Rescue of a toad helps Museum archaeologists find missing piece of an 18th-century Delftware plate at Berry Head.
Archaeological excavations carried out by Brixham Heritage Museum in 2012, at a site on Berry Head adjacent to the air traffic control beacon, lead to the discovery of a pit filled with broken crockery, wine bottles and drinking glasses. Working their “jigsaw magic”, the Museum team managed to re-assemble complete plates, cups, wine glasses and bottles; the majority of which date from the 1790s/early 1800s and are believed to be from a clearance of the old officers’ mess and office of the Engineer (who was in charge of building the Berry Head forts). These buildings occupied the site prior to the later construction of two Victorian cottages (demolished 1908). Excavation of the pit also produced shards of an earlier, rather splendid English Delftware charger (large plate) dating from c. 1780s (possibly a prized heirloom of either one of the officers or of the Engineer). When re-assembled it was a disappointment for the Museum team to discover that one small section was still missing from the otherwise complete plate.
Fast forward to two weeks ago this year and the same pit was the focus of further investigation. However, just as the digging out of the earth backfill to the pit started, a toad, startled by the activity, was seen to dart down its burrow inside the pit. Not wishing to cause injury to this animal, the Museum archaeologists then had to very carefully remove the earth a few centimetres at a time using a trowel rather than a spade. Whilst this caused a considerable delay in the excavation procedure the toad was finally located (uninjured) towards the bottom of the pit and, amazingly, next to the animal was the missing piece of the Delftware plate!! Had a spade been used instead of the trowel the small piece of pottery might have been overlooked.
The missing piece has now been re-united with the rest of the plate, now complete. As for the toad, the animal was relocated to a much safer place away from the area being excavated and hopefully will dig a new burrow.