Tag: buttons

2017 Site Diary: Weeks 5 & 6

Weeks 5 and 6 of the 2017 season saw us reach the halfway point of the dig; summer was flying by! We had a host of new and returning trainees at North Street and, as always, some questionable “summer” weather…

A damp start on Monday didn’t deter the Week 5 trainees from getting straight in the trench!

Week 5 started with inductions for all our trainees except for Joanna who was continuing from week 4. With the new starters all tooled up, Nina was paired with Joanna and placement Paul to continue work on one of the 19th Century burials. As this burial was known to overlay another individual by this point, the girls added the finishing touches to the records before lifting the remains for storage within the Church until their reburial. Then it was onto recording the cut for this upper grave, and the fill for the lower one. It was clear that the coffin from the upper burial had decayed and collapsed directly above the lower remains, with only a thin layer of grave backfill separating the burials as individual events.

Joanna and Nina carefully removing grave back fill from a lower burial in this plot.

By the end of the week Joanna and Nina had managed to lift one burial, record the cut for it, recorded the fill and coffin on the lower burial and begun exposing the remains. Bearing in mind that every piece of recording consists of photography, scale drawings, levels and context cards, that’s a lot of work for one week done to a very high standard!

Paul introducing Nina to the art of leveling with Joanna as the trusty staff-master!

Paul showing Joanna and Nina the single context recording process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also returning to North Street this summer was Jennifer, who was paired with new starter Sarah, for some fiddly work involving the cleaning up of a skeleton first uncovered by Gill and Sue in the previous week. The girls were more than up to the task, despite the awkward digging positions required due to the depth the individual lay at.

Sarah and Jennifer were all smiles as they tried out their best Archaeo-Yoga positions whilst excavating a difficult-to-reach burial.

Once cleaned up, it was time to record! With some help from placement Hannah, the trio made a very effective team and produced some top-notch plans.

Sarah plots the points, Jennifer plum-bobs the points, and Hannah calls out the measurements to Sarah. Good team work!

Working nearby were returnees Janet and Pete, who traveled all the way from Texas and Stoke respectively. They were joined by new starter Gillian and between the three of them worked on a burial and on some of the pre-graveyard deposits.

Pete and Janet working on a burial, and Gillian trowels off possible pre-graveyard deposits and surfaces.

Whilst lifting the burial Pete, Janet and Gillian observed a strange deposit on the left forearm of the individual. Upon closer inspection it appears that a pin, likely to be for a shroud, had corroded close to the bone and preserved some of the fabric around it. This fascinating piece of preservation is a poignant reminder of the care and attention taken with the burials of these individuals. Not only was this person buried in a beautifully decorated coffin, but they were also wrapped in a shroud. Given that North Street is known as one of the poorer areas of York at the time the graveyard was in use, it is apparent that bereaved families wanted to do what they could when they lost a loved one, as decorative plated coffins and burial shrouds were not easily affordable. Yet many of the burials here have had decorated coffins and evidence of shrouds or clothing in the form of buttons and pins associated with the remains. With plenty of time and care, Pete, Janet and Gillian lifted the individual and set about recording the grave cut.

Janet was visibly happy to be back at North Street once again!

As the trio cleaned up the grave cut, features became visible that pre-dated the graveyard. One deposit in particular was a bright orange colour, which is could be related to heat-based activity that has scorched the earth here. This could relate to the post-medieval workshops or perhaps earlier activity. However as we were at the maximum depth in proximity to the walls, the deposits were recorded and the cut backfilled.

Pete cleaning up the deposits now visible in the bottom of the grave cut. The orange colouration could be due to heat-based activities or events.

Another pair of returnees this week were Dan and Lucy, who carried on in the area that Josh and Laura worked on in the previous week. They lifted the last remains of a previously undiscovered infant and proceeded to record the cut. It was important to go over all of the recording process with the pair as they moved on to placement following this week of training. Once the cut was fully recorded they moved onto the next feature in the stratigraphic sequence at the site – the construction backfill for the Rectory walls.

Dan and Lucy get shown the ropes of single context recording by supervisor Katie.

The Week 5 tasters also had a good week, especially where finds were concerned! On Tuesday and Wednesday, Anna and Richard joined us and were given an area of build up against the rectory walls to plan and excavate. Whilst trowelling, the deposit revealed some rather lovely finds, including a lovely sherd of pottery with a very obviously square rim, dating it to the 11th/12th Century.

Anna looking suitably impressed with her 11th/12 Century piece of cooking pot.

Richard and Anna get their trowels stuck into a build up deposit against the Old Rectory walls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Tuesday tasters Annie and Steve joined us for a day of digging about in the Church Lane trench, and then two day tasters Tim and Alan took over on Thursday and Friday. This trench has already yielded many lovely finds through sieving, from Roman coins to Medieval pottery, and so our tasters were eager to get digging. However due to some pretty poor weather towards the end of the week, Tim and Alan had some issues to deal with; sieving very soggy, sticky, clayey mud. Fortunately the guys took it all in good humour and got (literally) stuck into it.

