Month: July 2015

Site Diary: Week 3

Over the course of the summer, well over 200 budding archaeologists will have taken part in our 2015 training excavation at All Saints, North Street.

Each trainee will be introduced to all of the fundamental skills, theories and techniques that make up modern archaeological fieldwork. From the many ways one can wield a trowel, to the intricacies of building a Harris Matrix, all bases are covered. That isn’t to say, however, that every trainee’s experience will be the same, far from it in fact!

Safety gear awaiting new arrivals.

Safety gear awaiting new arrivals.

Urban archaeology is always full of surprises, offering the chance to tease apart complex layers of deposition and retrieve wonderfully human moments from the ground. As the week three team arrived, each individual had a very different week ahead of them!

That End (Arran’s area)

Joining us from Texas and Utah respectively, Bob and Taralea were tasked with the exciting challenge of opening up a brand new area of excavation.

The trench is separated from the church by a paved footpath that once connected the Tanner Row area of York to the waterfront. One of the key aims of the 2015 season is to connect the complex sequence that we have already exposed to the church itself, this means taking up areas of the old paved surface of Church Lane and expanding our limit of excavation right up to the medieval walls!

As any good archaeologist knows, however, recording should always precede excavation! Laid in the mid-19th century, the Yorkstone paving slabs that make up the present surface of Church Lane represent the latest archaeological context in this new area and would require a full single context record before they could be lifted. With this in mind, Bob and Taralea cleaned up and photographed the area and were shown how to create an accurate scale drawing of the surface.

Katie introducing Bob and Taralea to the art of planning.

Katie introducing Bob and Taralea to the art of planning.

With a nine metre stretch of the surface to record, the drawing took some time to put together, but the final product was a work of art!

Bob and Taralea's plan begins to come together.

Bob and Taralea’s plan beginning to come together.

Heights above sea level were added to the plan at regular intervals to make the drawing three-dimesional and a context card was compiled describing the surface in minute detail.

After several days of careful measurements and detailed observations, it was time to get physical! The old paving slabs had seen people come and go for a century and a half, now it was find what was hidden beneath them – which seemed simple in principle…

Bob and Taralea getting prepped for some heavy lifting!

Bob and Taralea getting prepped for some heavy lifting!

Lifting just a two metre wide section of the surface proved to be a tremendous challenge, the slabs were very heavy! Happily, with the assistance of Gary and Arran, the stones were lifted and neatly stacked ready to be re-used in the future re-development of the site.

With the archaeology beneath the surface freshly exposed, a clear linear feature was immediately visible – the drain trench associated with the 1860s Church Hall.

Spot the linear!

Spot the linear!

As Taralea and Bob were now a crack recording team, it took very little time to clean up and record the backfill of the drain trench and they were soon hard at work excavating the deposit.

Excavation begins!

Excavation begins!

As the drain trench runs very close to the church, we suspected that it would contain some interesting finds.

When the trench was originally dug out in the 1860s, the workers will have cut through around a metre of stratigraphy that had built up beside the church, laid the new drain pipes and pushed the now jumbled up archaeological material back in to the trench.

Sadly, archaeologists weren’t around then to carry out a watching brief as we would today, but the deposit still has considerable interpretive potential. If Bob and Taralea were to find a wealth of medieval pottery, for instance, it would suggest that medieval stratigraphy survives on either side of the drain trench.

Just as we’d hoped, it didn’t take long for the first exciting find to be recovered from the deposit!

A very happy archaeologist!

A very happy archaeologist!

With practically his first scrape of the trowel, Bob recovered a well-preserved struck silver coin. While it will require a good deal of cleaning in our conservation lab, enough detail is visible through the corrosion to reveal that the coin is Roman. Keen eyes will spot that a small amount of text is still visible around the periphery of the coin.

Bob's Roman coin.

Bob’s Roman coin.

While the coin was found in a 19th century context, it provides further evidence that the site was occupied during the Roman period and that surviving deposits may be present deeper down. This isn’t a great surprise considering the site’s riverside position with the Roman colonia (civilian settlement) of Eboracum, but it’s always good to have confirmation. Most importantly, the coin adds that little extra bit of detail to our knowledge of Roman York and it made Bob very happy indeed!

As the week progressed, Taralea and Bob continued to make some very illuminating discoveries!

Taralea and her medieval jug handle.

Taralea and her medieval jug handle.

Mixed in with the 19th century material deposited as the drain trench had been originally backfilled were a number of intriguing objects, one of the most exciting being the handle of a large medieval jug. In fact, a huge amount of Roman to post-medieval ceramics were recovered, hinting that an unbroken sequence of occupation is waiting to be discovered in the layers below!

A more macabre discovery was the presence of a large amount of disarticulated human bone. It has long been suspected that what is now Church Lane was once part of the medieval graveyard and Taralea and Bob’s discovery of human remains disturbed by the digging of the drain trench confirms this theory. As the season progresses, we will locate and record these burials and hopefully find exactly when and for how long the area was used for burials.

Bob's latest find.

Bob’s latest find.

To finish the week, Bob made a discovery that pre-dates even the earliest of human settlement in York, a Belemnite fossil. Dating to the Jurassic and Cretacious periods, these fossils were once part of small squid-like creatures that are related to modern cuttlefish. The bullet-shaped calcite of the fossil was part of the guard structure at the tail end of the creature.

Bob's Bellemnite

Bob’s Belemnite

While our site is not a paleontological excavation, the find can still tell us something as they are not found naturally in York. At some point in history, the fossil will have been brought down from the hills around Whitby, perhaps as a trinket or ornament. It’s a pleasant mystery to ponder.

While Bob and Taralea were working to expand the trench, returning trainees Gill and Sue were taking up residence in the most infamous corner of the site – Contrary Corner!

Here, the edges of features play hard to get and new theories rarely last the day. One does not simply walk into Contrary Corner.

That said, we have been making good progress in the area of late and Sue and Gill had high hopes of taming the beast!

