Author: archaeologylive (page 3 of 8)

Site Diary: Spring 2016, Week 2

The second week of the 2016 excavation at All Saints, North Street saw the team dealing with archaeology as unpredictable as the weather. Despite the best efforts of the intermittent drizzle, a number of intriguing discoveries were made and the sunshine did eventually make an appearance.

Dramatic skies over York.

Dramatic skies over York.

Week 2 of the spring excavation saw a number of new trainees joining the team and hopes were high that we would be able to answer some of the questions thrown up in week 1.

Work starts in a slightly damp trench.

Work starts in a slightly damp trench.

Kate and her new digging partner Sally began their week by recording the cut of a burial that was lifted in week 1. Suspicions that the grave overlaid an earlier burial were quickly confirmed when the outline of a rectangular feature on the correct alignment became visible in the base of the cut.

Sally pointing out the edge of a newly discovered grave cut.

Sally pointing out the edge of a newly discovered grave cut.

At Archaeology Live! we teach the Single Context recording methodology, a system that breaks archaeological features down into their individual components, i.e. a pit cut with two distinct layers of backfilling would be recorded as three separate contexts (one cut and two fills). Each context is photographed, geolocated and described in detail prior to excavation.

Back in 2014, the inaugural All Saints team cleaned up the site and identified which of the many deposits was the last to be laid down. As this was the latest event in the site sequence, it was the first to be excavated. Over the last two years, each successive team has been following on from this, teasing apart the relationships between features and excavating them in reverse chronological order. The result of this work is a complex stratigraphic sequence that sets each context in a known place in the All Saints timeline. Over 700 contexts have already been dealt with!

This painstaking process is allowing us to discover the story of the site and as each feature is excavated, the team travel a little further back in time. Kate and Sally’s discovery of a new burial meant that their first job was to define its extent and to record the backfill in advance of excavation.

Archaeology Live! placement Maddy guiding Kate and Sally through the delicate excavation process.

Archaeology Live! placement Maddy guiding Kate and Sally through the delicate excavation process.

As the week progressed, it became apparent that this burial was particularly deep and would not be easy to excavate. Unfazed by the challenging conditions, Kate and Sally successfully located the outline of the coffin and the skull and torso of the individual within, an excellent achievement given the circumstances!

Tricky digging conditions.

Tricky digging conditions.

Sally and Kate’s hard work was rewarded with a great find – a fragment of glazed medieval tile that would once have been laid within the church.

Kate proudly displays her glazed medieval floor tile.

Kate proudly displays her glazed medieval floor tile.

As locating, recording and, where appropriate, lifting the remainder of our 19th century burials is one of the major priorities of the 2016 season, much of the team were engaged in similar work. Between 1826 when the site was incorporated into the churchyard of All Saints and 1854 when all of York’s churchyards were closed, many parishioners were laid to rest within our excavation area. In the case of deeply buried adults, the graves are being located, recorded and re-covered with a protective layer of sieved earth. Shallow burials of infants and juveniles are being carefully lifted for reinterment within the church. All burials are receiving a field assessment to record any osteoarchaeological detail.

The sun makes a belated appearance.

The sun makes a belated appearance.

Archaeology students from UCL Yuqi and Jia spent week 2 continuing work on a grave cut with numerous occupants. In week 1, they established that the grave had been re-opened to receive the remains of a tiny infant burial and the first task of the week was to carefully lift the remains.

Yuqi and Jia recording an infant skeleton.

Yuqi and Jia recording an infant skeleton.

While the interment of the additional infant had clearly been done with care,  it was evident that an even earlier infant burial had been damaged in the process. It goes without saying that whoever dug the grave in the 19th century wouldn’t have intended this, but this discovery highlights the demand for space in York’s Gerorgian and Victorian burial grounds.

Yuqi and Jia demonstrated some patient trowel work and were able to record and lift the second infant burial before the end of the week. Despite the two infants having passed away at such a young age, they were both clearly afforded proper burials and were laid to rest within decorative timber coffins with brass plates. This has been something of a trend at All Saints and reminds us that no-one was immune to the hardships of 19th century life.

A fragment of a decorative metal plate from a 19th century coffin.

A fragment of a decorative metal plate from a 19th century coffin.

Close to the ruins of the former Rectory, Yannick and Ann spent their second week on site revealing further evidence of of 19th century illness.

Yannick and Ann

Yannick and Ann

Often, long term and even terminal health problems can leave little or no mark on the skeleton, making it difficult for archaeologists to identify a definitive cause of death. In the case of Ann and Yannick’s inhumation, however, there was clear evidence for a serious case of osteomyelitis. An infection of the bone, osteomyelitis is very treatable when diagnosed early, however, in the days before antibiotics it could easily lead to major complications.

In the case of Ann and Yannick’s individual, one of the femurs had become extremely swollen, with visible holes through which pus would have flown. This would have been an incredibly painful condition to live with and may even have led to the death of the individual; a fascinating but sobering discovery.

Imogen and Alice sieving the excavated backfill of a burial.

Imogen and Alice sieving the excavated backfill of a burial.

Other teams dealing with burials included Alice and Imogen and Penny and Jan. Both pairs were faced with difficulties such as variable preservation and challenging digging positions, happily they all battled through and carried out some excellent excavation work.

Jan and Penny

Jan and Penny cleaning around the remains of a timber coffin.

Once excavated, the sections of Jan and Penny’s burial showed evidence of in-situ stratigraphy, suggesting that no earlier burials are present below. This was an encouraging find, as it means that not all of the site’s post-medieval stratigraphy has been disturbed by 19th century burials.

The final grave to be investigated was located close to the walls of the later Church Hall. Chris and Julia spent their third taster day cleaning up what turned out to be a sequence of inhumations within a single plot. As collapsing coffins had caused the remains to concertina down on top of one and other, identifying articulated remains was going to be a challenging task!

Chris and Julia carefully exposing the latest in a sequence of burials within a family plot.

Chris and Julia carefully exposing the latest in a sequence of burials within a family plot.

Despite the identification and excavation of 19th century burials being the main focus of the week, a number of earlier features were also investigated. The mother and daughter team of Sian and Anna excavated a sequence of deposits that survived in a thin slither of archaeology between two later graves.

Sian and Anna begin work on a sequence of deposits that pre-date the 19th century burials.

Sian and Anna begin work on a sequence of deposits that pre-date the 19th century burials.

Despite working in somewhat cramped conditions, the pair identified a number of separate deposits that may once have been surfaces within one of the 18th century workshops that occupied the site before the graves.

The star find from the sequence was unearthed by Anna, the handle of a fine Humber Ware jug (most likely 14th-16th century). While we are yet to reach medieval deposits in this area, it is a very promising sign of what’s to come!

Anna showing off her medieval jug handle.

Anna showing off her medieval jug handle.

Gary joined us for a two day taster course and spent his first ever day of archaeology excavating a curious brick and tile built structure.

Gary begins to lift an edge-set tile surface.

Gary begins to lift an edge-set tile surface.

As it is truncated by a pair of 19th century grave cuts, the structure must pre-date 1826, however, the ceramic building material within it is medieval in date. This meant that the date of the feature was somewhere between the medieval period and the early 19th century -could Gary tighten up the dating for us?

Gary exposes a stone footing while Kate works on a later burial.

Gary exposes a stone footing while Kate works on a later burial.

With the tile surface and brick superstructure lifted, a substantial stone footing for the feature was revealed. This tantalising development suggested that we were looking at a larger oven feature as opposed to a simple hearth, but we still didn’t know the construction date!

In the end, it was the week’s most unassuming find that gave us the crucial dating evidence, a tiny sherd of tin glazed earthenware from the mid-late 18th or early 19th century. By finding this datable artefact within the mortar and stone of the structure, Gary had revealed that it must have been built in the decades immediately preceding the consecration of the graveyard. It’s amazing what a tiny sherd of a dinner plate can tell you!

Gary's tiny (but crucial!) pottery sherd.

Gary’s tiny (but crucial!) pottery sherd.

The week drew to a close with a session on stratigraphic analysis and a spot of gentle finds washing. Everyone agreed that we had made some industrious progress in understanding the 19th century burials and the deposits and features that pre-date them.

Gary leading a stratigraphy seminar.

Gary leading a stratigraphy seminar.

After months of waiting, the spring excavation was all but over! Happily, it had been a great success and a lot of fun! Thanks to all of the trainees and placements, none of this would be possible without you!

The Spring Week 2 team.

The Spring Week 2 team.

Our next site diaries will look at our weekend digs and (when I catch up) the beginning of the summer session. Speaking from experience, I can guarantee a few surprises! In the meantime dear friends, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

Site Diary: Spring 2016, Week 1

Springtime in the British Isles. A time of change and renewal heralded by trumpeting daffodils and a flourish of birdsong. Verdant growth returns to barren trees and the days steadily become longer and warmer. Unless, of course, you are trying to carry out an archaeological excavation in Yorkshire.

Springtime on North Street (before the rain!)

Springtime on North Street (before the rain!)

Following a spell of settled sunny weather, the rain clouds inevitably gathered just in time for the Grand Départ of the 2016 season. The site had lain silent and empty for six long months and the latest wave of brand new archaeologists were excitedly waiting in the wings. Sadly, we’d have to wait just a little longer to hear the music of trowels return to the trench.

Thankfully, there’s much more to archaeology than just excavation, so the team had plenty to get on with in the warmth and shelter of All Saints church, our rather stunning site hut. While the rain lashed against the beautiful stained glass, the site induction was followed by a tour of the church led by Dr. Robert Richards. All Saints has been in constant use for the best part of a millennium and there is good evidence to suggest it is older still, so the ancient fabric of the building is awash with wonderful insights into the beliefs, politics and perils of the people who have worshipped here over the centuries.

Finds processing.

Finds processing.

After lunch, site supervisors Gary and Arran introduced the team to the theories and techniques we would be using in the trench, before beginning work on processing our already rather formidable assemblage of finds. In urban archaeology, it is not uncommon for a single context (i.e. the backfill of a post hole) to contain tens or even hundreds of finds. Each set of finds recovered from a given context are cleaned and allowed to dry, before being sorted into various categories such as pottery, animal bone and so on. This sorted material can then be analysed by specialists, providing an extra layer of detail to our interpretations. It was at this point, that we spotted the season’s first star find.

Anns star find!

Ann’s star find!

Hidden amongst a jumble of bone and pottery was a fairly unassuming fragment of antler, spotted by the keen eyes of York local Ann. It was immediately apparent that we had happened upon a noteworthy find, one that could even take us back in time to the dense forest that once covered the land north of York.

Viking antler comb fragment.

Viking antler comb fragment.

In the years following the Norman conquest, huge areas of the countryside were declared Royal Forests, meaning common land that had been a source of fuel, food and raw materials for centuries was now reserved exclusively for the use of the elite. This legislation acted as a catalyst for changes that can easily be seen in the material culture that we find in York. Prior to this royal acquisition, antlers shed by the many red and fallow deer that roamed the Forest of Galtres in York could  be collected and put to use by Anglo-Scandinavian traders and craftsmen.

Antler is a useful and highly versatile material that was utilised extensively in York during the 10th to 12th centuries. One of the more common objects to be manufactured were composite bone and antler combs. Raw antler was cut into thin plates held together by bone or antler panels that would often be incised with intricate decorations. Once the plates and panels were riveted together, the teeth of the combs would be carved – a painstaking operation! For wealthier Viking individuals, these combs were a real status symbol and a recent study has revealed them to have played an important role in Anglo-Scandinavian culture.

By spotting this previously un-noticed find, Ann had got us off to a great start!

An antler composite comb unearthed on the Coppergate excavations

An antler composite comb and case unearthed on the Coppergate excavations

Tuesday saw blue skies and more seasonal weather return to York and the team got to work in cleaning up the trench following its long abandonment.

The sun returns!

The sun returns!

A primary goal of the 2016 season is to gain a full understanding of the density, nature and location of the burials that were interred between 1826 and 1854. No church records regarding these burials have survived, so it will be up to the archaeology to tell us more about life and death in the parish during the 19th century. A definite trend was noted during the 2015 season wherein infant and juvenile burials were placed at a far shallower depth than adults, thereby rendering them highly vulnerable to damage. Over the course of 2016, these shallow inhumations will be carefully recorded, lifted and re-buried in the ossuary of All Saints Church. Adult burials will be recorded and left in-situ below a protective layer of sieved earth.

