Month: September 2014

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 12.

IMG_5698 Time flies when you’re having fun.

It’s a cliche that’s brazenly obvious at the end of a long project, but nonetheless seems perfectly apt. We’ve had a lot of fun and made some intriguing and often surprising discoveries.  It really is hard to believe that three months have passed since we kicked off the summer season back in June! Back then, the team were fresh and raring to go and Planty the Plant was in the first flush of youth.

A youthful, verdant Planty back in June.

A youthful, verdant Planty back in June.

That said, it’s been a very busy 12 weeks for the Archaeology Live! team. There are a few new grey hairs here and there and Planty now looks a little worse for wear…

Oh, the ravages of time...

Oh, the ravages of time…

Tired archaeologists aside, it’s been an amazing summer and week 12 saw the team add a few new pieces to the puzzle, before making sure that all loose ends were tied up prior to our autumn hiatus.

In ‘That End’, Gary’s team had a very productive week. Rob and Nick began their week by wrapping up the records for ‘contrary corner’.

Nick and Rob made use of a former cupboard in the old boxing club.

Nick and Rob made use of a former cupboard in the old boxing club.

This area proved to be incredibly difficult to pick apart right up to the last few weeks of the summer, when the sequence began to resolve itself.

Records, records, records...

Records, records, records…

We now know that the area was used as part of the All Saints burial ground from 1823, a marked change from its previous life as a working yard at the turn of the 19th century. Pre-dating all of this, a wall footing discovered by Iain and Rose in week 10 suggests that the area was built on in the 18th century. What this building was and when it was built will be research targets for next season, for now it will remain a mystery!

Later in the week, Rob and Nick turned their attention to a pit that was started in week 11. Situated next to our ‘horn pit’, this feature also contained a large amount of cattle skull fragments and horn core. This tells us that the by-products of the tanning industry on nearby Tanner Row were also being disposed of in this pit, which in turn suggests that this was part of an ongoing process as opposed to being an isolated event. Future historic search into the 18th century tanning industry will hopefully add some more detail to this picture of industrial early modern York.

Work in progress on a shallow refuse pit.

Work in progress on a shallow refuse pit.

With work on this feature completed by midweek, the terrible twosome went their seperate ways as a number of new features were investigated. Rob moved to the central area of the trench to assist Jane in completing work on a partially excavated grave backfill. Jane, joining us for her fourth year of archaeology, had high hopes for this feature – it was from this context that Alan found his delightful Viking antler spindle whorl several weeks ago.

Jane picks up work on a 19th century burial.

Jane picks up work on a 19th century burial.

It took Jane a matter of minutes to locate the surprisingly shallow skull of the individual interred in this grave. Fascinatingly, the metallic decorative exterior of the coffin had survived, allowing us to see the size and shape of the coffin, as well as the position of the body within it. In this case, the coffin must have been lowered in a somewhat clumsy manner, as the skeleton had rolled slightly to one side, with the skull pressed against the edge of the coffin.

At the bottom end of the grave, Rob was looking to uncover the legs of the individual. He quickly located one leg, then another and then… another!? This was certainly a strange discovery, which caused a good deal of discussion among the team.

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Rob working on the foot end of a burial.

It is not unusual, particularly in densely occupied medieval burial grounds, for burials to cut through earlier interments. Often, the disturbed bones of the earlier grave will be re-deposited along the exterior of the new coffin – a trend seen on several recent York Archaeological Trust excavations. In this case however, all of the remains Rob had uncovered were in position and correctly articulated. Something odd was going on…

Thankfully, a little more delicate trowelling by Rob cleared up the situation when he revealed yet another leg. Instead of having numerous graves that were cut into each other, it seems our early 19th century burials can play home to more than one individual. In this case, at least one further inhumation lies beneath the skeleton revealed by Jane and Rob.

The fact that the two skeletons are currently laid directly over one and other reveals that the lower coffin must have decayed and given way, causing the coffin above to fall on to the top of the lower burial. One cannott help but wonder if anyone was in the church yard to hear the muffled thud from beneath the ground…

Recording Jane and Rob's grave.

Recording Jane and Rob’s grave.

This is a fascinating discovery that really helps us to build a better picture of the area’s use as a graveyard. The fact that none of our adult burials intercut tells us that the burials must have been clearly marked, perhaps with headstones or earthern mounds. The graveyard was clearly well ordered, with family plots being periodically re-opened to receive numerous burials. It is also increasingly clear that the area was intended to remain in use as a burial ground for some time and records must have been kept of who was buried in which plot, and at what depth.

In the fullness of time, the area only went on to receive burials for around 25 years, as it was de-consecrated in the 1850s to house the new church hall. Despite this, Rob and Jane’s discoveries this week reveal that the churchyard was well ordered and was certainly not intended to be a short-term endeavour.

Lori’s week began with the tricky task of recording a fragment of a post-medieval (or earlier) hearth made of edge-set roof tile.

Lori and Graham recording a tile hearth.

Lori and Graham recording a tile hearth.

Sitting on a slither of undisturbed archaeology between two early 19th century grave cuts, this feature is lucky to have survived! It’s precise date will only be confirmed following its excavation in the autumn, but it is exciting to be seeing glimpses of earlier archaeology beginning to emerge.

Medieval roof tiles are sturdy things and can take a lot of heat! Setting them on edge reduces the risk of cracking and provides a hearth surface that can be used again and again. Visitors to YAT’s Barley Hall can see a complete example of an edge-set tile hearth; they were certainly decorative as well as practical.

The edge-set tile hearth in Barley Hall is a complete example of a medieval hearth.

The edge-set tile hearth in Barley Hall is a complete example of a medieval hearth.

With the records done and dusted, Lori teamed up with Nick to resume work on what appeared to be an infant/juvenile burial close to the north end of the trench.

Grave business in 'That End'

Grave business in ‘That End’

Despite being small, this feature proved to be very deep and quite challenging to excavate. Nick and Lori worked patiently to uncover the remains of a small coffin. Degraded to little more than a stain, this required delicate work as the timber and corroded metal could very easily be destroyed.

Nick working on a tiny coffin.

Nick working on a tiny coffin.

