Month: April 2016

Site Diary: Week 12

York is a wonderful maze of winding streets and hidden snickleways. Those who take the time to look above modern shop frontages will see an incredible array of historic architecture, where Roman soldiers, Elizabethan merchants and Victorian industrialists vie for your attention. The remarkable survival of the ancient fabric of York does, however, make finding spaces for archaeological investigation rather tricky!

The All Saints excavation, nestled in an impressive enclave of medieval buildings.

The All Saints excavation, nestled in an impressive enclave of medieval buildings.

Thankfully, this has never stopped the Archaeology Live! team from finding amazing sites to host our training excavations. The All Saints, North Street dig is one of the most significant excavations on the south-western bank of the River Ouse in recent memory and the 2015 season has seen the better part of two hundred people getting involved!

The week 12 team hard at work

The week 12 team hard at work

Over the last eleven weeks, the site had yielded many of its secrets and the team had made some remarkable discoveries. With just five days of the 2015 season left, we were keen to go out on a high!

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Virginia carefully revealing the decayed outline of a coffin.

Over weeks 10 and 11 a 19th century burial in the centre of the site had become something of a conundrum. While one side of a timber coffin with decorative brass fittings was clearly visible, its counterpart was proving very difficult to find. The task of finishing this challenging feature fell to Virginia who, after five seasons of Archaeology Live!, is very handy with a trowel!

An artefact emerging...

An artefact emerging…

While carefully excavating the backfill of the grave, Virginia unearthed a remarkable artefact! The object is made of copper alloy and is in excellent condition. With a hook at one end and a decorative head at the other, the artefact is similar in appearance to a modern crochet hook and appears to be a crafting tool.

Virginia and her copper alloy crafting tool.

Virginia and her copper alloy crafting tool.

Specialist analysis will hopefully give us a date for the object, although we already know that it is at least 161 years old!

Virginia's star find!

Virginia’s star find!

The finds that we have unearthed in our first two years at All Saints are providing a wonderful insight into the kind of tasks that filled the days of the area’s former inhabitants. With finds from the Viking period onwards associated with crafting, it is clear that the making and mending of fabrics was part of daily life.

A Viking or medieval spindle whorl made of antler discovered during the 2014 season.

A Viking or medieval spindle whorl made of antler discovered during the 2014 season.

Finding spindle whorls, pins, needles, loom weights and Virginia’s possible crochet hook gives us the chance to hold the tools that people in the past would have been all too familiar with. These crafting objects come in a variety of forms and materials; some are highly decorative while some are plain and functional.

As the week progressed, Virginia continued to discover some terrific finds, including a beautiful piece of moulded Samian ware.

A freshly unearthed sherd of Roman Samian ware.

A freshly unearthed sherd of Roman Samian ware.

Disturbed from its original context by a 19th century grave digger, the pot sherd would once have been part of a cup or bowl owned by a resident of Roman York’s colonia (civilian settlement). By the week’s end, Virginia went on to make one more unexpected discovery – the reason why the northern side of the coffin had proved so hard to find!

After locating the foot end of the coffin, the line of a second coffin became visible, running directly underneath the one Virginia had so carefully exposed. It was now apparent that we were looking at another grave with multiple occupants, where the coffins of relatives were placed one on top of the other within a family plot.

In the years following their burial, the timber of the coffins would have decayed and eventually given way, resulting in the upper coffin collapsing down towards the lower one. It was this collapse that made the coffin so hard to define. With the mystery solved, Virginia delved deeper into the grave and revealed the remains of a young woman. Once these remains had been recorded in detail, they were once again covered over.

At the northern end of the trench, Alistair began his second week on-site by completing the records of a juvenile inhumation discovered in week 11.

Archaeology Live! placement Katie and Alistair recording a 19th century burial.

Archaeology Live! placement Katie and Alistair recording a 19th century burial.

Clear signs of disease and malnutrition had made the excavation of this burial an emotive experience and one that certainly helped to bring home the tough realities of 19th century life. With the remains recorded and re-buried, Alistair took over the excavation of a nearby burial with an unusual brick-built grave marker.

Alistair recording a 19th century grave marker.

Alistair recording a 19th century grave marker.

This burial is the only grave so far to feature a surviving monument and it seems that whoever built the structure was not terribly concerned about their work. The un-mortared structure comprised of a stack of recycled medieval brick laid over a large limestone block which had been placed directly over the head end of the coffin. When the coffin rotted and gave way, the stonework slid down into the grave, badly damaging the skull of the individual it had been laid to commemorate.

Now you see it...

Now you see it…

With the grave marker cleaned up, drawn and photographed, Alistair was then free to dismantle it.

Now you don't.

Now you don’t.