The team carefully excavating 19th century burials.

The team carefully excavating 19th century burials.

Following her remarkable start to the week, Ann teamed up with Swiss archaeology enthusiast Yannick to record and excavate our smallest coffin yet. The individual laid to rest in this grave must have died at a very young age as very little of the skeleton had survived. Through some precise and very cautious troweling, Ann and Yannick were able to define the outline of the decayed timber coffin in which the infant was buried, before lifting the remains and placing them within the church. Infant mortality was very high in 19th century York and Ann and Yannick’s measured and respectful work has revealed another forgotten tale of loss from the ground.

Ann and Yannick hard at work.

Ann and Yannick hard at work.

Elsewhere on site, the teams of Kate and Ella and Kirsten and Alice were also tasked with the delicate work of recording and excavating infant burials.

Kate and Ella begin work on their first burial.

Kate and Ella begin work on their first burial.

Kate and Ella did an excellent job of exposing, recording and lifting their burial and they also discovered that the inhumation had been placed above at least one adult individual. The second individual was buried at a far greater depth, meaning Kate and Ella had a lot of digging to do!

Planning a 19th century inhumation.

Planning a 19th century inhumation.

Alice and Kirsten took over the excavation of a more unusual infant burial that had initially been discovered back in 2015. While the excellent levels of preservation in York have allowed us to see and record the outlines and decorative features of many of our coffins, this burial had something else – the fragile remains of a name plate. While over 150 years of corrosion had left the plate incredibly delicate, the words ‘aged 0 years’ remained legible. This was an evocative moment for the team and it was certainly a privilege to witness such a personal moment of All Saints’ long history.

 

Alice and Kirsten squaring away their records.

Alice and Kirsten squaring away their records.

At the northern end of the trench, Jia and Yuqi spent their week working on an equally difficult burial. In this instance, an adult grave had been re-opened to allow for the interment of an infant. Burials like these demonstrate the re-use of grave plots to receive the remains of numerous presumably related individuals.

Jia and Yuqi begin work on their first burial.

Jia and Yuqi begin work on their first burial.

Excavating and recording a skeleton is a delicate and considered process that is complicated further when numerous individuals are placed on top of each other. Yuqi and Jia were more than up to the task and made excellent progress.

Excavation in warm spring weather.

Excavation in warm spring weather.

The first week of the new season wasn’t only about burials, trench supervisors Arran and Gary were also keen to delve further back into the history of the site.

Returning trainees Lydia and Cheryl picked up work on a small area of archaeology surviving between a number of later graves and pits. Several layers have already been recorded and excavated in this location, revealing a sequence of post-medieval dumping and refuse disposal, it was now time to find what was laying in wait for us below.

Lydia and Cheryl exposing a medieval deposit.

Lydia and Cheryl exposing a medieval deposit.

Revealing a brand new archaeological context for the first time is always an exciting moment and Lydia and Cheryl’s deposit didn’t disappoint. As the remnants of the overlying layer were troweled away, a much lighter and more clay rich deposit began to appear, containing pottery of 11th to 15th century date. The new layer was cleaner with less in the way of domestic refuse than had been seen above. Perhaps we are looking at an attempt to raise the ground level following a period of flooding, perhaps we have revealed an intact medieval surface. This will be an area to watch in the 2016 season!

David and Lindsey enjoyed a productive taster day working on an even more truncated slither of archaeology that had survived between a pair of later graves. Their first task was to complete the excavation of a dump deposit of late 18th century date and it didn’t take long to come across an unexpected surprise – a surviving cobbled surface.

David and Lindsey preparing to record a truncated cobble surface visible at the bottom of the shot.

David and Lindsey preparing to record a truncated cobble surface visible at the bottom of the shot.

The many 19th century burials have left the earlier archaeology looking something like a swiss cheese, although it is still possible to learn a lot about the older material. David and Lindsey’s surface will prove to be an invaluable piece to a complex puzzle, each piece giving us a more complete picture of the site’s industrial use in the late 1700s. The floor would once have been situated within a roughly built timber shed where evidence so far suggests that metalworking was practiced – not a bad discovery for a pair of brand new archaeologists!

Finds washing in the sunshine.

Finds washing in the sunshine.

After a long winter spent waiting for the new season, the first week of the spring dig seemed to fly by! The first team of the 2016 excavation were fantastic fun to have on-site and carried out some stellar work. As Friday drew to a close, the team took some time to reflect on our latest discoveries, from tragic tales of young lives cut short, to tantalising glimpses into life in the height of Viking York. Not a bad start, not bad at all!

The Spring 2016 week 1 team.

The Spring 2016 week 1 team.

As always, everyone at Archaeology Live! express our thanks to the trainees that make the project possible. We are entirely funded by the fees paid by the team and none of our discoveries would be possible without their hard work and boundless enthusiasm – especially in the unpredictable spring weather!

So that’s us up and running, watch this space for updates on the rest of the spring season. It seems like we’re in for some amazing archaeology!

Onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

 

A History of Archaeology Live! Year Three: St. Leonard’s 2003

Since the end of the 2015 season, the Archaeology Live! team in York have been kept very busy with a varied succession of excavations, watching briefs and a never-ending mountain of post-excavation work! With the summer season just around the corner, now seems like a good time to delve back into the Archaeology Live! archives and look back at the discoveries from a previous season. Having already reviewed the 2001 and 2002 excavations, let’s take a trip back to 2003…

The summer of 2003 proved to be the hottest summer for thirteen years! While war in Iraq and the retirement of Concorde grabbed the headlines, current Archaeology Live! supervisors Arran and Gary were still undergraduate students at the University of York. Project Director Toby, however, was already in the thick of it – graduating to the role of Assistant Site Manager in 2003. As the dig progressed the team kept a detailed site diary, so we’ll let them tell the story in their own words.

So, pop the kettle on, pull up a comfy chair and join us as we take a trip thirteen years back in time…

St. Leonard’s Site Diary 2003

The Lord Mayor breaks ground.

The Lord Mayor breaks ground.

“To summarise the discoveries to date: the investigation of the south-west defences of the Roman legionary fortress has been concentrated on part of the stone inverval tower SW6 in Trench 1, which is thought to have been built about AD200 and was only demolished during redevelopment of the medieval hospital of St Leonard around 1250.

A hospital stood on the site by 1100, when a two-storey stone building (almost certainly the infirmary) with a vaulted undercroft was built between the Roman tower SW6 and the west corner tower of the Roman fortress (known as the Multangular Tower). Extensive evidence for occupation within the undercroft, probably including cooking and metal-working, was recovered. The hospital was largely demolished after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, and the site used for industrial purposes. During the 19th century the site was cleared and landscaped, and it remains a lawn to this day, albeit it briefly augmented by an air-raid shelter during World War 2.

The strategy for 2003 is to complete the excavation of that part of Trench 1 under the standing remains of the medieval hospital undercroft (the part outside the standing building was excavated to the bottom last year), and to continue the excavation of Trench 3. In addition up to three additional trenches may be excavated, in order to answer questions raised by the work carried out to date. For those thinking about taking part in the dig in the future, be warned that 2004 is expected to be the final year, with the completion of the excavation of Trench 3 and any additional trenches that have been opened.

On with the excavation!

The first wave of trainees

The first wave of trainees

Week 1, 7–13 July

Although the previous season of excavation at St Leonard’s Hospital seems like yesterday, it was indeed time for the third summer season of the dig to begin at the start of July. There was a hectic week of site preparation, with the visitor access laid out and the large volume of backfill from Trench 3 removed by machine. On 8th July the site was opened to visitors, following the official opening by the Lord Mayor of York, Chas Hall, and the Lady Mayoress.

On the same day the first group of trainees began their training on the excavation, and after their introduction to the site they were soon getting their hands dirty with digging, site recording and finds work. 

Trench 1 under excavation

Trench 1 under excavation

In Trench 1, the excavation of the dumps underlying the standing remains of the medieval infirmary, which had begun in 2002, continued. These deposits were formed by the large-scale tipping of soil and other waste prior to the construction of the large Anglo-Norman timber buildings found last year, which may have been part of the original medieval hospital. Although the Roman interval tower excavated at the north-west end of Trench 1 has yet to be reached at the southern end, the large quantities of Roman pottery found already suggest the tower is not much lower down. 

Recording the column base in Trench 3

Recording the column base in Trench 3

In Trench 3, work concentrated on the investigation of the initial construction of the original infirmary undercroft, which is thought to date to about AD1100 (give or take a few decades). After no little effort the column base that has been for so long a feature in the centre of the trench was removed, and was found to have rested on a platform of mortared limestone fragments.

Two of the more interesting finds made this week were part of a decorated bone object; and an oyster shell that had been perforated, perhaps for use as a pendant.

A worked bone object

A worked bone object

Week 2, 14–20 July

Despite very changeable weather the excavation progressed well, with another full complement of excavation trainees. In Trench 1 the excavation of dump deposits, probably of 11th/12th century date, continued. There was no sign of the south-east wall of the Roman fortress interval tower SW6, but we are confident it is down there somewhere! In Trench 3 the foundation platform for the column base in the centre of the trench was removed, revealing an area of cobbles. It is assumed these cobbles are in a foundation pit that provided further support for the column, but only time will tell.

A view of Trench 3. Can you spot the cobble foundation in the centre of the trench?

A view of Trench 3. Can you spot the cobble foundation in the centre of the trench?

With the return of Assistant Site Manager Toby Kendall from secondment in France, it was possible to open up the first of the new trenches. Trench 5 lies to the north-west of Trench 3, and is intended (among other aims) to locate the north-west end of the infirmary block and to investigate the relationship of this structure to the Roman Multangular Tower at the west corner of the fortress. The garden topsoil and other modern deposits were removed.

Trainees learning to use an EDM

Trainees learning to use an EDM

A new course for 2003, surveying, was run during this week. Toby Kendall demonstrated the basic surveying techniques, including laying out a site grid and drawing building elevations, and the use of an Electronic Distance Measurer (EDM) to record features on a site. Geophysical survey was taught by Dr Mark Noel (GeoQuest Associates), Professor of Geophysics at the University of Durham.

Apart from allowing the trainees to develop the surveying skills and techniques, the course made possible further recording of the medieval hospital and adjacent structures. The geophysical survey was carried out at Acomb Grange, a monastic farm close to York that was run to provide food and other materials for the hospital. A good time was had by all.

Romans meet Vikings

Romans meet Vikings

Over the weekend, special events were laid on as part of the National Archaeology Days organised by the Council for British Archaeology. The re-enactment group Comitatus provided demonstrations of living history at the end of the Roman period on one day, and on the second day laid out a ‘history street’ forming a physical timeline of the history of the site from early Roman times to the medieval period. Sandra Garside-Neville presented a display on brick and tile. Russell Marwood demonstrated war-gaming with a re-construction of the battle of Powicke Bridge, the first engagement of the English Civil War.

A notable find from Trench 5 was a Roman voussoir brick with a wedge-shaped profile, which would have been used in the construction of archways or vaulting. It is possible such vaulting was employed in the construction of the Roman fortress towers.

Profile of Roman voussoir brick

Profile of Roman voussoir brick

Week 3, 21–27 July

Another very busy week on the excavation, with a full complement of excavation trainees and another group undertaking the first artefact study course of the year. So far an average of 1,300 people per week have visited the excavation, which is very encouraging.

Visitors enjoying a display of the latest finds

Visitors enjoying a display of the latest finds

The artefact course examined the whole range of finds and environmental material from several contexts dating to the early years of the medieval hospital. This showed that a great deal of waste material had been dumped on the site during the construction of the hospital. One layer produced amphibian bones and snail shells from the environmental samples, suggesting it may have been collected from alongside the nearby River Ouse. Although much of the pottery from these contexts was Roman, the small amount of 9th-12th century pottery showed that the Roman pot was residual (that is, it had been around for a long time when it was dumped) and the contexts actually dated to the time of the medieval hospital.

Excavation continues in Trench 1

Excavation continues in Trench 1

On the excavation, in Trench 1 further medieval dumps were excavated, but there was still no sign of the south-east wall of the Roman interval tower SW6. Perhaps this part of the tower had been more thoroughly dismantled than the north-west wall observed in 2002.