Sue and GillRecording a new deposit.

Sue and Gill recording a new deposit.

With a new patch of an 18th century cobbled surface discovered in the area during week two, Sue and Gill were given the challenge of locating any remaining 19th century burials in the area. Once all of these have been discovered, we will be able to really get our teeth into the post-medieval layers!

Sue and Gill

Sue and Gill examining finds.

The first deposit to record and excavate was a small dump deposit, that was suspected to date to the site’s use as a graveyard between 1826 and 1854. Sue and Gill made good progress on this, taking away the looser material of the dump and beginning to expose a more compacted deposit.

A finds highlight from this process was an enigmatic copper alloy object that was found by Sue.

Described in somewhat dubious expert detail by That End Supervisor Arran as a ‘copper thing’, the object is difficult to identify before being cleaned up by the conservation team.

Ta-dah!

Ta-dah!

The object isn’t a complete mystery, however, as it does bear a resemblance to a medieval weighing scale arm found during the 2014 season. Time will tell on this one, but it remains a fantastic find!

With the last of their dump removed, Sue and Gill had revealed a new context with a familiar rectangular shape. As suspected, it seems we had found another 19th century grave.

Recording the grave backfill.

Recording the grave backfill.

Without further ado, tapes, scales and pencils were gathered and the freshly exposed grave backfill was quickly recorded. Sue and Gill were keen to triumph over Contrary Corner!

Let's dig!

Let’s dig!

As the depth of a burial is impossible to know for sure, careful excavation is a must on features such as these. Sue and Gill made good, steady progress, lowering the deposit and inspecting it for any signs of a coffin stain beginning to emerge.

Gill's Cistercian Ware pot sherd.

Gill’s Cistercian Ware pot sherd.

Perhaps the nicest find from this context was a fragment of a 16th century Cistercian Ware mug. These double handled drinking vessels were very popular in post-medieval North Yorkshire and have a beautifully iridescent purplish-brown glaze over a distinctive red fabric.

A closer look.

A closer look.

By the end of the week, Gill and Sue were successful in their quest, as the giveaway dark line of the head end of a coffin began to appear within their grave backfill. While there wasn’t time to expose the full outline of the coffin, the intrepid pair had stepped into Contrary Corner and emerged victorious, making some great finds along the way!

Diligent troweling.

Diligent troweling.

Outside Contrary Corner, the rest of Arran’s team were making a concerted effort to locate and record the area’s remaining burials.

Barry and Sue excavating a pair of infant burials.

Barry and Sue excavating a pair of infant burials.

Sue from San Francisco had a challenging task in hand, as she delicately excavated and recorded the burial of an infant individual. This can be an emotive process and requires a lot of care and concentration.

Despite very poor preservation, Sue managed to expose and record the decayed remains of a tiny coffin, complete with decorative metal plating.

Sue gently exposing a tiny coffin.

Sue gently exposing a tiny coffin.

We cannot say much about the individual buried within this grave, but it is clear that great care was taken with their burial. One of archaeology’s greatest strengths is to bring to life moments of joy, tragedy and mundanity that do not make it into the history books, bringing us a little closer to the people who walked the streets of York before us.

Barry photographing a burial.

Barry photographing a burial.

Barry’s week began on an equally challenging note, as he recorded an infant burial that appeared to overlay the head end of a deeper adult burial. With this task completed, Barry turned to the other end of the grave only to discover a second infant had also been placed in the grave. This required a great deal of careful excavation and recording and Barry proved very adept at working in a very confined space!

In week two, Alice excavated a sequence of surfaces that seem to have been an ultimately futile attempt to counter a subsiding floor within a post-medieval workshop. Over week three, she continued this process, lifting a silty levelling layer and exposing an even earlier mortar floor!

Alice's mortar surface.

Alice’s mortar surface.

Sitting in a slither of archaeology left between two later burials, it was remarkable how much we could learn from such a small area! Before long, Alice had recorded the new mortar surface and started to take it away. This revealed a cleaner deposit with a greenish brown tinge, a good indicator that organic, cessy deposits may not be far away. Perhaps we will soon find the underlying cesspit that may have caused the subsidence.

Archaeology: the only job where finding an unexpected cesspit is a good thing.

Alice's beautiful spindle whorl.

Alice’s beautiful spindle whorl.

It wasn’t all cess and subsidence however, as Alice’s patient work was rewarded with a wonderful find – a beautifully worked stone spindle whorl of Viking or medieval date. Until the beginning of the industrial revolution, spinning wool would have been a daily chore for many past residents of York, hence the discovery of many spindle whorls in excavations across the city. This is a particularly fine example, however, and whoever misplaced it would have been very upset! Happily, their loss proved to be archaeology’s gain!

Barry and Alice's new burial.

Barry and Alice’s new burial.

Barry and Alice ended their week by teaming up to tackle a newly discovered burial that proved to be surprisingly shallow. As the backfill was peeled away, one of our better preserved coffins began to emerge.

The outline of a coffin emerges.

The outline of a coffin emerges.

The discoveries of Arran’s team were added to by three taster students. Mary spent a productive couple of days on site investigating a dump deposit in a gap between a pair of graves. With the recording complete, excavation began and it didn’t take long to discover that the space was occupied by another burial.

Mary tackling a dump deposit.

Mary tackling a dump deposit.

James and Sue picked up where Mary left off and started to excavate the newly discovered burial. It is becoming increasingly clear that this graveyard was densely occupied!

James and Sue hard at work on a grave backfill.

James and Sue hard at work on a grave backfill.

In Gary’s area, Matt and Bri’s third week on site saw them continue to make great progress in picking apart the structural sequence of the Rectory. Built in the medieval period, it seems that the structure was altered and re-built on a number of occasions, meaning a lot of contexts to record and dig!

Matt and Bri working on their records, a familiar site during week three!

Matt and Bri working on their records, a familiar site during week three!

