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Diss community dig unearths town’s hidden history

Diss Dig. Archaelogical dig at the back of Gazes. Students from Diss High School dig. ANL-150315-161405006
Diss Dig. Archaelogical dig at the back of Gazes. Students from Diss High School dig. ANL-150315-161405006

Although Diss has always been aware and proud of its heritage, there has never previously been much physical evidence to show what the lives of the town’s residents were like centuries ago.

That all changed at the weekend, when a team of archaeologists, enthusiasts and young volunteers led by the Centre of East Anglian Studies (CEAS) converged on a site behind Diss Town Council offices on Market Hill to unearth some of the town’s historical unknowns.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund to kick off the Diss Heritage Triangle’s £3 million regeneration project, the dig was watched on by hundreds across Saturday and Sunday as it produced discoveries of artefacts potentially dating back to medieval times, the Middle Ages and the Victorian era.

Dr Tom Licence, director of the Centre of East Anglian Studies (CEAS) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the dig leader, told the Diss Express: “I think it was a really great weekend for the people of Diss.

“Everyone really enjoyed themselves. There was a lot of positive response from the public talks and they (the organisers) have been flooded with emails saying what a great time the children had. I was delighted with it.”

Groups which took part over the two days included pupils from Diss High School, members of the Young Archaeologists’ Clubs of Norwich and the Waveney Valley, the Diss Heritage Triangle committee, and the Suffolk Archaeological Field Group, all of whom helped excavate a site running from end of the council car park to the edge of the Mere.

Businesses in the Heritage Triangle area also took part in an archaeological activity trail for youngsters, with traders reporting increased footfall as a result.

Amidst the key finds from the dig were pottery and clothing remnants, such as a 13th Century belt strap, which Dr Licence stated was the earliest evidence of human activity at the site to date, and a ‘middens’ pit containing bones that, when analysed, could tell us more about 17th Century life in the town.

As well as that, the team discovered evidence of gravel pathways laid around the Mere during the 19th Century, in response to a Victorian sanitation report calling for waste run-off into the Mere to be dealt with.

Dr Licence said: “What’s nice about this discovery is it relates to the first scheme to turn the Mere into a public amenity, which is what they (the Heritage Triangle Partnership) are doing now with the boardwalk, so it’s sort of come full circle.”

He added that once all of the finds from the excavation have been processed and analysed, they would be given back to the town to be used as part of the upcoming Heritage exhibition at Diss Corn Hall, which will also be showing a documentary about the dig, filmed by students from UEA’s Make Media department.

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