Archaeologists from Rathmell Archaeology Ltd are currently on site in Irvine town centre, undertaking a second phase of fieldwork in advance of construction of a new leisure centre on a plot adjacent to the Townhouse. An initial programme of evaluation trenching, conducted in October of this year, indicated that in situ archaeological deposits survived within the site, despite substantial amounts of disruption in some areas resulting from the buildings that formerly occupied parts of the plot. As a result, a second phase of work involving the open-area excavation of a number of sections of the site is now under way.
Work was required as a condition of planning consent because the development area lies in the core of the medieval burgh of Irvine, overlying several key elements of the municipal life of the burgh from its origin. These include the earliest medieval civil foci of the Tolbooth and Market Cross; some later burgh structures are also present, such as the Customs House and the Market House, both inserted into the street frontage of the High Street.
The previous evaluation trenching indicated that of survivial of potentially archaeologically significant strata could be divided into four main areas. The immediate frontage onto the High Street appeared to have suffered significant distruption and truncation during the 19th and 20th centuries, with no significant strata identified. To the rear of this frontage, in the war memorial carpark, an area of dense structural remains including surfaces, wall foundations, ditches, pits and a well were located, and it is this area that is shown in the photograph at the top of this item. The picture below shows the base of a kiln or oven, also identified in this area of the site during the current phase of excavation.
In contrast to the eastern section of the site, evaluation indicated that the equivalent area behind the Townhouse had suffered sever disruption and truncation during the modern period, with little comparable survival. However, in the northeastern two-thirds of the site, significant depths of modern made ground (upto 1.2m) were found to overlie a potentially homogenous medieval soil that was up to 0.8m thick. It was not apparent from the topography of the modern town that there would have been such a marked change in natural ground level to the north of the High Street. This soil horizon exhibited occasional features cut into its upper surface and surviving beneath it cut into the natural subsoil. These features appeared to be a range of pits and ditches with no notable sturcural evidence.
A range of finds have been made, both during the evaluation and the current phase of fieldwork. The assemblage has so far been dominated by gritty wares from the 12th and 15th centuries, with only a few sherds of later redwares and post-medieval reduced wares present. There has been a lack of ceramic evidence between 1600 and 1800, with numerous sherds of 19th and 20th century ceramics recovered.