Tim and Alan get stuck into some very messy sieving, with a little help from Katie.

Their efforts were rewarded with a great find, although they spotted it without needing to sieve it – a large fragment of a Roman hypocaust tile! Whilst at first glance it looks like a big unattractive lump of ceramic building material, this is quite an informative find, as these tiles were part of the hypocaust system used in Roman villas and bathhouses to heat rooms up.  Underfloor heating is a luxury only the wealthy could afford because of the high maintenance needed to keep everything going; this find is one of several from North Street over the past few years that adds to the growing understanding of the possible appearance of this part of the city in Roman times.

Alan with a very large fragment of Roman hypocaust tile.

Week 5 had great work from all of our trainees on the burials, and saw the start of the investigation into some of the older features across the site. However it wasn’t all work and play in the trench, as the weather had other ideas on quite a few occasions; fortunately we had plenty of indoor things to do, including finds bagging. This is our opportunity to have a bit of a closer look at our cleaned up bulk finds and keep an eye out for anything unusual about what we’re sorting through. The week 5 team were very sharp eyed and spotted a few finds that were a bit different…

Clockwise from the top left: A roof or flue tile with scored lines, an oyster shell with a hole through the centre of it, a possible part of a slate pencil, and a fragment of stone with multiple scratches on it.

All of these finds have evidence of modification or working and so have been classed as ‘small finds’ and kept with our growing collection of interesting objects. Usually tile would be a bulk find, however as we are currently unsure if this is a roof tile or a flue tile (with the latter being part of hypocaust systems), it is unique enough to keep it separate. The lines on it are likely to be for the purpose of making it more adhesive to a surface. As for the oyster shell, it is unclear if the hole in the centre is a natural occurrence or from human activity, and so it has been catalogued separately. The item in the bottom right is made of slate and although it is broken at either end, the profile is circular, and resembles slate pencils or styluses found elsewhere. The stone with the parallel scratch marks on it is a bit of an unknown in regards to function, but could have been a surface for items such as leather to be cut into strips on for example.

Finds bagging with the trainees wasn’t the only opportunity to look at some small finds as they had their usual specialist session. On the Wednesday of Week 5, we had a visit from the Friends of YAT who came for a “behind-the-scenes” tour of a live excavation. This meant they were introduced to the site, the history of it, what we have discovered so far, what we hope to learn from this season and of course, they also got the chance to look at some of our small finds…

A selection of our small finds were brought out for the trainees and the Friends of YAT behind-the-scenes tour. Even Dino came out to say hello!

Friday came around all too quickly this week and we celebrated the #dayofarchaeology with some proper sunshine, our matrix session, and lots of work in the trench. Thanks to the Week 5 team for being fabulous!

The Week 5 team.

Week 6

With Arran and Katie finally having a whole weekend off, it was time for the week that would take us to the halfway point of the last season at North Street. On Monday morning, Katie hopped in the trench with continuing trainee Janet as Arran inducted the Week 6 starters, which included quite a few familiar faces from seasons past, both trainee and placement alike!

 

The start of Week 6. Lots of awkward features to reach down to!

Joining Janet was returnee Bill, and over the course of their week the pair worked with placement Hannah on some of the post-medieval workshop deposits and cleaned up a previously discovered skeleton ready for a full set of records and lifting.

Janet is all smiles (as always) whilst Hannah and Bill take the next measurement for her to plot!

Now in her second week as a trainee this year, Janet was really getting to grips with planning, and along with Bill and Hannah the trio put together some very detailed records and started to lift the skeleton with due care and attention.

Hannah and Janet looking rightly chuffed with their finished records!

As far as the post-medieval deposits were concerned, it is thought they relate to the period of time when the various workshops stood at the site. However so far we seemed to be getting layer after layer of mixed up tipping deposits that may relate to repeated levelling activities, possibly due to a subsiding deposit further down. The more we investigate this particular area of dumping, the clearer it should become – in theory!

Elsewhere in the trench, we had more familiar faces back for another season at North Street, and we set them to work on another area of pre-graveyard archaeology; the Old Rectory wall! Kirsten and Abi  started by adding finishing touches to paperwork for the infant burial Dan and Lucy worked on in the previous week, however once those records were squared away, it was time to empty the rest of the construction backfill of the wall! As the duo kept digging, Kirsten was rewarded with a lovely little small find – a worked bone object that could be a counter or something similar.

Kirsten proudly shows off her worked bone object.

