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Archaeological Dig at Shrewsbury Castle

For the first time in its 900 years of existence, the site of Shrewsbury Castle will be excavated as part of an archaeological project funded by the Castle Studies Trust. University Centre Shrewsbury (UCS) is one of the principle partners in the project, which will be led by one of the most experienced archaeologists in the region, David Williams, as well as local archaeologist Dr Nigel Baker. Shrewsbury Castle is one of the most important castles along the Anglo-Welsh border.  

"We know that the Castle we see today is just a portion of what existed on that site nine centuries ago,” explained Prof Tim Jenkins, Head of Arts and Humanities, University Centre Shrewsbury. “After many years of wondering, planning and paperwork, we finally get the opportunity to get our hands dirty and discover what stories, if any, are hidden beneath the earth of Shrewsbury Castle.” 

UCS History students have volunteered to assist with the dig, getting a rare opportunity to train on a live archaeological site. The students will study how the archaeologists and heritage experts have planned for the excavation and how they used desk-based research to choose the location for the excavation. When the excavation is active, they will receive training and work alongside more experienced volunteers to follow archaeological standards and procedures. They will also learn how to record features and to record and care for objects that they uncover, helping to communicate these discoveries to the public through displays and social media. The students will experience first hand the hard work, diligence and patience required on an archaeological excavation and how this new knowledge will help look after Shrewsbury Castle for the future.  

 “What better way to learn that history is a living and vibrant part of our landscape!” said Dr Morn Capper, UCS Lecturer of History and Heritage. “To take part in the first archaeological excavation at Shrewsbury Castle and to help make this important heritage site sustainable for the future is a unique opportunity for our students.”  

Prof Jenkins and Dr Capper will be on site to assist with the dig and help support planning for long term preservation and sustainability at the castle, as well as to provide academic expertise. 

The team will be working within a 10 x3 metre area that was selected after a geophysical survey conducted earlier this year suggested that something was buried within the soil at that location. There is also a visible hump in the lawn of the dig site, which corroborates the results of the survey. The team is quick to point out that they do not know what lies beneath the surface.    

“All we know at this point is that whatever is down there is hard and full of masonry rubble,”  explained Dr Baker, archaeologist. "From the excavation of other castles we know that they were quite often packed with buildings. You had not only the lord of the manor and his family living there, but you needed somewhere for horses, somewhere for servants to live, workshops. You would have a small village worth of buildings."

The team will be meticulous in its approach to the work. They will begin with removing the turf in breeze block-sized sections so they are able to put it neatly back when they are finished.  When the soil is exposed, they will use hand trowels until something begins to appear. They will then lower the surface slowly, leaving anything exposed in place so it can be recorded.  

"So the first layer is the turf, the second layer is the top soil, and the third layer – no-one knows yet,” explained Dr Baker.  

The dig, which begins on Monday, July 22 will continue daily until August 2. The public is invited to observe the dig and learn more from the archaeologists and volunteers on site. You can also follow the team's progress on the Castle Studies Trust website.

In addition to the Castles Studies Trust and the University Centre of Shrewsbury, other partners on the project are Shropshire Council, Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery, and Shropshire Archives

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