800 years ago Kenfig was a successful port. An Anglo-Norman 'plantation' town, the settlement was built on the Welsh coast by the invading Normans to establish a dominant economic and military stronghold. However, it didn't go quite as planned for the invaders; their enemy wasn't the Welsh, but nature itself.
So how do you dig trenches into sand dunes? Start with geophysics... This work helped us identify the great ditch and bank around Kenfig Castle. Was the town inside this defensive structure? Did it spread outside it? Francis was convinced that to get a grip on the size and layout of the town we had to identify the main street, the market place, the town hall - all the features one might expect to find in a medieval town. Were we dealing with a fossilised archaeological landscape? Time to open some trenches.
Trench one went in over the ditch so we could get a grip on the depth of sand. John wasn't happy as his survey equipment isn't fond of sand. We hoped the magnetic survey technique might give us something - it was fingers crossed. Luckily we had a huge amount of documentary evidence to help us begin to reconstruct the town. Extracts from records and accounts of the town showed that a huge number of repairs had taken place as the town came under repeated attack from the Welsh. Could we find evidence of these attacks in the archaeology? Unfortunately for Phil, the trenches were producing sand, sand and... more sand.
But is wasn't all bad news, John's geophysics had worked brilliantly - roads, streets and even houses were showing up clearly inside the area of the ditch and bank close to the castle. At last we had some serious targets to go for. Trench two went in over a possible house and the road in front of it. Luckily over at Phil's trench the sand had finally receded revealing the enormous defensive bank. Hopefully some dating evidence would appear at its bottom. And sure enough, by the end of the day we had begun to find some fantastic medieval pottery.
At the dawning of day two the team were enthusiastic to expand their work, but it soon became clear that the sheer scale of the town might make our task almost impossible. Time for a strategic rethink. To add to this John's geophysical survey had been expanded and produced amazing results - the town inside the defences was taking shape. If all this wasn't enough Alex wasn't convinced that the town described in the documents could fit inside the ditch and bank Phil had been excavating. Could John expand his survey further outside the ditch and bank? How big was this place?
Despite the challenges ahead the trenches we had open were delivering the goods. Roads, buildings and defences were all appearing out of the deep sand. Time for another trench to reveal medieval houses we hoped were shown on the geophysics. Since the team were getting such a good handle on what was happening inside the Castle enclosure, it was time to look at the suburbs. John's geophysics were inconclusive and certainly not as impressive as those inside Phil's defences. In fact, the results indicated that the 'suburbs' might just be agricultural land. This does tie in with records that speak of constant attack. Perhaps the safest place to be was inside the castle defences...
With one day left the suburbs still presented us with a conundrum: if the records recorded buildings in the area, where were they? Roads discovered on the geophysics showed up, but the buildings remained elusive. A trench was the only answer. Targeted along the road outside the defences, our new trench was the best hope we had of finding evidence for a much bigger town. Matt's hard work in this trench revealed evidence for industrial activity, perhaps metalworking. This made sense as any settlement would want to keep industrial processes away from the wealthy heart of the town. Francis was happy that we had evidence of activity taking place outside the castle defences - it just didn't look like people lived here.
Over three days the pieces of the puzzle came together. A dense, wealthy town had been built inside the castle defences. Outside these substantial earthworks everyday agricultural and industrial processes were taking place but, the medieval inhabitants of the town had sought protection from frequent attacks described in the documents. As the dig reached its conclusion Phil even discovered indications of one of these attacks in the trenches!