Month: August 2015

Site Diary: Week 8

Over the last fifteen years, the Archaeology Live! training excavations have made many important discoveries and many more lasting memories. Once or twice a year, veterans of current and previous excavations get together in a quiet York pub to catch up and reminisce about memorable finds and features. As week eight of the 2015 season progressed, it became quickly apparent that we’d be talking about this one for many years to come!

IMG_8269

The All Saints, North Street excavation.

It all started quietly enough, but little did we know we were in for a feast of amazing finds! Gary’s This End team started the week by giving the area a good clean before picking up work on a number of features.

Gary's team giving the trench a clean.

Gary’s team giving the trench a clean.

Meanwhile, Arran’s That End team picked up right where they’d left off in week seven.

Work on an enigmatic trample layer was taken over by Zena and Mazda. The deposit was laid in the early 19th century and its compacted nature tells us that there was heavy foot traffic in the area at this time.

Zena and Mazda investigating a beaten earth surface.

Zena and Mazda investigating a beaten earth surface.

In the 2013 season, Zena was part of the team that helped to re-discover the lost church of St. John the Baptist on Hungate, while Mazda was making her Archaeology Live! debut. The pair proved to be diligent trowellers and as they peeled away the compacted layer of sandy silt, a pair of earlier structures began to emerge. What had appeared on the surface to be a handful of stones and bricks was beginning to look increasingly substantial!

Over in Contrary Corner, perhaps the site’s trickiest area was taken over by Archaeology Live! regulars Janice and Linda.

Linda and Janice excavating a suspected 19th century burial.

Linda and Janice excavating a suspected 19th century burial.

Recent weeks had revealed an interesting sequence in this area, with repeated dumps of domestic waste from the neighbouring All Saints Cottages clearly being dumped into the site during its time as an active graveyard (1826-54).

Underlying one such dump of seafood and animal bone, Janice and Linda began work on a rectangular feature that was highly likely to be a burial.

Over in her slot through Church Lane, Liss was joined by new starter Rachel in the excavation of a newly discovered cut feature. Recent discoveries in the slot had revealed a well-laid 18th century road surface pre-dating the present paving stones and an underlying clay make-up deposit. With all of these features recorded, Liss and Rachel started to excavate their new deposit.

Rachel and Liss discussing their sequence.

Rachel and Liss discussing their sequence. The wooden handled trowel is sitting in the cut feature.

Back in This End, Pandora was back in her ever-deepening sondage. This ‘trench within a trench’ had been positioned within a cell of the 1860s Church Hall foundations and aimed to investigate the site’s medieval horizon. By week eight, Pandora was in the thick of the Plantagenet era!

On the other side of the wall footings, returnee Steve and new starter Robert were teaming up to tackle a large make-up deposit that had been revealed beneath the 18th century brick floor of the Rectory (demolished c.1855).

Pandora, Robert and Steve.

Pandora, Robert and Steve.

Close-by, Itab was tasked with the excavation of a post hole. This was an interesting feature as it seemed to clearly pre-date both the 1860s Church Hall and the 18th/19th century incarnation of the Rectory. Were we looking at part of the Rectory’s original medieval structure?

Itab working on her post hole.

Itab working on her post hole.

As the backfill was excavated, packing stones were revealed around a clear post-pipe (void left by a rotted timber post).

Itab's post hole.

Itab’s post hole during excavation.

By the end of the day, the sun was shining and the team were in full swing!

Zena and Mazda digging in the afternoon sun.

Digging in the afternoon sun.

After Monday’s solid start, the omens were good for a vintage week! Itab got started by recording the packing material within her post hole.

Itab planning her feature.

Itab planning her feature.

As Steve and Robert continued to take up their make-up deposit, a much earlier sequence was beginning to emerge, including layers of burnt material that appeared to contain solely medieval ceramics.

Steve exposing a late medieval deposit.

Steve exposing a late medieval deposit.

Archaeology Live! legend Kirsten had recorded the backfill of an infant burial that had been cut flush to the Rectory’s boundary wall and was already well underway with the delicate excavation required to locate the coffin and remains within.

Kirsten working on an infant burial.

Kirsten working on an infant burial.

Over in Arran’s area, team That End were joined for taster days by Kristy and Ann. Kristy took over the excavation on a deep 19th century burial in the centre of the trench. Previous work had revealed that the grave’s southern edge hadn’t yet been reached, this meant that Kristy’s first job was to follow the edges of the cut to its southern terminus.

Kirsty and her first find.

Kristy and her first find.

Kristy’s first ever ‘proper’ find was cracker, the rim of a beautiful Roman Greyware pot.

While Kristy continued work on a known feature, Ann spent her day investigating a large area for any cut features. This tricky task involved trying to discern faint edges amidst a mass of soil, stone and brick rubble.

Ann and Gus looking for new features.

Ann and Gus looking for new features.

The day’s first unexpected discovery came from Liss and Rachel’s Church Lane slot. As it turns out, they weren’t digging a pit after all – it was a grave!

Rachel and Liss asess their new discovery.

Rachel and Liss asess their new discovery.

As much of the feature is sealed beneath later structures that we can’t presently remove, only a small area was free to excavate; however, the discovery of an articulated human foot quickly removed any doubt as to the nature of the feature.

While burials have been a major feature of the dig so far, these have all been set in the space between Church Lane and the site’s north-west boundary. Church Lane in the 18th century was a well-used thoroughfare with workshops running along one side, it certainly doesn’t seem an obvious site for burials! If a row of burials were present along the north wall of the church, the street will have been far narrower than it is today.

Pandora beginning to disappear from sight!

Pandora beginning to disappear from sight while Steve and Rachel continue work on their deposit.

Back in Gary’s area, it was Pandora’s turn for a surprise! While Steve, Robert and Rachel continued to expose the later medieval horizon, Pandora was delighted to find a tiny Roman coin. Referred to by archaeologists as minims, these copper or brass coins were minted between the 3rd and 4th centuries and would have been a common sight in Roman York as they were essentially small change.

Pandora's Roman minim

Pandora’s Roman minim

It was immediately apparent that Pandora’s latest find was a special one as it was in immaculate condition. Coins can be frustrating finds as they are usually found covered in corrosion that can only be removed by the painstaking work of YAT’s conservation team. In short, we normally have to wait quite a while to see the detail and imagery of our coins. This was no such problem for Pandora!

Even before cleaning, the head of an unknown Emperor and the vague outline of text was clearly visible. The superior preservation of this coin may be a result of it being discovered in a medieval context, meaning it has been disturbed and re-deposited on fewer occasions than the Roman finds unearthed from Victorian deposits. What is truly amazing about this coin is that it was already a thousand years old when it found its way into Pandora’s deposit at the dawn of the middle ages.

Once seen by our conservators and numismatists, we hope to be able to very tightly date this coin. Watch this space for updates!

There is always a buzz on-site when an exciting find is unearthed and we often joke that you know you’ve found a good find when it goes on tour around the trench! No sooner had the last member of the team seen Pandora’s coin when Janice made an exciting discovery of her own in Contrary Corner.

Janice and her medieval marvel!

Janice and her medieval marvel!

Hidden amongst countless sherds of medieval roof tile and fragments of animal bone, Janice had spotted a remarkable object in the backfill of her and Linda’s 19th century grave – a shard of medieval stained glass!

Janice's shard of painted window glass.

Janice’s shard of painted window glass.

All Saints, North Street has an internationally significant collection of medieval stained glass windows, some of which being one of a kind. Their survival has been the result of many fortuitous events and their conservation is an ongoing battle for the church. Despite this, many of the church’s windows have still been lost over the centuries, leaving us to wonder what treasures of medieval art fell foul of storms, vandalism and iconoclasm.

To find a shard of glass complete with the brushstrokes of a medieval craftsman is a genuine and tantalising pleasure. We can never hope to see the whole masterpiece, but we can still marvel at this tiny fragment and wonder at what might have been.

All Saints in the August sunshine.

All Saints in the August sunshine.

Wednesday dawned bright and sunny and the team couldn’t wait to get back on-site, surely we couldn’t top the discoveries of the previous day, couldn’t we?

Well, not straight away anyway…

Gus, Becky and seven tons of sieved, recorded and excavated archaeology.

Gus, Becky and seven tons of sieved, recorded and excavated archaeology ready for its new life as topsoil.

While the majority of the team enjoyed a tour of YAT’s conservation facilities and a talk on the architecture and history of the church, the staff and placements were hard at work filling a skip with material from the spoilheap. We’ve taken somewhere in the region of 50-60 tons of earth from the site now, all by trowel!!

