This is going to be a longer diary entry than usual – there is lots to talk about and we have also changed our minds about how we interpret some of the puzzling features that we have found so far.
Dave and Yvonne started the mammoth task of drawing the main section in what we started off by calling our ‘southern ditch’. This has ended up (despite not having got its full extent at either end), as over 9m wide and just over 2.2m deep at its lowest point. This has meant ‘stepping’ the cutting for safety reasons which makes drawing more difficult.
At the other end of the trench we are still trying to define the scale of the northern ditch, the only place where we have encountered the natural subsoil, a pale crumbly coombe rock, derived from the surrounding chalk. Here again there is a real contrast with what’s going on to the south of the church, as this northern ditch has produced little except a few animal bones. I think that this ditch is going to be about 4m wide and 1.5m deep. Dan thinks it’s going to be much bigger, so there is a curry bet on the outcome of tomorrow’s digging!
We have finished our investigation of the cemetery area to the north of the church, cleaning, photographing and planning what now shows. There is evidence of at least three more burials, but we are not touching them, simply recording their position.
On the church itself, Dan and Alan’s investigation outside the north wall has shown that there are least 5 courses of mortared flint making up the foundations. We do have a very puzzling void in the north wall though where the flints in the centre of the wall can be picked out by hand. Very odd. In contrast to the wide north wall a small trench adjacent to the south wall has shown it to be more scrappily built and much narrower. This is odd as you’d expect the walls to be of a similar width on either side of the building. But the real puzzle is what is going on inside the church. I had this idea that we would find some nicely defined walls and that inside them we would remove a deposit of wall collapse or demolition debris, which would bring us down onto a nice, easy to define floor. I wasn’t expecting decorated tiles or marble, after all this is a humble church. A mortar or beaten chalk floor would do. But we have found no trace of a floor level, finding instead an odd sequence of events which seems to include digging shallow pits. But there are some deposits of what looks like fine chalk, now hard and cemented together. This has led us to wonder if what we have is not a flint walled building (despite there being lots of flint nodules, there aren’t really enough for all the walls), but the flint footings for cob walls. Cob walls are basically made of earth: chalk or clay mixed with straw, and the local coombe rock makes ideal building material. This might also explain our huge ditch/scoop to the south of the church. It could be the quarry for the material to build the church walls. We are also wondering if we have a building that was thatched and if our ‘font’ base is, less excitingly, simply a ‘post pad’ for an inserted roof support.
As we have been explaining to our students, you may start the dig with some ideas about what you are going to find, but you have to be prepared to modify, or even ditch entirely those ideas as the dig progresses and new evidence emerges. This is why archaeology is so exciting!
And it did end up as an evening shift followed by a visit to the Blandford chippy!