As 9.30am arrived on Monday of week nine, the new starters were welcomed on to site and hopes were high for an exciting week. After the amazing Roman and medieval finds of the previous few days, week nine had big shoes to fill. Could our lucky streak continue? There was only one way to find out!
In the centre of the trench, That End supervisor Arran had a theory to test and just the men to help him do it! With two seasons of Archaeology Live! already under his belt, Atlanta, Georgia resident Bill is a proven hand with a trowel and a real history enthusiast. Joining Bill in tackling Arran’s theory was Gilbert, a microbiologist making his first foray into archaeology. With tools gathered, the pair set to work in cleaning up an area that is yet to reveal any 19th century grave cuts.
With graves tightly packed at both sides of the trench, the seeming lack of any burials in this central area was not something we had been anticipating, although it may have an elegantly simple explanation. As the north doorway of the church opens directly on to this area, it is possible that this may have been a processional route into the burial ground. After all, it wouldn’t be ideal to be weaving around burials while carrying someone to their resting place.
To prove, or indeed disprove, this theory, all Bill and Gilbert needed to do was find a deposit or feature that pre-dates the year 1826 – the year that the area was consecrated. If archaeology earlier than this date survives, then no graves can possibly have been placed here.
The first deposit to be excavated was a levelling layer containing 19th century material. This was a frustrating find as it could sit either side of the year 1826, we were going to have to dig deeper to find the truth. On a brighter note, a good assemblage of finds were recovered including a stoneware bottle with a stamp that appears to read ‘bottle’. If only all finds were so clearly marked!
As well as 19th century finds, some significantly earlier material was also cropping up. Gilbert’s first ever dig was marked with a rather special find, a neatly struck silver coin that appears to be medieval in date. Not bad for a first-timer!
With the surface corrosion cleaned away by our team of conservators, we will hopefully be able to identify precisely when and where this coin was minted.
As excavation continued, Bill and Gilbert began to notice a change. Beneath their rubble-rich levelling layer a cleaner deposit was emerging, as was the clear outline of a small cut feature. It seemed that a new post hole had been discovered.
Once fully recorded, the feature was ready to excavate and it didn’t take long for us to quite literally smell a rat! The edges of the feature ran diagonally down beneath the surface as opposed to straight down – it was a 19th century rodent burrow!
With the excavations of their Georgian rat documented, Bill and Gilbert spent the remainder of their week cleaning up the deposit below. Would this context go on to prove our theory? We would have to wait until next week to find out. Archaeology can be a fickle mistress sometimes…
Just a few metres away, returnees Celia from North Yorkshire and Anne from Brisbane spent their week on some very delicate archaeology indeed – the burial of a 19th century infant.
There is only one way to approach the excavation of such features and that is with extreme caution. Not only is it crucial to treat the remains with the appropriate amount of care and respect, it is also vital to avoid causing any damage to the fragile bone and coffin remains.
Almost all of the infant burials encountered thus far have been interred within a timber coffin. After a century and a half in the ground, these generally survive only as a dark, organic stain, punctuated at regular intervals by the corroded remnants of iron fittings. A quirk of chemistry means that the decay of wood is slowed by proximity to metalwork, as such, it is possible to identify fragments of wood that still survive around the iron brackets and decorative brass plates of the coffins.
With careful excavation, the size, shape and materials used in our coffins can be revealed. After completing this task, Anne and Celia began to carefully expose the skeleton within the coffin.
It quickly became apparent that the remains had been heavily disturbed by root damage and animal burrowing and, as the burial was very shallow, it was necessary to lift the skeleton to protect it from any further erosion. The burial will be housed temporarily within the crypt of the church and will be re-interred when the ground levels on-site have been reduced, this will safeguard the remains from future re-development.
The high proportion of infant and juvenile burials provide us with a sobering reminder of the grim realities of life in the 19th century. In a time when modern medicine was in its infancy and living conditions were harsh for many, infant mortality was simply part of daily life. In this instance, Anne and Celia’s careful work has allowed us to witness a very personal moment of loss and reminds us that it is the lives people just like ourselves that we are investigating.
At the southern extreme of the trench, Scott and Sam joined us from the USA and Germany respectively to further investigate the sequence of deposits beneath the recently lifted 18th century floor of the Rectory.