As work on-site resumed in the afternoon, we were happy to receive a visit from our former YAT colleague Patrick Ottaway and his group of archaeology students.

Mazda planning a deposit while Toby leads a site tour.

Mazda planning a deposit while Toby leads a site tour.

As Toby led the students through a tour of the trench, the whole team were busy with the recording and excavation of their features and deposits. Mazda and Zena had located a new deposit full of loose rubbly material and Kristy and Ann continued to make good progress in the centre of the trench.

Kristy and Ann

Kristy and Ann

In Gary’s area, the digging, sieving and recording was equally industrious and a truly thrilling artefact was about to see the light of day for the first time in over seven centuries.

Itab and Rachel

Itab and Rachel

Before this, however, Pandora, was delighted to find her second Roman minim in as many days. While it wasn’t quite in the same excellent condition as the previous day’s coin, it was a welcome addition to our burgeoning collection of coinage from Eboracum’s colonia.

You're just showing off now.

You’re just showing off now Pandora…

With a safe maximum depth almost reached in her slot into medieval deposits, Pandora had succeeded in finding the earliest deposits encountered on the whole site. As each layer of medieval dumping was recorded and lifted, the ceramic assemblage visibly changed. The vivid green glazes of 13th-14th century Bransdby and York Glazed Wares gave way to the more piecemeal and haphazard decoration of the aptly named splash-glazed ceramics of the 12th-13th centuries. Finally, at over a metre below the current ground surface, glazed pottery gave way to the Gritty Wares of the Anglo-Norman period – Pandora had taken us back almost 1000 years!

Her final task was to straighten the sections and finish off any outstanding records and this diligence quickly paid off! While sieving the sticky, clay-rich material from her lowest deposit, Pandora noticed an oval of translucent orange material. It was immediately apparent that this wasn’t a pretty pebble, Pandora had found something truly special!

A suitably delighted Pandora!

A suitably delighted Pandora!

The object was in fact a Roman intaglio, a beautifully carved gemstone that would once have been set in a ring of gold, silver, copper or iron.

Pandora's beautiful cornelian intaglio.

Pandora’s beautiful cornelian intaglio.

Intaglio rings would have been familiar objects to the inhabitants of Roman York in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. They are found with a huge variety of images carved in reverse and were used to authenticate documents and sign letters by stamping the seal of an individual into a wax seal. Deities and personifications are often depicted, allowing us a wonderfully personal insight into the ways the inhabitants of Eboracum chose to represent themselves. As with the heraldic tradition of the middle ages, the emblems chosen by the wearers of these intaglio rings can tell us a lot about their religious and ethical ideals and affiliations.

It is little surprise that many intaglio unearthed in York bear the images of Mars and Minerva, these were after all the favoured deities of the military class. What is a surprise is the relative paucity of the assemblage; as the capital of northern Britannia, York must have been awash with these artefacts. In fact, Pandora’s find may be only the 40th intaglio to be found in York!

The two most common materials for intaglios are cornelian and jaspar. The vivid translucent orange of cornelian will have been imported from Iran or Turkey, while the more opaque jaspar occurs naturally in Egypt. Pandora’s intaglio appears to be made of the former and features the image of a rather triumphant looking caped figure holding a military helmet with a spear under their shoulder and shield on the ground. Specialist assessment will allow us to determine whether this is a self-portrait cut to commemorate a victory or the image of a favoured deity.

A Roman intaglio from the Hungate excavations.

A Roman intaglio from the Hungate excavations.

The recent YAT excavations at Hungate recovered a pair of beautiful intaglios cut with the images of Mars and Minerva. The example pictured above was featured on the Archaeology Live! 2011 T-shirt, if slightly censored. We are a family dig after all…

Pandora’s wonderful discovery is undoubtedly our finest Roman find from All Saints and allows us to glimpse both the mechanics of empire and the world view of one Roman citizen. We can only wonder how many documents bore the seal of this individual, but to be able to hold the very object is a rare privilege indeed.

We will post a longer post on the history and significance of intaglios at the end of the 2015 season, for further reading in the meantime, see https://www.britishmuseum.org/pdf/1b%20rev%20order.pdf or M. Henig, A Corpus of Roman Engraved Gemstones from British Sites (BAR 8, 3rd edition, Archaeopress, Oxford, 2007.

Kirsten and Robert backfilling a fully recorded backfill.

Kirsten and Robert backfilling a fully recorded backfill.

Thursday of week eight saw more good progress at both ends of the trench. With the remains of an infant having been carefully exposed in her grave cut, Kirsten enlisted the help of Robert to record and then re-cover the burial.

While the grave was only a small feature, Kirsten had recovered a huge range of finds including a highly decorative sherd of Samian ware.

Kirsten's Samian sherd.

Kirsten’s Samian sherd.

At the opposite end of the trench, Liss and Rachel were also finishing up the recording of a burial, although theirs was a whole century older!

Liss and Rachel planning a burial.

Liss and Rachel planning a burial.

Having burials so close to the church during this period is unusual; it will be interesting to see if this is an isolated occurrence or similar along the whole run of the street.

Several metres away, Mazda and Zena were dealing with very different deposits on either side of a stub of medieval wall.

Mazda and Zena

Mazda (left) and Zena (right)

On the southwest side of the structure, Mazda continued to work through a loose, rubbly deposit with frequent fragments of animal bone. Zena was faced with a far more compacted trample layer, although the deposit was beginning to peter out by the end of the day.

Back in Contrary Corner, there was a breakthrough moment for Janice and Linda as they successfully identified the outline of a coffin.

The outline of a Victorian coffin is visible in the left of the cut.

The outline of a Victorian coffin is clearly visible in the left of the cut.

After carefully pursuing a fairly noncommittal edge for some time, the presence coffin proved that Janice and Linda’s instincts had been right – they had very accurately followed the very same edge cut by the person who dug the grave almost 200 years ago!

In the centre of the trench, Lydia and Cheryl joined us for a taster day. Their first archaeological challenge was to record and excavate a 19th century deposit that may (or may not!) overlie further burials.

Becky guiding Cheryl and Lydia through the art of good troweling.

Becky guiding Cheryl and Lydia through the art of good troweling.

It is possible that this area was never used for burials at all, as it is the most obvious processional route from the church. It will be fascinating to see what lies beneath this 19th century dump deposit!

Cheryl and Lydia were an effective mother/daughter team!

Cheryl and Lydia were an effective mother/daughter team!

After a string of amazing finds, Pandora finally reached the maximum safe excavation depth in her slot. The trench within a trench had shown us a thousand years of stratigraphy and yielded finds that spanned two millennia! Now, all that was left to do was to take the final photos and tie up the final context cards. It was quite an emotional goodbye to a very productive hole!!

Pandora taking section photographs.

Pandora taking section photographs.

As the weather forecast for Friday was particularly damning, the team ended the day with a flurry of activity, finishing up features and covering over any delicate remains.

A peek into Contrary Corner.

A peek into Contrary Corner.

Liss and Rachel were quickly disappearing beneath the surface of Church Lane as they began to excavate a sandy surface that pre-dated their 18th century grave.

Liss and Rachel descending into the post-medieval period.

Liss and Rachel descending into the post-medieval period.

The sandy deposit was the third surface encountered within the slot and reveals that Church Lane has been steadily rising over the centuries.

A sandy surface under excavation.

A sandy surface under excavation.

As predicted, Friday was a fairly dramatic washout! Happily, several off-site activities had been held in reserve and the team could remain warm and dry inside the church.

The first of these sessions was a seminar on the identification and treatment of small finds – individual artefacts that warrant special attention or research. This is an opportunity for trainees to handle an impressive array of objects and materials.

Toby's small finds session.

Toby’s small finds session.

The day wrapped up with Toby’s ever-entertaining matrix session. Together, the team built a particularly fantastical archaeological sequence (giraffes??) before breaking it down into a Harris Matrix – the flowchart that chronologically links all excavated features on a site.

The matrix masterclass

The matrix masterclass

As 5pm approached, the team packed up and headed to the pub to celebrate an amazing week on-site. I’m sure tales of this week’s finds will be told at many future reunions!

None of our amazing discoveries over the last fifteen seasons would have been made without the participation and support of our trainees. Weeks like this remind us of the power of public archaeology and the importance of keeping the profession open to anyone with an interest. Thanks as ever to all of the team!

The week eight team

The week eight team

So, that was week eight! With just one third of the excavation left, we can only imagine what surprises are still in store for us!

Best get digging then, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

 

 

 

 

 

Site Diary: Week 7

Week 7 begins.

Week 7 begins.