After excavating the construction backfill of the main Rectory wall, the pair turned their attention to a tile-built feature discovered during week one.

Recording a tile-built feature.

Recording a tile-built feature.

Made up of overlapping medieval roof-tile, the feature may have served as a primitive drain or sluice.

Following the completion of their records, excavation could begin – quickly revealing an underlying deposit of silty material. As Matt and Bri continue to take away later additions to the building, more and more of the older fabric will be revealed, perhaps even remains of its medieval predecessor.

Excavating a graveyard soil.

Excavating a graveyard soil.

For Theo, Rob and Andy, the first part of their week involved the excavation of a graveyard soil – an accumulation of material resultant of repeated grave-digging and soil disturbance. As expected, this process revealed numerous as-yet undiscovered graves. The team were going to have their work cut out for them!

Rob revealing the outline of a burial.

Rob revealing the outline of a burial.

Later in the week, the trio completed the plan of the surface of Church Lane, an area that the trench will soon be expanding into.

Recording Church Lane.

Recording Church Lane.

Back in the trench, Sam and Emma teamed up to take on a previously identified burial. The first task for the pair was to define the outline of the feature and record it prior to excavation.

Sam and Emma recording their burial.

Sam and Emma recording their burial.

The outline of the grave proved to be very clear indeed, visible as a rectangle of very mixed material.

Can you see the edges?

Can you see the edges?

By the end of the week, recording was complete and the remains of a small coffin were beginning to emerge.

Excavation begins.

Excavation begins.

The location and recording of each of these burials is important for two main reasons; to learn more about the people who lived and died in the area almost two centuries ago and to protect their remains from any damage caused by forthcoming redevelopment.

Digging in the sunshine.

Digging in the sunshine.

Beyond the trench, work in the Tree of Finds continued to throw up a few surprises, the most noteworthy being a visit from our resident site dog, Harry.

Hello Harry...

Hello Harry…

Harry worked tirelessly, helping out wherever he could.

Harry supervising Toby's small finds session.

Harry supervising Toby’s small finds session.

While his input mainly involved sleeping and occasional drooling, Harry proved to be an invaluable addition to the team. He made some interesting discoveries, although these were mainly limited to misplaced crisps and ham…

Harry supervising Toby's matrix masterclass.

Harry supervising Toby’s matrix masterclass.

 

Over week three, our team of trainees made huge steps forward in our aim to fully understand the graveyard phase and carried out some truly professional standard excavation and recording. Each grave that is revealed and investigated means that we can divert more and more of our attention to earlier features. Over the coming few weeks, we will be looking more closely at the site’s post-medieval past – who knows what is waiting in store for us!

The week three team.

The week three team.

Thanks for reading folks, until next time – onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

PS. Planty is still with us, just about…

Planty and Mr Fish.

Planty and Mr Fish.

 

 

 

Site Diary: Week 2

An Archaeology Live! trench is always a fun place to be on a Monday morning. As the new team arrive, the site comes to life with the polite chatter of introductions and the unsheathing of shiny new trowels. Each week sees the arrival of a diverse group of brand new and returning trainees from all over the world, all with a shared passion for exploring the past and an eagerness to learn new skills.

The view from the trench

The view from the trench

As the new team set foot on to site, the weather was overcast but warm and everyone was keen to add to the exciting discoveries of week one.

In Arran’s area (That End), Sue was joined by new starter Dan as she continued to investigate a linear feature that pre-dates the Church Hall (built 1860). The southern half of the same feature was excavated during the 2014 season and proved to be be quite intriguing. Frequent finds of discarded structural stonework appear to suggest that the feature was a robber trench that was dug to recover masonry from a redundant boundary wall. Also present in some quantity was disarticulated human bone, a rare discovery in features pre-dating the Church Hall. While the robber trench theory remains a possibility, it is also possible that the linear could represent the edge of the medieval graveyard – the point at which the densely packed, intercutting burials were contained by the churchyard’s northern boundary.

Sue and Dan's linear feature.

Sue and Dan’s linear feature.

In Sue and Dan’s small slot through the feature, the same pattern of finds was continuing. Amidst a jumble of human bone, sherds of pottery from the Roman period through to the 19th century were recovered and at 0.60m and descending, the feature was looking to be pretty deep!

Close by, Alice got her second week on site started by completing the records for a burial excavated during week one.

Alice putting the finishing touches to her plan.

Alice putting the finishing touches to her plan.

The burial proved to be that of a tall and striking middle-aged male and Alice did an excellent job of recording the remains. With this job done, Alice teamed up with Jade to record a newly discovered grave backfill. As Jade was also beginning her second week on-site, the pair were quickly becoming a crack team when it came to recording. It didn’t take long for the records to be completed and for excavation to begin on the new feature.

Elsewhere in Arran’s area, Barry and Hayley picked up work on a possible burial situated right on the edge of the trench. In a wonderfully ‘small world’ moment, it turned out that they actually lived only a few miles away from one and other down in Essex!

Barry and Hayley - The Essex dream team.

Barry and Hayley – The Essex dream team.

Careful excavation quickly revealed the surprisingly shallow remains of a coffin. While the vast majority of the timber had long since rotted away, small fragments had survived when in close proximity to the coffin’s iron fittings. Coffins can also reveal themselves with a simple change in compaction – the material within the coffin being decidedly looser and less compacted than the rest of the grave backfill. With one edge beginning to appear, Barry and Hayley now had to expose the full outline of the feature.

Over in This End, many of Gary’s team were continuing where they left off in week one.

Recording a new deposit.

Zada, Brad and Kimberley recording a new deposit.

The Texan trio of Brad, Kimberley and Zada were continuing to work within a 1.50m square slot positioned to provide a window into earlier deposits underlying the 19th century horizon. The discovery of another coffin stain, however, soon complicated matters – what was thought to be a dump deposit was now clearly a grave backfill.

