Archaeological excavations can often result in unexpected discoveries but the unearthing of the remains of a cottage from 1700s and a nit comb on a recent dig at Nevern Castle certainly left a few experts scratching their heads.
The dig was led by Dr Chris Caple of the University of Durham, assisted by Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority Archaeologist Pete Crane and supported by students from Durham and Cardiff Universities as well as local volunteers.
National Park Archaeologist Pete Crane said: “This was the seventh season of work at Nevern Castle as we continue to piece together the turbulent past of this fascinating site.
“As well as the exciting discoveries that were made, it was a pleasure to welcome so many people to the free tours around the site and I hope that subsequent digs will prove as successful as this one.”
The plan this year was to discover the original castle’s ditch, to uncover more of the buildings discovered in a 2011 dig, to begin uncover the original entrance to the castle and to excavate a limited area within the ditch between the Inner Castle and the Bailey where it was proposed to construct a bridge later this year.
The continuation of the 2011 excavation showed that the first castle was much smaller in area than previously thought, and left enough space on the promontory to accommodate eighteen houses of a civilian settlement mentioned in documents from the period.
Excavation around the southern entrance encountered an early ditch and also revealed building activity over the next few decades which resulted in the discovery of a large amount of broken pottery, which helped identify two substantial phases of clay-bonded slate construction in this part of the castle.
The dating of pottery suggested that the first phase was from the mid-1100s either under Robert FitzMartin later in his life, or Rhys ap Gruffydd (the Lord Rhys).
Some of the pottery associated with the later slate build was of a type normally found in South-West England, where the FitzMartins had major estates, and is likely to have been imported when the castle was under the control of William FitzMartin (1170s–1190s).
The second trench was intended to locate the early timber entrance to the castle between the Motte and the inner northern bank. The most recent activity found was fence and gate postholes, probably dating to the early or mid-1900s. It is expected that excavation in this trench will continue in 2014 and possibly also in 2015.
A trench was located at one end of the proposed bridge site over the rock-cut ditch from the Bailey to the Inner Castle. Here, the uneven bedrock had been levelled with loose stone which had then been cut by a possible foundation trench. This, contained stone footings probably for a wall around the Inner Castle, and inside this were remains of a courtyard surface.
Initially two further trenches for the proposed bridge were dug in the bottom of the rock-cut ditch between the Inner Castle and Bailey. These trenches revealed parts of walls and a small area of clay floor. Associated pottery and glass bottles indicated that this building dates from the 1700s and these walls were part of a cottage.
However, this building is not shown on the 1840s Tithe Map and must have gone out of use by then. Part of a fine bone “nit comb” was also found; these are difficult to date, as they do not change much from medieval times until the 20th century, when plastic replaces bone or wood.
The excavation at the Nevern Community Council owned-site was supported by the estate of the late Ray Caple, the National Park Authority and Cadw.
In 2014, Nevern Castle dig will take place from June 17th to July 3rd, with free guided tours at 2.45pm each day except Fridays. The castle is open all year round.
For more information about the history of Nevern Castle visit www.neverncastle.com or alternatively www.pembrokeshirecoast.org.uk.