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Leiston: Are these the bones of devil dog, Black Shuck?

11:10 15 May 2014

Has the legendary Black Shuck been found? This rather large dog skeleton was uncovered in the south of the Leiston Abbey dig site

Has the legendary Black Shuck been found? This rather large dog skeleton was uncovered in the south of the Leiston Abbey dig site

Archant

Could this be the final resting place of Suffolk’s mythical hell-hound, Black Shuck?

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Aerial view of the DigVentures team hard at work in the car park at Leiston Abbey in July 2013Aerial view of the DigVentures team hard at work in the car park at Leiston Abbey in July 2013

Since the middle-ages, legend has spread of a fearful beast once said to stalk the region’s coastline and countryside.

Despite tales of a fiery-eyed monster showing up in graveyards, forests and roadsides - and an account of claw marks surfacing on the door to Blythburgh Church - the giant dog’s existence has been reserved to the annals of folklore.

Until now, perhaps, as archeologists have revealed evidence of huge skeletal remains unearthed by a member of the public in the trenches at Leiston Abbey last year.

The DigVentures team are set to return to the site this summer, and are again inviting amateur history hunters to take their place alongside the experts from July 8-20, with the prospect of coming across an equally exciting discovery.

Of course, the giant carcass is more likely what remains of someone’s beloved canine companion, and is currently being analysed to find out how long it was buried in the grounds of monastic ruins.

The site was left almost untouched until last year, when site managers, and chamber music academy, Pro Corda teamed up with DigVentures to run only the second ‘crowdfunded’ community project of its kind.

DigVentures managing director Lisa Westcott Wilkins said: “We’re still waiting for results from specialists but we believe the bones are from when the abbey was active - so they could be medieval.

“The dog is huge - about the size of a Great Dane - and was found near where the abbey’s kitchen would have been.

“It was quite a surprise. We’re all dog lovers and we have a site dog with us on our digs, so it was quite poignant.

“Even back then, pets were held in high regard.”

It is hoped the skeleton will be exhibited as part of this year’s dig, which has received financial backing from the Heritage Lottery Fund to allow organisers to replace paper context sheets with a digital recording system, tailored to meet the needs of a worldwide community archaeology team.

Mrs Westcott Wilkins, whose team includes former Time Team archaeologist Raksha Dave, said: “There is evidence of a prehistoric age at the abbey, which even English Heritage had been unaware of.

“We’re really looking forward to going back. This year we can involve the public much more. They can get immediate online access.”

Black Shuck, Old Shuck, Old Shock or Shuck is the name given to a ghostly black dog said to roam the coastline and countryside of East Anglia.

Scorch marks still visible on the north door of Holy Trinity Church, in Blythburgh, are said to have been made by the beast’s claws during a morning service in August 1577, on the same day as the phantom dog is rumoured to have run amok inside St Mary’s Church, in Bungay.

A total of £18,000 is needed to make the Saints and Sinners dig happen - about 70% of which has so far been raised through crowdfunding, which gives members of the public a chance to take part in the dig in return for a donation.

The summer excavations aim to further investigate the previously unknown prehistoric phase at the abbey - as well as locate lost trenches excavated in the 1980s but never archived or published - for a five-year research design.

Leiston Abbey is free to visit and there will be free activities for people to take part in during and after the dig, including daily archaeological site tours, evening expert talks open to the public, family weekends and a special week from July 21-25, when volunteers can help out post-excavation.

The crowdfunding campaign for the Digital Dig Team will close on May 31 but there will still be opportunities to register and participate in some way until the final day of the dig.

Visit digventures.com.

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