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A history of Archaeology Live! Year four: St. Leonard’s 2004

At 17 years old, the Archaeology Live! training excavation is fast approaching adulthood, so what better time to flick through our proverbial baby pictures? We’ve been lucky enough to have excavated some incredible sites in the years since 2001 but our original home at St Leonard’s will always have a special place in our heart. Here, we’ve done a spot of digital digging, raided the archives and reproduced the 2004 team’s recollections of this amazing site.

A shot of the site looking towards the Multangular tower

Prologue

If you wish to start at the very beginning, here are the tales of our first three years.

A History of Archaeology Live! Year One

A History of Archaeology Live! Year Two

A History of Archaeology Live! Year Three

Week 1 

The first week of the final season of excavation got off to a good start, with the first batch of trainees digging in the trenches immediately after their induction in the morning. The first day was particularly hectic, with the opening of the site by the Lord Mayor of York, Councillor Janet Looker, being followed by a live broadcast from the site by the local ITV company. The trainees mostly worked in Trench 3, under the shelter acquired last year, but we were also able to make good progress in Trench 5. There were over 900 visitors, despite the mixed weather.

Fragment of stamped Samian pottery

Excavation of the second Roman legionary fortress rampart, associated with the stone defensive walls and towers, commenced in Trench 3. Several mixed deposits were encountered, indicating that material from a variety of sources had been brought in to form the rampart. Some of this material was apparently domestic in origin, as it was ashy in places and contained a range of artefacts, such as pottery, glass and animal bone suggestive of domestic activity.

At first glance these finds date to the 1st-2nd centuries AD, which does not dispel the notion that the rampart was constructed around AD 200.

The base of a Roman glass vessel

In the north-east part of Trench 5 the earliest of several cinder and gravel paths within the 19th century Garden of Antiquities was excavated (the later path surfaces had been excavated towards the end of 2003). Beneath this path was a mixed layer of soil and rubble, which is thought to represent 19th century landscaping of the site. In the centre of the trench, excavation of a probable 19th-century excavation pit, exposed in the side of the Second World War air-raid shelter that occupies the entire south-west half of Trench 5, began. A Roman coin and a fragment of a medieval coin were found in this pit fill.

Excavating the 19th century excavation pit

Medieval silver coin; Roman coin

Week 2  

Excavating the Roman rampart in Trench 3, looking towards the back of the rampart. Note the ashy layer (foreground)

Despite another week of unsettled weather the excavation progressed well. There were some 1,100 visitors, bringing the overall total to around 2,000. Several groups of schoolchildren had a great time taking part in special activities including digging, sieving and finds washing.

In Trench 3 the excavation of the second Roman fortress rampart continued. It is becoming clear that the rampart deposits are very mixed. Some were thick and extensive, but others appear to be no bigger than basketloads. These deposits are thought to be mostly derived from human activity. They were quite ashy in places and generally contained large quantities of abraded finds, which suggests they were originally layers of ‘rubbish’ that had been dug up to be used in the rampart. Finds included more decorated Samian pottery, copper alloy studs with glass inlay decoration, and a startling eye from an unusual Roman head pot.

Excavating the Roman rampart. The ground slope in the foreground is the original slope at the rear of the rampart

Work commenced on re-opening part of Trench 4, in order to expose a previously excavated stretch of the medieval stone drain to public view.

Good progress was made in Trench 5 excavating the fills of 19th and 20th century excavation trenches, revealing a probable medieval column foundation. The significance of this discovery is that the 19th century excavators thought they had located the north-west end of the medieval infirmary at this point, whereas it now seems the infirmary extended further to the north-west. It is therefore possible that the medieval builders used the south side of the Roman Multangular Tower to form the end of the infirmary block, which implies that the Multangular Tower survived into the medieval period. This medieval feature, and its relationship with the Multangular Tower, will be carefully examined over the next few weeks.

The eye from a Roman head pot

A fragment of decorated Samian pottery

 

Week 3 

The weather held good for most of the week with one or two downpours dampening the soil – but not the spirits of either the excavators or the visitors. The acquisition of a shelter for Trench 5 further bolstered the morale of the trainees and staff! Even on the wettest days visitors donned boots and waterproofs and came to watch progress from under their umbrellas. Despite the rain, the summer season is clearly upon us as we have been welcoming many visitors from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan as well as a steady flow of tourists from all around the UK. The number of visitors to the site topped 3000.

A busy day in Trench 3, under cover from the rain

In Trench 3 we continued to investigate the Roman rampart levels where the build up of layers has become more complicated; even individual bucket-loads of spoil can be identified.

In Trench 5 work continued to expose the line of the wall of the Multangular Tower which had been extensively robbed. Much of this work involves re-examining the trench dug in the 1920s. This trench was found to have cut through a slightly curving 19th century trench, further complicating the stratigraphy in Trench 5.

The 20th century trench (with orange sand fill) under excavation in Trench 5

In the latter part of the week the medieval drain, previously unearthed in Trench 2, was exposed in Trench 4. The next task will be to de-turf the area where Time Team had a small excavation in 1999, revealing the steps down to the World War 2 air raid shelter.

One of the regular school parties carrying out archaeological activities, under cover in the medieval undercroft

Once again trainees have come from all over the world to join us this summer. We have students from Australia, Taiwan, the United States and from Germany – so word of the training opportunities in York is clearly spreading.

There were few finds of especial interest this week but a steady flow of the typical pottery, building material and animal bone will all eventually contribute to our understanding of this complex site in the heart of the ancient city.

Roman Samian pottery with part of the stamp of the maker, Perpetuus of Eastern Gaul. Late 2nd to early 3rd century

Week 4 

The excavation continued uninterrupted despite the continued wet weather. Neither were the visitors put off, another 1,000 visiting the site this week.

Removing the Roman painted wall plaster in Trench 5

The Artefacts and Ecofacts course was held this week, alongside the fieldwork training course. Ten students, from the United States, Switzerland and Sweden as well as Britain, have worked hard learning about bones, pottery, building materials, a range of small finds, and all about methods of conservation, research and display. Finds from some of the Roman rampart deposits from Trench 3 were studied as part of this course. The trainees’ findings largely support our current interpretation of the rampart deposits as being derived from a range of sources, including domestic rubbish, and dating to around AD 200. However, several sherds of Middle Saxon pottery (around AD 650-850) were identified, which provides much food for thought for the excavation team. Perhaps the rampart had been extended by the Anglo-Saxon occupants of what was then known as Eoforwic. It is thought the former Roman fortress was held by the rulers of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria at this time, but there has been precious little archaeological evidence of this activity to date.

The 19th century trench under excavation in Trench 5. The string lines represent the approximate position of the south wall of the Roman Multangular Tower

As work continued in Trench 3 it has become clear that the nature of the deposits forming the later Roman fortress rampart is changing again; there are now signs that these rampart deposits were carefully stacked. It is expected that this will be resolved in the weeks to come.

In Trench 5 the large, curving 19th century excavation trench was excavated, producing large quantities of Roman and medieval brick and tile. On the northern side of the 19th century trench, layers apparently within the rear part of the Multangular Tower have been exposed. A substantial piece of painted wall plaster has been found, and other, smaller pieces are visible, as yet un-excavated, in the section. Such adornment is not what we necessarily associate with a military building, if indeed the plaster does derive from the tower itself. Once the other pieces have been excavated it will be interesting to compare these pieces with other plaster found during excavations elsewhere in the fortress, notably from a possible officer’s house at Blake Street across the road from St Leonard’s.

The large fragment of painted wall plaster from Trench 5

Week 5 

This week we were joined by students from the United States, Sweden, France, Belgium and from elsewhere in Britain. The steady flow of visitors to the site, both foreign tourists and local people, increased as summer holidays got underway. This was another damp week, but merely prompted the acquisition of another shelter to cover Trench 4, and work continued.

