Category: 15 (page 2 of 3)

Site Diary: Week 8

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

IMG_8269

The All Saints, North Street excavation.

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

Gary's team giving the trench a clean.

Gary’s team giving the trench a clean.

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

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

Zena and Mazda investigating a beaten earth surface.

Zena and Mazda investigating a beaten earth surface.

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

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

Linda and Janice excavating a suspected 19th century burial.

Linda and Janice excavating a suspected 19th century burial.

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

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

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

Rachel and Liss discussing their sequence.

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

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

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

Pandora, Robert and Steve.

Pandora, Robert and Steve.

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

Itab working on her post hole.

Itab working on her post hole.

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

Itab's post hole.

Itab’s post hole during excavation.

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

Zena and Mazda digging in the afternoon sun.

Digging in the afternoon sun.

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

Itab planning her feature.

Itab planning her feature.

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

Steve exposing a late medieval deposit.

Steve exposing a late medieval deposit.

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

Kirsten working on an infant burial.

Kirsten working on an infant burial.

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

Kirsty and her first find.

Kristy and her first find.

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

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

Ann and Gus looking for new features.

Ann and Gus looking for new features.

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

Rachel and Liss asess their new discovery.

Rachel and Liss asess their new discovery.

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

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

Pandora beginning to disappear from sight!

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

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

Pandora's Roman minim

Pandora’s Roman minim

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

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

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

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

Janice and her medieval marvel!

Janice and her medieval marvel!

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

Janice's shard of painted window glass.

Janice’s shard of painted window glass.

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

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

All Saints in the August sunshine.

All Saints in the August sunshine.

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

Well, not straight away anyway…

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

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

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

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

Mazda planning a deposit while Toby leads a site tour.

Mazda planning a deposit while Toby leads a site tour.

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

Kristy and Ann

Kristy and Ann

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

Itab and Rachel

Itab and Rachel

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

You're just showing off now.

You’re just showing off now Pandora…

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

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

A suitably delighted Pandora!

A suitably delighted Pandora!

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

Pandora's beautiful cornelian intaglio.

Pandora’s beautiful cornelian intaglio.

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

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

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

A Roman intaglio from the Hungate excavations.

A Roman intaglio from the Hungate excavations.

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

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

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

Kirsten and Robert backfilling a fully recorded backfill.

Kirsten and Robert backfilling a fully recorded backfill.

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

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

Kirsten's Samian sherd.

Kirsten’s Samian sherd.

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

Liss and Rachel planning a burial.

Liss and Rachel planning a burial.

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

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

Mazda and Zena

Mazda (left) and Zena (right)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheryl and Lydia were an effective mother/daughter team!

Cheryl and Lydia were an effective mother/daughter team!

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

Pandora taking section photographs.

Pandora taking section photographs.

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

A peek into Contrary Corner.

A peek into Contrary Corner.

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

Liss and Rachel descending into the post-medieval period.

Liss and Rachel descending into the post-medieval period.

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

A sandy surface under excavation.

A sandy surface under excavation.

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

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

Toby's small finds session.

Toby’s small finds session.

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

The matrix masterclass

The matrix masterclass

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

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

The week eight team

The week eight team

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

Best get digging then, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

 

 

 

 

 

Site Diary: Week 7

Week 7 begins.

Week 7 begins.

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

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

Josh pointing out his discovery.

Josh pointing out his discovery.

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

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

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

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

Kieran tools up!

Kieran tools up!

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

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

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

Kieran in full flow...

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

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

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

Josh and Kieran get started.

Josh and Kieran get started.

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

Liss engaging Beast Mode.

Liss engaging Beast Mode.

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

Archaeology offers wonderful variety sometimes!

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

Liss emptying out a construction trench.

Liss emptying out a construction trench.

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

Liss proudly displaying her tiny copper alloy lace tag.

Liss proudly displaying her tiny copper alloy lace tag.

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

Photographing the surface.

Photographing the surface.

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

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

Lifting the C18th surface.

Lifting the C18th surface.

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

Liss, Gus and Will.

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

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

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

Katie and Terry get started.

Katie and Terry get started.

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

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

Button it!

Button it!

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

Katie, Terry and Ellen planning a dump deposit.

Katie, Terry and Ellen planning a dump deposit.

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

Katie excavating a horse metapodial.

Katie excavating a horse metapodial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terry and his stamped sherd of Samian Ware.

Terry and his stamped sherd of Samian Ware.

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

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

Carol and Helen.

Carol and Helen.

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

Carol and Helen at work on their burial.

Carol and Helen at work on their burial.

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

Earlier stratigraphy revealed in the grave sections.

Earlier stratigraphy revealed in the grave sections.

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

Carol and her fragments of glazed medieval floor tile.

Carol and her fragments of glazed medieval floor tile.

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

Helen attempting to reach the base of her burial.

Helen attempting to reach the base of her burial.

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

Recording an infant burial.

Recording an infant burial.

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

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

Christian and Imogen

Christian and Imogen

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

Photographing a dump deposit.

Photographing a dump deposit.

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

Imogen uncovering the medieval horizon.

Imogen uncovering the medieval horizon.

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

Gary and Pandora discussing the medieval sequence.

Gary and Pandora discussing the medieval sequence.

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

An exciting find emerges...

An exciting find emerges…

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

Pandora's Samian

Pandora’s Samian

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

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

Jan and Pandora descending into medieval layers.

Jan and Pandora descending into medieval layers.

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

Cara delving into the middle ages.

Cara delving into the middle ages.

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

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

IMG_8131

‘Mason York’

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

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

Medieval recycling in action.

Medieval recycling in action.

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

Toby's perfectly formed dog egg'

Toby’s perfectly formed ‘dog egg’

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

It’s a glamorous business!

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

Medieval paw print

A medieval paw print

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

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

The week seven team.

The week seven team.

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

As ever, until then, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

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

A newly shorn Planty. Mr Fish approves.

A newly shorn Planty. Mr Fish clearly approves.

 

 

 

Site Diary: Week 6

Week six begins.

Week six begins.

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

And then it rained.

For two days.

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

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

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

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

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

Taralea's small find.

Taralea’s small find.

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

Sunshine!!

Sunshine!!

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

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

Sarah and Jess.

Sarah and Jess.

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

Recording a burial.

Deep discussion during the recording of the burial.

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

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

Linda cleaning up her tile-lined pit.

Linda cleaning up her tile-lined pit.

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

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

Linda exposing a post hole.

Linda exposing a post hole.

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

Kent and Linda planning a surface.

Kent and Linda planning a surface.

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

Gus, Kent and Linda discussing their findings.

Gus, Kent and Linda discussing their findings.

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

Christine lifting an ashy deposit.

Christine lifting an ashy deposit.

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

Hattie exposing a possible hearth base.

Hattie exposing a possible hearth base.

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

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

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

 

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

Sieving material from a medieval deposit.

Sieving material from a medieval deposit.

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

Ted's pot sherd.

Ted’s pot sherd.

Here’s a closer look.

IMG_8022

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

Meanwhile, in Contrary Corner...

Meanwhile, in Contrary Corner…

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

Recording a new deposit in Contrary Corner.

Recording a new deposit in Contrary Corner.

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

Can you make out the outline?

Can you make out the outline?

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

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

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

Katie's sherd of samian.

Katie’s sherd of Samian.

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

Liss and Taralea.

Liss and Taralea.

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

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

A pair of pipes emerge.

A pair of pipes emerge.

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

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

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

Pete working on an 18th century dump.

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

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

Lifting the brick floor.

Lifting the brick floor.

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

Pete and Tomasz.

Pete and Tomasz.

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

Noel revealing a post hole.

Noel revealing a post hole.

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

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

Manda's Roman discovery.

Manda’s Roman discovery.

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

Finds washing action shot.

Finds washing action shot.

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

Have you got the time?

Have you got the time?

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

Internal gears visible in the corroded watch.

Internal gears visible in the corroded watch.

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

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

Paws for thought.

Paws for thought.

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

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

The week six team.

The week six team.

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

Becky, Katie, Ellen and Gus

Becky, Katie, Ellen and Gus

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

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

So, without further ado, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

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

Lisa, Pandora, Manda and Arran - DYS veterans

Lisa, Pandora, Manda and Arran – DYS veterans

 

Site Diary: Week 5

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

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

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

The glorious Yorkshire summer.

The glorious Yorkshire summer.

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

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

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

Clive and Juliet get started.

Clive and Juliet get started.

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

Clive cleaning up a complex medieval sequence.

Clive cleaning up a complex medieval sequence.

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

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

Georgina's medieval jug handle.

Georgina’s medieval jug handle.

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

Juliet exposing a compacted earthen surface.

Juliet exposing a compacted earthen surface.

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

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

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

Juliet exposing a medieval occupation layer.

Juliet exposing a medieval occupation layer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A happy archaeologist.

A happy archaeologist.

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

Clive and Juliet

Clive and Juliet

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

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

Ted and Kristine begin work on an infant inhumation.

Ted and Kristine begin work on an infant inhumation.

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

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

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

Recording a burial.

Recording a burial.

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

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

Kent and Linda hard at work beneath the YAT banner.

Kent and Linda hard at work beneath the YAT banner.

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

Levelling a new surface.

Levelling a new surface.

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

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

Kent planning a truncated tile-lined pit.

Kent planning a truncated tile-lined pit.

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

Now you see them…

Pipes.

Pipes.

Now you don’t!

No pipes.

No pipes.

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

Sieving the pipe infilling.

Sieving the pipe infilling.

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

Barry's freshly unearthed seal jug fragment. July 2014

Barry’s freshly unearthed seal jug fragment. July 2014

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

Ed's seal jug sherd.

Ed’s seal jug sherd.

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

A closer look

A closer look

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

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

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

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

Rheba working on a burial.

Rheba working on a burial.

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

Graeme, Ed and Rheba.

Graeme, Ed and Rheba.

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

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

Taralea's minim.

Taralea’s minim.

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

Taralea and Juliet recording their pipe trench.

Taralea and Juliet recording their pipe trench.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve and Terry get stuck in!

Steve and Terry get stuck in!

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

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

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

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

An early 19th century crab claw.

An early 19th century crab claw.

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

Terry's latest find.

Terry’s latest find.

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

A closer look...

A closer look…

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

Sam and Sarah.

Sam and Sarah.

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

Stuart and Kate.

Stuart and Kate and their favourite finds

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

Graeme excavating an 18th century deposit.

Graeme excavating an 18th century deposit.

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

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

The week 5 team.

The week 5 team.

Until next time, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

 

 

 

 

Site Diary: Week 4

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

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

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

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

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

Bri working another masterwork.

Bri working another masterwork.

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

Careful, controlled demolition of course…

Bri uncovering possibly medieval stonework beneath later brickwork.

Bri uncovering possibly medieval stonework beneath later brickwork.

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

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

Recording a slither of brick flooring

Recording a slither of brick flooring

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

Taking up the surface

Taking up the surface

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

A chamfered medieval brick.

A chamfered medieval brick in profile.

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

Matt and Bri and their re-used medieval CBM.

Matt and Bri and their re-used medieval CBM.

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

More nice finds for Matt and Bri!

More nice finds for Matt and Bri!

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

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

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

Sue and Gill get started.

Sue and Gill get started.

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

Gill's sherd of Greyware.

Gill’s sherd of Greyware.

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

Sue and a lovely sherd of green glazed pottery.

Sue and a lovely sherd of green glazed pottery.

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

Getting deeper...

Getting deeper…

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

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

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

Amazing preservation of a scrap of fabric.

Amazing preservation of a scrap of fabric.

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

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

The edge of a coffin emerges.

The edge of a coffin emerges.

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

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

Alice's coffin stain.

