Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 10.

Water water everywhere!? What on earth?

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Can’t rain all the time…

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

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

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Thumbs up if you love cow skulls!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's a 'yes' from me.

It’s a ‘yes’ from me.

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

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

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

Lori and Jen begin to excavate their grave backfill.

Lori and Jen begin to excavate their grave backfill.

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

Joan up to her old tricks.

Joan up to her old tricks…

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

Eleanor and her debut find.

Eleanor and her debut find.

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

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Eleanor’s bowl/saucer. Jolly civilised.

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

Joan and Eleanor getting their pit cut photo-ready.

Joan and Eleanor getting their pit cut photo-ready.

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

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Lori’s latest find.

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

Tah dah!

Tah dah!

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

A closer look at Jen's floor tile.

A closer look at Jen’s floor tile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iain working on his linear feature.

Iain working on his linear feature.

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

Iain's medieval jug handle.

Iain’s medieval jug handle.

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

Iain admires a 16th century Cistercian ware handle.

Iain admires a 16th century Cistercian ware handle.

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

Recording Iain's post hole.

Recording Iain’s post hole.

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

Iain and Rose hard at work.

Iain and Rose hard at work.

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

A wall footing emerges...

A wall footing emerges…

This discovery poses a number of questions.

  • How old is it?

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

  • Was this part of a large building?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Grave cuts in an empty trench.

Grave cuts in an empty trench.

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

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

Janice and Coco manning the dumpy level.

Janice and Coco manning the dumpy level.

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

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

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

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

Chris and Audrey hard at work.

Chris and Audrey hard at work.

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

Belle's window glass fragment.

Belle’s window glass fragment.

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

A little speculation never hurt anyone...

A little speculation never hurt anyone…

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

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

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

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

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

Fran trying her hand at troweling.

Fran trying her hand at troweling.

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

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Masons’ marks in a medieval column.

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

A medieval swan.

A medieval swan. Can you see the outline?

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

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

 

Steady feet required.

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

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

The stairs proved to be a snug fit.

The stairs proved to be a snug fit.

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

Ancient bells above All Saints

Ancient bells above All Saints

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

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

Clambering over the lower bells.

Clambering over the lower bells.

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

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Looking down from the upper belfry.

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

Looking up within the spire of All Saints.

Looking up within the spire of All Saints.

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

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Not a bad view really…

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

Modern graffiti

Modern graffiti in the lower belfry.

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

Coco and Chas looking at clay pipe stems.

Coco and Chas looking at clay pipe stems.

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

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

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

An 18th century pipe bowl.

An 18th century pipe bowl.

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

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

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

The week 10 team.

The week 10 team.

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

 

-Arran

 

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

Kind of.

Pearlware tiaras. It could take off...?

Pearlware tiaras. It could take off…?

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Absolutely fascinating, thank you for sharing

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