Over the weekend we hosted an event as part of National Archaeology Day. Re-enactors from the local group Comitatus and the East Yorkshire section of the World War Two Living History Group formed a ‘history street’ representing the major episodes in the site’s history, from the Roman conquest to World War 2. Russell Marwood of YAT devised a children’s quiz, and ran a war-gaming exhibit. The event was free, and attracted over 2,000 visitors, bringing the total number of visitors to 7,000.

Excavating a turf stack in Trench 3

 

Trench 3

Trainees were busy this week trowelling through the layers of a large pit. This may originally have been a cess pit cut into the rampart layers but this will not be clear until environmental work is carried out on the soil samples taken from the pit. Work otherwise has concentrated on examining the layers which make up the Roman rampart; surprisingly, some of these deposits appear to be layers of turf.

Trench 4

Work continued in this trench to expose the steps down to the WW 2 air raid shelter. Deposits encountered during this work found fragments of glazed floor tile. Although these were found residually (i.e mixed in with later material), they are of great interest as if they are medieval in date they might help to reconstruct the appearance of the hospital floors.

Trench 5

In Trench 5 work continued examining the deposits associated with the robbed Roman wall of the rear chamber of the Multangular Tower. This had previously been examined by Miller in the 1920s in an effort to understand the extent of the hospital. More Roman plaster, some of it painted with linear coloured scheme, continued to be recovered from these layers and it seems likely that it came from this now robbed out wall. The pieces of painted plaster which had been lifted previously are now undergoing conservation treatment to stabilise it prior to research.

Week 6 

Another wet week made the ground very muddy, and required a protective netting to be laid in order to protect the grass around much of the excavation area (the public route being protected this way since the beginning). This is proving to be a poor summer, such a contrast to the dry summer of 2003. Over the weekend of 24-25 July the site hosted events as part of the York Roman Festival. Again some 2,000 people visited, and the overall number of visitors passed 10,000.

Trench 3

Work continues on the both the layers within the large pit and in the surrounding ramparts. A fascinating picture is beginning to emerge as evidence appears to show that turfs were laid as part of the rampart construction and individual turfs can be seen in the section towards to the top of the trench. Clear differences in soil colour and composition can also be seen but further work needs to take place in order to understand their significance. One exciting find was part of a box flue tile, part of the ingenious heating system use by the Romans. Whether a nearby building enjoyed this luxury or whether this was dumped material from some distance away is not clear, but it is reminder of the sophistication of life in the Roman fortress. A small strap end was also recovered from this trench this week but this awaits cleaning before it can be identified.

The entrance to the Second World War air-raid shelter in Trench 4

Trench 4

Work on re-exposing the steps to the air raid shelter was completed this week. It is anticipated that medieval deposits will be exposed in this trench in the course of the following week. An unusual small wooden object, possibly part of a playing piece or some sort of fitting, was recovered but needs conservation work prior to further investigation.

Trench 5 

The Roman rampart revealed in Trench 5

More plaster! As work continues in this trench the quantities of plaster from the robbed wall continue to be recovered, providing new challenges for conservation placements working in the laboratory. On the other side of the trench, effectively outside the Multangular Tower, upon removal of the medieval rubble what appears to be the top of the Roman fortress rampart was encountered. This is further evidence of the large-scale truncation of the rampart as part of the construction of the medieval hospital.

The foundations of internal walls within the Multangular Tower revealed in Trench 6

Trench 6

A new trench was started this week which is designed to look at the internal structure of the Multangular Tower. This has exposed an internal partition wall running across the back of the standing projecting bastion. One objective is to discover the extent of Miller’s 1920s trench; he reported encountering concrete foundations and timber piles. If these are re-discovered there is the potential for dendrochronological dating of these piles which would clearly help enormously in verifying the understood chronology of the early fortress.

Opening the first part of Trench 6

Week 7 

Steady progress was made this week, under the trench covers of course. The trainees were mostly British, but with a strong American contingent. Over 1,500 visitors took the overall visitor total towards 12,000.

Trench 3 

Work has concentrated on removing the substantial clay layers which cover the western end of the Roman rampart. These appear to be part of the construction of the rampart where layer upon layer of dumped material was deposited to reach the desired height and width. More evidence of the use of turf in the construction has been found, apparently to form cells which were then infilled with clay and cobbles. Considerable care seems to have been taken in constructing the rampart.

The large pit has finally been bottomed, and once recorded it was backfilled again for safety reasons. Its contents were of a ‘cessy’ character and contained mostly Roman material with one or two pieces of pottery which might, intriguingly, be later. Watch this space!

Trench 4 

The Victorian path (centre) cut by the air-raid shelter (foreground). Note the medieval stone-capped drain, originally unearthed in Trench 2 (background).

Recording of the air-raid shelter steps was completed this week, with all the necessary plans drawn and measurements taken in order to preserve, by record, this recent but important bit of York’s history. Further work in the trench revealed a cinder path which probably once wound its way through the Victorian landscaped garden. As might be expected few finds were found associated with this feature.

Trench 5

The final layers representing the demolition of the hospital have been cleared away from the eastern part of this trench, and we were straight down onto Roman deposits with not a hint of the intervening centuries. This, as has been seen elsewhere, is the result of the levelling off the site for the construction of the hospital and, regrettably, has removed whatever evidence there was for the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Scandinavian activity on top of the fortress rampart. An intriguing feature, a rectangular pit, was encountered just below the final hospital demolition layers. As this disappears into the section there is the possibility that it is a continuation of the L-shaped feature which was encountered in Trench 3 at the end of 2003.

Removing the fill of another Miller trench in Trench 5

Elsewhere in the trench more painted plaster, presumably from the robbed out back chamber wall of the Multangular tower, has been recovered together with a simple copper-alloy Roman ring and some coins, yet to be identified. A second narrow trench, parallel with that following the wall of the Multangular Tower and presumably excavated by Miller in the 1920s, was found to have largely removed the medieval column foundation in the centre of the trench.

Possible Roman earring from Trench 3

Trench 6

In this new trench the most recent landscaping deposits have been removed. This has revealed a gravel surface alongside the foundations of the Multangular Tower, which seems to have been part of a display of the interior of the tower post-dating Miller’s 1920s excavations.

Week 8 

We are now resigned to the rain and our steady progress continued, although the shelter over Trench 4 is only just up to the task of keeping the trench dry! Total visitor numbers neared 15,000.

Trench 3

Time continued to be spent this week examining the turf and clay construction deposits on the Roman rampart. Amongst the dumped material was found the neck of a large, fine flagon, which impressed trainees and visitors alike.

The Roman flagon found in Trench 3

Carefully excavating the Roman flagon

Attempts to reach the bottom of the foundation pit, where a supporting column of the medieval hospital once stood, have still been frustrated as it is very deep! Excavation of this feature began in 2003, but had to be halted as it was too deep to excavate safely until the surrounding surface (the Roman rampart) had been lowered. It is likely that the end is near and we will be down to natural there soon. This foundation contained fragments of glazed flanged roofing tile, an unusual form of roofing dating to the 11th and 12th centuries. This suggests there was an important building on the site at this time – but does the presence of this tile in the foundations of the first stone infirmary mean that it was derived from an even earlier hospital building?

Glazed flanged tile from Trench 3

Trench 4

Below the Victorian garden levels in this trench, a yard surface comprising stone, cobbles and lots of broken tiles was encountered. This might relate to the post-Dissolution period use of the site for a variety of industrial purposes; the yard surfaces were made up with the remains of the destroyed hospital. Other pockets of such industry have been encountered elsewhere on the site in previous seasons, but their extent and purpose has yet to be determined.