Alice’s coffin stain.

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

Alice gets started.

Alice gets started.

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

Alice's finds tray.

Alice’s finds tray.

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

Well-preserved timber.

Well-preserved timber.

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

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

Alice begins work on another burial.

Alice begins work on another burial.

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

Alice putting together the coffin records.

Alice putting together the coffin records.

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

Kristine and Koen

Kristine and Koen

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

Koen & Kristine working on a burial.

Koen & Kristine working on a burial.

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

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

Recording the skeleton.

Recording the skeleton.

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

Kristine and Koen.

Kristine and Koen.

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

Iain exposing the outline of a burial.

Iain exposing the outline of a burial.

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

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

Archaeologists as far as the eye can see...

Archaeologists as far as the eye can see…

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

Iain finally reaches the base of the cut.

Iain finally reaches the base of the cut.

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

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

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

Iain's coin.

Iain’s coin.

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

Louisa's first ever session of troweling.

Louisa’s first ever session of troweling.

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

Sophie and Annie planning a new deposit.

Sophie and Annie planning a new deposit.

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

Katie, Sophie and Annie.

Katie, Sophie and Annie.

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

Taralea and Ellen.

Taralea and Ellen.

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

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

A very pleased Ellen.

A very pleased Ellen.

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

Taralea's pot sherd.

Taralea’s pot sherd.

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

Sieving in action.

Sieving in action.

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

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

Finds washing in the July sunshine.

Finds washing in the July sunshine.

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

A half-penny.

A half-penny.

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

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

Katie and a newly discovered Roman coin.

Katie and a newly discovered Roman coin.

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

Part of a stone spindle whorl.

Part of a stone spindle whorl.

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

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

The week four team.

The week four team.

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

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

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

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

Visitors enjoying a tour of the trench.

Visitors enjoying a tour of the trench.

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

The finds table.

The finds table.

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

'Dino'

‘Dino’

This year's shirt.

This year’s shirt.

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

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

Until then, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

 

 

Site Diary: Week 3

Over the course of the summer, well over 200 budding archaeologists will have taken part in our 2015 training excavation at All Saints, North Street.

Each trainee will be introduced to all of the fundamental skills, theories and techniques that make up modern archaeological fieldwork. From the many ways one can wield a trowel, to the intricacies of building a Harris Matrix, all bases are covered. That isn’t to say, however, that every trainee’s experience will be the same, far from it in fact!

Safety gear awaiting new arrivals.

Safety gear awaiting new arrivals.

Urban archaeology is always full of surprises, offering the chance to tease apart complex layers of deposition and retrieve wonderfully human moments from the ground. As the week three team arrived, each individual had a very different week ahead of them!

That End (Arran’s area)

Joining us from Texas and Utah respectively, Bob and Taralea were tasked with the exciting challenge of opening up a brand new area of excavation.

The trench is separated from the church by a paved footpath that once connected the Tanner Row area of York to the waterfront. One of the key aims of the 2015 season is to connect the complex sequence that we have already exposed to the church itself, this means taking up areas of the old paved surface of Church Lane and expanding our limit of excavation right up to the medieval walls!

As any good archaeologist knows, however, recording should always precede excavation! Laid in the mid-19th century, the Yorkstone paving slabs that make up the present surface of Church Lane represent the latest archaeological context in this new area and would require a full single context record before they could be lifted. With this in mind, Bob and Taralea cleaned up and photographed the area and were shown how to create an accurate scale drawing of the surface.

Katie introducing Bob and Taralea to the art of planning.

Katie introducing Bob and Taralea to the art of planning.

With a nine metre stretch of the surface to record, the drawing took some time to put together, but the final product was a work of art!

Bob and Taralea's plan begins to come together.

Bob and Taralea’s plan beginning to come together.

Heights above sea level were added to the plan at regular intervals to make the drawing three-dimesional and a context card was compiled describing the surface in minute detail.

After several days of careful measurements and detailed observations, it was time to get physical! The old paving slabs had seen people come and go for a century and a half, now it was find what was hidden beneath them – which seemed simple in principle…

Bob and Taralea getting prepped for some heavy lifting!

Bob and Taralea getting prepped for some heavy lifting!

Lifting just a two metre wide section of the surface proved to be a tremendous challenge, the slabs were very heavy! Happily, with the assistance of Gary and Arran, the stones were lifted and neatly stacked ready to be re-used in the future re-development of the site.

With the archaeology beneath the surface freshly exposed, a clear linear feature was immediately visible – the drain trench associated with the 1860s Church Hall.

Spot the linear!

Spot the linear!

As Taralea and Bob were now a crack recording team, it took very little time to clean up and record the backfill of the drain trench and they were soon hard at work excavating the deposit.

Excavation begins!

Excavation begins!

As the drain trench runs very close to the church, we suspected that it would contain some interesting finds.

When the trench was originally dug out in the 1860s, the workers will have cut through around a metre of stratigraphy that had built up beside the church, laid the new drain pipes and pushed the now jumbled up archaeological material back in to the trench.

Sadly, archaeologists weren’t around then to carry out a watching brief as we would today, but the deposit still has considerable interpretive potential. If Bob and Taralea were to find a wealth of medieval pottery, for instance, it would suggest that medieval stratigraphy survives on either side of the drain trench.

Just as we’d hoped, it didn’t take long for the first exciting find to be recovered from the deposit!

A very happy archaeologist!

A very happy archaeologist!

With practically his first scrape of the trowel, Bob recovered a well-preserved struck silver coin. While it will require a good deal of cleaning in our conservation lab, enough detail is visible through the corrosion to reveal that the coin is Roman. Keen eyes will spot that a small amount of text is still visible around the periphery of the coin.

Bob's Roman coin.

Bob’s Roman coin.

While the coin was found in a 19th century context, it provides further evidence that the site was occupied during the Roman period and that surviving deposits may be present deeper down. This isn’t a great surprise considering the site’s riverside position with the Roman colonia (civilian settlement) of Eboracum, but it’s always good to have confirmation. Most importantly, the coin adds that little extra bit of detail to our knowledge of Roman York and it made Bob very happy indeed!

As the week progressed, Taralea and Bob continued to make some very illuminating discoveries!

Taralea and her medieval jug handle.

Taralea and her medieval jug handle.

Mixed in with the 19th century material deposited as the drain trench had been originally backfilled were a number of intriguing objects, one of the most exciting being the handle of a large medieval jug. In fact, a huge amount of Roman to post-medieval ceramics were recovered, hinting that an unbroken sequence of occupation is waiting to be discovered in the layers below!

A more macabre discovery was the presence of a large amount of disarticulated human bone. It has long been suspected that what is now Church Lane was once part of the medieval graveyard and Taralea and Bob’s discovery of human remains disturbed by the digging of the drain trench confirms this theory. As the season progresses, we will locate and record these burials and hopefully find exactly when and for how long the area was used for burials.

Bob's latest find.

Bob’s latest find.

To finish the week, Bob made a discovery that pre-dates even the earliest of human settlement in York, a Belemnite fossil. Dating to the Jurassic and Cretacious periods, these fossils were once part of small squid-like creatures that are related to modern cuttlefish. The bullet-shaped calcite of the fossil was part of the guard structure at the tail end of the creature.

Bob's Bellemnite

Bob’s Belemnite

While our site is not a paleontological excavation, the find can still tell us something as they are not found naturally in York. At some point in history, the fossil will have been brought down from the hills around Whitby, perhaps as a trinket or ornament. It’s a pleasant mystery to ponder.

While Bob and Taralea were working to expand the trench, returning trainees Gill and Sue were taking up residence in the most infamous corner of the site – Contrary Corner!

Here, the edges of features play hard to get and new theories rarely last the day. One does not simply walk into Contrary Corner.

That said, we have been making good progress in the area of late and Sue and Gill had high hopes of taming the beast!

Sue and GillRecording a new deposit.

Sue and Gill recording a new deposit.

With a new patch of an 18th century cobbled surface discovered in the area during week two, Sue and Gill were given the challenge of locating any remaining 19th century burials in the area. Once all of these have been discovered, we will be able to really get our teeth into the post-medieval layers!

Sue and Gill

Sue and Gill examining finds.

The first deposit to record and excavate was a small dump deposit, that was suspected to date to the site’s use as a graveyard between 1826 and 1854. Sue and Gill made good progress on this, taking away the looser material of the dump and beginning to expose a more compacted deposit.

A finds highlight from this process was an enigmatic copper alloy object that was found by Sue.

Described in somewhat dubious expert detail by That End Supervisor Arran as a ‘copper thing’, the object is difficult to identify before being cleaned up by the conservation team.

Ta-dah!

Ta-dah!

The object isn’t a complete mystery, however, as it does bear a resemblance to a medieval weighing scale arm found during the 2014 season. Time will tell on this one, but it remains a fantastic find!

With the last of their dump removed, Sue and Gill had revealed a new context with a familiar rectangular shape. As suspected, it seems we had found another 19th century grave.

Recording the grave backfill.

Recording the grave backfill.

Without further ado, tapes, scales and pencils were gathered and the freshly exposed grave backfill was quickly recorded. Sue and Gill were keen to triumph over Contrary Corner!

Let's dig!

Let’s dig!

As the depth of a burial is impossible to know for sure, careful excavation is a must on features such as these. Sue and Gill made good, steady progress, lowering the deposit and inspecting it for any signs of a coffin stain beginning to emerge.

Gill's Cistercian Ware pot sherd.

Gill’s Cistercian Ware pot sherd.

Perhaps the nicest find from this context was a fragment of a 16th century Cistercian Ware mug. These double handled drinking vessels were very popular in post-medieval North Yorkshire and have a beautifully iridescent purplish-brown glaze over a distinctive red fabric.

A closer look.

A closer look.

By the end of the week, Gill and Sue were successful in their quest, as the giveaway dark line of the head end of a coffin began to appear within their grave backfill. While there wasn’t time to expose the full outline of the coffin, the intrepid pair had stepped into Contrary Corner and emerged victorious, making some great finds along the way!

Diligent troweling.

Diligent troweling.

Outside Contrary Corner, the rest of Arran’s team were making a concerted effort to locate and record the area’s remaining burials.

Barry and Sue excavating a pair of infant burials.

Barry and Sue excavating a pair of infant burials.

Sue from San Francisco had a challenging task in hand, as she delicately excavated and recorded the burial of an infant individual. This can be an emotive process and requires a lot of care and concentration.

Despite very poor preservation, Sue managed to expose and record the decayed remains of a tiny coffin, complete with decorative metal plating.

Sue gently exposing a tiny coffin.

Sue gently exposing a tiny coffin.

We cannot say much about the individual buried within this grave, but it is clear that great care was taken with their burial. One of archaeology’s greatest strengths is to bring to life moments of joy, tragedy and mundanity that do not make it into the history books, bringing us a little closer to the people who walked the streets of York before us.

Barry photographing a burial.

Barry photographing a burial.

Barry’s week began on an equally challenging note, as he recorded an infant burial that appeared to overlay the head end of a deeper adult burial. With this task completed, Barry turned to the other end of the grave only to discover a second infant had also been placed in the grave. This required a great deal of careful excavation and recording and Barry proved very adept at working in a very confined space!

In week two, Alice excavated a sequence of surfaces that seem to have been an ultimately futile attempt to counter a subsiding floor within a post-medieval workshop. Over week three, she continued this process, lifting a silty levelling layer and exposing an even earlier mortar floor!

Alice's mortar surface.

Alice’s mortar surface.

Sitting in a slither of archaeology left between two later burials, it was remarkable how much we could learn from such a small area! Before long, Alice had recorded the new mortar surface and started to take it away. This revealed a cleaner deposit with a greenish brown tinge, a good indicator that organic, cessy deposits may not be far away. Perhaps we will soon find the underlying cesspit that may have caused the subsidence.

