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Managing a Masterpiece 2012-2013

Managing a Masterpiece is a three year Landscape Partnership Scheme for the Stour Valley funded by the National Heritage Memorial Fund. In 2012-13, Access Cambridge Archaeology continued its very successful involvement with this programme, successfully bidding to run community test pit excavations in Nayland (Suffolk) in October 2012; field-walking at Goldingham (Essex) in November 2012 and two larger excavations on the site of Clare Castle (Suffolk) in May and September 2013. These projects were directed by Dr Carenza Lewis with archaeological supervision provided by Cat Ranson (ACA), Alex Pryor (Dept of Archaeology) and Matt Collins (Cambridge Archaeological Unit) and administrative support provided by Clemency Cooper (ACA).

The test pit excavations at Nayland were a major community event attracting well over a hundred people to excavate 34 test pits over a single weekend in October 2012. The excavations indicated the settlement had Romano-British antecendents, but there was little or no continuity into the Anglo-Saxon period, with the present community being essentially a Norman foundation. Most striking evidence attesting to the extent to which the settlement flourished in the later medieval period, which clearly indicated that Nayland bucked the trend, otherwise observed from test pit excavation across the region, for significant post-14th contraction. At Goldingham, two days of field-walking by 77 volunteers revealed evidence for Mesolithic activity and a slight concentration of medieval pottery coinciding with a spread of oyster shell which may hint at the site of settlement associated with the medieval manor of Goldingham. It is intended to follow up these discoveries with another Managing a Masterpiece excavation in autumn 2013.

In May 2103, a nine-day excavation at Clare Castle was so successful that a further five-day excavation was funded in the autumn. The aims of the excavations were to provide a context for human remains previously found during 20th century construction work on the site; to assess the extent of surviving archaeological remains where the Victorian railway cut across the castle bailey; to establish whether any remains of documented medieval gardens survive east of the bailey; and to identify and characterise any archaeological features in the scheduled southern part of the inner bailey. The excavations involved nearly 150 volunteers and revealed five in situ inhumations from a medieval cemetery surviving under the former railway line; a substantial ditch or pit containing a series of 12th-14th century fills including 40 sherds of a very unusual ornately decorated Mill Green ware jug whose only known parallel is from London; and the foundations of a substantial stone building along the south side of the bailey which was built in the 12th century and demolished in the 16th. Large amounts of medieval painted window glass found overlying these may come from this building or another one nearby, but attest to the high status of the buildings in this area, interpreted as a chapel, church, or hall. No evidence was found for medieval gardens, and it is inferred that if these were present in the excavated area, they have been destroyed by more recent landscaping.

Overall, the results are most important in demonstrating the potential of the buried archaeological remains which survive despite extensive modern disturbance on this site. The excavations generated a huge amount of interest, with hundreds of visitors and repeated coverage on BBC local radio. The site of Clare Castle, part of a country park, is in the process of passing into local ownership, and it is hoped that the success of the 2013 excavations may lead to a longer-term project in the future.