Working in the shadow of the 19th century walls of All Saints Church Hall, Scott and Sam excavated a large make-up deposit that may have formed the base of a post-medieval floor surface pre-dating the later brickwork. Finds were in no short supply, as the deposit yielded eight tubs of ceramic building material and domestic waste!
Later in the week, Scott and Sam were joined by taster student Thomas, who helped them lift the last of the deposit. As each bucket of material was taken away, an earlier sequence was slowly being revealed. It seems that a sequence of pits were present in the area prior to the Rectory. This is an interesting discovery as pits are not features that you would expect to find inside a building – could we be looking at a different use of the area that pre-dates the original medieval Rectory?
Scant documentary records suggest that the church acquired the land in the 14th century, it will be interesting to see if the dating material within these pits follows this pattern. Scott, Sam and Thomas had a great week on-site, successfully taking the area back in time from the post-medieval to the medieval period.
Archaeology Live! legend Bri began his second stint of the summer by finishing the recording of a post-hole associated with the original medieval Rectory before moving on to a medieval levelling deposit.
Cut by numerous later walls and service trenches, Bri’s medieval deposit may provide us with an insight into what was happening on site before the medieval Rectory was built. As it turned out, however, Bri’s most exciting find was even earlier – the rim of a shell-tempered pot from the Viking period.
The inclusions of crushed shell were used as a temper, which allowed the pottery to be fired with a reduced risk of cracking in the kiln.
Over the 2015 season, we have found an increasing amount of Anglo-Scandinavian ceramics re-deposited in later contexts. It seems highly likely that there was considerable Viking activity in the area, which isn’t entirely surprising given the site’s waterfront location.
Later in the week, Bri was joined by Julia and the pair made good progress on their medieval deposit. Julia was lucky enough to find a beautiful base sherd from a post-medieval jug complete with fingerprint decoration from a later intrusion into the medieval horizon.
Over in Arran’s area, Beverley and Margaret’s week was spent working on a tricky sequence around two slowly emerging structures.
A small section of medieval brickwork and a fragment of a mortared stone wall have been slowly emerging as later deposits have been taken away. We cannot yet investigate these enigmatic structures until all later archaeology in the area has been dealt with, so Beverley and Margaret had a lot of work to do!
Convincing edges have proved hard to come by in this area, but Beverley and Margaret’s careful troweling soon paid dividends as clear edges finally began to emerge. While the surrounding area has been densely packed with 19th century burials, they were conspicuous in their absence in this space. As Margaret took away the last of a 19th century trample layer, however, a patch of yellow-brown sand was clearly cut on both sides by later features – we had found not one but two new graves.
Margaret and Beverley wasted no time in recording the first of these deposits and were quickly ready to begin excavation.
The grave backfill proved to be full of fascinating material and Beverley and Margaret quickly amassed an impressive range of Roman and medieval ceramics as well as 19th century material contemporaneous with the grave.
Over the wall in Contrary Corner, Charlie spent his two day taster course following the edge of a partially exposed coffin. Despite only having a few days of archaeological experience, he proved to be a careful and accurate troweller.
Close-by, taster student Maddy picked up work in a small slot into the medieval horizon. As the image below reveals, the ground level has changed significantly between the 14th and 21st century!
Calypso and Andrew’s taster day fell on the week’s only rainy day, but this didn’t deter them from getting stuck in! The father daughter duo worked on a 19th century trample layer in the central area of the trench.
Toby’s finds team continued to produce some cracking finds over the course of the week, including a piece of possibly Roman jet. While the object has not been carved, it may be an off-cut related to jet working.
A pair of broken and healed bones from the tail of a cat or small dog provided an insight into the misfortune of a 19th century pet.
Finally, a pot sherd was cleaned up that may be part of a medieval chafing dish. It seems wining and dining may have been a local concern in the Middle Ages!
Week nine turned out to be another week of great finds, new features and tricky questions. Thanks to all of the team for their sterling work and excellent company!
So, that sees us three quarters of the way through the season. We’ve already achieved an incredible amount, but as ever. there are always more questions to answer. Let’s see what the home stretch has in store for us!
Onwards and downwards!