Archaeology: the only job where finding an unexpected cesspit is a good thing.

Alice's beautiful spindle whorl.

Alice’s beautiful spindle whorl.

It wasn’t all cess and subsidence however, as Alice’s patient work was rewarded with a wonderful find – a beautifully worked stone spindle whorl of Viking or medieval date. Until the beginning of the industrial revolution, spinning wool would have been a daily chore for many past residents of York, hence the discovery of many spindle whorls in excavations across the city. This is a particularly fine example, however, and whoever misplaced it would have been very upset! Happily, their loss proved to be archaeology’s gain!

Barry and Alice's new burial.

Barry and Alice’s new burial.

Barry and Alice ended their week by teaming up to tackle a newly discovered burial that proved to be surprisingly shallow. As the backfill was peeled away, one of our better preserved coffins began to emerge.

The outline of a coffin emerges.

The outline of a coffin emerges.

The discoveries of Arran’s team were added to by three taster students. Mary spent a productive couple of days on site investigating a dump deposit in a gap between a pair of graves. With the recording complete, excavation began and it didn’t take long to discover that the space was occupied by another burial.

Mary tackling a dump deposit.

Mary tackling a dump deposit.

James and Sue picked up where Mary left off and started to excavate the newly discovered burial. It is becoming increasingly clear that this graveyard was densely occupied!

James and Sue hard at work on a grave backfill.

James and Sue hard at work on a grave backfill.

In Gary’s area, Matt and Bri’s third week on site saw them continue to make great progress in picking apart the structural sequence of the Rectory. Built in the medieval period, it seems that the structure was altered and re-built on a number of occasions, meaning a lot of contexts to record and dig!

Matt and Bri working on their records, a familiar site during week three!

Matt and Bri working on their records, a familiar site during week three!

After excavating the construction backfill of the main Rectory wall, the pair turned their attention to a tile-built feature discovered during week one.

Recording a tile-built feature.

Recording a tile-built feature.

Made up of overlapping medieval roof-tile, the feature may have served as a primitive drain or sluice.

Following the completion of their records, excavation could begin – quickly revealing an underlying deposit of silty material. As Matt and Bri continue to take away later additions to the building, more and more of the older fabric will be revealed, perhaps even remains of its medieval predecessor.

Excavating a graveyard soil.

Excavating a graveyard soil.

For Theo, Rob and Andy, the first part of their week involved the excavation of a graveyard soil – an accumulation of material resultant of repeated grave-digging and soil disturbance. As expected, this process revealed numerous as-yet undiscovered graves. The team were going to have their work cut out for them!

Rob revealing the outline of a burial.

Rob revealing the outline of a burial.

Later in the week, the trio completed the plan of the surface of Church Lane, an area that the trench will soon be expanding into.

Recording Church Lane.

Recording Church Lane.

Back in the trench, Sam and Emma teamed up to take on a previously identified burial. The first task for the pair was to define the outline of the feature and record it prior to excavation.

Sam and Emma recording their burial.

Sam and Emma recording their burial.

The outline of the grave proved to be very clear indeed, visible as a rectangle of very mixed material.

Can you see the edges?

Can you see the edges?

By the end of the week, recording was complete and the remains of a small coffin were beginning to emerge.

Excavation begins.

Excavation begins.

The location and recording of each of these burials is important for two main reasons; to learn more about the people who lived and died in the area almost two centuries ago and to protect their remains from any damage caused by forthcoming redevelopment.

Digging in the sunshine.

Digging in the sunshine.

Beyond the trench, work in the Tree of Finds continued to throw up a few surprises, the most noteworthy being a visit from our resident site dog, Harry.

Hello Harry...

Hello Harry…

Harry worked tirelessly, helping out wherever he could.

Harry supervising Toby's small finds session.

Harry supervising Toby’s small finds session.

While his input mainly involved sleeping and occasional drooling, Harry proved to be an invaluable addition to the team. He made some interesting discoveries, although these were mainly limited to misplaced crisps and ham…

Harry supervising Toby's matrix masterclass.

Harry supervising Toby’s matrix masterclass.

 

Over week three, our team of trainees made huge steps forward in our aim to fully understand the graveyard phase and carried out some truly professional standard excavation and recording. Each grave that is revealed and investigated means that we can divert more and more of our attention to earlier features. Over the coming few weeks, we will be looking more closely at the site’s post-medieval past – who knows what is waiting in store for us!

The week three team.

The week three team.

Thanks for reading folks, until next time – onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

PS. Planty is still with us, just about…

Planty and Mr Fish.

Planty and Mr Fish.

 

 

 

Site Diary: Week 2

An Archaeology Live! trench is always a fun place to be on a Monday morning. As the new team arrive, the site comes to life with the polite chatter of introductions and the unsheathing of shiny new trowels. Each week sees the arrival of a diverse group of brand new and returning trainees from all over the world, all with a shared passion for exploring the past and an eagerness to learn new skills.

The view from the trench

The view from the trench

As the new team set foot on to site, the weather was overcast but warm and everyone was keen to add to the exciting discoveries of week one.

In Arran’s area (That End), Sue was joined by new starter Dan as she continued to investigate a linear feature that pre-dates the Church Hall (built 1860). The southern half of the same feature was excavated during the 2014 season and proved to be be quite intriguing. Frequent finds of discarded structural stonework appear to suggest that the feature was a robber trench that was dug to recover masonry from a redundant boundary wall. Also present in some quantity was disarticulated human bone, a rare discovery in features pre-dating the Church Hall. While the robber trench theory remains a possibility, it is also possible that the linear could represent the edge of the medieval graveyard – the point at which the densely packed, intercutting burials were contained by the churchyard’s northern boundary.

Sue and Dan's linear feature.

Sue and Dan’s linear feature.

In Sue and Dan’s small slot through the feature, the same pattern of finds was continuing. Amidst a jumble of human bone, sherds of pottery from the Roman period through to the 19th century were recovered and at 0.60m and descending, the feature was looking to be pretty deep!

Close by, Alice got her second week on site started by completing the records for a burial excavated during week one.

Alice putting the finishing touches to her plan.

Alice putting the finishing touches to her plan.

The burial proved to be that of a tall and striking middle-aged male and Alice did an excellent job of recording the remains. With this job done, Alice teamed up with Jade to record a newly discovered grave backfill. As Jade was also beginning her second week on-site, the pair were quickly becoming a crack team when it came to recording. It didn’t take long for the records to be completed and for excavation to begin on the new feature.

Elsewhere in Arran’s area, Barry and Hayley picked up work on a possible burial situated right on the edge of the trench. In a wonderfully ‘small world’ moment, it turned out that they actually lived only a few miles away from one and other down in Essex!

Barry and Hayley - The Essex dream team.

Barry and Hayley – The Essex dream team.

Careful excavation quickly revealed the surprisingly shallow remains of a coffin. While the vast majority of the timber had long since rotted away, small fragments had survived when in close proximity to the coffin’s iron fittings. Coffins can also reveal themselves with a simple change in compaction – the material within the coffin being decidedly looser and less compacted than the rest of the grave backfill. With one edge beginning to appear, Barry and Hayley now had to expose the full outline of the feature.

Over in This End, many of Gary’s team were continuing where they left off in week one.

Recording a new deposit.

Zada, Brad and Kimberley recording a new deposit.

The Texan trio of Brad, Kimberley and Zada were continuing to work within a 1.50m square slot positioned to provide a window into earlier deposits underlying the 19th century horizon. The discovery of another coffin stain, however, soon complicated matters – what was thought to be a dump deposit was now clearly a grave backfill.

In a brick chamber built onto the side of an 18th-19th century Rectory building, Bri and Matt finished the records for a newly discovered construction backfill.

Matt and Bri's construction cut under excavation.

Matt and Bri’s construction cut under excavation.

Locating the construction backfill was a key event in dating and understanding the wall. As this deposit relates directly to the construction of the structure, any dateable material recovered can be used to more tightly date the feature.

Unexpectedly, the brickwork proved to be far more substantial than had been thought. The main Rectory wall that the chamber is built against only survives to a depth of up to four courses. As Matt and Bri removed the loose, rubbly material from the construction cut, the chamber wall was found to be 10 courses deep! This substantial footing provides strong evidence that the structure would have stood to more than a single storey. Such a depth of brickwork simply wouldn’t be required for a single storey structure.

Looking down on the Rectory walls.

Looking down on the Rectory walls.

A large fragment of mid-19th century concrete confirmed that the extension had been built quite late on in the Rectory’s long life. Originally medieval, the majority of the building appears to have been re-built in the early to mid-19th century before being demolished between 1852 and 1860.

Is Matt and Bri's chamber the annex on the right?

Is Matt and Bri’s chamber the annex on the right?

Joining us from Boston, MA, Cynde continued work on a narrow strip of grave backfill on the southern edge of the trench. By the end of the day, the feature was getting pretty deep and there was no sign of a coffin within the grave.

As the end of the day arrived, the team packed away and headed to the familiar surrounds of The Golden Slipper for rehydration and theoretical discussions.

By day two, summer was really beginning to make its presence felt, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and temperatures were already soaring!

Getting hot!

Getting hot!

Jade’s day got off to a good start as she discovered a fragment of glazed medieval floor tile, adding to a growing assemblage of yellow and green glazed tiles that have been recovered from the site so far. All Saints has spent a millennium being altered and extended, finds like these help us to create a picture of the church in its high medieval heyday.

Jade's latest find.

Jade’s latest find.

As work on Jade and Alice’s feature continued it became apparent that the grave was home to more than one individual. The delicate remains of two tiny, but well made coffins were exposed, complete with decorative metal plating. With the coffin stains cleaned up, Jade and Alice set up to record their new discoveries.

Jade and Alice recording.

Jade and Alice recording.

In Dan and Sue’s linear feature, the growing depth of the cut was making it difficult to reach down and excavate the fill without damaging the human remains within it. As a precautionary measure, the records for the cut were updated and the feature was put on hold. Work will resume when the surrounding area has been reduced.

Dan and Sue.

Dan and Sue.

Dan and Sue moved over to a new area that is suspected to contain another burial and recorded the extents of a dump of rubbly material. The complex pattern of deposition that dates to the lifespan of the cemetery proves that 19th century graveyards were not without activity. Between neat rows of graves, tips and dumps of soil were still constantly accumulating, presumably a by-product of the tons of material being moved by gravediggers.

As the many adult and infant burials demonstrate, the site would have witnessed countless solemn services and outpourings of grief between 1826 and 1854, but it was by no means a sterile environment. Pits were still being dug, soil was still being moved around and an industrious rabbit unofficially dubbed Flopsy the B*****d was energetically burrowing through layers of archaeology (much to Arran’s annoyance!).

Outside the current trench, work was continuing on creating a plan of the paved surface of Church Lane. When the surface has been fully recorded, several new slots will be excavated beneath paving slabs to investigate the archaeology between the trench and the church itself.

Planning Church Lane

Planning Church Lane

With the construction backfills within their brick chamber now fully excavated, much of Bri and Matt’s day was taken up with recording the walls themselves. Recording structures can be an exhaustive process; before they can be dismantled, it is vital to measure the building materials, describe the mortar, detail the patterns of coursing and pick apart the sequence of construction. Bri and Matt had their work cut out for them!

Recording the Rectory.

Recording the Rectory.

In Contrary Corner, Arran’s team were joined by Jean, a longstanding volunteer with YAT’s finds department. On site for a taster day, Jean was eager to brush up on her fieldwork skills and took to the excavation of an ashy deposit that appeared to post-dates the phase of burials. Jean’s careful troweling was rewarded by a number of nice finds, including some particularly pretty sherds of medieval pottery.