Trench 5 

A copper alloy pin from Trench 5

The later Roman rampart is clearly evident now in this trench and, as in Trench 3, efforts are being made to understand the method of rampart construction. A further coin (yet to be identified) and a copper alloy pin were recovered from this rampart material. Two large pieces of plaster with some form of foliage decoration, have been carefully lifted by our conservation team. Work on consolidating what is becoming a very important assemblage of Roman painted plaster continues in the laboratory and we will bring you images when they are available.

Trench 6

The trench dug by Miller in the 1920s inside the bastion part of the Multangular Tower is now being investigated. The part of the trench to the east, inside the rear compartment of the tower, has been de-turfed ready for further investigation. A surprising encounter was the remains of part of a cow – perhaps quite a recent cow – whose presence just beneath a small Roman stone coffin has yet to explained!

A general view of Trench 6, within the Multangular Tower

Cow bones under excavation in Trench 6

Work will continue to investigate the floor surfaces and the foundations associated with the Multangular Tower and, as work progresses, it is hoped we will find the timber piles supporting the wall foundations to which Miller referred to in his excavation report.

Week 9 

One word will sum up week 9 on site. Rain!

Rain forced us to close the site to the public for three days; rain brought down the cover on Trench 3; rain caused a section to collapse in Trench 5; rain filled up every pit and cut feature on site and threatened to turn the excavation into a quagmire. Things are now drying out, however, and the site is fully up and running again. Only three weeks to go – can we get back on schedule?

Trench 3 

The new Trench 3 shelter takes shape

Little happened in this trench as staff and placements battled to sorted out the cover and get the rainwater out of the trench. In the brief time available it was possible to examine further the construction of the ramparts. An interesting situation is developing in the north-west corner of the trench where it appears that part of the rampart might have slumped into an underlying feature. This will not be understood until excavation has continued into these lower levels. Natural still has not been reached in the bottom of the large pier base pit – which is now full of water…..

Trench 4

The cover in Trench 4 was the only one which managed to stay in place during the downpour, allowing work there to continue. As the 16th century deposits resulting from the demolition of the medieval hospital were cleared away, evidence for the construction cut of the medieval stone-lined drain was encountered. This drain, some 800 years after its construction, coped with the deluge from the heavens much better than its 20th century equivalents, cheerfully carrying the water away from the sites as it was intended to do by the monks who built it!

A domed bone object, perhaps a counter, from Trench 4

Trench 5

Here too the rain stopped play for a period as sections began to collapse and the covers could not cope. Nonetheless more wall plaster is still coming out of the trench. YAT conservator Erica Paterson and conservation student Karl Knauer were called onto site urgently to ‘lift’ a number of large fragments of painted Roman wall plaster. Fragments of painted and plain plaster were found jumbled together, many lying face down or on their sides The diggers described the plaster as being so fragile it was ‘like digestive biscuits’ and had obviously suffered cracking and breakage when dumped, not helped by the wet weather on site had made the porous material even softer and more difficult to handle.

Conservators lifting wall plaster from Trench 5

Two large fragments of plaster approximately 30 x 40 cm were uncovered face down in the trench and the aim was to lift them intact so that any surviving painted design could be saved for full study. Because of their fragile and fragmented state the conservators applied strips of – bandage impregnated with plaster – similar to that used in hospital for setting broken limbs. Once set, this created a rigid cast around the plaster fragments. Thin metal baking sheets proved useful in separating the plaster from the underlying soil. These were pushed horizontally underneath the layers of plaster and then the whole block of soil and plaster was lifted onto wooden boards. Once back in the laboratory the supported fragments could be turned over and the slow and painstaking process of removing soil to reveal the hidden painted surfaces could begin. Conservation placement student Karl Knauer from the Winterthur/University of Delaware M.S. Program in Art Conservation in the U.S. learned the art of on-site lifting from lab staff and is now continuing work on the plaster as one of his special projects.

Karl explains the process…..

A fragment of wall plaster
undergoing conservation

The next step will be to consolidate the crumbly and fragmented plaster with an appropriate synthetic resin, then to provide suitable packaging so the pieces can be stored safely yet be easily accessible for viewing.”As the plaster pieces were face-down in the trench, turning the “block lifts” over was naturally the first step in cleaning them. The soil (which had been below the painted surface prior to turning the plaster over) was removed methodically with palette knives, scalpels and brushes. Slowly, the painting became evident – and a large section of red border design was uncovered. An exciting orange-coloured area of the plaster revealed itself, as well – indicating that the design motif may have combinations of geometric and curvilinear patterns in a variety of colours. It will certainly be interesting to see if these pieces can come together and give a more complete picture of how the mural would originally have appeared!”

Bizarrely, wall plaster appears to be in the fortress rampart as well as within the Multangular Tower. This would indeed be strange and the picture will become clearer once further work has been done.

The backfill of the 1920’s trench has now been completely removed. Beneath this an area of mortared rubble confirmed that we had located the position of another column in the medieval hospital, which clearly did extend right up to the Multangular Tower.

Trench 6 

Work continues in Miller’s trench to get to the timber piles but, as everywhere, the rain sodden ground is making progress difficult. In the eastern part of the trench, initial examination of the layers below the modern turf shows that, so far, they are all 20th century.

Removing modern deposits in Trench 6. The water filled cut (background) is the Miller trench (partially excavated).

Week 10

At least the rain wasn’t quite so tropical this week! The site was closed to the public again for one day, but visitor numbers were over 1,300 nevertheless, bringing the total to over 15,000. The British trainees were supported by a strong American contingent, mostly here for their second week.

Excavation of the rampart deposits in Trench 3 continued. However, there are signs that we are nearing the base of the rampart; there is a fine cobble surface appearing, and the deposits towards the rear of the rampart appear to be filling a ditch running parallel to the fortress wall. Perhaps these features will prove to be a surface and a roadside ditch which pre-date the rampart.

The rampart and cobble feature under excavation in Trench 3.

At the northern end of Trench 4, a large cut filled with mortar was found. This could be the demolished internal wall in the medieval hospital, which was found in Trench 1 in 2001.

In Trench 5 the excavation of the painted wall plaster continued. This is now a very thick layer overall, and it is increasingly difficult to see this as gradual collapse of plaster within the Multangular Tower.

In Trench 6, modern deposits were removed from the eastern area. However the main effort was dedicated to the re-excavation of the 1920s trench in the western area, where we hoped to re-locate timber piles beneath the wall of the Multangular Tower; extraction of any piles could produce tree-ring dates that might date the construction of the Tower to within a year. Trainees Gabriel Gibson and Alex Schwartz deserve special praise for their tremendous efforts in removing the fill of the 1920s trench, which had to be shored to make the excavation safe, and had to be pumped out regularly as the trench filled with ground water – the wet extreme of urban archaeology. They were finally rewarded by the sight of substantial timber piles still in place beneath the Tower wall. Now all we have to do is dig even deeper to extract the timbers!

Week 11 

A dry week at last! Everything, from moving around site, was so much less trying, and so an even better time was had by all. It seems the holiday period in the USA is over, as our American representation has ended; however the British trainees were joined by two Danes. The site remained closed to visitors for two days while the site recovered, but after much effort from the guides we were able to re-open the site and almost 1,400 people came through the doors, bringing the total to nearly 17,000.

A Roman glass bead

Trench 3

Another series of sloping rampart deposits, mostly ash and charcoal, have been encountered. There is still no sign of the natural ground surface, and the trench is getting deeper every day. This is not what was expected!

Trench 4

A fragment of beautiful Roman vessel glass

The mortar filled cut identified last week has proved to be very deep. This feature is thought to be the result of robbing of the walls of the medieval infirmary; hopefully, we will find the intact foundation beneath.

