We are now well into the third week of the excavation and, to some people’s frustration, we are still excavating post-medieval features. The site is presented as a ‘Medieval Village’ and Cosmeston was certainly a medieval settlement, but the site did not disappear after the black death, rather it continued and developed into a prosperous farm around the late 16th, early 17th century.
Post-medieval archaeology is seen by many as uninteresting and too late in date to be of any importance. As recently as the last 30 years many people said similar things about medieval archaeology, and would dig straight through 1500 years of our past to get to the ‘interesting’ Roman archaeology. Here at Cosmeston, as with many sites, the post-medieval archaeology is an integral part of the settlement history. Looking at the later archaeology allows us to understand the complete story, following the shifting settlement focus; from the medieval manor to the large post-medieval farm, to the later Lower Cosmeston farm still in existence today.
The archaeology we have encountered this season (other than the GGAT trenches) is associated with the demolition of the manorial buildings and robbing of walls for building material. Although we have been retrieving medieval pottery (including the ram aquamanile and Bristol jugs) in the majority of contexts post-medieval pottery has been a constant element of the assemblage. This indicates that the activity we are identifying in the archaeological record is post-medieval. The robbing ranges from general demolition to the digging out of the walls. The pit seen in the photograph had limpets and post-medieval pottery in the back fill. The pottery, such as North Devon sgrafitto ware (found in the robbing pit), is typical of what we see at Cosmeston in the 17th century. In the last couple of days other post -medieval objects we have found include a Cistercian style lid (a 16th Century style of glazed pot), Somerset bowl and a sherd from a Bristol tin glazed bowl.
The ceramic material has shown us that the manor was no longer standing in the 17th century. The Nurenberg Jeton mentioned in yesterday’s post, with a production period of 1585-1635, can be seen to support the dating associated with the sequence of abandonment and demolition. Other tokens similar to the Jeton have been found, (these can be seen on display at the Cosmeston Medieval Village museum), providing evidence for a settlement with wide trading networks stretching beyond the Bristol Channel; goods arriving from North Devon, Somerset and as far afield as Germany.
So where did the settlement go? Today, the reconstructed Tithe Barn stands where we know a series of large post-medieval farmyards were located. The farmyard surfaces were metalled (constructed from compacted stone), and over time pottery and general refuse collected on top. The sequential farmyards surrounded a large rectangular building, likely to have been a farmhouse with a smithy close by. Eventually, this too was abandoned, and settlement shifted again.
Cosmeston is still alive, with Lower Cosmeston Farm and the new housing estate (Upper Cosmeston) constituting a vibrant community with 1000 years of history. The excavations over the last 30 years along with the reconstructions, museum and ‘living’ interpretation (provided by permanent village staff) have enabled the local community to directly engage with their past. Long may this continue.