Jean digging in Contrary Corner.

Jean digging in Contrary Corner.

Just metres away, Barry and Hayley were continuing to follow the edges of a coffin stain. As this work demanded the pair to reach over a truncated fragment of an earlier cobbled surface, work was paused on the burial while the cobbles were recorded. As the surface pre-dates the site’s use as a graveyard, it can’t be excavated until all of the burials have been recorded. As a precautionary measure, Barry and Hayley recorded the cobbles before returning to work on their burial, this way, any accidental damage to the surface won’t be a disaster as it would already be fully recorded and ready to lift.

Barry and Hayley

Barry and Hayley

Although their burial had only been excavated to a depth of 20cm, Barry and Hayley’s finds tray was already burgeoning with a wealth of ceramics. Keen eyes will be able to spot post-medieval slipwares and Cistercian ware sitting alongside medieval York Glazed Ware and Roman Mortaria.

A good tray!

A good tray!

By Wednesday, temperatures were close to 30 degrees celsius and the trench was feeling increasingly like an oven! Nonetheless, progress continued at a steady pace with regular trips to the shade of the Tree of Finds for a spot of finds washing and and some respite from the sun.

Drying finds.

Drying finds.

While work in the trench continued on exposing coffin stains and excavating grave backfills, the finds team were making some interesting discoveries! While cleaning a small mountain of finds, Matt noticed an interesting sherd of pottery.

Matt and his Bellarmine jug neck.

Matt and his Bellarmine jug neck.

The sherd turned out to be part of the neck of a Bellarmine (or Bartmann) jar. These 17th century stoneware vessels are thought to represent the highly divisive figure of Cardinal Bellarmine, a staunch opponent of protestantism and alcohol! A more complete example was one of the star finds of the 2014 season! http://archaeologylive.org/archaeology/find-of-the-year-2014-poll/

A closer look.

A closer look.

Back on-site, Jade and Alice had finished work on their double infant burial and were beginning to pick apart a sequence of deposits that survived in a narrow peninsula between two graves. Pre-dating the burials, the upper deposit appeared to be part of a compacted surface that could once have been the floor of a workshop. Interestingly, the date of the feature was something of a mystery. We knew it would pre-date the area’s consecration in 1826, but not by how much. Jade and Alice were taking one of our first peeks into the site’s more distant past, all we needed now was some dateable material!

Jade's surface

Jade’s surface

The day ended on a high note for Archaeology Live! legend Bri. Working in a deposit associated with the construction of the Rectory, he discovered a decorative glass bead.

Bri and his bead.

Bri and his bead.

These personal finds always add a little colour to our view of the periods we study. Getting in touch with the more frivolous sides of our predecessors helps to remind us that they were people just like ourselves.

The temperatures remained hot and muggy on Thursday, but a productive day was had nonetheless.

Jade and Alice

Jade and Alice

Once recorded, Jade and Alice’s surface peeled away very easily and revealed… another surface! This turned out to be something of a trend, with surface after surface being recorded and excavated. Tantalisingly, the latest ceramics to be recovered from this sequence were 16th/17th century in date. We finally had a foothold in the post-medieval period!

After a lot of careful troweling, Hayley and Barry managed to expose the delicate outline of a tiny coffin. Set within a grave cut measuring well over 1.50m in length, this was an unexpected discovery.

Recording a coffin.

Recording a coffin.

As the day progressed, the remains of the coffin were meticulously recorded, allowing Barry and Hayley to excavate further and reveal the remains of a small infant. The presence of an infant burial within a larger grave cut suggests that the coffin may gave been placed above a deeper adult burial. Once the recording for their infant burial was complete, Barry and Hayley would be able to investigate the rest of the grave and, it was hoped, to locate the anticipated second inhabitant.

With one deposit fully excavated and recorded, Sue and Dan moved on to another deposit, cleaning up and recoding an area suspected to house a burial.

Who says levelling can't be fun??

Who says levelling can’t be fun??

At the other end of the trench, Matt and Bri were continuing to pick apart the complex Rectory sequence. This meant a lot of recording, but the pair were becoming quite the experts by this point.

Kings of the context card.

Kings of the context card.

The Tree of Finds remained a hive of activity, with finds washing revealing some as yet undiscovered surprises! There was a tantalising near-miss as some intriguing marks were discovered in a cattle rib. At a glance, it was hoped that these may be a Viking runic inscription, something that is remarkably yet to be discovered in York! Unfortunately, closer inspection revealed them to be cut marks from the butchery of the animal. So near, yet so far…

Runes? If only!

Runes? If only!

Throughout the day, members of the team broke away to enjoy Toby’s small finds session. Spotting those interesting finds and knowing how to process them is a key fieldwork skill. Clean, dry finds were also sorted into categories and bagged by type in advance of specialist analysis.

 

Learning about small finds.

Learning about small finds.

Back in the trench, more great finds were turning up. On her first archaeology taster day, Red found evidence of a medieval mishap in a sherd of pottery.

Red's medieval pot sherd.

Red’s medieval pot sherd.

In this instance, a poorly applied handle had clearly detached from a large green glazed jug. You can almost imagine the crash of broken pottery as the jug full of wine fell to the floor. Needless to say, the sherd was found amongst medieval refuse!

As happens all too often on Archaeology Live!, Friday came around all too soon. Brad and Kimberley’s 1.5m x 1.5m slot had so far discovered two infant/juvenile burials and as work progressed on the remaining area, a third coffin was discovered! It seems that the area’s proximity to the edge of the graveyard had led to individuals being shoehorned into the remaining space.

IMG_7584

Brad and Kimberley

Jade and Alice continued to find surface after surface in their small window into the post-medieval horizon. Beneath eight successive re-laid surfaces, a sloping cobbled surface was revealed that explained the unusual sequence that had been encountered. Clearly, a workshop floor had repeatedly been subsiding to the extent that the post-medieval resident was forced to lay countless replacement surfaces only to find them subsiding again.

A sloping cobbled surface.

A sloping cobbled surface between two later graves.

The reason for this subsidence can only be suggested at present, but similar patterns seen on the Hungate excavations generally meant that a large pit with an organic fill was lying in wait at a deeper level. Perhaps we have Viking/medieval cesspits (Arran’s speciality) in store for us!

Excavation of Sue and Dan’s second deposit revealed that a burial was indeed present as the fragile outline of a tiny coffin began to appear. Locating and recording the extents of this feature proved to be a real challenge as so little of it survived. By the end of the day, Sue and Dan’s patience was rewarded and they were able to begin excavating within the coffin.

Excavating a tiny coffin.

Excavating a tiny coffin.

By late afternoon, the bitumen damp course of the Victorian walls around the trench was melting in the heat. Happily, it would take more than that to stop our intrepid team of archaeologists!

Too hot!

Too hot!

Zada, Red and Cynde’s grave cut continued to descend, with no sign of a coffin appearing! Reaching the base of the feature was quite the challenge, but an amazing range of ceramics continued to be recovered.

Cynde reaching to the base of a deep feature.

Cynde reaching to the base of a deep feature.

With another wave of recording complete, Bri and Matt were free to excavate a small section of brick flooring within the Rectory building – a process that yielded interesting results.

Matt and Bri

Matt and Bri

We know that the floor is made up of 18th century brick, while the north-east wall of the re-built Rectory was erected in the 19th century. It had been thought that the floor must have been re-laid following the re-build or laid using recycled brick, however, Bri and Matt discovered that the floor was simply left in-situ and cut through by the new wall. This odd construction method speaks quite loudly of a bit of a bodge job. Cowboy builders eh?

With space in their grave now at a premium, Hayley left Barry to carry out peeling away the grave backfill and assisted taster student Gill with the recording of a newly exposed section of cobbled surface in Contrary Corner.

Hayley recording Gill's newly exposed cobble surface.

Hayley recording Gill’s newly exposed cobble surface.

The discovery of the cobbled surface adds to a growing picture of how the site may have looked prior to becoming a graveyard. Indeed, historic texts refer to the workshops that occupied the site in the 18th century as having ‘gravel floors’. Not exactly the height of luxury…

All too soon, 5pm rolled around and the team headed away to seek refreshment and rehydration at VJ’s (home to Team Arch Live! each Friday night). Chatting over evening meals and cold drinks, it was clear that everyone had had a great week on-site.

A real benefit of the Archaeology Live! model is the ability of trainees to take ownership of their features and to know that their records go on to form the final site archive that, in turn, forms the basis of the site report. Every trainee becomes a vital part of the team, adding their own chapters to the long history of York.

Week two saw us make fantastic progress in locating and recording the many burials that inhabit the site, while also learning more about the Rectory and workshops that pre-date the burials. Huge thanks go out to all of our trainees and placements for making the dig happen, for working hard through tough conditions and for helping us better understand our ancient city.

The week two team.

The week two team.

In week three, we will continue to build on the fantastic start that we have made to the summer season. Keep your eyes on our Twitter and Facebook pages for live updates direct from the trench!

As ever, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

Site Diary: Week 1

Work begins on site. June 24th 2015. All aerial views courtesy of David Dodwell https://twitter.com/watertowers

Work begins on site. All aerial views courtesy of David Dodwell https://twitter.com/watertowers

2015 has been a busy year for York Archaeological Trust. Our team of professional archaeologists have been carrying out numerous projects across the north of England; from the unprecedented discoveries beneath York Theatre Royal, to the impressive Roman fortifications at the site of York’s forthcoming Community Stadium. Despite all of this excitement, Toby, Arran and Gary (Team Archaeology Live!) have still been counting down the days until June 22nd – without fail, the training dig is the highlight of each of our years!

Cleaning up the trench.

Cleaning up the trench.

The 2015 summer season began on a somewhat damp note, the weather seemingly having missed the memo that it was late June. Despite the slightly moist and chilly conditions, the new team of trainees were excited to get the season started!

The first task in hand was to clear away the weeds and dust that had accumulated since the May training weekend. These had grown at a prodigious rate, but it didn’t take long to get the site looking shipshape. The week one team were a diverse mix of new faces and returning veterans from as far afield as Italy, Norway, the USA and… Grimsby.

With the site looking spotless, it was time to get cracking with the excavation!

Ominous skies over North Street.

Ominous skies over North Street, June 22nd 2015.

In the southern half of the trench, or ‘This End’ as it is colloquially known as, Archaeology Live! Supervisor Gary was joined by Kimberley, Brad and Zada, a family from Houston, Texas. As teachers, Brad and Kimberley had been sponsored by the Fund For Teachers initiative to use their experience on site to create a program of archaeology based lessons back in Texas.

With a lot of new skills to learn, the trio cleaned and recorded the upper layer within a 1.5m square slot aiming to provide a window into deeper and earlier deposits close to the trench edge. As work progressed however, it was Brad and Kimberley’s daughter Zada who appeared to have the magic touch, finding a large sherd of Roman Samian Ware and the handle of a medieval in her first ever morning of archaeology!

Zada and her 13th-14th century jug handle.

Zada and her 13th-14th century jug handle.

As work continued on the slot, the mixed nature of the upper deposit suggested that we were within the backfill of a cut feature that had disturbed and re-deposited material from earlier contexts below. This meant a great mixture of finds, from Roman to 19th century.

Brad, Kimberley and Zada.

Brad, Kimberley and Zada.

Returning trainees Jan and Janet teamed up to pick up work on a structural sequence relating to the front yard of a rectory that occupied the site until the 1850s. The rectory is visible in the 1852 OS map excerpt pictured below, just above the top left corner of the church.

