Sixty Fifth Dig Day – Sunday 8th December 2013

Looking SE at Newmarket Farm dig site at sunset

Looking SE at Newmarket Farm dig site at sunset

A sunny day, a squeaky clean site, some very nice finds, and a beautiful sunset – what more could we want!

Small fragment of painted wall plaster

Small fragment of painted wall plaster.

Small fragment of painted wall plaster

Small fragments of painted wall plaster.

A big push was made to finish cleaning up the site, which resulted in our digging out a number of interesting finds. Shown above is part of a larger fragment of painted wall plaster, found in the surface of the path next to edging stones at the path’s edge between the front door and the outside toilet. The salmon pink underlying material had been previously found in a number of patches near the base of the demolition rubble fill in the area in front of the house. It was incredibly crumbly – it looked like it was dry powdered blancmange – if it is possible to imagine such a thing, am I showing my age?! It should be noted I know next to nothing about building materials or construction, and am just beginning to learn, at present, based on careful use of the Internet (though I have been on a 3 day course on lime mortar).

This find was almost certainly a fragment of an interior plaster/render either wall or ceiling. Is it possible that the open crumbly structure of the pink coloured material may have been because it used to contain organic materials? Certainly the ‘plaster’ of medieval wattle and daub, and its later replacement, lath and plaster, traditionally contained a range of organic materials such as cow dung, straw, and horse hair. Once the cottage was demolished these would have been exposed to the elements and started to decay, thus potentially leaving an open structure without any mechanical strength. This is something worth further investigation.

The outer layer of our plaster/render may have been either of lime or gypsum. For those interested in the complexities of this subject, the buildingconservation.com webpage, Traditional Lime Plaster; Myths, Preconceptions and the Relevance of Good Practice, is well worth reading. Not well shown in the above photographs was the thin layer of paint, perhaps a light or medium grey with a hint of blue.

From cleaning out much of the soil from the gaps between the brick and stone paving outside the front door, ceramic, glass, metal and small bone shards were found. The best of these were;

  • Shard of cup decorated with verse from 'Who Killed Cock Robin'

    Shard of cup decorated with verse from ‘Who Killed Cock Robin’.

    This is almost certainly a significant piece of those found earlier in the dig nearby,

    Child's cup or mug

    Parts of a child’s cup or mug found in August 2013.

    The verse is from ‘Who Killed Cock Robin‘. An Internet search failed to find a published speculation about the possibility that this may, at some level, be a Christian allegory. There is a tradition that Robin Redbreast got his red breast from Christ’s wounds at his crucifixion. Another myth or legend is that the Holy Grail was a sacred vessel used to collect Jesus’ blood. And the fish or ichthys was an early Christian symbol of Christ’s resurrection. Thus, what we have found is not necessarily a gruesome verse, but intended to give a child a sense of right and wrong, and of life, death, and resurrection.

  • Decorated base of clay pipe bowl

    Decorated base of clay pipe bowl.

    Also found was part of the base of the most highly decorated clay pipe bowl of the dig; it has a large leaf at its heel, and the upper part of the design may be of a basket weave design, but this is far from clear – further cleaning and examination may reveal more.

Looking N at cottage from S of 'lean-to' extension

Looking N at cottage from S of ‘lean-to’ extension

Elsewhere the inner faces of the cottage walls were cleaned up. This involved digging a short distance down into the chalk rubble foundation of the floor. Finds have been particularly scarce in this context; interesting was another piece of (cow?) bone – a butchered piece of tibia(?). Previously similar such bone and a large base of a green bottle have been found from elsewhere in this context, suggesting the builders of the cottage threw away the remains of their dinners into the foundation trench.

Looking N at 'lean-to' extension to S of cottage

Looking N at ‘lean-to’ extension to S of cottage.

Looking N at possible in-situ brick and mortar structure S of SE corner of 'lean-to' extension

Looking N at possible in-situ brick and mortar structure S of SE corner of ‘lean-to’ extension.

Looking W at possible in-situ brick and mortar structure S of SE corner of 'lean-to' extension

Looking W at possible in-situ brick and mortar structure S of SE corner of ‘lean-to’ extension.

