Tag: coin

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.

Site Diary: July Weekend

The funerary customs of 19th century Britain have long fascinated those with a passion for the past. How we deal with death has changed remarkably over the millennia and by Victoria’s reign countless influences had contrived to create a heady brew of tradition, superstition and etiquette that can seem detached, morbid and even bizarre to modern observers. The highly ritualised world of burial and mourning seen in Victorian Britain was not, however, devoid of emotion. The painstaking work of our trainees here in York is enabling us to recover lost moments of genuine humanity from layers of earth and bone.

Ominous skies over All Saints.

Ominous skies over All Saints.

Over 160 years ago, a small child in the ancient parish of All Saints, North Street succumbed to illness or disease and passed away. In an age of high infant mortality this was  not an uncommon event, although this would have been of little comfort to the family the child was leaving behind. Like many others at the time, the infant was laid to rest in a quiet parcel of land nestled between a ramshackle range of Georgian and medieval dwellings, an increasingly decrepit Rectory and the looming mass of All Saints church itself. Something about this burial, however, was a little different…

Over the past three years, the trainees of York Archaeological Trust’s training excavation have been meticulously excavating and recording the complex archaeological sequence below the recently demolished All Saints Church Hall. Perhaps the most interesting discovery of the project has been a densely occupied but short-lived burial ground that covered much of the site between 1826 and 1854.

By July 2016, the  summer excavation season was well underway and site supervisor Arran was joined by a team of mainly familiar faces for the year’s third weekend excavation.

Excavation of infant burials by the former Rectory.

Excavation of infant burials by the former Rectory.

As in the previous two weeks of the summer dig, much of the team took up work on a difficult, intercutting sequence of infant burials close to the walls of the former Rectory. Theo, Michelle, Nicola and Paul had a tough task ahead of them as these burials have been found to lay stacked one above the other in no discernable pattern – a stark contrast to the neat rows seen elsewhere on site.

Theo carefully excavating a burial.

Theo carefully excavating a burial.

Theo’s burial was that of an infant that had been extensively damaged by the collapse of its coffin. Lifting away the loose grave backfill while not disturbing the remains took a great deal of patience, but following several years as a member of the Young Archaeologists’ Club, Theo is an assured hand with a trowel.  Nearby, Michelle made good progress within an adult burial, carefully excavating the material within the grave cut and exposing elements of a poorly preserved coffin stain.

Michelle working on an adult burial.

Michelle (second from right) working on an adult burial.

Up to this point, it was business as usual. The burials were laid in the same position, on the same alignment and in the same kind of coffin. Nicola and Paul’s burial, however, had a surprise in store.

Nicola and Paul using a planning frame to record their inhumation.

Nicola and Paul using a planning frame to record their inhumation.

Once the pair had fully exposed the remains of an infant and its coffin, they created a detailed record of the burial. With this process complete, the next task was to delicately lift the remains. As any development of the site will damage the more shallow graves, these infant burials are being recorded, lifted and re-buried in a safe location within the church.

As would be expected, this is not a quick process. Paul and Nicola cautiously lifted each bone and ran all of the excavated grave fill through a fine mesh sieve to ensure that 100% of the remains were recovered.

When the time came to lift the cranium, Nicola noticed something unusual in the soil beneath the right ear – not one, but two coins. This unexpected discovery immediately raised a number of questions.

It is unusual to find grave goods within 19th century Christian burials as this was not the prevailing custom of the time. While the gesture of placing a small gift of money with a deceased relative is only a relatively minor break from normal practice, the position of the coins by the skull is interesting. Could the coins have been placed over the eyes only to slip off when the coffin decayed and collapsed?

A pair of copper alloy coins found beneath the skull of an infant inhumation.

A pair of copper alloy coins found beneath the skull of an infant inhumation.

