Part 2: 2009 - the Dig (Page 1 of 5)
The Three Day Dig
At a long last, after a lot of organising and preparation work, the first day of the three day dig arrived. It was planned for the 15th to the 17th of June and fortunately, despite heavy thundery rain and flooding in many parts of Northern Ireland, in Newbuildings it was warm, dry and sunny for the first two days. There was some rain on the third day but by then most of the important work had been done.
We used the same archaeological firm, Gahan and Long Archaeological Services Ltd, but this time Chris Long was assisted by three fully qualified archaeologist employed by his company. We had contacted the local schools in the area to see if any students would be interested in assisting the society members over the three days. In all, about 25 teen-age students turned up and eagerly joined in while enjoying the warm sunshine. A retired couple from Monaghan contacted us asking to be involved. They stayed in a local B&B and turned up bright and early each morning to get stuck in. Many other people called in to help or to simply watch what was going on. Pupils from the two local Primary Schools had been invited to call and a number turned up. They were fascinated by what they saw happening on their own doorstep but were disappointed when they couldn't get directly involved.
To save time, Chris Long had called at the site at the end of the previous week to measure up and mark out where we planned to start digging. We had marked out with white electric fence poles seven locations across the field where we planned to open trenches. Four were to be cut across the boundary of the rath to confirm its extent. The three others were over the features shown on the survey which we thought could be souterrains.
The first trench over the domed shaped feature shown on the GPR Survey report was opened and extended using the mini digger. It did not show any evidence of disturbance of the subsoil which indicated that the cavern was not there. A second was opened in the corner of the field where the souterrain was shown on the old maps. This time we did find subsoil disturbance so hand digging of the subsoil was commenced.
The digger moved on to dig a trench where there appeared to be a small gap between the two souterrain features. This did not find anything. We dug another trench over the spot where the souterrain feature appeared to cross the rath boundary. We found the edge of the rath but no sign of a souterrain. We dug two more trenches, one to the east and another to the south, and confirmed the outer edge of the rath. Measurements for the rath indicate a size in length north/south of 75 yards and east/west 65 yards.
Work was concentrated on the trench in the corner and eventually the roof stones of the souterrain started to appear. Much time was taken in carefully cleaning away the soil and at about two o'clock in the afternoon of the second day the digger lifted the first large cap stone from the roof to reveal the tunnel below. There was great excitement as the rest of the stones were removed over a four foot section and Chris Long carefully climbed down a ladder to stand on the bottom. A number of us were then allowed in climb into the hole, one at a time, and photograph the tunnels but we were not allowed to enter into them. Unfortunately the souterrain was in a poor state with a roof collapse within 6 feet to the south and a partial collapse visible about 15 feet to the north. It would appear that, at the south end, there may have been a roof collapse in the distant past which has been filled in with boulders and earth by farmers to reinstate the level of the field for cultivation.
Detailed drawings and measurements were made of the trenches by the archaeologists and at the end of the third day the roof of the souterrain was reinstated with concrete lintels and all trenches were completely refilled and grass seed was sown. The archaeologist full and very detailed report has now been received and can be seen by anyone interested. It may be put on the website at a later date.
The whole event was a great success and greatly enjoyed by all who participated. We still wonder if we had dug a little deeper, a little to the left or a little to the right, who knows what we may have found. Perhaps the next time, if there is one.
The following pages contain images of the Dig with explanatory captions