In a brick chamber built onto the side of an 18th-19th century Rectory building, Bri and Matt finished the records for a newly discovered construction backfill.

Matt and Bri's construction cut under excavation.

Matt and Bri’s construction cut under excavation.

Locating the construction backfill was a key event in dating and understanding the wall. As this deposit relates directly to the construction of the structure, any dateable material recovered can be used to more tightly date the feature.

Unexpectedly, the brickwork proved to be far more substantial than had been thought. The main Rectory wall that the chamber is built against only survives to a depth of up to four courses. As Matt and Bri removed the loose, rubbly material from the construction cut, the chamber wall was found to be 10 courses deep! This substantial footing provides strong evidence that the structure would have stood to more than a single storey. Such a depth of brickwork simply wouldn’t be required for a single storey structure.

Looking down on the Rectory walls.

Looking down on the Rectory walls.

A large fragment of mid-19th century concrete confirmed that the extension had been built quite late on in the Rectory’s long life. Originally medieval, the majority of the building appears to have been re-built in the early to mid-19th century before being demolished between 1852 and 1860.

Is Matt and Bri's chamber the annex on the right?

Is Matt and Bri’s chamber the annex on the right?

Joining us from Boston, MA, Cynde continued work on a narrow strip of grave backfill on the southern edge of the trench. By the end of the day, the feature was getting pretty deep and there was no sign of a coffin within the grave.

As the end of the day arrived, the team packed away and headed to the familiar surrounds of The Golden Slipper for rehydration and theoretical discussions.

By day two, summer was really beginning to make its presence felt, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and temperatures were already soaring!

Getting hot!

Getting hot!

Jade’s day got off to a good start as she discovered a fragment of glazed medieval floor tile, adding to a growing assemblage of yellow and green glazed tiles that have been recovered from the site so far. All Saints has spent a millennium being altered and extended, finds like these help us to create a picture of the church in its high medieval heyday.

Jade's latest find.

Jade’s latest find.

As work on Jade and Alice’s feature continued it became apparent that the grave was home to more than one individual. The delicate remains of two tiny, but well made coffins were exposed, complete with decorative metal plating. With the coffin stains cleaned up, Jade and Alice set up to record their new discoveries.

Jade and Alice recording.

Jade and Alice recording.

In Dan and Sue’s linear feature, the growing depth of the cut was making it difficult to reach down and excavate the fill without damaging the human remains within it. As a precautionary measure, the records for the cut were updated and the feature was put on hold. Work will resume when the surrounding area has been reduced.

Dan and Sue.

Dan and Sue.

Dan and Sue moved over to a new area that is suspected to contain another burial and recorded the extents of a dump of rubbly material. The complex pattern of deposition that dates to the lifespan of the cemetery proves that 19th century graveyards were not without activity. Between neat rows of graves, tips and dumps of soil were still constantly accumulating, presumably a by-product of the tons of material being moved by gravediggers.

As the many adult and infant burials demonstrate, the site would have witnessed countless solemn services and outpourings of grief between 1826 and 1854, but it was by no means a sterile environment. Pits were still being dug, soil was still being moved around and an industrious rabbit unofficially dubbed Flopsy the B*****d was energetically burrowing through layers of archaeology (much to Arran’s annoyance!).

Outside the current trench, work was continuing on creating a plan of the paved surface of Church Lane. When the surface has been fully recorded, several new slots will be excavated beneath paving slabs to investigate the archaeology between the trench and the church itself.

Planning Church Lane

Planning Church Lane

With the construction backfills within their brick chamber now fully excavated, much of Bri and Matt’s day was taken up with recording the walls themselves. Recording structures can be an exhaustive process; before they can be dismantled, it is vital to measure the building materials, describe the mortar, detail the patterns of coursing and pick apart the sequence of construction. Bri and Matt had their work cut out for them!

Recording the Rectory.

Recording the Rectory.

In Contrary Corner, Arran’s team were joined by Jean, a longstanding volunteer with YAT’s finds department. On site for a taster day, Jean was eager to brush up on her fieldwork skills and took to the excavation of an ashy deposit that appeared to post-dates the phase of burials. Jean’s careful troweling was rewarded by a number of nice finds, including some particularly pretty sherds of medieval pottery.

Jean digging in Contrary Corner.

Jean digging in Contrary Corner.

Just metres away, Barry and Hayley were continuing to follow the edges of a coffin stain. As this work demanded the pair to reach over a truncated fragment of an earlier cobbled surface, work was paused on the burial while the cobbles were recorded. As the surface pre-dates the site’s use as a graveyard, it can’t be excavated until all of the burials have been recorded. As a precautionary measure, Barry and Hayley recorded the cobbles before returning to work on their burial, this way, any accidental damage to the surface won’t be a disaster as it would already be fully recorded and ready to lift.

Barry and Hayley

Barry and Hayley

Although their burial had only been excavated to a depth of 20cm, Barry and Hayley’s finds tray was already burgeoning with a wealth of ceramics. Keen eyes will be able to spot post-medieval slipwares and Cistercian ware sitting alongside medieval York Glazed Ware and Roman Mortaria.

A good tray!

A good tray!

By Wednesday, temperatures were close to 30 degrees celsius and the trench was feeling increasingly like an oven! Nonetheless, progress continued at a steady pace with regular trips to the shade of the Tree of Finds for a spot of finds washing and and some respite from the sun.

Drying finds.

Drying finds.

While work in the trench continued on exposing coffin stains and excavating grave backfills, the finds team were making some interesting discoveries! While cleaning a small mountain of finds, Matt noticed an interesting sherd of pottery.

Matt and his Bellarmine jug neck.

Matt and his Bellarmine jug neck.

The sherd turned out to be part of the neck of a Bellarmine (or Bartmann) jar. These 17th century stoneware vessels are thought to represent the highly divisive figure of Cardinal Bellarmine, a staunch opponent of protestantism and alcohol! A more complete example was one of the star finds of the 2014 season! http://archaeologylive.org/archaeology/find-of-the-year-2014-poll/

A closer look.