The practice of interring individuals with coins on their eyes or in their mouths goes back thousands of years and the act has waxed and waned in popularity over time. While we can’t say for certain exactly how the coins had been placed within the coffin, Nicola’s discovery means that a forgotten act of kindness has been recovered from the ground.

The 19th century was a true age of discovery. Alongside technological advancements that would spearhead the industrial revolution, the findings of the first antiquarians fired the imaginations of the British public. This revival of public interest in the distant past can be seen in changes in architecture, fashion and even burial practice. Were the family of this infant caught up in this new found fervour for archaeology, or are we seeing an echo of older folk traditions still being practiced in the 19th century? Of course, we can never know and maybe that isn’t the point.

Finds like these tell us more about the things that don’t make it into the ground; giving us new insight into funeral practices and even the thoughts and acts of those who were there to lay the infant to rest.

Closer inspection of the coins revealed a further sobering discovery. The gradual corrosion of the copper alloy had clearly limited the process of decay, allowing fragments of the infant’s shroud and even hair to survive in an unusual freak of preservation. With the date of the burial well understood, no further investigation of the coins has been carried out. Instead, the coins have been reunited with the remains of the child and re-buried in the safety and sanctity of the church.

This evocative burial is an excellent example of the huge amount that we can learn about the 19th century through the study of changing funerary traditions and also highlights the importance of keeping the ethics of what we do at the forefront of our thoughts. While the stories are fascinating, they are nonetheless the stories of real lives.

Excavating the floor of an 18th century workshop.

Excavating the floor of an 18th century workshop.

Elsewhere in the trench, Julie and Sharon investigated a sequence of deposits that were laid down in the decades before the site became a graveyard.

The first order of business was to excavate the remains of a cobbled floor surface that had been cut on all sides by later graves. This deposit had already been recorded back in 2014, meaning that Julie and Sharon could begin to lift the now moss-covered cobbles immediately.

The proliferation of grave cuts across the site has made it difficult to  piece together how this area would have looked prior to 1826, making these slithers of surviving structures highly important.

The cobbles had been laid tightly packed together, but aesthetics were clearly of little concern as the builders made use of fragments of masonry and brick in as well as cobbles. The surface was not laid solidly in a bed of mortar, instead, a thin layer of sandy silt was apparently deemed  to be sufficient.

This discovery reinforces the interpretation of these structures as roughly built workshops that were assembled cheaply and quickly.

As Julie and Sharon would discover, the upshot of this low quality build was that repairs and replacements to these floors must have been frequently required.

Julie and Michelle.

Julie and Sharon.

Once the tiles and their bedding material had been fully lifted, Julie and Sharon discovered a compacted layer of tile fragments laid in a thin bed of mortar  – an even earlier floor surface. Even at the turn of the 19th century, it seems that they didn’t build ’em like they used to!

Julie and Sharon recording their second floor surface.

Julie and Sharon recording their second floor surface.

At the opposite end of the trench, Beverley worked with Archaeology Live! placement Katie to delve even further back into the site’s long history. The pair revealed, cleaned up and recorded a layer of silt and ash that was deposited back in the fourteenth or even thirteenth century.

Beverley and Katie recording a slightly waterlogged medieval dump.

Beverley and Katie recording a slightly waterlogged medieval dump.

While there is no evidence of medieval structures occupying the site prior to the construction of the Rectory in the 14th century, our trainees have unearthed a growing number of pits, dumps and levelling deposits that are packed with domestic refuse. Study of this material will allow us to gain some insight into the lifestyle led by the medieval occupants of Church Lane.

'The Bradford Gang'

‘The Bradford Gang’

The July weekend saw the team unearth some unexpected and occasionally quite moving finds, finds that allow us a glimpse into the changing ways people have dealt with mortality and how the site has been put to use. The good weather (mainly) held and the team made it a lot of fun!

Theo looking resplendent in the afternoon sun.

Theo looking resplendent in the afternoon sun.

