers leading to this began with a dump of early 20th century material in the garden, but reach down through garden layers until the soil goes very dark. Here, volunteers found a coin from the rein of William and Mary around 1690-1702, helping to date the context. Below that level everything is consistently 17th century.
The 17th century pottery, a highlight of the day, is uncovered.
Among the most notable finds in the 17th century layer, a slip ware pot with dark glaze and yellow decoration came up today. While it was found in pieces, the pieces are fairly large, and much of the pot has been found. According to Access Cambridge Archaeologist Allison Dickens, a piece of pottery of this type would have been important in the household in the era. The pottery, like much of the other material in the same context, hasn’t been disturbed or turned around. This suggests that this particular area of the garden saw dumps of material in the 17th century, but that not much else happened to it.
In the same area, volunteers also found three big fragments of clay tobacco pipe from the late 1600’s-1690. After further analysis is conducted, it may be possible to date these pipes, for instance if they commemorate a wedding, christening, or similar event and therefore bear a date.
The 17th century pottery with yellow design on black glaze.
Trench 5 has provided much of the medieval window glass and pottery during the dig. Some roman potsherds have even been found in the trench. In general, the presence of so much medieval material shows that the test pits in this trench have dropped below the garden area and into consistently earlier material. The activity being uncovered in this area is activity that went on in the garden possibly before the deans garden, that is also unaffected by the pond. In the earlier days, this buildup might have been much more consistent and slow building.
Clay pipes found in the 17th century context.
The pond archaeology is relatively finished at this point, though trench 9 continues in the hopes of finding the edge of the pond. On Monday, when only the Cambridge teams are left on the site, they are going to look for the base of the pond when the machines are available. However, little more can be done with human hands in the pond area in the time that is left.
The trench that has been consistently different, neither garden nor pond, is trench 1. In order to better interpret what is happening in this trench, Allison Dickens and Peterborough Cathedral Archaeologist Jackie Hall have been going through the earlier records of an excavation done in the adjacent carpark in 1984. Trying to match what they are now seeing here, things are starting to make some sense. Trench 1’s original intent was to try and catch the north end of the pond and maybe the older precinct wall or burh wall, likely very deep below ground. Today, the archaeologists compared their findings so far to an excavation done by archaeologist Don Mackreth in 1984. Like him, they encountered a deposit of black and humid, claylike material with roman pottery and animal bone throughout. Mackreth knew, however, that this deposit was on the north side of the burh wall. Meanwhile a second test pit in trench 1 just south of the black clay pit lacks the humid black material. This suggests that either the burh wall is between the two pits, or we’ve lost the burh wall because of the late medieval pond taking it out. In the next two days, volunteers will prioritize cutting out the bulk between the pits to look for the wall. If it’s not there, it’s been cut out. The presence or absence of the wall will tell us if the black clay material is either fill of an east west ditch or pond, or the low lying boggy area north of the buhh wall that Mackreth mentioned. The question is, is it inside or outside the manmade feature? While we look for the answer we are still pulling bone and pot and ceramics out of it. Do, it is clear the deposit was human affected, but was it human made? The hardworking volunteers and archaeologists at the precincts have two days to find out.
Allison Dickens stands atop the earth that may hold the burh wall. To her left, the north trench 1 test pit with the dark black clay material can be seen.
Everything we have done has added to the story of the precinct, but trench 1 is the one that links with previous archaeology done in the area, so it’s going to see targeted effort in the future.