Category: archaeology (page 1 of 2)

Meet the Archaeology Live! Team

Over the years, many people have worked hard to help establish Archaeology Live! as one of Britain’s most popular training excavations. The project as a whole is managed by a team of full-time field archaeologists who have collectively spent decades working for York Archaeological Trust(!) If you’re joining us on-site this summer, here’s who you’ll be working with…

Name: Toby Kendall

(no Toby is not a shortened version of anything, I share my name with many dogs and a few ponies!)

Toby and his faithful companion Harry.

Toby and his faithful companion Harry.

Age: 42

Born: Saltburn, but I have lived in and around York since I was 9 months old.


Archaeology background: I studied an Archaeology BSc at the University of Bradford and followed this with the Scientific Methods in Archaeology MA straight afterwards. Whilst at Uni I spent 5 summers digging in Pompeii and also worked elsewhere in Italy and at the YAT conservation labs during my industrial placement year. After my studies I went straight into commercial field archaeology and worked at a few units in the North of England. YAT was one of these and since 2002 I have worked solely with them, getting more responsibilities and running larger projects as time goes on. I have worked on Archaeology Live! since it started in 2001 and since 2005 I have been its director (Obviously the team we have in place are the people who make it possible). So this coming summer in 2018 will be the 18th Year I have been working with the project!

Toby excavating a Roman pot.

Toby excavating a Roman pot.

Why I chose archaeology as a career? Money, Fame, Treasure & Glamour! Only joking. I guess it is because I am curious about what, when and why things happened in the past. Some jobs are not as much fun as others, but the balance is always massively positive.

Favourite thing about Archaeology Live! Meeting new people and seeing how much enjoyment they get when they get the ‘answer’ to the question they were looking for with the archaeology.


Name: Arran Johnson577643_3127076544610_828577317_n

Age: 34

Born: I was born in Doncaster, but raised in our nation’s capital, Barnsley.

Archaeology background: I graduated from the University of York in 2005. By this point, I’d been involved in research projects in the Peak District and the North York Moors. My first professional work came through the University when I spent four summers supervising the excavation of a Romano-British defended settlement adjoining the Iron Age hillfort of Castell Henllys in Pembrokeshire. In 2006, I cut my teeth in commercial archaeology working for Archaeological Services WYAS. Here I worked on a number of prehistoric and Roman sites across West and South Yorkshire. In January 2007, I was lucky enough to become part of YAT’s Hungate team. During the Hungate excavation, I worked on some truly amazing archaeology covering two millennia of York’s history. It was at this point I acquired my reputation for finding Viking cesspits in the most unlikely of places…

Since 2011, I have been part of the Archaeology Live! team, dividing my time between commercial fieldwork and looking after the training dig – which makes for an interesting but rather busy life!

My quest to find a securely stratified 10th century horned helmet continues…

Arran in his natural environment (a Viking loo...)

Arran in his natural environment (a Viking loo…)

Why I chose archaeology as a career?

Standing by a tree in the woods around Worsbrough Bridge at some point in the early 1990s, I noticed that a couple had carved their names in the tree in 1952. I was fascinated with the idea of shared space separated by  time. I’ll obviously never know what happened to Mick and Kathy, but I know that they once stood on the same spot I did. It’s this intangible connection to the people that lived before us that I love about archaeology. Gathering forgotten moments and stories from what we find in the ground is a fascinating process that I never tire of and doing it for a living is a real privilege!


Favourite thing about Archaeology Live!

Every year, I get to meet people from all over the world who are united by a common interest. I then get to share my passion for the discipline and watch as people make discoveries of their own. Being part of Archaeology Live! is fun, rewarding and always the highlight of the year!




Name: Becky Wilson

Age: 25

Becky excavating on a Roman cemetery

Becky excavating on a Roman cemetery

Born: Leeds

Background: Studied History and Archaeology at University of Edinburgh. I was a trainee with ArchLive on Hungate in 2010. I took part in a training excavation in 2012 at Prastio Mesorotsos in Cyrpus excavating bronze age features. I was a placement for ArchLive in 2013, 2014 and 2015 for about a combined 7 months. I started my commercial career with YAT in October of 2015 and I’ve also worked for NAA.  I have now been a member of YAT for two years and will hopefully be here for many more.

Becky and co opening up the site to the public.

Becky (left) opening up the site to the public.

Why I chose archaeology as a career: When I was a wee 17 year old trying to decide what to do in University with a vague notion of history, my mum suggested having a go at archaeology and, conveniently, there was a training excavation happening 30 minutes away from where we lived: Archaeology Live! Dig Hungate. So I toddled along one Monday morning in the summer of 2010, entered the Hungate warehouse and watched a man open a can of full fat coke at 9.30 in the morning (that was Toby). The course was an amazing experience and it convinced me to take archaeology at university.

Becky exposing the cellar of the Leeds Arms, one of Yorks lost pubs.

Becky exposing the cellar of the Leeds Arms, one of York’s lost pubs.

When I came back to Archaeology Live! as a placement in 2013 it was like a switch flicked in my brain and I realised this is what I wanted to do. I spent the next few summers in York and, apparently, if you don’t leave eventually they give you a job. So, really, I owe it all to Archaeology Live!

Favourite thing about Archaeology Live: The joke answer here is the pub. The actual answer is getting to meet new people every year, or see old friends all united in the common interest of archaeology. Its the highlight of the year.


Name: Katie Smith

Age: 23

Born: Scarbororough

Katie and her first ever Roman pot

Katie and her first ever Roman pot

Archaeology background: I graduated from the University of Liverpool in 2016 with a degree in Archaeology of Ancient Civilisations. Whilst a lot of my degree was based around the study of the archaeological remains of the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans; my field experience was all UK based, with my university organised dig taking place on an Iron Age hillfort in North Wales. By graduation I was part way through my fifth season on Archaeology Live! which was also my second stint as a placement. In September 2016, I was hired by YAT as part of their commercial team for a large scale rural job in East Yorkshire. Fortunately, I have been in constant employment with YAT since then and have been able to work on a variety of sites dating from prehistoric through to the industrial era. The highlights were returning as part of the commercial team to Hungate in March 2017, as this is where I first had a go at archaeology back in 2012; and working on the Newington Hotel site, where a Roman funerary landscape was revealed in spring 2017.  I managed to come full circle as I joined the Archaeology Live! team as a supervisor for the 2017 season at North Street.

Katie and Becky

Katie and Becky

Why I chose archaeology as a career: I’ve always had an interest in history from a young age thanks mainly to encouragement from my mum, as well as numerous school projects about the Viking and Roman history of the Scarborough and York area where I grew up. I knew that I wanted to go to University, but only on the basis of being able to study something interesting, and so I applied for various archaeology courses.

After being accepted, I realised that I had never even picked up a trowel, and should probably have a go at this archaeology thing before I signed up to three years of study and a potential career path involving it! This thought, as well as a need to find a suitable experience for a section of my Duke of Edinburgh’s award, meant that I signed up for a one week course on the 2012 season of Archaeology Live! I’ve not looked back since, as the training dig completely sold me on why the fieldwork side of archaeology was the path I wanted to go down once I finished my degree. Going back to the dig for longer and longer each summer since has only reinforced my enjoyment of the practice of field archaeology. I like being able to piece together moments and events in time through the archaeological process; and I find what you can learn about people from what they’ve lost, buried or discarded thoroughly fascinating.

