Category: archaeology (page 2 of 2)

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 9.

 

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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Woof

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…

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Finding some ‘green graze’

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Keeping on top of those finds.

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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.

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 8.

 

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All Saints in the sunshine.

At its core, archaeology is all about stories; capturing glimpses of bygone times in the material left behind by the people who lived through them. To hear these echoes we have to follow through a long process, beginning with research and excavation. Archives are trawled through, aerial photographs are pondered and historic maps are searched for hints of former land use. With a good knowledge of a site’s background, we call in the ground troops.

Over the last two months, the Archaeology Live! summer team have been working to read the story of our little corner of land by All Saints Church, beginning as archaeologists always do – at the end. 

From the recent demolition of the old church hall, we have uncovered an unbroken sequence of activity dating back to the beginning of the 19th century. Photographs have been taken, plan drawings measured and detailed context cards have been filled in. We have worked out exactly what cuts into what, which dump overlies which surface and recovered finds to provide a date for each of these events. This combined effort is what forms the core of our story. 

We always remind our trainees that individual finds, while exciting, are only part of the bigger picture and that archaeology is certainly not a treasure hunt. That said, it is always nice when these things appear and every now and then a week comes around where you can’t move for amazing artefacts!

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The monday of week 8 marked the beginning of just such a week. There was a palpable buzz around the trench as the team began to arrive; the sun was shining, the trench was looking smart and we had everything to play for. 

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In ‘This End’, Toby’s new arrivals and continuing trainees began work on a number of features. Returning trainee Reinhilde once again made the trip from Belgium to join us, this time with her nephew Gerwin in tow. The pair drew the difficult task of finding good edges in an area heavily disturbed by Victorian rabbit burrows. Happily, with some of ‘Toby’s trowelling top tips©’ they were able to identify a cut feature that could be another early 19th century grave. 

Gerwin and Reinhilde trowelling over new deposits.

Gerwin and Reinhilde trowelling over new deposits.

After recording their new context, Gerwin and Reinhilde began to excavate and it wasn’t long before they were rewarded with some amazing finds. A strong contender for the image on next season’s T-shirt was Gerwin’s sherd of a mid-16th century Bartmann jug. Also referred to as Bellarmine jugs, these stoneware vessels were produced in Germany throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Almost ubiquitous in their decoration is the image of a bearded  man. 

Gerwin's sherd of a Bellarmine jug.

Gerwin’s sherd of a Bellarmine jug.

A popular image in European folklore from the 14th century, the ‘wild man’ appears on many artefacts, although Gerwin’s pot is more likely a representation of cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). Opposing the rise of protestantism in Germany and the Low Countries, the use of his image on these vessels could well have been a form of ridicule from European protestants – especially when his staunch anti-alcohol stance is considered. 

A quick google search provides numerous images of complete examples.

A quick google search provides numerous images of complete examples.

This is a fantastic find and would have been a colourful addition to any household.

Reinhilde wasn’t left behind however and among a number of good finds, she discovered a large sherd of a flat bottomed Samian ware bowl. 1st-2nd century in date, this is a piece of high-status Roman tableware more familiar to olives than pottage! Found in such good condition, it is hard to fathom that this object is almost two thousand years old!

Reinhilde displays her freshly unearthed samian bowl sherd.

Reinhilde displays her freshly unearthed samian bowl sherd. 

New trainees Vicky and India also had a busy week in Toby’s area. Alongside working on several dumps and a grave backfill, the pair worked together to record and excavate the backfill of a truncated brick chamber located between the rectory and Church Lane. 

Vicky and India working on their brick chamber.

Vicky and India working on their brick chamber.

The backfill yielded some interesting artefacts including our second possible corset clasp of the season. Good to know the resident rector was an appreciator of ladies’ fashion! India found another fashionable object within a lump of metallic corrosion – a small, decorative copper button. 

India's delicate copper button.

India’s delicate copper button.

As the base of the feature was exposed, it appeared increasingly likely to represent a small cesspit. Not an obvious place for items of clothing to end up, although it is fun to imagine a slightly ill individual ripping off clothing for an urgent trip to the loo… 

The rough, brick-built cesspit.

The rough, brick-built cesspit.

Later in the week, India’s fashion collection was added to by a glazed ceramic button. Another smart item of clothing found close to the rectory.

India and her ceramic button.

India and her ceramic button.

Archaeology Live! regular Kirsten Hald, alongside longstanding placement Dave ‘the dig’ Dearlove, achieved legend status this week after ten straight years of digging with us! Toby presented the pair with commemorative T-shirts to celebrate. Here’s to the next decade!

True Archaeology Live! legends, Kirsten and Dave.

