Burial site unearthed in Clare

Archaeologist Carenza Lewis talks Echo reporter Steve Barton through the findings in one of the trenches at an archaeological dig in the ground of Clare Castle
Archaeologist Carenza Lewis talks Echo reporter Steve Barton through the findings in one of the trenches at an archaeological dig in the ground of Clare Castle

Human remains have been found during an archaeological dig in Clare Castle Country Park, revealing the location of a Christian burial site previously unknown to historians.

The three sets of remains were found during a nine-day dig led by a team of ten archaeologists from Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA).

The dig, which saw four trenches excavated at different locations within the grounds of Clare Castle, was part of the Managing a Masterpiece project, which aims to find out more about the history of the Stour Valley landscape and discover how traditional land management has shaped it.

Leading the archaeologists and the 120 or so volunteers who turned up to help during the course of the excavations was ACA director, Dr Carenza Lewis, well known for her TV appearances on Time Team.

Probably the most exciting discovery of the nine days was that of the human remains, one set of which belonged to a ten to 12-year-old child and another to a baby or infant, while the age of the third was undetermined.

Because only the feet and legs were found the gender of those buried could not be established, but the findings proved very exciting, particularly as the trench they were found in was only dug to assess damage caused by building of the railway line in 1865.

Dr Lewis explained: “We didn’t know there was a church here with burial rites.

“It probably explains why the castle is situated here and not the other side of town.

“The excavation has told us not only that there is surviving archaeology, it’s also told us something new, that there must have been a church here at some time.”

Because the bodies were laid out east to west the burial site is a Christian one, explained Dr Lewis, but although documentary evidence suggests a small priory was inside the grounds of the castle by 1045 AD (the castle was built within 24 years of the Norman conquest in 1066) the evidence of the findings suggests the graveyard did not belong just to the priory.

Dr Lewis said: “We don’t know if this was a high status site. The fact that it was a young person suggests it’s not just this priory.

“At ten to 12-years-old it could have been a novice monk, but normally children don’t enter into monastery until the age of 14.

“We had no idea of this being here. This is completely new and the burial is early Christian. For there to be a burial here there must have been a church.”

The remaining trenches also threw up some exciting discoveries of the Anglo-Saxon and post-Norman conquest period, added Dr Lewis.

One trench contained evidence, including expensive pottery and deer bones, that showed the wealthy lifestyle enjoyed by Clare Castle’s owner in the 14th century. Elizabeth de Burgh, who at the time was one of England’s most prominent aristocrats.

Another trench showed what Dr Lewis believed was the remains of a chapel built in the 1200s and refurbished in the 1400s before being demolished in the 1600s.

The dig at Clare Castle may have thrown up some exciting discoveries, but for Dan King, community heritage officer for Managing a Masterpiece, it also achieved some of the more basic goals of the project.

He said: “This is the first formal excavation of the site.

“We’ve had kids from five years of age volunteering and all the way up to grannies.

“It’s been really good for us to be able to tap into that.

“We’ve got a number of people who have been involved in a number of our projects before but two thirds of the people here have not been involved before and that’s what we want.”