A closer look.

Back on-site, Jade and Alice had finished work on their double infant burial and were beginning to pick apart a sequence of deposits that survived in a narrow peninsula between two graves. Pre-dating the burials, the upper deposit appeared to be part of a compacted surface that could once have been the floor of a workshop. Interestingly, the date of the feature was something of a mystery. We knew it would pre-date the area’s consecration in 1826, but not by how much. Jade and Alice were taking one of our first peeks into the site’s more distant past, all we needed now was some dateable material!

Jade's surface

Jade’s surface

The day ended on a high note for Archaeology Live! legend Bri. Working in a deposit associated with the construction of the Rectory, he discovered a decorative glass bead.

Bri and his bead.

Bri and his bead.

These personal finds always add a little colour to our view of the periods we study. Getting in touch with the more frivolous sides of our predecessors helps to remind us that they were people just like ourselves.

The temperatures remained hot and muggy on Thursday, but a productive day was had nonetheless.

Jade and Alice

Jade and Alice

Once recorded, Jade and Alice’s surface peeled away very easily and revealed… another surface! This turned out to be something of a trend, with surface after surface being recorded and excavated. Tantalisingly, the latest ceramics to be recovered from this sequence were 16th/17th century in date. We finally had a foothold in the post-medieval period!

After a lot of careful troweling, Hayley and Barry managed to expose the delicate outline of a tiny coffin. Set within a grave cut measuring well over 1.50m in length, this was an unexpected discovery.

Recording a coffin.

Recording a coffin.

As the day progressed, the remains of the coffin were meticulously recorded, allowing Barry and Hayley to excavate further and reveal the remains of a small infant. The presence of an infant burial within a larger grave cut suggests that the coffin may gave been placed above a deeper adult burial. Once the recording for their infant burial was complete, Barry and Hayley would be able to investigate the rest of the grave and, it was hoped, to locate the anticipated second inhabitant.

With one deposit fully excavated and recorded, Sue and Dan moved on to another deposit, cleaning up and recoding an area suspected to house a burial.

Who says levelling can't be fun??

Who says levelling can’t be fun??

At the other end of the trench, Matt and Bri were continuing to pick apart the complex Rectory sequence. This meant a lot of recording, but the pair were becoming quite the experts by this point.

Kings of the context card.

Kings of the context card.

The Tree of Finds remained a hive of activity, with finds washing revealing some as yet undiscovered surprises! There was a tantalising near-miss as some intriguing marks were discovered in a cattle rib. At a glance, it was hoped that these may be a Viking runic inscription, something that is remarkably yet to be discovered in York! Unfortunately, closer inspection revealed them to be cut marks from the butchery of the animal. So near, yet so far…

Runes? If only!

Runes? If only!

Throughout the day, members of the team broke away to enjoy Toby’s small finds session. Spotting those interesting finds and knowing how to process them is a key fieldwork skill. Clean, dry finds were also sorted into categories and bagged by type in advance of specialist analysis.

 

Learning about small finds.

Learning about small finds.

Back in the trench, more great finds were turning up. On her first archaeology taster day, Red found evidence of a medieval mishap in a sherd of pottery.

Red's medieval pot sherd.

Red’s medieval pot sherd.

In this instance, a poorly applied handle had clearly detached from a large green glazed jug. You can almost imagine the crash of broken pottery as the jug full of wine fell to the floor. Needless to say, the sherd was found amongst medieval refuse!

As happens all too often on Archaeology Live!, Friday came around all too soon. Brad and Kimberley’s 1.5m x 1.5m slot had so far discovered two infant/juvenile burials and as work progressed on the remaining area, a third coffin was discovered! It seems that the area’s proximity to the edge of the graveyard had led to individuals being shoehorned into the remaining space.

IMG_7584

Brad and Kimberley

Jade and Alice continued to find surface after surface in their small window into the post-medieval horizon. Beneath eight successive re-laid surfaces, a sloping cobbled surface was revealed that explained the unusual sequence that had been encountered. Clearly, a workshop floor had repeatedly been subsiding to the extent that the post-medieval resident was forced to lay countless replacement surfaces only to find them subsiding again.

A sloping cobbled surface.

A sloping cobbled surface between two later graves.

The reason for this subsidence can only be suggested at present, but similar patterns seen on the Hungate excavations generally meant that a large pit with an organic fill was lying in wait at a deeper level. Perhaps we have Viking/medieval cesspits (Arran’s speciality) in store for us!

Excavation of Sue and Dan’s second deposit revealed that a burial was indeed present as the fragile outline of a tiny coffin began to appear. Locating and recording the extents of this feature proved to be a real challenge as so little of it survived. By the end of the day, Sue and Dan’s patience was rewarded and they were able to begin excavating within the coffin.

Excavating a tiny coffin.

Excavating a tiny coffin.

By late afternoon, the bitumen damp course of the Victorian walls around the trench was melting in the heat. Happily, it would take more than that to stop our intrepid team of archaeologists!

Too hot!

Too hot!

Zada, Red and Cynde’s grave cut continued to descend, with no sign of a coffin appearing! Reaching the base of the feature was quite the challenge, but an amazing range of ceramics continued to be recovered.

Cynde reaching to the base of a deep feature.

Cynde reaching to the base of a deep feature.

With another wave of recording complete, Bri and Matt were free to excavate a small section of brick flooring within the Rectory building – a process that yielded interesting results.

Matt and Bri

Matt and Bri

We know that the floor is made up of 18th century brick, while the north-east wall of the re-built Rectory was erected in the 19th century. It had been thought that the floor must have been re-laid following the re-build or laid using recycled brick, however, Bri and Matt discovered that the floor was simply left in-situ and cut through by the new wall. This odd construction method speaks quite loudly of a bit of a bodge job. Cowboy builders eh?