In Trench 3 the limestone platform supporting the undercroft column was removed, revealing a large cobble and clay-filled pit. This feature is comparable in appearance to that already partly excavated towards the south-west end of the trench, and is likely to be quite deep (so as to minimise settlement of the building). Meanwhile excavation of the levelling deposits at the north-east end of the trench continued, producing a wide range of mainly Roman finds.

Medieval levelling deposits under excavation in Trench 3, with the foundation pit in the background.

Medieval levelling deposits under excavation in Trench 3, with the foundation pit in the background.

A fragment of Roman Samian pottery with the maker's stamp VIDU[CIUS?]. This high-quality red-slip ware was made in Gaul (modern France).

A fragment of Roman Samian pottery with the maker’s stamp VIDU[CIUS?]. This high-quality red-slip ware was made in Gaul (modern France).

In Trench 5 a large rubble-filled cut was found in the south-west part of the trench. This is almost certainly the demolition cut for the World War Two air-raid shelter. An impressive range of finds of Roman to modern date was recovered from the fill.

A general view of the site looking north-west towards the Multangular Tower, showing Trench 3 in the foreground and Trench 5 to the rear.

A general view of the site looking north-west towards the Multangular Tower, showing Trench 3 in the foreground and Trench 5 to the rear.

Trench 5 under excavation, showing the air-raid shelter demolition cut in the background

Trench 5 under excavation, showing the air-raid shelter demolition cut in the background

Week 4, 28 July–3 August

This was yet another busy training week with all 16 trainee places snapped up. Most of the people were from the UK, but the USA was represented. Over 2000 people visited the site this week, a brilliant achievement, bringing the total this season to over 6000. Most visitors have gone away from the excavations saying how fascinating and interesting the work that we are undertaking is.

Trench 1

Yet more medieval deposits were excavated, but on the final day of the week a short length of masonry wall was uncovered. Could this be the south-east wall of the Roman interval tower at long last? This trench was now approaching its safe depth limit of 1m, and the sides were shored up in order to ensure the sides of the trench (and the standing medieval undercroft) do not collapse.

A newly shored Trench 1

A newly shored Trench 1

Trench 3

A major advance in the excavation of this trench occurred this week, with the erection of a shelter on a specially designed metal frame. This shelter should ensure that the trench is protected from the weather, be it soaking rain or baking sun.

More 11th/12th-century levelling deposits were removed to the north-east of the column base position. These layers had a distinctly green hue, and were thought to be mostly dumps of waste material. They were divided into two working areas; one side was removed rapidly using mattocks to look at the overall nature of the dumps, whereas the other side was more carefully dug layer by layer.

Digging a medieval foundation pit

Digging a medieval foundation pit

Excavation of the clay and cobble fill of the column base foundation began in earnest. A surprisingly large number of mostly Roman finds were recovered, including many fragments of painted wall plaster.

Painted Roman wall plaster

Painted Roman wall plaster

Was the construction of the medieval infirmary associated with the demolition of major Roman buildings in the vicinity?

Trench 5

The large cut found last week now occupies the entire south-west half of the trench. The rubble fill includes much reinforced concrete, and is clearly derived from the demolition of the World War Two air-raid shelter. In the north corner of Trench 5 a narrow cut with vertical sides, aligned west to east diagonally across the trench, came to our attention.

Excavating the air-raid shelter demolition cut in Trench 5. The orange sand visible in the section forms the upper fill of the cut; a similar deposit was found in the uppermost fill of the same cut in Trench 3 in 2001.

Excavating the air-raid shelter demolition cut in Trench 5. The orange sand visible in the section forms the upper fill of the cut; a similar deposit was found in the uppermost fill of the same cut in Trench 3 in 2001.

Excavating the 20th-century archaeological trench in Trench 5

Excavating the 20th-century archaeological trench in Trench 5

It is thought to be a 20th-century archaeological trench, probably following the south wall of the Roman Multangular Tower where it projected back inside the fortress. Yet more great finds dating from the Roman period through to modern times were recovered from the backfills of these features.

Week 5, 4–10 August

It’s been a brilliant week, with almost as many visitors to the site as the previous record week. Trainees from Italy, the USA and England were treated to the usual rigorous tuition. It was great to see some familiar faces from last year returning; some may suggest they were gluttons for punishment! Read on for the exciting new developments within the trenches.

Trench 1 under excavation

Trench 1 under excavation

Trench 1

Hurrah! Further investigation of the masonry uncovered last week showed that it was indeed the south-east wall of the Roman interval tower SW6. However, it had been almost entirely demolished, and even the facing stones on the inside of the wall had been removed. Evidently the series of medieval deposits excavated in recent weeks were the backfills of a large robber trench that had been dug down to and around the tower wall in order to remove the usable stone.

Investigating the wall of interval tower SW6 and the medieval robber cut in Trench 1.

Investigating the wall of interval tower SW6 and the medieval robber cut in Trench 1.

These deposits contained much domestic rubbish, including pottery, brick and tile. These finds suggest an 11th/12th-century date for the robbing, although most of the finds were residual (much earlier than the date of their deposition) and included a prehistoric struck flint.

Trench 3

Work continued on the complex sequence of green dumps at the north-east end of the trench. Excavation also continued within the medieval foundation pit in the centre of the trench.

Excavating the Anglo-Norman levelling deposits in Trench 3. The undercroft foundation pit is visible to the left.

Excavating the Anglo-Norman levelling deposits in Trench 3. The undercroft foundation pit is visible to the left.

Several stake-holes and an unsual slot were also revealed this week. The slot was associated with a large post-hole or small pit, both being backfilled with deposits which were an olive greenish brown colour. It is difficult, at present, to imagine the functions or uses of these two features, but they appear to have been in use during the construction of the Anglo-Norman infirmary undercroft.

General view of Trench 3 looking south-west. The medieval foundation pit under excavation is in the centre of the trench, and beyond it the cobble fill of an adjacent foundation pit is visible.

General view of Trench 3 looking south-west. The medieval foundation pit under excavation is in the centre of the trench, and beyond it the cobble fill of an adjacent foundation pit is visible.

Artefacts recovered this week included fragments of glass, metal-working slag, a stone bead and a copper object, possibly a bezel with an amber insert.

 

 

Trench 4

English Heritage agreed that, as we were making good progress with the excavations, another of our proposed new trenches could be opened up.

Excavating the overburden in Trench 4

Excavating the overburden in Trench 4

Trench 4 will expose two features previously uncovered during the recent excavation programme – part of the medieval stone drain, which was found in our Trench 2 in 2001; and the entrance to the World War Two air-raid shelter, revealed by Time Team in 1999 (link prologue). This trench is also designed to assess whether the deposits associated with the Roman fortress and the medieval hospital survived the 19th-century excavations and the air-raid shelter construction. Work began on the removal of the modern overburden of topsoil and gravel.

Trench 5

This week there was a determined effort to try to remove the thick rubble layers infilling the demolished air-raid shelter. In doing so we reached the safe excavation depth limit of 1.5m in this trench. In addition to the usual fine array of Roman and later finds recovered from these layers, an unusual metal vent was found. This vent was probably situated on top of the air-raid shelter to let air into it from the surface.

View of Trench 5 looking west, with the Multangular Tower behind

View of Trench 5 looking west, with the Multangular Tower behind

In the north corner of the trench we have continued to explore a 20th-century archaeological trench. Although it is thought this trench follows the line of the south wall of the Roman Multangular Tower, the wall has not yet been located despite the removal of considerable depth of backfill deposits. The impressive range of finds unearthed in these fills, dating from the Roman period onwards, is intriguing, as it suggests that the excavators at that time didn’t keep as many of their finds as we do nowadays!

Excavating the vent in the air-raid shelter demolition deposits, Trench 5

Excavating the vent in the air-raid shelter demolition deposits, Trench 5

Week 6, 11–17 August

What a week for visitors! This has been an exciting time on the training excavation, the busiest ever for visitors. We smashed all existing records for visitor numbers to the St. Leonard’s Hospital excavations, pulling in 2,123 visitors this week.

Over 10,000 people have now visited the excavations since the start of July and seen the exciting world of deep urban archaeological excavations.

Visitors watch the finds work takingplace on site.

Visitors watch the finds work takingplace on site.

To add to the visitor experience, staff and trainees have been showing the public the processes behind finds work – cleaning, cataloguing and recording the finds as well as the detailed finer points of environmental processing – searching for tiny animals bones, charred seeds, nuts and grains and other important ecofacts.

Trench 1

More of the Roman interval tower wall was exposed, showing that the wall had been even more thoroughly robbed than originally thought, down to foundation level. Many mortar fragents were found at this level, no doubt resulting from the demolition of the wall.

The south-east wall of interval tower SW6 in Trench 1, with the medieval robber cut and its fills visible in the foreground.

The south-east wall of interval tower SW6 in Trench 1, with the medieval robber cut and its fills visible in the foreground.

Artefacts recovered from the medieval robber trench backfill deposits included fragments of early Roman Gallo-Belgic ware, particularly that known as Terra Nigra, as well as some Roman glass.

Trench 3

The excavation of the medieval foundation pit had now reached a depth of about 1.5m with no signs of the base of the cut appearing. Clearly the medieval builders had constructed suitable foundations for the massive infirmary building. The green dumped deposits being excavated on the north-east side of the trench were found to contain much domestic waste as well as charcoal, burnt clay and metal-working debris.

A view of Trench 3 looking north-east, down the slope of the fortress rampart.

A view of Trench 3 looking north-east, down the slope of the fortress rampart.

These deposits were mixed with material thought to have been taken from the Roman fortress rampart. This probably shows how the even surface for the construction of the medieval infirmary was formed, by removing the top of the rampart and dumping it on the lower slope of the rampart along with any other marterial that was at hand.

Excavating in Trench 3, with a stepladder being used in the medieval foundation pit for access!

Excavating in Trench 3, with a stepladder being used in the medieval foundation pit for access!

The large quantities of Roman finds in these deposits is therefore not so surprising. Roman artefacts recovered this week including fragments of window and vessel glass, several coins and more painted plaster.

 

Trench 4

After the removal of the modern overburden, the positions of Time Team’s trench excavated in 1999, and the edges of Trench 2 which we excavated in 2001, were identified. This exercise also revealed that some archaeology survives between these two trenches as well as in the area to the north-west of the Time Team investigation, which bodes well for the future.

Trench 5

During this week we have been concentrating on unravelling the relationship between the deposits infilling the World War Two air-raid shelter and a 20th century excavation trench.

Excavating the 1950s trench in Trench 5, with the World War Two air-raid shelter cut behind.

Excavating the 1950s trench in Trench 5, with the World War Two air-raid shelter cut behind.

Careful excavation revealed that the excavation trench was in fact later than the air-raid shelter demolition deposits and therefore probably dates these excavations to the 1950s. During this painstaking excavation a further possible excavation slot that pre-dated the air-raid shelter was also revealed. This may equate with Miller’s investigation of the Multangular Tower in the 1920s. The sections revealed by the re-excavation of the 1950’s trench suggest that a complex sequence of archaeological deposits survives in this area – a tantalising glimpse into what will be dug over the following weeks. Artefacts recovered this week included medieval glazed floor tiles and the jug handle from a medieval flagon.

Trainees and staff relax at the end of another successful week!

Trainees and staff relax at the end of another successful week!

Week 7, 18–24 August

Smashing the record for weekly visitor numbers is becoming a recurring habit here at St. Leonard’s; an incredible 2200 vistors touring the excavations this week. Total visitor numbers for this season have now passed the 12,600 mark. Work continued with training and excavating within all of the trenches, with most trainees coming from the UK, but with one from Switzerland. Read on for exciting new developments and dilemmas.

Trench 1

Excavation continued within the Roman interval tower SW6. Although this trench had largely reached its safe depth limit, permission was given by English Heritage to excavate a small slot in the middle of the trench through the deposits within the tower, to search for deposits and features associated with its occupation.

Cleaning the top of rampart deposits

Cleaning the top of rampart deposits

This has revealed that the main south-east wall in this part of the interval tower had been robbed of facing stones, and the concrete beam on which it was constructed chipped away; this robbing had also removed any occupation deposits within the tower. The deposits that backfilled this robbing activity were very different from the dumps excavated in Week 6. They consisted of sand and burnt clay and tile suggesting that the material derived, at least in part, from the demolition and clearance of a hearth structure or furnace close by. Only Roman pottery including Samian and rusticated wares were recovered this week. Could this suggest that the wall was robbed in the Roman period?