Happily, after three previous years with us, Nick has developed a great trowelling technique and her and Lori were up to the task. Interestingly, this proved to be our second ’empty’ grave of the season, with no human remains found within the coffin. As discussed in last week’s blog, this could be the result of a localised quirk in the acidity of the soil (which can easily dissolve infant remains) or perhaps an infant lost early in a pregnancy that has not survived in the ground. There is also the possibility of these being symbolic burials of a coffin for an individual whose remains could not be interred.

While we will never know for sure, such features are always highly evocative, with very human moments of tragedy and remembrance that would otherwise have been lost to history being recovered the ground.

Elsewhere in Gary’s area, a pit cut that was started during our August training weekend was completed by Jackie. Joining us for a two day taster course, Jackie unearthed evidence of 19th century refuse disposal alongside medieval material upcast from earlier deposits.

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Jackie preparing her pit cut for photography.

There are a number of traditions on Archaeology Live! and a number of individuals who join us year after year, without whom the dig wouldn’t be quite complete. Week 12 saw the arrival of the one, the only, Betty Bashford! (For some reason, dressed as a Viking!)

Betty Bloodaxe in full Viking garb.

Betty Bloodaxe in full Viking garb. Cue the Ride of the Valkyries…

Betty, along with her friend Janet, is one of the characters that make working on Archaeology Live! such an absolute pleasure. There is never a dull moment when this dream team are on site! Sure enough, it didn’t take them long to make an unexpected discovery. Betty and Janet firstly took out the last remaining construction backfills relating to the 1860s church hall.

Betty and Janet tackling a 19th century construction backfill.

Betty and Janet tackling a 19th century construction backfill.

Some nice finds were recovered from these deposits including a lovely hand-painted fragment of tin glazed earthenware dating to the late 18th century.

Janet's 18th century discovery.

Janet’s 18th century discovery.

With the backfills removed and the construction cuts empty, it was possible to see the footings of the church hall, however, this was not all that was revealed. At the base of the cut, what appears to be a fragment of a herring-bone pattern brick floor was uncovered.

An unexpected discovery.

An unexpected discovery.

This was certainly a surprise, as we weren’t expecting to see structural remains in this part of the trench. Quite what building or yard this floor relates to is uncertain at present, but it is always exciting when such features appear.

19th century dumping over Janet and Betty's brickwork.

19th century dumping over Janet and Betty’s brickwork.

A surviving patch of 19th century levelling material covered the rest of this brick feature, so Janet and Betty ended their week by recording this deposit and beginning to remove it. Excavation of this deposit will resume during our October dig.

Excavating a 19th century levelling dump.

Excavating a 19th century levelling dump.

Over at ‘This End’, Toby’s team had a similarly industrious week. Joining us from Sweden, Paul joined Bri to work on the site’s earliest deposits.

Toby, Bri and Paul discussing their sequence.

Toby, Bri and Paul discussing their sequence.

Working on a slither of archaeology cut on one side by a drain run and the other by the church hall wall footings, Paul recorded and removed a dump deposit. This revealed an interesting feature filled with rubble and mortar.

We suspect that the front wall of our 18th century rectory would have run below the current church hall brickwork (pictured below). Up to this point, we hadn’t been able to identify any surviving structure in this area. This truncated post-hole/footing is our first tantalising evidence of this part of the rectory structure. As we know the medieval rectory was altered and re-built on numerous occasions, it is hard to say which phase this feature relates to, but it is a good start, and something we hope to clarify as work progresses in this area.

A possible footing appears in section.

A possible footing appears in section beneath the brickwork.

Paul went on to empty out the rubble feature and record the cut. This exposed a burnt dump very similar in appearance to one being worked on in the next cell by Bri. By chasing into this early archaeology in these two cells, we have had a self-contained sneak preview into the medieval archaeology we will be seeing across the whole site.

Paul and Bri working on medieval material.

Paul and Bri working on medieval material.

Bri’s slot featured no large structural remains, but it was possible to see distinct tips of medieval material and one shallow post hole that may have contained a fence post in front of the old rectory.

Bri troweling.

Bri troweling around his post hole.

With the post hole recorded, Bri then fully exposed and recorded his burnt medieval dump. Whether this is evidence of some industrial process will be investigated in the autumn.

Dave assisting Bri with a spot of planning.

Dave (left) assisting Bri (right) with a spot of planning. The burnt dump is the orange deposit beneath Dave’s end of the tape.

Paul ended his week by wrapping up the records for his and Bri’s area. He also found time to help with the excavation of another of our 19th century graves.

Paul working on a grave backfill.

Paul working on a grave backfill.

Archaeology Live! legend Clive re-joined us for the last week of the summer, assisting Steve with an area populated by intercutting infant burials.

Clive and Steve working on a sequence of 19th century burials.

Clive and Steve working on a sequence of 19th century burials.

This was delicate work! Fragments of coffin and the tiny bones of juvenile individuals are very susceptible to damage, so Clive and Steve were slow and steady with their work. They located the position and extent of the burial of a small child, but also worked out the relationships of a number of burials in close proximity to each other. This allows us to understand the order of events, which burials were the earliest and latest in the sequence.

These features always throw up a lot of paperwork, as the grave backfills, coffin remains and skeletons are all recorded, drawn and photographed individually. Clive and Steve made sure that all the records were in order for their burial sequence and that all the contexts were positioned correctly on our stratigraphic matrix – the diagram that allows us to understand the site sequence.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Working on his birthday, Clive was rewarded with a small archaeological gift when he found a small bone button. Clive and Steve brought their week to a close by taking over work on a burial that has been heavily disturbed by a 19th century rabbit burrow. True to form, the pair managed to locate the true edges of the grave cut. This will be looked at later in the season.

Happy birthday Clive!

Happy birthday Clive!

Another returning Archaeology Live! legend, Juliet was also kept very busy in this area. Charged with some of the week’s most challenging excavation, Juliet looked to fully expose a deep burial by the southern edge of the trench.

Juliet hard at work in one of our deepest graves.

Juliet hard at work in one of our deepest graves.

