Week 6 marked the halfway point of Summer 2016 at All Saints, and it didn’t disappoint! Work continued on a number of burials of varying ages and sizes from the 19th century as well as several post-medieval and medieval deposits. We were able to answer some questions about the area within the footprint of the Old Rectory too. Whilst some trainees continued from the previous week we had several new starters joining us on Monday for another week of discovery.
Headway was made with a number of burials this week by our 1 – 2 day tasters and our week-long trainees. New starter Leah joined continuing trainee Anna to carry on exposing the coffin remains within the burial of a juvenile. Once they had found the extent of the coffin, which had survived as a dark stain with some wood fragments and metal fittings, they were able to record it. It was then time for the girls to continue with some careful digging downwards to locate the skull before exposing the rest of the remains.
Locating the skull first is a useful way to begin as it is easy to work your way down the skeleton without disturbing the more delicate areas such as the hands and feet. The coffin recording and cleaning of the remains took most of Anna and Leah’s time up, but it was worth it for the end result and they had uncovered half of the skeleton by the end of the week.
Nearby, continuing trainee Katie started lifting the infant burial recorded by her and Jess the week prior and, once the remains were safely stored for reburial in the church, she was able to clean up and record the small grave cut.
With the records for that particular individual squared away, Katie set about finding more of the coffin in the much deeper adult grave she had originally been working on in week 5. On Tuesday we were joined by two-day taster Charlie who began working across from Katie on cleaning up another infant burial for recording. It was a bit cramped for the girls but they managed very well!
Charlie managed to clean and record her infant over the course of her two days so it was ready to be lifted. On Thursday 1 day tasters Ann and Jan worked on that and another nearby infant burial, beginning to lift one and exposing more of the other.
On Friday we were joined by another pair of 1 day tasters, Ann and Libby, who were set to work on the same cluster of burials. In the afternoon Becky managed to take them through the recording process – not bad for a day’s work!
Also working on burials in week 6 was continuing trainee Janet who, alongside new starter Sam, was tasked with trying to understand an incredibly complex sequence of intercutting burials of varying ages near the centre of the trench. The reason for this complexity is the use and re-use of two neighbouring grave plots for interments being followed by additional burials being squeezed into the gap between the two plots – making the individual burial events very hard to pick apart.
When burials are stacked on top of each other within family plots, the deterioration and collapse of the lower coffin(s) causes the later burials above to sink into the newly formed voids. Add intercutting graves from overlapping burial plots as well as all the pre-burial activities in the area and it can become very difficult to see separate graves until you start digging them. By the end of the week Janet and Sam’s patient work had given us a much better understanding of the burial sequence here and we identified the next grave, that of an infant, ready to record and dig. In week 7 Janet will be able to continue work on this grave by finishing her recording and starting to look for the coffin.
Meanwhile Sam moved onto a nearby cobbled area that had survived from the post-medieval period between two graves, and spent the end of the week putting some detailed records together. These tiny spurs of archaeology are the only insight we have into pre-burial activities in the graveyard area of All Saints, so it is extremely important to treat them with great care.
On Friday of week 5 Tom and Alec came across a previously unidentified infant burial whilst excavating a graveyard soil, and so on Monday of week 6 an important job was to get the burial recorded so it could be lifted out of harms way. It was up to new starters Hasel and Lesley to plan the back fill and remains.
It was a highly truncated grave and space was at a premium, so Lesley moved onto another feature and Hasel spent the rest of the week lifting the skeleton and looking for the edges of the cut, which were far from clear! In the Week 2 Site Diary site supervisor Arran discussed possible explanations for why there seems to be a large quantity of inter-cutting infant burial plots located in this particular area in line with the church tower. This grave adds further to the evidence for somewhat less careful burial of younger individuals in this area of the graveyard.
The remainder of Lesley’s week was spent exploring the most ancient deposits that we have reached so far. A sondage (a “trench within a trench”) within the footprint of the Old Rectory has given us the chance to investigate the nature of deposits beyond the 19th century graveyard. So far we have been finding securely dateable C14th pits and dumps which has led us to wonder if we are inside a building that pre-dates the Rectory, or in an outside space such as a yard or garden. The other question we would like to answer is if the space was for industrial or domestic (or both!) use.
In week 2, trainees Alison and Helen found 14th century silting and a compacted layer that could have been a surface. On the July Weekend Dig Beverley excavated a C14th silty ashy layer, in week 3 David and Kathryn dealt with a medieval midden layer and in week 4 tasters Caroline, Lisa, Lyn, Ann and Pat worked on another series of dumps containing animal bone and hearth clearance material. Week 5 saw Penny and Oli excavate a large pit of butchered animal bone, again from the 14th century. Now, Lesley has added to the record of this area with the excavation of a deposit containing a lot of fish bones; it was yet another medieval refuse pit.
So Lesley’s pit is another piece of evidence that helps answer our questions, this area is very likely to have been an outside space at this point as you wouldn’t expect to find this kind of waste inside a domestic dwelling. The waste could be from domestic or industrial activities related to the preparation of food – hence the butchery, fish bone and hearth waste. Hopefully as the season goes on we will be able to learn more about the activities that produced this waste.
Working in medieval deposits elsewhere on site were new starters Colin and Annemarie, who spent their week taking up several dumping layers that are some of the oldest on site. Each layer was cleaned, photographed, planned, levelled, described and then excavated. By the end of their week they had made it through several distinct layers and had them all recorded and ready to be added to the site matrix. That’s pretty fast work!
Working in the more recent pre-burial horizon were other new starters Bill from the UK and Christine, who joined us all the way from Australia! In many places on the site there are little spurs of land between graves, like the cobbled surface Sam was working on, that give us a bit of a keyhole look at the post-medieval activities on the site. Several of these spurs survive, albeit precariously, in “Contrary Corner,” and so it was here that Bill and Chris started to record and excavate in week 6. Like Colin and Annemarie they made their way through several different deposits meaning they got to learn and practice their recording skills quite frequently! We were expecting these deposits to be 18th century in date, although the pottery suggests some of the lower deposits were possibly medieval. Bill and Christine turned out to be a crack team at recording and they made really good progress on these very fragile spurs of ground.
Throughout the week the trainees received all of the usual specialist sessions on pottery, conservation, small finds and stratigraphy as well as numerous finds washing/bagging sessions. One finds washing session proved particularly fruitful for Colin who came across this rather nice socketed worked bone object, it could be post-medieval in date:
Another finds washing session revealed a chicken print in a medieval roof tile. You can just imagine the frustration of the potter checking on his drying tiles and finding out a stray chicken has ran all over them!
Well that’s all there is to report on for this week, it was a great chance to answer some long-held questions about the medieval period at All Saints – although there is still much more to be learned. We also made progress on understanding the more complex burial sequences on the site as well as getting some of the more fragile remains lifted safely out of the way. Friday of week 6 also marked the halfway point of the summer season at All Saints, and it was amazing how fast it had gone so far, but they do say time flies when you’re having fun – so far we’ve had a ball and hope the trainees have too!
Thank you of course, to the trainees for making Archaeology Live! happen and making it so much fun, and thank you readers for reading!
P.S: We knew this was going to be a good week as Becky kicked off Monday by getting a high-five from a resting bee…