Trench 3

Having removed all of the green dumps on the eastern side of the trench, we began tackling a series of homogenous dumps this week These appear to mimic the slope of the Roman rampart that we imagine survives at a lower level. Could this material have derived from the levelling of part of the Roman rampart in the 11th or 12th century?

Excavation in trench 3

Excavation in trench 3

Some medieval material was recovered, but the majority of the finds consisted of Roman material including painted plaster, pottery and glass. A shell bead and a very well preserved plated iron nail were also recovered.

Trench 4 from the undercroft

Trench 4 from the undercroft

Trench 4

As work at the southern end of the site has concentrated within trench 1 this week, little progress was made in trench 4. Minor inroads were made into excavating out the backfills of the Time Team trench (1999) and trench 2 (2001) with fragments of tile, pottery and glass being recovered. Watch this space!

 

 

Trench 5

This week the team has focussed on revealing the position, orientation and detail of a Victorian gravel path that sweeps across the excavation area in a north to south direction; the continuation of this path was excavated in Trench 3 in 2001. This would have been one of the principal routes through this part of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society’s Garden of Antiquities situated here in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Cleaning up demolition deposits in the air-raid shelter.

Cleaning up demolition deposits in the air-raid shelter.

The path consists of a complex sequence of lensed gravel, clinker and mortar deposits edged during its later use by large limestone blocks. More of the latest path survived than originally thought, though it had been damaged to the west during the construction and demolition of the World War 2 air-raid shelter and subsequent landscaping.

Planning the Victorian path

Planning the Victorian path

A great selection of artefacts recovered from the landscaping deposit that sealed the path dated from the prehistoric period (flint scraper/tool) to the relatively modern (Victorian hair clip and a modern pen-knife).

Fragment of Samian pottery recovered from trench 3 showing a running lion.

Fragment of Samian pottery recovered from trench 3 showing a running lion.

Week 8, 25 – 31 August

This week was a quieter one for both trainees and visitor numbers perhaps relating to the fact that the schools go back soon. Visitor numbers were good, but considerably down, with 1,359 people viewing the excavations. The total number of visitors so far this season was just short of 14,000 by the end of the week. Even though the workers were few, enthusiasm was alive and kicking, and as a result, much was achieved.

Trench 1

Excavation focussed, at last, on the rampart deposits at the southern end of the trench. These deposits were the only ones excavated so far this season that could definitely be Roman in date and character.

Excavating rampart deposits in Trench 1.

Excavating rampart deposits in Trench 1.

The rampart deposits consisted of a complex sequence of interleaved sandy deposits, heavily disturbed by animal burrowing, which were very difficult to excavate stratigraphically. The deposits were a revelation however, as they revealed that the interval tower SW6, rather than being built into an earlier rampart, was actually constructed first and the rampart piled up against it. This is the first time in the excavations history that we have revealed evidence to suggest this. Only a few artefacts were recovered from the rampart deposits including several sherds of York ware Roman pottery dating from the 1st or 2nd century AD.

Dry sieving of archaeological deposits from Trench 3 to retrieve small artefacts.

Dry sieving of archaeological deposits from Trench 3 to retrieve small artefacts.

Trench 3

This week, a three pronged approach was used to tackle areas of archaeology in this trench. Firstly, at the west end after a thorough clean a large number of post- and stake-holes were revealed. This brought back memories of the 2002 season, when hundreds of these features were exposed and excavated at the eastern end of the trench. Luckily these were easily identified and dealt with rapidly.

Checking records as the foundation pit gets ever deeper!

Checking records as the foundation pit gets ever deeper!

Secondly, excavation proceeded again within the central foundation pit associated with a column of the 13th century hospital undercroft (see week 5). Four pieces of medieval glazed roofing tile came from the deposits excavated from within the foundation pit as well as a glass melon bead. The foundation pit is now c. 1.7m deep and still going! Could the pit go all the way down into natural deposits?

Excavating levelling dumps on the eastern side of Trench 3.

Excavating levelling dumps on the eastern side of Trench 3.

The third prong involved the removal of further homogenous dumps at the eastern end of the trench. These again produced a nice array of finds dating mainly to the Roman period including glass, pottery and a coin, although we are fairly confident they are still 11th or 12th century in date.

Trench 4

Within this trench, excavation focussed on excavating a slot through the backfill of trench 2 which we excavated in 2001. The top of the substantial 13th century drain revealed in 2001 was re-exposed at c. 0.40m below the present ground surface. Quantities of brick, tile and pottery were recovered as well as one half of a pigs jaw with an intact set of teeth including the tusk and incisors.

Excavating deposits within the air-raid shelter demolition cut.

Excavating deposits within the air-raid shelter demolition cut.

Trench 5

With fewer trainees this week, work focussed on cleaning the last of the landscaping deposits, discussed last week, off the gravel path within the Yorkshire Philosophical Societies garden of antiquities.

The path looking north-east.

The path looking north-east.

In the process of doing so the true appearance of the path, during its last phase of use, perhaps in the 1930’s, was revealed. A narrow gully was exposed on the western side of the path, cutting through the latest of its surfaces, Could this have been dug to drain rain water off the path and into the deep landscaped area within the multangular tower?

A fragment of a double-sided bone or horn comb, perhaps of medieval date was recovered from the landscaping deposits on top of the path.

Setting up a planning frame in trench 5

Setting up a planning frame in trench 5

Week 9, 1- 7 September

Here we are again, at the end of another busy, exciting and productive week. Trainees from all over the UK were given a thorough grounding in the techniques of archaeological excavation, within a deep urban environment, learning the skills of the archaeologist. Trainee numbers bounced back this week, with renewed vigour, which was very encouraging. Enthusiasm for the subject was, as always, running extremely high. Visitor numbers continued the trend of last week, with the end of the summer holidays for schools, only c. 1100 visiting this week, a far cry from the 2200 visitors in week 7. Still, we have had 15205 visitors so far this season, well up on the same time period last year.

Excavation of rampart deposits in Trench 1.

Excavation of rampart deposits in Trench 1.

Trench 1

Excavation within this trench continued to focus on carefully peeling apart the individual layers that make-up the Roman rampart on the south-east side of the interval tower SW6. This has been much harder than expected, as the ground, due to its sandy nature, has been prized by burrowing animals in the past. Few finds were recovered from these deposits as they consist of small patches and layers of mostly redeposited sandy natural from the surrounding area.

Flint flake recovered from the rampart deposits in Trench 1. Approximate size 15mm long.

Flint flake recovered from the rampart deposits in Trench 1. Approximate size 15mm long.

Trench 3

Carrying on from last week, dumps of material that were laid down to the north-east of the Roman rampart in the 11th or 12th century, continued to be excavated. These deposits are also proving tricky to peel apart.

Looking south-west up the rampart.

Looking south-west up the rampart.

The dumps appear to have been thrown down the slope of the rampart from south-west to north-east in a rapid succession. As a deposit settles, material appears to scatter down the slope of the rampart, the edges of the deposit become blurred with the rapid build-up of further dumps that occurr above it. This creates difficulties in defining the full extent of a context, and also the definition of fresh ones. The dumps are fairly similar in colour, composition and character and therefore, as you can imagine, it is difficult to define one dumping episode from another.

Digging deep at the north-east end of Trench 3!

Digging deep at the north-east end of Trench 3!

The top of an L-shaped cut was also exposed this week, truncating the sloping rampart deposits. Could this be an attempt to shore up the rampart with a wooden structure? An addition of a building to the rampart in Roman or Viking times? Or a slot to define a property, or boundary that ran up the slope of the rampart?

Bone object, possibly a measuring spoon, bowl diameter c.18mm across.

Bone object, possibly a measuring spoon, bowl diameter c.18mm across.

Further excavation may produce an answer as we investigate this strange feature further. All suggestions however can be posted via the web discussion rather than by postcard! Artefacts recovered from this trench this week included a possible bone measuring spoon of probable medieval date along with a selection of other finds dating from the Roman and medieval periods.

Glass melon bead, 16mm across.

Glass melon bead, 16mm across.

Trench 4

New trainees were hard at it removing more backfill material to reveal the medieval drain within the previously excavated trench 2 (2001) this week. Two-thirds of this has now been exposed, with many finds being recovered from the backfills. In 2001 some of the modern deposits, such as the backfill of the 1940’s air-raid shelter, were removed by machine rather than being carefully hand excavated and sieved.

Putting trainees through their paces in Trench 4!

Putting trainees through their paces in Trench 4!

It is likely that the finds originate from deposits which were machine cleared or rapidly excavated with mattocks and shovels. It is impossible on any archaeological excavation to get 100% finds recovery, so this exercise is a good case in point. The percentage of recovery of artefacts from a deposit very much depends on the method of excavation used.

Trench 5

An inticate sequence of interleaved paths, dating to the late 19th and early 20th century have been investigated this week. For many visiting members of the public, these deposits are what brings archaeology to life, as they can imagine men and women in Victorian garb parading along this path within the Garden of Antiquities.

Trench 5 looking north

Trench 5 looking north

Further deposits within the air-raid shelter demolition cut have also been tackled this week, another feature on the site that stirs peoples memories and brings history to life for members of the public. Several copper alloy objects, perhaps part of a Roman vanity set, were recovered from this trench this week, along with a selection of other finds from Roman to modern times.

The gravel path under excavation in Trench 5.

The gravel path under excavation in Trench 5.

Week 10, 8 – 14 September

“I dig it”, “The best £1 I have spent ever” and “Keep up the good work”; these are some of the many enthusiastic and encouraging comments that members of the public have left us in our visitor book this season. Some 16,500 people have seen the training excavation so far this year.

We have been busy this week training a healthy number of module and taster trainees, most of whom originate from the UK but with a trainee from the USA. To hear about the challenges faced this week read on.

Trench 1

A fantastic discovery made this week was the remains of a turf rampart, sealed by the material that was banked up against the back of the later Roman fortress wall. Could this earlier defensive feature date to 71AD when the IXth Roman Legion first arrived in York? Amazingly, it was still possible to see the individual turf blocks used in this early rampart’s construction, and although no finds were recovered this week, we are hopeful that further excavation may produce dateable finds from these deposits. Watch this space.

Excavating the earlier Roman rampart in Trench 1

Excavating the earlier Roman rampart in Trench 1

Trench 3

Within this trench, the removal of the homogeneous dumps on the north-east side of the trench last week revealed a clay deposit which became much thicker to the north-east, thereby forming a level surface against the back of the Roman rampart. A single post-hole was associated with this levelled area.

Excavating the clay feature in Trench 3

Excavating the clay feature in Trench 3

Could this be a flat platform for a building situated close to the rampart, or a yard or work area? In either case, this is the first evidence for human activity on the site between the Roman and medieval periods. It may represent the use of this part of the former Roman fortress as a hospital before the Norman Conquest – a Viking hospital!

Placement Dave Harwood drawing inside the medieval foundation pit in Trench 3

Placement Dave Harwood drawing inside the medieval foundation pit in Trench 3

This really would fill in one of the blank spaces in York’s history; only further investigation will tell. The clay sealed the backfill of the L-shaped cut revealed last week, so the clay has been the focus of our work this week, as it was more recent in date. As most readers probably know archaeologists dig backwards in time, from modern times to the prehistoric, defining and digging each individual context and interpreting each event or activity as they are revealed by the excavation process.

The clay levelled area contained a fragment of pottery that may date it to the 11th century. A possible hone stone and fragments of glazed roof tile were also recovered this week.

Trench 4

Excavation continued within the backfill of the former Trench 2 (2001), virtually all of which has now been removed, exposing the medieval stone drain and previously unexcavated archaeological deposits to either side. Although we will not be able to investigate these deposits this season, we are already looking forward to tackling them next year. A hole, or sluice in the top of the medieval drain, was rediscovered this week. This may have been used to get rid of liquid waste from the kitchens, which were situated in the medieval hospital undercroft. A wide selection of finds dating from Roman times to the modern period were recovered from the backfill of Trench 2 this week including pottery, animal bone and ceramic building materials (brick and tile).