While excavating the remainder of the grave backfill, Alistair spotted an unusual object.  Made of copper alloy, the object was hollow, with a decorative head and a ribbed shaft. While opinion in the trench remained divided, it is most likely to be some form of decorative fitting and certainly one we’ll look forward to hearing specialist feedback on.

Alistair's mystery object.

Alistair’s mystery object.

By Friday, Alistair had fully exposed the line of the coffin and the remains within. This individual proved to be a robust adult male with rather bad teeth. The records were completed, the remains were re-covered and we were able to reflect on meeting another 19th century parishioner of All Saints, North Street.

Alistair recording a 19th century burial.

Alistair recording a 19th century burial.

Over at the southern end of the trench, Anne and Paul’s week got off to a similarly evocative start as they recorded and excavated the burial of an infant. Being a small and fragile feature, this called for some delicate excavation!

Paul and Anne working on an infant burial.

Paul and Anne working on an infant burial.

Despite dying in infancy, the individual within the burial was still furnished with a coffin and, remarkably, Anne and Paul were even able to reveal surviving timbers.

Revealing a tiny coffin.

Revealing a tiny coffin. The timber is visible as a lighter brown stain in the soil.

After completing work on their burial, Anne and Paul’s next task took them much further back in time. Over the course of the season, structural elements associated with an 18th/19th century re-build of All Saints Rectory have been carefully recorded and removed. This process has slowly revealed an area of intact medieval archaeology that pre-dates the Rectory structure.

The first deposit to deal with was a dump deposit that contained evidence of nearby domestic activity.

Anne and Paul investigating a medieval dump deposit.

Anne and Paul investigating a medieval dump deposit.

Anne and Paul’s fine trowel work revealed a thin but distinct lense of ashy, charcoal rich material that was most likely cleared out from a domestic hearth. More evidence of medieval activity was present beneath the layer of ash and charcoal in the outline of a pit containing more burnt material and domestic waste (animal bone, pottery, etc.).

Recording a medieval pit backfill.

Recording a medieval pit backfill.

As seems to be the case with all of the best features, the pit was only just within our excavation area, but Anne and Paul were able to excavate the uppermost layer of the material infilling the pit. The deposit contained a good amount of limestone and mortar fragments, possibly relating to the demolition of a nearby building.

Excavating a medieval refuse pit.

Excavating a medieval refuse pit.

Anne and Paul had made a truly intriguing discovery. We are clearly looking at relics of the day to day lives of people who inhabited the site prior to the construction of the first Rectory in the 14th century, but so far we have only found indirect evidence of this. Where were the houses these people lived in? What were they doing to make a living? As always, the best discoveries can pose as many questions as they answer – we’ll have to wait for the 2016 season to find out!

Towards the centre of the trench, Rosemin began her second week on-site where she left off the previous Friday – trying to prove or disprove one of site supervisors Gary and Arran’s theories (always a gamble!)

Rosemin and Gus pondering a tricky deposit.

Rosemin and Gus pondering a tricky deposit.

The theory goes that the centre of the plot served as an entranceway into the 19th century graveyard. If this is true, there should be an absence of burials while deposits of pre-19th century date should survive. So far, a number of 19th century features had been excavated, but the 18th century horizon was proving elusive!

Undeterred, Rosemin set up to excavate a sondage (a small trench within a trench) with the aim of getting a peek at the slightly deeper lying archaeology.

Rosemins

Rosemin’s sondage

As the week progressed, it became apparent that the archaeology was not going to reveal its secrets quite so easily. Rosemin’s patient troweling revealed a mixed dumping deposit, but early 19th century ceramics were still present and the decision was taken to halt work on the sondage until the surrounding area has been excavated to the same phase of activity. Despite this frustration, Rosemin was rewarded with a beautiful find – a fragment of a Roman drinking vessel.

Rosemin and her Nene Valley colour coated hunt cup

Rosemin and her Nene Valley colour-coated ‘hunt cup’

The pot sherd featured the clear image of the legs of an animal and is a classic example of what is known as a ‘hunt cup’. These decorative fineware drinking vessels were produced in the Nene Valley in the 2nd-3rd century and often depicted human and animal figures in scenes representing hunting.

While we’ll never know which Roman citizen drank from this vessel, it adds a little more colour to a growing picture of domestic life in the colonia. With evidence of heated floors, precious metals and fine jewellery, this picture is increasingly one of leisure and luxury.

Nene Valley colour-coated hunt cup

Nene Valley colour-coated ‘hunt cup’ sherd.

At the end of the week, Rosemin shifted her attention to a second sondage in the north-east corner of the site. This slot had already revealed a number of medieval deposits that had been truncated by a 19th century linear feature. Due to the depth of the feature the linear had not been fully excavated, but with the neighbouring deposits now removed, it was now safe to delve a little deeper.

