Blog 2017

Postscript 27 July, 2017

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The trenches have now been put to bed on the chapel site – a gang of six have relaid the turf this week formally bringing to an end the 2017 Field Season –  and the sheep have returned to graze the site.

The charcoal, bone and soil deposit samples are ready to go the labs. The glass is to go to the glass expert, the metal items are all identified,  the pot sherds have been sorted and catalogued and are now being individually marked before they go to the pottery expert. And it will be months before we have all the results back.

A heartfelt thankyou to everyone who took part in the dig and to those who supported us in other ways. In total, 42 volunteers were involved contributing 198.5 person-days on site and it was a job well done.

Whether we will be returning next year will be dependent on the results of new surveys and the agreement of the landowner. And if there is to be a fourth season we shall be hoping our wonderful volunteers from 2017 will return for another season.

In the meantime, we send you our best wishes, and happy digging.

David Johnson and Victoria Spence

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Dig Day 11 July 14

The Final Day

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A cold,  gusty day in Malham. Unfortunately, not all our diggers were there for the final day.

All the trenches were cleared for photography and any Planning that remained was completed.

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The trench at the eastern end of the nave


The trench at the south western end of the chapel showing the buttress


The trench on the southern boundary of the chapel precinct

Little remained to be done other than to clear the site, remove our belongings, take down the tents,  and pack up.  Already by lunchtime a large notice advertising Malhamdale Show in August on the field gate had replaced our notices relating to the Dig. The trenches are to be filled in next week,  so by early afternoon we were all ready to depart.

We all  made our goodbyes, hoping that we would  keep in contact with  the new friends that we had made on the dig and that our overseas visitors  would not forget their stay in Malham. It has been an enjoyable dig and generated  interesting and challenging  interpretations.  There will now be a long wait  before we receive the results of any finds sent for analysis.

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A big thank you to everyone involved.  And you never know – we might return for another season of excavation….



Dig Day 10 July 13

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The visit by Kirkby Malhamdale Primary School and the Open Day for the public were on our minds this morning.  A warm and dry,  if cloudy,  day was promised.

The children were observed congregating outside the National Park Centre. Preparations for the activities were concluded before their arrival on site.  With the staff from the Yorkshire Dales National Park we quickly prepared the ‘dig’ trenches with finds for the Key Stage 1 children to explore. The Key Stage 2 children were given their own small trench to work on and were instructed in excavation practice.  A number of activities had been prepared for the children, including identifying finds.



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Two members of the Harrogate 3D Archaeological Group, Isabella and Chris, arrived dressed in sixteenth and seventeenth-century costumes.

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Isabella set out taster samples of biscuits baked with authentic Tudor recipes,  and Chris exhibited his pottery reproductions of seventeenth-century domestic ware and other artefacts.


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All provided much additional fun and interest for the children. And  Isabella and Chris talked to the children and answered all the questions with which  the children bombarded them.

In the afternoon, we opened up the dig to the public and small groups were given guided tours around the site by our team.

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Visitors came from both the local community and further afield, including members of various archaeology groups from all over Yorkshire. A small exhibition of the finds found in 2015 and 2016 was on display in the tent.


Meanwhile, the dig continued, closely observed by our visitors, who were able to observe the actual excavation in action.

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Excavation continued on the large trench and more of the boundary bank was revealed.  A number of huge boulders were excavated; whether they had been moved to form the bank is inconclusive. At present it seems more likely from their size that they are in their original positions.  There is still no sign of the two-cell structure revealed in the geophysical survey. Likewise,  the trench was closed and prepared for photography and Planning.

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The nave pit was further excavated to see if the floor level extended  any further, but finally the natural stone level was reached.  The trench was cleared and prepared for photography and Planning.

More of the north-western buttress was exposed. It seems likely from the structure of the two buttresses that these were later additions to the chapel, dating from the 1300s.  Again, the large corner stone of the building was missing. Excavating these two trenches has enabled the internal measurements of the chapel to be precisely calculated. The chapel’s external measurements  can now be confirmed at 51 feet (15.5m) by 22 feet (6.7m).