Trench 5

Excavation of the layers of wall plaster continued, producing further examples of painted decoration. A near complete mortarium bowl was found. Re-excavation of the parallel modern trenches showed that they were dug to either side of a concrete slab – the foundations for the south wall of the Multangular Tower have been found at last! Apparently the (probably 1920s) excavators had followed the wall along its inner and outer faces. The medieval column base foundation was found to rest partly on the edge of this Roman foundation – another case of the medieval builders utilising the Roman structures where it suited them.

Wall plaster found, and a mortarium under excavation

Trench 6 

The highlight here was the extraction of three timber piles from beneath the wall of the Multangular Tower, a reward for the tremendous efforts put in to recover these timbers in a deep and very wet trench. Our joy was somewhat tempered when the YAT wood specialist, Steve Allen, identified the timbers as alder. Alder does not produce a consistent growth pattern every year, and so is useless for tree-ring dating. Nevertheless, the timbers display interesting evidence of Roman carpentry techniques, which will no doubt be the subject of a web diary update in the months to come.

Piles being excavated and examined

In the eastern part of the trench the early 20th century gravel surface already found in the western part was removed. However the layers below are modern in date and very thick, indicating the 1920s excavations were quite extensive.

Week 12  

The final public week of the project! Over 1,000 people visited the site on the last day, helping to boost the weekly total to almost 2,500. The season total was just under 19,500, almost the same as last year despite being the generally poor weather and being closed for the better part of a week. Many former trainees and placements returned this week, hoping to witness the major discoveries that always turn up at the end of a dig. The weather was good again, allowing us to make us much progress as possible.

In Trench 3, it now seems that a low bank had been laid down at the beginning of the rampart construction to form the rear of the rampart base. This may have had the dual role of marking the limit of the rampart for the builders, and retaining the body of the rampart. The concave surfaces of the rampart deposits being excavated are partly due to their lying against this bank, although it still seems they are also subsiding into a cut beneath the rampart.

The concave rampart deposits in Trench 3. The water-filled hole is the base of the medieval column foundation pit

In Trench 4 the mortar-filled robber trench was emptied, revealing a cobble foundation. This foundation resembles the cobble foundation found in Trench 1 in 2001, and apparently formed the south-east end of the medieval hospital infirmary from about 1100 until the building was extended to the south-east in around 1250. As this foundation was at the maximum safe depth limit, it was decided to concentrate our efforts on investigating the layers lying between this structure and the stone-lined drain to the south-east, which presumably pre-date the infirmary.

Excavating possible pre-infirmary deposits, cut by the stone-lined drain (to rear of trench)

In Trench 5 the bottom of the wall plaster layers ‘inside’ the Multangular Tower was reached. Beneath were various thin layers including gravel and clay, indicating these were floor deposits within the tower. Hopefully, study of the finds from these layers will tell us when these floors were laid down, and what kind of activities took place in this building.

The mortarium found in Trench 5 last week, after cleaning

A narrow cut was found, evidently the north-west side of the ‘L-shaped’ feature found in Trench 3. This is thought to be the base of a flight of steps that allowed the defenders of the fortress to reach the battlements quickly. However the corner of this feature overlay the south-east corner of the Multangular Tower foundation, which means the rear of the tower must have been dismantled before the timber staircase was constructed. The dating of this staircase feature is now crucial; if it is Roman in date, it means the rear of the Multangular Tower was demolished during the Roman period, while the front of the tower remained and is still standing!

At the west end of Trench 6 our attention turned to the deposits through which Miller had dug his trench to expose the timber piles. These deposits, well over 1m deep, are clearly not natural; indeed they are dumps of Roman waste material. It seems the original Roman ground surface, which consisted of sand over clay, sloped down steadily westwards to the River Ouse from this point. It therefore proved necessary to form an artificial terrace at this point before the Multangular Tower could be constructed. Hopefully the finds recovered from these deposits, including leather and wood, will help to date the construction of the Tower more closely – almost compensating for the failure to obtain tree-ring dates from the piles!

Roman dump deposits, cut through by the foundations of the Multangular Tower (left), visible in the side of Miller’s trench. The scale rests on probable natural sand

At the east end of the trench, a large mass of mortared limestone rubble was found. Much of this had apparently been removed during Miller’s excavations, but it seems likely that this material originally filled the entire compartment. The best explanation we can offer at present is that the Roman deposits into which the foundations of the Multangular Tower had been dug into at this point proved unstable, and had to be replaced with something more solid. The construction and maintenance of this tower is proving to be a much more complex operation than we had previously thought.

Week 13-15

Although the site was now closed to the public, a small team remained to tie up a few loose ends prior to backfilling the site. That was the plan anyway.

A Roman bone fitting with one copper alloy river still in place

In Trench 3, the ash and charcoal deposits were found to be filling a large, irregular 1m deep pit. The function and date of this feature is at present uncertain. It could be a prehistoric feature; it may be associated with activity taking place against the inside of the first Roman (turf) rampart of the fortress; or it could still be a quarry pit, used to extract material to form a marker bank at the rear of the second rampart. The second option is favoured at present, and it could mean that the cobble surfaces and stone features found above the charcoal layers also represent activity contemporary with the first rampart. The pit was cut into natural sandy subsoil over glacial clay. We had reached the bottom of Trench 3, some 3.3m below the current ground level!

The lowest deposit in the pit under excavation

In Trench 4, what was meant to be a cursory investigation of the medieval cobble wall foundation revealed a substantial mortared stone wall beneath! This was a pleasant surprise, as taken with the evidence from Trenches 1 and 2 it offers a plausible construction sequence for the infirmary. Apparently the mortared wall in Trench 4 joined with the Roman interval tower SW6 to the south-west and formed the south-east end of the original infirmary (around 1100). The massive cobble foundation found in Trenches 1 and 4 is evidently a replacement south-east infirmary wall, indicating that Tower SW6 was demolished some time between about 1100 and 1250. Then the infirmary was extended to the south-west, on massive concrete and rubble foundations, around 1250.

A detailed view of the original infirmary wall (under the scale), buried by the later cobble foundation

In Trench 5, excavation of the deposits overlying the foundations of the Multangular Tower and cut by the possible timber staircase feature produced a wide range of Roman finds. The most intriguing was a bone counter, inscribed with decoration and Latin text on both sides, which is almost identical with a group of counters found in London; plenty of scope for research there!

A melon bead, and decorated counter with the legend IVNIII

A revelation – the deposits containing wall plaster appear to fill a large pit situated over the foundations of the Multangular Tower. The explanation favoured at present is that the rear of the tower was dismantled, possibly soon after it was built, due to structural instability (see Week 12, Trench 6). A rampart was then built against the surviving front half of the tower, forming a continuous rampart around the west corner of the defences. Access to the rampart via the Multangular Tower was no longer possible, hence the construction of a timber staircase onto the rampart as indicated in Trenches 3 (in 2003) and 5. When these changes took place, and how the front of the Multangular Tower was used thereafter, requires careful study of the excavation data.

View of the Multangular Tower looking west, showing the continuation of the south wall foundation in Trench 5

This scenario also has implications for the medieval infirmary. It would mean that there was no Roman tower to form the north-west end of the infirmary. The column base foundation found in Trench 5 would represent the continuation of the vaulted undercroft over the former position of the tower and presumably right up to the north-west fortress wall. In this case, the length of the infirmary would have been about 47m, rather than the 29m indicated by the 19th century excavators; a truly massive building.

Beneath the rampart and cut by the foundations of the Multangular Tower was a series of deposits including a cobble surface; these deposits are presumably contemporary with the first fortress rampart. They overlaid a possible buried soil overlying natural sand. A small pit or post-hole, cutting the buried soil, could be prehistoric in date. Anyway, we had reached the bottom of Trench 5.