Favourite thing about Archaeology Live! Pretty much everything, but particularly that everyone who takes part is so interested in archaeology  and helping them learn about it for themselves, in their own ways, and under their own steam. Its really rewarding watching people grow in confidence over time and have that moment where things just click and all of a sudden they’ve “got” recording, or levelling, or identifying a pot sherd. I know that feeling myself so its great to help other people get there too!


Name: Gus Shaw

Age: 25

Born: Llangollen

Gus teaching the art of single context recording.

Gus teaching the art of single context recording.

Archaeological Background: I did Life Long Learning night classes in archaeology just after I first moved to York in 2011, then came as a trainee on Archaeology Live! in 2013. Later that year came back and did my first two weeks of placement at Hungate and again next year at the All Saints excavation in 2014 before getting my first commercial job with YAT that summer. I then started my degree in archaeology at the University of York, but every summer came back to do commercial excavations. In 2015, I was a staff member on Archaeology Live! for part of that season, but even when I wasn’t on Archaeology Live! I would often take holidays and placement during the summer just for fun! In 2017 I finished my degree and started commercial archaeology full time at YAT.
Gus recording part of a Roman marching camp near York.

Gus recording part of a Roman marching camp near York.

Why I chose archaeology as a career: I have always loved history but I also love being outside and working with my hands, so when it came time to apply for university I was stumped…. Luckily my sister looked at these two things that I enjoyed and put them together and suggested archaeology. After my first time on a dig I was hooked and made up my mind that this was a job I could definitely enjoy doing for many years to come.
Favorite thing about Archaeology Live!: The people! I get to spend time excavating interesting things with interesting people, which is an amazing way to recharge your enthusiasm for archaeology. Also having to explain archaeological processes in a variety of ways when teaching helps me think and approach problems in new and interesting ways. All in all, doing Archaeology Live! is just great fun.
See you in the trench!

See you in the trench!

Taster courses

Taster courses are designed to provide trainees with an awareness of what is involved in working on a modern excavation. They are an affordable and hands-on introduction to digging and finds work. All taster courses include a ticket to all of the YAT attractions.

Barry and Hayley - The Essex dream team.


Summer Excavation


Taster courses are available Tuesday-Friday each week with a two day taster ideally running Tue-Wed or Thu- Fri. For any further queries please email us at and one of the team will get back to you.


One day taster

The basics of digging and finds work

  • Introduction and site tour
  • Excavation techniques (generally trowelling and sieving)
  • Washing and studying the finds made during the day

Two day taster

A more in-depth introduction to digging and finds work.

  • Introduction and site tour
  • Excavation (trowelling, mattocking and sieving)
  • Site recording (drawing plans and using a level)
  • Finds washing and study


One day Taster TBC Friends of YAT/Returnees cost TBC
Two day Taster TBC Friends of YAT/Returnees cost TBC

Gill and Katie in Contrary Corner.

Katie and Gill exposing an 18th century cobbled floor.

Taster Days run Tuesday to Friday, subject to availability. The first working day is 10.30am – 5pm including a 45-minute lunch break and a 15-minute tea break. The second day would start at 9.30am and have an additional morning break. Full details of working arrangements will be supplied on booking.

HINT: A useful way to document your progress as you learn new skills is to download our Archaeology Live Skills Checklist.

Please contact us by email if you would like to make a reservation enquiry/provisional booking.

We have a lower age limit of 16. This is dropped to 14 if accompanied by a parent guardian who is also completing a course.

Booking forms will be provided when dates/course places have been confirmed, agreed and reserved.

E-mail correspondence is preferred, however, if you don’t have email access please phone (office hours Mon-Fri 9am to 3 pm).


Mobile: +44 (0) 7908 210026

2015 Placements

Archaeology Live! wouldn’t happen without our team of trainees. Every year, budding archaeologists of all ages and backgrounds join us to gain their first experience of fieldwork or to sharpen skills they already have. The fees they pay fund the project and allow us to investigate sites that may never otherwise have been excavated.

The various skills and techniques required to understand and excavate urban archaeology are taught by our team of professional archaeologists. This process is assisted by a team of placements, individuals who have already spent three weeks or more with Archaeology Live!  or a similar, reputable project.


Archaeology Live! placements Megan and Dave offering guidance on recording and excavation.


The placement system offers an opportunity to gain new skills and experience new aspects of archaeological excavation. If you have a good understanding of single context excavation and recording and are looking to pursue a career in the profession, a placement can be a great way to start.

The work will involve assisting the trainers with numerous tasks, from helping to supervise and instruct trainees, to spoil management and site logistics. Many of our former placements are now professional archaeologists, some now running sites of their own. This year, we are looking for placements to assist with our York and Nottingham excavations. Ideally, applicants would be able to join us for periods of around three weeks or longer as this allows for sufficient time to learn new skills and creates a sense of continuity for the trainees. There is no charge for a placement position.

” I feel the placement system enables you to hone the skills you gain as a trainee, and makes you develop them. It also makes you so aware of what’s going on, not just in front of you on site, but everywhere else.”

-Lisa Bird, Archaeology Live! placement


Lisa (centre) explaining single context recording.

To apply for a Placement position on the excavation, a CV with an accompanying covering letter must be sent to the contact address below. Make sure that you say why you want to be a placement and why you would be good for the project within your cover letter. The selection process will include an informal telephone interview.

For more information contact:


Find of the Year 2014 Poll

During our debut season at All Saints, North Street, we were lucky enough to find some fantastic artefacts. These objects would all have been personal possessions of people who lived, worked and worshipped along North Street many centuries ago.

The Archaeology Live! team hate to pick favourites, but a decision needs to be made as to which find will feature on the T-shirt for the upcoming 2015 season. Each year of Archaeology Live! has had a different T-shirt design to give trainees a unique reminder of their time on site. We always try and use an image of an artefact or feature discovered specifically on the current site. As 2014 was our first year at All Saints, we used one of the ‘maria’ tiles from the church’s newly restored Lady Chapel as the featured image; these can still be purchased from

So, which find will be the winner? It’s down to you to vote!

Here are the contenders:

Alan’s worked antler object.


This beautifully made object may have been a decorative spindle whorl, counter or gaming piece. It is likely to be medieval or perhaps even Viking in date.

Katie’s fragment of a 15th century Hambleton Ware lobed bowl.

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm...

This wonderful creature would have been set in the base of a communal drinking vessel. As people passed around the bowl, it would have emerged from the wine/beer/water and been rather amusing for all involved. Quite what the creature is remains a mystery. Dino from the Flinstones has been mooted but is rather unlikely…

Gina and Rob’s bone die


Gina’s dice (above) is in beautiful condition and could be anything between Roman and medieval in date. Rob’s dice (below) features a more 13th century style layout and has clearly been used for some time.


Kaye’s glass ring


This beautiful object is most likely Roman in date and would have been a stunning piece of jewellery when complete.

Barry’s fragment of a medieval seal jug


This seal would have graced the side of a 13th century York Glazed Ware jug. The image on the seal tells us that it may well have been commissioned by noteable York citizen Thomas FitzWalter to celebrate a marriage and/or birth of a son. A rare example of an artefact being linked to a single person or family.

Gerwin’s Belarmine Jug.

Gerwin's sherd of a Bellarmine jug.

This grumpy looking individual is Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), a staunch anti-protestant who’s image adorned many thousands of 16th-17th century German stoneware drinking jugs. This provides wonderful evidence of post-medieval satire, as the cardinal was strongly opposed to excessive drinking!