Investigating 19th century garden features; note the stones forming the path edgings

Investigating 19th century garden features; note the stones forming the path edgings

Interior view of the medieval drain, showing the vaulted stretch that supported the north-east wall of the infirmary

Interior view of the medieval drain, showing the vaulted stretch that supported the north-east wall of the infirmary

Trench 5

This week, work has been targeted on the Victorian path that sweeps across the trench from south to north. This would have been a route-way through the Garden of Antiquities maintained by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Planning one of the 19th century paths in Trench 5

Planning one of the 19th century paths in Trench 5

The removal of a sequence of gravel paths last week revealed landscaping deposits and the construction point of the limestone edging stones, cut into an earlier path sequence. Once planned, photographed and recorded, the large blocks which lined the path were removed to reveal the full extent of an earlier path surface and landscaping deposits that pre-date the paths construction. Stay tuned to see what else is revealed below the path in weeks 11 and 12.

Week 11, 15 – 21 September

How time has flown this year. It seems like only yesterday that we were exposing the medieval column base in Trench 3, and Trench 5 was but a twinkle in Toby’s eye. Since then we have excavated huge amounts of archaeological deposits, and the spoil heaps from these two trenches in particular are truly enormous. Joining the British trainees on the excavation and our second surveying course of the season were people from the USA and France.

The survey course, led by Toby Kendall, got off to a cracking start this year with trainees undertaking a contour survey of the Victorian landscaping in the Multangular tower, and learning the skills behind archaeological surveying. At Acomb Grange (see Week 2), they learned the technicalities of geo-physical survey with Prof. Mark Noel of GeoQuest Associates, and found evidence that may tell us more about the medieval grange. Further survey work on-site resulted in the tying in of all of the trenches and the existing grid. A set of permanent markers were then installed, so that next year, the laying out of the grid and the trenches should be easier.

Mark Noel putting trainees through their geophysics paces

Mark Noel putting trainees through their geophysics paces

Finally, they were trained by Jane McComish in the principles of building recording, identifying building styles and dating them and the recording of architectural fragments. After which, on a tour of York, they were tested on their new found skills to date standing buildings within the city.

Trench 1

The final excavation act in this trench was to peel apart the early Roman turf rampart. No evidence for a cut through these deposits for the construction of the later Roman interval tower wall was found, giving the impression that these deposits had been laid up against the wall; but this would put them much later in the sequence. Instead, it is assumed that the concrete and rubble wall completely filled its construction cut and was therefore built up against the early rampart, leaving no sign of a cut.

The early Roman rampart under excavation in Trench 1, to the rear of the interval tower wall

The early Roman rampart under excavation in Trench 1, to the rear of the interval tower wall

Except for a couple of tiny fragments of animal bone, no finds were recovered from this feature until a superb fragment of twisted glass vessel stem was found in the lowest of these deposits. Could this be a fragment of an elaborate glass vessel or vase, brought here when the IXth Legion came to York? Hopefully its shape and style should mean that we can date it with some accuracy.

Roman glass vessel stem from the rampart in Trench 1, 42mm long

Roman glass vessel stem from the rampart in Trench 1, 42mm long

Trench 3

After removing the 11th century clay feature last week, investigation has concentrated on further dumps of material below this which have been laid down to the north-east of the Roman rampart. Are these deposits of Viking or even Anglian date?

Trench 3, looking south-west: excavating probable post-Roman deposits at the base of the Roman rampart (bottom) and the enigmatic L-shaped feature (top)

Trench 3, looking south-west: excavating probable post-Roman deposits at the base of the Roman rampart (bottom) and the enigmatic L-shaped feature (top)

The removal of the clay feature has also completely exposed the fill of the L-shaped slot first revealed in Week 9, and the latter is now under excavation.

A rare fragment of marbled yellow Samian pottery of probable 1st or 2nd century date was recovered from deposits excavated this week as well as a Roman coin and a stone bead, which was recovered during environmental processing.

Trench 3, looking north-east: a closer view of the L-shaped slot under excavation

Trench 3, looking north-east: a closer view of the L-shaped slot under excavation

Planning the rear of the Roman rampart

Planning the rear of the Roman rampart

When viewed from its north-eastern side, the rampart now looks extremely impressive and it is hoped to get some great photographs of this at the end of next week.

An unusual fragment of yellow samian from Trench 3, maximum dimension about 40mm

An unusual fragment of yellow samian from Trench 3, maximum dimension about 40mm

A Roman stone bead

A Roman stone bead

Trench 4

As our efforts concentrated on the rampart deposits within Trench 1 this week, little has changed within Trench 4. However, the medieval drain has still been attracting the curiosity of many of the visitors to the site as it is one of the most visible and dramatic looking structures within any of the archaeological trenches at the moment. Attention should return to this trench next week.

The medieval drain, labelled for the benefit of visitorsThe medieval drain, labelled for the benefit of visitors

The medieval drain, labelled for the benefit of visitors

Trench 5

After the removal of the edging stones last week, an earlier path within the Yorkshire Philosophical Society’s Garden of Antiquities has been revealed. This appears to follow the same alignment as the later path, sweeping across the trench from south to north.

The earlier path is composed of compacted layers of sand and gravel, with no evidence for a stone edging. Several deposits to the west of the path, associated with the early 19th century landscaping of the site, have also been tackled this week. One dark layer had been tantalisingly visible in the side of the air-raid shelter cut for some time, and is interpreted as a garden soil that was buried by later landscaping.

Excavating the 19th century garden deposits in Trench 5

Excavating the 19th century garden deposits in Trench 5

A very shallow linear feature, cut into the garden soil, was difficult to interpret. Could it indicate the position of a garden bed, or further antiquarian investigations into the site? Or, is it simply just where the passage of feet has worn a shallow hollow into the underlying deposit, as visitors to the garden took a short-cut off the gravel path down into the landscaped area within the Multangular tower? Further work at the north-west end of the air-raid shelter demolition cut revealed a fragment of the southern wall of the Multangular Tower where it projects back into the fortress. This is a very encouraging discovery, and it is hoped we will uncover more of this wall next season.

A bone counter from Trench 3

A bone counter from Trench 3

Week 12, 22 – 28 September

The final week of a very successful season! A check of the visitor numbers showed that only a fraction short of 20,000 people visited the site this year – not including the repeated visits by squirrels, intent on hiding their nuts in our trenches. Far from being what we thought could be a quiet week on the excavation, perhaps an opportunity to tie up loose ends, we had another busy training and digging week – not to mention running our second artefact study course of the season.

Sandra Garside-Neville teaching the finer points of brick and tile analysis

Sandra Garside-Neville teaching the finer points of brick and tile analysis

The artefacts students concentrated on the finds recovered from a group of dumps in Trench 3, thought to have been associated with the construction of the Anglo-Norman stone infirmary (see Weeks 8-9). After processing their finds and environmental samples, they carefully studied the whole range of material – from bricks to animal bone. Their findings indicate that these dumps were derived not only from the demolished upper part of the Roman rampart, but also from contemporary domestic waste. This suggests that there was occupation nearby, and that the medieval builders had made use of any material to hand in order to form the flat surface for the construction of the infirmary. Snail evidence indicated that the dumps were occasionally left exposed for some time and dried out before the next layer was added, which suggests that the formation of these dumps was a prolonged process. The information obtained from this course demonstrates how the thorough investigation of the full range of finds and other data available from urban sites such as St Leonard’s Hospital can greatly improve our understanding of the history of the site and its relationship to the wider social and economic history of York.

Digging and section drawing of the post-Roman deposits to the rear of the Roman rampart

Digging and section drawing of the post-Roman deposits to the rear of the Roman rampart

Back to the trenches! All that was left to do in Trench 1 was to draw and describe the deposits and features as they were left when excavations in this trench ceased at the end of last week. In Trench 3 on the other hand, excavation was continuing apace, and there were some excellent developments here. To begin with, we were surprised when further excavation of the deposits at the base of the Roman rampart suddenly reached natural clay (the glacial material on which the city of York rests).

The orange natural clay being exposed in Trench 3

The orange natural clay being exposed in Trench 3

These deposits, underlying the 11th century clay feature excavated last week, were not very thick, indicating that there was little activity in the area between the end of the Roman period and the 11th century. Another result of reaching natural clay at the north-east end of the trench means that we now have some idea of the amount of archaeological deposits that remain to be excavated down to natural in the rest of the trench next year.

Excavating the strange L-shaped feature

Excavating the strange L-shaped feature

We were able to complete the excavation of the strange L-shaped cut in the top of the rampart. This feature had at least one post hole within it, suggesting that it originally supported a timber structure set into the rampart; our best guess to date is that this was a timber staircase that provided access to the fortress wall from the interior of the fortress. Even more intriguingly, some pottery from this feature could date to the Anglo-Saxon period, in which case this would be our best evidence so far for the maintenance of the fortress defences into the Anglo-Saxon period. Analysis of the pottery from this feature by a pottery researcher is eagerly awaited.

Trench 4 under excavation, with the standing medieval infirmary in the background and trench supervisor Maria Vinnels in the foreground

Trench 4 under excavation, with the standing medieval infirmary in the background and trench supervisor Maria Vinnels in the foreground

 Excavation in Trench 4 turned to the trench excavated by Time Team in 1999. This trench unearthed the entrance to the World War 2 air-raid shelter. However, a determined attempt to locate this feature was not successful, which suggests it lies deeper than expected. The examination of this part of the air-raid shelter will have to wait until next year.

Excavating the air-raid shelter fills

Excavating the air-raid shelter fills

In Trench 5 excavation of a slot to examine the lower air-raid shelter fills concluded. To the north-east, a gravel path and landscaping deposits were encountered. They were presumably associated with the creation of the Garden of Antiquities around the middle of the 19th century. However, it is still not clear how extensive the Victorian excavations were in this part of the site; consequently, the extent of survival of the post-medieval and earlier deposits remains to be seen.

Thanks very much to all of the people who took part in the excavation this year, which was certainly very successful in terms of archaeological research.”

Archaeology Live’s ‘difficult third album’ turned out to be an absolute breeze, with a remarkable sequence of multi-phasic archaeology. The 2004 season would also be eventful, but that’s another story…

Watch this space for more trips down memory lane!

-Arran

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!

IMG_8721

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?

church-224x300

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

 

 

 

 

A Miscellany of Peculiar Finds

Part One: The Curious Tale of Valentine’s Meat Juice

valentine

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

As the opening line of L. P. Hartley’s 1953 tome The Go-Between very presciently pointed out; while many aspects of life in the past may seem familiar to us, it was a very different world indeed.

Over the years, the Archaeology Live! team have come across a multitude of more… unusual artefacts. These curious objects are often unearthed from the most surprising of contexts and, if we are very lucky, can bring to life forgotten moments from the more dusty and unfamiliar recesses of our past.

On a recent excavation in North Yorkshire, Archaeology Live! Director Toby Kendall came across just such an artefact.

A bottle of Valentines Meat Juice.

A Valentine’s Meat Juice bottle.

Hidden amongst a jumble of 20th century rubble was an intact bottle with a clearly legible design. Closer inspection revealed the simple but rather charming motif of Valentine’s Meat Juice. It was immediately apparent that this bottle warranted further research.

Little did Toby know that this find had an amazing tale to tell…

Science(?)

Victorian Britain witnessed an explosion of technological advancement and scientific discovery, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. The age that saw the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’, also saw patents for the Spherical Velocipede and the Multi-purpose Cane. In a century that gave us pasteurisation and aspirin, a gentleman named Mann S. Valentine gave us Valentine’s Meat Juice.

 

Surely the perfect gift for any discerning chap about town.

Surely the perfect gift for any discerning chap about town.

In their search for cure-all remedies it seems that our Victorian forebears were not too concerned with the science behind the multitude of potions and lotions that filled the nation’s pharmacy shelves. Furthermore, there was very little in the way of rules and regulations regarding the production and marketing of such products. Britain was awash with unscrupulous salesmen extolling the virtues of products containing substances as lethal as lead, arsenic and asbestos. In an age of international trade, vastly improved communications and print advertising, business was booming for pseudo-scientists!

Mann S. Valentine Jr.

Mann S. Valentine Jr.

When Mann S. Valentine, a merchant from Richmond, Virginia,  made his first foray into this fledgling industry in 1871, he believed he had created a product of a higher calibre. Each 2oz bottle contained a tonic claimed to be effective in the treatment of conditions such as typhoid, cholera, pneumonia, atonic dyspepsia, diarrhoea, gastritis and nausea. US excavations of 19th century brothels have come across Valentine’s Meat Juice bottles in some quantity, evidencing a belief that the liquor could “act as a cure for sexually transmitted diseases, aka social diseases.” It seems there were no limits to its applications!

