'Dragon skull' found buried in Shrewsbury Castle as exploration hots up

Archaeologists exploring an historic castle in a heatwave may have felt like they were under attack from a fire-breathing monster - but never expected to come across a 'Welsh dragon'.

Dr Nigel Baker, at Shrewsbury Castle
Dr Nigel Baker, at Shrewsbury Castle

Experts and student volunteers have been digging at Shrewsbury Castle since Sunday, July 17, and were seriously feeling the heat last week.

They have made several interesting discoveries, including animal bones which resemble a dragon's skull. But could they really have found evidence of a mythical creature?

"It looks like it could be the head of a Welsh dragon, but in reality, it's a large piece of cow," said Dr Morn Capper, with a wry smile.

A dragon skull? No, just part of a bovine skeleton

They may not have found a winged serpent in the grounds of the castle, but the dig has captured the imagination of Salopians, 700 of whom turned up on Saturday to an open day to take a look at some of the artefacts. Shropshire Council's cabinet members have also been to visit this week.

As well as animal bones, ornate pottery and glass, the team have also uncovered structures providing more clues to the castle's history.

They have dug three large holes at the top of the motte, next to Laura's Tower.

"We're probably at the most exciting point in the excavation, because to find more stuff at the bottom of the hole you're digging before you get to the end of the project, and you have to fill it back up again," said archaeologist Dr Nigel Baker.

"We know this was the strongest point of the Norman castle, and was once crowned by a tall wooden tower, sometimes called the ‘Great Tower of Shrewsbury’, until that was undermined by the river and fell down in the mid-1200s.

Shropshire Council cabinet members visit Shrewsbury Castle to look at artefacts discovered

“The big question is though – how much damage did Thomas Telford do up there when he built Laura’s Tower? Previous digs found that Telford’s restoration in the 1780s had been extremely destructive, though evidence survived that the site had been occupied in the Saxon period, and before the castle was built by the Normans to suppress revolt in newly-conquered Shrewsbury."

Within the holes the team has dug, you can see "ear-shaped" crevices which would have supported the wooden frame of the 'Great Tower'.

"This proves the intentions of William the Conqueror for this castle," added Dr Capper, of University Centre Shrewsbury's history and archaeology department. With views from the top stretching for miles, it could have been a key point for Norman control.

The dig, which was made possible by a £6,790 grant from the Castle Studies Trust, has also provided an invaluable opportunity for University Centre Shrewsbury students to get hands on experience at unearthing history.

12th Century pottery found at Shrewsbury Castle

Student volunteer Demi Jefferies, from Florida, US, is studying for a masters in museums and heritage practice in Shrewsbury. She said: "I've always been really into history, and I've always loved British history. When I got the opportunity to come here I had to take it. You can learn so much with books, but coming here and being involved in something like this brings it to life."

This was the third archaeological dig at the castle, and Dr Baker said he doesn't think there will be another any time soon due to what has already been found, and the research that will need to go into exploring artefacts discovered.

But he was pleased with the team's work in roasting hot weather. "I think our team deserve huge credit for working in the worst conditions I can think of," he said.

TodayWEDS is the last opportunity to visit the castle and see the finds made before the team leaves the site. Visitors are welcome until 4.30pm.

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