Unearthing Shakespeare – Part 9

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Phase 2 of Dig for Shakespeare took place during 2011.

That season saw continued public popularity and an increased media interest in the site with attendance by both BBC (National Treasures Live in September) and Channel 4 (Time Team, filmed in September and October, broadcast two weeks ago).

Phase two taught us more about the layout of Shakespeare’s New Place. Several stone foundations confirm a small frontage range with a service range attached. These buildings enclosed a courtyard, the location of which was identified by large rubbish pits dug in the late 16th century within this open area.

These pits contained extensive evidence of the personal possessions, status, diet, trade, cottage industries and leisure activities of the occupants of this period. A carved bone knife handle and several lead trade tokens (such as have been found at the site of Elizabethan theatres in London), in particular, provided an immediate link to the occupants of this period.

Two brick foundations, consistent with the type used in Shakespeare’s day, provided tantalising evidence of his renovations. A brick wall, and a small section of brick flooring, possibly the location of an indoor fireplace, was identified in the location believed to be the house at the rear of the plot, Shakespeare’s inner dwelling, never before excavated.

In addition to the results on the arrangement of the house, several periods of development were identified on the site, spanning at least 2000 years, very unusual for a site of this size and location. Well preserved Iron Age, and 13th century archaeology was also identified.

Hugh Clopton built his ‘Great House’ on this site in the late 1400s and it is this house which Shakespeare purchased and remodelled, by which time it had become known as New Place, the surviving foundations of which have been identified.

In the early 18th century New Place was extensively rebuilt and eventually demolished in 1759. The full extent of this 18th century mansion, including the rear elevation can now be clearly seen.

Phase three of ‘Dig for Shakespeare’, just now underway, will confirm the location of specific buildings and aid a reconstruction of what the site was like in Shakespeare’s day.

You can find more images and information about the project here.

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Author:WillMitchell

Will Mitchell is Archaeology Supervisor for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and lead archaeologist on 'Dig for Shakespeare.'
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Marissa-Alysson/100003671233266 Marissa Alysson

    As an archaeology major and english major I have a love of both archaeology and Shakespeare so this would be a dream project to work on. How fascinating to be lucky enough to find the rubbish pits which is like a treasure trove of evidence of diet and possesions from Shakespeares day.
    Are you gaining any new evidence to provide a more accurate idea of a  Shakespeare timeline from this project?

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