True Archaeology Live! legends, Kirsten and Dave.

Continuing to work with Kaye, another Archaeology Live! regular, Kirsten recorded and excavated a dump of cinder within a small annex of the rectory. This backfill contained a good deal of late 18th to early 19th century pottery, including a fragment of a chamber pot. Fittingly, as things often do on Archaeology Live!, it turned out to be a cesspit. 

Kirsten and Kaye's cobble-based cesspit is visible in the right of this shot.

Kirsten and Kaye’s cobble-based cesspit is visible in the right of this shot.

Lined with brick and complete with a well-mettled cobble floor, this cesspit was better built than Vicky and India’s example and provides an earthy insight into life in an early modern rectory. Kirsten and Kaye also exposed a small, truncated section of the rectory’s brick floor. 

The rectory's north wall. A tale of two cesspits.

The rectory’s north wall. A tale of two cesspits.

In keeping with the week’s theme of great small finds, Kaye was lucky enough to discover a particularly beautiful artefact – a fragment of a glass ring. We’ll need a specialist to give us a date for this one, although Toby, Arran and Gary are all in agreement that it looks distinctly Roman. If this is the case, this will go down as one of the year’s most significant individual artefacts. 

Kaye's rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

Kaye’s rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

Being a glass object found in damp conditions, this object will be kept moist to arrest any possible drying out and subsequent decay.

Over at ‘That End’, Gary’s team also enjoyed an eventful and finds-rich week.

Continuing work on a 19th century grave cut, Rosie and Alan began their second week with the intention of cleaning up and recording the partially excavated feature with a view to it being picked up later in the season when access is easier and safer. This clean-up produced a number of wonderful finds, including a sherd of a sizeable splash glazed pot. Dating to the 12th-13th century, this would have been a substantial vessel!

Alan's thumbprint decorated medieval pot rimsherd.

Alan’s thumbprint decorated medieval pot rimsherd.

However, the real star of the show was unearthed moments later. Alan spotted what appeared to be a very precisely curved fragment of bone. As it was revealed in its entirety, it proved to be a beautifully crafted antler spindle whorl. Used throughout the Viking and medieval periods, such objects were part of daily crafting life.

Alan looking deservedly happy with his latest find.

Alan looking deservedly happy with his latest find.

While a date between the 10th and 12th century is as accurate as we can confidently say before specialist analysis, the circular incised decoration looks very similar to numerous Viking antler objects discovered on nearby Hungate. What can’t be doubted is the wonderful craftsmanship of this object, which would have been a valued possession and was almost certainly lost rather than discarded. 

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You know it’s a good finds day when…

Later in the week, Rosie and Alan investigated a small, sub-rectangular refuse pit. The finds proved to be the usual ‘That End’ pick n mix of Roman to post-medieval pottery, animal bone and ceramic building material. Rosie unearthed a large tile fragment, charred on one side and scored on the other. This could represent a fragment of flue tile from a Roman hypocaust (early under-floor heating!) and when this is considered alongside the many fragments of Roman tablewares and amphora found nearby, we have increasing evidence for consumption of luxury goods early in the first millennium. 

Rosie's Roman tile fragment.

Rosie’s Roman tile fragment.

As excavation of the feature continued, the plot thickened. Alan and Rosie began to expose a layer of well-laid stonework. The assemblage of limestone blocks appears to be a substantial post-pad, designed to take the weight of a large structural timber. As the surrounding sequence is tightened up, it may be possible that this is the first definitive evidence that the neighbouring row of medieval buildings, All Saints Cottages, may once have extended further over our site.

Alan uncovering new stonework.

Alan uncovering new stonework.

To provide a visual aid, the reconstructed early 20th century hermitage at the rear of the church features a large timber upright being supported, in this case, by a concrete post-pad.

The hermitage at the rear of the church (currently a finds storage area).

The hermitage at the rear of the church (currently a finds storage area).

Elsewhere in Gary’s area, Sarah, Hannah and Beth recorded and excavated a rough yard surface. This revealed a complex, intercutting sequence of early 19th century pits. 

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Beth and Hannah hunting edges.

The yard deposit contained some more great finds, including the year’s second copper alloy lace tag (fashion being something of a theme this week).

Sarah and her lace tag.

Sarah and her lace tag.

Beth unearthed a rather lovely copper alloy clasp/buckle. Again, appearing medieval in date, this find should clean up beautifully.

 

 

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Another wonderful personal possession.

A structural feature, exposed earlier in the season in the section of Biagio’s ‘bone pit’, proved to be less substantial than may have been expected. Only around 100mm in width, it now seems this feature has been almost entirely truncated by later pits.

A structural feature is visible in the pit section.