In Trench 6, the dump layers in the western part of the trench were excavated down to natural sand. They were very organic, and contained wood fragments and blocks of turf. Are these the remains of the turf rampart, spread out to form the terrace on which the Multangular Tower was built? Close examination of the tower foundations in the eastern part of the trench indicated that they had been dug into natural sand. This suggests the original ground surface in the west corner of the fortress was quite flat, but then dropped off steeply down to the River Ouse. Hence the need to provide a terrace on which to build the projecting front of the Multangular Tower, and so the need to support the projecting front on timber piles in such unstable ground. It also might explain the omission of timber piles beneath the rear of the tower by the Roman builders as belief that the flat, sandy subsoil could support the weight of the tower – mistaken as it turns out.

And so the excavation finished, followed by a week of dismantling the site and backfilling the trenches. Thanks to everyone who helped to make the project such a success: the project team of course; the YAT staff who helped with the off-site activities; the 65,000 people who paid to see the dig; and not least, the 800 or so trainees who carried out most of the actual digging and paid for the privilege. Now starts the assessment of the stratigraphy, finds and environmental evidence. No doubt this will fill in many of the blanks in the story we have pieced together, as well as overturning many of the hypotheses that have been formulated over the past 4 years! Watch out for updates on the assessment, and news of how the results will be published.

The final team photo

That’s a summer in a post! I hope you enjoyed this digital archaeological dig through our past blogs, wonder if you could create a stratigraphic matrix for it…

-Gus

Site Diary: Summer Week 12

The final week of the 2016 season dawned with blue skies, bright sunshine and warm temperatures- the last gasps of summer. It made us appreciate quite how beautiful the church would have been in its medieval peak, with a crown of green glazed roof tiles, it would have practically glowed. The season’s end clearly got us all rather whimsical, but what everyone actually wants to hear about is the archaeology- so let’s get to it!

A good start to the day, in our beautiful site cabin

We had a mixture of newbies and regulars on site this week but it also marked the return of the other half of our favourite Italian Dynamic Duo- Elisa! Doing what she does best, she sprang straight into action recording an infant burial before moving onto some pre-graveyard deposits, picking apart the stratigraphy of a few features that have been visible, but not free to excavate for nearly three years! Elisa’s rubble and tile filled 18th century pit soon bore finds fruit with a lovely medieval vessel rim and handle fragment followed quickly by another fragment from the same vessel.  We allowed ourselves to hope that the rest would appear, but archaeology rarely does what you want it to!

Elisa proving once again how capable she is at paperwork

Elisa’s unusual medieval pottery fragments fit together perfectly!

Federica, our other skilled Italian archaeologist, continued working this week on exposing the coffin stain for her adult burial- and boy was this a tall fellow! Every time someone checked on her the coffin had crept further and further until about six foot of coffin had been exposed. As the skeleton was carefully exposed, the skull suggested that we were looking at an adult  male who died relatively young.

He just kept growing! Federica excavating the coffin of a young adult male

Federica also recovered a rather phenomenal piece of colour coat Roman pottery, complete with lettering! It was quite an unusual sherd, so we asked around our archaeology contacts and a helpful individual offered an example of another recently discovered Roman cup. It doesn’t take an expert to spot the similarity and this is incredibly helpful as it helps us visualise how the whole of Federica’s cup would have looked.

Federica’s pottery shard (above) and an example from another site (below)

Nene Valley, or colour-coat wares, were made in numerous sites, with a large production centre in the Nene Valley in Cambridgeshire. There is some similarity with this pottery type and wares from the Lower Rhineland. The production of this pottery was based in Durobrivae, a fortified garrison town now known as Water Newton, but there were also kilns in the surrounding area. The wares began to appear in the mid 2nd century but remained prolific for much of the Roman occupation of Britain.

By the Rectory, Lynne, in her second week with us, has been joined by Rose and Poppy as she continues to expose the construction cut that she and Sophia identified last week. The three made quick work of cleaning and recording the construction cut and soon began to excavate the backfill so that we can finally ‘unlock’ the rectory walls and remove them (a context is only free to dig when all related features that post-date it have been dealt with).

Lynne, Poppy & Rose busy excavating their rectory wall construction backfill

The three made a good team and exposed the footings of the rectory in record time with Lynne and her keen eyes spying a coin in the backfill which makes this the third week in a row where a Roman coin has been recovered. She was naturally delighted with her find!

Lynne’s fantastic find!

Katie and Emma this week returned to their gradually deepening quest into the medieval period and it was getting more awkward and tighter by the moment- most people wouldn’t want to spend this much time down a hole with their sister (believe me, I have two of them) but Katie and Emma did a wonderful job navigating the tricky working conditions while exposing more medieval levelling layers.

Katie and Emma getting ever deeper…

Clive and Alistair, towards the center of the site, were busy unpicking a complex sequence of medieval dumps. These are important features to attempt to piece together a picture of the use and occupation along the street running down the side of All Saints Church.

Clive and Alistair defining a pit they have come across

With a sequence of complex deposits comes much paperwork, so Clive and Alistair also have to keep up to date their pile of paperwork, as you can see getting a good use out of planning frame.

Alistair and Clive planning their medieval dumps

Also this week we were visited for a day by Maree and Debra from Australia, that is dedication to archaeology! They worked on a robber cut that was started by Zachary earlier in the week.

Maree and Debra experiencing the joys of digging in British summer!

Taking advantage of some rainy weather we also got a chance to catch up on some finds bagging, this gave us a chance to bag up properly one of the star finds of the 2015 season. This delightful late-20th/early-21st century artefact was recovered from present day topsoil and has been affectionately called ‘Creepy Baby’.

Creepy Baby attempting to get out of his/her bag!

Week 12 was a fantastic week that saw us really starting to get into the Medieval deposits, allowing us to create a story for how people used the site before it became a graveyard. Thanks to our fantastic team this week for helping us to see out the end of this year’s excavations. Now to start planning what we will do through winter and what will come in Archaeology Live! next year. Hope to see you there!

-Becky

Week 12 team shot

 

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 5

Week 5 saw the Archaeology Live! team discovering more of the pre-burial activities on North Street including recycling habits, post-medieval workshop foundations, medieval refuse pits and examples of Roman tableware. This was also the week of arguably our creepiest find to date, scroll down to find out more…

Week 5 gets underway.

Week 5 gets underway.

At the end of week 4 dynamic duo Matt and Christine had cleaned up, photographed and recorded a gravestone footing relating to a 19th century burial. In week 5 our new trainees Tom and Alec picked up where they left off and started to remove the footing. Whilst the construction of this footing is undoubtedly 19th century in date, it turned out to be built of recycled medieval bricks and Roman masonry! Utilizing earlier materials had its perks; it was cheaper than the cost of acquiring and working stone or bricks, and logistically easier to re-use materials found lying around a nearby area than have them brought in from further afield. Tom and Alec’s footing is not the only example of re-use at this site or in York as a whole; as is often pointed out on our Thursday night wanders, large blocks of Roman masonry in particular can be found in all sorts of places, often in churches and other similarly sized structures.

Tom lifting the last bits of a recycled brick and stone footing.

Tom lifting the last bits of a recycled brick and stone footing.

Elsewhere on site we found evidence of more recycling, this time in the post-medieval period. The general theory about the appearance of post-medieval North Street is one of open fronted lean-to workshops built in timber. So far we have recorded and excavated some post-pads that were substantial enough to have held sizeable structural timbers, and in week 5 two of our tasters, father and daughter team Richard and Francesca were working on one such footing. In their two days on site they managed to clean, record and excavate their footing and it turned out to be made of faced medieval church masonry! Whether it was robbed out of All Saints or left lying around is impossible to tell, but clearly these workshops incorporated odd bits and bobs of other nearby structures, which contributes more towards the idea of a ramshackle collection of workshops along Church Lane in the post-medieval period.

 

Richard and Francesca's footing, which was made of re-used church masonry.

Richard and Francesca’s footing, which was made of re-used church masonry.