Over the first six weeks of our summer excavation at All Saints, North Street, we’ve learned a great deal about this quiet corner of central York. Each week,  trainees from far and wide have learned and practiced new skills and made some truly remarkable discoveries along the way. As the week seven team laced up their boots and picked up their tools, we hoped to maintain this momentum into the second half of the summer.

Arran’s That End team received a dose of youthful exuberance as they were joined by the Bristolian duo of Kieran and Josh. The pair got off to a good start as they excavated a dump deposit and revealed a brand new feature.

Josh pointing out his discovery.

Josh pointing out his discovery.

Cut through a layer of silty material, the outline of a small stakehole was visible, filled by a looser, more lightly coloured deposit. This gave Kieran and Josh the opportunity to learn the art of single context recording, including photography, planning, levelling and the compilation of context cards.

The stakehole fill is visible as a circle of lighter soil just below the tip of the trowel.

The stakehole fill is visible as a circle of lighter soil just below the tip of the trowel.

With their records complete, Kieran and Josh had to use the appropriate tools for such a small feature. As well as Arran’s most worn down trowel (the appropriately named ‘Nubbin’), one of archaeology’s most devastating tools had to be called into action – the teaspoon.

Kieran tools up!

Kieran tools up!

These small tools are invaluable when excavating such tiny features and the boys put them to excellent use. In contrast to the firmer soil it was cut through, the stakehole fill was very loose and featured frequent inclusions of decayed wood – suggesting that the timber had rotted in the ground as opposed to being pulled out.

Alone, a stakehole can tell us little more than the fact that a wooden stake was driven into the ground, however, as we excavate more of these late 18th/early 19th century features, dumps and structures, we will slowly be able to piece together a picture of how the site was used at this time.

After recording the cut of the stakehole, Kieran and Josh trowel cleaned a large area, to locate the next context to excavate. This process gave Kieran the opportunity to tell a few tall tales and more than a few bad jokes…

Kieran in full flow...

Kieran in full flow… (Note Katie’s somewhat pained expression!)

The cleaning revealed that the stakehole was cut through a compacted trample deposit. As elements of possible earlier structures were beginning to appear, we were keen to get the deposit recorded and lifted.

By the end of the week, the plans were drawn and cards completed and excavation began.

Josh and Kieran get started.

Josh and Kieran get started.

While Kieran and Josh were delicately excavating with tiny tools, Liss and Will were taking a more aggressive approach over in their slot through Church Lane.

Liss engaging Beast Mode.

Liss engaging Beast Mode.

With a 19th century gas-pipe trench fully recorded, Liss and Will were now able to turn their attention to a strip of earlier archaeology between the pipe trench and the church. The first task was to remove a 20th century concrete footing that overlayed the earlier deposits. The appropriate tools for this job were a lump hammer and a chisel!

Archaeology offers wonderful variety sometimes!

With the modern concrete lifted, the construction cut of an associated wall was also recorded and removed.

Liss emptying out a construction trench.

Liss emptying out a construction trench.

All modern intrusions dealt with, it was now time to turn our attention to the very lucky island of archaeology that had survived numerous later truncations. The uppermost deposit was a shallow levelling deposit associated with the surface of Church Lane and Liss was delighted to find a copper lace tag within it!

Liss proudly displaying her tiny copper alloy lace tag.

Liss proudly displaying her tiny copper alloy lace tag.

As work progressed on the spur of early material, Will and Liss made another interesting discovery, a damaged but very well-laid surface of stone and brick rubble. Associated ceramics dated to the late 18th century, so it seems that this well-mettled surface is a predecessor of the current Church Lane surface.

Photographing the surface.

Photographing the surface.

It is likely that this surface would have been very familiar to the people occupying the workshops that pre-date our 19th century burials and the fact that it lies a good 200mm below today’s floor level also demonstrates how much the ground has been built up over the last two centuries.

By this point, Will and Liss were becoming quite an efficient team and it wasn’t long before the surface had been fully recorded and excavated!

Lifting the C18th surface.

Lifting the C18th surface.

Beneath the surface, a clay levelling deposit was recorded and excavated, which in turn revealed the clear outline of a pit cutting through an even earlier surface.

Liss, Gus and Will.

Liss, Gus and Will. The darker fill of a pit can be seen in the ground.

Over the course of the week, Liss and Will did a fantastic job of recording modern intrusions before really getting stuck in to the earlier sequence! Their discoveries show how much we can learn from even the narrowest slither of archaeology!

Elsewhere in Arran’s area, Katie and Terry were chosen as the week 7 custodians of Contrary Corner. The previous week had seen Katie and Lisa having great success in taming this notoriously tricky part of the site, however, old habits die hard and the corner had some unexpected surprises in store for us!

Katie and Terry get started.

Katie and Terry get started.

It all started simply enough, as Katie and Terry began work on a rectangular feature that seemed almost certain to be one of our 19th century graves. As work progressed, it became apparent that something different was going on. Filled with loose lenses of silt and rubble, the pit turned out to have a more amorphous form than had been expected and its sections revealed that this was just one of a series of intercutting pits.

Katie and Terry recovered a great range of post-medieval and early 19th century pottery from the backfill as well as more personal objects, such as this charming brass button.

Button it!

Button it!

After finishing work on their pit, Katie and Terry recorded and excavated a second pit before turning their attention to a levelling dump.

Katie, Terry and Ellen planning a dump deposit.

Katie, Terry and Ellen planning a dump deposit.

The new deposit had some unusual finds waiting in store! Katie unearthed a large bone that turned out to be a horse metapodial. These bones are often re-used and we were keen to inspect it for any signs of working.

Katie excavating a horse metapodial.

Katie excavating a horse metapodial.

Many such bones have been found in Viking contexts having been shaped and smoothed to be used as ice skates. Handily, such an object was readily available for comparison in our reference collection!

An unworked horse metapodial over a re-worked ice-skate.

An un-worked horse metapodial over a re-worked ice-skate.

Sadly, a swift clean-up revealed Katie’s bone to be un-worked – although this was still the first such bone to be recovered during the All Saints excavation.

Excavation of the dump deposit revealed the backfill of a familiar looking rectangular cut feature. Had we discovered another grave?

As work on the new feature began, Terry wasn’t going to be left behind on the finds front and he quickly found an exciting object of his own, a sherd of burnt Samian ware complete with a maker’s stamp!

Terry and his stamped sherd of Samian Ware.

Terry and his stamped sherd of Samian Ware.

Terry’s find is yet another addition to a growing assemblage of burnt Roman ceramics and suggests that the site was being used for refuse disposal two millennia ago. While this is only a small insight into life in Roman York, it proves how much a single object can tell us.

We know that the pot most likely came from 1st/2nd century France, but specialist analysis the stamp will reveal exactly which kiln produced the vessel!

A closer look.

A closer look.

Over in This End, Gary’s team were had an equally interesting week! Helen and Carol teamed up to to investigate a possible infant burial in the graveyard’s most densely populated area.

Carol and Helen.

Carol and Helen.

Carol and Helen did an excellent job of identifying the edges of the cut and began to carefully take away the backfill.

Carol and Helen at work on their burial.

Carol and Helen at work on their burial.

As the grave grew deeper, earlier layers were revealed in the section, with tip lines of charcoal rich material clearly visible.

Earlier stratigraphy revealed in the grave sections.

Earlier stratigraphy revealed in the grave sections.

As well as early stratigraphy, numerous older objects were found re-deposited in the grave backfill. The most striking of these finds was a pair of medieval glazed roof tile fragments. These high status tiles would almost certainly have adorned the roof of the church in its medieval heyday. The vivid green of the lead and copper glaze glistening in the sun would have been a breathtaking sight!

Carol and her fragments of glazed medieval floor tile.

Carol and her fragments of glazed medieval floor tile.

As the week progressed, the grave continued to descend and eventually became so deep that it was impossible to reach the base!

Helen attempting to reach the base of her burial.

Helen attempting to reach the base of her burial.

As further excavation was clearly impossible, Carol and Helen recorded the grave as it was and turned their attention to another burial. When the ground levels around their first burial have been reduced, we will resume excavation of the feature.

Recording an infant burial.

Recording an infant burial.

The fact that such a deep hole was dug reveals two things; space was clearly at a premium but care was still taken to avoid disturbing earlier graves. It must have been very difficult indeed to dig a deep hole in such a confined space, but our 19th century gravedigger was clearly conscious of the burials around them.

Nearby, Imogen and Christian spent their week working on deposits that pre-date the late 18th/early 19th century brickwork of the Rectory.

Christian and Imogen

Christian and Imogen

The first feature to be excavated was a stone post-pad that may relate to an earlier incarnation of the Rectory structure. Following this, an underlying make-up deposit was recorded and taken away.

Photographing a dump deposit.