A structural feature is visible in the pit section.

With a number of new pits identified, Gary’s team recorded the two latest examples and began to investigate them.

Planning.

Planning pit fills.

Joining us on a two day taster, Emily worked with Beth on one of our pits. She was delighted to find the handle of an 18th century tin-glazed earthenware jug. 

Emily's decorative jug handle.

Emily’s decorative jug handle.

The same deposit turned up another good find for Beth, as she unearthed a corroded copper alloy coin. Cleaned up by our conservators, this should provide a good date for the pit.

Beth and her coin.

Beth and her coin.

The new edges and pits unearthed by Gary’s team reveal an increasingly busy and well-used yard space that continues to contrast sharply with the sequence at Toby’s side of the trench. These will continue to be investigated next week, perhaps we will find more evidence of the tanning industry.

Sarah exposing a sub-circular pit.

Sarah exposing a sub-circular pit.

Beneath the Tree of Finds, Arran’s merry band of finds processors continued the mammoth task of cleaning the finds from the now infamous ‘horn pit.’

Just SOME of the bone from context 1152.

Just SOME of the bone from context 1152.

Thankfully, a few earlier artefacts were found among the mass of early 19th century cattle crania and horn core. These included a fragment of medieval pottery complete with the perfectly preserved fingerprints of the potter. The ridges of each fingerprint are clearly visible in the fabric of the pot.

Medieval fingerprints in vivid detail.

Medieval fingerprints in vivid detail.

One fragment of cattle skull provided evidence of a rather unhealthy cow, as the skull was peppered with holes. These represent damage caused by tumours and would have made for a rather unhappy beast.

Evidence of poorly cows.

Evidence of poorly cows.

Washing what appeared to be a fragment of cattle rib, Kirsten spotted some unusual markings in the bone.

Kirsten marks her decade of service with another top find!

Kirsten marks her decade of service with another top find!

Closer inspection revealed the object was not bone after all. Instead, it was a thin panel of decorated antler, incised with circular markings. Possibly the exterior of a Viking composite comb, this find proved that finds washing can be exciting at the most unlikely times!

Decorated Viking antler.

Decorated Viking antler.

An unexpected pleasure was a site visit from Lewis Gell, the former owner of the boxing club, under which we are currently digging. Lewis had many good stories of his time in the building and will be providing us with some photos of the boxing club in its former glory. We’ll post a more detailed blog post on the club’s recent history in the coming weeks.

Gary and former boxing club owner Lewis.

Gary and former boxing club owner Lewis.

And so ended a thrilling week of archaeology on North Street. We normally have a stand-out find from the week, but week 8 left us with a whole collection!

Recording a 19th century pit cut.

Recording a 19th century pit cut.

Importantly, these artefacts add depth to our site story. From evidence of 18th century fashion favoured by the occupants of the rectory to tantalising clues of what Roman, Viking and medieval archaeology lies in store below us; our understanding of what people were using, consuming and doing along Church Lane has grown considerably. Personal possessions like Alan’s spindle whorl and Kaye’s glass ring, bring us that bit closer to the people that lived and worked here.

The week 8 team.

The week 8 team.

Thanks as ever must go out to our ever changing team of trainees and placements for their continuing work on site. The quality of recording has been tip top and new excavation skills have been put to practice with an expert eye. Congratulations must also go to our placements Gus and Craig, who have now begun working with us as professional archaeologists on one of our commercial excavations! The experience gathered by our placements can prove a great stepping stone into professional archaeology.

Next week, we will work to read an earlier chapter of the trench’s story and welcome back some familiar faces from the glory days of Hungate. It should be good fun and maybe, just maybe we’ll have another bonanza week of finds!

Until then, onwards and downwards!

 

-Arran 

 

 

 

 

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 6.

Despite it still feeling like we’ve only just got started on North Street, the growing pile of artefact boxes begs to differ. We’ve had five entertaining and eventful weeks of archaeology so far and it still feels like we’ve only just scratched the surface (no pun intended, honest.)

This week saw the site make real progress, as our trainees continued to tease apart the complex layers of archaeology. New contexts that were beginning to appear last week have become increasingly typified by cut features such as pits, post holes and so on, as opposed to the proliferation of tips, dumps and surfaces that we have encountered throughout the summer.

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A sunny start to week 6.

Team This End began their week by giving their area a thorough, robust trowelling. Numerous surfaces and levelling deposits were recorded last week and the last pockets of these were now lifted. This gave an increasingly clear view of the earlier archaeology.

 

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Helen exposing a burnt deposit.