Also delving into the post-medieval period were new starters Rachel and Graham, who started their week working on a rubble filled layer. Once that deposit was recorded they carried on and dug even further back in time, to find a securely dated 13th century deposit. We could date this deposit because of the pottery that came out of it, as a feature cannot be any earlier than the most recent piece of pottery within it. After the specialist pottery session on Tuesday with site supervisor Arran, Rachel and Graham were able to put their newly acquired knowledge to the test when dating this deposit.

Rachel and Graham working on their 13th Century deposit.

Rachel and Graham working on their 13th century deposit.

Windows into medieval All Saints were explored by our other two-day tasters – mum and son Penny and Oli. They excavated to the base of a 14th century pit in the area of the old Rectory. It contained the all important dateable pottery fragments as well as butchered animal bone. So not only did we find a securely dated medieval pit, the waste thrown into it can give us ideas of the activities going on at the time. In this case, butchery waste tells us what is being eaten. So far at All Saints we have found fish, cattle, sheep/goat and chicken bones all showing evidence of butchery as well as considerable amounts of tanning waste. Penny and Oli, like our other tasters Richard and Francesca, finished excavation of their feature and squared away the records by the time their taster days were over – that’s pretty fast work for beginners!

Penny reaches to the bottom of her pit, which was filled with butchered animal bone and pottery.

Penny reaches to the bottom of her pit, which was filled with butchered animal bone and pottery.

It was great to know that before the halfway point of the summer season some parts of the site were now comfortably within the medieval horizon. However, there were of course more burials to find, record and lift in week 5.

New starter Janet and returnee Pete spent their week working on a young adult burial which needed cleaning up and recording. Once cleaned we had a better idea of whether to lift this individual or leave them in-situ, as at present we are lifting infant and juvenile burials only.

Pete re-covering an adult burial on Friday.

Pete re-covering an adult burial on Friday.

Being the burial of an adult, we have left this individual in place, and so after a couple of days spent meticulously recording each detail Pete and Janet re-covered the skeleton with a deep layer of sieved soil to protect it. Both trainees did a fantastic job and produced quality records.

Janet looking very pleased with her Medieval window glass

Janet looking very pleased with her Medieval window glass

A highlight of Janet’s first week on Archaeology Live! was a lovely diamond shaped fragment of medieval window glass that her keen eyes spotted during a session of finds washing!

A closer look.

A closer look.

Once their gravestone footing was out of the way and the cut recorded, Tom and Alec moved on to recording a large spread of graveyard soil, a mixed dump of material that accumulated over the lifespan of the graveyard in the early to mid-19th century. By the end of the week they began to excavate the soil and on Friday they came across a previously unidentified infant burial. It was covered over until it could be properly recorded in week 6.

Trainees Alec (left) and Tom (right) set to work on excavation of a graveyard soil under the watchful eye of new placement Matt.

Trainees Alec (left) and Tom (right) set to work on excavation of a graveyard soil under the watchful eye of our new placement Matt.

Nearby new starters Katie and Jess had a busy week of searching for and recording more burials. Katie worked on a deeper adult-sized burial, and Jess was working on a much shallower infant burial next to her.

Katie (left) works on a deep adult burial whilst Jess (centre) focused on a much smaller, more shallow infant burial.

Katie (left) works on a deep adult burial whilst Jess (centre) focused on a much smaller, more shallow infant burial.

By the end of the week Katie hadn’t managed to find her burial although some parts of a coffin line had started to appear, it was obviously very far down! However she teamed up with Jess to record the delicate infant burial that had been exposed on Friday.

Katie, (left) with the help of placement Taralea, adds the finishing touches to the plan of the infant she and Jess drew.

Katie, (left) with the help of placement Taralea, adds the finishing touches to the plan of the infant she and Jess drew.

Continuing in the same plot as week 4, Anna and Frankie recorded an infant burial that had been heavily disturbed by burrowing animals. Once the burial had been recorded and lifted the girls cleaned up the grave cut and found… another grave! This particular area has already had several burials lifted and so may well be a family plot. For the rest of the week the girls continued to excavate until they found their coffin outline on Friday. However before they reached the coffin the backfill had produced a wonderful array of pottery sherds.

A nice assemblage of pottery from Anna and Frankie's grave back fill.

A nice assemblage of pottery from Anna and Frankie’s grave back fill.

Here we have a handful of pottery from Anna and Frankie’s feature, some of you may be able to identify Roman, Norman and Viking pottery! The most plentiful pottery from this 19th century feature was Roman, with greywares, samian, black burnished and color coat all making an appearance, as well as a large piece of an amphora, a large Roman storage vessel. What is notable about these sherds is they are mainly examples of fine or high status wares.

Frankie and her freshly unearthed sherd of an amphora.

Frankie and her freshly unearthed sherd of an amphora.

Amphorae were large storage vessels for luxury liquid and dry goods such as wine and oil. Samian, colour coat and black burnished wares in particular were made to be displayed on a table for people to see as a sign of wealth. All of these pottery types have been found across the site, which is located on the colonia side of Eboracum. This gives us some indication of the lifestyle of these Roman residents and supports the generally accepted idea that those residing in the colonia were serving citizens, officials and retired legionnaires.

Frankie (foreground) and Anna (centre) reaching into their grave back fill looking for a 19th century coffin.

Frankie (foreground) and Anna (centre) reaching into their grave back fill looking for a 19th century coffin.

Week 5 was one of interesting stratigraphic tales and even more interesting finds. However one particular find from this week has certainly stayed with me and probably several others. It was on a sunny tea break like many others when placement Ellen sat near the Tree of Finds and unearthed this thing from the topsoil…

We simply call it Creepy Baby.

Here in the YAT Fieldwork office, site supervisor Arran has had it hanging off of his shelving unit underneath site mascot Mr Fish for months now, and I’m sure it watches everyone in the office who walks by. Goodness knows how it got to the back of All Saints, but I don’t like it.

Besides “Creepy Baby,” week 5 had been another packed week with trainees working on features of many different dates and, as always, all of their hard work has been to a consistently high standard. They are assisted of course by our staff and placements, but its the trainees who make Archaeology Live! the success that it is.

The week 5 team.

The week 5 team.

Thanks for reading, keep an eye out for week 6!

Katie

P.S. In true Throwback Thursday style, a returning trainee, Janet, found a picture of All Saints back in 2014 and its safe to say we have moved a lot of dirt in three seasons! See for yourself below…

June 2014.

June 2014.

July 2016.

July 2016.

Site Diary: Summer Week 4

Week 4 of the 2016 excavations at All Saints North Street saw a lot of finds, excellent progress on our 19th century burials and the occasional bout of heat-induced delirium – Summer had finally arrived! With another fully booked week and nine new starters, the team were anticipating another hectic but enjoyable week. They weren’t wrong on either count! This week, York Archaeological Trust’s Katie Smith tells the tale.

Cloudless skies over All Saints.

Cloudless skies over All Saints.

On Monday, our freshly inducted week 4 trainees were able to jump straight in the trench thanks to the excellent sunny weather! The new team set to work on our C19th burials, with (inadvertently) rhyming new starters Anna and Hannah taking over the area Jenni and Annie had been working on in week 3 – a grave cut with the double burial of suspected siblings. As had been suspected, this burial did indeed overlay an earlier infant/juvenile grave. However before they managed to find the outline of a small coffin, Hannah found a lovely medieval jug handle re-deposited within the grave backfill.

Hannah proudly displaying her first ever medieval find.

Hannah proudly displaying her first ever medieval find.

Not to be left out, Hannah’s digging partner Anna managed to get herself a rather nice find later in the week. Despite the grave backfill proving to be rather compacted and mixed, Anna’s keen eyes spotted a tiny coin! The size and shape of it makes it likely that it is a minim, the Roman equivalent of small change.