Please cast your vote for which find should feature on the 2015 T-shirt on the poll below. The winner will be announced in the next couple of weeks once the Archaeology Live! team have counted and ejudicated the votes. If you feel we have omitted a deserving find from the shortlist, get in touch and let us know!

Over to you!

– Arran

[polldaddy poll=8488433]

Archaeology Live! 2014 Highlight Reel: The Roman finds

As the nights draw in, the trimmings go up and Ferrero Rocher inexplicably return to supermarket shelves, the festive season is almost upon us once again. Training dig teams across the country are dragging tarps over trenches, filling sheds with freshly cleaned tools and retiring to the warmth of the tea room. Except of course, the Archaeology Live! Team, who are currently busying themselves with various projects and taking bookings for next year’s return to All Saints.

A wintry view of All Saints.

A wintry view of All Saints.

With the North Street excavation on hold until spring, now seems a good time to take stock and look back at what we achieved during the 2014 season. A good archaeologist will be quick to remind you that finds themselves are not necessarily as important as what they can tell you. Objects alone can tell a story, but it is with the art of considering finds in their context that brings us closer to the people that made, owned, used and lost them. As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, we are storytellers not treasure hunters, always looking for the human moments hidden in the ground. Although that said, X does occasionally mark the spot and making an exciting discovery is always the highlight of any archaeologist’s day.

We were somewhat spoiled with finds during this year’s excavation and as it’s almost christmas, let’s allow ourselves to put the grand tales aside and look back at some of the finds highlights! (Or ‘shinies’, as they’re known on site…) The season began at the end of march, with a wintery chill lingering in the air. The rubble of the freshly demolished church hall was cleared away and the site was cleaned up before the arrival of our first team of trainees.

'That End' cleaned up but unexcavated. April 2014.

‘That End’ cleaned up but unexcavated. The mixed trample layer covers the whole of the trench. April 2014.

It didn’t take long before surprisingly ancient finds began to appear in relatively modern contexts, disturbed from deeper layers and then re-deposited by 19th century workmen. Let’s start our tour of these finds with the Romans…

Samian ware is a high status Roman tableware that proliferated across Britain in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Made primarily in France and Germany, it is often highly decorated with vivid imagery and is identifiable by its terracotta red colour and beautifully smooth, slipped exterior. In fact, it often defies belief that such well made pottery can be almost 2000 years old! The 2014 season provided us with many sherds of samian ware, one of the finest examples featuring the rear end of a lion, not a creature that immediately springs to mind when you consider 2nd century North Yorkshire…

Decorated samian ware.

Decorated samian ware.

As well as Roman pottery, we were also lucky enough to find a number of Roman coins. This silver denarius features a figure (Mars?) holding a spear and shield. Despite being found in 19th century trample, it is a good indicator that intact Roman archaeology survives in deeper layers.

Anne and Branka's Roman coin.

Anne and Branka’s Roman coin.

Amphorae were large ceramic vessels used to transport goods like oils and wine across the Empire. On North Street this year, we have come across a number of large fragments of these huge storage vessels.

Sarah's amphora sherd.

Sarah’s amphora sherd.

The amount of high status Roman material suggests that the area may well have been quite affluent two millennia ago, with the Romano-British inhabitants enjoying the finer things in life.

A Roman amphora, currently on display in the Yorkshire Museum.

A Roman amphora, currently on display in the Yorkshire Museum.

Earlier, we mentioned objects having the ability to tell a story. This sherd of samian is one such find, which in this case has clearly been burned, turning its terracotta slip a deep grey. As the cross-sections and outer surfaces are equally charred, it is almost certain that this pot was broken before it was burned. You can imagine the heavy heart of the owner, who would have been very aware that this beautifully manufactured bowl had travelled thousands of miles to reach York, as they dropped the tragically broken heirloom into the pile of burning rubbish.

Fanciful perhaps, but a good way to remind ourselves that this pot was owned and used by people just like us. Imagine finding your prized Le Creuset dinner set smashed on the kitchen floor…

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

Another broken pot with a tale to tell was this sherd of black burnished ware. Once part of a flat bottomed bowl type referred to affectionately by archaeologists as ‘dog bowls’, the rim of this pot has been inscribed with an ‘X’.

Graffitied Roman pottery

Graffitied Roman pottery

Whether this was the act of one of Britain’s first christians, wishing to express their faith through personalised possessions, or an absent mindedly doodled numeral, will never be known. While we do know that the pot is definitively Roman, it is impossible to know when the ‘X’ was carved. This is a wonderful find, bringing us painfully close to connecting with an ancient graffiti artist. Quite why they were driven to inscribe this object however, will remain a mystery.


A complete 3rd century ‘dog bowl’. Image copyright Dorset Pottery Group.

One piece of Roman text that we could read appeared on a fragment of stamped tile. When the Roman army established the settlement of Eboracum (York) in 71AD, the Legio IX Hispana (Ninth Spanish Legion) began, among other things, the manufacture of tiles complete with a legionary stamp. In 119, the Legio IX Hispana were relieved in garrisoning York by the Legio VI Victrix (Sixth Victorious Legion) allowing the Hispana to embark on their famous (mis)adventure to the north. A grand scheme of re-building then occurred across Eboracum as the northern capitol of the Roman Empire grew ever grander.

The wonderful thing about this tile fragment is that we are able to confidently link it to this important part of York’s past. The stamp clearly features the text ‘VIC‘, making it a product of the kilns of the Sixth Legion. What really bridges the many centuries between us and the men of the Legio VI Victrix however, is the thumbprint located just below the stamp. This impression would have been made by the hand of the individual who placed the still wet tile into the kiln (currently thought to have been located close to St. Cuthbert’s church on Peasholme Green) sometime in the early decades of the second century AD. 

It is always surprising how much you can learn from a seemingly innocuous fragment of roof tile!


Roman roof tile.

Roof tiles weren’t the only Roman ceramic building material that we found this year either! A fragment of  flue tile was discovered by Rosie in August. This tile may have formed part of a hypocaust system, the Roman equivalent of underfloor heating. The sites position in the heart of York’s prosperous civilian settlement, the colonia, makes it likely that high status homes would have existed close-by. This tile may have once have provided welcome warmth to Romano-British feet, finding shelter from York’s somewhat variable weather.

Rosie's Roman tile fragment.

Rosie’s Roman tile fragment.

Our trainees are often surprised by the sheer quality of manufacture that typifies Roman artefacts. Even more utilitarian wares like greyware or black burnished are often decorated with incised markings or exteriors buffed to a smooth shine. Many sherds unearthed this season have been excellent examples of this.


Decorated Roman ceramics.


Roman calcite gritted ware.

Perhaps the most delicate example of fine Roman material was found by a trainee named Kaye, who attended the inaugural season of Archaeology Live! in 2001! This object has yet to be seen by a specialist, but has been tentatively dated as Roman. It appears to be a fragment of a beautiful glass ring with an inlaid stone.

Kaye's rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

Kaye’s rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

This would have been an object worn with some pride by a rather well-to-do individual whom could both afford to buy it and lived a gentile enough life to risk wearing a ring made of glass. That said, it clearly did break at some point! Even if this object proves to be medieval, or later, it will remain a thing of delicate beauty. It would have adorned the finger of someone who knew well the past landscape that we have to work so hard to even begin to understand.

