A recent community excavation at Halton Castle, investigating two enigmatic burials, uncovered no sign of a larger cemetery, but did reveal evidence for medieval industrial processes, as well as post-holes, possibly from a large hall. (Image: Tom Fildes, Norton Priory Museum Trust)

In CA 323, we looked at the mystery behind two skeletons, a male and a female, found at Halton Castle in Cheshire. It was a surprising find at the time, partly because castle burials like these are rare, but also because, while the two skeletons lay less than 2m from each other, radiocarbon dating suggests that they had been interred 100-200 years apart (the first c.1425-1470 and the second c.1520-1665). This raised many questions about who these individuals were and how they came to be buried at Halton – and a recent community dig sought to provide answers.

Project members were particularly interested in whether these two skeletons might have been part of a larger castle cemetery, and over 95 volunteers took part in an excavation commissioned by Norton Priory, which was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and led by the University of Salford’s Centre for Applied Archaeology. The investigation was concentrated at the base of a tower in the area where the original skeletons were found, but no new burials were discovered, making the already-known burials even more anomalous.

The dig did uncover other interesting finds, however, including three large square pits, cut directly into the bedrock. It is thought that they may represent remains from a medieval industrial process such as tanning or pottery-making. Post-holes, possibly from the foundations of a large timber-framed hall, were also discovered.

‘The dig has been a great success and has given us more fascinating evidence of what was going on in the castle throughout its history,’ said Sarah Cattell, Project Officer at the Centre for Applied Archaeology. ‘Despite a second season of excavation we still have more questions than answers, so it is going to be really interesting work to try to unravel the mysteries of the castle!’

One of the skeletons is currently on display at Norton Priory, along with other finds from the excavations. More information can be found on the Norton Priory YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/watch?v=98iA9whc-x8

This article was published in CA 335.

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