DIG DIARY FOR PORTHCLEW CHAPEL
EXCAVATION, AUGUST 2009
Following on from the excavation in 2008, the Dyfed
Archaeological Trust are undertaking a second season of excavation
at Porthclew chapel, Freshwater East. The site is proving to be
very interesting and is shedding important light on early medieval
chapel sites in Pembrokeshire!
Last year we investigated several enclosure ditches surrounding
the remains of the chapel, and tried to establish the extent of
the cemetery. Carbon dates from these ditches suggest they date
from 550AD to 810AD and 1010AD. So now we know the site does have
early medieval origins.
This year we hope to investigate several intruiging features shown
on the geophysical survey, which we suspect may be part of a settlement
surrounding the chapel. What we don’t know is how old the
settlement may be and how it relates to the early medieval ditches.
Following a few hitches, this year's dig diary is now up and running,
so if you can’t visit the excavation itself (there is a tour
every day except Thursdays at 3 pm until August 21st) visit the
dig diary to catch up on developments and discoveries!
The project is funded
by Cadw and run by the Dyfed Archaeological Trust and the
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.
Diary Porthclew Excavation 2008
Having already located and opened the trenches with
a JCB, the digging begins.
The sense of déjà vu is added to by some
But despite the weather, we make a start cleaning up
the trenches to discover what lurks below.
Day 1 - Monday August 3rd
This year the team includes archaeology students from
Nottingham, Cardiff and Lampeter universities, and
local volunteers, many of whom also with us last year.
Cleaning up in Trench 2
Day 2 - Tuesday August 4th
Another damp day, but despite this
we continue cleaning the trenches and begin to excavate
some features. This year we are concentrating on some
curious shapes visible on the geophysics survey from
last year. We hope trenches B and D will reveal evidence
of buildings, possibly a settlement associated with
the chapel and cemetery. In both trenches we discover
sandy areas that may be evidence of the buildings
we hope to find. The other three trenches (C,E and
F) are smaller and have been placed to find out about
other intruiguing features on the geophysics survey.
Trench A is being held in reserve.
Each layer we excavate is given a ‘context’
number and its characteristics are recorded on a ‘context
The edges of each feature that is discovered is drawn
to create a plan of the site.
Day 3 - Wednesday August
At last the weather has improved
and we can make good progress cleaning and excavating
to clarify what types of features are revealed in
Our first day off, and the team hit the beach!
Day 4 - Thursday August 6th
In trench C we are hoping to find part of a possible
livestock enclosure and another feature suggested by
the geophysical survey.
In Trench B we have uncovered the top of a
curving wall and a spread of rubble. Underneath is a
thick layer of wind blown sand. Could this be part of
In the rest of the trench several stone lined
‘Cist’ graves and ditches are becoming apparent.
These too are buried underneath a thick layer of sand.
Members of the Pembrokeshire Detectors club
visited the site to scan the spoil heaps for missed
... and discovered a medieval belt decoration
from Trench D!!
Day 5 - Friday August 7th
We start to investigate the smaller
In Trench D, there is also an area of sand which
may hide part of another building, first, however, we
are investigating some other curious patches of sandy
soil to see if they are significant.
In Trench F work begins on what at first looked
like a cow skeleton, but is now looking more complicated!
In Trench B we start to remove the sand from
inside the possible stone walled building.
Day 6 - Saturday August 8th
Half of the sand has now been removed from the possible
building in Trench B. A dark organic layer of sand lies
just above the floor and there is evidence of a fireplace
on the edge of the trench.
In Trench D we continue to clean and carefully
excavate, but it is proving very difficult to identify
features and the hoped for building is beginning to
Day 7 - Sunday August 9th
The floor of the building in Trench B has been completely
revealed and is looking impressive.
In the rounded corner of the house there is
a fireplace indicated by a round black stain. The large
rock in the wall is probably intentionally placed to
act as a fire-back for reflecting heat. To the right
of the fireplace, the gap in the wall is probably a
‘smoke-hole’ to allow smoke from the fire
to escape. The house is cut into the surrounding ground
so the floor is below the ground level outside the building.
Charcoal from the hearth will enable us to date the
While cleaning the floor we find a small pierced
stone disc. This may be a loom weight.
Day 8 - Monday August 10th
Today we were visited by a group of volunteers who
are involved in a new project called ‘Arfordir’.
This project intends to involve local volunteers in
monitoring and recording the effects of coastal erosion
(you can find details
here). The group were introduced to the various
techniques and procedures of archaeological excavation.
In Trench C we begin to investigate some possible
post-holes that may be part of another building. The
tops of these features contained a lot of bone and pieces
of green-glazed medieval pottery.
In Trench E we have located the possible livestock
enclosure ditch, but it is not very substantial. Its
fill contained limpet and winkle shells, which presumably
were eaten by the ancient inhabitants of Porthclew.
Day 9 - Tuesday August 11th
The main trenches are really beginning to get very
interesting and we continue to clarify the edges of
several ditches and graves.
Having removed all the sand it now looks like
we will have to remove a layer of stony rubble before
the trench finally reveals its secrets!
In trench C we may have discovered part of
a post-built building.
In Trench F the ‘cow skeleton’
has become a ditch; in fact it has become two ditches,
with a later pit cut through the ditch fills. We have
recovered many animal bones and shells from this trench,
suggesting domestic rubbish was thrown into it. The
latest theory is that this ditch marks the edge of the
We also get visitors from locals and people
holidaying in the area as news about the excavation
Day 10 - Wednesday August
Day 11 - Thursday August
Our Second well earned day off. Today
some of the team have been taken on a sea Kayaking
adventure by the owner of the Porthclew Chapel site.
