Unearthing Shakespeare – Part 7

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Today I strike the ground on the first day of the third and final phase of ‘Dig for Shakespeare’. It seemed timely to take stock and to reflect a little on something we learned during phase one…

During the first season, back in 2010, we were able to re-expose the foundations identified by Halliwell-Phillipps and prove the extent of these Victorian excavations. We confirmed that Halliwell-Phillipps stopped when he reached the house foundations and did not recognise, or excavate, the more subtle archaeology. These untouched features and layers can be used to provide us with important new information.

Many of Halliwell-Phillipps’ interpretations were correct (such as the notion that there were two houses on the site). Both the historical research and the archaeological work have identified two buildings. We have confirmed the extent of the cellars and exposed the foundations of further buildings to the rear of these cellars.

Halliwell-Phillipps missed or discarded many artefacts; these have been recovered from the backfill. A large assemblage of artefacts from the medieval to Victorian period, have been found and these can be used to inform us on various aspects of the occupants of the house(s), from its earliest period until its demise. The Victorians also contributed to these dropped artefacts. Two good examples of finds from this period are a fob seal, and a commemorative Victorian token.

The reality is however, that much archaeological information has been lost from the area of the site disturbed by these early Victorian excavations. Halliwell-Phillipps probably removed much of the surviving 17th Century occupation layers and we are left with the earlier archaeological evidence. During phase three, which starts today, we will place more emphasis on excavating areas of undisturbed archaeology.

Halliwell-Phillipps was meticulous in his attitude for preservation. Following the excavations, brickwork was constructed around the 1702 cellar foundations to protect them prior to backfilling. He also used backfill material sufficient to protect the underlying foundations (all larger pieces of rubble had been removed).

This excavation has provided a unique opportunity to examine a site which has been previously investigated by antiquarian archaeologists. There is the potential for future research into this subject, such as the extent to which antiquarian artefact recognition, site preservation and interpretation has effected what we are able to learn from a modern investigation of the same site.

But in the meantime on with the Dig!

You can find more images and information about the project here.

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Will Mitchell is Archaeology Supervisor for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and lead archaeologist on 'Dig for Shakespeare.'
  • richroach

    It is a shame that most of the area you have been working on has been excavated before, but you are doing a more thorough job.  You are digging into the reality of one of the world’s greatest writers, and for that I salute you, as will countless future generations.  Dig on!

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