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Clare Castle excavations

Clare Castle excavations – September 2013


Following the dig in May that revealed part of the complex history of the castle grounds (prehistoric flints, pottery, burials, 12-14thcentury refuse, 13-14th century decorated tile and glass, stone building, ditch……), the Heritage Lottery funded Managing a Masterpiece project invited Access Cambridge Archaeology to return for a final excavation.


Under the direction of Carenza Lewis, they chose to dig westward from where two burials had been found, between the beacon and the goods shed, to see if a cemetery was present and possibly a church. The burials appeared to be Christian, lying flat on their backs, aligned east-west, the head to the west. Thetford ware pottery was found, giving an 800-1100 AD date.


The new pit quickly revealed three sets of human remains. The trench was extended to uncover the full length of the best preserved.This was a male, roughly 5ft 5 in height, his head resting on a stone pillow, his body laid within stones. He had arthritis in his lower spine and had lost many of his teeth while alive. The second set of remains were visible from the pelvis up, that of a woman, but the upper left arm, scapula and skull were missing. Between the two burials a rubbish pit had been dug. This contained what could be the missing humerus and scapula but also other bones from a fourth person, who was very young judging by an unfused vertebrae. The third set of remains were much less complete; a skull was found in another rubbish pit alongside. All the remains were interred east-west, lying on their backs, in the Christian manner.Together with the earlier burials, evidence of a cemetery seems clear.


A reasonable guess might be that these were local Anglo-Saxon burials associated with an earlier church. When the Normans deposed the thane and seized the lands around Clare, they probably moved the church away from where they wanted to create their administrative centre and castle.


Elsewhere in the pit was a complex of archaeological finds. Across the trench in a broken series was what seemed to be an impacted chalk floor resting on a layer of flints. It was unclear if this preceded the burials or if its construction caused the disturbance of the remains. At the south end of the trench, below this layer, a mass of postholes and other elements was revealed. These may represent more than one building and raise the possibility that this was where a church may have stood; the absence of pottery and other items suggest the building was not for domestic use.


Beneath all these layers a prehistoric ditch was found, late stone age to early bronze age judging by the flint fragments, running across the site at an angle.


The trench was backfilled on the final afternoon, 13thSeptember. The remains in the grave were left without further disturbance.


Community interest was strong throughout the week. Carenza gave two talks a day as the work progressed. A blog may be found at Other photos may be found at


We expect to hear a detailed report of the findings from all the excavations in Clare next Spring.


Let us hope future excavations will discover more of the rich and complex history within our castle and environs.


Phil Gryce

15 September 2013

Story By: Phil Gryce

Date : 16-09-2013