700 years ago East Anglia was one of the richest areas of the country. Much of this wealth came from the church, whose Bishops owned vast tracts of land across Suffolk and Norfolk. The unstoppable force of the sea eroded the coastline causing much of the town of Dunwich to fall into the sea, a process that continues to this day.
Time Team had been invited to Dunwich by English Heritage to help the organisation assess two areas of the site and fill in some blanks. One area was rumoured to be the site of a medieval hospital, now under a car park, the other intrigued Mick - the ruins of a large church. This area could contain some of the earliest evidence for Anglo Saxon Dunwich. Could the team push back the date of both sites? And if this wasn't enough the team hoped to bring together all the work that had been done in Dunwich to produce a picture of the town in its medieval heyday.
Early geophysics over the car park area was promising - a large medieval building? Jimmy was convinced we were seeing service pipes... Much scratching of heads. Mick decided to open a trench on the edge of the car park to see if we could get an idea of how damaged the area might have been by building work and how much remained from the period of the medieval hospital. It was over to Phil and the big yellow trowel.
Whilst Phil got to work Mick turned his attention to the ruins of Greyfriars church, in a field close to the ruins, the remnants of the town ditch. Mick was convinced that the town had an Anglo Saxon origin as the Domesday book described a number of churches - unusual for a settlement like Dunwich in 1086. The trench may prove Micks theory but it was going to be hard work.
Phil's work was beginning to reveal our first hint of medieval archaeology - a paved surface made of beach cobbles. Perhaps a yard associated with the buildings we were searching for? Paul Blinkhorns analysis of the pottery gave us some good dates and lots of evidence of beer drinking... But no real evidence of the hospital.
Meanwhile Mick's trench was slow going. Our problem was the need to get to 'primary silts', i.e. the first layers of soil laid down at the bottom of the trench before it became filled in. Mick was hoping that his evidence of Anglo Saxon occupation would be at the bottom in the form of broken pottery. The ditch was so deep that the machine would be needed so it was going to be a while before we had any idea whether the crucial evidence would be at the bottom.
If we didn't have enough going on already Mick was keen to investigate the layout of the Greyfriars site. Excavations in the 1990s had given us a tantalising glimpse of the structures beneath the surface, but the geophysics plots weren't matching up with these earlier interpretations. The only way to get to the bottom of this mystery was... you guessed it... to put in a trench. Only a small one this time!
Our medieval hospital had eluded us. Phil discovered a medieval cobbled surface which showed we were in the right period, but it seemed that the hospital itself may well be under café buildings on the edge of our car park. One last trench went in as close as possible to the café in the hope some evidence of the hospital may have survived, but we were out of luck.
The attention of the team now turned to the Greyfriars site as our last hope of finding evidence for Anglo Saxon Dunwich. With new geophysics came a new trench; this time over a large building that might help us get the dating evidence we so needed. At last we came up trumps - a large church with a star find - a beautifully carved piece of medieval stonework and part of a window frame. But did we find evidence of an Anglo Saxon centre? Mick's huge trench over the town ditch came up trump - late Saxon pottery - even if the three small, crumbly bits of pot didn't seem all that impressive.
So the team had had mixed success at Dunwich. Glimpses of its rich medieval past had appeared and we'd looked at all sorts of sources to help us build up a picture of what this extraordinary trading centre and port must have been like. The continuing erosion of the coastline will go on robbing us of the archaeological remains at Dunwich, but perhaps Time Team have managed to add a couple more pieces to the archive of this beautiful coastal site for the people who live there today.