With space in their grave now at a premium, Hayley left Barry to carry out peeling away the grave backfill and assisted taster student Gill with the recording of a newly exposed section of cobbled surface in Contrary Corner.

Hayley recording Gill's newly exposed cobble surface.

Hayley recording Gill’s newly exposed cobble surface.

The discovery of the cobbled surface adds to a growing picture of how the site may have looked prior to becoming a graveyard. Indeed, historic texts refer to the workshops that occupied the site in the 18th century as having ‘gravel floors’. Not exactly the height of luxury…

All too soon, 5pm rolled around and the team headed away to seek refreshment and rehydration at VJ’s (home to Team Arch Live! each Friday night). Chatting over evening meals and cold drinks, it was clear that everyone had had a great week on-site.

A real benefit of the Archaeology Live! model is the ability of trainees to take ownership of their features and to know that their records go on to form the final site archive that, in turn, forms the basis of the site report. Every trainee becomes a vital part of the team, adding their own chapters to the long history of York.

Week two saw us make fantastic progress in locating and recording the many burials that inhabit the site, while also learning more about the Rectory and workshops that pre-date the burials. Huge thanks go out to all of our trainees and placements for making the dig happen, for working hard through tough conditions and for helping us better understand our ancient city.

The week two team.

The week two team.

In week three, we will continue to build on the fantastic start that we have made to the summer season. Keep your eyes on our Twitter and Facebook pages for live updates direct from the trench!

As ever, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

Site Diary: Week 1

Work begins on site. June 24th 2015. All aerial views courtesy of David Dodwell https://twitter.com/watertowers

Work begins on site. All aerial views courtesy of David Dodwell https://twitter.com/watertowers

2015 has been a busy year for York Archaeological Trust. Our team of professional archaeologists have been carrying out numerous projects across the north of England; from the unprecedented discoveries beneath York Theatre Royal, to the impressive Roman fortifications at the site of York’s forthcoming Community Stadium. Despite all of this excitement, Toby, Arran and Gary (Team Archaeology Live!) have still been counting down the days until June 22nd – without fail, the training dig is the highlight of each of our years!

Cleaning up the trench.

Cleaning up the trench.

The 2015 summer season began on a somewhat damp note, the weather seemingly having missed the memo that it was late June. Despite the slightly moist and chilly conditions, the new team of trainees were excited to get the season started!

The first task in hand was to clear away the weeds and dust that had accumulated since the May training weekend. These had grown at a prodigious rate, but it didn’t take long to get the site looking shipshape. The week one team were a diverse mix of new faces and returning veterans from as far afield as Italy, Norway, the USA and… Grimsby.

With the site looking spotless, it was time to get cracking with the excavation!

Ominous skies over North Street.

Ominous skies over North Street, June 22nd 2015.

In the southern half of the trench, or ‘This End’ as it is colloquially known as, Archaeology Live! Supervisor Gary was joined by Kimberley, Brad and Zada, a family from Houston, Texas. As teachers, Brad and Kimberley had been sponsored by the Fund For Teachers initiative to use their experience on site to create a program of archaeology based lessons back in Texas.

With a lot of new skills to learn, the trio cleaned and recorded the upper layer within a 1.5m square slot aiming to provide a window into deeper and earlier deposits close to the trench edge. As work progressed however, it was Brad and Kimberley’s daughter Zada who appeared to have the magic touch, finding a large sherd of Roman Samian Ware and the handle of a medieval in her first ever morning of archaeology!

Zada and her 13th-14th century jug handle.

Zada and her 13th-14th century jug handle.

As work continued on the slot, the mixed nature of the upper deposit suggested that we were within the backfill of a cut feature that had disturbed and re-deposited material from earlier contexts below. This meant a great mixture of finds, from Roman to 19th century.

Brad, Kimberley and Zada.

Brad, Kimberley and Zada.

Returning trainees Jan and Janet teamed up to pick up work on a structural sequence relating to the front yard of a rectory that occupied the site until the 1850s. The rectory is visible in the 1852 OS map excerpt pictured below, just above the top left corner of the church.

An excerpt of the 1852 OS map. Copyright http://www.york1852.org/

An excerpt of the 1852 OS map. Copyright http://www.york1852.org/

A small brick chamber built against the northern boundary wall of the Rectory’s yard was excavated last season, revealing part of an earlier structure made up of re-used medieval roof tile.

Janet, Jan and the Rectory wall.

Janet, Jan and the Rectory wall.

Jan and Janet’s first task was to record and excavate a dump deposit covering the rest of the tile structure.

Looking down on the Rectory walls.

Looking down on the Rectory walls. The cesspit is visible to the left and Jan and Janet’s tile feature is under investigation to the right.

Bri and Matt also began their week looking at the remains of the Rectory, continuing to pick apart a brick chamber added on to the building in the 18th or 19th century. The chamber appears to have functioned as the building’s cesspit and was first looked at last season (see our earlier site diaries for more info). The cobbled base of the cesspit was removed in the spring,  allowing earlier elements of the structure to be recorded and taken away.

Bri and Matt's cesspit dividing wall. Note the medieval(?) stonework incorporated into the later brick wall.

Bri and Matt’s cesspit dividing wall. Note the medieval(?) stonework incorporated into the later brick wall.

Prior to the cobbles being laid, the last addition to the chamber was a short section of brick wall dividing the chamber in two. As single context excavation requires the latest feature to be excavated first, Bri and Matt’s first task was to record the dividing wall in advance of a spot of controlled demolition.

The dividing wall being dismantled.

The dividing wall being dismantled.

The brickwork came away without much of a fight, allowing Bri and Matt to investigate earlier parts of the chamber.

At the northern end of the trench, or ‘That End’, Arran’s team were busily working on a number of different features. Returning trainees Jade and Yvonne took over the excavation of a burial that was first discovered back in Spring.

Jade and Yvonne working on a burial.

Jade and Yvonne working on a burial.

