Dig Blog May 2019

Dig Day Tuesday May 8

Back in the Field


So how do we work this out?

The last time we were digging on the chapel site was in September 2017.  Usually, in May, the weather is at its best in Malham, but this year it seems to have forgotten Spring is here. The day began with light showers and we were able to erect the two tents by about 11 am.

Today our team of diggers included the Ingleborough Archaeology Group and other volunteers from Leeds and Craven.  It was good to see familiar faces again and catch up on events.  We are fortunate  to have our GPR specialist Steven Rafferty on site this week,  who will be able to pinpoint precisely the targets for excavation, and also archaeologist, John Buglass,  who will work with David supervising the excavation during the two weeks .

David Johnson and John Buglass
Steven Rafferty setting out the grid

We began with a tour of the site and David explained how the excavation was to proceed this year and where the trenches were to be positioned.


One of the targets to the south of the chapel, identified by Steven as producing a strong GPR signal, was deturfed late morning.  Two of the team were assigned to excavate a trench  with John Buglass and a  small area  a metre square was marked out.


At first the trench looked very promising and two defined parallel edges were uncovered. However, as the excavation proceeded in the afternoon to a depth of about 50 cm,  it was clear that the anomaly was unfortunately just limestone bedrock.  The trench was closed and tomorrow another target will be excavated. Finds included two small sherds of medieval pottery and sheeps’ teeth.



A second trench was laid across the curvilinear feature to the north of the chapel, identified in both the geophysical and GPR surveys.  This was a much larger trench and the remainder of the team were assigned to work on it.

Excavating the curvilinear feature

We await more developments tomorrow, weather permitting; the forecast is not favourable.  We packed up about 4.30 pm. just as the rain and hail began.

Dig Day Wednesday 8 May

The dig has been cancelled today due to heavy rain.  Back tomorrow the weather gods permitting.

Dig Day Thursday 9 May

Well, it wasn’t raining!


Fortunately, the tents had survived the deluge of yesterday, but they had been battered somewhat in the wind. There was a glimmer of sunshine in the early morning, but by the time we set to work the weather seemed to get colder and colder – Hats and gloves very much in evidence. By the afternoon the wind was a very chilly north-easterly.  It was more like February,  but of course this year February had been more like May weatherwise.

A new ‘target’ south of the chapel was located following the GPR results. Steve came by to check if we needed any help. Phil and Pat set to work, but it was not long before they too encountered limestone boulders.


The trench was extended to the south and the going was easier. A number of bones were found, but these are most likely animal bones.

John examining a piece of bone from today’s ‘target’ trench.

By early afternoon the trench had been closed down and back-filled.

Target Trench 17 DSC04317



Two trenches were placed across the curvilinear features. The first trench, to the west, exposed a stony surface very similar to the bank that was excavated in 2017.  Mid-afternoon a  sondage was excavated until the natural was located.

Sondage in Trench 14 showing natural at the bottom DSC04326

The trench further to the east was more interesting.  An area of stone appeared to define the edge of the curvilinear feature. A large block  of sandstone was exposed, very similar in size to the ‘holey stone’ found last year in the nave.  The secrets of the slab (if there are any, of course) will not be revealed until the morning.



P1060831    P1060840

The weather forecast is promising for tomorrow, but tonight there are still dark clouds looming over Pikedaw heading in  the Malham direction.  But tomorrow is another day! And the forecast  for the weekend? Bring me sunshine…

Dig Day Friday 4 May 10

With an improvement in the weather on Friday a lot of progress was made.

Another ‘target’ was identified and excavated, much nearer to the southern boundary of the site. Our visitor from Canada was set to work on the trench with two of our experienced team. However, the excavation was disappointing, revealing a gravelly, stony surface.  This trench was closed down late afternoon and back-filled.


Work continued on the large trench over the curvilinear features and is proving to be interesting.  The large slab of gritstone remains in situ for the moment.  A few small sherds of pottery were found, a number of sheeps’ teeth and small pieces of the shale which appear all over the site.


A small keyhole trench was dug over the western  end of the chapel to confirm the measurements of the wall.



Planning began on yesterday’s smaller trench over the curvilinear feature.  A small broken flint was found.



Stuart Gledhill flew his drone over the site and will return next week when further excavation has been completed.

A short video clip from a brief drone flight over the site this morning.


Dig Day 5  Saturday 11 May

Visitors’ Day

A half-marathon race had left Malham this morning  before we even arrived to continue the excavation.  The day began well with blue skies and sunshine, but by the end of the morning the cold wind had made its way over Pikedaw to our chapel site; late afternoon the rain fell once again, but we had packed up by then. Surprisingly, visitor numbers to Malham were down today.