Helen continued to work on a spread of burnt material that her dad had begun to investigate last week. Initially a tad ephemeral, this deposit began to resolve itself as it was more fully exposed. We had been fairly confident that this would be a relatively late burning event that overlaid 18th century deposits; the reality however has proved to be somewhat different.

It is now apparent that this context is cut by numerous features that date to the early 19th century. This pushes the date of the burning back in the sequence. It is possible that it could even be contemporary with the main use period of the nearby 18th century rectory.

Pete and his grindstone.

Pete and his grindstone.

Close by, as more 19th century yard deposits were excavated, some great finds were appearing. Pete was very happy to find a well-worn grindstone, an object that could be mounted on an axle, rotated and used to sharpen blades.

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A closer look at Pete’s grindstone.

Such objects have been in use as long as metalworking has been practiced so dating will require a specialist eye, although we have found similar examples in York within 10th century and 12th-13th century deposits. With this in mind, it is possible that this object was made and used in the Viking or medieval period before ending up in a Victorian dump deposit.

Celia and Helen hard at work.

Celia and Helen hard at work.

As these 19th century layers were removed, Celia and Helen exposed yet another wall relating to the 18th century rectory that occupied the site until the 1850s. The structural sequence of this building is becoming more complex as we reveal more of its footings. Understanding and dating this phase of activity will be something we’ll be looking at in detail next week.

 

Nicola's mysterious copper alloy object.

Nicola’s mysterious copper alloy object.

Archaeology Live! regular Nicola was clearly on good form this year as she found a number of great artefacts! These included decorative Victorian glass, decorated Samian ware and an unusual copper alloy object.

 

Sarah with her now mortar-free rabbit warren.

Sarah with her now mortar-free rabbit warren.

Sarah had been investigating a mortar rich deposit that had been extensively disturbed by animal burrowing at the end of last week. This week, she finally cleared up what had been happening.

Amazingly, it seems an industrious 19th century individual took exception to the rabbits burrowing in his/her yard and blocked up the rabbit hole with mortar. It was ironic that we made this discovery on Beatrix Potter’s birthday! Poor Peter Rabbit…

 

EDGES!!!

With the mid-19th century deposits lifted, the team stood back and admired a series of new features. These included a number of rectangular cut features, around six feet in length, that follow the alignment of the church. As we know the area was briefly consecrated to receive burials between the 1820s and the 1850s, it now seems almost certain that these will be inhumations.

Planning newly unearthed features.

Planning newly unearthed features.

With so many new edges appearing, Toby’s team assigned context numbers to each new feature and began work on creating a composite plan. The plans for individual contexts can be taken from this master plan as and when they are investigated. The planning was done en masse before the baking sun was allowed to dry out the newly exposed layers and mask the more subtle edges.

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PLANFEST 2014

While there are currently no plans to remove any articulated human remains, it is important that we know the location and depth of each potential burial. This will allow us to protect them from any future disturbance and to understand this phase of activity.

To this end, the team began to carefully excavate the backfills of several of the possible burials. Any human remains that we discover will be recorded before being left covered and protected.

Toby's team begin to investigate a number of possible burials.

Toby’s team begin to investigate a number of possible burials.

As these features were cut through earlier archaeology, some interesting finds have been appearing. Celia discovered a rather splendid medieval jug handle, possibly 15th-16th century in date.

A medieval jug handle.

A medieval jug handle.

Bill also made an interesting discovery with this bangle shaped copper alloy object.

Bill's copper alloy object.

Bill’s copper alloy object.

Work on these contexts will carry on into next week. It is important to be thorough and careful with such features. The backfills are being 100% sieved and staff or placements with experience of excavating burials are present at all times to offer advice and supervise the work.

Helen following a tricky edge.

Helen following a tricky edge.

Over in Arran’s area, the That End team continued work on several cut features that were identified the previous week, some of which proving to be quite unpredictable!

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Kevin and Dave continue work on an ever expanding bone rich deposit.

This was a busy week for tasters, with numerous people joining us for one or two days on site. This meant that some larger features have now been worked on by quite a number of people! The small bone-rich deposit begun the previous week by Tom and Gill was continued by Kevin, Julie, Sharon, Susanne and Emma over the course of the week. The backfill was absolutely packed with cattle skull fragments and each time we thought we’d found the end of the feature, more bone appeared!

Julie and Sharon getting in the bovine spirit... (A 'horny' joke would just have been lazy)

Julie and Sharon getting in the bovine spirit… (A ‘horny’ joke would just have been lazy)

Now four times larger than we had expected, the pit finally revealed it’s edge on Friday, with the bone abruptly ceasing to occur. Again, as the feature cuts earlier deposits, it contained a great range of finds, including a beautiful sherd of Roman black burnished ware. The cross hatched decoration is still remarkably visible after almost two millennia!