Photographing a dump deposit.

Truncated on both sides by later features, the deposit only survived as a thin peninsula of archaeology, but was still able to reveal some interesting possibilities! The deposit contained exclusively post-medieval ceramics – it seemed we were finally clear of the 19th century! Furthermore, the deposit pealed off of an earlier layer that contained numerous sherds of green glazed medieval ceramics! In the space of a week, Christian and Imogen seem to have succeeded in taking their area over 500 years back in time!

Imogen uncovering the medieval horizon.

Imogen uncovering the medieval horizon.

Pandora spent her second of three weeks on site continuing to investigate a medieval sequence in one of our sondages into earlier archaeology.

Gary and Pandora discussing the medieval sequence.

Gary and Pandora discussing the medieval sequence.

Pandora’s worked on a complex set of interweaving dumps cut by a small pit, with finds ranging from the 13th-14th century to as far back as the Roman period! Indeed, in the very edge of her slot, Pandora was lucky enough to spot a large sherd of a Samian ware bowl.

An exciting find emerges...

An exciting find emerges…

This unburnt example was part of a growing collection of Roman artefacts recovered from the medieval dumping, suggesting that medieval activity was disturbing and upcasting Roman material.

Pandora's Samian

Pandora’s Samian

Later in the week, Pandora was joined by taster student Jan, who helped to lower the deposits even further!

By the end of the week, Pandora and Jan appeared to have reached 12th/13th century deposits, as fully glazed ceramics gave way to earlier splash glazed examples. The image below reveals just how much the ground level has changed in the intervening centuries!

Jan and Pandora descending into medieval layers.

Jan and Pandora descending into medieval layers.

Back in Arran’s area, Cara spent her taster day working on similar deposits. She recorded and excavated a pit that produced finds no later than medieval in date. This was an exciting development as it offered the That End team their first peak into the medieval horizon!

Cara delving into the middle ages.

Cara delving into the middle ages.

In the leafy shade of the Tree of Finds, Toby and the finds team continued to work on cleaning and sorting the thousands of finds pouring from the trench. This week, they produced a real array of interesting objects!

The first of these was a pipe bowl with a stamped decoration that was only revealed when it was cleaned.

IMG_8131

‘Mason York’

Clearly well used, the pipe bore the mark of ‘Mason York’ and instantly reminded us of similar examples found last year. These pipe bowls tell a tale of the rise and fall of a father and son’s business in 19th century York. See http://archaeologylive.org/uncategorized/a-clay-pipes-tale/ for the full story!

Next up was an unassuming object lying un-noticed in the corner of a finds tray. At first glance it appeared to be a scrap of medieval pottery, although closer inspection revealed that it had been shaped to be used as a spindle whorl. Waste not, want not!

Medieval recycling in action.

Medieval recycling in action.

On a less glamorous note, Toby was delighted with a more… earthy discovery. A perfect little dog poo.

Toby's perfectly formed dog egg'

Toby’s perfectly formed ‘dog egg’

The coprolite was in perfect condition and contained numerous bone fragments, revealing that the culprit had clearly been gnawing on bones!

It’s a glamorous business!

Sticking with the canine theme, the finds team also noticed the paw print of a large dog in a medieval brick fragment. The impression was so clear, that the dimpled skin of the dog’s pads can still be seen!

Medieval paw print

A medieval paw print

All told, week seven was a great week, building on the success of the first half of the summer and continuing to delight us with an array of very human (and animal!) moments from the past.

Many thanks to all of our trainees for another cracking week of archaeology!

The week seven team.

The week seven team.

The sun may not be shining quite as brightly and the first leaves may already be turning golden brown, but there are still five weeks of thrilling discoveries to be made on North Street! Watch out for next week’s exciting instalment.

As ever, until then, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

PS. A rather severe case of mildew forced us to give site mascot Planty the Plant a haircut. I think the buzzcut suits him…

A newly shorn Planty. Mr Fish approves.

A newly shorn Planty. Mr Fish clearly approves.

 

 

 

Site Diary: Week 6

Week six begins.

Week six begins.

Week six of Archaeology Live! started out dry and bright. While the new starters were being inducted, the continuing trainees got straight down to work.

And then it rained.

For two days.

Thankfully, there is far more to archaeology than excavation, so the team retreated to the warm and dry comforts of our site hut – which just so happens to be one of York’s finest medieval churches!

Jess, Taralea, Linda, Kent and Ted sorting finds.

Jess, Taralea, Linda, Kent and Ted sorting finds.

Digging in York means you can count on a lot of finds! Well over two millennia of constant occupation means that an amazing range of objects can be recovered from even the most unassuming of features – and all of these have to be properly dealt with.

Toby and the finds team took advantage of the poor weather to catch up with the sorting and bagging of clean and dry finds. This involved dividing the assemblage into categories such as pottery, animal bone, shell, and so on – it also afforded an opportunity to weed out any as yet un-noticed treasures. The sharp eyes of Taralea spotted one such thing, a beautifully worked bone object.

Taralea's small find.

Taralea’s small find.

The worked bone plate may once have been part of an inlay, perhaps for a elaborately decorated book. When the excavation is completed, enigmatic objects like these will be sent for specialist assessment where we hope to learn more about them.

A closer look.

A closer look.

While the finds team were hard at work sorting and cataloguing hundreds of artefacts, Gary, Arran and Gus gave the new starters an introduction to all of the techniques they would be using in the trench. This meant that when the sun finally came out late on Tuesday, the team were primed and ready to go!

Sunshine!!

Sunshine!!

Jess and Sarah spent their week working on an evocative and challenging feature, an infant burial.

The Rectory that occupied the southern part of the site until the 1850s was separated from the graveyard (active 1826-54) by a brick boundary wall. For some reason, the area to the immediate north of this wall is home to a notable concentration of infant and juvenile burials.

Sarah and Jess.

Sarah and Jess.

As church records for this period have not survived, the reason for this concentration can only be guessed at. Perhaps the area was purposely set aside for younger people, perhaps we are seeing evidence of a pandemic event; while we may never know the full story, we are nonetheless left with a highly complex archaeological sequence to pick apart.

Recording a burial.

Deep discussion during the recording of the burial.

Armed only with wooden clay modelling tools (to avoid damaging the delicate bones and coffin remains), Sarah and Jess carefully revealed the remains of the infant within their grave cut and created a detailed record of the burial. With this task completed, the remains were then once again covered over.

Over in Arran’s area (That End), Kent and Linda continued to work on a sequence of structural features that were once part of late 18th century workshops.

Linda cleaning up her tile-lined pit.

Linda cleaning up her tile-lined pit.

Sitting in a small island of archaeology cut by three later graves were the remains of an unusual tile-lined pit topped with a layer of mortar. It had been hoped that excavation of the feature would offer some suggestions as to its function, however, with work on this completed, we were left distinctly none the wiser. Answers on a postcard please…

The completed pit cut freed up an earlier earthen surface for recording and excavation, a process that revealed an even earlier post hole.

Linda exposing a post hole.

Linda exposing a post hole.

Now well into their second week, Linda and Kent proved to be quite the team, making short work of the post hole and then an earlier mortar surface.

Kent and Linda planning a surface.

Kent and Linda planning a surface.

By the end of their fortnight, the US pair had recorded and excavated an impressive number of contexts and revealed the pre-burial industrial phase of activity to be very busy indeed!

Gus, Kent and Linda discussing their findings.

Gus, Kent and Linda discussing their findings.

Christine and Hattie spent their taster days working on a burnt, ashy deposit overlying a large piece of masonry.

Christine lifting an ashy deposit.

Christine lifting an ashy deposit.

As work continued, the ashy material was found to overlay a stone and mortar surface that may have once been the base of a hearth. The section of a later grave that cuts this sequence reveals that there are a number of burnt deposits that are associated with the feature. Hopefully, some material may survive that can tell us how and when this feature was used.

Hattie exposing a possible hearth base.

Hattie exposing a possible hearth base.

Ted and Pandora took over from Clive and Juliet in a slot into the site’s medieval horizon (see the Week 5 site diary).  The relative depth of these deposits reveals just how much the ground level has risen over the last six centuries!

While Linda takes a level on the 2015 ground surface, Ted and Pandora are down in the middle ages...

While Linda takes a level on the 2015 ground surface, Ted and Pandora are working in the middle ages…

 

A sequence of dumps and refuse deposits were painstakingly recorded, excavated and sieved over the course of the week, yielding some interesting finds and a large assemblage of animal bone. This mass of bone can tell us a lot about past diet and animal husbandry.

Sieving material from a medieval deposit.

Sieving material from a medieval deposit.