Buried well over a metre below present ground level, Juliet discovered that what had been thought to be a juvenile individual was actually an adult. Working in close confines, Juliet managed to expose enough of the skeleton to accurately plot its position. This was then recorded in detail and backfilled with a cushion of sieved soil to protect the remains from any damage. Later in the week, Juliet and Donald worked to clarify more of this sequence of infant burials and to complete any outstanding records.

Juliet at work on yet another infant burial.

Juliet at work on yet another infant burial.

The proliferation of infant burials by the rectory wall makes for very difficult excavation. Inter-cutting features often have very unclear edges due to the frequent disturbance of later graves. Once located, it takes time and great care to expose and record these remains.

Working with the guidance of the professional staff, the team in This End have done a fantastic job of picking apart this sequence. There is a lot more to do, but we are really starting to get on top of this area.

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This End in the afternoon sun.

Week 12 saw us enjoying site visits from a number of YAT colleagues from our Nottingham branch, Trent and Peak Archaeology. T&P archaeologist Laura was the quickest to break out her trowel and get stuck in! Working with Kirsten, Laura investigated our largest grave cut.

Kirsten and Laura

Kirsten and Laura

This feature has been ongoing for a number of weeks and has become increasingly complex as time has gone by. It is clear that a number of graves have been situated here, the question in hand is whether we are seeing a family plot being repeatedly re-opened, or an inter-cutting sequence of individual burials. IMG_5786 Kirsten and Laura’s deposit is proving to be one of our more finds-rich grave backfills. At present, three tubs of pottery, animal bone, shell, glass, tile, etc. have been recovered, and the feature is far from finished! As is the norm on North Street, the material is a fantastic mix of Roman to 19th century artefacts.

Later in the week, Kirsten helped Clive and Steve with the recording of their newly discovered grave backfill.

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Kirsten and Clive recording a grave backfill.

The great success of this week in Toby’s area has been the sharpening up of a very difficult sequence. As mentioned above, no half measures can be taken with this kind of archaeology, with care and respect for the individuals interred always being the prime concern.

We are now developing a growing understanding of exactly who was buried here and when. Quite why this area in particular is so densely occupied will be something to investigate in the near future.

Toby discussing edges with Kirsten and Laura.

Toby discussing edges with Kirsten and Laura.

It was another busy and eventful week for Arran and the finds team. Beneath the Tree of Finds, they battled to keep on top of the vast amount of material coming from the trench.

Just some of our finds drying in the sun.

Just some of our finds drying in the sun.

Over the course of the week, countless finds were washed, dried, sorted and bagged – to the ruthlessly exacting standards of our finds department.

Finds bagging

Finds bagging

As the finds are cleaned and dried, it is often at this point that previously un-noticed details are spotted.

Jane and Rob under the Finds Tree.

Jane and Rob under the Finds Tree.

The most exciting discovery this week was found on a seemingly innocuous piece of black burnished ware pottery. At first, the sherd of a Roman vessel seemed to be perfectly ordinary, part of a shallow, flat bottomed bowl referred to by archaeologists as a ‘dog bowl’.

Just another 'dog bowl'?

Just another ‘dog bowl’?

Closer inspection revealed that the sherd had a secret – it had been inscribed with a cross.

Graffitied Roman pottery

Graffitied Roman pottery

It would be very easy to get excited about an early example of christian graffiti, but it must be kept in mind that, while the date of the pot is securely Roman, it is impossible to know exactly when the cross was inscribed. Regardless, it is still wonderful to see a personal touch on an artefact that is almost 2,000 years old!

This wasn’t the only piece of interesting Roman pottery either. A beautifully decorated sherd of a colour coat drinking vessel was noted during washing, this would have been a lovely object when complete. Seeing 2000 year old brush strokes is always wonderful!

Painted Roman colour coat.

Painted Roman colour coat.

One piece of Roman pottery caused confusion at first, as it proved hard to identify. It became clear that this confusion had arisen due to the fact that this particular sherd of high status samian ware had been burned, changing the familiar terracotta colour to a dark grey.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

This wouldn’t be the last pot sherd with a story to tell either. The base of a medieval jug was cleaned and noticed to feature a ‘kiln scar’. As pots are often stacked upside down during firing, the base of the vessels can be marked by the glazed rim of the pot above. The pot above can also affect the firing of the lower vessel and a distinct curved line was clearly evident on our sherd.

The curved mark on this pot base shows that it was fired beneath another pot.

The curved mark on this pot base shows that it was fired beneath another pot.

The fabric on the inside of the curved mark is darker and has a distinctive grey colour. This is where the above pot has limited the airflow to the base of our vessel. When clay is fired in an oxygen starved environment it will often turn a dark grey colour, this is called reduction.

When pot is fired in a well-ventilated environment, such as a kiln with bellows, it will turn a lighter, more orange colour – this is called oxidisation and can be seen on the outside of the kiln scar curve pictured above.

Bri's early clay pipe stem.

Bri’s early clay pipe stem.

While washing a clay pipe stem, Bri noticed that it was a little different to most. Early examples of clay tobacco pipes feature thick stems with a wide, off-centre aperture. This is due to the relative crudeness of manufacturing process and that thin wire had yet to be developed that was strong enough to push through the wet clay to create an airway. Instead, thicker wire had to be used which leaves a broader airway. Bri’s example could be as early in date as the late 1600s!

In a busy week for finds highlights, we also came across another fragment of medieval roof tile complete with the paw-print of a large dog. As medieval tiles were laid out to dry before firing, finds like these are surprisingly common. That said, we never tire of finding such wonderful objects! It is even possible to see the ridges of the skin in the pads of the dog’s paws. You can almost sense the medieval tiler’s annoyance!

Bad dog!

Bad dog!

Yet another great find from this week was a fragment of worked bone that appears to be a very early form of pen. Its date is as yet uncertain, but we look forward to showing this one to our small finds specialist.

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An early bone pen nib.

Week 12 saw the team bring together a lot of loose ends, while new discoveries showed no signs of slowing. Our knowledge of the site’s early modern development from a busy industrial yard to a peaceful graveyard has come on in leaps and bounds. It is wonderful to be able to plot the sweeping changes in the mood and use of the area and to recover small moments such as a medieval dog plodding over his master’s unfired tiles.

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Betty showing Gary her latest finds.