An excerpt of the 1852 OS map. Copyright http://www.york1852.org/

An excerpt of the 1852 OS map. Copyright http://www.york1852.org/

A small brick chamber built against the northern boundary wall of the Rectory’s yard was excavated last season, revealing part of an earlier structure made up of re-used medieval roof tile.

Janet, Jan and the Rectory wall.

Janet, Jan and the Rectory wall.

Jan and Janet’s first task was to record and excavate a dump deposit covering the rest of the tile structure.

Looking down on the Rectory walls.

Looking down on the Rectory walls. The cesspit is visible to the left and Jan and Janet’s tile feature is under investigation to the right.

Bri and Matt also began their week looking at the remains of the Rectory, continuing to pick apart a brick chamber added on to the building in the 18th or 19th century. The chamber appears to have functioned as the building’s cesspit and was first looked at last season (see our earlier site diaries for more info). The cobbled base of the cesspit was removed in the spring,  allowing earlier elements of the structure to be recorded and taken away.

Bri and Matt's cesspit dividing wall. Note the medieval(?) stonework incorporated into the later brick wall.

Bri and Matt’s cesspit dividing wall. Note the medieval(?) stonework incorporated into the later brick wall.

Prior to the cobbles being laid, the last addition to the chamber was a short section of brick wall dividing the chamber in two. As single context excavation requires the latest feature to be excavated first, Bri and Matt’s first task was to record the dividing wall in advance of a spot of controlled demolition.

The dividing wall being dismantled.

The dividing wall being dismantled.

The brickwork came away without much of a fight, allowing Bri and Matt to investigate earlier parts of the chamber.

At the northern end of the trench, or ‘That End’, Arran’s team were busily working on a number of different features. Returning trainees Jade and Yvonne took over the excavation of a burial that was first discovered back in Spring.

Jade and Yvonne working on a burial.

Jade and Yvonne working on a burial.

It was tricky work! The burial was located right at the edge of the trench and was already quite deep. Jade and Yvonne showed a great deal of skill and patience as they delicately lowered the looser fill that occupied the interior of the collapsed coffin. Their hard work soon paid off as the remains of a small child began to appear.

Dealing with the remains of young individuals can be an emotional experience and all Archaeology Live! trainees are taught to treat the burials with an appropriate amount of care and respect. Fittingly, Jade and Yvonne did an excellent job of exposing the remains, allowing us to accurately record the position and depth of the burial.

The team enjoying a well deserved tea break.

The team enjoying a well deserved tea break.

Working on two other partially excavated burials, local lad Gideon and Alice from northern Italy were also facing a painstaking task. Both burials had begun to reveal the outlines of coffins during the spring excavation, although neither had been completely exposed.

Alice looking for the foot end of her coffin.

Alice looking for the foot end of her coffin. The outline is visible as a thin dark line.

Both coffins survived only as a thin line of darker soil, with occasional iron fittings and fragments of degraded wood. If you were to trowel a little too hard, you could very easily destroy the fragile remains of the coffin. If you were a tad too cautious, it would be easy to miss the faint outline of the feature altogether!

Gideon's coffin being slowly exposed.

Gideon’s coffin being slowly exposed.

Alice and Gideon both proved to be more than up to the task in hand and by the end of their first day on site, both coffins were cleaned up and ready to record.

In the north-east corner of the trench, Sue from California and Greg from Norway took over work on a linear feature with an interesting backfill.

That End from above.

That End from above. Greg and Sue’s feature is in the top right of the image.

Containing a huge range of ceramics, from Roman to 19th century, the feature clearly truncates a lot of earlier features. What set the deposit apart from the rest of the majority of features on site was the high occurrence of disarticulated human bone.

The 19th century burials that occupy much of the site appear to have been clearly marked in their day – there is almost no evidence of intercutting. As such, the people laid to rest in the graves were not truncated by later burials.

Sue and Greg get started.

Sue and Greg get started.

On medieval graveyards recently excavated by YAT, it was a very different story. With space at a premium, it was not uncommon for a person to be buried for less than a year before the grave of someone else disturbed their remains. In many cases, the upcast arm and leg bones would be relaid along the edges of the new burial, showing at least some degree of reverence from the medieval grave diggers. The smaller bones of the hands, feet and torso would often simply be lost.

With a number of philanges (finger bones) being recovered by Greg and Sue, were we looking at the disturbed remains of medieval parishioners? And how had they found their way into this context? There was more work to do on this one!

The sun comes out!

The sun comes out!

As the week progressed, the weather quickly improved and summery conditions returned to All Saints.

Alice, Gideon and Katie recording a coffin stain.

Alice, Gideon and Katie recording a coffin stain.

With a lot of new contexts freshly exposed, there was a lot of recording to be getting on with, giving the trainees a chance to learn new skills and to develop existing ones.

Jade and Yvonne planning their infant burial.

Jade and Yvonne planning their infant burial.

In typical York style, the finds were coming out of the ground thick and fast! Sue and Greg were finding some lovely examples of archetypal Roman and medieval wares such as Black Burnished Ware and York Glazed Ware.

Sue and Greg showing off  some freshly unearthed finds.

Sue and Greg showing off some freshly unearthed finds.

The pick of the bunch was found by Kimberley, as she unearthed a substantial fragment of a Roman Greyware vessel! The shallow curvature of the rim suggests that this would have been part of a sizeable pot!

Kimberley's Roman pot rim.

Kimberley’s Roman pot rim.

With their upper deposit fully excavated, Kimberley, Brad and Zada began to record the next deposit in the sequence, seemingly another dump deposit.

By this point, the industrious double act of Bri and Matt were proving that a combination of experience and youthful exuberance can be pretty effective! With their wall removed, they removed a shallow underlying deposit and discovered the construction cut for the chamber.

Matt cleaning up the construction trench backfill of the chamber's SE wall.

Matt cleaning up the construction trench backfill of the chamber’s SE wall.

Locating the point at which a wall cuts into the ground is crucial in understanding its date. Up to press, all the deposits that had been removed from in and around the chamber had built up after its construction. By finding the point at which the construction event cuts the ground, Matt and Bri now knew that the deposit that was cut by the wall’s construction (and all others below it) pre-date the wall.

The significance of this stratigraphic relationship is this; if a hypothetical sherd of pottery dating to the 18th century is recovered from the deposit that was cut by the chamber’s walls, this means that the chamber cannot possibly pre-date the 18th century. In a well-understood stratigraphic sequence, finds have real significance. If a medieval pottery sherd is found in a pit backfill, we then know that every single context that post-dates that pit can’t possibly pre-date the medieval period. It’s delightfully simple (honest!)

Jan and Janet exposing a new structure.

Jan and Janet exposing a new structure.

While Matt and Bri were recording their new discovery, Jan and Janet were removing the last of the material covering an unusual tile-built feature.

Jan and Janet's feature

Jan and Janet’s feature

Made of re-used medieval roof tile, the heavily truncated structure appears to have been some sort of drain or culvert. Dating to the 18th  or early 19th century, this reminds us of what excellent recyclers our early-modern forebears were.

Yvonne reading a level.

Yvonne reading a level.

Over in Arran’s area, breakthroughs were also being made, with Gideon and Alice both successfully locating the skulls of the individuals within their burials.

Alice's burial.

Alice’s burial.

Excavating a burial can be nerve-wracking work, a slip of the wrist can easily damage human remains and skulls have a habit of appearing where you least expect them! Thankfully, Alice and Gideon’s steady work was re-paid with some excellent preservation.

Alice’s individual had many masculine characteristics within its skull, with a particularly pronounced brow ridge. Much of the delicate cartilage of the nose was still intact, allowing us to create an idea of what this man may have looked like. With his proud brow and large nose, he would have had a striking appearance!

Conversely, in Gideon’s burial, the inhumation was that of a young adult female with quite delicate features.  Having come face to face with a pair of early 19th century parishioners of All Saints, Gideon and Alice’s next task was to expose more of the remains. This would allow us to discern the precise depth and position of the burials.

Jade and Yvonne recording a new context.

Jade and Yvonne recording a new context.

Jade and Yvonne’s burial was now fully recorded and re-buried beneath a layer of sieved soil. At first it seemed like the next deposit to investigate was a very mixed deposit comprising of interweaving layers of mortar, charcoal and sandy clay, however, it soon became apparent this wasn’t the case. A linear feature was found to cut this layer – we’d found another burial.

Kimberley's bone button.

Kimberley’s bone button.

Inhumations weren’t the only discoveries being made! Kimberley was delighted to find a small button or spacer made of neatly worked bone, while the finds washing team made a fantastic discovery – a piece of medieval stained glass!

A tiny shard of hand-painted medieval stained glass.

A tiny shard of hand-painted medieval stained glass.

The glass had looked plain until it was cleaned. This revealed a stroke of red paint still adhering to the glass.

While All Saints still boasts an internationally significant collection of stained glass, many ancient windows have been lost to vandalism and accidental damage. It’s tantalising to imagine what work of medieval art this tiny piece of glass may once have been part of!

As the end of the week drew close, work began on some new features. Jan, Janet and Karen picked up the excavation of a grave that was started back in May.

Janet, Karen and Jan.

Janet, Karen and Jan.

Bri and Matt took time out from their brickwork to begin recording the surface of Church Lane, the passageway that runs between the trench and the church. Once a medieval thoroughfare, Church Lane may overlay some amazing archaeology and we will begin to excavate sections across the street during the 2015 season.

Bri and Matt.

Bri and Matt.

Joining the excavation for a taster day, Gill marked her second season at All Saints by venturing into Contrary Corner and investigating a dump of material close to a cobbled surface. An excellent range of ceramics were recovered from the dump, including some nice sherds of Roman pottery.

Gill and Katie in Contrary Corner.

Gill and Katie in Contrary Corner.

Just next door, Sue and Greg’s feature was descending ever deeper and continued to produce a veritable pick n mix of pottery spanning two millennia!

Greg and Sue's linear feature growing ever deeper.

Greg and Sue’s linear feature growing ever deeper.

By the end of Thursday, Kimberley, Brad and Zada had made a breakthrough of their own, they had discovered the fragile remains of a coffin.

Zada and Kimberley pointing out the edge of their coffin stain.

Zada and Kimberley pointing out the edge of their coffin stain.

While only fragments of corroded iron and decayed wood survived, it was nonetheless possible to discern the shape of the coffin and the material within it was notably looser than that around it.

With a good day’s work done, the team packed up and gathered outside the church for an archaeological tour of central York led by Toby. This gave the trainees a chance to put the site in its local context and to see echoes of York’s past that remain visible in the modern streetscape. As so often happens after such wanders, the team then sojourned to the delightfully Victorian comforts of the Minster Inn…

Toby's wander.

Toby’s wander.

Friday began with the whole team in the trench, prompting a reprise of the debate as to what exactly is the collective term for a group of archaeologists? While ‘a spoilheap’ and ‘an anomaly’ remain close seconds, ‘an assemblage’ remains the front runner!

Friday of week one.

Friday of week one.

Some features wrapped up nicely to mark the end of the week. Gideon and Alice’s burials were fully recorded and then gently backfilled. Purely by chance, the church organist was practicing sombre music as the remains were covered over. Everyone agreed that this seemed very fitting.

Gideon re-covering the remains of a young female.

Gideon re-covering the remains of a young female.

Zada, Kimberley and Brad finished the records for their coffin stain before beginning to excavate within it. It didn’t take long to locate the surprisingly shallow remains of an adolescent individual.

A hive of activity as a new burial is unearthed.

A hive of activity as a new burial is unearthed.

In a nearby burial, Jan proved that lightning can strike twice as she discovered a fragment of glazed medieval floor tile for the second year running!

Jan's latest find.

Jan’s latest find.

While work continued on excavating and recording features on site, Toby was leading specialist sessions beneath the Tree of Finds.

Toby's small finds session.