Rosemin working in her second sondage.

Rosemin working in her second sondage.

Rosemin successfully established and recorded the base of the feature and also unearthed another surprise – two burials that pre-dated the linear. As this is a small, investigative slot, only the very head end and foot end of the burials were visible. Thankfully, enough of the burials were exposed for Rosemin to locate the coffins and remains within and, perhaps more importantly, to date the features. The form and material of the coffins and ceramic finds from the grave backfills proved the burials to be of the same date as the majority of our graves – 1826-54. This was a fantastic result, giving us a much clearer picture of the sequence at the very edge of the graveyard.

Rosemin, Katie and Ellen enjoying the thrills of recording.

Rosemin, Katie and Ellen enjoying the thrills of recording.

Long time YAT finds volunteer Jean returned to site to brush up her archaeological skills and spent the week excavating a peninsular of medieval archaeology that has been highly truncated by 19th century features.

Jean and Ellen discussing their latest finds.

Jean and Ellen discussing their latest finds.

Jean unearthed a substantial number of finds, with a real range of materials. The wealth of domestic waste mixed in with brick and tile demolition rubble suggests that this deposit was laid down as a levelling dump, utilising whatever materials were to hand to raise the ground level. The site’s position close to the waterfront, in an area that has historically been very prone to flooding, suggests that it may have been laid down in response to a particularly severe inundation.

Jean exposing a medieval deposit.

Jean exposing a medieval deposit.

Beneath the layer of mixed dumping, Jean began to notice a change. A layer of firmer, more clay-rich material began to emerge – we were clearly at the beginning of a complex sequence of medieval layers which will be further investigated in the 2016 season.

At the far south-western corner of the trench, archaeology enthusiasts Alex and Angela enjoyed a taster course working on a medieval pit. Having travelled all the way from Utah, the pair made great progress on the feature and successfully dated it to the 14th century.

Alex and Angela working on a medieval pit.

Alex and Angela working on a medieval pit.

The dating of the pit is significant as it pre-dates the earliest incarnation of the Rectory, proving that it was built in, or after, the 14th century. The pit also contained a large quantity of earlier material, with ceramics from the 11th-12th century appearing frequently. A particularly exciting find was the intact rim of a Norman Gritty Ware cooking pot.

Alex, Angela and their star find.

Alex, Angela and their star find.

With the pit recorded, the week drew to a close and the realisation that our fifteenth season of Archaeology Live! had ended began to dawn on the team. It had been a vintage year!

Katie, Alex and Angela recording their pit cut.

Katie, Alex and Angela recording their pit cut.

The last week of a season is always memorable and week 12 this year was no exception, with a plethora of surprise discoveries emerging from the ground. The day ended in the usual way, with a wrap up of the latest discoveries taking place in beautiful sunshine.

Week 12 draws to a sunny close.

Week 12 draws to a sunny close.

As ever, we must thank our marvellous team of trainees for supporting the project. Archaeology Live! receives no external funding and if it wasn’t for the hard work and dedication of our trainees, none of our fantastic discoveries would ever had been made. The 2015 season ended with a great evening in one of our favourite York bars, with the team making merry and reminiscing about a cracking season!

The week 12 team.

The week 12 team.

A special mention should also go out to our amazing team of placements, without whom the project wouldn’t run quite so smoothly! Our placements often go on to careers in professional archaeology, we’re happy to say that the discipline is in safe hands.

Week 12 placements Ellen, Becky and Katie.

Week 12 placements Ellen, Becky and Katie.

So that’s a wrap. Thanks for following the project and watch this space for updates on the 2016 season! Until next time, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

 

Spring News

April update from York

It’s been a damp and chilly spring in York, but it’s all happening at Archaeology Live HQ!  Here’s an overview of our latest news:

Extra weekend dig!

Due to astonishing demand, we’ve opened up a fourth weekend excavation for the summer and we’re already down to the last two places! Click here for more info on the courses.

Post-excavation courses

Our Winter 2016 Post-Excavation courses are now open for bookings. These courses are open to anyone with previous Archaeology Live! experience and offer a unique opportunity to learn what happens to site records after an excavation is completed. Trainees will look at the primary archive from our All Saints, North Street excavation and learn how to process, manage and analyse the data. For full info on the courses, click here.

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Digitising records.

Archaeology Live! 2016

York is home to some of Britain’s best preserved and most complex archaeological deposits. In 2016, we will be digging in not one, but two sites in the heart of the city.

The All Saints, North Street excavation, summer 2015

The All Saints, North Street excavation, summer 2015

On the west side of the River Ouse, within the Roman colonia, our All Saints, North Street dig will enter its third year. Click here to learn more about the site and how to get involved.