This End’s concentration of infant and juvenile burials is now being mapped and understood in detail, while the first glimpses of the site’s medieval past are beginning to appear. That End continues to surprise us, with Betty and Janet’s unexpected brick floor and Nick and Lori’s ’empty’ grave keeping us firmly on our toes! Not to mention Rob’s ‘four-legged’ individual!!

Huge thanks as always must go out to our team of trainees and placements for yet another vintage week of good fun and and great archaeology!

The week 12 team.

The week 12 team.

While it is frustrating to have to stop just when the site is getting so exciting, we know that we’ll be returning to some wonderful archaeology in October! In the intervening weeks, we hope to post an overview of our findings so far on North Street, to help understand quite how much we have learned about this fascinating site. We will also aim to continue our series of blog posts looking back at previous seasons of Archaeology Live!

We’ll be back on site in October, there’s still room to join us, just contact trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk for info/bookings. We will also be opening up the site to the public between 11am and 3pm on the 25th of October! Come along and see the latest finds, meet the archaeologists and say hello to Planty the Plant (if you don’t mind the smell of slightly rotten cabbage…)

So, that wraps up the summer season of our first year on North Street. It’s been better than we could have hoped for, with a wonderfully diverse and passionate team of budding archaeologists joining us from far and wide. Thanks again to all involved for making the site such a success! Now it’s time to catch our breath, take stock and get prepped for the autumn season. Until then friends, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

PS. It’s become traditional to share the more light hearted moments of the week at the end of each post. Our placement Donald had an unexpected moment this week when a sizeable moth flew out of his hair. Goodness knows how long it had been living in there. Donald’s vegan superpowers are clearly growing…

Donald, truly at one with the natural world...

Donald, truly at one with the natural world…

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 11.

 

IMG_5666All good archaeologists know that our discipline is not a science. While there is a definite overlap with the scientific process, our findings are always tinged with a degree of subjectivity. We are storytellers at heart, modern day bards collaborating with specialists and supplementing our tales with detailed evidence and diligent recording. The real art of excavation is taking layers of earth and stone and extracting the stories of those who occupied that same space before us.

The tales are rarely complete. The pesky 1950s pipe trench has always removed the key piece of evidence; that industrious rabbit will, without fail, enthusiastically burrow in precisely the wrong place. Nonetheless, we nearly always find enough to piece together at least some of the lives that were lived in our trenches and the All Saints excavation has been a fine example of this. The last 10 weeks of digging have allowed us to discern an unexpectedly complex 19th century sequence, producing along the way some incredibly human moments. Week 11 continued this theme.

In Gary’s area, Rob and Nick cleaned up and recorded the wall footing discovered last week by Iain and Rose. One of the most exciting discoveries of the whole dig, we hope to find more evidence for what this structure was.

Up to press, our understanding of this area in the early 19th century has been of a busy yard becoming a graveyard. Only now are we beginning to see the first glimpses of what land uses pre-date that sequence.

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Recording a wall footing.

First things first though, we have to make sure we have located, excavated and understood all of the 19th century features before we can further investigate the earlier material.

With the wall footing recorded, Rob and Nick worked to clean over the whole of ‘contrary corner’ and check for any 19th century stragglers. A rectangular deposit of dark, clayey material had been noted in the base of a pit excavated during our August training weekend. Thought to be an infant burial, this was the next feature to investigate.

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Nick breaks out the wooden tools.

With the records complete, Rob and Nick began to gently remove the backfill of the feature, taking care not to disturb the fragile remnants of a tiny coffin. Some interesting finds quickly emerged, with Rob having a particularly good week! An early 19th century clay pipe bowl was discovered, fitting our suspected date of the feature perfectly.

Got a light?

Got a light?

As the week pressed on, Rob was lucky enough to find a truly wonderful object – a bone dice. This tiny object is somewhat cruder than the medieval example found by Gina in the second week of the summer season, leading us to suspect it may be somewhat earlier in date. Similar objects have certainly come out of Viking deposits elsewhere in York, so there is a strong possibility that this object may be the best part of a thousand years old.

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Unlike Gina’s example, the sides of this dice do not add up to seven, the numbers seemingly being cut at random.

Gina's dice (above) is larger and better preserved than Rob's (lower) example. They are a wonderful pair of finds!

Gina’s dice (above) is larger and better preserved than Rob’s (lower) example. They are a wonderful pair of finds!

It is a genuinely wonderful object that could have been owned by someone who knew the area before the current church was even standing. One can’t help but wonder what games this dice may have played and whether or not it brought success to a gambling owner.

Rob having a good finds day.

Rob having a good finds day.

With objects like this being discovered, the signs are good that medieval and Viking occupation deposits survive below us.

As Rob and Nick excavated the backfill they noticed an abrupt change, with the dark clayey material giving way to a stoney, mortar rich deposit; they had reached the base of their cut and found no evidence of any human remains. This left us with something of a mystery.

Rob and Nick's cut feature.

Rob and Nick’s cut feature.

As ever, the true reason why a seemingly empty coffin was buried here will never be known for sure. We can however put forward several possible explanations, the first of which being a quirk of the soil’s chemistry in this area of the trench – acidic soils can easily dissolve juvenile human remains and leave very little trace. It is also possible that the coffin could have been something of a symbolic burial, perhaps for a child lost very early in a pregnancy.

While this mystery will remain unresolved, it is clear that someone in the early 19th century was driven to bury a tiny coffin in the corner of a small graveyard. Nick and Rob’s painstaking excavation of this feature allows us to witness a solemn moment in York’s story that would have otherwise been lost to history.

A mass clean-up underway  in 'That End'

A mass clean-up underway in ‘That End’

Elsewhere in Gary’s area, new trainees Sara, Anna and Liberty worked together to clean a large area of ‘that end’. Numerous edges were visible; the challenge now was to ascertain which of these features was the latest to occur.

Anna and Liberty enjoying a spot of troweling.

Anna and Liberty enjoying a spot of troweling.

On sites as complex as this, this process can take some time! However, Sara struck gold when the edges of a sub-circular feature began to emerge.

Sara reveals a pit backfill.

Sara reveals a pit backfill – a darker semi-circle to the left of her trowel.

Cutting a possible fragment of cobble surface, we were keen to see whether this feature was part of the early 19th century yard or something even earlier.