Toby’s small finds session.

These covered the identification and management of small finds and a masterclass on stratigraphic analysis.

Toby's matrix masterclass.

Toby’s matrix masterclass.

Before we knew it, packing up time was upon us! The team gathered together for a tour of the trench and a summary of the week’s discoveries before heading out into the city for food and a well-earned drink.

It’s remarkable how much our understanding of a site can change in just one week. As more and more burials are discovered, we are not only getting to meet the people that lived and died in the area, but also adding a forgotten chapter to the story of this quiet corner of York. Many locals fondly recall the old boxing club that occupied the site until 2013, none recall the time when the area was a space for remembrance and mourning.

As the season progresses, we will locate and investigate the remaining burials before delving deeper into the site’s past. Huge thanks go out to all of our trainees for making the project happen and for getting us off to a flying start!

The week one team.

The week one team.

Toby, Arran and Gary also wish to thank our fantastic week one placements Becky and Katie for all of their hard work. The future of archaeology seems to be in safe hands!

Katie and Becky

Katie and Becky

Thanks must also go out to our volunteer aerial photographer David Dodwell. His elevated views of the site have really helped put it into context, check out his work at https://www.flickr.com/photos/22260522@N06/

Aerial photography in action.

Aerial photography in action.

So, one week down, eleven to go. Here’s to another summer of exciting discoveries and unexpected surprises at All Saints. Watch this space for all the updates and follow us live on Twitter (@ArchaeologyLive)

Onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

PS. Fans of site mascot Planty the Plant will be delighted to know that he has a new friend. Brought all the way from Croatia by site placement Becky, please meet Mr Fish.

I know, strange things happen in the field…

Mr Fish.

Mr Fish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May Weekend Excavation

‘How do you know where to dig?’

It’s one of the most commonly asked questions that is posed to many an archaeologist and it is fundamental to what we do.  A common misconception is that archaeology is all about finding artefacts; objects that can be used to illuminate the misty recesses of the past. Those with only a casual interest in the discipline can certainly be forgiven for assuming that each hole dug on an excavation was sited to locate and recover an object. While this isn’t wholly untrue, it doesn’t take into account the huge importance of context. A find without a known provenance is merely the sum of its parts. A piece of medieval pottery picked up from the floor can tell us about its manufacture but no more. A piece of medieval pottery recovered from the backfill of a refuse pit gives us a crucial piece to the overall puzzle – a pit containing medieval pottery cannot have been backfilled prior to the medieval period. This unassuming sherd of pot has given us a terminus post quem; a ‘time after which’ an event has occurred.

Archaeology in the May sunshine.

Archaeology in the May sunshine.

With this in mind, it is crucial to recover finds from a known context within a clear stratigraphic sequence. In plain English, this means that we have to know what feature an object came from and where this feature fits in to the timeline of the site – all of which brings us back to the original question. How do we know where to dig?

Every hole you see on an excavation will have been dug by an archaeologist, but they will certainly not have been the first people to do so. In essence, we re-excavate holes that have already been dug in the past. These features come in all shapes and sizes and can be infilled with an almost infinite variety of materials. The real skill lies in identifying the edges of these features and following in the footsteps of the people who created them.

Archaeology Live! weekend training excavations offer a concise introduction to the theories and techniques of excavation and recording, they’re also a lot of fun! Looking for edges is just one of many skills that we teach on our training excavations.

For our second weekend dig of 2015, Arran and Gary were joined on-site by an enthusiastic group of trainees looking to add new discoveries to what is becoming a fascinating story at All Saints, North Street.

While it is impossible to learn every aspect of field archaeology in just two days, we structure our weekend courses to allow people the opportunity to try their hand at as many activities as possible. As the weather was looking good and sunny, we kicked off the weekend by handing out trowels and quickly picked up where the April dig had left off.

Mother and daughter team Sharon and Helen set to work on a feature located close to the site’s north-western boundary. An exploratory 1.5m slot was strung out and started back in April to give us a window into the earlier archaeology beneath the 18th and 19th century horizons. Below a later post-hole and dump deposit, the backfill of what is believed to be a 19th century burial was discovered, recorded and partially excavated. Now Sharon and Helen were tasked with continuing work on this feature.

Sharon and Michelle get started.

Sharon and Helen get started.

Discerning and following the edges of cut features on urban excavations is particularly challenging. A hypothetical ditch on a rural site may be cut through yellow natural clays and backfilled with dark brown silt. In this instance, locating and excavating along the edge of such a feature is a relatively straightforward process. In the heart of York, there is such a depth of stratified deposition that the majority of features are cut through earlier archaeology as opposed to virgin natural.

A 19th century grave cut through mixed post-medieval dumping will usually be backfilled with the very same material. As a result, spotting the edge of the cut and knowing where to dig can be quite the challenge. Sometimes it can be a matter of identifying a change in compaction or colour that gives the feature away, other times it can be a matter of archaeological intuition built up through years of experience. Some people just have the knack, and Sharon and Helen proved to be very adept at following the extents of their feature.

Sharon proudly displaying her first find.

Sharon proudly displaying her first find.

It didn’t take long for some nice finds to start showing up. Sharon was delighted to discover the handle and part of the rim of a medieval Humber Ware jug and that was just the beginning! Before long, Helen and Sharon had discovered pottery from almost every period of York’s history, with sherds of Roman Samian ware and post-medieval Cistercian ware being the highlights. All told, their finds tray had a date range of almost 2000 years!

Sharon and Helen's ceramic timeline.

Sharon and Helen’s ceramic timeline.

Joining us from the Canaries, Sydney took over the excavation of a grave in the site’s trickiest area ‘Contrary Corner’. At the end of the April excavation, delicate fragments of a coffin complete with decorative metal fittings were just beginning to appear. This meant that Sydney had to work very carefully, gently easing the grave backfill away from the remnants of the coffin.

Sydney working on a 19th century grave.

Sydney working on a 19th century grave.

Over the course of the weekend, Sydney’s gentle troweling revealed much of the outline of the coffin. As work progressed, it became apparent that the burial is that of a juvenile. This evocative discovery serves as a useful reminder that the features we are excavating tell of real human tragedies and should be treated with care and respect.

While sieving the backfill of her burial, Sydney made an unexpected find – a Roman coin! Re-deposited in a later context, the coin adds to a growing body of Roman artefacts that have been recovered from the site, many of which being of some status.

Sydney and her coin.

Sydney and her coin.

Just metres away from Sydney’s burial, Michelle also spent her weekend working on a grave that was already part-excavated. One of the deeper burials on-site, this grave also appears to contain a coffin. With much of the wood now entirely decomposed, Michelle had to gently follow a dark grey stain with corroded iron fragments appearing at regular intervals.

Michelle trowel cleaning her coffin stain.

Michelle trowel cleaning her coffin stain.

Michelle’s patient work revealed the coffin to be an unusual shape, somewhat shorter and wider than may be expected. While the base of the coffin was yet to be reached by the end of the weekend, some interesting finds were recovered. The most intriguing of these was a small fragment of bone with some incised striations. It is possible that this represents a bone-worker’s practice piece.

Michelle's worked bone object.

Michelle’s worked bone object.

Close to the north door of the church, Chelsea and Tara cleaned up a small area and discovered an as-yet unknown burial. The whole team recorded the grave backfill as a group, allowing Chelsea and Tara to quickly get started on the excavation of the feature.

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Chelsea and Tara having a closer look at their finds.

With considerable truncation from later contexts and a somewhat hazy edge, it took some persistence to discern the full outline of the burial but the girls did a marvellous job. Chelsea was rewarded by an interesting, if somewhat enigmatic find.

Chelsea's mystery object.

Chelsea’s mystery object.

Made of copper alloy, the object prompted some discussion although no conclusion was reached. This is one for the specialists!

A closer look.

A closer look.

As happens very often, the end of the weekend brought an unexpected discovery. Sharon and Helen noticed a change of compaction within their burial. This change formed a neat rectangle, although we weren’t dealing with a coffin stain this time.

Helen exposing a grave void.

Helen exposing a grave void.

What we were looking at was a looser area of soil that relates to changes in the underlying levels. The grave had been backfilled in the 19th century and the soil was compacted down. At some subsequent point, the coffin appears to have collapsed, causing the backfill directly above it to subside while the fill to either side remained unchanged. Spotting this change is useful as it gives us an idea of the size and location of the coffin that still lies deeper within the grave.

On that exciting discovery, the weekend came to an end and the team began to pack away their tools and put the site to bed until we return in late June. In the summer session, we will be locating and investigating the last of our 19th century burials before pressing on down into the post-medieval and earlier horizons. Thanks to the excellent work of our May weekend team, we now know that bit more about this fascinating site.

There’s still time to sign up for the summer excavation, we’re expecting an amazing season! Please send any enquiries to trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

So, thanks again to our weekend trainees and placements. It was a lot of fun and we had some wonderful finds. Come the summer, we have a huge number of fascinating features and deposits to investigate and we’ll detail all of our discoveries right here.

Onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

Archaeology Live! 2015 Spring Excavation

The River Ouse flows through the very heart of the ancient city of York, carving the city into two distinct halves. Over the millennia, fords, ferries and bridges have come and gone, connecting the divided city and allowing goods and people to move freely across the water. However, there has always been more to this division than simple geography.

The River Ouse

The River Ouse

It was the Romans who first established York as a major permanent settlement in AD71, taking advantage of the excellent communications offered by the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss and the spur of high ground that today plays home to the Minster. The Romans were clearly aware that this was a focal point of the native British landscape and chose the high ground just north of the Ouse to house their fortress. The colonia, the civilian sector of the frontier city sprang up along the southern bank of the river and a pattern of division that can still be seen today was set in motion.

Roman York

Roman York

The fortress was the centre of Eboracum (Roman York) and when the legions left around 410 AD, the same space would go on to be occupied by a succession of great cathedrals – the church too were clearly aware of the site’s dominant position in the landscape. As York grew throughout the middle ages, the Minster remained as the beating heart of the city and when York’s fortunes began to decline in the post-medieval and early modern eras, it was the medieval buildings of the north side of the city, now considered quaint and picturesque,  that would become a new kind of tourist attraction with the arrival of the railways. The southern half of the city was frequented less by the city’s many visitors then as it is today, and as a result, far less of the area’s ancient fabric has survived.

This is not to say, however, that this side of the city is of any less historic consequence than it’s counterpart, quite the opposite in fact. For archaeologists, a key difference lies in the disproportionate amount of attention the colonia has received.  York’s great excavations at Coppergate, the Minster and Hungate were all located in or around the fortress while the south bank remains largely shrouded in mystery – and archaeologists love a mystery! As the area is largely occupied by handsome dwellings of 18th and 19th century date, it is a rare privilege to open a sizeable trench in the heart of the colonia and this is what makes our site so special.

All Saints in spring

All Saints in spring

The 2014 season began with a great deal of uncertainty. We were opening up a new trench at a new site and digging on the southern side of the city for the first time.

Thankfully, any doubts about the site’s potential were quickly swept away by a series of fascinating discoveries. By October, we had begun to reveal a rich story covering two centuries of change, drama and devotion. We were privy to personal tragedies through the site’s numerous infant burials and subjected to the grimy realities of early 19th century industry, as attested by the substantial by-products of nearby tanneries. We ended 2014 with much of the site having been taken back to the late 1700s, yet we were by no means at the end of the site’s early modern story. As always, every answer brought with it more questions and all at Archaeology Live! have been counting down the days for the 2015 season to begin.

Week One

On April 6th, the wait was finally over as the soothing music of trowel, shovel and brush returned to the trench. The Archaeology Live! team of Toby, Arran and Gary met the new team and were pleased to see a mix of new and familiar faces. For the 2015 season, Toby will be looking after finds processing while Gary and Arran will take charge of the two halves of the trench – the ingeniously named This End (Gary) and That End (Arran).