Abi adds finishing touches to the records for an infant burial first found near the Old Rectory walls a few weeks ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we’re digging stratigraphically, once the fill was excavated it was time for the wall itself to come out next! Where normally we advocate careful and steady excavation with trowels and even smaller tools for burials, this task required slightly more heavy duty implements…such as a hammer and chisel! Fortunately Kirsten and Abi were more than up to the task with a little help from placement Lucy.

Kirsten and Lucy looked quite entertained as they started demolishing part of the Old Rectory walls.

As is often the case, by Friday afternoon of Week 6 we had more questions than answers as Kirsten and Abi demolished all of the brick wall to reveal a substantial mortared stone wall footing. It wasn’t yet clear if the footing contained re-used medieval masonry or if it was in fact an in-situ remnant of our 14th Century Rectory. To confirm this as well as the extent of the footing, we’ll have to keep investigating this feature in Week 7!

Kirsten cleaning off the top of a substantial stone wall footing.

The only surviving image of the Old Rectory. Have we found evidence for the earlier building, or is it later/post medieval additions?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part way through the week Abi teamed up with nearby duo Jasmine and Suzanne to help record a burial partially exposed by Joanna and Nina in Week 5. Suzanne and Jasmine spent most of their week carefully cleaning up the fragile remains and coffin so they could be photographed and of course recorded. Despite the challenge presented by this burial, as it lay quite far down, the girls did a fine job of cleaning up under the watchful eye of returning placement Imogen. Recording a skeleton requires patience and care however Suzanne, Jasmine and Abi were more than up to the task, and began lifting by the end of the week.

Suzanne, Abi and Jasmine team up to record a skeleton.

Also working on a burial this week was returnee Kristy and new starter Harry, who picked up from where Sarah and Jennifer were working in Week 5. Their burial lay in the centre of the trench in a particularly well preserved and beautifully decorated coffin. The coffin contained the remains of an adult male aged between 20-40 with teeth in a noticeably poor condition, which may relate to a poor diet or lifestyle.

Harry and Kristy lifting the remains of their burial.

As the pair lifted the burial, Kristy spotted something just underneath the left wrist of the individual. On closer inspection it turned out to be a button made from oyster shell and was smaller than a one penny coin! The location of the button could suggest the individual might have been buried in a buttoned shirt of sorts, and gives a very personal window into the life and death of the parishioners of All Saints.

Kristy and her tiny little oyster shell button. It will be kept with the remains of the individual lifted from this grave.

After lifting the skeleton at the start of the week it became apparent just how well preserved their coffin was. We decided to clean it up and get additional photographs as well as amend the existing plan to include the areas where handles, fragments of the base and even some of the fabric lining had survived.

Harry carefully cleans up the coffin sides and base. The plating is just visible on the left. On the close up, the fabric lining against the sides of the coffin is quite clear.

Kristy and Harry made a great team this week. Recording was straightforward and up to a great standard!

 

The pair took to the process very well and produced a great amended record for the coffin. With records completed, the pair lifted remaining pieces of coffin and they were set aside with the skeleton to be reburied together at some point in the future.

 

 

 

Harry and his whetstone. Yay for small finds instead of stones!

Towards the end of the week, Harry had a lovely find during a washing session. After several objects turning out to be pebbles and stones that were promptly sent for “further research” on the spoilheap, Harry had yet another stone, but noticed there was something a little different about this one. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a fine worn fragment of whetstone. At last, Harry had a find we didn’t throw away; in fact it got the small finds treatment, along with obligatory victory shot…

It was a busy week for tasters too, and on Tuesday and Wednesday we were joined by Mike and Candice, who hailed from Hull and California respectively, and mother-daughter duo Laura and Jess. Excavation of a construction backfill for the Rectory cesspit was undertaken by Laura and Jess, and they turned up quite a few finds in the process. At the end of their two days they got the chance to wash some of their finds and were amazed with the variety of things that turned up. Jess was thinking of pursuing archaeology further at university – so hopefully the taster course has piqued her interest! Candice and Mike also had a great time in the Church Lane trench and found a variety of pottery types as well as participating in some of our specialist and finds processing sessions.

Jess and Laura with their crate full of finds from a construction backfill.

Mike and Candice delve deeper below Church Lane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our other tasters this week were another mum and daughter duo, Cara and Alexandra, who despite a lot of rain on their day managed a little bit of trench time to practice their trowelling skills. They also had a go at finds processing and participated in one of our specialist sessions. On Thursday Laura and Mike joined us for a couple of days, so we paired them up and they got stuck into the Church Lane trench, as well as participating in Arran’s matrix masterclass and finds processing. Their highlight however, was a fragment from the rim of a Roman Black Burnished ware pot. Whilst lovely enough in itself, a closer look at the rim led to the discovery of a deliberately incised ‘X’ mark. As this is a little different from a nondescript pottery sherd, and is the second piece with this type of incision found over the past few years at North Street, it was retained as a small find.