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The Dig Open Day closed at 7 pm and we were all very tired.  It had been a long, but very satisfying day. Some of us retired to the local hostelry and others went to the Malhamdale Local History Group meeting to listen to Professor Richard Hoyle’s talk about an eighteenth-century estate map of Malham.  And tomorrow our final day….

Further photos of the Open Day will be posted.



Dig Day 9 July 12

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‘Here comes the sun’ – at LAST!   A beautiful day in Malham for an archaeological dig.  Good progress was made.

The north-eastern corner of the chapel was more fully exposed, and the structure uncovered does seem to  reveal another buttress.  From their construction both buttresses are perhaps later in date than the chapel building itself.

Work continued in the trench on the precinct boundary.  It reveals the continuation of a long, stone bank.  Three huge boulders were exposed, but to date there is no sign of any building.  Few finds from this trench were found today and it was cleaned up for Planning. Exhausting work in the heat of today.

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The pit in the nave revealed substantial clay deposits,  surrounded by small stones.  Further excavation continued near the southern wall.

We entertained visitors today, including Professor Richard Hoyle, who gave us an impromptu and interesting take on the Reformation during the lunch hour break..

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And again, we were treated to not just to ONE cake, but to a choice of three cakes, courtesy of Muriel.  Wonderful,  and just what we needed to give us the additional energy for the rest of the afternoon.

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And tomorrow, not only are we digging,  but we also will welcome the children from Kirkby Malham Primary School in the morning.  They will be involved in activities to stimulate their interest in history and archaeology.  In the afternoon, we are open to the public until 7 pm.

Dig Day 8 July 11


Rain and more rain all morning and as a consequence the dig was postponed for the morning.  However, by 2 pm the rain was clearing , so  some  activity  took place this afternoon with those who had remained.

A small trench was opened at the north-western end of the chapel to see if it mirrored the south-western corner.  And the early evidence suggested that likewise there is the remains of a buttress.  Tomorrow more will be exposed to see if this can be confirmed.

DSC_0158 (Large) Planning was completed on the south western corner.

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The short afternoon’s work was over,  but at least something had been accomplished, despite the weather.

Dig Day 7 July 10

After a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Malham and with a spectacular full moon at the close of day,  we expected good weather on Monday morning.  Disappointingly, it was raining quite heavily at 7 am, and the clouds massing over Pikedaw did not bode for a good day weatherwise. Frequent showers continued throughout the morning and it was a dull afternoon.

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Work recommenced on the trench near the ‘track’. The long dressed stone, which had been found  exposed in the trench  last week, was lifted.


The western plinth of the building is now clearly visible. The stone structure close to this  end of the chapel gradually emerged and it seems it may well be a buttress supporting the south-western corner. If this is correct, then it may give us some more information about the construction of the chapel.


P1050956And the anomaly along the ‘track’, which had given such a strong magnetic reading, turned out to be two parallel pipes. However, this does not rule out the possibility of a previous track along the same course.

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Digging continued in the trench near the boundary wall, but no sign of any structure  visible in the geophysical survey has yet appeared. Sheila and Maurice spent most of the day on the Planning in this trench.


In the nave trench the very slow and cautious excavation continued in the small clay pit surrounded by a circle of stones. There was evidence of burning, and charcoal and animal bones were bagged.

Finds today included some small pottery sherds,  charcoal, glass fragments and iron-forged nails.

By the end of the day the rain had disappeared, so we hope for good weather tomorrow.

Dig Day 6 July 8


It was a later start this morning as it was Saturday.  Surprisingly, fourteen volunteers turned up including  Hannah, one of the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s apprentices,   who helped  (wo) man the Total Station.


David Johnson gave a brief tour of the site and updated us  on  what had been discovered during the week.

The new trench on the precinct boundary is still raising some questions; so far there is no evidence of the cross-wall that had been on the geophys survey. However, it was decided to leave that trench until next week.

More excavation took place on the south-western corner of the chapel.


The ‘primitive wall’ structure has not yet been resolved and it seems unlikely from the positioning and alignment of the stones that it is simply tumble.  The trench was extended to confirm where the western end of the chapel lay, and the edge was located.



P1050938Another fragment of masonry was found in this trench, which may have been part of a doorway.  And just as we were packing up for the day another section of what may be more worked stone emerged, but there was no time to proceed any further.  Finds included  hand-forged iron nails and four sherds of green-glazed ware.