The site was in remarkable condition considering it had been largely open to the elements all winter, but the first task in hand was to give it a good clean. This meant troweling, a lot of troweling!

Cleaning up the trench on day one.

Cleaning up the trench on day one.

Basking in glorious spring sunshine, the team quickly tidied up the trench and began to familiarise themselves with the material that they would be working on.

Amy's first find of the season.

Amy’s first find of the season.

In ‘This End’ Gary’s team picked up where they had left off in October and began to peel away the first of a number of trample deposits. It didn’t take long for the finds start flowing! Amy uncovered a large fragment of a medieval jug and Alex came across the rim of a 10th to 11th century Stamford Ware pot.

IMG_4980

Alex and her Viking era pot sherd.

Over in ‘That End’, Arran’s team were also coming across some nice finds. Chris’ piece of decorated Roman Samian ware being the pick of the bunch!

Chris got off to a good start!

Chris got off to a good start!

Samian is an amazing pottery type, appearing far more modern than it is! It’s hard to believe this pot was made almost two thousand years ago!

Chris' sherd of samian.

Chris’ sherd of samian.

With the site now looking fantastic, we were able to take on the next challenge. At Archaeology Live!, we excavate and record using the single context methodology. In short, this means breaking down the site in to individual events. For example, if you notice a post hole cut into the backfill of a pit, you would have at least four contexts to excavate and record – the post hole backfill, the post hole cut, the pit backfill and the pit cut.

The next task is to work out the sequence of events. In the above example, we would know that the post hole is the later feature as it is cut through the material used to fill in the pit, however, with urban archaeology, things are rarely this simple.

IMG_4971

Joe and Ernie looking for features at the south-west end of the trench.

When you walk on to a site in a city like York and look at the ground, you will see a mass of colours and shapes within the soil. Learning to spot and define changes and features within complex archaeological sequences is one of the key skills that we teach each year. Happily, the week one team proved to be a keen eyed bunch and by day two, work was underway on a number of newly identified features and deposits.

As often happens, the tallest people on site ended up working on the tiniest feature. While cleaning up what was thought to be a trample layer, Chris and Martin noticed a circular feature with a distinctive dark infill. This turned out to be a post hole, presumably part of one of a workshop structure that occupied the site prior to the church hall’s construction in 1860. When this post was removed in antiquity, the hole was backfilled with clinker (an industrial residue)  and compacted down. Perhaps this removal of a trip hazard is evidence of 19th century health and safety…

A post hole backfilled with industrial residue.

A post hole backfilled with industrial residue.

By cleaning up their area and identifying this feature, Chris and Martin proved that the trample layer pre-dates their post hole, making the post hole the next feature to investigate. By identifying each archaeological event and working out the order in which they occurred, single context archaeology allows us to go back in time with each feature we excavate.

Chris and Martin recording their post hole.

Chris and Martin recording their post hole.

Several more post holes were recorded and excavated in Gary’s area. Sitting a little later in the sequence, these were interpreted as holes for scaffolding dating to the erection of the church hall.

With their post holes fully squared away, the ‘This End’ team could turn their attention to a sizeable stony deposit that covers much of the southern end of the trench.

Gary's levelling masterclass was clearly well received!

Gary’s levelling masterclass was clearly well received!

As this deposit is cut by numerous burials, it clearly pre-dates the site’s use as a graveyard between the 1820s and 1850s. As the team exposed more of the deposit, it became apparent that it laps up against the latest incarnation of our Rectory building which is thought to date to the late 1700s or early 1800s – this gives us quite a tight date range for the deposit. The mortar, stone, brick and tile inclusions within the deposit may suggest that it was laid down while the Rectory was being re-built.

Work begins on the construction spread at This End.

Work begins on the construction spread at This End.

As this deposit covers a large area, it proved quite the challenge to clean, photograph and draw, but the team did a marvellous job and work continued on the deposit for much of the spring session.

IMG_5015

Ernie and Alex begin excavating their construction spread.

Over in Arran’s area, the ‘That End’ team were also being kept busy by some challenging archaeology!

Team That End

Team That End

‘Contrary Corner’ is the unofficial name of the northernmost end of the trench. Over the 2014 season, this area constantly proved to be the trickiest part of the site to work, with clear edges and relationships in short supply. Elanor and Savannah began the week by cleaning up the area and steeling themselves for some difficult archaeology – although as it turned out, ‘Contrary Corner’ had different plans for them.

Joining us for the whole of the spring session, Elanor and Savannah had a really productive fortnight, answering many of our questions about the area.

Elanor and her bone button/spacer.

Elanor and her bone button.

Their first clean-up of the area revealed no cut features such as pits, graves or post holes. Instead, a dump of compacted material was found to be the latest identifiable event. After being cleaned and recorded, the pair began to remove the deposit, revealing it to be a levelling dump of 19th century date containing some nice finds. Elanor came across a delicate bone button and Savannah found an unusual piece of Roman pottery.

Savannah's perforated pot base.

Savannah’s perforated pot base.

The base of a colour coat vessel, the sherd had a hole punched through the base during manufacture. Pending confirmation by a specialist, our current theory is that the vessel may have been used to drain liquid from food, perhaps olives. How this Roman object ended up in a 19th century dump will never be known, but it remains a wonderful find.

IMG_4996

Lorna, Wen and Yinghong’s feature under excavation.

Nearby, Lorna, Wen and Yinghong picked up work on what was believed to be a 19th century pit that had been cut to dispose of cattle skull and horn core waste from a nearby tannery. As the trio began to better define the feature, it became apparent that something else was afoot. The edges proved to be very straight and near vertical, we were clearly looking at another 19th century grave. The high occurrence of cattle horn core is a result of the grave being dug through an earlier tanning waste pit. As the cut was backfilled with the same material that it was cut through, thousands of fragments of skull and horn core were re-deposited in the feature when the coffin was buried.

Lorna's shard of post-medieval window glass.

Lorna’s shard of post-medieval window glass.

As well as being cut through an early modern tanning waste pit, the grave clearly disturbs other archaeology. Numerous earlier artefacts were recovered from its backfill, including a piece of post-medieval window glass and a sherd of burnt Samian ware.

IMG_6638

A nice surprise from sieving! Yinghong and her sherd of burnt Samian.

With the records on their post hole squared away, Chris and Martin turned their attention to the trample layer that it was cut through. Working next to a tall, upstanding section of church hall wall, it would be unwise to undermine the structure as it cannot presently be demolished, so an alternate digging strategy was set in place. The archaeology against the wall will be investigated in 1.5m square trenches that can be backfilled with compacted material when excavation is complete. This allows us to remain safe while looking at the deeper, earlier material.

Chris and Martin begin to excavate their trample layer.

Chris and Martin begin to excavate their trample layer.

Chris and Martin made some great progress on their ‘trench within a trench’, isolating and recording the construction event of the church hall and beginning to remove the dump of material that pre-dates the post hole.

Finds processing underneath the Tree of Finds.

Finds processing underneath the Tree of Finds.

Around the corner in the churchyard, Toby and the finds team were busily trying to keep up with the volume of finds coming off of site. As these are often caked in mud, it’s often when finds are cleaned that some of their more remarkable qualities are noticed. A fascinating example of this was seen in a pair of glazed medieval floor tiles that had been found last year. After being washed, it became apparent that the two tiles had quite different stories to tell.

A tale of two tiles.

A tale of two tiles.

Dating to the height of the church’s medieval pomp, the tiles give us a glimpse of a time when church interiors would have been far more bright and colourful than the often austere spaces that we know today. The yellow glazed example was fired as a triangle as opposed to the standard square. In this case, the tile was always intended to sit where a tiled surface meets a wall and space is insufficient to house a whole tile. The glaze is badly worn, indicating that many a medieval footstep would have passed over this tile while it was set in the church floor. If tiles could speak…

Worn glaze on this floor tile suggests long use.

Worn glaze on this floor tile suggests long use.

The green glazed example was clearly less fortunate. Fired as a whole, a scoured line can be seen running diagonally across the surface of the tile. This represents an attempt to split the tile in two, to use in a similar way as to its yellow glazed counterpart. The split was clearly unsuccessful and as the pristine condition of the vivid green glaze suggests, the tile was never used.

An unfortunate medieval floor tile.

An unfortunate medieval floor tile.

Despite the two very different stories of these tiles, they would both end up being redeposited in a 19th century yard surface. Perhaps all tiles are created equal after all.

Archaeologists at work.

Archaeologists at work.

Back in the trench, work continued apace and more noteworthy finds were appearing. Joe was delighted to find a medieval coin. Whether this is a long or short cross penny remains to be seen once the coin goes through conservation.

Joe and his freshly unearthed coin.

Joe and his freshly unearthed coin.

The coin was found re-deposited in a later context, but adds to a growing collection of residual Roman, Viking and medieval objects. The sheer volume of this material bodes well for the earlier archaeology that we will reach during the 2015 season.

On Thursday, Karen and Phillip joined us for a two day taster course and quickly set to work on a slither of earlier archaeology that had survived between a 19th century robber trench and tanning waste pit.

Karen and Phillip beginning work on a peninsula of early archaeology.

Karen and Phillip beginning work on a peninsula of early archaeology.

As the deposit is cut on either side by 19th century features, it is clearly earlier in date, but quite how early was entirely unknown. Karen and Phillip steadily lowered the deposit and began to accumulate a virtual reference collection of pottery, ranging in date from Roman to the 15th century.

Phillip showing off his latest Roman pot sherd.

Phillip showing off his latest Roman pot sherd.

In deposits such as this, it is the latest sherd that counts. A deposit may contain Viking, medieval and Victorian finds, but it is the Victorian examples that give it a date. After all, you won’t find Victorian pottery in a medieval pit – it hadn’t been invented yet – but you can find earlier finds mixed up in a Victorian pit. As this was their first ever excavation, Karen and Phillip were overjoyed to find such a range of material.

Toby's strat session.

Toby’s strat session.

As Friday rolled around, it was time for Toby’s session on building and understanding stratigraphic matrices. Over the week, the team enjoyed specialist sessions on pottery, small finds and conservation. The stratigraphy session is what brings everything together and by the end of the week, the whole team had learned how to identify, understand, excavate and record archaeological features – and had a lot of fun doing it! As the sun grew low in the sky, the team packed up and headed to a local hostelry to celebrate a great first week on site.

The week one team.

The week one team.

The April Weekend Excavation

With the first week being such a success, we were glad to welcome a brand new team on to site for the first weekend excavation of the year. Introductions and inductions out of the way, the team got started on site and picked up on many features that had been started in week one.

The April weekend dig begins.

The April weekend dig begins.

Jennifer and Danielle joined us from Dublin for the weekend and began to excavate more of the Rectory construction spread. This was challenging at times due to the compacted nature of the deposit and the possibility of finding more of the infant burials that are present in this area. The girls managed to find a perfect balance of delicate yet robust troweling, allowing them to make good progress while not damaging any potentially delicate remains.

Jennifer and Danielle hard at work.

Jennifer and Danielle hard at work.

The father and son team of Gregers and Peter, spent the weekend working on similar deposits close to the north-west wall of the church hall. Peter had some great finds luck, uncovering two interesting objects – the first of which being a sherd of burnt Samian ware complete with a maker’s stamp.

Peter's first 'shiny' of the weekend.

Peter’s first ‘shiny’ of the weekend.

Mass produced mainly in France, Samian vessels were sometimes adorned with the stamp of their maker. As many production sites have been located, it is often possible to find out where and within what date range these vessels were made. Being able to give such provenance to objects of such antiquity is a real pleasure! We’ll look forward to showing this one to our Roman specialist!

