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New dig at Shakespeare's birthplace

portraitDig for Shakespeare open daily 11 April-30 October 2011
Archaeologists will be delving into layers of Tudor soil untouched for 400 years as they resume the 'Dig for Shakespeare' on the site of the playwright’s last home at New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon.  For the next seven months, visitors to Nash’s House and New Place will be able to watch the team of archaeologists and volunteers as they dig deeper every day into the mysteries of Shakespeare’s later years.
The live archaeological project will explore foundations and other remains thought to date from Shakespeare’s era, which were uncovered shortly before the Dig was put under wraps for winter.  Dr Paul Edmondson, Head of Learning & Research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said, “We are now down to virgin ground which has not been excavated by previous expeditions.  This is where we have the most exciting potential to shed new light on Shakespeare’s life and times.”
The Dig for Shakespeare has already unearthed evidence which is challenging the historic interpretation of how Shakespeare’s house would have looked, and how the property was used.   Paul Edmondson said, “The so-called ‘bay window’ identified by the antiquarian archaeologist Halliwell-Phillips in 1862 was thought to belong to the 18th century house at New Place.  Halliwell stopped short when he reached the foundations, but we are now going deeper to excavate the underlying medieval features which could tell us much more about the house that Shakespeare bought and renovated, and how it related to Nash’s House next door, where his granddaughter lived .”
Finds so far include roof tiles, pottery and animal remains which suggest that New Place was at times a high status household, with venison, and salt and fresh water fish supplementing the diet of meat from cows, pigs, sheep, geese and chickens.  Shakespeare was a wealthy and famous man by the time of his death in 1616; his daughter Susanna is known to have entertained Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles, at New Place in 1643.
New Place  was also a hive of activity; features dating from 1500-1700 include a possible oven or kiln, a brick-built storage pit, and a possible quarry pit, together with evidence of bone working and lace making suggest that the site was used for a wide range of cottage industries and crafts for a long period.
An exhibition of key finds from the first phases of the Dig for Shakespeare will be on display to visitors at Nash’s House, together with new artefacts unearthed this year.  Visitors to Nash’s House and New Place can also play a hands-on role in helping the archaeologists to sieve through tons of spoil from the excavations.  Dr Diana Owen, Director of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said, “This is probably the most painstaking sieving exercise ever undertaken, and it has already proved invaluable in recovering artefacts which were either discarded or overlooked by Halliwell.  From fishbones to beads, or perhaps a quill tip, even the smallest finds will help us unlock the secrets of Shakespeare’s final years, and of the house which has played an important part in Stratford’s history for seven centuries.”
Volunteers and visitors will be closely monitored by trained members of the Birmingham Archaeology team, based at University of Birmingham, who are undertaking the Dig on behalf of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the charity which promotes the enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare’s works, life and times. Some 200 volunteers have contributed to the excavations so far, and more than 65,000 people visited the site last year.
The Dig for Shakespeare is open to the public seven days a week from 10.00am to 5.00pm (extending to 6.00pm in July and August). The archaeological team works in shifts, with a break between 1.00-2.00pm.  Admission prices are £12.50 for adults, £11.50 for concessions and £8.00 for children, which also includes entry into two other properties owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Hall’s Croft.  The ticket is valid for 12 months, so visitors can come back as many times as they like to see the progress of the Dig, which continues until 30 October.  Income from ticket sales helps the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to keep the five Shakespeare Houses and Gardens open year round, care for the world’s largest Shakespearian collection open to the public, and provide world-class educational programmes.