Sara filling out the context card for her newly discovered deposit.

Sara filling out the context card for her newly discovered deposit.

The deposit was photographed and recorded and the team got started with the excavation. This proved to be hard work! The deposit had clearly been trampled during the early 19th century, making it very difficult to trowel.

Work begins on the pit backfill.

Work begins on the pit backfill.

Good progress was made on this feature, which pre-dates the adjacent ‘horn pit’. While it didn’t produce the same density of cattle skull fragments, a lot of horn core and bone was still present. This indicates that some tanning by-products were being deposited in this feature, alongside general domestic waste. This fits well with the idea that the yard space was used for numerous purposes between c.1800 and 1823.

Working with Becky, Lori and Dom continued work on a pair of burials close to the northern wall of the old church hall. This required a lot of work in tricky, deep features and a lot of recording. The first task was to record the infant remains uncovered at the end of last week by Lori and Joan.

Dom and Lori in recording mode.

Dom and Lori in recording mode.

With the records completed for the infant burial, a cushion of sieved soil and wooden boards were placed over the remains to protect them from any damage. Lori and Dom’s attention then turned to completing the excavation of a burial started several weeks ago by Katie and Beverly.

When the upper elements of the skeleton were revealed, it became clear that the foot end of the grave hadn’t been fully excavated. Lori and Dom amended the records for the deposit and began work on removing the last of the backfill.

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Establishing the true edge of the grave cut.

Significantly deeper than the infant burial, this adult inhumation had surviving evidence of a wooden coffin and was very well preserved. The remains were recorded and covered over.

While this was underway, Lori exposed a fascinating feature cut by both graves. On the slither of archaeology that survived between the two grave cuts, a fragment of an edge-set tile hearth with brick edging was exposed. While the date of this feature will be confirmed later, we do know that the materials used to build it are medieval in date.

This could be one of our first definite examples of medieval or post-medieval activity in ‘That End’ and it is only by chance that this fragment of early activity has survived – if the grave cuts had been any closer, the hearth would certainly have been lost. History can indeed be a fickle mistress…

A tile hearth emerging between two graves.

A tile hearth emerging between two graves.

In Toby’s area, Bri and Zoe began to investigate the deposits that pre-date the two small cells within the south-west corner of the 1860s church hall.

Zoe excavating an early 19th century dump.

Zoe excavating an early 19th century dump.

These deposits proved to be very similar to the pre-church hall trample layers exposed elsewhere in the trench. Like Lori’s tile hearth, these small islands of archaeology seem quite lucky to have survived numerous later truncation events!

Bri working on a dump that pre-dates the church hall.

Bri working on a dump that pre-dates the church hall.

A great mix of finds were discovered within these deposits, including medieval ceramics and a piece of post-medieval(?) chain. With attachments at either end, we’ll have to wait for specialist analysis before we know what this enigmatic find was used for.

Zoe and her fragment of chain.

Zoe and her fragment of chain.

A close look...

A closer look…

As Zoe and Bri worked together to record and lift a number of contexts, something quite exciting became apparent. Ubiquitous until now, 19th century ceramics had ceased to occur. Not only that, the latest finds to be encountered were medieval in date. It seems that Zoe and Bri have exposed our first confirmed layers of medieval archaeology!

This exciting prospect will be further investigated next week.

Zoe and Bri recording one of their layers of dumping

Zoe and Bri recording one of their layers of dumping

Steve and Sarah had a week of challenging archaeology, beginning with a search for good edges around a suspected infant burial. Once these edges were clarified, the backfill was recorded and the pair got started with the excavation.

Steve and Sarah investigating a grave backfill.

Steve and Sarah investigating a grave backfill.

As we’ve seen across all of our grave backfills, an interesting mix of finds are generally present within them. Steve found a rather lovely fragment of pressed glass. Finely made, this was clearly part of a very decorative object.

Steve's glass artefact.

Steve’s glass artefact.

With the expert guidance of our resident bone expert Tess, Steve and Sarah patiently removed the backfill to expose the coffin and remains of a small child. These are very evocative features to work on and it is of paramount importance to keep in mind that these are the remains of a human being and should be treated accordingly.

Steady hands required.

Steady hands required.

Once fully exposed, these remains will be recorded, re-c0vered and left in-situ. Steve and Sarah’s delicate work has added to an increasingly complex picture of this corner of the site.

Whether the concentration of infant burials in this area relate to re-used family plots or historic pandemic events will be resolved in the fullness of time, the key aim at the moment is to locate all of the burials on site and ensure that they are protected from any future intrusive works.

Maggie working on a grave backfill.

Maggie working on a grave backfill.

Joining us for a taster day, Maggie continued work on a grave backfill that has been worked on by a number of people this season. These things cannot be rushed and Maggie quickly mastered the art of delicate troweling, finding an intriguing flint object that may be a 19th century striker used to create sparks.

Maggie's worked flint object.

Maggie’s worked flint object.

Elsewhere in ‘This End’, Jo and Liz continued work on the brick chamber attached to the north wall of the 18th century rectory.

Jo and Liz troweling in the autumn sunshine.

Jo and Liz troweling in the autumn sunshine.

The plot continued to thicken in this area. As a post hole was recorded and excavated, it became apparent that earlier structural elements were beginning to appear.

A small fragment of stone wall was revealed that clearly pre-dates the 18th century brickwork. While a number of later contexts will have to be removed before we can expose this stonework, it is distinctly possible that Jo and Liz have revealed a fragment of the medieval rectory that was incorporated into the post-medieval re-build. A very exciting find!

Recording a post hole that cuts possibly medieval stonework.

Recording a post hole that cuts possibly medieval stonework.

The cobble-based cesspit (upon which Donald is standing in the image below) now seems to have been brought to construction level, sitting atop a mortary deposit. Jo and Liz recorded the wall and the deposit below it and ended their week by investigating the earlier deposit.

Week 11 has seen some exciting developments in this area, with the small brick chamber exhibiting a more complex sequence than had been anticipated. As the dig continues, we will continue to expose and record the various alterations to the structure and, once these are removed, we will finally be able to see exactly how much of the medieval buildings survive. Watch this space!!