Laura and Mark excavating in the Church Lane trench.

‘X’ marks the spot? Visible on the left of the rim.

 

 

 

 

 

Along with Kirsten’s discovery of the mortared stone wall footing at the Old Rectory end of the trench, we had a lovely, sunny and exciting finish to Friday afternoon. What a way to mark reaching the halfway point of this final season! As always, huge thank you to our trainees old and new for making this possible, as well as the placements for making mine and Arran’s job that bit easier…

The Week 6 team.

Till next time!

-Katie

P.S: Whilst we’re on the subject of placements, after reuniting with the force of nature that is Imogen at the start of Week 6, Arran kindly asked us to demonstrate some key archaeology poses for the twitter updates. We’re fond of general daftness and so were quite happy to oblige…

Placements (and former placement) reunite to recreate those classic archaeology poses, all of which are good workouts for the legs in particular!

2017 Site Diary: Weeks 1 & 2

The ancient streets of York can be a bustling melee of tourists and locals, battling for space beneath the jettied floors of listing medieval buildings. As with many such cities, however, there are many hidden snickleways down which one can briefly escape the clamour of modern life. Tucked between the imposing church of All Saints, North Street and its neighbouring row of 14th century cottages, the well worn paving of Church Lane is one such place to find quiet and sanctuary in the heart of the city. That was, of course, until the archaeologists arrived…

Church Lane hiding in the shade of All Saints, North Street. Image courtesy of David Dodwell

In 2014, the Archaeology Live! training excavation broke ground away from the familiar surrounds of the Hungate development for the first time in almost a decade. While the Hungate project had been a whirlwind tour covering two millennia of York’s past, the time had come for a change and the All Saints, North Street excavation proved to be an excellent successor. Three years, hundreds of archaeological contexts and thousands of finds later, the team returned to the trench for one last hurrah before once again moving to pastures new.

Here is the tale of our final adventure at All Saints, North Street and it all began with… weeding. LOTS of weeding.

Trench of the Triffids.

Abandoned for nine months, the newly verdant trench had taken on a life of its own, leaving site manager Arran the unenviable task of clearing away the greenery. Predictably, this task was carried out on the hottest day of the year but several gallons of mud, sweat and tears later, the site was back to its sparkling self and the stage was set.

Week One

The 2017 season marked a big step forward for YAT archaeologist Katie, as it marked her first season as an Archaeology Live! supervisor. This was a well deserved benchmark for Katie, who had dug at All Saints successively as a trainee, a placement and, finally, professional staff.

With rain forecast, Arran and Katie flew the new team through the rigours of the site induction and got straight to work!

Katherine, Molly, Calum and Adrienne set to work.

Katherine, Molly, Calum and Adrienne set to work on a pair of burials.

Grave Concerns

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, York was faced with a rapidly growing population, a development that placed extra strain on the city’s already burgeoning churchyards. Churches like All Saints and St Crux, Shambles were forced to acquire additional land in which to inter their deceased parishioners and much of the current excavation area was consecrated in 1826. By 1854, all of York’s churchyards were closed by order. Reports of wells being tainted by liquids draining from burial grounds were rife and reform was badly needed. Despite this relatively brief lifespan, the burial ground has proved to be densely occupied.

Discussions with the church over the close season had brought about a change to our approach to the site’s 19th century burials. Three years of excavation had brought about a good understanding of the site’s deposit model and over seventy separate burials had been identified and recorded. In 2015 and 2016, the team had been requested to carefully lift shallow lying infant and juvenile burials for re-interment within the ossuary of the church, while deeper lying adult burials had been recorded, re-covered and left in-situ.  This new knowledge of the depth and location of the burials proved that the proposed re-development of the site would effectively destroy all of the site’s inhumations. In response, permission was granted by the church authorities to exhume the remains of all individuals buried on-site with a view for them to be temporarily housed within the church. Prior to any future construction work taking place, the remains will then be re-buried in the same site, but at a greater depth. This considered solution will allow for the site to enter a new chapter of occupation, whilst also respecting the remains of the individuals who chose to be buried there and protecting them from any damage.

This process will also allow for the remains to be studied archaeologically, revealing tell-tale signs of age, gender, illness and lifestyle. With scant historic records regarding the burial ground surviving, it was down to our trainees to learn as much as possible about the lives of the parishioners of All Saints, North Street.

Steve, Catriona, Andy and Stephen excavating a pair of neighbouring graves.

With the further investigation of the burial ground being a primary goal of the 2017 season, the whole team set to work on four of the site’s burials. Each of these individuals had been at least partially exposed in previous seasons, before being re-covered beneath a cushion of sieved earth and a protective wooden board. The first task at hand was to remove our own 21st century backfill material and to fully clean the delicate remains below. With a mix of experienced and brand new trainees, Arran and Katie were delighted by the team’s suitably patient and considered trowel work.