Black burnished ware with it's diamond pattern decoration still clearly visible.

Black burnished ware with it’s diamond pattern decoration still clearly visible.

Our first ‘pie crust’ rim from a Torskey ware Viking pot was also discovered from this context. Being able to put your thumb in a thousand year old thumbprint never wears thin!

Susanne's sherd of Torksey ware.

Susanne’s sherd of Torksey ware.

As the deposit contained several sherds of transfer ware, it must date to no earlier than the late 18th century. It is very interesting how regimented the finds from this pit have proved to be, as such features often contain a huge range of material. Domestic refuse was almost entirely absent, with the vast majority of finds being fragments of cattle skull and horn core.

Each of these skull fragments were from the top half of the skull, with no mandibles, maxilla, etc. being unearthed. It seems that this pit represents the exclusive disposal of the by-products of horn working. The site’s proximity to Tanner Row suggests a link with the tanning industry, could a relationship have existed between the tanners, butchers and horn-workers in the area?

Another interesting and slightly grisly discovery was also made, as many of the skull fragments featured a small puncture wound – possible evidence of 19th century slaughter techniques.

Cattle skull with a puncture wound.

Cattle skull with a puncture wound.

While the edges of this ‘cow mashing pit’ (as it has been informally dubbed) have been discovered, there is still plenty of backfill to excavate. Next week will see us add even more bone to the eleven tubs that have already been recovered!

 

Biagio's bone pit.

Biagio’s bone pit.

Returning for his second year, Biagio took over work on the pit started by Anne in week 5. Also full of animal bone, this pit differed from the horn pit as it contained bone from various parts of various animals and appears more likely to represent disposal of general butchery waste.

 

Biagio's worked flint.

Biagio’s worked flint.

 

The pit backfill contained two particularly noteworthy finds, including a fragment of worked flint. Heavily struck on one side, this object doesn’t appear to be a pre-historic tool or offcut. Instead, it seems more likely to be a 19th century object used to strike a flame. We look forward to hearing the specialist opinion on this one!

After filling three tubs with fragmented animal bone, Biagio was overjoyed to find something a little different. This time, he spotted a large fragment from a Roman amphora – a large vessel used to transport luxury goods such as oils and wines. We are finding more and more evidence of high status Roman material as the weeks pass.

Biagio, clearly chuffed with his amphora fragment.

Biagio, clearly chuffed with his amphora fragment.

In ‘contrary corner’ at the northern end of the trench. Gideon and Jess’ pit from week 5 continued to be worked on by Gary, Erica, Paul and Michelle who all joined us on one day taster courses. The edges we had worked so hard to find last week continued to make good sense and the pit appeared to be close to completion by Friday. This will be finished up next week, bar any contrary surprises of course!

 

Ellen and Beverly working on their possible inhumation.

Ellen and Beverly working on their possible inhumation.

Beverly and Ellen, who proved quite the team last year on Hungate, reunited to continue work on the rectangular feature begun last week by Katie and Beverly. Very possibly another early 19th century burial, this feature yielded a number of great finds.

The ceramic assemblage has been of particular interest. Alongside several sherds of samian ware, local reproductions of a lower quality were also found. Clearly, fake designer goods have been around for a while…

 

Samian ware and a local 'knock-off'

Samian ware and a local ‘knock-off’

The base of a small, globular medieval drinking vessel proved that there is more to the medieval assemblage than storage jars, jugs and cooking pots.

 

A beautiful medieval vessel base.

A beautiful medieval vessel base.

A sherd of medieval roof tile was discovered complete with the footprint of a large dog! This tile could very well have spent several centuries on the roof of All Saints before ending up in the backfill of Ellen and Beverly’s feature.

 

Fido's signature on a medieval roof tile.

Fido’s signature on a medieval roof tile.

There isn’t enough room in this blog to list all of Ellen’s week 6 finds (she had a bumper week!), although the highlight was certainly this small copper alloy brooch.

 

Ellen's medieval brooch.

Ellen’s medieval(?) brooch.

Similar to medieval examples found on Hungate, this object is in excellent condition and should look great when the conservation team have it cleaned.

 

A closer look.

A closer look.

Finds from sieving a single bucket full of Beverly and Ellen’s backfill deposit highlight the multi-phasic quality of York’s archaeology. This particular bucket load contained examples of medieval, Viking and Roman pottery, including an unusual colour coat mortarium rim – giving a date range of 2,000 years!

 

Pottery from sieving.

Pottery from sieving.

At present, this feature has been excavated to a depth of roughly 0.60m and is still descending. Work will continue next week and we’ll hopefully be able to confirm whether or not we are dealing with burials. The feature, like many on site, has been heavily disturbed by rabbit burrowing, although luckily this particular burrow passes above any human remains that may be present.