With a plot that continued to thicken and a full ten weeks of excavation still ahead of us, the summer was beginning to look very promising indeed. As always, everyone at Archaeology Live! would like to thank the trainees that made the July weekend possible, after all, they funded the work and carried out all of the excavation and recording! Good effort team!

The July weekend team.

The July weekend team.

There are lots more updates to follow so watch this space! Until then, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

Site Diary: April & May Weekends

The 2016 digging season got off to a chilly but eventful start with a very successful two week spring excavation at All Saints, North Street. Thankfully, we wouldn’t have to wait until June to get back on site, as a pair of weekend digs kept the site ticking over nicely.

A brisk, bright start to the April 2016 weekend dig.

A brisk, bright start to the April 2016 weekend dig.

Redoubtable Archaeology Live! regulars Sue and Gill made a welcome return to All Saints for the weekend and took over the excavation of an intriguing but challenging burial. Over the spring excavation, it had become apparent that an existing burial had been re-opened to lay an infant to rest. This has been a recurring theme across the site, with numerous graves containing multiple individuals stacked one atop the other. As work progressed, it became clear that the additional burial had caused some damage to a second infant burial that was already present. With both infants already having been recorded and lifted, Sue and Gill’s first task was to reveal the remains of the third individual within the grave.

Sue and Gill recording a 19th century inhumation.

Sue and Gill recording a 19th century inhumation.

As has been the case in many such burials, this was not a straightforward process. Sue and Gill’s careful troweling slowly revealed the remains of an adult individual directly below the second infant, presumably the two were related as they were laid to rest on the same day between 1826 and 1854.

Sue and Gill continue work on their plans.

Sue and Gill (centre) continue work on their plans.

By the end of the weekend, the upper half of an adult had been fully exposed, with the lower half hidden below a wall footing of the 1860 church hall. Curiously, the left arm was never found as it had fallen into an underlying void from a collapsed coffin – clear evidence that the remains of at least one further individual are present below.

Gill enjoying the noble role of Staff Bearer.

Gill enjoying the noble role of Staff Bearer.

Intrusive later burials and collapse into earlier graves beneath their inhumation made this burial a tricky one for Gill and Sue, but they did an excellent job and created a full single context record of their coffin and skeleton before re-covering the remains with an appropriate amount of care and respect.

The April weekend dig was Keith’s first ever excavation and he too faced the challenging task of working on a 19th century inhumation. The knees of this adult individual had been exposed in a small slot dug between infant burials back in the 2015 season and the evidence seemed to suggest that the person had been buried face-down, an unusual occurrence.

With the overlying infant burials now lifted and re-interred within the church, Keith was able to reveal the entire burial and get to the bottom of this mystery.

After recording a well-preserved coffin, Keith began the delicate work of excavating within the coffin to reveal the skeleton. Despite being a beginner, he proved to be an assured troweller and discovered that the results of the previous slot had been misleading.

Revealing the whole of the inhumation proved that it had not been buried face down at all. It was now clear that, once the soft tissues of the individual had decayed, the femurs (thigh bones) were no longer held in place and had rolled over.

This suggests that the coffin had remained intact long enough for the individual within to become fully skeletal. As the coffin was yet to collapse and become filled with backfill, it was possible for the movement of the bones to take place – a curious piece of taphonomy (post-depositional change).

Planning a 19th century inhumation.

Keith planning a 19th century inhumation.

As well as being a natural troweller, Keith’s planning also proved to be immaculate!

Keiths immaculately drawn skeleton plan.

Keith’s beautifully drawn skeleton plan.

Elsewhere on site, Jan was also making his archaeological debut. His first feature was a tile, brick and stone hearth that we had begun to dismantle in the spring.

Jan excavating a stone and mortar footing.

Jan excavating a stone and mortar footing.

Built in the 18th century, the structure had long been thought to be a simple hearth within a post-medieval workshop, however, as Jan lifted the masonry around the edge of the feature, he discovered that the structure was built over a more substantial footing than had been anticipated.