The standout find of the week for Ted and Pandora was an interesting piece of pottery. At a glance, the sherd appears to be a piece of Roman Calcite Gritted Ware, but features an unusual incised decoration.

Ted's pot sherd.

Ted’s pot sherd.

Here’s a closer look.

IMG_8022

We look forward to hearing the specialist’s view on this one!

Meanwhile, in Contrary Corner...

Meanwhile, in Contrary Corner…

Over in Contrary Corner (the really tricky bit of the site), Arran’s latest victims were Katie and Lisa. They began their week by recording and excavating a widespread dump deposit that had been revealed in the previous week.

Recording a new deposit in Contrary Corner.

Recording a new deposit in Contrary Corner.

By taking this dump away, Katie and Lisa revealed a fragment of cobbled surface and rectangular feature that very much resembled a grave backfill.

Can you make out the outline?

Can you make out the outline?

The implications of a grave being located at this point in the sequence were very interesting. The dump of domestic waste excavated in week 5 must have dated to the use of the graveyard – the 19th century residents of All Saints Cottages were literally emptying their bins onto recently occupied graves!

Clearly our Victorian forebears were not particularly respectful of the burial ground on their doorstep, something which in itself throws up further interesting possibilities – were the local population against the demolition of the workshops and conversion of the site to a graveyard? This will, of course, remain pure conjecture but still highlights the power of archaeology to recover such detail about past lives from the ground.

The finds highlight of the week from Contrary Corner was an unusual sherd of burnt Samian ware.

Katie's sherd of samian.

Katie’s sherd of Samian.

Beautifully decorated with a leaf design, the sherd is one of many pieces of Samian to have been found scorched. These residual finds from earlier layers hint at the possibility of burnt Roman refuse deposits lying in wait beneath us.

A closer look.

A closer look.

Over in her slot through the surface of Church Lane, Taralea spent her fourth and final week of the season investigating a linear feature pre-dating the pipe trench that runs down the centre of the lane.

Liss and Taralea.

Liss and Taralea.

Joined by Mancunian archaeology student Liss, Taralea finished the records and got cracking with the excavation! Alongside pieces of disarticulated human bone, a range of ceramics from Roman to early modern were recovered from the backfill.

By the end of the week, the function of the linear was discovered – it was a utility trench containing a pair of cast-iron gas/water pipes.

A pair of pipes emerge.

A pair of pipes emerge.

While this discovery was a slight disappointment, not all of the archaeology beneath Church Lane had been destroyed by services, the section of the cut was revealing a multitude of earlier layers. Unfortunately, this would be a job for week 7.

In her four weeks on-site, Taralea did some excellent work and the team were all sorry to see her go. With a lot of archaeology moved, the Church Lane slot was almost ready to reveal its pre-19th century secrets.

Back in Gary’s area (This End), Pete, Tomasz and Noel had a very productive week working on deposits surrounding our site mascot Planty the Plant.

Pete working on an 18th century dump.

Pete (right) working on an 18th century dump while Planty (left) supervises.

While Planty has now gone to seed and looks a little tired, the hardworking trio made a real impact on the area. A landmark moment was the lifting of the Rectory’s brick floor, something that had become a very familiar sight!

Lifting the brick floor.

Lifting the brick floor.

Below the remaining layers of make-up, Pete and Tomasz came across a burnt layer of industrial waste. Whether this represents the opportunistic sourcing of levelling material or evidence of in-situ industrial activity will be something to investigate in the coming weeks.

Pete and Tomasz.

Pete and Tomasz.

Noel also made a discovery beneath the floor; the clear outline of a post hole. With the end of the week approaching, there was just enough time to get the new deposit recorded.

Noel revealing a post hole.

Noel revealing a post hole.

Back in That End, local acupuncturist Manda spent a productive two day taster session working on a 19th century burial. Building on discoveries made by Rheba in week 5, Manda clarified what had been a somewhat non-commital edge and revealed some tantalising early stratigraphy in section!

Lots of diligent trowel-work was rewarded by the discovery of a large sherd of Roman Greyware!

Manda's Roman discovery.

Manda’s Roman discovery.

Beneath the Tree of Finds, the finds team continued to make inroads on reducing our backlog of artefacts.

Finds washing action shot.

Finds washing action shot.

While washing finds from Steve and Terry’s ‘seafood deposit’ and Ed and Rheba’s pipe trench from week 5, some unexpected objects were encountered! The most curious of these finds was a corroded but recognisable pocket watch!

Have you got the time?

Have you got the time?

Looking at the side, it was even possible to see the cogs within!

Internal gears visible in the corroded watch.

Internal gears visible in the corroded watch.

How this object ended up in a Victorian drain is anyone’s guess!

Another highlight was the paw print of a dog in a medieval roof tile.

Paws for thought.

Paws for thought.

The end of week 6 saw us exactly halfway through the summer 2015 excavation. While it’s hard to believe we’ve already reached this milestone, the site has really started to change! Familiar sights are disappearing, exploratory sondages are growing ever deeper and the flood of fascnating finds is showing no signs of abating!

The week 6 team worked cheerfully through rain and shine and made reaching the halfway point of the dig a lot of fun! Thanks to everyone for coming along!

The week six team.

The week six team.

As ever, we must also thank our team of placements for their tireless efforts to help make Archaeology Live! run so smoothly. Cheers guys!

Becky, Katie, Ellen and Gus

Becky, Katie, Ellen and Gus

As a wise mullet enthusiast from New Jersey once said, ‘whooooooah, we’re halfway there!’

Despite this, I’m happy to report that we are by no means living on a prayer. We’ve had an amazing six weeks of archaeology and still have six more to go.

So, without further ado, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

PS. After coming straight on to Archaeology Live! from YAT’s Dig York Stadium excavation,  it was a real pleasure to have three DYS veterans on site again!

Lisa, Pandora, Manda and Arran - DYS veterans

Lisa, Pandora, Manda and Arran – DYS veterans

 

Site Diary: Week 5

Archaeology can be an unpredictable and sometimes unforgiving creature. One site can see you immersed in a fascinating story with finds practically pouring from the ground, another can see you overjoyed by even the tiniest sherd of pottery.

There is, however, something special about faire olde York.

Whether it’s down to the city’s important position in British history or just the simple fact that people have been continuously living here for over two millennia, the archaeology that still lies undiscovered beneath the busy streets never disappoints.

The glorious Yorkshire summer.

The glorious Yorkshire summer.

With the first month of the summer excavation having been a wild success, week five had big boots to fill! We really shouldn’t have worried though, there were some great surprises in store for us!

A cool, grey Monday morning was brightened by the return of two Archaeology Live! legends, Clive and Juliet. This redoubtable pair have become a familiar sight, both having worked on every season of the training dig since its inception in 2001.

As a way of rewarding them for their continued support of the project, we naturally put them into the site’s deepest and trickiest holes.

Clive and Juliet get started.

Clive and Juliet get started.

Two cells within the mid-19th century shell of All Saints Church Hall have particularly deep concrete foundations, providing a solid edge that permits us to safely sink two deep sondages into earlier deposits. Week five had a lot of climbing in store for Clive and Juliet!

Clive cleaning up a complex medieval sequence.

Clive cleaning up a complex medieval sequence.

In Clive’s cell, previous work had identified an intercutting sequence of medieval pits beneath the post-medieval horizon. His first task was to clean up the area and establish which of these features was the latest to occur; as we dig features in reverse chronological order, this would be the first one to excavate.

For the Tuesday of week five, Juliet was joined by Georgina, who spent her taster day helping with the excavation of a medieval dump deposit. Georgina’s first exciting find appeared in no time, as she unearthed the handle of an ornate medieval jug. You can’t help but wonder how many libations would have been poured from this elaborately decorated vessel!

Georgina's medieval jug handle.

Georgina’s medieval jug handle.

As the week progressed, Clive continued to pick apart his complex sequence of pits and dumps, while Juliet made a rather different discovery – a beaten earth surface.

Juliet exposing a compacted earthen surface.

Juliet exposing a compacted earthen surface.

Sitting over a metre below the present surface of Church Lane, this surface gives an indication of how much the ground level has built up over the last 500 years!

Interestingly, as Juliet recorded the newly discovered surface, it was found to sit at the exact same height as the ground level within the church. This serves as a reminder that the church will have originally been built on a spur of high ground, with a naturally dominant position over its surroundings. Over the intervening centuries, however, the streets of York have continually risen, leaving All Saints has remained frozen in its turn of the first millennium position.

With the records complete, Juliet began to take up the surface and revealed an underlying occupation layer of ashy material.

Juliet exposing a medieval occupation layer.

Juliet exposing a medieval occupation layer.