Personal, almost frivolous objects such as this give us a wonderful sense of closeness to those who walked the streets of York, or Yorke, or Jorvik, or Eorforwic, or even Eboracum before us. It would be just as prized today as it was then and shows that an appreciation of beauty is an enduringly human trait. The 2015 season will see us continuing to unearth lost Roman treasures like these mentioned above.

To join us and add your own discoveries to our Roman assemblage, contact to reserve your place on the dig.

What did the Romans ever do for us eh? Ahem…

– Arran


Placements are available to previous trainees on any of the earlier Archaeology Live! training excavations, or to archaeology students with practical experience of single context recording who want to pursue a career in the profession.

Tom explaining single context recording

Tom explaining single context recording. Summer 2014.

There is often confusion as to what a ‘placement‘ is and people will sometimes use the term ‘placement‘ when they mean ‘trainee‘. Within the Archaeology Live! project a ‘placement‘ is somebody who has already been trained in archaeological excavation and has appropriate archaeological experience.

The placements will be assisting the trainers on site and helping out wherever else is necessary. This is a very good opportunity for those who feel they would like more experience in how an archaeological site works.

Matt takes trainees through the levelling process using a dumpy level.

Matt takes trainees through the levelling process using a dumpy level. Summer 2016.

Becky (right) is on hand to help with trainees excavating a grave.

Becky (right) is on hand to help with trainees excavating a grave. Summer 2015.







Over 100 previous placements have found professional work because of the reference they have received from the excavation. Below are a few testimonies from current and past placements discussing what they gained from their time at Archaeology Live!

“It has made me more confident as a person through working with people of all ages and backgrounds, and being a placement with Arch Live has allowed me to gain a higher understanding of fieldwork on urban sites. It has been helpful at university as I know how commercial sites are worked and the standard to which I will have to achieve.” – Ellen Denison, student at the University of Winchester.

Katie (centre) and Ellen (right) help a trainee, Rosemin, plan a feature. Summer 2015.

Katie (centre) and Ellen (right) help a trainee, Rosemin, plan a feature. Summer 2015.

“I applied for the placement on Arch Live after 5 weeks over three seasons as a trainee, when I felt comfortable in my own ability to assist the staff. I’d gained all I could from being a trainee – the placement became more relevant as I started looking for professional work for when I finished my degree. Many hiring units/companies ask for a few months minimum practical experience. I did 8 weeks in 2015 and 10 weeks in 2016, and was hired by YAT in September 2016 mostly on the grounds of the placement I had done with them” – Katie Smith, Site Assistant, York Archaeological Trust.

Gary explaining how to create an accurate plan drawing.

Gary explaining how to create an accurate plan drawing. Summer 2015.

To apply for a Placement position on the excavation, a CV with an accompanying covering letter must be sent (e-mail is acceptable) to the contact address below. Make sure that you say why you want to be a placement and why you would be good for the project within your cover letter. The selection process may include an informal telephone interview.
For more information contact:



Q: How do I book a place?

A: To book a place, email with the type of course you would like to attend and which dates you would like to book. We will then send you a booking form to fill out and get back to us either in the post or by email. This form will contain information on methods of payment. Cheque by post is preferred, although card payments over the phone can be arranged.

Work in progress on a shallow refuse pit.

Q: Can people with no previous digging experience take part?

A: Yes. The courses cater for beginners, but people with digging experience can also learn a great deal from the courses. Anyone aged 16 years or over (or 14 and above if accomapanied by a guardian who is also taking part in a course) and of any nationality, can take part.

Q: Is there an upper age limit, or any constraints due to physical ability?

A: No. The work and teaching are designed to meet the needs of each individual. Provided we are notified in advance of any special requirements, we hope to cater for all.

Our amazing week 11 team.

Q: Do I need any special equipment?

A: All participants must have their own steel toecap safety boots and wear full length trousers on site; other safety equipment will be provided. It is recommended that you buy a WHS 4″ pointing trowel (others will just break) if you intend to take part in other digs, but otherwise we have spare trowels. The information sent to you after you have booked includes details on what you need to bring.

Q: How do I get to the excavation?

A: York is well served by road and rail links, and can easily be reached from the major airports. The excavation is in the city centre and can be reached on foot by bus or taxi. Once you have completed a booking you will be sent further information regarding York and the excavation, including details of how to get to the site.

Q: Do you provide accommodation?

A: We do not currently offer any inclusive accommodation. York has a wide range of accommodation options, a good place to begin your search is a discussion doc on our facebook page Please feel free to add comments with any of your own recommendations.

If you still have queries about the dig after reading the details and the frequently asked questions page, please contact:


Mobile: +44 (0) 7908 210026

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 12.

IMG_5698 Time flies when you’re having fun.

It’s a cliche that’s brazenly obvious at the end of a long project, but nonetheless seems perfectly apt. We’ve had a lot of fun and made some intriguing and often surprising discoveries.  It really is hard to believe that three months have passed since we kicked off the summer season back in June! Back then, the team were fresh and raring to go and Planty the Plant was in the first flush of youth.

A youthful, verdant Planty back in June.

A youthful, verdant Planty back in June.

That said, it’s been a very busy 12 weeks for the Archaeology Live! team. There are a few new grey hairs here and there and Planty now looks a little worse for wear…

Oh, the ravages of time...

Oh, the ravages of time…

Tired archaeologists aside, it’s been an amazing summer and week 12 saw the team add a few new pieces to the puzzle, before making sure that all loose ends were tied up prior to our autumn hiatus.

In ‘That End’, Gary’s team had a very productive week. Rob and Nick began their week by wrapping up the records for ‘contrary corner’.

Nick and Rob made use of a former cupboard in the old boxing club.

Nick and Rob made use of a former cupboard in the old boxing club.

This area proved to be incredibly difficult to pick apart right up to the last few weeks of the summer, when the sequence began to resolve itself.

Records, records, records...

Records, records, records…

We now know that the area was used as part of the All Saints burial ground from 1823, a marked change from its previous life as a working yard at the turn of the 19th century. Pre-dating all of this, a wall footing discovered by Iain and Rose in week 10 suggests that the area was built on in the 18th century. What this building was and when it was built will be research targets for next season, for now it will remain a mystery!

Later in the week, Rob and Nick turned their attention to a pit that was started in week 11. Situated next to our ‘horn pit’, this feature also contained a large amount of cattle skull fragments and horn core. This tells us that the by-products of the tanning industry on nearby Tanner Row were also being disposed of in this pit, which in turn suggests that this was part of an ongoing process as opposed to being an isolated event. Future historic search into the 18th century tanning industry will hopefully add some more detail to this picture of industrial early modern York.

Work in progress on a shallow refuse pit.

Work in progress on a shallow refuse pit.

With work on this feature completed by midweek, the terrible twosome went their seperate ways as a number of new features were investigated. Rob moved to the central area of the trench to assist Jane in completing work on a partially excavated grave backfill. Jane, joining us for her fourth year of archaeology, had high hopes for this feature – it was from this context that Alan found his delightful Viking antler spindle whorl several weeks ago.

Jane picks up work on a 19th century burial.

Jane picks up work on a 19th century burial.

It took Jane a matter of minutes to locate the surprisingly shallow skull of the individual interred in this grave. Fascinatingly, the metallic decorative exterior of the coffin had survived, allowing us to see the size and shape of the coffin, as well as the position of the body within it. In this case, the coffin must have been lowered in a somewhat clumsy manner, as the skeleton had rolled slightly to one side, with the skull pressed against the edge of the coffin.