The ditches and grave cuts in Trench B are now clear,
and we can begin to excavate them.
In this picture we can see that a ditch has
cut through one of the cist graves, revealing that it
has a stone slab base.
Taking the bull by the horns, we decided to
remove a layer of rubble in Trench D, that we thought
was masking some features. And finally we can understand
what is going on. It now seems that instead of one building,
we have two buildings on top of each other. Both buildings
are constructed with wooden posts. the ditches you can
see in the picture would have contained wooden foundation
beams on which the houses were built. The two houses
are on different alignments , which is why the ditches
in the photo below appear to cross eachother. It will
be very interesting to find out if the wooden buildings
are earlier in date than the stone walled building in
Day 12 - Friday August 14th
We continue to look for post holes in Trench D,
concentrating in the area around the clearest building.
This was probably a yard area in which a variety of
activities were carried out. We have found plenty of
charcoal, animal bone and pottery in this area. What
we really need, however, is more evidence to prove there
is more than one building here.
In Trench F we have uncovered a layer of stones. At
first we thought this might be the wall of a building,
but closed investigation suggests the stones may be
lying in the bottom of a third ditch on this alignment.
This supports the idea that it may be an important boundary
In Trench B, we have excavated a shallow ditch
that cuts through a cist grave. In the photo, the stone
slabs on the bottom of the grave have been partly revealed.
We now know that the ditch was cut at a later date than
the burial, but how long ago…..?
Only further excavation will tell us the answers….
Day 13 - Saturday August
Now that we are getting better at distinguishing
archaeological features from the natural geology, we
have one last look In Trench E, to see if we can spot
any more features.
In Trench D we catch up with drawing and recording the
ditches and post-holes.
In Trench F, the newly discovered ditch is added to
In Trench B it now appears that the cist graves
may be cut by two ditches. Last year we obtained a date
of AD810 from the larger ditch shown. This suggests
the graves may be earlier than this. By unravelling
the order in which archaeological features were created,
we can work out how the history of the site has developed
through time. Archaeologists call the sequence of layers
that build up on a site 'stratigraphy'.
Day 14 - Sunday August 16th
The team continues to dig to unravel the secrets
of Trench B
We also begin to carefully clean up around some of the
burials to get some idea of their number and alignment.
No more features have been found in Trench
E. It is officially declared finished!
Day 15 - Monday August 17th
Despite further searches for post-holes, we have decided
that there is only really evidence of one building in
Trench D. It may, however, have had a shed built on
the end. There is also no surviving evidence of a floor
surface in the building. Could it have had a suspended
wooden floor? Perhaps the building was not a house and
did not need a proper floor.
In Trench C, the post holes and a shallow depression
may represent part of another building. This would explain
the presence of the large pieces of pottery from this
trench, but there is too little evidence to be certain.
In Trench B we finish digging out part of the
fill of a ditch that was filled in before the stone
walled house was built but which could be traced across
its floor. The same ditch cuts through some of the cist
Day 16 - Tuesday August 18th
Today an environmental archaeologist from Lampeter
University visited the site to take samples for special
analyses. Using a metal tin, we removed a block of soil
through the organic layer above the floor of the building
and the fireplace in Trench B. By studying this block
of soil in the laboratory, we can look for evidence
of microscopic pollen and evidence of how the layer
If pollen survives, it may provide evidence of whether
the building was thatched or not, or if it had a floor
covering. Samples from the fireplace will hopefully
provide evidence of what fuels were used, as well as
what plant foods were being eaten.
Having cleaned up around some of the burials
in Trench B, we can now see that they have been partially
disturbed by ploughing, and also cut through by the
wall of the stone building. What does this tell us about
the cemetery and the chapel when the house was built?
Day 17 - Wednesday August
Day 18 - Thursday August
Our last day off! Some of the team
go to sample the delights of 'Oakwood' and in the
evening we retire to the pub for a fine meal an in-depth
intellectual discussion on the origins of civilisation
and the finer points of early medieval archaeology
Our last day on site. Today we concentrate on last
minute planning and recording in Trench B, as well as
packing up all the finds and equipment.
As is often the case, later features can destroy
evidence of the order in which earlier features were
created. Here, the point at which two ditches meet,
is cut by a pit and a post hole…sometimes archaeology
can be very confusing!
We remove some of the stones from the walled
building in Trench B to try and find out if there was
a blocked up doorway or window. The results suggest
a possible threshold of flat stones. During this investigation
we also find two rusty iron objects that we can x-ray
to see if they will provide supporting evidence for
A final photo of the DAT staff and university
students before we all depart.
Day 19 - Friday August 21st
So. What has the second season of
excavation told us about the Porthclew chapel site?
A huge amount! We have proven that there were buildings
at the site, which may suggest there was a settlement
at Porthclew from the start of the early medieval
period that could have lasted several hundred years.
There are many other strands of evidence
that also need to be considered, such as place name
and historical evidence. We also need to think about
how the environment and surrounding landscape may
have changed over time. Was the settlement at Porthclew
brought to an end by the relentless build up of sand
dunes in the 14th century?
Many of the details will only be
revealed when we have finished studying the pottery,
bones and other finds, but we can certainly say that
the history of Porthclew and Freshwater East is much
longer than previously thought and will make an important
contribution to our understanding of how people lived
in Pembrokeshire throughought the middle ages.
Many thanks to all the volunteers
that helped on the dig. We would not have been able
to achieve as much as we have without your involvement
and energy! Again, a huge thank you to the landowners
for their permission to dig and their boundless generosity