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St Ishmael, Carmarthenshire Excavation Dig Diary 2011


A nine day excavation to investigate the remains of the deserted medieval village at St Ishmaels, Ferryside, started on September 6th. Local volunteers are working with the Dyfed Archaeological Trust to record the remains of the interior of one of the buildings and other remains along the coastline, which are being eroded by the sea. It is hoped to determine the dates of one of the buildings, its function and why it was abandoned. The work is being funded by Cadw.

Volunteers Caralinda, Arwyn and Owen, with Hubert clearing vegetation from the building

A proud Owen having cleared the doorway and steps into the building

DAY 1: Tuesday 6th September

Although dark clouds threatened heavy rain all day, we got away dry! The start of the day was a combination of gardening, removing brambles and grass from the site area, and hard work moving sand from across the top of one of the buildings at the site to try and expose the floors. The hard work continued into the afternoon, when we realised that there was a greater depth of sand than we had anticipated! The doorway and steps into the building were just being exposed by the end of the day. More sand to move tomorrow!





The site looking towards Llansteffan

Rubble, with edging stones and clay


DAY 2: Wednesday 7th September

The day was mostly spent removing more sand from across the footprint of the building. A layer of stone rubble has been revealed across the southern half of the building. This may be the remains of a collapsed wall. To the east of this rubble, a thin line of vertical edging stones has been exposed. At the northern end of the building there is still more sand to remove, but we do seem to be getting to the top of the archaeological levels.

Menna, Arwyn, Hubert and Owen surveying and drawing the building


DAY 3: Thursday 8th September

Today was quite wet, but the team still managed to get lots done. A plan was made of the rubble and edging stones and written records were made. A start was then made on removing the stone rubble, which revealed layers of fine sand below. It is probable that these sands cover the floors of the building. The front of the doorway into the building was cleared of debris, revealing the partial remains of wall foundations on either side.


Hazel and Caralinda excavating the pit

Menna, Martin and Owen removing more sand around the doorway to the building


DAY 4: Friday 9th September

A series of archaeological features had been noted at the base of the sand dunes to the south of the building we have been excavating. Today these were investigated and partially excavated by Hazel and Caralinda. A pit containing stone rubble and a layer of burnt material was excavated first. Excavation of the second, earlier feature was started, from which pottery has been recovered.

Menna, Martin and Owen continued to dig down through the sands at the northern end of the building. A second area of collapsed rubble was exposed, possibly from the end wall of the building. More remnants of a stone slab surface within the doorway to the structure has also been revealed.

Caralinda, Hazel, Owen and Hubert excavating the pits

Sue and Menna, with Linney the dog, revealing the possible clay floor and wall

DAY 5: Saturday 9th September

This morning was wet, but the team braved the rain and by lunchtime we had still made good progress. More pottery was recovered from the pits to the south of the building. It is clear that a number of different features are present here, each representing a different period of activity. A later wall lies above this series of features which is likely to be associated with the building being excavated.

At the northern end of the structure, progress was initially hampered by the wet conditions. By the afternoon the team had exposed a possible clay floor layer and the wall to the north of the doorway, with more stones suggesting a partially flagged floor. The day ended very positively with several finds, floor layers and sunshine!

The team spread out along the sand dunes

The doorway, wall and steps

DAY 6: Sunday 11th September

A beautiful and dry day at last! The team continued to excavate the series of pits to the south of the main excavation area. A few more finds were recovered. Another section was cleaned at the base of the sand dunes even further to the south, in an area near further possible stone walls. A number of features were exposed and following partial excavation, a few pottery sherds were recovered.

Further cleaning in the northern end of the building has clearly shown the steps and a partial cobbled floor inside the doorway. The wall to the north of the doorway has also been shown to be quite substantial.

A section was excavated by Sue through the clay material bounded by the edging stones within the building area and pottery and bone was recovered. The edging stones were shown to be neatly cut stone, which fitted together very closely.

Hazel and Arwyn section drawing

A view of the inside of the building (note the puddles!)


DAY 7: Monday 12th September

Lots of drawing today, recording detailed profiles of the excavated sections through the pits. It seems likely that a buried land surface is also present at the base of the dunes, which represents the original ground level lying below the sands that covered it. Medieval pottery has been recovered from this land surface layer, suggesting it was cultivated.

This buried land surface is absent from within the excavation area, which would be expected as it lies within the building. The inside of the building has been proving very difficult to excavate due to water seeping in through the sand, but today we braved the wet sand and managed to reveal more of the inside of the structure. Layers of sand were removed, which presumably covered the building after it had been abandoned, revealing a dark, charcoal rich layer below. We shall excavate more of this material tomorrow and hopefully find dating evidence for the construction of the building.

The team continuing with the detail recording of the site

Owen removing two of the edging stones within the building


DAY 8 - Tuesday 13th September

Caralinda, Hazel and Owen all filled in numerous context sheets today - each context describes in detail a single archaeological layer that has been excavated. It may be a small site, but we have a lot of contexts, with many more to complete tomorrow.

Later in the day we removed two of the edging stones seen within the building, and excavated further into the exposed levels. Samples for environmental analysis were taken as the main layers contained large amounts of burnt material, so that there is a potential for charred plant remains. These can provide evidence for the kinds of food that were eaten at the site. Pottery and bone was also recovered from these layers.


A section through part of the building (note the 'gloop')

The visit from the staff and pupils of Ysgol Meidrim

DAY 9 - Wednesday 14th September

A glorious day. With the excavation coming to a close, we spent the day digging through some of the deeper archaeological deposits. Pottery and bone was recovered from the very base of these layers, providing evidence for earlier phases of occupation. More environmental samples were taken of other features with the potential for more charred plant remains and charcoal. The determination of Owen digging through some of the wettest 'gloop' on the site has to be praised. More drawing and recording was also carried out.

We were also assisted in the morning by a visit from Ysgol Meidrim. The pupils and staff were given a site tour to show them the medieval archaeology. It did not take long before the children could identify the stone walls sticking out from the dunes for themselves. After the site tour we provided a crash course on how archaeologists excavate and record sites. They were then given a some hands on experience, assisting with the recording of a stone wall and also cleaning a section (pottery, bone and coal were all recovered).

Although the excavation officially ends today, we will still be on-site tomorrow, finishing off the recording and backfilling.









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