This development suggested that a larger superstructure would have been present around the tile hearth base. The plot had thickened! We were now looking at something more akin to an oven as opposed to a simple fireplace.

When considered alongside contemporary pits filled with butchery waste, Jan’s discovery provides possible evidence for food processing in the decades before the site became a graveyard. A useful new piece to our puzzle.

Jenny and Kathryn spent their weekend investigating a deposit that was thought to pre-date the use of the graveyard. Following the creation of a detailed record, the pair picked up trowels and set to work.

Jenny and Kathryn excavating a dump deposit.

Jenny and Kathryn excavating a dump deposit.

The deposit yielded a huge range of ceramics, ranging from early 19th century in date, right back to the Roman period! The finds highlight was undoubtedly Jenny’s fragment of a Roman colour coat cup from the Nene Valley.

Jenny and her star find.

Jenny and her star find.

These fineware vessels were a cheaper alternative to expensive metal vessels and occur in huge quantity in Roman York. It seems our Roman predecessors were rather fond of fine wines! Finds like these provide wonderful insights into creature comforts from the dawn of the second millennium.

Tucked away at the very edge of the trench, Lyn and Chris carried on with the excavation of another 19th century burial. This required some surgical trowel work in cramped conditions, a task that this formidable duo were more than up to!

Lyn and Chris begin work on their burial.

Lyn and Chris (left) begin work on their burial.

As the weekend drew to a close, it was this feature that provided our final surprise. Lyn and Chris’ steady troweling had revealed an infant burial that seemed to lay directly over the top of an underlying juvenile. This made it quite the challenge to differentiate which remains related to which individual without great care.

Chris carefully planning an infant burial.

Chris carefully planning an infant burial.

While multiple burials within family plots has been a regular feature within the 19th century burial ground, we had found no evidence of any grave goods up to this point. As the deposition of objects within burials is not part of Christian burial custom, the lack of any grave goods thus far had been of little surprise.

Close to the end of the day, however,  Lyn and Chris noticed a green copper alloy object amongst the finger bones of their inhumation. Closer inspection revealed that the infant had been buried holding a coin in its left hand – a touching and highly evocative find.

As the corrosion of the coin had inhibited decay, fragments of fabric were still preserved on its surface, a remarkable quirk of preservation! Although it would be fascinating to investigate the coin further, it will stay with the remains of the infant and be re-buried within the church. The graves are tightly dated to between 1826 and 1854 and in this case there is need for any further research; it is far more important that the infant is re-interred in exactly the same way it had originally been laid to rest by its grieving parents.

Artefacts like these have the power to bring the past to life in a stark and often unsettling light, bringing us closer to the deeds and emotions of the people that lived through the times we study. Lyn and Chris’ discovery of this coin in a way allowed the team to act as very late guests to a funeral, witnessing a  simple human act of grief and kindness that never made its way into the history books. Working with human remains can be a privilege and our trainees at All Saints have shown an admirable level of care and respect at all times.

Arran sums up the latest discoveries.

Arran sums up the latest discoveries.

The weekend drew to a close with a wrap-up of our latest discoveries and a welcome trip to a nearby pub where the team could discuss their findings. The April weekend team achieved a remarkable amount in just two days, unearthing evidence of Roman luxuries and 19th century tragedy along the way. Now the site was left to rest, that is, until the May weekend team arrived…

The April weekend team.

The April weekend team.

With the May weekend falling on a Bank Holiday, we obviously expected rain. Happily, the day began with overcast but dry conditions. In the few weeks we’d been away, it was remarkable how many weeds had sprung up! The new team got their eye in by having a little tidy around the trench.

A slightly green trench...

A slightly green trench…

With the site looking a little cleaner, it was soon time for the team to tackle some new contexts. Sarah and Georgia set to work on a small dump of material that has survived in a gap between a pair of graves. The deposit seemed to be the uppermost in a sequence of broadly contemporary dumps and it took a little investigative troweling to spot where this dump ended and another began.