Donald, Jo and Liz recording a deposit within the brick chamber.

Donald, Jo and Liz recording a deposit within the brick chamber.

An eventul week in the trench was mirrored beneath the Tree of Finds where a number of exciting artefacts were cleaned up and looked at in more detail.

The Finds Tree looking typically resplendent.

The Finds Tree looking typically resplendent.

While washing what was assumed to be another muddy fragment of medieval roof tile, Rob noticed some markings on the fabric of the tile. Closer inspection revealed part of a legionary stamp, clear evidence that this was actually a Roman tile!

Rob's Roman tile fragment.

Rob’s Roman tile fragment.

The letters ‘VIC’ were faintly visible in the side of the tile. This stamp most likely relates to the Legio VI Victrix (Sixth Victorious Legion) of the Roman army. In 119AD the legion was despatched to northern England to help repress an uprising and eventually replaced the incumbent IX Hispana to garrison the fortress of Eboracum (Roman York).

Finding such direct evidence of the area’s Roman past was a real privilege, which was only made sweeter when the thumbprint of a Roman potter was noticed beside the stamp. Being able to put your thumb into an almost 1900 year old thumbprint is a unique perk of archaeology. What a find!

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‘VIC’ and a clear thumbprint.

Another interesting find was a toe bone from a rather unwell cow. We’ve had numerous examples of diseased cattle bones from features associated with the tanning industry. This 19th century example exhibits clear evidence of bone infection and would have been of sufficient severity to render this foot completely useless.

Poorly cows seem to have been common.

Poorly cows seem to have been common.

Week 11 saw us continue to build on the findings of the previous week and to better understand a fascinating 19th century sequence. It seems that our first season at All Saints will be best remembered for demonstrating the merits of early modern archaeology, a period that has been criminally under-valued until now.

We have uncovered moments of early 19th century heartbreak, with numerous juvenile and infant individuals being interred along Church Lane, but we have also found evidence of more carefree times with Rob’s fantastic bone dice. Next week, we hope to add to this picture of 19th century York and wrap up the remaining loose ends. We also hope to reveal more sneak peeks of the earlier archaeology that will be the focus of next year’s excavation.

Our amazing week 11 team.

Our amazing week 11 team. It’s a shame Graeme couldn’t stay awake…

The tantalising glimpses of the Roman, Viking, and medieval deposits that lay beneath us highlight what an exciting site this is. Massive thanks go out to the week 11 team for their patient, careful excavation and fine company.

On a less jolly note, week 11 saw us say goodbye to two placements who have been absolutely invaluable to this year’s excavation, Becky and Tess. This pair of Arch. Live! veterans have very bright futures ahead of them! Huge thanks go out to Becky and Tess from all at York Archaeological Trust, we’ll see you next time.

Cheers Tess!

Cheers Tess!

Cheers Becky! (Green graze!!!)

Cheers Becky! (Green graze!!!)

 

It’s been a vintage year for the Archaeology Live! project in our new home on North Street. Now we head into the last week of the summer with a thousand questions and a lot of excitement for more thrilling discoveries. Best get cracking then, onwards and downwards!

 

– Arran

 

PS. One amusing moment to share. Archaeology Live! placement Jack was late for the group photo on Friday, assuming he was ill we were forced to improvise a replacement. I think we truly captured his essence!

Becky and Jack MkII

Becky and Jack MkII

Cheers Jack! 😉

Jack MkI

Jack MkI

 

 

 

 

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 10.

Water water everywhere!? What on earth?

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Can’t rain all the time…

After a long, dry summer, the Monday of week 10 was the first to be disrupted by rain. Digging through the glorious British summertime can be an unpredictable business, although it must be said that we’ve done rather well this year.

Thankfully, there is much more to archaeology than digging and our site hut isn’t the worst place in the world to take shelter in times of need. Plus, there was a rather big task left on the to-do list…

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Thumbs up if you love cow skulls!

The finds from ‘Biagio’s bone pit’ and our increasingly infamous ‘horn pit’ were by this point fully cleaned and dried. This freed them up for the next step in the finds processing system – sorting and bagging.

The ‘horn pit’ (context 1152) was partially excavated earlier in the season and provided us with 15 tubs of cattle horn core and skull fragments that represent by-products of late 18th to early 19th century leather production. The backfill of the feature also contained a modest amount of incidental domestic waste and a small number of earlier finds upcast from deposits that were disturbed when the pit was originally cut. Before each fragment of bone, pottery, tile, glass, clay pipe, etc. can be seen by their relevant specialist, the finds have to be sorted into type.

Once sorted, the finds can then be bagged up following YAT’s standard protocols and are then ready for analysis. Jobs like these can be a little on the dull side, thankfully our team met the task with enthusiasm and enjoyed the opportunity to have a closer look at the finds.

Finds sorting can be fun too! (If you make it fun…)

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Donald, our resident ‘glam Viking’, tries out the horn look.

Toby’s team also took the chance to catch up with some outstanding records. As the records produced by our trainees make up the final archive, it is important that we maintain professional standards, and Toby certainly has an eye for detail!

The benefit of being quite so fussy is that the records produced by our trainees go on to make up our final site archive; nothing is re-done and it is this archive that forms the basis of the final site report.

It's a 'yes' from me.

It’s a ‘yes’ from me.

Thankfully, only parts of the day were affected by rain and the rest of the week remained clear. This allowed the team to make some great progress on site!

Team ‘That End’ began the week with some industrious troweling. Many of the edges identified by the week 9 team had been obscured by the rain and needed sharpening up. Joining us from the USA, Lori successfully identified a 19th century grave cut. The edges were a little hazy, but persistence paid off in the end.

Joined on Tuesday by Leicester lass Jen, Lori began work on excavating the grave backfill.

Lori and Jen begin to excavate their grave backfill.

Lori and Jen begin to excavate their grave backfill.

After helping us to discover the north wall of the lost church of St. John the Baptist last year on Hungate, Joan returned for her second season with us. Like Lori, she had some troweling to do before her feature became visible. Nonetheless, a pit cut was identified and recorded allowing Joan to get digging. Having dug on a number of projects, Joan is known for her habit of spotting good finds and it didn’t take her long to pick up where she left off! She was delighted to find two large fragments of a medieval Humber ware jug.