Working with human remains demands a high level of care and respect and each inhumation will come with its own unique challenges. From a young person in their early teens to a very elderly female, the four burials under investigation in week one allowed the team to get a good grasp of the varied ways that skeletal remains can tell us their stories.

The well preserved remains of a timber coffin.

Cleaning the well preserved remains of a timber coffin.

A defining character of practically all of the burials at All Saints has been the ubiquity of timber coffins, the majority coming complete with decorative metal panels. All four burials from week one featured clear evidence of these coffins, with remains of timber surviving remarkably well after around 160 years in the ground.

Molly and a freshly unearthed button.

Alongside the fascinating insights into burial practice, the backfills of the graves were also yielding some interesting discoveries. As a grave is usually backfilled with the earth that was upcast from its excavation, this material will contain evidence of what was happening in years prior to the cutting of the grave.

The provenance of individual objects recovered from these backfilling deposits can therefore be quite varied. For example, a 19th century individual digging a grave may accidentally drop something a contemporary object such as a coin. It is, however, equally possible that the digging of the hole may unearth much older artefacts within spoil that is briefly piled beside the grave and ultimately used to cover the coffin.

Fittingly, week one saw some very interesting objects discovered within grave backfills.

Keen-eyed Molly spotted a lovely little button that had been skilfully crafted from a piece of animal bone. It is even possible that the object could have been manufactured in one of the workshops known to have occupied the site in the decades prior to its consecration!

 

Stephen and a rather lovely architectural fragment.

In the centre of the trench, Stephen and Andy’s grave yielded a beautifully worked piece of medieval masonry that may once have adorned part of the church.

As everyone knows, there is far more to archaeology than just digging, and the team’s week was broken up with training in other important aspects of the discipline. Alongside seminars on pottery, small finds, stratigraphy and conservation, the team also processed finds and learned survey techniques. With unpredictable weather, the team were grateful to have the church as an impromptu site hut and teaching space!

Transferring benchmarks with a dumpy level.

Catriona and Katherine transferring benchmarks with a dumpy level.

Katie walking Steve and Catriona through the compilation of detailed context cards.

Katie walking Steve and Catriona through the compilation of detailed context cards.

After the long wait for the digging season to start, week one seemed to fly by in a blur! By the end of the week, one individual had already been lifted and the coffins within the other three graves were being recorded.

Thanks to the hard work and professional attitude of the week one team, the 2017 season got off to a flying start!

The week one team.

The week one team.

Week Two

In the second week of the summer excavation, we were joined by a mix of new starters and a few familiar faces. Alongside the new intake of trainees, Arran and Katie were joined by Archaeology Live! legend Dave (The Dig), who became the first placement to join the 2017 team.

A busy trench!

A busy trench!

Work continued on the four burials from week one and as the grave cuts grew ever deeper, the team were forced to employ increasingly unusual digging positions to reach the delicate remains within.

It's all a bit of a reach for Calum and Molly.

It’s all a bit of a reach for Calum and Molly.

While Calum and Molly carefully exposed an adult individual within a well-preserved coffin, returnee Jan and new starter Tony recovered the remains of a newly empty coffin and began to clean up the grave cut for recording. In doing so, they became the first archaeologists of the season to ask what would become a frequently asked question – is another individual buried within this grave plot?

Jan and Tony squeezing into a tight spot while investigating a grave cut.

Jan and Tony squeezing into a tight spot while investigating a grave cut.

Many of the burials at All Saints have been laid to rest in communal plots, with coffins buried one on top of the other. In some cases, it seems multiple individuals were interred at once, while in other cases graves seem to have been intermittently re-opened. The graves with multiple occupants may represent family plots or efficient use of the site’s limited space.

With their skeleton and coffin lifted, Jan and Tony would now have to carefully clean the base of the grave cut to ascertain whether anyone else was interred below. In this case, the pair were met with firm, intact stratigraphy at the base as opposed to looser, more mixed grave backfill – this was a single grave.

Molly lending a hand to Jenni and Sam on a complicated burial sequence.

Molly lending a hand to Jenni and Sam on a complicated burial sequence.

Elsewhere in the trench, 2016 veterans Sam and Jenni were dealing with a particularly tricky burial. This was at the very least a double inhumation and when the coffin of the underlying grave had eventually decayed and collapsed, the individual had slumped downwards into the earlier cut.

As a result of this, the skeleton was laid in a very unusual position with the right arm and the right side of the torso suspended awkwardly up to 200mm above the rest of the body. Furthermore, the remains of the lower individual were situated directly beneath those of the one above; Jenni and Sam would have to clean the skeleton with great care to avoid any confusion over which bones belonged to which person.