On Friday, whilst cleaning the south side of the extension to the south of the cottage, a previously overlooked mortar structure was further examined, east of a potentially in-situ brick butting onto the remains of its wall. It now looks even more likely to be part of an in-situ structure. On the left hand side of the above photo – between the peg and the base of the top brick – can be seen what appears to be part of a salt-glazed stoneware drainage pipe. Could this have diverted rainwater to fill a water-tank, or to top up a well?

Looking SW at excavation of base of chimney

Looking SW at excavation of base of chimney.

Looking SW at excavation of base of chimney

Looking SW at excavation of base of chimney.

Meanwhile, our effort to excavate down through the demolition rubble east of the chimney base also continued. And very nice finds were found from here as well;

  • Finds tray from excavation of demolition rubble from E of chimney base

    Finds tray from excavation of demolition rubble from E of chimney base.

    Large pieces of a pink and a white wash basin, seemingly identical to a large fragment found on the other side of the demolition rubble mound;

  • Ceramic shard, in late afternoon sun, from excavation of demolition rubble from E of chimney base

    Ceramic shard, in late afternoon sun, from excavation of demolition rubble from E of chimney base.

    Some nice decorated ceramics;

  • Copper alloy chain from excavation of demolition rubble from E of chimney base

    Copper alloy chain from excavation of demolition rubble from E of chimney base.

    A copper alloy chain from which an object may have been hung – perhaps of about 5 kilos – was another nice find.

Now that the site has been cleaned our hi-res laser scan – courtesy of SeSurveying.co.uk – can now go ahead, though apparently it may not happen till the 23rd of this month.

How much we manage to excavate over the next four dig days, before we officially shut down for the winter on Sunday 22nd December, depends on how many volunteers brave the cold to help us dig (no experience required)! Excavation targets are;

  • the east side of the front garden gateway (ongoing);
  • the ground surface east of the chimney (ongoing, and which has revealed some beautiful finds); and,
  • the newly observed possible drain-pipe which may possibly lead to the long hoped for well or water-tank.

It should be noted that since this is a research excavation (not a treasure hunt), the main focus should not be on the (possible) pipe itself. It should focus on its relationship with any surrounding contexts; how does it relate to any demolition rubble which may be found – is it above it – is it either side of it – or is any demolition rubble to be found under it; are there any in-situ mortared or other built structures associated with it; what evidence is there for the original ground surface having survived intact – or has it been cut by the later bulldozer; does it sit under/in/on a dark garden soil – a more orange coloured sub-soil – or chalk rubble; and what is the extent of any of these fills on either side of it – is there any evidence of a trench dug in the ground in which the (possible) pipe may have been laid, and then back filled to bury it.

It clearly appears to be associated with the south side of the south-east corner of the lean-to ‘conservatory-like’ structure against the south wall of the cottage. The east side has already been excavated. If we have the people to do it, the trench on the south side of the ‘conservatory’ should, ideally, be extended southwards by about a metre to investigate at least part of this new feature. One of the reasons for this is that the other purpose of this dig is education – to learn about archaeology, and to share what we find. It is much easier to enable our visitors and volunteer diggers to understand what we have found when they can see how it relates to other structures. Which is why I ended up with an open area excavation, even though this was not my original plan. Therefore, whilst starting on new areas at this late stage of the dig would normally not be a good thing to do, to postpone resolving this new feature till next year – after the site has been backfilled – would make its visual interpretation so much more difficult, unless previously excavated areas are reopened. Not an easy decision – unless we get lots of new volunteers!

We meet at the car park near the junction of Bexhill Road and Falmer Road, just north of Woodingdean, Fridays & Sundays at 10am, and if the weather is too bad to dig we are still happy to give a quick tour for anyone interested. Please don’t hesitate to email me further info: scienceinthegreen@yahoo.co.uk

Looking S from dig site

Looking S from dig site.

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2 thoughts on “Sixty Fifth Dig Day – Sunday 8th December 2013

  1. Pingback: Welcome to Newmarket Hill – a South Down Blog! | Newmarket Hill

  2. Pingback: Little Robin | Inspiration-Poetry-Music-Books

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