Friday, 21 March 2014

Archaeological Dig Week 3

Oxford Archaeology North are continuing to dig George Quayle's private dock and, at the time of writing, are at or near the bottom. We have learned an enormous amount but, predictably, we are faced with more questions than we currently have answers for!
The main findings so far:
  • The dock was used as a tip through the 19th century. There's a layer of 'night soil' (contents of chamber pots etc.) that has preserved a lot of items below it remarkably well. This is because there was very little oxygen filtering through.
  • The dock retains a metre or so of water even at low tide - we think this is because there's a 'lip' at the dock entrance. This too has contributed to the preservation of some objects.
  • We have excavated many more finds than we had anticipated, including a large number of rigging blocks and pulleys, glass and china. Caroline has also found parts discarded from Peggy during the boat's conversion to the form we see today. This shows, remarkably, that Peggy was worked upon in this very dock.
  • There are some very strange timbers, wrought iron artefacts and leather straps emerging. Plenty of evidence, in short, of George Quayle's ingenious imagination at work. At the moment we have no idea what we are looking at, but we have faith that the end of the dig will enlighten us.
  • The depth of the dock is greater than we thought and that has meant the dig has overrun. We now hope to complete the excavation by the end of March 2014.
The conditions in which the archaeologists are working are truly very nasty, as this photo, taken at low tide, shows. Aside from the wind and rain, the dock never fully empties.

East side of the dock at low tide

We are having trouble finding room for all the finds, many of which will have to be kept wet to stop them from falling apart.

Studded brass strapping - from a carriage?

One of several wet finds tanks

Our fragile wet finds tank

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Archaeological Dig Week 2

Caroline Raynor and her archaeologist colleagues from Oxford Archaeology North are making steady progress with their excavation of George Quayle's boat yard.
They ended last week contemplating a test pit they'd dug next to the boat cellar doors. We were surprised to find, instead of the expected slipway, a deep dock. Surprised, but not too much so because we are aware that workmen were employed in 1950 to level the boat yard but were forced to abandon the attempt because they claimed to have encountered a giant hole. The reference to this episode comes from a letter from the then Director of the Manx Museum and National Trust (the precursor to Manx National Heritage) Basil Megaw, to the dignitary he had invited to preside over the opening of the new Nautical Museum in 1951. We can now make sense of Megaw's letter. The test pit was pretty deep before OAN too had to stop digging as they had begun to undermine the scaffold platform they'd had built. So, dock - not slipway.

From the test pit have emerged a number of very interesting and well-preserved timbers strongly reminiscent of boat knees. For these and other finds I have installed a tank of sea water in the cellar - it's important to keep them wet until such time as we can decide their fate. Caroline has already drawn and photographed everything she has found so far.

Click to enlarge
Caroline in front of George Quayle's sea arch

In the photo can clearly be seen the shallow archway exit from the dock, and the sides of the dock, too. Less easy to see are timbers under the arch, the remains of a very substantial wooden doorway. Behind them you can see how the archway has been carefully blocked with a dry stone wall of squared blocks. 
Caroline is standing at least five feet or 1.5 metres from the bottom. Our current estimate stands at 130 tonnes of spoil from the dig as a whole. She has identified 29 distinct strata so far, all composed of nineteenth-century rubbish, including a great variety of broken crockery and other such miscellaneous items.
Because of the obvious eventual depth of the excavation we now know the dig will be somewhat more tricky and time consuming than might otherwise have been the case. This is mainly because the scaffolding platform and ramp we are using to get the mini digger and dump truck in and out of the yard will need to be altered more times than we'd originally hoped.