So what were the ingredients of this miraculous tonic you ask?

The answer is beef. Four pounds of beef.

Valentine’s Meat Juice was born out of adversity. By New Year’s Eve 1870, Mann’s wife Maria had been seriously ill for weeks, ill to the extent that it had not been possible for her to eat. Mann’s solution was to invent a system of shredding and compressing beef while maintaining a low heat; the theory went that this process allowed the juices to be collected without any loss of protein. Valentine’s own account of the genesis of his miracle cure can be read here, including a staggering number of glowing testimonials!val

Maria recovered from her illness and lived for another three years. Word quickly spread about the benefits of Valentine’s “nourishing protein tonic” and by the end of the century it was being produced on an industrial scale and sold across the globe.

The tonic even gained royal approval as King George V, Chinese Viceroy Li Hung Chang, US President James Garfield and Emperor Yoshita of Japan all extolled its virtues.

The Valentine’s Meat Juice brand thrived in a golden age of pseudo-science, however, the story takes a stranger turn when we consider how the tonic was administered. While the standard dose was taken orally, Caroline Rance’s research into 19th century ‘quack’ doctors suggests that some physicians believed the most efficient method of absorbing the goodness of the tonic was to introduce it per rectum.’

Indeed, a 1900 entry from the Philadelphia Medical Journal suggests that a mixture of one egg, one tablespoon of Valentine’s Meat-Juice, 4oz sterilised milk, ½oz. brandy, ½ tsp. salt, and 5oz of sterilised water should be deposited every two hours, as high up the large bowel as possible.” (Read more at Caroline’s website)

 

Meat_Juice_Ad

 

If the image of King George V of England receiving the equivalent of a Bovril enema isn’t shocking enough, the story took an altogether darker turn in 1889 when a bottle of Valentine’s Meat Juice was implicated in one of the 19th century’s most high-profile murder cases.

James Maybrick and Florence Chandler met aboard a transatlantic steamer in 1880 and were married within a year. At 40, the Liverpool born merchant Maybrick was 23 years older than his American bride, but the pair were clearly smitten and the early years of their marriage were happy ones.

Florence and James Maybrick

Florence and James Maybrick. (Image: Getty)

Following a spell in Virginia, the Maybricks relocated to Liverpool and took residence in Battlecrease House in Liverpool with their two young children. It was here where their honeymoon period came to a tragic end.

James was an unfaithful husband and a hypochondriac, regularly making use of cure-all tonics containing substances as poisonous as strychnine and phosphoric acid. The pair became increasingly estranged, leading Florence to gambling and serious debt. As James’ health deteriorated, Valentines Meat Juice was frequently administered and when he finally died, a bottle was found to have been contaminated with arsenic. Florence was implicated by an intercepted letter and her habit of extracting arsenic from flypaper for supposedly cosmetic purposes.

Despite questionable evidence and unreliable testimony, Florence was tried and initially sentenced to death, although this conviction was later downgraded to life imprisonment. Florence returned to the USA after fifteen years behind bars and died penniless and alone in 1941. She never saw her children again.

 

Florence MAybrick on trial. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Florence Maybrick on trial. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The case became embroiled in a growing feminist movement that demanded better representation for women’s’ rights within the legal system and Florence’s guilt remains a matter of heated debate. The Maybrick trial has been studied in detail in a recently published book by Kate Colquhoun.

By the mid-20th century, public demand for health products had changed and the Valentine’s Meat Juice factory closed its doors for good in 1957 after almost 90 years of production. Mann S. Valentine was an intriguing character. An avid collector of art and antiquities, he went on to found a museum and even posed for a series of photographs conveying different emotions. Little did he know that his brainchild would go on to touch the lives of royalty before being ensnared in a net of murder and intrigue!

A little performance art. Image source http://thevalentine.org/about/history-mission#

A little performance art. Image source http://thevalentine.org/

It’s amazing what a small bottle buried in a pile of rubble can tell you!

– Arran

 

To read more about the curious tale of Valentine’s Meat Juice, search online or try the following links:

The Elements of Murder

A Brief History of the Production of Valentine’s Meat Juice

http://richmondmagazine.com/news/valentines-meat-juice-02-20-2009/

 

If you would like to join our 2016 excavation in York and add your own discoveries to our miscellany of peculiar finds, contact us on trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

 

Tobys pride and joy

Tobys pride and joy

 

 

Site Diary: Week 11

Autumnal clouds looming over All Saints.

Autumnal clouds looming over All Saints.

Week 11 of the summer excavation arrived with an unfamiliar chill in the air. The breeze now carried with it a scattering of fallen leaves and lengthening shadows now stretched across the trench.  Autumn was almost upon us, as was the end of the 2015 season. With just two weeks to go, there were still so many questions to answer and the team couldn’t wait to get started!

Unfortunately, the weather had got a little carried away with the autumnal theme…

Becky, Katie and a LOT of paperwork!

Becky, Katie and a LOT of paperwork!

As the rain poured outside, the team wisely decided to focus on indoor tasks in the warmth and shelter of the church. Sessions on recording methodologies, pottery dating and finds sorting were held while the placements took the opportunity to check a small mountain of records.

Thankfully, Tuesday saw the sunshine make a welcome return and the team sprung to action in the trench.

The sun returns to Church Lane, well, some of it.

The sun returns to Church Lane, well, some of it.

Rosemin and Joanna took over work on an area suspected to have been a processional route into the graveyard that occupied the site between 1826 and 1854.  It didn’t take long for the duo to find their first feature, as they spotted the outline of a post hole.

Rosemin and Joanna investigating a 19th century deposit.

Rosemin and Joanna investigating a 19th century deposit.

Over the previous two weeks, Arran’s ‘That End’ team had been working hard to prove or disprove whether this route into the graveyard had existed. If the theory was correct, we would find no burials in this space and archaeology that pre-dates the 19th century would survive. If the theory was false, then Rosemin and Joanna would discover yet more burials.

The first step in solving the mystery was to excavate the post hole and retrieve some dating material. In doing so, it didn’t take long for the week’s first exciting find to appear – a beautiful sherd of decorated Samian ware.

Jo and her freshly unearthed Roman pot sherd.

Jo and her freshly unearthed Roman pot sherd.

The post hole proved to be fairly substantial, and contained an eclectic mix of ceramics that ranged from Roman to medieval in date.

The omens were good, but could this be a genuine medieval feature or were we being mis-led? After all, it is still possible to find 19th century features that contain no 19th century finds. To definitively prove our theory, we would have to investigate the deposit underlying the post hole.

With the post hole recorded, Joanna and Rosemin began to clean up their area to see what deposit or feature was the next in line to investigate. This proved to be tricky work as the area was a mass of varied colours and textures with no clear cut features.

Joanna and Rosemin - Josemin

Joanna and Rosemin – Josemin

By the end of the week, a number of possible features had been uncovered and, crucially, no grave cuts had as yet become apparent. Our mystery, however, remained firmly unsolved as the mixed material being revealed by Jo and Rosemin still contained early 19th century ceramics – this one was going to go right to the wire!

Edges of uncertain date beginning to emerge.

Edges of uncertain date beginning to emerge.

Over in ‘This End’, Sarah and Stuart had made a brisk start and exposed the outline of a juvenile burial. After recording the grave backfill, they began the delicate process of exposing the remains of the coffin.

Stuart, Sarah and Becky investigating a 19th century infant burial.

Stuart, Sarah and Becky investigating a 19th century infant burial.

Sarah and Stuart’s diligent work was soon rewarded with an enigmatic find – a neatly cut but undecorated lead seal.

Sarah and her lead seal.

Sarah and her lead seal.

As the week progressed, the faint outline of a tiny timber coffin began to appear. This was clearly the burial of a very young individual, perhaps only one or two years old when they died.

Infant and juvenile burials have formed a large proportion of the site’s 60-plus inhumations. This is interesting as the area was not a particularly poor place in the 19th century, indeed all of the burials were furnished with coffins complete with at least some degree of decoration. Clearly, class was no barrier to the very real trials and hardships of the 19th century and high infant mortality affected people of all walks of life.

Excavating a 19th century infant burial.

Excavating a 19th century infant burial.

The remains of the infant within the coffin did indeed show evidence of these hardships, visible in a distinct curvature of both femurs (thigh bones) that can be a clear indicator of malnutrition.

Sarah finishing up her burial records.

Sarah finishing up her burial records.

Excavating features such as these can be a very touching experience, as in doing so we bear witness to the more tragic moments in the lives of York’s 19th century inhabitants. Through archaeology we can glimpse an unfiltered picture of life and, indeed, death in the past and create a permanent record of these forgotten stories.

Over in That End, Alistair was finding more evidence of the tough realities of life in the 19th century.

Hugh, Alistair and Katie recording a burial.

Hugh, Alistair and Katie recording a burial.

 Alistair’s first task of the week was to record the burial of a 19th century adolescent, yet another individual that didn’t survive to adulthood.
With this task completed, Alistair took to the excavation of the neighbouring grave, which proved to be quite remarkable!
Hugh (left) and Alistair (right) working on 19th century burials.

Hugh (left) and Alistair (right) working on 19th century burials.

As Alistair carefully excavated the backfill of the grave, he located and recorded a coffin that is quite typical for the site, a tapered timber hexagon with decorative brass panels.

Timber coffins almost never survive intact, as bacteria in the soil slowly breaks down the wood and eventually causes the collapse of the coffin. At All Saints, we have been able to identify the outlines of these collapsed coffins as the decayed wood can be seen as a dark stain in the soil. Where metal fittings are present, it is common to find fragments of wood still in-situ as the corroding metal can slow the process of decay around it.

Alistair excavating a 19th century burial cut through an 18th century cobbled floor.

Alistair excavating a 19th century burial cut through an 18th century cobbled floor.

With the coffin fully exposed and recorded, Alistair began to expose the remains of the individual within and made a remarkable discovery.

The person buried within the coffin died at around six or seven years of age and clearly lived a difficult life. Close inspection of the remains revealed clear ridges running horizontally across the teeth, an indication that the child had suffered from dental enamel hypoplasia. This condition can manifest itself in teeth and bone and is the result of severe illness and/or malnutrition. Once again we had found evidence of a tough life cut tragically short, but there was still more to learn.

Skeletons of such young individuals are yet to develop the typical traits that help us to identify whether they were male or female, but a quirk of preservation in Alistair’s burial allowed us to hazard a guess. When the coffin gave way and collapsed onto the remains within, part of a decorative metal plate landed directly over the child’s forehead. As a result of its proximity to this corroding metalwork, some of the child’s hair was found to be perfectly preserved.

This was a unique discovery for this excavation, allowing us to see that the child had had short blonde hair. This discovery could suggest that the individual would have been male, as cropped short hair certainly wasn’t the norm for young girls in the 19th century. Another intriguing possibility is that the hair may have been cropped short following a fever, a tradition which was thought to bring down temperatures.

Once again, a new discovery has brought with it yet more questions, however, Alistair’s careful excavation has given us an unprecedented amount of information about a short and difficult life. As the discovery was made, the mood in the trench became understandably sombre, however, it is finds such as these that help to put skeletal remains in a very human context.

Looking north along Church Lane.

Looking north-east along Church Lane.

Elsewhere in That End, Hugh and Abi were also working on 19th century burials. Abi had spent the previous week establishing the true edge of her grave cut and following the outline of one side of a coffin. Finding the other side of the coffin was, however, proving rather tricky!

Abi searching for the northern side of her coffin.

Abi searching for the northern side of her coffin.

A combination of variable preservation and the burrowing of a 19th century rabbit was making this already delicate task more difficult than usual.

Abi’s patience, however, was thankfully rewarded by an interesting find, a well-preserved fragment of a glazed medieval tile that would have been part of the church floor centuries ago.

Abi and her medieval glazed floor tile.

Abi and her medieval glazed floor tile.

Like Alistair, Hugh made some very unexpected discoveries within his burial. The grave cut was situated close to a pair of structural features that were thought to pre-date the grave; a mortared stone footing and a feature made of medieval brick. As excavation progressed, it became apparent that the brickwork was not a medieval feature after all – it was built within the cut of the burial!