Cleaning a truncated dump deposit.

Cleaning a truncated dump deposit.

After a short while, Georgia and Sarah had defined the outline of their context and were then able to make a detailed record of the context prior to excavation.

Starting a new plan.

Starting a new plan.

Not far away, Gill and Julie were setting about a similar task, although the deposit they were investigating was suspected to overlie further 19th century burials.

Julie and Gill

Julie and Gill excavating a 19th century dump.

By the end of the weekend, both deposits had been thoroughly probed and several finds trays were now overflowing with finds. No new graves were uncovered, but our suspicions were still roused…

Investigating deposits cut by 19th century burials.

Investigating deposits cut by 19th century burials.

Dave and Tracey also spent a weekend investigating a slither of archaeology between two rows of graves. In a piece of archaeology no wider than 200mm, the pair discovered a number of dumps cut by a pit – all of which appeared to be a good deal older than our burials.

Excavating an 18th century deposit.

Excavating an 18th century deposit.

Datable finds began to emerge and Tracey and Dave were able to confirm that they had left the 19th century behind and discovered post-medieval archaeology. The sequence suggested that the space was likely to have been a yard in the late 1700s, with occasional pits and levelling dumps.

Recording a new layer.

Recording a new layer.

Traceys star Roman find.

Traceys star Roman find.

The finds highlight once again was an elegantly decorated fragment of a Roman Colour Coat cup, further evidence of Roman luxury at All Saints!

Theo and Stuart took over the excavation of an unusual feature that we started to excavate way back in 2014. Ominously dubbed ‘The Horn Core Pit’, the feature has already yielded thousands of fragments of cattle skull and horn core.

This is interesting evidence of the craft and industrial activity that was taking place around All Saints prior to the site becoming a graveyard in 1862. Horn core, the brittle, bony interior of a cow’s horn, is a by-product of the horn working industry. The sheer volume of waste deposited suggests that many a horn object will have been manufactured on Church Lane in the 18th century.

Theo and Stuart return to the 'horn core pit'

Theo and Stuart return to the ‘horn core pit’

True to form, the pit continued to produce a huge amount of horn working detritus, alongside an assemblage of late 18th and early 19th century ceramics. The only thing that Theo and Stuart failed to locate was the base of the feature; by the end of the weekend, it was still descending ever deeper. This one would need more work in the summer!

Stuart celebrates the discovery of yet another fragment of horn core...

Stuart celebrates the discovery of yet another fragment of horn core…

In just two days, the May weekend team found (and cleaned) hundreds of new finds. New detail was unearthed regarding the little understood post-medieval and Georgian history of the site and it didn’t even rain!

Keeping on top of Finds Mountain

Keeping on top of Finds Mountain

With the weekend wrapped up, the team retreated to the cosy confines of the pub to reflect on a job well done. The site was now primed and ready for a full 12 weeks of archaeology, but that’s another story…

Thanks to all of the spring weekend(s) team for their excellent company and excavation work.

The May weekend team

(Most of) the May weekend team

In the coming posts, I’ll endeavour to tell the tale of the summer 2016 excavation. It was a hectic season of exciting and often unexpected discoveries, watch this space for updates…

Onwards and downwards!

-Arran

Site Diary: Week 10

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

Digging in the August sunshine.

Digging in the August sunshine.

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

Recording a medieval stone footing.

Recording a medieval stone footing.

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

A rough stone footing.

A rough stone footing.

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

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

Anne cleaning up a 14th century levelling deposit.

Anne cleaning up a 14th century levelling deposit.

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

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

Denis exposing a layer of burnt material.

Denis exposing a layer of burnt material.

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

Anne following the edge of a spread of burnt material.

Anne following the edge of a spread of burnt material.

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

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

Eileen's fragment of medieval masonry.

Eileen’s fragment of medieval masonry.

