Week 5 saw the Archaeology Live! team discovering more of the pre-burial activities on North Street including recycling habits, post-medieval workshop foundations, medieval refuse pits and examples of Roman tableware. This was also the week of arguably our creepiest find to date, scroll down to find out more…
At the end of week 4 dynamic duo Matt and Christine had cleaned up, photographed and recorded a gravestone footing relating to a 19th century burial. In week 5 our new trainees Tom and Alec picked up where they left off and started to remove the footing. Whilst the construction of this footing is undoubtedly 19th century in date, it turned out to be built of recycled medieval bricks and Roman masonry! Utilizing earlier materials had its perks; it was cheaper than the cost of acquiring and working stone or bricks, and logistically easier to re-use materials found lying around a nearby area than have them brought in from further afield. Tom and Alec’s footing is not the only example of re-use at this site or in York as a whole; as is often pointed out on our Thursday night wanders, large blocks of Roman masonry in particular can be found in all sorts of places, often in churches and other similarly sized structures.
Elsewhere on site we found evidence of more recycling, this time in the post-medieval period. The general theory about the appearance of post-medieval North Street is one of open fronted lean-to workshops built in timber. So far we have recorded and excavated some post-pads that were substantial enough to have held sizeable structural timbers, and in week 5 two of our tasters, father and daughter team Richard and Francesca were working on one such footing. In their two days on site they managed to clean, record and excavate their footing and it turned out to be made of faced medieval church masonry! Whether it was robbed out of All Saints or left lying around is impossible to tell, but clearly these workshops incorporated odd bits and bobs of other nearby structures, which contributes more towards the idea of a ramshackle collection of workshops along Church Lane in the post-medieval period.
Also delving into the post-medieval period were new starters Rachel and Graham, who started their week working on a rubble filled layer. Once that deposit was recorded they carried on and dug even further back in time, to find a securely dated 13th century deposit. We could date this deposit because of the pottery that came out of it, as a feature cannot be any earlier than the most recent piece of pottery within it. After the specialist pottery session on Tuesday with site supervisor Arran, Rachel and Graham were able to put their newly acquired knowledge to the test when dating this deposit.
Windows into medieval All Saints were explored by our other two-day tasters – mum and son Penny and Oli. They excavated to the base of a 14th century pit in the area of the old Rectory. It contained the all important dateable pottery fragments as well as butchered animal bone. So not only did we find a securely dated medieval pit, the waste thrown into it can give us ideas of the activities going on at the time. In this case, butchery waste tells us what is being eaten. So far at All Saints we have found fish, cattle, sheep/goat and chicken bones all showing evidence of butchery as well as considerable amounts of tanning waste. Penny and Oli, like our other tasters Richard and Francesca, finished excavation of their feature and squared away the records by the time their taster days were over – that’s pretty fast work for beginners!
It was great to know that before the halfway point of the summer season some parts of the site were now comfortably within the medieval horizon. However, there were of course more burials to find, record and lift in week 5.
New starter Janet and returnee Pete spent their week working on a young adult burial which needed cleaning up and recording. Once cleaned we had a better idea of whether to lift this individual or leave them in-situ, as at present we are lifting infant and juvenile burials only.
Being the burial of an adult, we have left this individual in place, and so after a couple of days spent meticulously recording each detail Pete and Janet re-covered the skeleton with a deep layer of sieved soil to protect it. Both trainees did a fantastic job and produced quality records.
A highlight of Janet’s first week on Archaeology Live! was a lovely diamond shaped fragment of medieval window glass that her keen eyes spotted during a session of finds washing!
Once their gravestone footing was out of the way and the cut recorded, Tom and Alec moved on to recording a large spread of graveyard soil, a mixed dump of material that accumulated over the lifespan of the graveyard in the early to mid-19th century. By the end of the week they began to excavate the soil and on Friday they came across a previously unidentified infant burial. It was covered over until it could be properly recorded in week 6.
Nearby new starters Katie and Jess had a busy week of searching for and recording more burials. Katie worked on a deeper adult-sized burial, and Jess was working on a much shallower infant burial next to her.
By the end of the week Katie hadn’t managed to find her burial although some parts of a coffin line had started to appear, it was obviously very far down! However she teamed up with Jess to record the delicate infant burial that had been exposed on Friday.
Continuing in the same plot as week 4, Anna and Frankie recorded an infant burial that had been heavily disturbed by burrowing animals. Once the burial had been recorded and lifted the girls cleaned up the grave cut and found… another grave! This particular area has already had several burials lifted and so may well be a family plot. For the rest of the week the girls continued to excavate until they found their coffin outline on Friday. However before they reached the coffin the backfill had produced a wonderful array of pottery sherds.
Here we have a handful of pottery from Anna and Frankie’s feature, some of you may be able to identify Roman, Norman and Viking pottery! The most plentiful pottery from this 19th century feature was Roman, with greywares, samian, black burnished and color coat all making an appearance, as well as a large piece of an amphora, a large Roman storage vessel. What is notable about these sherds is they are mainly examples of fine or high status wares.
Amphorae were large storage vessels for luxury liquid and dry goods such as wine and oil. Samian, colour coat and black burnished wares in particular were made to be displayed on a table for people to see as a sign of wealth. All of these pottery types have been found across the site, which is located on the colonia side of Eboracum. This gives us some indication of the lifestyle of these Roman residents and supports the generally accepted idea that those residing in the colonia were serving citizens, officials and retired legionnaires.
Week 5 was one of interesting stratigraphic tales and even more interesting finds. However one particular find from this week has certainly stayed with me and probably several others. It was on a sunny tea break like many others when placement Ellen sat near the Tree of Finds and unearthed this thing from the topsoil…
Here in the YAT Fieldwork office, site supervisor Arran has had it hanging off of his shelving unit underneath site mascot Mr Fish for months now, and I’m sure it watches everyone in the office who walks by. Goodness knows how it got to the back of All Saints, but I don’t like it.
Besides “Creepy Baby,” week 5 had been another packed week with trainees working on features of many different dates and, as always, all of their hard work has been to a consistently high standard. They are assisted of course by our staff and placements, but its the trainees who make Archaeology Live! the success that it is.
Thanks for reading, keep an eye out for week 6!
P.S. In true Throwback Thursday style, a returning trainee, Janet, found a picture of All Saints back in 2014 and its safe to say we have moved a lot of dirt in three seasons! See for yourself below…