It was tricky work! The burial was located right at the edge of the trench and was already quite deep. Jade and Yvonne showed a great deal of skill and patience as they delicately lowered the looser fill that occupied the interior of the collapsed coffin. Their hard work soon paid off as the remains of a small child began to appear.

Dealing with the remains of young individuals can be an emotional experience and all Archaeology Live! trainees are taught to treat the burials with an appropriate amount of care and respect. Fittingly, Jade and Yvonne did an excellent job of exposing the remains, allowing us to accurately record the position and depth of the burial.

The team enjoying a well deserved tea break.

The team enjoying a well deserved tea break.

Working on two other partially excavated burials, local lad Gideon and Alice from northern Italy were also facing a painstaking task. Both burials had begun to reveal the outlines of coffins during the spring excavation, although neither had been completely exposed.

Alice looking for the foot end of her coffin.

Alice looking for the foot end of her coffin. The outline is visible as a thin dark line.

Both coffins survived only as a thin line of darker soil, with occasional iron fittings and fragments of degraded wood. If you were to trowel a little too hard, you could very easily destroy the fragile remains of the coffin. If you were a tad too cautious, it would be easy to miss the faint outline of the feature altogether!

Gideon's coffin being slowly exposed.

Gideon’s coffin being slowly exposed.

Alice and Gideon both proved to be more than up to the task in hand and by the end of their first day on site, both coffins were cleaned up and ready to record.

In the north-east corner of the trench, Sue from California and Greg from Norway took over work on a linear feature with an interesting backfill.

That End from above.

That End from above. Greg and Sue’s feature is in the top right of the image.

Containing a huge range of ceramics, from Roman to 19th century, the feature clearly truncates a lot of earlier features. What set the deposit apart from the rest of the majority of features on site was the high occurrence of disarticulated human bone.

The 19th century burials that occupy much of the site appear to have been clearly marked in their day – there is almost no evidence of intercutting. As such, the people laid to rest in the graves were not truncated by later burials.

Sue and Greg get started.

Sue and Greg get started.

On medieval graveyards recently excavated by YAT, it was a very different story. With space at a premium, it was not uncommon for a person to be buried for less than a year before the grave of someone else disturbed their remains. In many cases, the upcast arm and leg bones would be relaid along the edges of the new burial, showing at least some degree of reverence from the medieval grave diggers. The smaller bones of the hands, feet and torso would often simply be lost.

With a number of philanges (finger bones) being recovered by Greg and Sue, were we looking at the disturbed remains of medieval parishioners? And how had they found their way into this context? There was more work to do on this one!

The sun comes out!

The sun comes out!

As the week progressed, the weather quickly improved and summery conditions returned to All Saints.

Alice, Gideon and Katie recording a coffin stain.

Alice, Gideon and Katie recording a coffin stain.

With a lot of new contexts freshly exposed, there was a lot of recording to be getting on with, giving the trainees a chance to learn new skills and to develop existing ones.

Jade and Yvonne planning their infant burial.

Jade and Yvonne planning their infant burial.

In typical York style, the finds were coming out of the ground thick and fast! Sue and Greg were finding some lovely examples of archetypal Roman and medieval wares such as Black Burnished Ware and York Glazed Ware.

Sue and Greg showing off  some freshly unearthed finds.

Sue and Greg showing off some freshly unearthed finds.

The pick of the bunch was found by Kimberley, as she unearthed a substantial fragment of a Roman Greyware vessel! The shallow curvature of the rim suggests that this would have been part of a sizeable pot!

Kimberley's Roman pot rim.

Kimberley’s Roman pot rim.

With their upper deposit fully excavated, Kimberley, Brad and Zada began to record the next deposit in the sequence, seemingly another dump deposit.

By this point, the industrious double act of Bri and Matt were proving that a combination of experience and youthful exuberance can be pretty effective! With their wall removed, they removed a shallow underlying deposit and discovered the construction cut for the chamber.

Matt cleaning up the construction trench backfill of the chamber's SE wall.

Matt cleaning up the construction trench backfill of the chamber’s SE wall.

Locating the point at which a wall cuts into the ground is crucial in understanding its date. Up to press, all the deposits that had been removed from in and around the chamber had built up after its construction. By finding the point at which the construction event cuts the ground, Matt and Bri now knew that the deposit that was cut by the wall’s construction (and all others below it) pre-date the wall.

The significance of this stratigraphic relationship is this; if a hypothetical sherd of pottery dating to the 18th century is recovered from the deposit that was cut by the chamber’s walls, this means that the chamber cannot possibly pre-date the 18th century. In a well-understood stratigraphic sequence, finds have real significance. If a medieval pottery sherd is found in a pit backfill, we then know that every single context that post-dates that pit can’t possibly pre-date the medieval period. It’s delightfully simple (honest!)

Jan and Janet exposing a new structure.

Jan and Janet exposing a new structure.

While Matt and Bri were recording their new discovery, Jan and Janet were removing the last of the material covering an unusual tile-built feature.

Jan and Janet's feature

Jan and Janet’s feature

Made of re-used medieval roof tile, the heavily truncated structure appears to have been some sort of drain or culvert. Dating to the 18th  or early 19th century, this reminds us of what excellent recyclers our early-modern forebears were.

Yvonne reading a level.

Yvonne reading a level.

Over in Arran’s area, breakthroughs were also being made, with Gideon and Alice both successfully locating the skulls of the individuals within their burials.

Alice's burial.

Alice’s burial.

Excavating a burial can be nerve-wracking work, a slip of the wrist can easily damage human remains and skulls have a habit of appearing where you least expect them! Thankfully, Alice and Gideon’s steady work was re-paid with some excellent preservation.

Alice’s individual had many masculine characteristics within its skull, with a particularly pronounced brow ridge. Much of the delicate cartilage of the nose was still intact, allowing us to create an idea of what this man may have looked like. With his proud brow and large nose, he would have had a striking appearance!