Ellen looking rather annoyed at Flopsy the Victorian bunny's handiwork.

Ellen looking rather annoyed at Flopsy the Victorian bunny’s handiwork.

Week 7 will be a key week this season, as we will hopefully be able to confirm the presence of inhumations. If Beverly and Ellen’s feature is representative, these graves could all be rather deep. This would mean that we will safely be able to reduce the ground level of the whole trench substantially, working around but not disturbing any in-situ burials.

 

Possible graves under excavation.

Possible graves under excavation.

Beneath the Finds Tree, Gary has been dealing with the mass of finds from the substantial trample deposits that we recently completed work on. The finds teams have worked tirelessly to clean, sort and bag the mountain of artefacts, spotting some gems along the way.

 

Sorting finds. This assemblage came from a single deposit!

Sorting finds. This assemblage came from a single deposit!

A ceramic pipe bowl with masonic decoration.

A ceramic pipe bowl with masonic decoration.

Week 6 has seen the nature of the archaeology on site shift focus from horizontal layers to cut features. As these are excavated, the site will look increasingly like an archaeological moonscape! The sections of these features give us a glimpse into earlier deposits and these sneak previews have already revealed hints of buried structures, substantial refuse pits and possible burials.

Deep features can make for tricky digging!

Deep features can make for tricky digging!

We are now bang on halfway through the summer session. We have recorded and excavated just shy of 200 archaeological contexts and moved almost 35 tons of soil – ENTIRELY by trowel! Week on week, our trainees have got their heads round some genuinely tricky archaeology and consistently impressed us with the professional standards of their work. It’s also been a hell of a lot of fun!

Without the funding of our ever-growing crowd of trainees, this excavation (and its 13 predecessors!) would not be possible. As ever, huge thanks must go out to all of our trainees and placements for supporting Archaeology Live!

Next week, Arran and Gary will tag in/out and switch roles – with Gary looking after That End and Arran taking over the mystical realm of the Tree of Finds. The archaeology is looking really promising as we edge towards the post-medieval period, and yet more sunshine has been forecast! Can’t wait to get started!

Onwards and downwards!

 

-Arran

The week 6 team.

The week 6 team.

 

PS. Week 6 also saw the beginnings of a beautiful new friendship between our placement Dave and a local pug. The two enjoyed a bit of quality time on the edge of the trench. Bless ’em…

IMG_4946

Pug Life.

 

 

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 4.

All Saints Church in the 19th century with the newly built church hall (later a boxing club) to the left.

A very Victorian view of All Saints Church with the newly built church hall (later a boxing club) to the left. (Image copyright City of York Council)

Week 4 of Archaeology Live! 2014 saw us one third through the summer excavation. Time does indeed fly! As is becoming something of a theme, this week saw the team working with almost constant sunshine and birdsong. The week also saw us reach something of a benchmark as work across the whole trench was now focused on archaeology pre-dating the Victorian boxing club.

Our trainees have taken the trench back in time to the turn of the 19th century and gained a detailed understanding of the site’s Victorian past.

IMG_4743

Toby’s team peeling away construction trample layers.

If one word could define this week it would be trample, as archaeologists on both sides of the trench made a concerted effort to remove the remaining areas of the trample deposit laid down by Victorian builders preparing to erect the boxing club. Compacted by nature, this deposit has made for some sore wrists, but the finds recovered from it have proved an ample reward!

Trowelling away trample in 'This End'

Trowelling away trample in ‘This End’

The 19th century builders were certainly not a tidy lot and churned up a great deal of earlier material during their work. In Toby’s end, this resulted in a very exciting discovery! While a specialist eye will be required to confirm the precise date, a fragment of a possibly prehistoric worked stone object was recovered.

IMG_4752

A fragment of a worked stone object.

Judging by the size, shape and type of stone used, the team suspect this to be a neolithic stone axe-head, something which would have been highly prized in its time! While it was found re-deposited in a 19th century context, it adds to a growing body of prehistoric artefacts unearthed in central York.

Could York have been occupied prior to the Roman invasion? Finds such as this certainly add some weight to this exciting possibility.

A fragment of a worked stone object.

A fragment of a worked stone object.

A somewhat more recent discovery in the trample layer was a sizeable animal burrow, most likely created by an suitably industrious Victorian rabbit. This explained why new trainee Minty’s area hadn’t been making a lot of sense until that point!

Minty goes down the rabbit hole...

