Every season of excavation produces hundreds of sherds of pottery, numerous corroded pieces of iron and many fragments of stone, glass and bone. In addition many tens of soil samples are taken. Though some initial cleaning and cataloguing is done on site all this material is brought back to Durham University for more detailed analysis. When this is complete it will be returned to a museum in Pembrokeshire / Wales for display.
The most important aspect about archaeologically excavated material is than it comes from a carefully excavated context. Each context is given a unique number and the sequence of contexts (which overlies and thus comes after which) is established in a matrix containing this information is drawn up (E1). The contexts are invariably grouped together into phases of activity and these phases are correlated with dates and events in the castles history. This is based on the dates from the pottery and dated changes in the types of object and building.
This is carefully washed clean every evening during the excavation, dried and put into labelled bags. After the excavation it is examined by Dr Peter Webster, the excavation’s pottery specialist, and a report assembled. The most diagnostic sherds, those which have the most distinctive characteristics which help date the pottery, normally the rims, are drawn for the excavation report.
So far all the fragments of glass from the site appear to be post medieval, they are treated like the pottery.
All metal finds are X-rayed by students on the MA in Conservation of Archaeological and Museum Objects course (E2). The finds appropriate for cleaning and conservation are selected, and then the students, under the watchful eye of an experienced conservator, clean and conserve the iron objects. Horseshoes, arrowheads, tools and a large number of nails are emerging form the large unrecognisable lumps of iron corrosion recovered from the site. Subsequently using the cleaned objects and the X-rays the identifiable iron objects will bee drawn and a report of the metalwork from the site will be created by Dr Chris Caple for publication in the excavation report
A small number of stone objects, including two Nine Men’s Morris boards (D14, E3) and a number of counters have been retrieved during the excavations. After careful cleaning in the conservation laboratory, strong wooden boxes were constructed to house the finds, to ensure their continued physical safety. These object have also been photographed and drawn (E4). They and all the stone finds will also be researched and the results published in the final excavation report.
The soil at Nevern Castle degrades bone very quickly, so little remains. What fragile bone is recovered is carefully washed on site or in the laboratory, dried and stored in marked bags. The bones are then examined by Louisa Gidney, an experienced archaeozoologist, who identifies the animal species and its age from the bone fragments. This information is assembled for the whole site to provided information on which animals were being eaten for food at various times in the castle’s history.
The soil samples are processed through a flotation tank, in which turbulent water breaks up the soil allowing carbonised seeds – small numbers of which are present in most occupation deposits, to float to the surface. These can be collected in a fine mesh net and then identified and counted down a microscope. A postgraduate student, Rob Richmond, is currently doing this work in Durham, slowly building up a picture of the plants present in, or brought to the castle. Like the bone this tells us about the diet of those in the castle.
Fragments of charcoal recovered from excavation and floatation are dried and cleaned, packed into marked polythene bags and then identified for species using a microscope. This information allows a picture of the wood brought into the castle from the surrounding woodland, principally for fuel, to be created. Selected samples are sent for radiocarbon dating.