SULGRAVE CASTLE PROJECT
DETAILS OF THE STAGE 1 ACHIEVEMENTS
(As contained in a Report to the Local Heritage Initiative in June 2006)
See here for photo gallery
Back to Sulgrave Castle Main Page
1. Document Catalogue:
The documentation produced during the five seasons of excavation was much more extensive than expected, consisting of five box files packed full with site notebooks, context cards, photographs, etc, plus a huge roll of over 90 plans, sections, photographs and working drawings etc. These were all scanned into the computer by a team of volunteers, ably assisted, advised and monitored by Dr Richard Ivens, our archaeological adviser, who created a database and systems for cataloguing them all. He contributed many, many voluntary hours’ work to the project on top of his paid expert role, and there are now three full digital and paper copies of the catalogue for all the material. Northampton Record Office has agreed to store the documentary archive once research has been completed.
2. The Finds:
All the boxes of finds have now been examined, and a large proportion of the contents have been washed, sorted and re-bagged where necessary. There are in excess of 20,000 pieces of bone, so it has been a mommoth task, which will continue this summer!
In addition there are 420 bags containing 8808 pottery shards, and many more boxes of samples and 'small finds' (objects made of iron, copper alloy, bone, stone, glass, etc) all of which needed to be carefully examined and sorted.
3. Assessment Reports:
Two specialists were employed to advise and carry out the assessment of the Pottery, the ‘Small Finds’ and the Animal Bone assisted by the Archaeology group members, whose role in providing backup, labour-intensive work such as finds washing and sorting etc was indispensable – as well as highly educational and enjoyable for the volunteers! The reports on the quality of the material, and estimated cost of preparing full specialist analysis and reports have now been completed.
The full reports will be available to download from the LHI website. The reports are now being used as the basis for applications for further funding for Stage 2 of the project.
In early 2006 Dr Richard Ivens completed his catalogue and assessment of the pottery from the site, explaining to the volunteers how he is able to identify different types of clay fabric used in its manufacture, and thus the area where it was commonly used, and sometimes even made. The shapes of pottery vessels are also diagnostic. Together, the fabrics and vessel shapes can be used as dating evidence. Members of the group are looking forward to learning how to fit the various shards together to reveal the appearance of the original vessels, which we hope will take place in Stage 2 as part of the analysis of the site.
From his work cataloguing the documentation, Dr Ivens has also been able to assess the amount of work required to research the structural sequence and dating of the excavations - a very laborious and time-consuming task, but this information is an essential prerequisite to a full analysis of the finds, and to our understanding of the site.
The assessment revealed that the iron objects were in a very poor condition, and had deteriorated considerably over the last 30-40 years. These are being repacked in acid-free, airtight conditions, but Dr Ivens believes that they will become useless in a very short period of time, and should be X-rayed, identified and drawn as a matter of urgency. The objects made of other materials, (bone, copper alloy, stone, fired clay etc) are in a stable condition, but need drawing and examination by specialists.
Dr Emily Murray, an animal bone expert from Belfast, visited Sulgrave in March, and carried out her bone assessment with the assistance of members of the Archaeology group. We learned to sort out which types of bones were useful for assessing how many individual animals of a particular species were present in each context.
The bones of sheep and goat are so difficult to tell apart, they are described as “Sheep/Goat”!
She showed us evidence of disease in some of the bones, and pointed out some unusual ones, such as hare, a ‘giant’ dog, a 4-horned sheep, and amphibian bones. There were also a few human bones, probably from the cemetery next to the site! Her enthusiasm, knowledge and passion for her work were an inspiration to us all.
4. Children’s Event:
At the annual Castle Green ‘Field Day’, a hugely successful and entertaining children’s ‘treasure hunt’ was organised by Martin Sirot-Smith, a member of the group who is a professional educator.
The children (and their parents) learned about the Castle site while searching for answers to questions and for paper bones, which they were then able to assemble into a complete skeleton to win a prize.
5. Exhibitions and progress reports:
An exhibition of the documents, cataloguing system and a Progress Report was presented to the Sulgrave History Society in autumn 2004, along with slides showing the Saxon and Norman stone walls still standing underneath the earth banks of the castle mound. Many villagers could remember the excavations, and reminisced about the drought in summer 1976.
Later on, in autumn 2005, another exhibition was presented at an open meeting, showing the actual finds – bone, pottery and ‘small finds’ - and explaining their significance. Their functions and archaeological value in providing dating and sociological evidence was also explained. The corresponding entries in the hand-written site notebooks describing how the various artefacts were discovered created much interest. Members were fascinated by some of the stories from the notebooks, particularly the Director’s difficulty in finding labourers, and the fact that in one season a gang of prisoners were utilised for this purpose!
6. Specialist Lecture
Dr Mark Gardiner, an expert on Saxon buildings, came over from Queens University Belfast, and gave a fascinating talk about his research into this type of building, with particular reference to what is so far known about the Saxon and Norman buildings beneath the Castle Mound.
7. The Volunteers
Those involved ranged in age from mid-thirties to nearly eighty years old. The work undertaken ranged from map-searches to IT work, and from bone-washing, weighing and counting to photography and exhibition design; from the children’s treasure hunt to moving stacks of boxes – all interspersed with lots of administration, procurement of specialist supplies, and eye-opening discussions with the expert archaeologists about their fields of work!
Many thanks to all those who gave their time and energy to the project and helped to make it such a success. Firstly, sincere thanks to Brian and Sheila Davison, not only for Brian's original identification of the site's potential over forty years ago but also for their continuing enthusiasm which has been an inspiration to everyone connected with both the excavations and the current project. Dr Ivens was an indispensable mainstay of good humour, expertise, and reminiscences of the excavations throughout the two years of the project. Dr Mark Gardiner, and Dr Emily Murray of Queens University Belfast also gave their time for their seminars and Dr Gardiner also played a key part in the planning stages of the project. Martin Sirot-Smith created the Children's Event, and last but not least, a big 'thank you' to the Local Heritage Initiative scheme for providing the funding for the project, and to the Administrator(s) for their unfailing help and patience! "
Clare Pollak, (Project Co-ordinator), and Colin Wootton, (Photographer and Chairman).