Minty goes down the rabbit hole…

The removal of the trample layer at the south-west end of the trench exposed yet more of the 18th century rectory that occupied the site before the boxing club. Still standing on the 1852 OS map, this structure was cleared in the 1860s. Despite later truncation, the remains of this building are proving to be surprisingly extensive.

Recording 18th century rectory walls.

Recording 18th century rectory walls.

Close to the edge of the trench, Toby’s team have uncovered wall footings that may relate to additional structures such as chimneys, cesspits, etc. While the purpose of these structural elements is still being investigated, the presence of a deposit of ash and clinker could suggest we have discovered part of a chimney/fireplace. Excitingly, it seems that deposits relating to the use of the building survive in some quantity. As these are investigated, we hope to discover clues as to what was happening in the early-modern rectory.

It was a particular pleasure this week to welcome back Archaeology Live! legends Clive and Juliet who have worked with us on each of our fourteen training digs!

Jack exposing use deposits relating to the 18th century rectory.

Jack exposing use deposits relating to the 18th century rectory. Note the dark deposit in the foreground.

Team This End made some other exciting discoveries during week 4. Beneath the trample layer, Jack and Louise came across a small refuse pit dating to the mid-19th century. It contained a huge amount of pottery, some with identifiable stamps and some memorable designs.

Jack and Louise's C19th refuse pit under excavation.

Jack and Louise’s C19th refuse pit under excavation.

More unusual artefacts recovered from this context included a curious copper alloy disc with a floral decoration and a clasp from a corset. The finds from this pit date from the same period as the later use of the rectory buildings, perhaps these objects once belonged to the Rector himself!

An unusual copper alloy object.

An unusual copper alloy object.

Over in That End, Arran’s team were equally busy. In the centre of the trench, more of our seemingly endless trample layer was removed exposing a confusing mass of interlacing edges. This is the kind of complex archaeology that we love at Archaeology Live! It gives our trainees a chance to test their new skills on some genuinely challenging contexts.

Kate and Becky working on the last remnants of the trample layer.

Kate and Becky working on the last remnants of the trample layer.

Katie and George spent Monday and Tuesday attempting to isolate the latest of the many features revealed beneath the trample. Establishing the order archaeological events occurred in is a crucial element of single context archaeology. We begin with the latest feature and travel back in time as we dig – a process that can be quite the challenge!

George and Katie begin work on their pit.

George and Katie begin work on their pit.

In this case, persistence paid off and Katie and George exposed a refuse pit dating to the 18th century. This appears to be the last of a sequence of inter-cutting pits that will be investigated in the coming weeks.

Like many deposits we have encountered, the pit backfill contained finds ranging in date from Roman to 18th century. Finds highlights included a rather smart copper alloy button, a fragment of glazed medieval roof tile, stamped clay tobacco pipe and a small lead weight.

George's copper alloy button.

George’s copper alloy button.

One of Katie’s finds proved to be a real show-stopper! She discovered a fragment of very decorative medieval pot lid, the handle of which being in the form of an animal. Debate within the trench rages on as to whether it is a dog, serpent, chicken or Dino from the Flintstones (?!)

Katie's fantastic medieval pot lid.

Katie’s fantastic medieval pot lid.

Close inspection reveals a flat head that has lost its ears and a curved tail. Stylised legs may be seen in the glaze of the body, we can’t wait to show this one to our medieval ceramics specialist!

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm...

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm…

Elsewhere in Arran’s area, returnees Ray and Ian came back for their sixth year of York archaeology and were thrown into what is lovingly known as ‘complicated corner’! Situated at the north-east of the trench, this area contains a myriad of tips, dumps, post-holes and pits that relate to the yards marked on the 1852 map.

Ray and Ian catch up on their records.

Ray and Ian catch up on their records.

A good deal of trowelling saw Ian and Ray take up a trample layer and reveal two small cut features dating to the earlier 19th century. The finds again proved to be very mixed, with Roman pottery appearing in some quantity. An interesting pair of sherds from a small pit dug by Ray were very similar in appearance, but very different in date! One is 19th century, one is Roman Samian ware. Can you tell which is which? (Clue: The Samian is unglazed)

Samian and a Victorian imposter!

Samian and a Victorian imposter!

Digging in York is always a pleasure as each feature will tend to provide an interesting mix of finds, allowing people to handle artefacts of various dates and to spot clues to assist in their dating. Another nice sherd from ‘complicated corner’ was this medieval piece of green glaze, complete with the potter’s fingerprints!

Medieval fingerprints.

Medieval fingerprints.

Another interesting object from Ray and Ian’s area was this scrap of twisted lead relating to repair work on the stained glass in the 19th century.

Leadwork from stained glass repair.

Leadwork from stained glass repair.