A closer look.

A closer look.

While washing finds, Peter noticed a clod of soil in the finds tray and gently broke up the soil to make sure no rogue finds were lurking within it. This is how he came across his second small find!

Peter's second 'shiny'

Peter’s second ‘shiny’

Close inspection of the obect revealed it to be made of copper alloy and possibly silver plated. At first glance, this artefact is highly reminiscent of a Roman ‘crossbow’ brooch and will be another object that we’re excited to hear a specialist opinion on.

A possible Roman brooch.

A possible Roman brooch.

Like all of our early finds, this object was found in a much later context. It remains a wonderful find however, and if Peter’s luck carries on like this, we’ll always look forward to having him back!

In Arran’s area, Archaeology Live! regulars Lyn and Chris joined us for their 8th season of archaeology in York. They were tasked with completing work on the spur of archaeology that Karen and Phillip had begun in week one.

Chris and Lyn working in 'That End'

Chris and Lyn working in ‘That End’

Being one of the first definitively pre-19th century deposits to be investigated, we were keen to see what dating evidence would be recovered. So far, the latest material to come from the context were several sherds of 15th century pottery – were we looking at a medieval deposit? In the end, this question was answered by a tiny sherd of 18th century Black Ware, the context was post-medieval.

This is actually good news as it suggests an unbroken sequence that will continue to tell us the site’s whole story, without any gaps. By the end of the weekend, Chris and Lyn had brought the deposit down to a distinct change, exposing a clay-rich deposit with a greenish tinge. Having excavated countless medieval and Viking cesspits on Hungate, Gary and Arran found this material very familiar. As such, it seems likely that a sequence of domestic refuse and cesspits will underlie the modern and post-medieval sequence. This is exciting news as such features can contain wonderful information about past diet and lifestyle.

Phil and Katie excavating a dump deposit.

Phil and Katie excavating a dump deposit.

Taking over from week one’s Chris and Martin, Phil and Katie picked up work on a dump deposit and quickly made some interesting discoveries. The ceramic assemblage was typically varied, with noteworthy finds including the handle of a 16th/17th century Cistercian ware mug and a variety of Roman wares.

Katie's Cistercian ware mug handle.

Katie’s Cistercian ware mug handle.

While early finds were appearing in abundance, 19th century pottery was still present and a more intriguing discovery was not far away.

Phil's

Phil’s sherds of Roman Calcite Gritted ware and Samian

As Phil peeled away the mixed material of the trample layer, a new feature began to emerge beneath it. Pictured below, a clear rectangular feature was clearly present below the trample, with a notably darker fill than the material it cuts into. Can you spot the edge?

A new feature emerges.

A new feature emerges.

The size and orientation of the feature suggests that we’re looking at another 19th century grave. Phil and Katie did a great job of spotting the change.

The April weekend team.

The April weekend team.

Two days is a short amount of time to squeeze in an introduction to archaeology, but our April weekend did a great job and made some wonderful discoveries.

Week Two

The weather turned cooler in week two, but the site continued to surprise us as we entered the second half of the spring session. The week two team was an even mix of new starters and people carrying over from week one and we wasted no time in getting started!

Week two begins.

Week two begins.

Over the course of the week, many members of ‘Team This End’ spent some time working on the Rectory construction spread. While cleaning around the edge of the deposit, Bri’s keen eyes located another new edge. As it follows the same orientation as the site’s many burials, this is likely to be yet another 19th century grave and will be further investigated in the summer.

Bri cleaning up a large area for recording.

Bri cleaning up a large area for recording.

As the last of the construction spread was cleared, a number of new features began to emerge. Allison had to use some surgical troweling to peal the layer away from an earlier sequence of interweaving burnt deposits that may relate to industrial use pre-dating the burials.

IMG_5059

Allison exposing yellow and orange burnt material beneath the construction spread.

With excavation of the spread completed, Gary’s team were free to look at a number of earlier features. Bri, Amy and Ernie teamed up to dismantle a small brick chamber associated with the Rectory. Interpreted as part of an ancillary building or cesspit, the chamber had been extensively damaged by the insertion of the church hall’s drainage.

Bri cleaning around newly discovered features.

Bri cleaning around newly discovered features.

The chamber was cut into a deposit of black, silty material which in turn overlaid a truncated tile built structure. This may have been some form of sluice for an earlier drainage/cesspit feature.

Records Records Records

Ernie planning the tile feature.

As has been something of a trend at All Saints, the early modern sequence is proving to be more complex than had been anticipated and Amy, Ernie and Bri did a great job of keeping on top of a mountain of recording.

Bri, Amy and Ernie adding levels to their plans.

Bri, Amy and Ernie adding levels to their plans.

At the end of the 2014 season, the main cesspit of the Rectory was beginning to reveal that elements of the building’s medieval predecessor had been incorporated into the early 19th century re-build. Bea, Emma and Allison picked up where we had left off and began to dismantle the cesspit built against the north-east wall. This involved working out the construction sequence and removing the latest parts of the structure.

Bea and Emma cleaning up 'residue' on the base of the cesspit.

Bea and Emma cleaning up ‘residue’ on the base of the cesspit.

The cesspit comprises numerous walls, surfaces and deposits, the latest of which being the use deposit that survives on the structures cobbled base. Thankfully, the intervening years and dry conditions have rendered the deposit totally inert, although it retains a rich brown colour. Archaeology can be so glamorous at times…

Bea, Emma and Allison recording their cobbled surface.

Bea, Emma and Allison recording their cobbled surface.

With the use deposit fully excavated, the team began to record the cobble base itself. This was done in meticulous detail, with each cobble being added to the plan drawing.

Bea and Emma showing off their completed plan.

Bea and Emma showing off their completed plan.

With their drawing complete, Emma and Bea were very happy to begin excavating their cobble surface. This revealed an underlying bedding layer that was also recorded and lifted. Dealing with structures like this is a challenging process, especially when they have been altered numerous times. A fantastic job was done of excavating and understanding the feature and it will continue to be picked apart in the summer session.

Cobble demolition underway!

Cobble demolition underway!

Joining us from Australia, Germany and… Leeds, the cosmopolitan team of Gary, Christina and Joe picked up work on two contexts in Arran’s area. Taking it in turns to rotate between two features, the team took over the excavation of the Lorna, Wen and Yinghong’s grave cut and Chris and Martin’s trample layer.

IMG_5085

Gary begins to reveal the remains of a coffin.

Over the course of the week, the backfill of the grave was carefully excavated. By being meticulous with their troweling, Christina, Gary and Joe were able to avoid damaging any sensitive remains that lay beneath them. By the end of the week, all the delicate excavation began to pay off as the remains of a wooden coffin with copper and iron fittings began to appear. While the wood was almost entirely lost, a dark stain was still present, visible in the above photograph running along the base of the cut on the right hand side.

As work continues on this feature in the summer, we will be able to fully expose the coffin and record it, before delving deeper to locate the individual interred there. Once recorded, the remains will be re-buried and left in-situ.

Work begins on a newly discovered burial.

Work begins on a newly discovered burial.

As the coffin was being exposed in the deeper grave, the last of Chris and Martin’s trample layer was also being excavated. Joe, Christina and Gary were then free to record the underlying grave backfill before beginning to excavate the newly exposed feature.

Both grave backfills yielded some interesting early finds, including a fragment of a post-medieval drinking vessel and a piece of flint. The flint itself wasn’t a tool, although did offer evidence of flint-working, potentially dating back to prehistory.

Joe

Joe and his post-medieval glass shard.

The team made good progress on both features and work will resume on them in the summer.

Christina gently trowelling her grave backfill.

Christina gently trowelling her grave backfill.

In the north-east corner of the trench, Julia and Chris joined us for a taster day and started work on a 19th century deposit containing a particular concentration of residual Norman period ceramics.

Julia and Chris perfecting their troweling

Julia and Chris perfecting their troweling technique.

Later in the week, tasters Paul and Emma took over work on Chris and Julia’s deposit. The layer proved to be quite shallow and revealed an earlier linear feature running beneath it.

Emma and Paul

Emma and Paul

Emma was delighted to find another flake of flint. Prehistoric finds are hard to come by in York, if we find a great quantity of residual prehistoric material, we may be able to suggest that there was prehistoric activity nearby.

Emma's flake of flint.

Emma’s flake of flint.

Savannah and Elanor’s second week in Contrary Corner was as productive as their first. As they cleaned the area beneath the deposit they excavated in week one, a clear rectangular feature was exposed. This feature was clearly another 19th century grave and had interesting stratigraphic consequences as it effectively destroyed one of our theories about the area.

Towards the end of the 2014 season, a cobble built feature had been uncovered by Archaeology Live! regular Iain. At the time, the linear nature of the feature had us convinced that it was a cobble based wall footing, cutting into the area’s numerous tips and dumps. The north-east edge of the feature (on the left of the cobbles in the picture below) was always a little uncertain and it was only thanks to Savannah and Elanor’s hard work that this situation was resolved.

The cobbled 'footing' being exposed in 2014.

The cobbled ‘footing’ being exposed in 2014.

It now seems that our wall footing is not actually a footing at all. The perfect straight edges that had made it seem so structural are now known to be the points at which the cobbles are cut by 19th century graves. The feature would have originally been a cobble yard surface, and only survives now as a linear slither between three later grave cuts.

Savannah and Elanor celebrate their discovery. The grave cut is visible in the lower half of the shot, cutting into the cobbles.

Savannah and Elanor celebrate their discovery. The grave cut is visible in the lower half of the shot, cutting into the cobbles.

With the cobble mystery solved, the grave backfill was recorded and excavation began.

Elanor and Savannah excavating their grave backfill.

Elanor and Savannah excavating their grave backfill.

As happens all too often, the feature started to get really interesting at the very end of the final day, as the fragmentary remains of the coffin began to appear.

Decorative metalwork from Elanor and Savannah's coffin.

Decorative metalwork from Elanor and Savannah’s coffin.

Tiny fragments of timber were still present alongside delicate pieces of decorative metalwork, showing that this would have been quite an ornate coffin. Dealing with burials is always an evocative experience and it was quite the experience to be the first people to see the coffin since it had been buried almost 200 years ago.

Elanor and Savannah celebrating a job well done.

Elanor and Savannah celebrating a job well done.

Elanor and Savannah made some great progress in Contrary Corner during the spring session. Who knows what the area will reveal in the summer!

As the second week of the dig drew to a close, it was time to tidy up and reflect on the amazing progress that had been made. It’s always difficult to join an excavation at a point when it is beginning to segue between two periods, but the spring team’s enthusiasm and hard work really paid off.

The week 2 team.

The week 2 team. We don’t know what Savannah is doing either…

As always, we must sincerely thank our team of trainees for joining us this spring. All of our work, from site set-up to post-excavation is entirely funded by our trainees and none of our discoveries would have been possible without them!

We must also thank our dedicated team of placements for their invaluable assistance!

Gus, Lisa and Becky, three of our four spring placements (Not forgetting Dave!)

Gus, Lisa and Becky, three of our four spring placements (Not forgetting Dave!)

So, now we look to the summer, where we have twelve weeks and hundreds of new and returning trainees primed and ready to delve further into the site’s long and varied past. There is still time to get involved if you wish to add your own discoveries to the story of All Saints, North Street – just give us a shout via trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

At the beginning of this post, we looked at the relative paucity of excavation south of the River Ouse. Each day of the 2015 season will do a great deal to address this imbalance. We will complete our picture of the site’s early modern story and then continue to dig further into the past. What will we find? Watch this space!

Onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

PS. Site mascot Planty the Plant survived the winter and is now best described as a shrub 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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