The Foxearth and District Local History Society

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Recent Archaeological Excavations in Clare. Nov 2023 presentation.

Foxearth District Local History Society - Nov 2023 

Recent Archaeological Excavations in Clare - Joanna Caruth

“Archaeologists interpret a site as they dig it. And then they re-interpret it later as they mull” Joanna Caruth of Cotswold Archaeology told Foxearth History Society on 14 November. Her well attended talk demonstrated how the myriad of discoveries made over three seasons of excavation at Clare Castle both undermine old certainties and raise new uncertainties.

It had long been thought that the railway line driven through the southern part of the castle site had destroyed much of the archaeology. Ms Caruth showed that the excavations (2018, 2019 and 2021 – with 2020 lost to Covid) showed the opposite was true. Soil had been moved from the northern bailey to level the area by the river on which the station and tracks were built, sealing and preserving the archaeology.

The discovery of a major Anglo Saxon cemetery (with possibly up to a thousand burials) in the inner bailey raised further questions. Was this the Norman conquerors building their castle on the best site, over the town’s cemetery as a symbol of conquest as has previously been thought, or was the cemetery still in use by the priory established on the site by the Normans, and simply enfolded by one of the two castle baileys?

Satisfyingly much of the archaeology supports the written records which survive in large quantities, especially from the tenure of Elizabeth de Burgh in the 14th century, which was the castle's golden age. Finds of stained glass, hunting arrows and much equestrian equipment demonstrate the high status of the site. Pork was served a treat on Feast Days but the excavation of the kitchen s revealed an unusual number of bones from piglets, again showing the money spent on guests in this period.

Ms Caruth could not, without further excavations, provide all the answers but certainly left the audience with much to mull.

Stephen Astley


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