This difficult corner of the trench is now starting to make more sense and seems to be markedly less disturbed than other areas. This will hopefully allow us to create an unbroken sequence from boxing club demolition through to the earliest deposits we reach.

Ian excvating a deep, narrow cut feature.

Ian excvating a deep, narrow cut feature.

In the robber trench that we began work on in week 3, Anne was joined by fellow returnees Carol and Martin. An enigmatic feature, the cut proved to be quite deep, with some sizeable pieces of worked limestone appearing in the backfill.

Anne, Martin and Carol cleaning their robber trench.

Anne, Martin and Carol cleaning their robber trench.

The backfill of the feature contained a good amount of medieval to 19th century pottery and a particular concentration of disarticulated human bone.

Carol showing off a medieval jug handle.

Carol showing off a medieval jug handle.

As the base of the cut was cleaned, the team revealed a number of in-situ burials, something that raises interesting possibilities. While we will not be excavating any burials, it is important that we locate and record any that lie within our trench. This will inform any future building work of areas to avoid while also answering the question of whether or not this area has been used as part of All Saints’ graveyard. Quite what was happening in this area in the middle ages is little understood and it will be fantastic to shed some light on activity during this period.

Anne's medieval buckle.

Anne’s medieval buckle.

Other finds highlights from this feature included corroded remains of coffin furniture, a small ferrous buckle and our second Roman coin of the season.

Anne and her coin.

Anne and her coin.

Under the ‘Tree of Finds’, Gary and his team were working flat out to keep up with the volume of finds pouring from the trench. The sun was fierce at points this week, making it a pleasant respite to wash some finds in the shade. As ever, numerous points of interest were revealed as the finds were cleaned up.

Finds washing in the shade of the Tree of Finds.

Finds washing in the shade of the Tree of Finds.

A pipe bowl fragment marked ‘York 1828’ was an unusual example of a find kindly letting us know its provenance!

York 1828

York 1828

A small glass stopper appeared amidst a mass of 19th century pot sherds.

A Victorian glass stopper.

A Victorian glass stopper.

Finally, a sherd of transfer ware was washed that depicted a woman stood beside a deer on a leash. This is a trifle odd to begin with but worsens as you notice that the deer’s head appears to have exploded. While this is was clearly a fault during the pot’s manufacture, it did raise a few laughs!

'The Maiden and the Exploding Deer' 1858

‘The Maiden and the Exploding Deer’ 1858. Maybe…

Taking a closer look at the finds gives the team a chance to voice theories about the nature of the deposits they have been investigating, a lot of good ideas and interpretations emerge from the Finds Tree!

Later in the week, Gary and Tess reprised their masterclass on animal bone identification and the trainees enjoyed a tour of the YAT conservation lab and talks on ceramics and stratigraphy.

Sorting and bagging finds.

Sorting and bagging finds.

The week wound up with the Friday site tour, where the team get to look at what has been happening elsewhere in the trench. After looking closely at individual features, it is always good to see these features in their broader context.

Toby explaining the week's findings in This End.

Toby explaining the week’s findings in This End.

Week 4 was an important week for Archaeology Live! as the team really began to get to grips with archaeology of greater antiquity. With the boxing club recorded, we are now looking more closely at the rectory and yards marked on the 1852 OS and learning how the site developed between the post-medieval and Victorian periods.

The week 4 team were a perfect mix of returnees and new additions and once again did some great work despite the hot conditions! With the groundwork firmly set, we will now continue to delve deeper into the past of this fascinating little trench! Thank you to all the trainees and placements for another busy week of exciting discoveries!

The week 4 gang.

The week 4 gang.

To celebrate the Festival of Archaeology on Saturday, Gary, Gus and Arran opened up the site to members of the public. Robert Richards, All Saints church warden, led tours of the stained glass, the history of the church and the medieval tile while Gary showed off the latest finds from the trench. Outside, Gus and Arran showed people around the excavation and explained our latest theories and features.

Gary's finds talks proved very popular!

Gary’s finds talks proved very popular!

Despite driving rain (finally!) a good number of visitors joined us, our favourite being a very bright six year old with all the makings of a future archaeologist! It’s always a pleasure to present our sites to the public and we hope to do several more such open days during the All Saints dig.

Gus declares the site open to all!

Gus declares the site open to all!

 

So, we’re one third through the summer and it really feels like we’ve stepped up a gear. The finds keep coming and the sequence is wonderfully complicated. Long may it continue! Until next week, onwards and downwards!!

 

– Arran

 

PS. An honourable mention to Jack who went above and beyond when I asked him to pose with his find and look pleased with himself!

Ladies and gentlemen, Jack Pestell.

Ladies and gentlemen, Jack Pestell.

 

 

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