Calum, Jenni and Sam hard at work on a double inhumation.

Calum, Jenni and Sam hard at work on a double inhumation.

With the help of Calum and Molly, Sam and Jenni were able to expose the entirety of the skeleton and were well underway with the recording by the end of the week – a very impressive achievement! The burial was clearly of an adult individual, but damage to the skeleton during the collapse of the coffins made it very difficult to define its sex.

Sam beginning a detailed skeleton plan.

Sam beginning a detailed skeleton plan.

At the northern end of the trench, Steve and Catriona also managed to fully expose a skeleton, revealing some fascinating information about person’s health. The skeleton was clearly male and unusually robust, with exaggerated muscle attachments  suggesting that the person would have been highly active. With these skeletal abnormalities and railways, sawmills and flour mills close by, the man was clearly employed in a physical job.

Catriona cleaning a skeleton.

Steve planning a skeleton.

Steve planning a skeleton.

In spite of this active lifestyle, however, evidence from the teeth and pelvis would suggest that the person was only around 45 at the time of death – a sobering reminder of the low life expectancy of the time.

No cause of death was apparent, but the joints were extremely worn and there were many issues with the teeth. Clearly, this individual would have lived with a great deal of pain.

 

Steve and Catriona’s burial was in such a good state of preservation that the pair carried out a photogrammetric survey as well as creating a traditional plan drawing. Watch this space for the results when they’re processed!

Conservator Charlotte leading a tour of YATs conservation lab.

Conservator Charlotte leading a tour of YAT’s conservation lab.

The week two team kept up to the excellent standard of work set by the previous team and dealt admirably with some challenging conditions. Many questions were answered and the week ended on a real high when Molly was offered her first ever professional contract by Cotswold Archaeology! Over her three weeks as an Archaeology Live! trainee, Molly has learned a lot and we wish her the best in her career!

Good luck Molly!

Good luck Molly!

Week two succeeded in bringing us closer to the lives of the people we are studying at All Saints, reminding us of the unimaginable difficulties that people would have faced and none of this would be possible without the hard work of our trainees.

The week two team.

The week two team.

So, there we were. Two weeks down and it was like we’d never left. After three years, the chance to interact more directly with the human remains had proved to be highly evocative. Archaeology’s unique ability to recover intricate details of peoples’ lives can be astonishing. After just two weeks, the careful work of our team was already revealing the incredible amount of hard work that made up the lives of some of All Saints’ 19th century parishioners. We were able to learn more about the health worries that would have weighed on their minds, even down to the particulars of aches and pains. While the excavation of a burial ground obviously tells us mainly about how peoples’ lives ended, the remains can also tell us how they lived.

Over the coming weeks, there would be no slowing down. Watch this space for further updates!

In the meantime, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

 

Site Diary: Summer Week 7

Officially past the halfway point and hurtling towards the end of the summer, Monday of Week 7 was as hectic as expected! While the previous week had been largely sunny, rain clouds loomed ominously for much of this week, though luckily we escaped the worst of it and the team soldiered  on admirably. Having said goodbye to some of our longer term trainees and placements the previous week we were happy to greet some new additions to the team.

There may be trouble ahead... A dark cloud just missed the site.

There may be trouble ahead… A dark cloud just missed the site.

Put straight to work on our longest running burials, Charlotte (an undergraduate student from Leicester university) found herself dealing with one of the tallest individuals we’ve come across so far,  appearing to be over six feet in height! The height, robust build and a decidedly masculine skull made Charlotte pretty confident that we were dealing with an adult male. Her careful work guaranteed that both the skeleton and the beautifully decorated coffin remains were left intact, which was no easy task as the rest of the skeleton was very poorly preserved. We’ll be watching this one for a future career in archaeology!

A six+ foot skeleton is no difficulty for our trainee Charlotte.

A six+ foot skeleton is no difficulty for our trainee Charlotte.

And now from one of the largest burials on site, to one of the smallest. Intrepid trainee Janet had gradually been picking apart a sequence of burials throughout  her time with us, and every time we thought we’d found the latest in the series another would appear!

Towards the end of week 6, Janet made a real breakthrough with the discovery of a tiny infant burial in a very well preserved coffin. Armed with her trusty clay modelling tools Janet did an excellent job of exposing the coffin first, and then, very slowly, revealing the burial itself. The reason for the confused stratigraphy was now clear: two neighbouring grave plots had clearly become fully occupied, forcing this infant individual to be squeezed into the gap between. This act of repeatedly reopening graves and then straying outside of the defined grave plot had led to a multitude of overlapping cuts that had to be placed in the correct order by Janet. She did a fine job!

It has been a step-by-step process to untangle the sequence of burials that led to this tiny one on the top.