At the bottom end of the grave, Rob was looking to uncover the legs of the individual. He quickly located one leg, then another and then… another!? This was certainly a strange discovery, which caused a good deal of discussion among the team.


Rob working on the foot end of a burial.

It is not unusual, particularly in densely occupied medieval burial grounds, for burials to cut through earlier interments. Often, the disturbed bones of the earlier grave will be re-deposited along the exterior of the new coffin – a trend seen on several recent York Archaeological Trust excavations. In this case however, all of the remains Rob had uncovered were in position and correctly articulated. Something odd was going on…

Thankfully, a little more delicate trowelling by Rob cleared up the situation when he revealed yet another leg. Instead of having numerous graves that were cut into each other, it seems our early 19th century burials can play home to more than one individual. In this case, at least one further inhumation lies beneath the skeleton revealed by Jane and Rob.

The fact that the two skeletons are currently laid directly over one and other reveals that the lower coffin must have decayed and given way, causing the coffin above to fall on to the top of the lower burial. One cannott help but wonder if anyone was in the church yard to hear the muffled thud from beneath the ground…

Recording Jane and Rob's grave.

Recording Jane and Rob’s grave.

This is a fascinating discovery that really helps us to build a better picture of the area’s use as a graveyard. The fact that none of our adult burials intercut tells us that the burials must have been clearly marked, perhaps with headstones or earthern mounds. The graveyard was clearly well ordered, with family plots being periodically re-opened to receive numerous burials. It is also increasingly clear that the area was intended to remain in use as a burial ground for some time and records must have been kept of who was buried in which plot, and at what depth.

In the fullness of time, the area only went on to receive burials for around 25 years, as it was de-consecrated in the 1850s to house the new church hall. Despite this, Rob and Jane’s discoveries this week reveal that the churchyard was well ordered and was certainly not intended to be a short-term endeavour.

Lori’s week began with the tricky task of recording a fragment of a post-medieval (or earlier) hearth made of edge-set roof tile.

Lori and Graham recording a tile hearth.

Lori and Graham recording a tile hearth.

Sitting on a slither of undisturbed archaeology between two early 19th century grave cuts, this feature is lucky to have survived! It’s precise date will only be confirmed following its excavation in the autumn, but it is exciting to be seeing glimpses of earlier archaeology beginning to emerge.

Medieval roof tiles are sturdy things and can take a lot of heat! Setting them on edge reduces the risk of cracking and provides a hearth surface that can be used again and again. Visitors to YAT’s Barley Hall can see a complete example of an edge-set tile hearth; they were certainly decorative as well as practical.

The edge-set tile hearth in Barley Hall is a complete example of a medieval hearth.

The edge-set tile hearth in Barley Hall is a complete example of a medieval hearth.

With the records done and dusted, Lori teamed up with Nick to resume work on what appeared to be an infant/juvenile burial close to the north end of the trench.

Grave business in 'That End'

Grave business in ‘That End’

Despite being small, this feature proved to be very deep and quite challenging to excavate. Nick and Lori worked patiently to uncover the remains of a small coffin. Degraded to little more than a stain, this required delicate work as the timber and corroded metal could very easily be destroyed.

Nick working on a tiny coffin.

Nick working on a tiny coffin.

Happily, after three previous years with us, Nick has developed a great trowelling technique and her and Lori were up to the task. Interestingly, this proved to be our second ’empty’ grave of the season, with no human remains found within the coffin. As discussed in last week’s blog, this could be the result of a localised quirk in the acidity of the soil (which can easily dissolve infant remains) or perhaps an infant lost early in a pregnancy that has not survived in the ground. There is also the possibility of these being symbolic burials of a coffin for an individual whose remains could not be interred.

While we will never know for sure, such features are always highly evocative, with very human moments of tragedy and remembrance that would otherwise have been lost to history being recovered the ground.

Elsewhere in Gary’s area, a pit cut that was started during our August training weekend was completed by Jackie. Joining us for a two day taster course, Jackie unearthed evidence of 19th century refuse disposal alongside medieval material upcast from earlier deposits.


Jackie preparing her pit cut for photography.

There are a number of traditions on Archaeology Live! and a number of individuals who join us year after year, without whom the dig wouldn’t be quite complete. Week 12 saw the arrival of the one, the only, Betty Bashford! (For some reason, dressed as a Viking!)

Betty Bloodaxe in full Viking garb.

Betty Bloodaxe in full Viking garb. Cue the Ride of the Valkyries…

Betty, along with her friend Janet, is one of the characters that make working on Archaeology Live! such an absolute pleasure. There is never a dull moment when this dream team are on site! Sure enough, it didn’t take them long to make an unexpected discovery. Betty and Janet firstly took out the last remaining construction backfills relating to the 1860s church hall.

Betty and Janet tackling a 19th century construction backfill.

Betty and Janet tackling a 19th century construction backfill.

Some nice finds were recovered from these deposits including a lovely hand-painted fragment of tin glazed earthenware dating to the late 18th century.

Janet's 18th century discovery.

Janet’s 18th century discovery.

With the backfills removed and the construction cuts empty, it was possible to see the footings of the church hall, however, this was not all that was revealed. At the base of the cut, what appears to be a fragment of a herring-bone pattern brick floor was uncovered.

An unexpected discovery.

An unexpected discovery.

This was certainly a surprise, as we weren’t expecting to see structural remains in this part of the trench. Quite what building or yard this floor relates to is uncertain at present, but it is always exciting when such features appear.

19th century dumping over Janet and Betty's brickwork.

19th century dumping over Janet and Betty’s brickwork.

A surviving patch of 19th century levelling material covered the rest of this brick feature, so Janet and Betty ended their week by recording this deposit and beginning to remove it. Excavation of this deposit will resume during our October dig.

Excavating a 19th century levelling dump.

Excavating a 19th century levelling dump.

Over at ‘This End’, Toby’s team had a similarly industrious week. Joining us from Sweden, Paul joined Bri to work on the site’s earliest deposits.

Toby, Bri and Paul discussing their sequence.

Toby, Bri and Paul discussing their sequence.

Working on a slither of archaeology cut on one side by a drain run and the other by the church hall wall footings, Paul recorded and removed a dump deposit. This revealed an interesting feature filled with rubble and mortar.

We suspect that the front wall of our 18th century rectory would have run below the current church hall brickwork (pictured below). Up to this point, we hadn’t been able to identify any surviving structure in this area. This truncated post-hole/footing is our first tantalising evidence of this part of the rectory structure. As we know the medieval rectory was altered and re-built on numerous occasions, it is hard to say which phase this feature relates to, but it is a good start, and something we hope to clarify as work progresses in this area.

A possible footing appears in section.

A possible footing appears in section beneath the brickwork.

Paul went on to empty out the rubble feature and record the cut. This exposed a burnt dump very similar in appearance to one being worked on in the next cell by Bri. By chasing into this early archaeology in these two cells, we have had a self-contained sneak preview into the medieval archaeology we will be seeing across the whole site.

Paul and Bri working on medieval material.

Paul and Bri working on medieval material.

Bri’s slot featured no large structural remains, but it was possible to see distinct tips of medieval material and one shallow post hole that may have contained a fence post in front of the old rectory.

Bri troweling.

Bri troweling around his post hole.

With the post hole recorded, Bri then fully exposed and recorded his burnt medieval dump. Whether this is evidence of some industrial process will be investigated in the autumn.