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

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

Bri excavating a medieval levelling deposit.

Bri excavating a medieval levelling deposit.

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

Recording a medieval context.

Recording a medieval context.

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

Archaeo-ladleing

Archaeo-ladleing

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

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

Sam, Theo and Sam.

Sam, Theo and Sam.

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

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

Levelling a medieval pit cut.

Theo levelling a medieval pit cut.

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

Sam excavating a medieval levelling dump.

Sam excavating a medieval levelling dump.

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

Sam's medieval seal jug fragment.

Sam’s medieval seal jug fragment.

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

A sherd of a medieval seal jug.

A sherd of a medieval seal jug.

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

Looking north-east across That End'

Looking north-east across ‘That End’

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

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

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

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

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

Sue and John.

Sue and John.

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

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

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

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

John's star find!

John’s star find!

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

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

Josef hard at work within his sondage.

Josef hard at work within his sondage.

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

Josef performing some acrobatic feats of excavation.

Josef performing some acrobatic feats of excavation.

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

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

Josef discovering the base of his cut feature.

Josef discovering the base of his cut feature.

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

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

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

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

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

Bill and Lynne excavating in the centre of the trench.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lead from a 19th century stained glass repair.

Lead from a 19th century stained glass repair.

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

Mark and his prehistoric discovery.

Mark and his prehistoric discovery.

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

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

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

A highly worn dog tooth.

A highly worn dog tooth.

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

A clucking great find...

A clucking great find…

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

Gary begins the end of week wrap-up.

Gary begins the end of week wrap-up.

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

The week ten team

The week ten team

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

Ominous skies over All Saints...

Ominous skies over All Saints…

Until next time, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

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

Ellen takes a breather...

Ellen takes a breather…

 

 

 

 

 

One & two week courses

One and two-week courses are designed to give beginners and those with some experience the opportunity to take part in a remarkable working environment and gain an insight into the work of an archaeologist. Whether you are looking to begin a career in archaeology or have simply always wanted to try it, these courses are a fantastic way to get started.

*Bookings now open for Summer 2017*

The All Saints, North Street excavation. Image courtesy of @watertowers

The All Saints, North Street excavation. Image courtesy of @watertowers

Spring Excavation

Dates TBC

Summer Excavation

Monday 26th June 2017 – 15th September 2017

Please email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk for further information about booking and one of the team will get back to you as soon as possible.

Autumn Excavation

Dates TBC

A week long course runs from Monday to Friday and the working day is 9.30am until 5pm.

All courses come with a complimentary pass to all of the Jorvik Group attractions.

A Viking spindle whorl unearthed Summer 2014.

A Viking spindle whorl unearthed Summer 2014.

One week course

The one-week course will begin with an introductory talk about the site, excavation techniques and health and safety, and a site tour. Following this, the hands-on experience of excavation work begins. Time will be divided equally between three tasks:

  • Basic digging techniques: trowelling, mattocking, shovelling etc.
  • Site recording: planning, levelling, section drawing and context description.
  • Finds processing: washing, sorting and environmental sample processing.

One hour seminars by specialists from York Archaeological Trust on topics such as archaeological conservation, artefacts, stratigraphy and pottery dating and recognition will take place on each day. An evening walking tour of the archaeology of York will be included, this provides an opportunity to put the archaeology you have been working on into its local and regional context.

Two week course

Week one of a two week course follows the same format as above, while the second week of the course is more focused on practicing and developing the skills acquired during week one.

Costs

Duration                                       Price                                   Returnee/Friends of YAT

One week £250 £230
Two weeks £440 £400
Three weeks £580 £530
Four weeks £690 £640

Prices for 2017 courses will remain the same as 2016 prices

Please contact us by email if you would like to make a reservation enquiry/provisional booking.It is possible to do a course which is three or four weeks long, but please contact us beforehand to discuss what your training requirements are.