Extremely careful and cautious excavation was enacted in the nave trench.  The burnt ‘pit’ area was further revealed and the contents bagged, including charcoal deposits.  But it was slow and laborious work in a cramped space.

And now tomorrow, Sunday, a day of rest!  Thank goodness.  It’s been a hard week.

Dig Day 5 July 7


‘Those bones, those bones, those dry bones.. Those stones, those stones ….’

‘You  English are obsessed with the weather’, so we are always told.  And it is true,  especially if you live in the Yorkshire Dales,  where the weather is always unpredictable and on occasions nothing like the forecast. And on an archaeological dig the weather can be very important. After a beautiful day yesterday, Friday’s weather can only be described as changeable: warmish, windy, chilly, overcast, and by mid-afternoon light rain  had descended.

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Work continued in the large trench on the precinct boundary.  There were many pottery finds, including sherds of yellow and brown slipware, and one sherd that may prove to be much older.

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A number of hand-wrought nails surfaced, and part of another flint.  To date there is no sign of the cross-wall identified on the geophysical survey; another small trench was opened nearby.

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In the nave trench, we found charcoal deposits, tiny iron filaments and bone fragments. Eventually the large slab of stone was  carefully removed and measured,  and the underlying earth bagged for analysis.

Being Friday some of us repaired to the  one of the local hostelries to say goodbye to some of our diggers who were leaving,  and to welcome our American visitors,  one of whom is joining the dig.   Almost too late, we all remembered, some of us were to be on site early on Saturday morning.


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We were joined by some new volunteers today and so the Malhamdale Sun God looked down on us favourably.  After early precipitation the weather improved and eventually the sun came out. Unusually for Malham  the atmosphere was humid and uncomfortable with the promise of threatening rain clouds as the afternoon progressed.  The work was hard and slow in this weather.


There were a few problems with the Total Station, which died partway through the morning compelling Jeff to return home to sort out the problem.  And he did!  All was back in working order by the late afternoon.


Progress was made in the nave trench and more of the large stone was revealed. It has not been established as to whether the adjacent line of stones towards the chancel end are tumble or perhaps part of a step or platform.


A burnt-out area began to emerge and initially it seems to resemble the pits where the lead was melted that were discovered on the two previous digs. Few finds appeared in this trench,  although there was part of a flint.


The ‘track’ trench was abandoned temporarily yesterday and the Planning was eventually completed this afternoon.  The mortared stones at the eastern end are rather puzzling and may be the foundations of a primitive wall structure outside the chapel foundation wall.  A test pit is to be dug to see if this will unravel the mystery .


In the new trench on the edge of the precinct the first layer of topsoil was removed. Many hands made hard work.   In the sunshine the work was exhausting.


There were a number of small pottery finds; some of the pottery was medieval; other fragments may date from the eighteenth century.  There was a small piece of lead which resembled the lead fragments found in the chapel trenches.

At the end of the day the temptation of an ice-cream was too much for some of us.  But it had been an exhausting day.

Dig Day 3 July 5

‘Bring me sunshine. .…’  Well, our prayers were not quite answered, but at least it remained dry, even if rather overcast all day.  But no wind, thankgoodness. The ‘track’ trench was cleaned up and photographed, then  during  the afternoon a long time was spent  on the Planning.



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Learning to use the Total Station to log the finds was embraced with great enthusiasm!!

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The work on the nave trench continued.  Yesterday, the southern wall of the nave had been revealed and so the trench was extended southwards by a few centimetres.

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Gradually the southern wall foundations of the nave, as well as tumble,  began to emerge. In the central section of the trench a large stone was partially uncovered, which might possibly be the anomaly that was identified in the survey.

Further work was halted on the trench with a call to arms (literally) for everyone to help with the deturfing of a large trench on the southern precinct boundary, its purpose to investigate the  structure revealed in the geophysical survey.  After a break, and our energies revived by the wonderful chocolate cake and other goodies baked by one of the team,  only a short time remained to begin excavating the new trench before the end of the day.

Oh happy days!

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Finds today included some small sherds of pottery, nails and a small piece of lead with the nails still intact.

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And bring us real sunshine tomorrow…. please ..