It has been a step-by-step process to untangle the sequence of burials that led to this tiny one on the top.

Janet has carried on her work away from site, researching the history of All Saints and the surrounding area- watch this space for a report from her on some of the discoveries she made (it may include a few sordid details!).

It was Janet's last week and we would miss her enthusiasm in week 8.

It was Janet’s last week and we would miss her enthusiasm in week 8.

Two of our youngest trainees , Steffi and Hope, joined us this week and enthusiastically took to work on a pair of infant burials. The pair were very quick to pick up the rigours of single context recording, especially planning and levelling – leaving us older people shamefully putting our phones away while they calculated everything in their heads. That maths GCSE seems like it was a long time ago…

By the end of the week Hope and Steffi had successfully excavated, recorded, and begun to lift their burials- rather impressive for two sixteen year olds on their first trip away from home. Hopefully we’ve inspired these two to continue to pursue history- though maths seems a pretty good bet too!

Imogen was visibly joyous at how quickly Hope and Steffi took to planning!

Arch Live! placement Imogen was visibly joyous at how quickly Hope and Steffi took to planning!

Our second set of youngsters, Corinne and Kat, had an equally successful week. They were rather prolific in the small finds stakes and it seemed every other moment we were getting called over to inspect some new find. The two were carrying with work on a burial sequence from the previous few weeks and took to it like ducks to water (aided by the shiny things they kept finding I expect).

Sometimes you get into interesting digging positions in the name of archaeology!

Sometimes you get into interesting digging positions in the name of archaeology!

 

Corinne and her (possibly Roman) silver coin.

Corinne and her (possibly Roman) silver coin.

On Tuesday Corinne found the holy grail of archaeological finds (apart from the actual Holy Grail, obviously)- A COIN! Spotted during sieving, the purple-ish hue of the corrosion suggests that Corinne had found a silver coin that appears to be Roman in date – a wonderful find all round.

Kat got in on the action next with a lovely bone button, possibly from the burial itself, and Corinne’s discovery of a matching one within minutes cemented these girls as the treasure finders of the week.

The buttons were particularly lovely as they added a more personal side to the story of the burial, as did four coffin studs from a decorative plate on the lid that had collapsed onto the skeleton’s sternum.

 

 

Corinne and Kat and their matching bone buttons.

Corinne and Kat and their matching bone buttons.

By the end of the week the Corinne and Kat team had successfully uncovered, recorded and lifted their burial, recovered some amazing finds, and had time to prove that another burial was laying in wait underneath. We wish we had the energy of these youngsters!

Imogen, Linda and Chris hard at work recording.

Imogen, Linda and Chris hard at work recording.

Week 7 was Christine’s second week with us and she continued to bring her cheery Australian disposition to everything- even Contrary Corner! Working with Linda, a regular returnee, Christine spent the week troweling  diligently in the north-east corner of the site to uncover the remainder of a burial that was started last week. Completing this burial was another important step towards freeing up the archaeology between the graves for excavation, so congratulations to Chris and Linda for getting us there with their unwavering enthusiasm and continuously growing pottery collection- washing their finds should be great fun in the future!

Chris with her Masonic pipe bowl.

Chris with her Masonic pipe bowl.

As a bonus Chris also found a whole clay pipe bowl, complete with Masonic symbols- a wonderful find to finish off her time with us.

Linda showing off just some of the pottery from their feature.

Linda showing off just some of the pottery from their feature.

Archaeology Live! Placement Jess continued to guide two week trainee Colin through the trials and tribulations of the archaeological process. They were joined by Sam, a new trainee, on exposing some of the earliest deposits on site. The pair spent the week carefully picking apart a sequence of dumps and levelling deposits that pre-date the  graveyard, giving us tantalising hints about the area before it became consecrated ground in 1826. The two made a formidable team in investigating medieval archaeology, quickly identifying a medieval post hole and several overlapping dump deposits. In fact, the only thing slowing these two down was the sun making the photos rather difficult to take. Sunshine also meant certain red-haired site supervisors took to clinging to the side of the church to save their pale, quickly turning red, skin…

Sam works on getting the photo of a medieval post hole perfect.

Sam (right) works on getting the photography of a medieval post hole perfect. (Note site supervisor Arran hiding in the shade…)

Colin also made the rather remarkable discovery of a copper object within a medieval layer, one of the first small finds from a confirmed medieval deposit. Despite poor preservation, Colin did a wonderful job in delicately excavating the object, probably some kind of decorative fitting originating from the 14th-16th century.

Colin and his mysterious copper alloy object.

Colin and his mysterious copper alloy object.