Conversely, in Gideon’s burial, the inhumation was that of a young adult female with quite delicate features.  Having come face to face with a pair of early 19th century parishioners of All Saints, Gideon and Alice’s next task was to expose more of the remains. This would allow us to discern the precise depth and position of the burials.

Jade and Yvonne recording a new context.

Jade and Yvonne recording a new context.

Jade and Yvonne’s burial was now fully recorded and re-buried beneath a layer of sieved soil. At first it seemed like the next deposit to investigate was a very mixed deposit comprising of interweaving layers of mortar, charcoal and sandy clay, however, it soon became apparent this wasn’t the case. A linear feature was found to cut this layer – we’d found another burial.

Kimberley's bone button.

Kimberley’s bone button.

Inhumations weren’t the only discoveries being made! Kimberley was delighted to find a small button or spacer made of neatly worked bone, while the finds washing team made a fantastic discovery – a piece of medieval stained glass!

A tiny shard of hand-painted medieval stained glass.

A tiny shard of hand-painted medieval stained glass.

The glass had looked plain until it was cleaned. This revealed a stroke of red paint still adhering to the glass.

While All Saints still boasts an internationally significant collection of stained glass, many ancient windows have been lost to vandalism and accidental damage. It’s tantalising to imagine what work of medieval art this tiny piece of glass may once have been part of!

As the end of the week drew close, work began on some new features. Jan, Janet and Karen picked up the excavation of a grave that was started back in May.

Janet, Karen and Jan.

Janet, Karen and Jan.

Bri and Matt took time out from their brickwork to begin recording the surface of Church Lane, the passageway that runs between the trench and the church. Once a medieval thoroughfare, Church Lane may overlay some amazing archaeology and we will begin to excavate sections across the street during the 2015 season.

Bri and Matt.

Bri and Matt.

Joining the excavation for a taster day, Gill marked her second season at All Saints by venturing into Contrary Corner and investigating a dump of material close to a cobbled surface. An excellent range of ceramics were recovered from the dump, including some nice sherds of Roman pottery.

Gill and Katie in Contrary Corner.

Gill and Katie in Contrary Corner.

Just next door, Sue and Greg’s feature was descending ever deeper and continued to produce a veritable pick n mix of pottery spanning two millennia!

Greg and Sue's linear feature growing ever deeper.

Greg and Sue’s linear feature growing ever deeper.

By the end of Thursday, Kimberley, Brad and Zada had made a breakthrough of their own, they had discovered the fragile remains of a coffin.

Zada and Kimberley pointing out the edge of their coffin stain.

Zada and Kimberley pointing out the edge of their coffin stain.

While only fragments of corroded iron and decayed wood survived, it was nonetheless possible to discern the shape of the coffin and the material within it was notably looser than that around it.

With a good day’s work done, the team packed up and gathered outside the church for an archaeological tour of central York led by Toby. This gave the trainees a chance to put the site in its local context and to see echoes of York’s past that remain visible in the modern streetscape. As so often happens after such wanders, the team then sojourned to the delightfully Victorian comforts of the Minster Inn…

Toby's wander.

Toby’s wander.

Friday began with the whole team in the trench, prompting a reprise of the debate as to what exactly is the collective term for a group of archaeologists? While ‘a spoilheap’ and ‘an anomaly’ remain close seconds, ‘an assemblage’ remains the front runner!

Friday of week one.

Friday of week one.

Some features wrapped up nicely to mark the end of the week. Gideon and Alice’s burials were fully recorded and then gently backfilled. Purely by chance, the church organist was practicing sombre music as the remains were covered over. Everyone agreed that this seemed very fitting.

Gideon re-covering the remains of a young female.

Gideon re-covering the remains of a young female.

Zada, Kimberley and Brad finished the records for their coffin stain before beginning to excavate within it. It didn’t take long to locate the surprisingly shallow remains of an adolescent individual.

A hive of activity as a new burial is unearthed.

A hive of activity as a new burial is unearthed.

In a nearby burial, Jan proved that lightning can strike twice as she discovered a fragment of glazed medieval floor tile for the second year running!

Jan's latest find.

Jan’s latest find.

While work continued on excavating and recording features on site, Toby was leading specialist sessions beneath the Tree of Finds.

Toby's small finds session.

Toby’s small finds session.

These covered the identification and management of small finds and a masterclass on stratigraphic analysis.

Toby's matrix masterclass.

Toby’s matrix masterclass.

Before we knew it, packing up time was upon us! The team gathered together for a tour of the trench and a summary of the week’s discoveries before heading out into the city for food and a well-earned drink.

It’s remarkable how much our understanding of a site can change in just one week. As more and more burials are discovered, we are not only getting to meet the people that lived and died in the area, but also adding a forgotten chapter to the story of this quiet corner of York. Many locals fondly recall the old boxing club that occupied the site until 2013, none recall the time when the area was a space for remembrance and mourning.

As the season progresses, we will locate and investigate the remaining burials before delving deeper into the site’s past. Huge thanks go out to all of our trainees for making the project happen and for getting us off to a flying start!

The week one team.

The week one team.

Toby, Arran and Gary also wish to thank our fantastic week one placements Becky and Katie for all of their hard work. The future of archaeology seems to be in safe hands!

Katie and Becky

Katie and Becky

Thanks must also go out to our volunteer aerial photographer David Dodwell. His elevated views of the site have really helped put it into context, check out his work at https://www.flickr.com/photos/22260522@N06/

Aerial photography in action.

Aerial photography in action.

So, one week down, eleven to go. Here’s to another summer of exciting discoveries and unexpected surprises at All Saints. Watch this space for all the updates and follow us live on Twitter (@ArchaeologyLive)

Onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

PS. Fans of site mascot Planty the Plant will be delighted to know that he has a new friend. Brought all the way from Croatia by site placement Becky, please meet Mr Fish.

I know, strange things happen in the field…

Mr Fish.

Mr Fish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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