Hugh (below the YAT banner) working on his burial.

Hugh (below the YAT banner) working on his burial.

While some burials have featured post holes at the head end that may have supported a cross, Hugh’s discovery is the first surviving example of a substantial 19th century grave marker that has been found at All Saints.

Hugh exposing a 19th century brick and stone grave marker.

Hugh exposing a 19th century brick and stone grave marker.

Once fully exposed, the brickwork proved to be un-mortared and built over a block of limestone. The structure made use of recycled medieval brick and gave us evidence that the individual who built it wasn’t the most diligent undertaker. Bizarrely, the grave marker had been built directly over the top of the coffin and when this eventually collapsed, the whole structure appears to have collapsed with it, sinking deeper into the grave and crushing the skull of the individual buried within.

The fact that none of our 19th century burials have been found to intercut suggests that the burials were clearly marked above ground. Hugh’s unusual sequence allows us to see what kind of monuments were in place and shows us that some 19th century individuals may not have taken a great deal of pride in their work!

As well as 19th century burials, week 11 also saw the excavation of some much earlier features.

Sarah, Julie, Elizabeth

Sarah, Julie, Elizabeth and Dave clearly enjoying their sieving!

Julie and Elizabeth spent a two day taster session working on medieval deposits in the south-west corner of the trench. The sequence was a complex one, with an interweaving mass of dumps and pits occupying a space that was later built over by the medieval Rectory.

Julie and Elizabeth planning a medieval pit backfill.

Julie and Elizabeth planning a medieval pit backfill.

Records suggest that the church acquired the land in the 14th century, and the ceramics from Julie and Elizabeth’s deposit comfortably pre-date this. In fact, the majority of the pottery was Anglo-Norman in date (11th-12th century) and were typified by the coarse gritty wares of the period.

The interior of a Norman gritty ware cooking pot.

The interior of a Norman gritty ware cooking pot.

These coarse, hard-wearing vessels were almost always cooking pots or storage jars. Many exhibit clear charring on the exterior and would have been used to cook countless meals almost a millennium ago.

The fire-blackened exterior face of the same sherd.

The fire-blackened exterior face of the same sherd. Clear grooves of the potter’s fingers can also be seen in the fabric.

Karen and Phillip, also joining us for a two day taster, picked up work on an area they had investigated in the spring excavation. In a spur of later medieval dumping that survives between two 19th century graves, the pair found a huge range of ceramics and domestic waste.

Karen and Phillip digging in the autumn sunshine.

Karen and Phillip digging in the autumn sunshine.

The frequent occurrence of Roman pottery mixed in with animal bone and medieval ceramics suggests that the deposit was laid down as a levelling event, raising and flattening the ground level.

Clearly, a combination of primary domestic dumping and material excavated from nearby pits was utilised, which explains why so much upcast Roman material was present.

Karen and Phillip.

Karen and Phillip sieving their medieval levelling layer.

Stuart, who took part in YAT’s community excavations on the site of York’s forthcoming Community Stadium, spent two days working on a tiny island of medieval archaeology that had survived between a 19th century concrete footing and a later medieval post hole.

Stuart exposing a medieval feature.

Stuart exposing a layer of charcoal beneath a pair of stones.

Despite the massive amount of later intrusions, Stuart was able to identify and record a number of contexts including a dump rich in charcoal. The post hole that cuts the deposits is thought to have been part of the original medieval Rectory, therefore Stuart’s sequence must relate to activity pre-dating the church’s acquisition of the land.

Several metres away Anne, Eileen and Denis spent their week working on similar material, discovering a laminated sequence of ashy medieval deposits that also pre-date the Rectory.

Anne working on a sequence of medieval deposits.

Anne working on a sequence of medieval deposits.

A small post hole was found cutting through theses laminated deposits, complete with a pad of stone at the base of the cut.

Denis and Anne's medieval post hole.

Denis and Anne’s medieval post hole.

Finds were not plentiful from this sequence as disposal of material from hearth clearance appears to have been the main activity taking place at this point. Anne was, however, lucky enough to discover a fragment of a very large medieval jug.

Anne and her medieval pot sherd.

Anne and her medieval pot sherd.

Week 11 also saw Toby and the finds team continuing to clean up some fascinating finds, the most enigmatic being this unusual object.

One ring to rule them all...

One ring to rule them all…

This tiny bone object is actually the ossified trachea of a goose which, unsurprisingly, wasn’t the first guess of any of the trainees!

A small copper alloy object was recovered from a 19th century context and may have been part of a decorative medieval(?) strap end.

A tiny copper alloy fitting.

A tiny copper alloy fitting.

All too quickly, 5pm on Friday was upon us and the team’s thoughts naturally began to turn pubwards.

Week 11 saw us make some particularly solemn discoveries, with the infant burials making for a very emotive insight into the welfare of the 19th century parishioners of All Saints, North Street. Each discovery we make brings us closer to our goal of understanding how life on the site has changed over the centuries for the people who lived and worked here and how the area has developed and changed.

Recording in progress.

Recording in progress.

With more burials discovered and recorded and excellent progress being made on our medieval features, the week proved to be a huge success. Thanks to all of the trainees and placements for their hard work, especially in the changeable autumn weather!

The week eleven team.

The week eleven team in formation.

With week 11 in the bag, we were about to enter the final week of the summer. As ever, there were a few surprises in store for us yet. There’s never a dull moment on North Street!

Almost there then, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

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Site Diary: Week 10

Digging in the hazy sunshine of late summer can be a marvellous experience, despite the occasional reminder that the unpredictable weather of autumn is just around the corner. Thankfully, week ten of our 2015 excavation at All Saints, North Street began on just such a warm and pleasant note.

Digging in the August sunshine.

Digging in the August sunshine.

Gary’s ‘This End’ team had a very fruitful week, focusing in particular on delving deeper into the medieval deposits that pre-date the brickwork of a post-medieval Rectory.

Recording a medieval stone footing.

Recording a medieval stone footing.

As later elements of the Rectory structure have been carefully recorded and taken away, a roughly built stone footing has slowly been revealed. Anne, Eileen and Denis’ first task of the week was to record the newly exposed structure and to try and work out what function it served.

A rough stone footing.

A rough stone footing.

With the mortar and brickwork that had been built over the structure fully excavated, it was clear that we had found a substantial, if poorly built footing that may once have supported a sizeable post.

Unusually, the masonry had no construction cut – rather than being set within a foundation trench, the stones had simply been piled on top of each other and roughly mortared together.

Anne cleaning up a 14th century levelling deposit.

Anne cleaning up a 14th century levelling deposit.

With the masonry recorded, the team now turned their attention to the deposit below the footing. We knew that the structure was built before the 18th century, but we needed to ascertain the date of the underlying deposits to reveal a construction date for the stonework itself.

A homogenous dump of dark silty material was found to contain a range of ceramics dating between the Roman period and the 14th century. The assemblage was typified by the vivid green-glazed pottery of the high-medieval period and contained nothing that clearly post-dated the Black Death. This discovery told us that the stonework was built in, or after, the 14th century and certainly no later than the 1700s. In short, the footing is likely part of the Rectory’s original medieval incarnation, an important discovery as the vast majority of the structure will have been obliterated by the construction of the Rectory’s 18th-19th century replacement.

Denis exposing a layer of burnt material.

Denis exposing a layer of burnt material.

As the week progressed, Anne, Denis and Eileen painstakingly recorded, excavated and sieved a number of dump deposits. As each of these thin, laminated layers was excavated, the deposits became increasingly mixed, with a great deal of burnt, ashy material beginning to appear.

Anne following the edge of a spread of burnt material.

Anne following the edge of a spread of burnt material.

This change in deposition was an interesting development as it suggested that we were no longer looking at levelling material associated with the construction of the medieval Rectory. Instead, it seemed we had reached an earlier horizon typified by the disposal of hearth clearances and domestic waste. Anne, Eileen and Denis were now looking at a window into how people were using the site prior to the Rectory being built.

The week was topped off by an exciting find for Eileen; a fragment of beautifully worked masonry.

Eileen's fragment of medieval masonry.

Eileen’s fragment of medieval masonry.

This fragment of stonework bears the marks of a skilled medieval mason and is finished to a high standard. The stone was most likely part of an earlier phase of the church fabric that was superseded by 15th and 16th century alterations.

A closer look.

A closer look.

Interestingly, the stone is clearly very worn, indicating that it stood exposed to the elements for a considerable length of time. It could even feasibly have been part of the first stone church to occupy the site around a thousand years ago! A wonderful find.

Close-by, Archaeology Live! legend Bri was hard at work on similar deposits.

Bri excavating a medieval levelling deposit.

Bri excavating a medieval levelling deposit.

An exciting development for Bri was the continued presence of Anglo-Scandinavian pottery re-deposited within his layers of medieval dumping. This growing assemblage of Viking pottery recovered from later contexts bodes very well for the underlying archaeology!

Recording a medieval context.

Recording a medieval context.

With one layer squared away, Bri turned his attention to a possible cut feature that has been heavily truncated by later walls and drains. Despite this damage, the edges were still very clear and the deposit turned out to be the fill of a substantial post hole. The cut was so deep that Bri was forced to break out a highly specialised tool – the Archaeology Ladle!

Archaeo-ladleing

Archaeo-ladleing

The discovery of this medieval post hole was an exciting development as it provides us with another piece to the puzzle of the medieval Rectory. The more structural elements we find in the gaps between later intrusions, the more we will be able to say about this mysterious lost building.

At the southern end of the trench, the trio of Sam, Sam and Theo took over excavation of a late medieval sequence below the floor of the 18th century Rectory. As with Anne and Denis’ area, the presence of pits in the area suggests that we are beginning to see the archaeology that pre-dates even the earliest incarnation of the Rectory. After all, you wouldn’t dig rubbish pits through the floor of your living room!

Sam, Theo and Sam.

Sam, Theo and Sam.

The first task for Theo and the Sams was the excavation and recording of a small pit.

Containing domestic waste and medieval ceramics, the pit appears to be the latest of a series of refuse pits and dumps.

Levelling a medieval pit cut.

Theo levelling a medieval pit cut.

With the pit records completed, the trio began to clean up the surrounding area to establish which context to investigate next. The deposit turned out to be a widespread dump of silt and rubble that was most likely deposited to raise and level off the ground during the medieval period.

Sam excavating a medieval levelling dump.

Sam excavating a medieval levelling dump.

Theo, Sam and Sam’s week ended on an exciting note when (Big) Sam spotted an unusual sherd of pottery. Closer inspection revealed it to be a fragment of a medieval seal jug.

Sam's medieval seal jug fragment.

Sam’s medieval seal jug fragment.

These vessels were highly popular in the ostentatious times of the high medieval period and featured applied circular motifs with images that represented religious, family and guild affiliations. Despite heavy wear and damage, specialist analysis may allow us to relate this sherd to a particular group or individual. Finds such as these can have quite a story to tell and help us to discover how the medieval citizens of York chose to represent themselves.

A sherd of a medieval seal jug.

A sherd of a medieval seal jug.

Over in Arran’s area, the That End team were also enjoying a busy week.

Looking north-east across That End'

Looking north-east across ‘That End’

New starter Abi took over the excavation of a 19th century burial that has proved to be quite challenging! With one side of a coffin clearly visible, it was clear that the grave cut continued further to the south-west than had been originally thought. Abi started her week by following the newly discovered edge and looking for the delicate remains of the head end of the coffin.

Abi carefully following the edge of a 19th century coffin.

Abi carefully following the edge of a 19th century coffin.

Working in the cramped confines of a 19th century grave is no easy task and it is vital to position yourself in such a way that allows you to cause no damage to the delicate remains beneath you. Happily, Abi made good progress and by the end of the week had successfully located the end of the coffin. The next task was to locate the other side of the coffin and follow it to foot end of the grave.

Australian couple John and Sue began their first Archaeology Live! experience by recording an excavated burial and then cleaning up one of the final areas thought to contain further 19th century graves.

Sue and John.

Sue and John.

It didn’t take much troweling to discover the faint but distinctive outline of a grave backfill. Situated between a pair of earlier structural features, the deposit was quickly recorded, allowing John and Sue to begin the careful process of excavation.

John, Sue and Anne (week 10's Australian contingent) sieving their deposits.