Joan up to her old tricks.

Joan up to her old tricks…

Eleanor joined the team for a taster day on site and also worked on Joan’s pit. Joan’s luck was clearly catching as Eleanor quickly made a great find of her own!

Eleanor and her debut find.

Eleanor and her debut find.

Eleanor’s rather splendid pot sherd is part of a transfer ware bowl and may date to as early as the late 1700s!

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Eleanor’s bowl/saucer. Jolly civilised.

When the pit was fully excavated, a number of inter-cutting edges became visible in the base. This suggests that we are coming down onto a sequence of refuse pits, although whether any of these newly discovered edges resolve into more grave cuts will remain to be seen.

Joan and Eleanor getting their pit cut photo-ready.

Joan and Eleanor getting their pit cut photo-ready.

Back in Lori and Jen’s grave backfill, the finds were coming thick and fast. Lori unearthed a dense copper object that could have been a wall spike or hook.

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Lori’s latest find.

Meanwhile, Jen discovered more evidence of how the medieval interior of the church may have looked with a splendid glazed medieval floor tile.

Tah dah!

Tah dah!

At present, we have found both green and yellow glazed floor tiles and some so worn that barely any glaze survives. This suggests that different areas of the church floor may have been laid with different coloured tiles. The rich, deep green floor would certainly have been a sight to see.

A closer look at Jen's floor tile.

A closer look at Jen’s floor tile.

Later in the week, Joan moved over to help Lori with the excavation of her grave backfill. True to form, Joan’s luck continued as she and Lori located the skull and coffin remains of an infant burial. Working on such features requires a great deal of concentration and a gentle touch. Armed with wooden clay modelling tools, Lori and Joan worked to expose the full extent of the coffin and the body position of the individual interred.

Once fully recorded, this burial will again be covered over.

Gary was on hand to offer Lori and Joan advice on how to approach their burial.

Gary was on hand to offer Lori and Joan advice on how to approach their burial.

In the mysterious realm of ‘contrary corner’ at the northern end of the trench, returning trainee Iain was the next archaeologist to tackle one of the site’s trickiest areas.

We may however have to re-name the area, as Iain made short work of it. After giving the area an initial trowel, he revealed and recorded a linear feature running parallel to Church Lane.

Iain working on his linear feature.

Iain working on his linear feature.

In true ‘contrary corner’ fashion, the plot quickly thickened as Iain discovered that his linear feature was actually cut by a rubble filled post-hole. Excavation of the linear was put on hold while the post-hole was dug and recorded. The feature contained some great finds including three fragments of a medieval jug handle. Happily, these proved to fit together!

Iain's medieval jug handle.

Iain’s medieval jug handle.

The handle of a 16th century Cistercian ware drinking vessel was also found. Iain was having a great start to the week!

Iain admires a 16th century Cistercian ware handle.

Iain admires a 16th century Cistercian ware handle.

After recording the post-hole, attention was turned back to the mysterious linear feature.

Recording Iain's post hole.

Recording Iain’s post hole.

Later in the week, we were joined by Rose, a prospective archaeology student looking to try out a spot of excavation before university. Working with Iain, she helped to expose a very exciting feature.

Iain and Rose hard at work.

Iain and Rose hard at work.

The linear feature turned out to be relatively shallow and at its base, a well-mettled layer of cobbles was exposed. Sat within a construction cut, these cobbles represent the base of a robbed out wall footing.

A wall footing emerges...

A wall footing emerges…

This discovery poses a number of questions.

  • How old is it?

The deposit that Iain and Rose excavated represent the robbing of the stonework in the late 18th century, we will only know the date of the feature when we excavate the cobbles and see what finds are among and below them.

  • Was this part of a large building?

The stonework in the ground is substantial and well-laid. We have dug many Victorian buildings with a complete absence of footings. This foundation could have supported a large structure.

  • Is this evidence for a demolished part of All Saints Cottages?

The 14th century cottages that overlook ‘contrary corner’ may once have extended over it. This wall lies close to the buildings centre and could have acted as a spine wall. As we uncover more contemporary features, we hope to prove or disprove this theory.

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Iain and Rose’s wall footing, cut at the top end by a later pit.

 

The footings are truncated at the northern end by a pit cut. Once this is excavated, we will look to excavate the cobbles and shed some more light on this fascinating area of the trench.

In Toby’s area, Janice and Coco took on the daunting task of finishing the excavation of a pair of graves and creating the records for each context they encountered (coffin, skeleton, grave cut, etc.)

Janice, Coco and Chas putting together the records for a grave cut.

Janice, Coco and Chas putting together the records for a grave cut.

This involved a lot of cleaning, numerous photographs, context cards and plan drawings. As always, when dealing with human remains it is vital to be respectful and thorough. By recording the exact location and depth of each inhumation, Coco and Janice are helping to safeguard the remains from any harm during future development and they did a fantastic job.

Grave cuts in an empty trench.

Grave cuts in an empty trench.

With their epic recording session complete, they closed out their week by excavating more backfill from a juvenile burial. As ever with Archaeology Live! the feature proved to be more complicated than we might have expected.

As yet, we have not been able to locate a construction point for the rectory wall (pictured in the shot below). It had been thought that this was a result of numerous later deposits lapping against the face of the wall and obscuring the construction cut. Janice and Coco’s discovery offer a new possibility.

Janice and Coco manning the dumpy level.

Janice and Coco manning the dumpy level.

The grave cut they were investigating proved to be a number of intercutting infant/juvenile grave cuts. Unlike the adult graves that all appear to respect each other’s position, the burials of the younger individuals seem to have been crammed into this area, cutting through pre-existing burials.

As church records for this phase of burials do not survive, it will be the task of our team of archaeologists to gain an understanding of this period. Could we be seeing family plots being repeatedly returned to? Could some form of pandemic have caused a surge of infant mortality? Either way, our findings over the coming weeks will hopefully clarify what was happening along Church Lane in the 1820s-1850s. Watch this space.

IMG_5553

Work underway on a number of grave cuts along the rectory’s north wall.

Like a number of the week 10 team, Chris and Audrey faced the challenge of finding edges in areas riddled with stratigraphy. It took a little time, but as there time on site ended a rectangular feature was beginning to appear. It is very possible that this could be another early 19th century burial.