Anna and her tiny Roman minim.

Anna and her tiny Roman minim.

A thick layer of corrosion means that no further comment can be made about the coin’s date until it is seen by our conservation team, however, it is always wonderful to discover objects that were misplaced by the citizens of Eboracum and to wonder quite how the coin ended up in a 19th century grave backfill.

Grace, Anna and Hannah adding levels to single context plans.

Grace, Anna and Hannah adding levels to single context plans.

By the end of the week the girls had managed to find and record a previously unidentified coffin and still had time to start to reveal the skeleton of a juvenile. In addition, Hannah and Anna also assisted with the recording of burials being worked on right next to them by Grace and Catherine.

Hannah and Anna carefully revealing the outline of a small timber coffin.

Hannah and Anna carefully revealing the outline of a small timber coffin.

Grace spent most of her week with us working on a very small, fragile infant burial. As usual the first thing to be identified, recorded and then dug was the grave backfill. Then, very carefully and patiently, Grace found the coffin which was fully recorded before she began looking for the remains themselves. Because of the size of this person Grace really had to take her time as infant remains are much more fragile than juveniles and adults, this is a difficult task, but she did a great job.

Painstaking excavation of a tiny infant skeleton.

Painstaking excavation of a tiny infant skeleton.

Catherine joined us all the way from New York and picked up where week 3 taster student Robert had previously been working, looking for a deeper burial. The search for this individual, however,  had to be put on hold after an unexpected and somewhat gruesome discovery – the jumbled and incomplete remains of a newborn child.

While carefully troweling through grave backfill, Catherine found evidence that a 19th century grave digger had accidentally disturbed an infant burial when reopening an existing grave to inter another individual.

Despite the site’s proliferation of infant burials in this area, this is the first example of a human grave from the 1826-1854 phases of burials being almost completely destroyed by the insertion of a later grave. Although this was almost certainly accidental it was still a sobering find.

The fact that the remains had been gathered together and reburied suggests that the person who dug the grave had noticed their mistake and attempted to show a degree of respect to the infant. Despite this, much of the skeleton was never found.

With assistance from Grace, Catherine made a complete record of the infant before lifting the fragile remains out of harm’s way.

Grace and Catherine excavating with Arch Live! placement Ellen.

Grace (left) and Catherine (right) excavating with Arch Live! placement Ellen.

At the other end of the trench in ‘Contrary Corner’ (where the archaeology tends to be a little difficult), Molly and Meg began their second week on-site with the difficult task of reaching down into an ever-deepening grave cut in very hot weather to find the skeleton within their coffin.

Meg, Molly and Arch Live! placement Katie in Contrary Corner.

Meg, Molly and Arch Live! placement Katie in Contrary Corner.

Whilst parts of the skull had been revealed in the previous week, Molly and Meg had to go down quite a bit further to find the rest of their skeleton. This is a trend that occurs in the majority of inhumations and happens because the skull generally sits higher than the rest of the body when laid flat. While the rib cage settles and flattens during decomposition, a well-preserved adult skull remains intact.

Molly reaching into a deep grave cut.

Molly reaching into a deep grave cut.

With space at a premium, the girls worked out a good system of one person digging while the other was sieving; swapping places until they eventually found the torso. Despite challenges from the weather and the awkwardness of their deep grave cut, Molly and Meg were more than up to the task.

Molly, Meg and Katie completing their records.

Molly, Meg and Katie completing their records.

After finishing this burial and re-covering it with lots of sieved soil to protect it, Meg and Molly moved onto a different area of the site.

Molly measuring a stone footing.

Molly measuring a stone footing.

By the end of the week they had also excavated and recorded a posthole, a patch of graveyard soil and a post-medieval stone footing! That’s a lot of in some sweltering heat, but that didn’t seem too much of a problem for Molly and Meg, except for the occasional moment of sun-induced delirium…

Archaeology is a serious business...

Archaeology is a serious business…

Elsewhere on site, Frankie and Kaylan and new starters Phil and Naomi were working on burials for the week. Naomi and Phil started looking for a grave but they soon discovered they had not one, but two juvenile burials within one grave cut. The second burial was discovered while the grave cut was being widened in order to find the full outline of the coffin stain from the first burial.

Frankie, Kaylan, Phil and Naomi hard at work in neighbouring grave plots.

(From foreground) Frankie, Kaylan, Phil and Naomi hard at work in neighbouring grave plots.

Naomi and Phil recorded both coffins and then proceeded to look for the remains of one of the juveniles. Whilst they did not fully uncover this burial by the end of the week, given the fact they found two burials where we only expected one, they made fantastic progress on the recording and understanding of this burial sequence.

Recording a 19th century coffin.

Recording a 19th century coffin.

Frankie and Kaylan were paired up and tasked with finding the remaining burials in the middle of the trench, an area that has been serving as our main route on and off the site. Heavy footfall has made the ground particularly compacted in this part of the trench and, as if trowelling that wasn’t hard enough, the mixed up soil from constant past activity of grave after grave being dug makes it very difficult to spot grave outlines. On top of all this, the baking heat drying out the archaeology and turning everything the same shade of grey meant one thing; it was time to bring out the watering can!

Frankie adding a little colour to a very dry trench.

Frankie adding a little colour to a very dry trench.

Sure enough, the trick worked and Frankie and Kaylan followed a faint edge to reveal the clear outline of a burial, destroying one of site supervisor Arran’s pet theories in the process.

Kaylan defining the head end of a 19th century grave cut.

Kaylan defining the head end of a 19th century grave cut.

Up to this point, no burials had been found in the central area of the trench, leading to the suspicion that this strip of land had once been used as a routeway into the burial ground. Frankie and Kaylan’s discovery revealed that burials were indeed present in the area, leaving only a much reduced area seeming burial-free.

Kaylan and Frankie adding levels to their coffin plan.

Kaylan and Frankie adding levels to their coffin plan.

Working nearby on another burial was the crack team of Matt and Christine. They made impressive progress over their week and had finished recording their burial by the Tuesday, and lifted the skeleton on Wednesday.

Arch. Live! placement Taralea guides Matt and Christine through the recording process.

Arch. Live! placement Taralea guides Matt and Christine through the recording process.

Finishing all of the excavation and recording before the week’s end on that particular burial, they even had time to clean up a brick footing for a gravestone. They certainly made a determined duo! This week marked Matt’s final week as an Archaeology Live! trainee. Following a week spent brushing up on his recording skills, he was all set to begin his first ever placement the following week.

Christine and Matt meticulously excavating an infant burial.

Christine and Matt meticulously excavating an infant burial.

One of the main features of this quiet little site nestled in the shade of All Saints Church is its role as a burial ground for the parishioners between 1826 and 1854. The records for the burials from this time period have unfortunately not survived, and so the only information we have is the detailed archive that our trainees have been producing during their time on Archaeology Live! Although we will never know much fine detail about individual lives, we are remembering those buried here through the creation of these records and helping to protect their remains from damage. Our trainees do 100% of the recording on Archaeology Live! and needless to say, regardless of prior experience or artistic talent, our trainees consistently produce professional quality records. We’re very proud of them and the work they do!

Archaeologists in their element.

Archaeologists in their element.

Even trainees who only spend a couple of days with us get the chance to contribute to the site archive, and this week we had 5 tasters joining us. Caroline, Lisa and Lyn joined us at the start of the week and made good headway on the medieval deposits within the old Rectory walls that David and Kathryn had been working on in week 3. They excavated and recorded another dump deposit from this sequence, meaning they’d been able to have a go at trowelling, sieving, cleaning, photography, a 1:20 drawn plan, levels and a context card. Furthermore they were shown how archaeologists date features by pottery type, and so it turned out their deposit might be as early as the 13th Century in date!

A busy taster day in the medieval period.