There was a very small team of diggers, but late morning the Young Archaeologists Group arrived from Hawes to help, their ages somewhere between 7 and 14. They were very enthusiastic, some hoping to find dinosaurs rather than medieval pottery!  After a tour of the site they were divided into two groups supervised by our team.  One group was set to work on a new keyhole trench across the chancel wall and the other to work on another trench across the west wall  in order to verify the width of the walls.  By lunchtime these trenches were photographed and closed.

Meanwhile the remainder of our diggers continued to work on the trench across the curvilinear anomalies.

A few shards of medieval pottery were recovered and some charcoal; samples of the latter were kept for later analysis.  The trench was then cleaned up and photographed.

I’ve got to get this edge straight!



A welcome day’s rest on Sunday and then back to the excavation on Monday.

Dig Day Monday 13 May

The sunshine today was very welcome after the cold and rain of last week.

Unfortunately, David Johnson was unable to lead the dig and was greatly missed.  We hope that he will be able to return tomorrow.  Fortunately, John Buglass was able to guide the diggers with the help of John Asher and Sheila Gordon.

We were joined this morning by some of our volunteers from Cumbria and Suffolk, who came in 2017.


Mid-morning, Judy Rogers from Malham brought three refugees, based in Lancashire, to work on the site.  It was interesting to meet them, and their enthusiasm was catching. And we were very grateful for their assistance in excavating one of the keyhole trenches opened in the chapel.  They will be with us for three days.


Work continued on Trench 15 across the curvilinear features. Two sondages were dug- one in the south-eastern corner and the second in the north-western corner.  The planning was completed and late afternoon the large stone was lifted. To date nothing has been found underneath, but we shall wait to confirm this when the trench has been fully excavated.  Some bones,  small pieces of charcoal and pottery sherds were found.


Dressed stone 1

Two further targets were opened to the south of the chapel and the excavation will continue in these two trenches tomorrow.  Finds included pottery sherds and a small flint.


John Asher jpg
One of today’s ‘targets’.

Another keyhole trench was laid across the chancel wall, the purpose to confirm whether the southern chancel wall was narrower than the nave.  The surface of the wall was exposed, but  further excavation  will continue tomorrow.

Dig Day Tuesday May 14

Beautiful weather today.  Excavation of two further targets near the chapel.  There was little  of interest  in one, so it was photographed, back -filled at the end of the day; the second trench has remained open and excavation will continue tomorrow.

Lunchtime rest
Completing the work on Trench 15
One of the ‘target’ trenches before shut down.
Animal bones, including a horse’s tooth,  found in one of the ‘target’ trenches


Dig Day Wednesday 15 May

‘Summertime and the living is easy’

Well, we had beautiful sunshine and blue skies today. It was hot and  the digging  was hard! And any graves in the cemetery continued to be elusive.

One of today’s ‘target’ trenches

Two new trenches were open nearer to the southern wall  of the chapel, but  again the  ‘targets’ proved to be the underlying limestone rock. A few animal bones and a horse shoe were found.  Late afternoon these were photographed and closed down.

A new trench was opened over the dividing wall between the chancel and the nave to see if we could locate an entrance,  and a further trench over the western part of the chancel wall.  There were a number of pottery sherds including two of slipware. Work continues.



Thursday will be a half day and we will start to  close the site down.  But things always turn up on the last day … so you never know!

Dig Days

Thursday 16 and Friday May 17

The targets, which we had hoped to be grave slots, have proved to be elusive and it does not seem from the archaeological evidence to date that the part of the site so far excavated was a graveyard.

Another target which proved to be bedrock

A twelfth-century charter from West Dereham Abbey had described land given to the abbey by William, son of Arkill,  as abutting on the cemetery wall of the chapel of St Elene.  Yet, all the targets have proved to be the underlying limestone bedrock.

However, the measurements of the chapel have been confirmed, and on the Friday the doorway between the chancel and the nave was found.

Searching for the chancel doorway
David Johnson preparing the trench across the chancel wall for photographing
And when we find them ….



The excavation confirmed that the chapel had been comprehensively robbed out and only the foundation stones remained.


Some of the finds found during the last two days

The dig has been enjoyable, even if the results were not as expected and we would like to thank all who have participated during the last two seasons.


And a special thank you to all  the organisations who have funded the excavations,  and whose support has  helped to further our knowledge of the history of Malhamdale.  A report will be forthcoming from David Johnson, once finds have been analysed.

YAHS Rose NameTopBottom jpeg        LogoNew                   Yorkshire Dales Logo pg


Olicana Historical Society                 Malhamdale Local History Group

and in 2017


Mick Aston Archaeology Fund               Robert Kiln Trust            Malham Show   

North Craven Heritage Trust       Olicana Historical Society     CARD Fund 2017