This deposit occupies a space between Church Lane and All Saints Rectory, both of which have medieval origins. It is possible that the ashy layer represents the medieval inhabitants of the rectory building throwing ashes from their hearth into their front garden. If archaeology proves anything, people have always been lazy!

While Juliet was revealing the changing landscape of the past half millennium, Clive was in the middle of a real lucky streak! In the 44 years since his first excavation, Clive has never personally unearthed a coin. In something of a personal milestone, he was delighted to notice a tiny circular object hidden amongst a medieval deposit. The object proved to be far older than the context it had ended up within, being a Roman minim.

It's a tiny coin, but it's still a coin!

It’s a tiny coin, but it’s still a coin!

These tiny coins were the small change of their day and occur quite frequently in York. Nonetheless, the coin adds to a growing assemblage of Roman coinage unearthed at All Saints; the sheer volume of residual Roman material suggesting that the site was busily occupied two millennia ago.

Minutes later, lightning struck again as a second cheer rang out across the site! This time, Clive had unearthed a medieval treasure – a beautifully made copper needle.

A happy archaeologist.

A happy archaeologist.

Alongside the many pins, spindle whorls and loom weights that have been recovered from the site, we are beginning to piece together a picture of the crafts that were taking place on the site during the Middle Ages.

A closer look.

A closer look.

While it’s always wonderful to come across forgotten buildings and misplaced treasures, it is the little things like these that bring us closest to our predecessors. These artefacts tell us about the tasks that filled peoples’ days, the chores that must have seemed never-ending and the often mundane realities of life in the past.

Clive and Juliet

Clive and Juliet

Up to now, the excavation has mainly been illuminating the lives and events of the past two centuries, but Clive and Juliet’s discoveries have allowed us to look deeper into the past. We are beginning to glimpse a time when the church truly dominated the landscape as opposed to nestling down within it. We are seeing that, despite all of this high-medieval architectural splendour, the parishioners of All Saints needed to be far more self-sufficient than we are today.

It’s amazing what two small holes in the ground can tell you…

Ted and Kristine begin work on an infant inhumation.

Ted and Kristine begin work on an infant inhumation.

Elsewhere in the trench, Kristine and Ted were firmly in the 19th century as they tackled a highly complex sequence of tightly packed infant burials.

Much of the site was used as a graveyard between the years of 1826 and 1854 and the area just to the north of the Rectory walls has a distinct concentration of infant and juvenile burials.

The area is particularly difficult to pick apart as many infants have been buried in shallow graves over earlier, deeper adults. As a result of this, locating the edges of burials is a complex process that requires a lot of delicate troweling!

Recording a burial.

Recording a burial.

Over the course of the week, Ted and Kristine located, exposed and recorded a pair of infant burials and demonstrated some real skill with a trowel in doing so!

Over in Arran’s area, Linda and Kent began their fortnight  on-site by taking up a small fragment of a cobbled surface. Dating to the late 18th or early 19th century, the surface would once have been the floor of a roughly built workshop, although numerous later pits and burials have destroyed the majority of these buildings.

Kent and Linda hard at work beneath the YAT banner.

Kent and Linda hard at work beneath the YAT banner.

With the cobbles lifted, Kent and Linda revealed an earlier mortar surface overlaying a roughly laid tile surface that was earlier still! Clearly, the workshops were in use for some time, with wear and tear requiring numerous replacement surfaces to be laid.

Levelling a new surface.

Levelling a new surface.

With the sequence of surfaces fully recorded and excavated, Linda and Kent turned their attention to an enigmatic feature close-by. Despite a great deal of later truncation, enough of the feature survived to see that medieval roof tile fragments had been used to line the edges of a pit that was then backfilled and topped with a skin of mortar. Quite why an early modern individual would do this, we hoped excavation would provide the answer!

By the end of Friday, work was still underway on this feature – we were going to have to wait for this mystery to be solved!

Kent planning a truncated tile-lined pit.

Kent planning a truncated tile-lined pit.

New starters Ed and Rheba’s first task of the week was to remove a feature that has become a familiar site – the ceramic drain pipes of the Church Hall. Laid in the 1860s, the pipes cut through the walls and floor of the earlier Rectory building and turned out to be home to a few surprises!

Now you see them…

Pipes.

Pipes.

Now you don’t!

No pipes.

No pipes.

The pipes were found to contain a silty black deposit and a number of objects that you wouldn’t expect to find down a drain! These included a complete glass bottle, an egg cup, a marble and a surprising amount of millipedes!

Sieving the pipe infilling.

Sieving the pipe infilling.

With the pipes lifted, Ed excavated the remaining fill of the pipe trench and made a really exciting discovery! Back in 2014, when the first of the pipe trench backfill was being excavated, Archaeology Live! regular Barry found part of a York Glazed Ware seal jug (Click here for more info!).

Barry's freshly unearthed seal jug fragment. July 2014

Barry’s freshly unearthed seal jug fragment. July 2014

This medieval pot sherd featured a distinctive bird motif that we were able to link to the individual that commissioned the vessel! Thomas Fitzwalter was a prominent figure in 14th century York and a great supporter of the arts; to celebrate a marriage and/or the birth of a son, he had a number of beautifully made jugs made. Parts of these jugs have been found in the centre of York and as far away as Wharram Percy.

Ed's seal jug sherd.

Ed’s seal jug sherd.

From the lower extents of the same deposit, Ed was lucky enough to find a second sherd that may be from the same vessel! It is a rare pleasure to find an object that you can associate with an individual person. Artefacts such as these really help to bring the past to life, reminding us that names from historic texts were people just like ourselves. Whether Thomas was happy with his jugs, we may never know, but we do know that they travelled far and wide, perhaps as gifts to remember a happy day.

A closer look

A closer look

While Ed was hard at work in the drain trench, Rheba took over the recording of an unusual burial that was discovered in the previous week. The remains were those of an adult individual that was buried face down. This is likely to have been accidental, but is intriguing nonetheless.

Rheba planning a prone burial with Arch. Live! placement Dave.

Rheba planning a prone burial with Arch. Live! placement Dave.

With one burial completed, Rheba defected to Arran’s area of the trench (That End) to continue work on another. Careful troweling in the partially excavated grave backfill revealed more of the remains of the coffin and that the burial extends further to the south-west than had been expected.

Rheba working on a burial.

Rheba working on a burial.

At the very end of the week, Rheba located the skull of the individual buried within the grave, a discovery that will make it far easier to excavate the remainder of the burial. Not bad for a first-timer!

Graeme, Ed and Rheba.

Graeme, Ed and Rheba.

In her slot through the surface of Church Lane, Taralea was joined by fellow American Juliet to continue work on a drain trench backfill. Part of the same drainage network excavated by Rheba and Ed, the deposit contained a wonderful range of medieval and Roman ceramics upcast from earlier deposits.

Taralea was lucky enough to find our second Roman coin of the week when she excavated another minim!

Taralea's minim.

Taralea’s minim.

As excavation continued and the slot reached a metre in depth, a probe revealed the drainpipe to be at least another 500mm deeper down. With safety in mind, excavation was ceased and the cut recorded as it was.

Taralea and Juliet recording their pipe trench.

Taralea and Juliet recording their pipe trench.

Taralea and Juliet then recorded and excavated a deposit that was cut by the drain cut, a process that revealed another linear feature.

Juliet and Taralea pointing out the edges of their newly exposed linear feature.

Juliet and Taralea pointing out the edges of their newly exposed linear feature.

Archaeology Live! veterans Steve and Terry were chosen as this week’s Contrary Corner victims. Their first task was to record and excavate a cobbled surface that would have been part of the same surface excavated by Kent and Linda.

Kent and Linda and Steve and Terry proved to be good neighbours.

Kent and Linda and Steve and Terry proved to be good neighbours.

Next on the agenda was a dump of material cut by at two 19th century burials.

Steve and Terry get stuck in!

Steve and Terry get stuck in!

This would prove to be an interesting deposit as it contained a high concentration of fish bone and shellfish remains. All told, examples of cockle, mussel, crab, oyster, thornback ray and numerous other fish were recovered from the deposit, indicating that the area was used for the dumping of waste by the 19th century residents of the neighbouring All Saints Cottages.

Placement Ellen shows off Steve and Terry's latest crustacean find!

Placement Ellen shows off Steve and Terry’s latest crustacean find!

Features such as buildings and burials are imbued with a sense of self-representation, coming complete with deliberate choices of style and form that show us how the people who made or owned them wished to be seen. Refuse deposits are more honest – we do not edit what we throw away. They can offer a very intimate view into past lifestyles and diet that can often be almost too detailed!

An early 19th century crab claw.

