Archaeological Dig At Paisley Abbey Goes Down The Drain

A team from Glasgow Archeological Research Division (GUARD) are plumbing the depths of a medieval drain in the grounds of the 14th century Paisley Abbey, in Renfrewshire, Scotland. The dig is jointly part of Scottish Archaeology Month and Doors Open Day Scotland an annual event that allows the public free access to otherwise off-limits buildings, historical and modern, across the country throughout September. Michael Fediginan, who runs the local interest website, has been on hand to photograph and record the excavation, and gave Heritage Key an insight into progress so far.

Measuring between five and two metres high in different places, the drain is beautifully built of dressed ashlar blocks. The dig has a dual purpose: firstly to discover how and when the drain was constructed and if it was situated on the site of an older drain. Secondly, to see if there is any valuable archaeological material contained within it that might hint at the older history of the abbey. The GUARD team also hope to improve access to the drain without damaging it. While the work progresses, a new digital record of the site will be created, by the School of Media Language and Music at the University of the West of Scotland, who will film the excavation.

Findings made so far have yet to be properly examined and evaluated, but they already look promising

The dig is an advancement on a previous exploration carried out nearly 20 years ago, according to Fediginan. The drain was rediscovered in 1990 when archaeologists from GUARD were directed to the modern manhole by Frank Snow, of the then-Strathclyde Sewage Department, he says. The drain was excavated of 60 cm of silt which contained some amazing finds. Fragments of pottery from several hundred vessels were recovered, along with a complete chamber pot, which is on display in Paisley Abbey sacristy.

Other finds, he continues, included inscribed slates, buckles, lead seals, gaming pieces and remains of more than 140 plants. Amongst them were food plants such as barley, wheat, onions, kale, imports such as mace and figs, and medicinal plants such as opium poppies, greater celandine and hemlock.

Findings made so far have yet to be properly examined and evaluated, but they already look promising. A former street once called Ellis Lane has been discovered, reports Fediginan, with lots of the foundations of the buildings in place. And there have been numerous pieces of stone found along with pieces of glass and two brick like objects which have some sort of old writing on them.

The archaeologists will be on site during Doors Open Day this Saturday (September 12) to explain their findings and talk about the dig, and therell also be an exhibition in Paisley Abbey providing more information about the drain. For regular updates on the excavation, keep an eye on the thread by Fediginan on his website forum.

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