As Colin and Sam made progress delving into medieval layers in one area of site they had competition from some of our tasters as to who was the furthest back in time. Sam and Jonah, two two-day tasters, were excavating a medieval dump in our sondage, within the remains of All Saints’ long demolished Rectory and made excellent progress in sifting through a fair amount of rather sticky clay. It was hard work but they managed to get through the layer to uncover a clear edge for a medieval pit. An earlier evaluation trench in this area showed that if we get down far enough we’ll encounter intercutting medieval pits – could Sam and Jonah’s find be the first indication of this? This little corner of the rectory is looking increasingly exciting and the pottery is also looking increasingly ancient. The dark brown-green of later medieval pottery has made way for the bright green and splashed variety- hints we are in early medieval deposits? It will be exciting to see what the pit has in store for us.

Sam and Jonah have been working to expose the dark grey edge of a medieval pit.

Sam and Jonah have been working to expose the dark grey edge of a medieval pit.

Sam and James, a mother and son team have done what some of us have been waiting two years to do- lifting the cobble yard surface that has been visible since early 2014! “Locked in” for two years due to surrounding later archaeology- namely that pesky horn core pit that became a sequence of burials. The pair updated the record of the cobbles as the full extent of the feature has has only recently been revealed. They then carefully lifted the surface to reveal… another surface! The plot thickens.

Mother and son team Sam and James work on removing a cobble surface.

Mother and son team Sam and James work on removing a cobble surface.

This is where Georgia and Roy, a father and daughter pair, join the story. They have perhaps been the most enthusiastic tasters of the summer and the two worked on exposing and recording the rough tile surface that appeared beneath Sam and James’ cobble surface. We hope to see more of these two in the future.

Georgia and Roy have removed their tile surface and started cleaning - what a smile!

Georgia and Roy have removed their tile surface and started cleaning – what a smile!

At the end of the week we were joined by Leanne and Tracy, two lovely ladies, who were working on the last remnants of a 19th century trample layer dating to the construction of the church hall in 1860. The aim was to locate the last unidentified burial plots on-site. They managed to do this and more as they quickly found a veritable hoard of finds, ranging from pottery, to ironwork, to bone and back again from all periods.

Tracy and Leanne with finds galore!

Tracy and Leanne with finds galore!

We do more than dig and record at Archaeology Live! – we wash and sort our finds as well! This week when sorting and bagging under the watchful eye of placements we found a rather unique animal bone. Unlike many of our best bone finds, it hasn’t been worked, but it still has a story to tell. The bone in question is a sheep/goat metapodial, a bone that is in the hands/feet of humans, but in the lower legs of four-legged animals as they effectively walk on tiptoes. The point of interest is the rather lumpy area in the centre of the bone, a distorted area where bone has regrown following a break or infection. The fact that the bone has healed indicates that this animal was lucky enough to have a caring owner!

A sheep or goat metapodial with evidence of a healed break/bone infection.

A sheep or goat metapodial with evidence of a healed break/bone infection.

Urban excavations throw up a lot of finds, and while keeping on top of Finds Mountain can be a challenge, it’s always nice to come across a previously un-noticed gem!

Placement Katie laying finds out to dry in the sun - these are only from the past week of washing!

Placement Katie laying finds out to dry in the sun – these are only from the past week of washing!

The week 7 trainees also enjoyed our specialist sessions on pottery, conservation, small finds, and stratigraphy. Undoubtedly some of the finds from this week will make it into future small finds talks- especially the coin and copper object!

Arran takes our trainees through the finer points of stratigraphy under the stratigra-TREE.

Arran takes our trainees through the finer points of stratigraphy under the stratigra-TREE.

The Thursday Wander(™) took a tour of the Roman fortress this week as we followed the outline of the walls and finished at the centre of the fortress, York Minster (before we went to the pub, of course). The wander is always a must as our venerable leader Toby shows us how archaeology is still visible in a modern urban landscape, from tilting buildings due to the earth rampart of the fortress sinking, to the Minster being built in the same place as the most important buildings in Roman York.

The centre of the Roman fortress.

The centre of the Roman fortress.

Of course this is only if you can keep up with Toby’s impressive walking speed. It’s a known fact he walks faster then he runs.

By the end of the week, through a flurry of recording at the end to finish up the many, many features that we’d excavated, we had an exhausted but pleased team. This week has especially shown the broad appeal of archaeology- from 16 year olds barely done with their GCSE’s to retired folks that are following a passion they’ve had all their lives. And all the recording was in tip top shape per-normal!

The Friday afternoon round up.

The Friday afternoon round up!

Thanks to all our trainees and placements who made this a fabulous week! As we stumble, somewhat sunburnt and frazzled into the latter half of the summer we’re grateful for such amazing and enthusiastic people.

-Becky

P.S. Maintaining attention for the group photo was a bit more difficult this week, possibly due to passing cyclists almost taking Toby out as he tried to get a good picture. This was actually the best one – that probably says a lot about the others!

The week 7 team.

The week 7 team.

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