Dave assisting Bri with a spot of planning.

Dave (left) assisting Bri (right) with a spot of planning. The burnt dump is the orange deposit beneath Dave’s end of the tape.

Paul ended his week by wrapping up the records for his and Bri’s area. He also found time to help with the excavation of another of our 19th century graves.

Paul working on a grave backfill.

Paul working on a grave backfill.

Archaeology Live! legend Clive re-joined us for the last week of the summer, assisting Steve with an area populated by intercutting infant burials.

Clive and Steve working on a sequence of 19th century burials.

Clive and Steve working on a sequence of 19th century burials.

This was delicate work! Fragments of coffin and the tiny bones of juvenile individuals are very susceptible to damage, so Clive and Steve were slow and steady with their work. They located the position and extent of the burial of a small child, but also worked out the relationships of a number of burials in close proximity to each other. This allows us to understand the order of events, which burials were the earliest and latest in the sequence.

These features always throw up a lot of paperwork, as the grave backfills, coffin remains and skeletons are all recorded, drawn and photographed individually. Clive and Steve made sure that all the records were in order for their burial sequence and that all the contexts were positioned correctly on our stratigraphic matrix – the diagram that allows us to understand the site sequence.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Working on his birthday, Clive was rewarded with a small archaeological gift when he found a small bone button. Clive and Steve brought their week to a close by taking over work on a burial that has been heavily disturbed by a 19th century rabbit burrow. True to form, the pair managed to locate the true edges of the grave cut. This will be looked at later in the season.

Happy birthday Clive!

Happy birthday Clive!

Another returning Archaeology Live! legend, Juliet was also kept very busy in this area. Charged with some of the week’s most challenging excavation, Juliet looked to fully expose a deep burial by the southern edge of the trench.

Juliet hard at work in one of our deepest graves.

Juliet hard at work in one of our deepest graves.

Buried well over a metre below present ground level, Juliet discovered that what had been thought to be a juvenile individual was actually an adult. Working in close confines, Juliet managed to expose enough of the skeleton to accurately plot its position. This was then recorded in detail and backfilled with a cushion of sieved soil to protect the remains from any damage. Later in the week, Juliet and Donald worked to clarify more of this sequence of infant burials and to complete any outstanding records.

Juliet at work on yet another infant burial.

Juliet at work on yet another infant burial.

The proliferation of infant burials by the rectory wall makes for very difficult excavation. Inter-cutting features often have very unclear edges due to the frequent disturbance of later graves. Once located, it takes time and great care to expose and record these remains.

Working with the guidance of the professional staff, the team in This End have done a fantastic job of picking apart this sequence. There is a lot more to do, but we are really starting to get on top of this area.


This End in the afternoon sun.

Week 12 saw us enjoying site visits from a number of YAT colleagues from our Nottingham branch, Trent and Peak Archaeology. T&P archaeologist Laura was the quickest to break out her trowel and get stuck in! Working with Kirsten, Laura investigated our largest grave cut.

Kirsten and Laura

Kirsten and Laura

This feature has been ongoing for a number of weeks and has become increasingly complex as time has gone by. It is clear that a number of graves have been situated here, the question in hand is whether we are seeing a family plot being repeatedly re-opened, or an inter-cutting sequence of individual burials. IMG_5786 Kirsten and Laura’s deposit is proving to be one of our more finds-rich grave backfills. At present, three tubs of pottery, animal bone, shell, glass, tile, etc. have been recovered, and the feature is far from finished! As is the norm on North Street, the material is a fantastic mix of Roman to 19th century artefacts.

Later in the week, Kirsten helped Clive and Steve with the recording of their newly discovered grave backfill.


Kirsten and Clive recording a grave backfill.

The great success of this week in Toby’s area has been the sharpening up of a very difficult sequence. As mentioned above, no half measures can be taken with this kind of archaeology, with care and respect for the individuals interred always being the prime concern.

We are now developing a growing understanding of exactly who was buried here and when. Quite why this area in particular is so densely occupied will be something to investigate in the near future.

Toby discussing edges with Kirsten and Laura.

Toby discussing edges with Kirsten and Laura.

It was another busy and eventful week for Arran and the finds team. Beneath the Tree of Finds, they battled to keep on top of the vast amount of material coming from the trench.

Just some of our finds drying in the sun.

Just some of our finds drying in the sun.

Over the course of the week, countless finds were washed, dried, sorted and bagged – to the ruthlessly exacting standards of our finds department.

Finds bagging

Finds bagging

As the finds are cleaned and dried, it is often at this point that previously un-noticed details are spotted.

Jane and Rob under the Finds Tree.

Jane and Rob under the Finds Tree.

The most exciting discovery this week was found on a seemingly innocuous piece of black burnished ware pottery. At first, the sherd of a Roman vessel seemed to be perfectly ordinary, part of a shallow, flat bottomed bowl referred to by archaeologists as a ‘dog bowl’.

Just another 'dog bowl'?

Just another ‘dog bowl’?

Closer inspection revealed that the sherd had a secret – it had been inscribed with a cross.

Graffitied Roman pottery

Graffitied Roman pottery

It would be very easy to get excited about an early example of christian graffiti, but it must be kept in mind that, while the date of the pot is securely Roman, it is impossible to know exactly when the cross was inscribed. Regardless, it is still wonderful to see a personal touch on an artefact that is almost 2,000 years old!

This wasn’t the only piece of interesting Roman pottery either. A beautifully decorated sherd of a colour coat drinking vessel was noted during washing, this would have been a lovely object when complete. Seeing 2000 year old brush strokes is always wonderful!

Painted Roman colour coat.

Painted Roman colour coat.

One piece of Roman pottery caused confusion at first, as it proved hard to identify. It became clear that this confusion had arisen due to the fact that this particular sherd of high status samian ware had been burned, changing the familiar terracotta colour to a dark grey.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

This wouldn’t be the last pot sherd with a story to tell either. The base of a medieval jug was cleaned and noticed to feature a ‘kiln scar’. As pots are often stacked upside down during firing, the base of the vessels can be marked by the glazed rim of the pot above. The pot above can also affect the firing of the lower vessel and a distinct curved line was clearly evident on our sherd.

The curved mark on this pot base shows that it was fired beneath another pot.

The curved mark on this pot base shows that it was fired beneath another pot.

The fabric on the inside of the curved mark is darker and has a distinctive grey colour. This is where the above pot has limited the airflow to the base of our vessel. When clay is fired in an oxygen starved environment it will often turn a dark grey colour, this is called reduction.

When pot is fired in a well-ventilated environment, such as a kiln with bellows, it will turn a lighter, more orange colour – this is called oxidisation and can be seen on the outside of the kiln scar curve pictured above.

Bri's early clay pipe stem.

Bri’s early clay pipe stem.

While washing a clay pipe stem, Bri noticed that it was a little different to most. Early examples of clay tobacco pipes feature thick stems with a wide, off-centre aperture. This is due to the relative crudeness of manufacturing process and that thin wire had yet to be developed that was strong enough to push through the wet clay to create an airway. Instead, thicker wire had to be used which leaves a broader airway. Bri’s example could be as early in date as the late 1600s!

In a busy week for finds highlights, we also came across another fragment of medieval roof tile complete with the paw-print of a large dog. As medieval tiles were laid out to dry before firing, finds like these are surprisingly common. That said, we never tire of finding such wonderful objects! It is even possible to see the ridges of the skin in the pads of the dog’s paws. You can almost sense the medieval tiler’s annoyance!

