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Why were we excavating?

Why were we excavating in Durham? In this article Chris Gerrard describes why Durham University was excavating at Palace Green
© Durham University

In the autumn of 2013, building work was about to begin on the construction of a new café at Palace Green Library in the heart of the historic city of Durham (UK).

Map showing the location of Scotland, England and Durham Location map of Durham © Alejandra Gutiérrez, Durham University

The Library today occupies several University buildings on the west side of Palace Green between Durham Cathedral and Durham Castle. The earliest building in the Library complex dates from the 1440s and the latest from the 1960s.

Photograph showing Palace Green Library, Durham Palace Green Library (centre) and surrounding buildings, Durham © Jeff Veitch, Durham University

The site chosen for the new café was no more than an overgrown yard between existing buildings. Map evidence suggested that the plot had been open ground for a considerable period of time, so it was clear that any construction here might expose early features or finds. What’s more, this spot is in the middle of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Durham Castle and Cathedral. The World Heritage Site designation recognises the ‘universal value’ of the architecture and archaeology of the site.

Accordingly, the planning process made allowance for archaeological monitoring of the ground-works. This is one of a range of responses commonly applied during construction projects across the UK. A written scheme of investigation was prepared and agreed by the Principal Archaeologist for Durham County Council, David Mason. All ground-disturbing work on the site was to be monitored by Janet Beveridge, Project Archaeologist from Archaeological Services Durham University. The objective of the archaeological ‘watching brief’ was to ensure that any archaeological evidence that might be exposed by the building work would be properly excavated, examined, assessed and recorded.

© Durham University
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