An early 19th century crab claw.

Terry and Steve’s deposit provides us with a glimpse of the dinner plates of the people living along Church Lane two hundred years ago and reminds us of York’s former prominence as a major port. This wasn’t to be the final discovery of the week however, as Terry unearthed an intriguing object – a pipe bowl with Masonic markings.

Terry's latest find.

Terry’s latest find.

Close inspection of this clay pipe bowl reveals the traditional imagery of a compass and square over an all-seeing eye, suggesting that at least one of All Saints’ 19th century parishioners was part of the Freemasons. As we continue to pick apart this sequence of dumps and pits, we hope to learn even more about the lives of the former inhabitants of the site.

A closer look...

A closer look…

In Arran’s area, taster students Sam and Sarah took over work on a small slot into earlier deposits. They excavated a dump deposit that contained ceramics from Roman to 16th century in date.

Sam and Sarah.

Sam and Sarah.

Later in the week, Stuart and Kate from Arran’s homeland of sunny South Yorkshire carried on with the excavation of the deposit, revealing an earlier cut feature in the process.

Stuart and Kate.

Stuart and Kate and their favourite finds

In Gary’s area, Graeme spent a day excavating a deposit that pre-dates the brick floor of the Rectory, finding an array of post-medieval ceramics!

Graeme excavating an 18th century deposit.

Graeme excavating an 18th century deposit.

Week five really felt like something of a turning point in the summer excavation as, for the first time, more of the team’s time was spent working on features pre-dating the burials than the burials themselves. While a handful of as-yet undiscovered burials will no doubt be lying in wait, the bulk of them have now been found.

Discoveries such as Juliet’s medieval surface and Steve and Terry’s insights into early modern diet continue to add more jigsaw pieces to the complex puzzle that is All Saints, a site that doubtless has many more tales to tell. The week five team were a pleasure to have on-site, huge thanks go out to them from all of the Archaeology Live! team.

The week 5 team.

The week 5 team.

Until next time, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

 

 

 

 

Site Diary: Week 4

With a quarter of the summer 2015 excavation already behind us, week four saw the team really beginning to hit their stride. Numerous trainees were into their fourth week and were quickly becoming a lean, mean archaeology machine! With the addition of a group of new and returning trainees, hopes were high for an exciting week – and we weren’t disappointed!

Matt and Bri recording elements of the 18th/19th century Rectory

Matt and Bri recording elements of the 18th/19th century Rectory

Throughout the first three weeks of the season, Matt and Bri have forged a great partnership, picking apart the myriad structural features and alterations of a much-rebuilt rectory building that occupied the southern end of the site until the 1850s. As later walls, surfaces and drains have been recorded and taken away, more and more of the building’s older elements have been revealed, including tantalising stone footings that may even be medieval in date.

With all additional elements fully recorded, Matt and Bri’s first task of the week was to finish emptying out the construction backfills of the Rectory’s north-east walls and to record the walls themselves.

Bri working another masterwork.

Bri working another masterwork.

Once the 19th century walls were recorded, Matt and Bri could then get on with the fun bit: demolition!

Careful, controlled demolition of course…

Bri uncovering possibly medieval stonework beneath later brickwork.

Bri uncovering possibly medieval stonework beneath later brickwork.

What had been thought to be a continuous stretch of brickwork proved to be two separate walls joined by a rough patch of mortar and rubble. As the mortar was chipped away, more of the early stonework was revealed, proving to be more substantial than had been thought. The newly exposed stonework survives to at least two courses in height and is finely finished, with one stone exhibiting a chamfered edge.

As happens so often, exciting archaeological discoveries can pose more questions than they answer. The presence of this high status masonry suggests at least two intriguing possibilities: do we have surviving fragments of a high-status medieval rectory, or did the medieval building use recycled masonry from the church in its construction? As many parts of the building post-date this stonework, we will have to wait a little longer to solve this medieval mystery. For now, Matt and Bri turned their attention to a highly truncated fragment of the Rectory’s brick floor.

Recording a slither of brick flooring

Recording a slither of brick flooring

Surviving on a tiny island of archaeology between the 155 year old walls of the Church Hall and a Victorian drain trench, the fragment of floor wasn’t the most impressive structure!

Taking up the surface

Taking up the surface

Appearances, however, can be deceptive – the brick floor had a secret! With the floor lifted, Matt and Bri realised that there was something unusual about the material. Some of the fragments turned out to be re-used glazed floor tiles and one proved to be part of a chamfered mullion brick. All of the material was medieval and distinctly high-status, clearly the Rectory was making use of disused tiles from the church and part of a medieval window.

A chamfered medieval brick.

A chamfered medieval brick in profile.

Matt and Bri’s discovery serves as a reminder of the very different lives that can be lived by artefacts and that objects can often have quite the tale to tell. It seems that our medieval Rector was distinctly Yorkshire – why buy expensive brick pavers when you can make use of your surroundings and source material for free?

Matt and Bri and their re-used medieval CBM.

Matt and Bri and their re-used medieval CBM.

The pair brought their stay with Archaeology Live! 2015 to a close by beginning to excavate the remainder of a mid-19th century drain trench. The plan had originally been to leave the drain in-situ, although as the area around it descended, it was beginning to get in the way. It didn’t take long for some nice finds to emerge!

More nice finds for Matt and Bri!

More nice finds for Matt and Bri!

Within the backfill of the trench was a plethora of Victorian treasures, including an ornate copper button and a decorative lead weight. Matt and Bri can congratulate themselves on an excellent month’s work! We are beginning to piece together more of the Rectory’s story and finding that it no doubt has many surprises still in store for us!

Matt and Bri weren’t the only trainees to be ending a four week run on site. Joining us all the way from San Francisco, Sue’s first three weeks had seen her tackle a number of interweaving deposits and an infant burial. For her final week, a bigger task was in hand – an adult burial.

In a small world moment, Sue was partnered with a new starter named Gill who, as it turned out, had dug with Sue the previous year at the Burrow Hill excavations!

Sue and Gill get started.

Sue and Gill get started.

Sue and Gill proved to be a great team and made fantastic progress over the course of the week, recovering some fascinating finds along the way. As well as a copper strap end and a sheet of lead (stained glass repairs?), a nice range of ceramics were discovered. Gill found a decorated sherd of Roman Greyware in her first ten  minutes of troweling!

Gill's sherd of Greyware.

Gill’s sherd of Greyware.

Despite being a primarily utilitarian ware, this fabric often comes with incised decorations, typically in a diamond pattern.

A closer look.

A closer look.

A good amount of medieval pottery was also recovered, including some lovely sherds of locally made Brandsby and Hambleton wares.

Sue and a lovely sherd of green glazed pottery.

Sue and a lovely sherd of green glazed pottery.

It quickly became apparent that this was going to be one of our deeper burials, forcing Sue and Gill to adopt some gymnastic digging positions!

Getting deeper...

Getting deeper…

At a depth of around 500mm, the first fragments of a collapsed coffin began to appear, one of which offering a genuine surprise!

The majority of our timber coffins have been in a very poor state of preservation, surviving only as an organic stain in the ground. With delicate excavation, it is possible to reveal the outline of a coffin, allowing us to record the size and shape of the structure, as well as any decorative features that may have survived. Beyond this, however, little more can be gleaned about the grave fittings.

Thanks to a quirk of preservation, Sue and Gill were able to learn a little more about their burial. A fragment of the collapsed lid of the coffin was lifted and found to contain not just a tiny copper pin, but also a fragment of preserved fabric!

Amazing preservation of a scrap of fabric.

Amazing preservation of a scrap of fabric.

Proximity to metallic objects often impedes the decay of organic materials such as wood and fabric, and by pure fluke, the presence of an iron nail and the copper pin has made it possible to ascertain that this individual was buried within a shroud as well as a coffin. As the pin perforates the fabric, we can also learn that the shroud was held in place by pins.

Archaeology is unrivalled in its ability to pull such minute details of past lives from the ground. The discovery of this scrap of fabric serves as a reminder that we are spectators of a very solemn moment, separated only by the better part of two centuries.

The edge of a coffin emerges.

The edge of a coffin emerges.

By the end of the week, Sue and Gill’s delicate work really paid off as the outline of the intact edge of the coffin began to appear in the base of the cut. This discovery was a nice way to round off a very successful four weeks for Sue, who is already making plans to return next year!

Week 4 was the final week on-site for Alice from northern Italy. At the end of week three, she had just discovered the clear outline of a coffin within a grave cut on the trench’s northern edge.

Alice's coffin stain.

Alice’s coffin stain.

Alice’s first task of the week was to record the coffin and to locate the remains of the individual within.

Alice gets started.

