Excavations near Eye Castle in Suffolk have revealed the remains of what appears to be a 13th-century timber bridge, as well as the location of a defensive ditch structure surrounding the castle.
Britannia Archaeology Ltd carried out excavations at Eye on behalf of Roundwood Restorations Ltd. The site had been called for investigation by Suffolk County Council archaeology Service ahead of a development project due to its proximity to Eye Castle, a Norman motte and bailey edifice constructed in 1086 that served as a fortified residence for lords and an administrative centre for feudal estates.
The first trial trench excavated revealed an 8m wide section of a ditch which the team suspect to be a lost perimeter of Eye Castle’s outer bailey defensive structure. Pottery dated from the 11th to the 14th centuries was recovered from the ditch, along with animal bone assemblages of mainly sheep and/or goat that appear to be the remnants of meat processing activities.
‘By far the most significant find was a large oak timber, which was within the lower fills of the ditch,’ said Martin Brook, Co-Director at Britannia Archaeology Ltd. ‘It is likely to be a baseplate of a trestle for a timber bridge, which would have spanned the ditch. The bridge is likely to date between c. AD 1200 and c.1265, when the castle was sacked and abandoned.’
Organic material rarely survives in the British archaeological record. However, the timber is in such an excellent state of preservation, due to its waterlogged burial environment, that the carpenter’s markings are still visible. Close inspection of them revealed that the mortices were originally intended to be cut 50mm shorter than they were. This may indicate a deliberate change in design or that a mistake occurred during measuring.
Martin commented: ‘This is not something that any of us were expecting and it’s incredibly satisfying and exciting to work on, both adding to our understanding of the castle in its historic setting and helping to further our understanding of medieval life in Eye.’
The finds will now undergo specialist analyses, and an excavation report is set be released later in the year.