Bad dog!

Bad dog!

Yet another great find from this week was a fragment of worked bone that appears to be a very early form of pen. Its date is as yet uncertain, but we look forward to showing this one to our small finds specialist.


An early bone pen nib.

Week 12 saw the team bring together a lot of loose ends, while new discoveries showed no signs of slowing. Our knowledge of the site’s early modern development from a busy industrial yard to a peaceful graveyard has come on in leaps and bounds. It is wonderful to be able to plot the sweeping changes in the mood and use of the area and to recover small moments such as a medieval dog plodding over his master’s unfired tiles.


Betty showing Gary her latest finds.

This End’s concentration of infant and juvenile burials is now being mapped and understood in detail, while the first glimpses of the site’s medieval past are beginning to appear. That End continues to surprise us, with Betty and Janet’s unexpected brick floor and Nick and Lori’s ’empty’ grave keeping us firmly on our toes! Not to mention Rob’s ‘four-legged’ individual!!

Huge thanks as always must go out to our team of trainees and placements for yet another vintage week of good fun and and great archaeology!

The week 12 team.

The week 12 team.

While it is frustrating to have to stop just when the site is getting so exciting, we know that we’ll be returning to some wonderful archaeology in October! In the intervening weeks, we hope to post an overview of our findings so far on North Street, to help understand quite how much we have learned about this fascinating site. We will also aim to continue our series of blog posts looking back at previous seasons of Archaeology Live!

We’ll be back on site in October, there’s still room to join us, just contact for info/bookings. We will also be opening up the site to the public between 11am and 3pm on the 25th of October! Come along and see the latest finds, meet the archaeologists and say hello to Planty the Plant (if you don’t mind the smell of slightly rotten cabbage…)

So, that wraps up the summer season of our first year on North Street. It’s been better than we could have hoped for, with a wonderfully diverse and passionate team of budding archaeologists joining us from far and wide. Thanks again to all involved for making the site such a success! Now it’s time to catch our breath, take stock and get prepped for the autumn season. Until then friends, onwards and downwards!

– Arran


PS. It’s become traditional to share the more light hearted moments of the week at the end of each post. Our placement Donald had an unexpected moment this week when a sizeable moth flew out of his hair. Goodness knows how long it had been living in there. Donald’s vegan superpowers are clearly growing…

Donald, truly at one with the natural world...

Donald, truly at one with the natural world…

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 10.

Water water everywhere!? What on earth?


Can’t rain all the time…

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

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


Thumbs up if you love cow skulls!

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

It's a 'yes' from me.

It’s a ‘yes’ from me.

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

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

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

Lori and Jen begin to excavate their grave backfill.

Lori and Jen begin to excavate their grave backfill.

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

Joan up to her old tricks.

Joan up to her old tricks…

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

Eleanor and her debut find.

Eleanor and her debut find.

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


Eleanor’s bowl/saucer. Jolly civilised.

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

Joan and Eleanor getting their pit cut photo-ready.

Joan and Eleanor getting their pit cut photo-ready.

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


Lori’s latest find.

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

Tah dah!

Tah dah!

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

A closer look at Jen's floor tile.

A closer look at Jen’s floor tile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iain working on his linear feature.

Iain working on his linear feature.

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

Iain's medieval jug handle.

Iain’s medieval jug handle.

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

Iain admires a 16th century Cistercian ware handle.

Iain admires a 16th century Cistercian ware handle.

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

Recording Iain's post hole.

Recording Iain’s post hole.

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

Iain and Rose hard at work.

Iain and Rose hard at work.

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

A wall footing emerges...

A wall footing emerges…

This discovery poses a number of questions.

  • How old is it?

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

  • Was this part of a large building?

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Grave cuts in an empty trench.

Grave cuts in an empty trench.

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

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

Janice and Coco manning the dumpy level.

Janice and Coco manning the dumpy level.

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

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


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

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

Chris and Audrey hard at work.

Chris and Audrey hard at work.

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

Belle's window glass fragment.

Belle’s window glass fragment.

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

A little speculation never hurt anyone...

A little speculation never hurt anyone…

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

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

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

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


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

Fran trying her hand at troweling.

Fran trying her hand at troweling.

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


Masons’ marks in a medieval column.

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

A medieval swan.

A medieval swan. Can you see the outline?

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

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


Steady feet required.

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

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

The stairs proved to be a snug fit.

The stairs proved to be a snug fit.

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

Ancient bells above All Saints

Ancient bells above All Saints

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

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

Clambering over the lower bells.

Clambering over the lower bells.

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


Looking down from the upper belfry.

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

Looking up within the spire of All Saints.

Looking up within the spire of All Saints.

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


Not a bad view really…

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

Modern graffiti

Modern graffiti in the lower belfry.

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

Coco and Chas looking at clay pipe stems.

Coco and Chas looking at clay pipe stems.

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


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

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

An 18th century pipe bowl.

An 18th century pipe bowl.

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

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

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

The week 10 team.

The week 10 team.

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




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

Kind of.

Pearlware tiaras. It could take off...?

Pearlware tiaras. It could take off…?



Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 9.




One of the great pleasures of being part of Archaeology Live! is meeting people from all walks of life, from all over the world. Over the last fourteen years, our Archaeology Live! excavations have proved to be a melting pot of new friendships, professional contacts and more than a few budding romances. That said, it’s always great to see the return of a few familiar faces. With Archaeology Live! stalwarts Tom, Megan and Chas returning to placement duties, week nine got off to a flying start.

Chas, Tom and Megan. Part of the Archaeology Live! furniture.

Chas, Tom and Megan. It wouldn’t be Arch Live! without them.

With the new arrivals inducted, suited and booted, trowels were brandished and work began.

With ‘This End’ becoming increasingly populated by early 19th century burials, Toby’s team cleaned up the central area of the trench.

Cleaning up 'This End'

Cleaning up ‘This End’

Looking to clear up a number of somewhat fuzzy edges and hopefully expose a few new ones, the new additions quickly got their troweling eye in. Theo and Callum took over work on a large rectangular cut feature that has up to press seemed a tad wide to be a grave. 

Theo and Callum taking on some tough stratigraphy.

Theo and Callum taking on some tough stratigraphy.

As the week progressed, it became apparent that something rather complex was going on. The wide cut feature was in fact several intercutting graves, later interrupted by a shallow charnel pit. The difficulty in tying down the sequence lay in the intensive focus of activity on a very small piece of ground. As each feature cut into its predecessor, much of the earlier deposits were removed, leaving only thin slithers of surviving backfills. 

Callum in full troweling swing.

Callum in full troweling swing.

This discovery effectively turned a single context into a multitude of separate events, each requiring an individual record. Joined at the end of the week by Hugo, Callum began to record and excavate the sequence of graves and pits. While work on these features will continue over the next couple of weeks, the work done by Callum, Theo and Hugo has made a confusing mass of disturbed edges into a complex, but understandable stratigraphic sequence.

Records! Records! Records!

Records! Records! Records!

Beth and Donald joined us for their third year running this week and faced quite a new challenge. Last year on Hungate, the pair recorded and excavated an early 20th century concrete yard surface, during which Beth managed to break a mattock shaft in two! This season’s work would prove far more delicate.

Beth and Donald beginning their week.

Beth and Donald beginning their week.