John, Sue and Anne (week 10’s Australian contingent) sieving their deposits.

As the site is remarkably artefact rich, we sieve 100% of the material excavated from the trench to maximise finds recovery; and it was during this process that John discovered the week’s star find – a beautifully preserved medieval Long Cross Penny made of silver.

John's star find!

John’s star find!

York was home to an important mint between the 12th-15th centuries and produced many thousands of coins. John’s example is in marvellous condition and, following a careful clean in the conservation lab, will be tightly dateable.

A closer look.

A closer look.

Discoveries such as these highlight the remarkable mobility of finds following their initial deposition, with constant human activity disturbing existing deposits and spreading their contents into later contexts. We’ll look forward to specialist feedback on this one!

In an investigative slot close to the north-east end of the trench, Josef spent a productive week finishing off the excavation of a curious 19th century linear that runs almost the whole length of the site.

Josef hard at work within his sondage.

Josef hard at work within his sondage.

The upper extents of the feature were excavated back in June, but work was forced to be temporarily haulted due to the feature’s considerable depth. With the archaeology around it now reduced to a workable level, Josef resumer excavation and looked to expose the base of the cut.

Josef performing some acrobatic feats of excavation.

Josef performing some acrobatic feats of excavation.

With disarticulated human bone occurring frequently in the backfill of the linear, it is clearly a feature that has disturbed a number of burials. The cut may have been dug in the mid-19th century to recover stone from a demolished boundary wall prior to the construction of the Church Hall, disturbing burials in the process.

By the end of the week, Josef managed to reach the base of the cut and in doing so made an exciting discovery – two in-situ burials. There is a bit of a mystery here, as the dates of these graves are presently unknown. The boundary between the Church Hall plot and Church Lane itself is thought to represent the boundary of the medieval graveyard. Could we be looking at medieval burials, or are these individuals more of our 19th century parishioners? Watch this space for updates!

Josef discovering the base of his cut feature.

Josef discovering the base of his cut feature.

By completing the excavation of our enigmatic linear, Josef helped to answer a few key questions, but as usual, every answer brought new questions!

In the centre of the trench, Bill and taster student Lynne continued the investigation of an area that may once have been a processional route into the 19th century graveyard.

Bill and Lynne excavating a 19th century make-up layer.

Bill and Lynne excavating a 19th century make-up layer.

To prove whether or not this thoroughfare existed, we need to find archaeology that definitively pre-dates the 1826-54 date range of the burials. Week 9 proved to be frustrating as, despite no burials being found, 19th century material was still being recovered from a sequence of dump deposits.

Bill and Lynne excavating in the centre of the trench.

Bill and Lynne excavating in the centre of the trench (and a pigeon in flight!)

As excavation progressed, it seemed we were in for a similar set of results, as 19th century ceramics were still being recovered from Bill and Lynne’s deposit.

Fortunes did improve later in the week, as Bill (now working with two day taster student Mark) began work on an earlier layer that contained some fantastic finds!

Bill, Gus and Mark begin work on the next layer.

Bill, Gus and Mark begin work on the next layer.

While troweling through a loose, rubble-rich deposit, Bill and Mark recovered a scrap of lead that may relate to repairs of the church’s stained glass.

Lead from a 19th century stained glass repair.

Lead from a 19th century stained glass repair.

Later on, Mark came across an even more exciting find – a sherd of what appears to be prehistoric pottery!

Mark and his prehistoric discovery.

Mark and his prehistoric discovery.

While the traditional history books will have you believe that York as a settlement began with the arrival of the Romans in AD71, recent excavations have amassed a growing assemblage of prehistoric finds from within the city walls.

While settlement may have been on a far smaller scale than the grand colonnades and imposing defences of Roman Eboracum, finds like Mark’s pot sherd are creating an ever more compelling argument that people were living in York long before the arrival of the 9th Legion.

The coarse, poorly fired pottery could be as early as Neolithic in date and would have been part of a utilitarian vessel, such as a cooking pot or storage jar.

A closer look.

A closer look.

Other finds highlights from week 10 were mainly animal related, the first example being the tooth of a rather elderly dog. Clearly, this pooch received its fair share of bones to gnaw!

A highly worn dog tooth.

A highly worn dog tooth.

A particularly cute find was a sherd of medieval roof tile, complete with the footprint of a chicken! From the various animal paw prints we’ve noticed in medieval tiles, it seems that the tilers of the Middle Ages must have been fighting a constant battle against errant livestock trampling over their drying tiles!

A clucking great find...

A clucking great find…

As packing up time on Friday arrived, the team gathered to look back on the week’s discoveries and, true to form, there had been no shortage of exciting finds!

Gary begins the end of week wrap-up.

Gary begins the end of week wrap-up.

With more burials located and the upper extents of medieval occupation deposits beginning to appear, week 10 was a huge success! Thanks to all of the team for some fantastic work!

The week ten team

The week ten team

With just a fortnight to go, the end of the summer was approaching all too quickly! However, there were a few surprises in store for us yet, the weather included!

Ominous skies over All Saints...

Ominous skies over All Saints…

Until next time, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

PS. Special thanks must go out to our placements this week. With a weekend dig sandwiched between weeks 9 and 10, the team worked twelve days straight and were tireless to the end! Well, almost…

Ellen takes a breather...

Ellen takes a breather…

 

 

 

 

 

August Weekend Dig

Over the years, our Archaeology Live! weekend excavations have become increasingly popular and always prove to be one of the highlights of the year. The 2015 August weekend dig saw a team made up of familiar faces and one or two people making their first steps into archaeology join us at All Saints.

Sharon and Julie’s weekend began in a small trench through the surface of Church Lane. Despite extensive truncation from Victorian service trenches, a small strip of intact archaeology had remained undisturbed. Sharon and Julie’s first task was to record and excavate a compacted sandy deposit that pre-dates a pair of burials from the 1700s.

The darker soil is a backfilled 18th century burial, the lighter soil is an earlier surface.

The darker soil is a backfilled 18th century burial, the lighter soil is an earlier surface.

While it was clear that the surface was earlier than the 18th century grave, its own date could only be known once we recovered some dating material. As Sharon and Julie troweled through the deposit, the latest finds to be unearthed were 14th century in date – we had found the medieval surface of Church Lane!

Finding the medieval horizon beneath present day Church Lane was an exciting but slightly frustrating development as we had reached the maximum excavation depth in this area. Despite this, the investigative slot had been successful in characterising the nature and preservation of the archaeology beneath the current paved surface. As the excavation progresses, we now know that medieval archaeology does survive in close proximity to the church and this may prove very useful in tightening up our knowledge of the dating and development of the building.

With their medieval surface fully excavated, Sharon and Julie moved onto a very different challenge, a 19th century burial in the area lovingly known as ‘Contrary Corner’.

Sharon and Julie excavating a 19th century burial.

Sharon and Julie excavating a 19th century burial.

Despite the area’s reputation for difficult edges and unclear relationships, the pair made excellent progress. The faint edge of a decayed coffin had been partially exposed in the previous week and it was down to Sharon and Julie to expose the rest.

Exposing the outline of a 19th century coffin.

Exposing the outline of a 19th century coffin.

With the whole outline of a tapered coffin now visible, it was recorded in detail before excavation continued within it. By the end of the weekend, Julie and Sharon had even begun to uncover the remains of a juvenile individual, not bad for two day’s work!

Nearby, Nicola and Michelle were facing a similar challenge as they took over the investigation of another partially excavated burial.

Nicola and Michelle working on a 19th century burial.

Nicola and Michelle working on a 19th century burial.

The 2015 season marked Nicola’s 12th season of Archaeology Live! and she quickly discovered an interesting artefact to mark the occasion!

Nicola and her copper alloy object.

Nicola and her copper alloy object.

The object in question was an enigmatic copper alloy fitting of somewhat uncertain date and purpose. Hopefully, cleaning in our conservation facility will shed some light on what Nicola’s mystery object actually is!

Over the course of the weekend, the narrow grave cut grew ever deeper, leading us to wonder if we were ever going to find the individual within! Thankfully, persistent careful excavation paid off and by packing up time on Sunday, Nicola and Michelle had successfully revealed the outline of the coffin and the location of the skull. As the narrow grave cut had suggested, this was the burial of a small child; yet another sobering reminder of the high infant mortality of the 19th century.

Nicola employing a rather acrobatic style of excavation...

Nicola employing a rather acrobatic style of excavation…

 

Elsewhere in the trench, the rest of the team were working on some very different kinds of features. Archaeology Live! legend Juliet was joined by her sister Fiona and the pair set to work on a deposit that simply wasn’t behaving itself!

Fiona and Juliet.

Fiona and Juliet.

A small peninsula of medieval soil that survives between an 1860s drain cut and the 19th century Rectory wall had been thought to be free of later truncations, however, as it was cleaned for a photograph, Juliet and Fiona noticed that something wasn’t quite right. Ceramics from the 19th century were still present close to the wall, as was a concentration of stones and cobbles. It soon became apparent that the construction cut of the Rectory wall hadn’t been excavated to its full width, meaning Juliet and Fiona’s first task would be to excavate the remainder and amend the records of the cut.

Completing the excavation of a stony construction backfill.

Completing the excavation of a stony construction backfill.

As has been the standard for the majority of our 19th century features, the construction backfill was full of earlier artefacts, including a particularly lovely shard of post-medieval glass discovered by Fiona.

Fiona and her star find!

Fiona and her star find!

The glass is awaiting specialist assessment, but is reminiscent of decorative discs and bands applied to 17th and 18th century drinking vessels and bottles. Whether this was a prized possession of the residents of the original Rectory will never be known, but it remains an intriguing and beautiful find.

A closer look.

A closer look.

Working within the footprint of the medieval Rectory, Paul, Beverley and Lynne began their weekend by recording a robber cut that appears to have been positioned to reclaim materials from the original medieval Rectory prior to the construction of its 18th-19th century replacement.

Paul photographing a robber cut.

Paul photographing a robber cut.

With the records for the robber cut complete, the next task for the trio was to clean up the whole area to establish which deposit was next in the sequence. Stratigraphic excavation of urban archaeology requires us to excavate in reverse chronological order, so it was up to Paul, Lynne and Beverley to establish which context was deposited immediately prior to the robber cut.

Cleaning up.

Cleaning up.

After a lot of careful troweling, a dark, charcoal rich deposit became the next deposit to be cleaned up and photographed.

Recording a medieval dump.

Gary, Paul, Lynne and Beverley deep in conversation while recording a medieval dump.

With just enough time to start excavation before the end of the weekend, Paul, Lynne and Beverley were able to recover some dating material from the deposit – it seemed that another part of the site had finally reached the medieval horizon!

At the opposite end of the trench, Paul was also descending into the Middle Ages. In this case, however, it was necessary to squeeze into a small, exploratory slot designed to find the depth of medieval deposits at the northern end of the trench.

Gus and Paul discussing their sequence.

Gus and Paul discussing their sequence.

With a mixed dump of clayey material recorded, John began excavation and quickly noticed an interesting change in deposition.

John excavating a medieval dump.

John excavating a medieval dump.

Unlike the later deposits, this context was rich with re-deposited burnt material. It is possible to identify scorched soil as it often changes colour to shades of orange, grey and red, as seen in the image below.

Scorched earth.

Scorched earth.

Paul’s discovery is an interesting development as it sees a shift in activity from simple raising of the ground level through large dumps of silty clays to the kind of deposition that usually indicates occupation. In short, we are coming down on to a deposit that has the potential to tell us much more about life in the medieval period. This slot will be one to watch!

The final surprise of the weekend came during finds washing. Hidden amongst countless fragments of animal bone and pottery was a previously un-noticed shard of medieval stained glass. The growing assemblage of broken medieval window glass being recovered from the site reminds us that the windows of All Saints, North Street were not always afforded the reverence they rightly receive today. It is unsettling to think of how much medieval artistry has fell foul of vandalism and accidental damage over the centuries.

A shard of painted medieval window glass.

A shard of painted medieval window glass, complete with strokes of red paint.

The August weekend turned out to be a highly enjoyable excavation, with some great finds and interesting developments. Thanks to all of the team for all their hard work and longstanding support of the Archaeology Live! project.

The August weekend team.

The August weekend team.

With August drawing to a close, the final quarter of the excavation was already upon us. No rest for the wicked – onwards and downwards!

 

– Arran

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