On the east side of the river, close to the Roman fortress, we will be returning to the site of our 2006 season to further investigate a sequence containing some fascinating archaeology. In particular, we will be looking for evidence for a Viking predecessor to the medieval church of St. Saviour’s. Click here to learn more!

Setting up to plan, St. Saviour's 2006

Setting up to plan, St. Saviour’s 2006

Spring Season 2016

We had a fantastic start to the new digging season between March and early April. We are currently writing up the site diaries for our Spring excavation, which yielded a few real surprises! Watch this space for updates.

A freshly unearthed glazed medieval floor tile, April 2016.

A freshly unearthed glazed medieval floor tile, April 2016.

In 2016, we’re opening up new ways for you to get hands-on experience of some nationally significant archaeology. Whether you’re behind the scenes helping us create a site report, or out in the trench unearthing the latest finds, you’ll be on the cutting edge of an amazing archaeological project!

To find out more about any of our courses or to book your space to join the team, email us at trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

St. Saviour’s 2016

York is a city with an abundance of internationally significant archaeology and over the last 16 years our training excavations have made some truly amazing discoveries! This summer, we’ll be taking things up a notch and opening up a second excavation in the heart of the city and this time we’re on the hunt for the Vikings!

Cleaning back in 2006

Cleaning a newly opened trench back in 2006

Where is the site?

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St. Saviour’s Church, York

We will be excavating immediately adjacent to DIG on a plot of land next to the St Saviour’s Church. To some of you this will be familiar to this site as we located Archaeology Live! 2006 on that site – we are returning after a decade away.

It goes without saying that the same great training will be taking place at All Saints North Street, the site we started in 2014, but there is now a second option.

This will be limited to those who have already completed some training with us as we will be running this season with a slightly less tightly structured training schedule.

When is the excavation?

We will be excavating at St. Saviour’s from Monday June the 27th, for 8 weeks until Friday 19th August.

How do I get involved?

As mentioned above, this excavation is limited to those who have previous Archaeology Live! experience. There is, however, the option for new starters signing up for a two week course to get the best of both worlds and do one week at each site. Course costs will be the same for each of the two sites, email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk to book your place on this groundbreaking dig!

Duration                                       Price                                   Returnee/Friends of YAT

One week £250 £230
Two weeks £440 £400
Three weeks £580 £530
Four weeks £690 £640
Excavating a medieval gully.

Excavating a medieval gully.

What will we find?

Commercial excavations in 2004, Archaeology Live! 2006 and building recording that took place in 2012 have all highlighted a complex sequence of buildings, roads, other structures and activity which goes back to the Viking period. There are also significant volumes of Roman finds which suggest there will be Roman archaeology at lower levels if they are reached.

During 2016 we aim to further investigate the southeast part of the site looking at;

  • What remains of the buildings on the site & how much they have disturbed earlier deposits?
  • Was there a specific landscaping event at this side of the site which levelled off the natural slope of Hungate?
  • Is there the same wealth of medieval archaeology that was seen just to the north in the 2006 dig?
  • Finally…. Can we prove that the burials across the site are actually Viking in date?
Setting up to plan a newly exposed structural sequence.

Setting up to plan a newly exposed structural sequence.

In 2006 we started work knowing there was good archaeology on the site, we just didn’t know just how much and how close to the surface this was. During the setup week it was immediately apparent that we were in for a great summer!

Planning an intact hearth.

Planning an intact hearth.

All through the summer the site was producing Roman finds. As those of you who have dug with us already know, this is very normal for the complex urban archaeology that we excavate during the Archaeology Live! training excavations.

Cleaning up cobbled surfaces

Cleaning up cobbled surfaces

The earliest features we found were most probably Viking in date with traces of timbers in clear lines, linear cut features as well as burials. This may indicate Viking buildings or plots may be present on the site as well as suggesting that there was an earlier timber church that stood where St Saviour’s presently stands. This would be an amazing discovery!

In the medieval period things became very busy with a substantial road and a number of walls, most probably from buildings. We also had a lot of finds, including quite a collection of worked bone fragments. This may relate to specific craft activities across the separate plots which would have extended across the site.

 

Into the post medieval period the buildings were extended and covered a good portion of the site. A so much medieval material was re-used in this process it may be that there is an even more complicated picture than what we already thought.

A fragment of a Viking composite comb.

A fragment of a Viking composite comb.

So, plenty to look at in a short period of time and lots of tantalising questions to answer! Medieval buildings and roads, historic crafts, Viking burials and, potentially, a new chapter to the history of one of York’s famous churches. It’s all to play for.

Depending on what we find this year, we may be able to look further into the site over a longer period of time. This could be the start of something big!

To join the St. Saviour’s excavation, email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

 

 

 

 

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