In the section of a later burial, the grave of an infant had been discovered earlier in the season. Now the feature was free to investigate, Beth and Donald delicately troweled the area to locate the full extents of the burial.

As has been the general policy all season, no burials are currently scheduled to be removed during this excavation. The team have however looked to locate the positions and depths of surviving human remains to ensure they are protected from any intrusion from future development work.


Beth and Donald employing their most delicate troweling techniques.

As the grave backfill was gently peeled away, the outline of a collapsed coffin became visible, including a very degraded name plate. This discovery is important as it tells us that this was a sanctioned burial and adds a sombre human touch to the feature. These remains, partially revealed by Donald and Beth, will last have been seen by their grieving relatives almost two centuries ago.

With respect for the individuals interred along Church Lane, we will not be posting any images of their remains. While public access to our discoveries is perhaps our main aim, features like these are best dealt with quietly and respectfully. 

Janice working on a C19th burial.

Janice working on a C19th burial.

Janice enjoyed a similarly challenging week, as she worked to ascertain the position and depth of the individual interred in her grave cut. This was tricky work, made harder by the confined space, but Janice’s patient excavation paid off as she revealed the upper and lower extremes of the skeleton. This allowed us to begin detailed records of the burial, again allowing us to ensure that this individual can continue to rest in peace. 

As the grave was cut through almost a metre of earlier stratigraphy, a great variety of finds were present in the backfill. A particular highlight was the shiny, slightly comical lid fragment from a post-medieval pot.

Janice's unusual pot sherd.

Janice’s unusual pot sherd.

In Gary’s area, the ‘That End’ team looked to make similar progress. Joined this week by Archaeology Live’s favourite Southern Belle, Lorraine, Beth recorded and excavated the fill of a small refuse pit. 

Beth and Lorraine's refuse pit.

Beth and Lorraine’s refuse pit.

Making a formidable team, it wasn’t long before Beth and Lorraine made some great finds. Highlights included a worked bone object with a carved internal thread. 

Beth's worked bone object.

Beth’s worked bone object.

It is possible that this could be the decorative end of an umbrella or similar item. It was certainly designed to screw on to something.

The excavation of this pit proved that a possible structural feature visible in the section of ‘Biagio’s bone pit’  (see earlier blog entries…) to be almost entirely truncated by later activity. That slight disappointment didn’t stop Beth and Lorraine from enjoying their work, however, as the finds continued to flow.


Live long and prosper.

With the pit recorded, the intrepid pair revealed, recorded and excavated a small post hole, forcing Beth to break out field archaeology’s most devastating tool: The Teaspoon.

'There is no spoon'

‘There is no spoon’

One of a number of emerging structural features, this post hole adds to a growing body of evidence that this yard was a busy working space in the first two decades of the 19th century. 

Sandra and Bella began their week of excavation with us by investigating a feature that cut into a cobble surface/footing recorded by Gina and Geoff early in the season. Like Callum and Theo’s feature, this proved to be a difficult task. After a good deal of investigative troweling, Sandra and Bella discovered that they were actually dealing with two features, a shallow pit cut and an infant burial. 


Sandra and Bella’s area under investigation.

Complex relationships like these throw up a lot of records and Sandra and Bella worked hard to clean, photograph and plan each layer and cut edge. The discoveries made in this area depict an unusual dichotomy. Clearly, this area of 19th century yard space was home to countless pits, tips and post holes, but it was also being used, seemingly concurrently, for burials. As the ceramics from each context in this area are analysed by specialists, it will be fascinating to see if we can tighten the dating sequence and confirm whether or not the yard remained in active use while it was receiving burials.

Recording in 'that end'

Recording in ‘that end’

Bella and Sandra ended their week by recording and excavating a small dump of clayey material. This in turn revealed yet another stakehole! 

Sandra and Bella lifting a clay dump.

Sandra and Bella lifting a clay dump.

A busy week in ‘That End’ has added to an increasing cross-site division. It is certain that refuse pits, structural features and industrial features are increasingly common as you move further from the 18th century rectory building. Clearly, the rector liked to keep such smelly nuisances away from his dwelling. It is interesting to note that the residents of All Saints Cottages couldn’t afford to be so choosy. It’s fascinating to think that these beautiful medieval buildings have only been held in such high regard in relatively recent times; they must have seemed quite old hat in the 1820s.

Hindsight can be a wonderful thing.

All Saints Cottages border the northern end of the trench.

All Saints Cottages border the northern end of the trench.

The rectory is depicted in an early 19th century engraving and seems to have been quite a grand residence, even if a little artistic licence seems to have been taken – the footings we have uncovered are a tad smaller than you would expect for such a large building.

The north-east wall of the rectory with cesspit annex to the top of shot.

The north-east wall of the rectory with cesspit annex to the top of shot.


The rectory – note the annex to the right.

The Tree of Finds enjoyed a wonderful moment as the last of the ‘horn pit’ finds were finally washed. Representing the by-products of the tanning industry, the 15 tubs of cattle skull and horn core proved quite a task to clean! 

No more horn core!! :)

No more horn core!! 🙂

Finds washing revealed a number of treasures that had yet to be noted. A seemingly innocuous pot sherd was washed by Beth and was found to contain antler stamped decoration.

Beth under the Finds Tree.

Beth under the Finds Tree.

This is proving a tough sherd to date, with opinion remaining thoroughly divided. It’s fabric and decoration are crude and a Roman or Anglo-Saxon date wouldn’t be beyond the realms of the imagination. However, it is equally plausible to be a locally made post-medieval ware. We await specialist opinion…

Suggestions welcome...

Suggestions welcome…

While washing what appeared to be a clump of dirt, Bella spotted this small, well-made copper alloy object. A decorative fitting of some sort, we eagerly await our small finds specialist’s opinion on this one.

Bella's copper object.

Bella’s copper object.

Another amusing discovery was a large dog’s paw print in a medieval roof tile. You can almost picture the tiler’s annoyance at his unruly dog!



Often difficult to distinguish between some Roman equivalents, we have nonetheless been noting an increase in Viking finds as we creep into earlier deposits. It bodes well for what lies beneath us!



Viking ceramics.

Viking ceramics.

Week 9 has seen our picture of early 19th century activity along Church Lane come into ever sharper focus. We can see unpleasant activities being pushed away from the rectory at the south end of the yard and kept close to All Saints Cottages to the north; we can also see working life continuing in the yard while it was being incorporated into the church’s burial ground. The refuse pits we excavate are giving us new insights into past diets and lifestyles and, as we expose elements of the individuals buried along Church Lane, we are able to meet the 19th century parishioners of All Saints face to face.

None of this would be possible without the funding, hard work and boundless enthusiasm of our wonderful team of budding archaeologists. It is people like this that give archaeology such a bright future, thank you to all the week 9 team for another exciting week on North Street! 

The week 9 gang.

The week 9 gang.

So, now we head in to the closing stages of the summer session. Only three weeks and one weekend to go! It’s been immense fun so far and a genuine privilege to work with such a passionate and diverse group of individuals. Here’s to a big finale!

Onwards and downwards!


– Arran


PS. In closing, I’ll leave you with this. 

Odd things happen on excavations sometimes. Our placement Becky was off sick for a day and it was decided she needed a replacement. Enter Becky MkII…


Finding some ‘green graze’


Keeping on top of those finds.


A spot of recording.

A dinner date with Planty.

A dinner date with Planty.

Some light troweling.

Some light troweling.

Becky MkI.

Becky MkI. Thankfully, alive and well.

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