Chris and Audrey hard at work.

Chris and Audrey hard at work.

Belle joined us for her second season of digging and made a great start. Working in a wide grave cut, she found a shaped fragment of medieval window glass.

Belle's window glass fragment.

Belle’s window glass fragment.

It is important to keep ancient glass damp to arrest its decay. After bagging up the find, Arran couldn’t help but wonder which window this glass may once have occupied. We may never know, but as all our finds will remain within the church, it is good to know that the glass will return to its old home.

A little speculation never hurt anyone...

A little speculation never hurt anyone…

Belle went on to join Jo, another returnee, to help clean up the brick chamber on the north side of the rectory. With the cesspit recently discovered, it was time to further investigate this much-altered structure.

Jo and Belle troweling the interior of the rectory's annex.

Jo and Belle troweling the interior of the rectory’s annex.

Within the structure, a void was discovered that appears to be a post hole. A small brick wall addition was also recorded and removed. When these features are squared away, we will continue to work on the fill of this small brick chamber as it may tell us more about the rectory’s construction, use and alteration.

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YAT education officer Fran joined us on site at the end of the week to sharpen up her archaeology skills. After helping Janice and Coco with their recording marathon, she took over work on the grave backfill that contained Belle’s shard of medieval glass. She quickly picked up the art of good troweling and found numerous sherds of medieval pottery.

Fran trying her hand at troweling.

Fran trying her hand at troweling.

Archaeology Live! placement Chas and Arran took the chance to have a closer look at the fabric of All Saints this week and they made some interesting discoveries. The columns and walls of the church are a veritable goldmine of medieval graffiti, bearing the marks of numerous ancient scribes. The majority of these inscriptions are masons’ marks, with craftsmen leaving their mark on their work. It is clear that a number of 14th and 15th century masons were producing stonework for All Saints.

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Masons’ marks in a medieval column.

Some of these marks have become increasing faint with age, it takes a light shone at the right angle to see them clearly. One of the columns holding up the bell tower is adorned with the image of a swan.

A medieval swan.

A medieval swan. Can you see the outline?

Robert Richards, the church warden was kind enough to give Chas and Arran a tour of the tower of All Saints. This was a thrilling chance to see the interior of one of York’s most iconic landmarks and see some ingenious feats of medieval engineering.

The spiral staircase that leads to the belfries is hidden within the church’s west wall. It is near vertical and turns only one and a half times during the ascent. While many medieval bell towers were accessed by ladders, the builders of All Saints clearly had grander plans.

 

Steady feet required.

Steady feet required. (For bonus points, spot the mason’s mark in the step)

As well as being incredibly steep, the fact that the stairway is built into the wall also makes it incredibly narrow.

The stairs proved to be a snug fit.

The stairs proved to be a snug fit.

Under construction in 1396, the octagonal spire of All Saints stands an impressive 120 feet tall, making it York’s second tallest parish church. The lower belfry was recently reinforced with a steel frame, although much of the original fabric still survives. The oldest bells date to the 17th century!

Ancient bells above All Saints

Ancient bells above All Saints

To access the upper belfry, a precarious climb over the lower bells is required. Arran caused more than one accidental dong (ahem…)

It’s best not to look down at times like these…

Clambering over the lower bells.

Clambering over the lower bells.

The upper belfry is reached by a slightly wobbly ladder and also features a mix of ancient and modern fittings.

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Looking down from the upper belfry.

A third ladder leads from the upper belfry into the interior of the spire, a remarkable structure that is equal parts breathtaking and eerie.

Looking up within the spire of All Saints.

Looking up within the spire of All Saints.

While the views are limited by wooden shutters, it was possible to catch some glimpses of York from new angles.

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Not a bad view really…

On the descent, Chas spotted some slightly less ancient graffiti. Clearly we weren’t the first to make the climb…

Modern graffiti

Modern graffiti in the lower belfry.

Under the Finds Tree, the team continued to work through our sizeable backlog of finds. Chas took the time to share his expertise on clay pipes, which are relatively simple to date.

Coco and Chas looking at clay pipe stems.

Coco and Chas looking at clay pipe stems.

Often ubiquitous on sites dating from the 17th century onwards, there is a world of variety in their shape and size. Thicker stems, with a wide, off-centre aperture will tend to be earlier in date as the wire used to create the hole through the stem could only be produced to a certain thickness. As technology evolved in the 19th century, thinner, stronger wires were created. This in turn made the stems tend to become thinner, with a central and increasingly narrow airway.

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17th, 18th and 19th century pipe stems from a single pit backfill.

Early pipe bowls were typically small and bulbous. Tobacco was expensive and hard to source in quantity, initially being the preserve of the wealthy. As early modern trade links improved and tobacco became more readily available, we see pipe bowls grow in size and adopt straighter sides. The example below is an intermediate one, dating to the 1790s.

An 18th century pipe bowl.

An 18th century pipe bowl.

Week 10 was another successful and eventful week on North Street. Our understanding of the complex 19th century sequence is becoming clearer as distinct phases and zonings of activity continue to appear. More and more we are seeing a busy early 19th century yard, complete with distinctly aromatic features like our ‘horn pit’ and butchery waste pits, being abruptly given over to burials from 1823.

This abrupt change in land use would have given the area a very different atmosphere. Instead of workmen smoking clay pipes and disposing of tanning waste, the yard would now have played home to the funerals of 19th century parishioners. This garden of remembrance would be short-lived however, as the church hall was under construction at the end of the 1850s.

As we move into 18th century and earlier deposits, we hope to bring more of the story of this quiet corner of central York back to life. The week 10 team were a joy to work with, thanks go out to all involved for some really great work, even with the abundance of cow puns…

The week 10 team.

The week 10 team.

Two weeks of the summer to go, we’d best keep digging! Onwards and downwards!

 

-Arran

 

PS. In an amusing turn of events under the Tree of Finds, Ellen and Jen noticed that 19th century pearlware rim sherds make passable tiaras. It seems we are budding fashionistas…

Kind of.

Pearlware tiaras. It could take off...?

Pearlware tiaras. It could take off…?

 

 

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