Alice gets started.

Like Sue and Gill, Alice discovered a great range of pottery, from Roman to early modern. Scraps of lead sheeting were also recovered from this grave backfill that may relate to a suite of repairs to the stained glass of All Saints that occurred in the mid-19th century.

Alice's finds tray.

Alice’s finds tray.

Alice’s coffin proved to be our best preserved example yet, with much of the timber of the northern edge still in-situ!

Well-preserved timber.

Well-preserved timber.

After four weeks, Alice was recording and excavating to a professional standard. She quickly exposed and recorded the remains of an adult individual within the coffin before backfilling the burial with a cushion of finely sieved earth.

The next challenge was to look at the final possible burial in this part of the trench.

Alice begins work on another burial.

Alice begins work on another burial.

Alice took to the task with her usual brand of care, speed and efficiency. By the end of the week, the coffin of a small child had been exposed and fully recorded, allowing work to begin on revealing the skeleton. A touching discovery came in the shape of a cluster of copper pins around the skull, it seems that this infant was buried with a bonnet pinned to their hair – a highly evocative and very personal discovery.

Alice putting together the coffin records.

Alice putting together the coffin records.

Over four weeks, Alice recorded and excavated no fewer than 28 contexts, an achievement that must be an Archaeology Live! record!

Kristine and Koen

Kristine and Koen

Joining us from the USA and Belgium respectively, Kristine and Koen’s week began with the excavation of an accumulation of material that dates to the use of the graveyard. This revealed the outline of several new burials and gave ‘This End’ supervisor Gary a chance to better understand the most densely occupied part of the burial ground.

Koen & Kristine working on a burial.

Koen & Kristine working on a burial.

With a grave backfill recorded, Koen and Kristine were free to excavate. Slowly, the remains of a small child were revealed, adding to a growing trend in this area of the trench. There appears to be a distinct concentration of infants and juveniles to the immediate north-east of the Rectory’s yard wall and while the graves do not intercut, many infants appear to have been placed in shallow graves over existing adult burials.

Whether this trend is the result of a well-used family plot or a pandemic event may well remain uncertain as church records do not survive for this period – it remains a fascinating puzzle to piece together.

Recording the skeleton.

Recording the skeleton.

With the remains fully exposed, Kristine and Koen then recorded the burial in detail before cleaning up a new area to find yet more burials.

Kristine and Koen.

Kristine and Koen.

Close-by, returning trainees Iain and Anne teamed up to tackle what appeared at first to be an infant burial.

Iain exposing the outline of a burial.

Iain exposing the outline of a burial.

As excavation progressed, the grave grew ever deeper and it became apparent that this was not an infant burial after all.

By mid-week, Gary’s area was a hive of activity, with the whole team working on delicate features. This made for cramped working conditions as much of the site can’t be walked upon due to the shallow nature of many of the burials, nonetheless, the team coped admirably!

Archaeologists as far as the eye can see...

Archaeologists as far as the eye can see…

As the week progressed, Iain and Anne could have been forgiven for thinking that they’d never reach the base of their burial but, thankfully, there was eventually a breakthrough moment!

Iain finally reaches the base of the cut.

Iain finally reaches the base of the cut.

At a considerable depth, the remains of the individual within the grave cut were finally exposed and, intriguingly, the person had been buried face down. Historically, the northern side of the churchyard was reserved for less desirable members of society. Many medieval burials in York churchyards north of the church have been found buried face down or on unusual alignments, but this trend was dying out by the early modern period due to changes in belief and a pragmatic response to overflowing graveyards.

In short, the more likely explanation for this unusual burial is that it was carelessly loaded onto a cart for transport and that the simple nature of the coffin (and lack of a ‘this way up’ stamp…) made it impossible to discern whether or not it was upside down.

Alongside this interesting discovery, Iain also had a great find – a medieval silver penny. This marked an exciting end to Iain’s fourth season of Archaeology Live!

Iain's coin.

Iain’s coin.

Back in ‘That End’, Arran’s team were joined by tasters Louisa, Sophie and Annie who continued work on a 1m square slot aiming to provide a window into earlier deposits.

Louisa's first ever session of troweling.

Louisa’s first ever session of troweling.

The tasters recorded and excavated a deposit that pre-dates Sue’s linear feature (see the Week One site diary) and discovered a mix of finds from Roman to 19th century.

Sophie and Annie planning a new deposit.

Sophie and Annie planning a new deposit.

The mixed nature of the deposit makes it likely to be a levelling deposit, laid down in the 19th century to smooth off an area of rough ground.

Katie, Sophie and Annie.

Katie, Sophie and Annie.

In the new extension to the trench, Taralea was beginning her second of four weeks on-site. Joined by Ellen, who is herself a veteran of three seasons, Taralea continued the excavation of a drain trench dating to the 1860s.

Taralea and Ellen.

Taralea and Ellen.

As far as earthmoving is concerned, this area proved to be the most active part of the excavation. We knew that the cut would be around a metre or more in depth and that the material re-deposited within it would give us a clue in what to expect from earlier deposits.

Indeed, the trench proved to contain a great deal of disarticulated human bone, proof that the people who dug out the trench in the 19th century were disturbing medieval burials. As well as this macabre material, Ellen and Taralea were also finding more personal insights into medieval and post-medieval life along Church Lane. Ellen was sharp-eyed enough to spot a tiny copper alloy button or rivet, that may have once adorned an item of clothing or bridlery.

A very pleased Ellen.

A very pleased Ellen.

Taralea wasn’t going to be beaten however, as she responded with the discovery of an unusual piece of medieval pottery.

Taralea's pot sherd.

Taralea’s pot sherd.

Possibly part of a chafing dish (think medieval fondu…) or a highly decorative glazed roof tile, we’re looking forward to seeing what our medieval pottery specialist thinks of this one!

A closer look.

A closer look.

By the end of the week, Ellen and Taralea had made a real dent into the drain trench backfill and filled a number of finds tubs to the brim. The discovery of numerous fragments of broken ceramic drain pipes suggest that the drain was re-laid at least once.

Sieving in action.

Sieving in action.

Once the drain trench is emptied out, we will be able to investigate the earlier features and deposits that it cuts through and maybe even be able to meet some of All Saints’ medieval parishioners face to face.

Below the Tree of Finds, Toby, Gus and the finds team continued to work their way though the thousands of finds pouring from the trench. Each of these must be cleaned, dried and bagged by type in readiness for specialist analysis. A watchful eye must also be kept out for interesting finds that may require special treatment or research.

Finds washing in the July sunshine.

Finds washing in the July sunshine.

Highlights during week four included a very literal medieval half-penny.

A half-penny.

A half-penny.

Dating to a time when coins were worth their intrinsic weight in a precious metal, it was commonplace for coins to be divided into halves or quarters.

Going back even earlier, a Roman coin was also discovered!

Katie and a newly discovered Roman coin.

Katie and a newly discovered Roman coin.

Finally, part of a beautifully worked stone spindle whorl was noticed amongst a tray of pottery, tile and bone fragments. We’ve found a good number of these items now, some beautifully made, some quite simple – all of which harking back to a time when clothes had to be made and repaired as opposed to bought and replaced.

Part of a stone spindle whorl.

Part of a stone spindle whorl.

By the end of the week, as the team headed to the familiar comforts of VJ’s (our traditional Friday night haunt), everyone was rightfully proud of a great week’s archaeology. While there are numerous burials yet to be discovered and excavated, areas are slowly beginning to be cleared as we continue to creep earlier into the site’s past.

Huge thanks must go out to all of the week four team for making the project possible and doing such great work on-site!

The week four team.

The week four team.

We should also thank our team of placements for their tireless work, boundless enthusiasm and occasional sass (Donald…)

Becky, Donald, Katie, Dave and Gus, the week four placements.

Becky, Donald, Katie, Dave and Gus, the week four placements.

The week’s work wasn’t done there however, as the team returned to the trench on Saturday for our first oped day of the year. The event was scheduled to tie in with the national Festival of Archaeology and we were delighted to show around a hundred people around the site.

Visitors enjoying a tour of the trench.

Visitors enjoying a tour of the trench.

While Arran, Gary, Toby and Gus showed people around the trench and explained the sequence, Katie and Ellen were on hand to show off all of our favourite finds.

The finds table.

The finds table.

Of course, 2014’s star find and star of the 2015 T-shirt Dino made an appearance…

'Dino'

‘Dino’

This year's shirt.

This year’s shirt.

It’s always a pleasure to open up our sites to the public, we hope to do it again in the autumn.

That’s it for this week, keep your eyes out for next week’s exciting instalment of archaeology at All Saints!

Until then, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

 

 

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