CIfA National Occupational Standards for Archaeological Practice

NOS are agreed statements of competence which describe the work outcomes required for an individual to achieve the standard expected of them in professional work. They are building blocks of S/NVQs but can be used in a number of other ways. They describe good practice in particular areas of work and can help to identify skills gaps and plan training. Archaeology Live! training courses are designed to compliment these guidelines and to instruct trainees in the core skills that are required on all archaeological projects. One week and longer courses comprehensively cover elements of CCSAPAC5, and will provide a valuable addition to any skills portfolio. Further details on these standards can be found at www.archaeologists.net/development/nos/updating

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

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

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

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

E-mail: trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

Mobile: +44 (0) 7908 210026

The week nine team.

The 2015 week nine team.

Site Diary: Week 8

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

IMG_8269

The All Saints, North Street excavation.

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

Gary's team giving the trench a clean.

Gary’s team giving the trench a clean.

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

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

Zena and Mazda investigating a beaten earth surface.

Zena and Mazda investigating a beaten earth surface.

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

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

Linda and Janice excavating a suspected 19th century burial.

Linda and Janice excavating a suspected 19th century burial.

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

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

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

Rachel and Liss discussing their sequence.

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

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

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

Pandora, Robert and Steve.

Pandora, Robert and Steve.

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

Itab working on her post hole.

Itab working on her post hole.

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

Itab's post hole.

Itab’s post hole during excavation.

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

Zena and Mazda digging in the afternoon sun.

Digging in the afternoon sun.

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

Itab planning her feature.

Itab planning her feature.

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

Steve exposing a late medieval deposit.

Steve exposing a late medieval deposit.

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

Kirsten working on an infant burial.

Kirsten working on an infant burial.

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

Kirsty and her first find.

Kristy and her first find.

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

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

Ann and Gus looking for new features.

Ann and Gus looking for new features.

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

Rachel and Liss asess their new discovery.

Rachel and Liss asess their new discovery.

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

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

Pandora beginning to disappear from sight!

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

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

Pandora's Roman minim

Pandora’s Roman minim

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

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

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

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

Janice and her medieval marvel!

Janice and her medieval marvel!

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

Janice's shard of painted window glass.

Janice’s shard of painted window glass.

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

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

All Saints in the August sunshine.

All Saints in the August sunshine.

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

Well, not straight away anyway…

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

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

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

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

Mazda planning a deposit while Toby leads a site tour.

Mazda planning a deposit while Toby leads a site tour.

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

Kristy and Ann

Kristy and Ann

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

Itab and Rachel

Itab and Rachel

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

You're just showing off now.

You’re just showing off now Pandora…

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

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

A suitably delighted Pandora!

A suitably delighted Pandora!

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

Pandora's beautiful cornelian intaglio.

Pandora’s beautiful cornelian intaglio.

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

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

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

A Roman intaglio from the Hungate excavations.

A Roman intaglio from the Hungate excavations.

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

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

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

Kirsten and Robert backfilling a fully recorded backfill.

Kirsten and Robert backfilling a fully recorded backfill.

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

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

Kirsten's Samian sherd.

Kirsten’s Samian sherd.

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

Liss and Rachel planning a burial.

Liss and Rachel planning a burial.

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

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

Mazda and Zena

Mazda (left) and Zena (right)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheryl and Lydia were an effective mother/daughter team!

Cheryl and Lydia were an effective mother/daughter team!

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

Pandora taking section photographs.

Pandora taking section photographs.

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

A peek into Contrary Corner.

A peek into Contrary Corner.

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

Liss and Rachel descending into the post-medieval period.

Liss and Rachel descending into the post-medieval period.

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

A sandy surface under excavation.

A sandy surface under excavation.

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

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

Toby's small finds session.

Toby’s small finds session.

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

The matrix masterclass

The matrix masterclass

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

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

The week eight team

The week eight team

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

Best get digging then, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

 

 

 

 

 

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