A busy taster day in the medieval period.

Later in the week, tasters Ann and Pat continued to work on the same area and found another layer of dumping material, this time with a concentration of animal bone and clearance from a hearth. “But surely one dump deposit is the same as them all,” you may ask; however we have been able to see changes within each successive layer. Every pit, post hole, dump, grave or layer (etc. etc.) is indication of a newly discovered event in history and therefore needs to be recorded as a unique context. By week 4, our trainees had already identified nearly 750 of these historic events, adding to a detailed timeline of the changing ways the site has been used.

Ann and Pat descending further back in time.

Ann and Pat descending further back in time.

The way in which we differentiate one layer from another, particularly with something as mixed up as a dumping layer, is not just the colour of the soil but the compaction, composition, inclusions and the finds. Ann, Pat and Clare’s dumping had hearth debris in it, whereas the overlying dump deposit only had occasional flecks of charcoal – not the same as the waste from cleaning out a hearth. So there you have it, two different types of dumping from two different events.

Work continuing in our medieval sondage.

Work continuing in our medieval sondage (left).

If the complexity of the deposition in this little sondage continues as we go further down (and therefore further back in time), we ‘ll gain a detailed insight into the site’s medieval development. As the rest of the site is so densely populated with burials from the 19th Century, this area offers our only uninterrupted look into the pre-1826 landscape at North Street. Our week 4 tasters, despite only being here for a couple of days each at most, have helped us understand the beginning (archaeologically speaking) of a potentially extensive sequence of dumping relating to the medieval occupation of this site.

Sorting and bagging finds prior to specialist analysis.

Sorting and bagging finds prior to specialist analysis.

Over the course of the week the trainees also enjoyed our specialist sessions on pottery, conservation, small finds and stratigraphy, and when it got a bit too hot in the trench, refuge was sought  either finds washing under the welcome shade of the Tree of Finds (the ‘Stratigratree’ on Fridays) or bagging dry finds in the cool of the church.

Escaping the heat beneath the tree of finds.

Escaping the heat beneath the tree of finds.

As with any of our washing and bagging sessions, occasionally something more unique will crop up. This week we found a bit of 18th Century transfer ware with this adorable little teapot on it.

Tea, anyone?

Tea, anyone?

Despite the immense heat and shifting lots of earth, the trainees managed to keep smiles on their faces all week long, so a big thanks to all of them for not letting that rare British summer beat them!

The week 4 team.

The week 4 team.

Hopefully there will be more site diaries coming soon so until then, thanks for reading!

-Katie

P.S Week 4 brought lovely weather but also a new site mascot as Planty hadn’t survived winter very well. We now have a fluffy little sparrow fledgling zooming around the site looking for crumbs and crisps, and he wasn’t really bothered how close he had to go to us in order to get his lunch. Sometimes if we didn’t put crumbs down soon enough, he’d just help himself…

Of course, we had to name him Captain Jack.

Captain Jack Sparrow

Captain Jack Sparrow

 

 

Site Diary: Summer Week 3

Following a successful weekend excavation, the third week of the summer dig saw the team continuing to explore the complex archaeology of All Saints, North Street. This week it’s over to York Archaeological Trust field archaeologist Katie Smith to set the scene.

Summer arrives at All Saints.Summer arrives at All Saints.

Summer arrives at All Saints.

Week 3 of the 2016  summer excavation at All Saints saw a continuation of the previous week’s work on a number of burials, as well as venturing into the earlier, pre-burial activities at this fascinating little site. Some of the trainees in week 3 were beginning their second or third weeks of excavation at North Street, and so their Monday action plans consisted of picking up where they left off the previous Friday. Our new trainees for week 3 were inducted and introduced to the site and were raring to get in the trench. However the weather had other plans…

Finds washing beneath the Tree of Finds

Spirits remained high beneath the Tree of Finds despite the rain.

 

Fortunately, by mid-morning the clouds dispersed and it was time to hop in the trench. New starters David and Kathryn began work in one of the earliest parts of the site sequence, within the old rectory walls. This area contains none of the 1824-1856 burials so we have been able to go further and further back in time in a small sondage (archaeology speak for trench within a trench!).

David and Kathryn made good progress in a very clay-rich deposit – clay is always hard going and clingy to dig! Despite this they managed to uncover a range of nice finds, such as animal bone and pottery, which indicated they were working in a medieval midden deposit full of domestic waste.

Trowelling a layer of medieval midden waste.

Trowelling a layer of medieval midden waste.

 

If the medieval dwellings that produced this material lie outside the bounds of our excavation, these deposits may provide the only evidence for what people were doing, using and eating at this point in history.

Just on the other side of the Rectory walls, we step forwards into the 19th Century, where a cluster of infant burials continued to be worked on by Jenni, Annie, Elisa and Federica.

Jenni and Annie teamed up for the week to carry on work on a double infant burial and by midweek they had fully recorded and very carefully lifted the remains ready to be put to rest in the safety of the church.

With work on the double burial completed, a trowel clean of the grave cut revealed that we had yet to reach its base – this meant that further occupants must be present below. Jenni and Annie had more work to do…

Jenni and Annie carefully lifting the decayed remains of a pair of timber coffins.

Jenni and Annie carefully lifting the decayed remains of a pair of timber coffins.

In the neighbouring grave plot, Elisa and Federica continued work on an infant burial which also had a very well preserved, albeit delicate coffin. Once the remains had been removed they meticulously collected all of the coffin fragments down to the tiniest splinters so they could be kept with the burial when it was relocated to the church.

Elisa and Federica excavating a difficult to reach burial.

Elisa and Federica excavating a difficult to reach burial.

All four trainees produced quality records and carried out the excavation and lifting with such care and attention to detail. We always take pride in our trainees as all carry out high standards of work regardless of previous experience and how delicate or difficult some archaeology may be.

Elisa painstakingly removing the last tiny coffin fragments from her and Federica’s infant burial after the remains had been lifted.

Elisa painstakingly removing the last tiny coffin fragments from her and Federica’s infant burial after the remains had been lifted.

Further down the trench Emily and Kaylan began their third weeks as trainees by finishing the recording of an adult burial who was the third inhumation in this particular grave, indicating a likely family plot. By Tuesday they had already exposed, recorded and re-covered the adult. Whether there are more burials lower down is unclear, as we are not lifting adult burials at this point because of their depth and therefore low risk of damage by development.

By working on this difficult inhumation, Kaylan and Emily were able to improve on many of the skills they have been taught over the past few weeks. For a new challenge, the intrepid pair moved to a new area to focus on pre-graveyard archaeology.

Trowel cleaning a post-medieval post pad.

Trowel cleaning a post-medieval post pad.

The theory goes that, prior to becoming a graveyard, the main section of the site would have contained a series of roughly built dwellings or open-fronted workshops that would have been somewhat haphazard in their construction and appearance. One of the most striking pieces of evidence for this is a rather large post pad that has been left in-situ for the past two seasons at North Street.

With the later deposits now cleared away,  we set Emily and Kaylan on the job of excavating the post pad which comprised some fairly hefty masonry! The structure would have provided a solid foundation and would have been capable of supporting considerable structural timbers.

Dismantling a post pad.

Kaylan and Emily dismantling a post pad and getting quite a workout!

After the post pad construction cut was recorded the pair moved on to a post-medieval levelling deposit that immediately pre-dates the structure and recovered some lovely finds.

Kaylan and a fragment of medieval floor tile.

Kaylan and a fragment of medieval floor tile.

Kaylan found part of a glazed floor tile that is similar to other examples from the site and presumably originally made up part of the church floor.

Along with glazed floor tile, we’ve also found bright green glazed roof tile at North Street, which presents an image of a very colourful medieval church.

Emily also had a nice find, a lead seal similar to one found in week 1 by Marie in a nearby grave backfill. These seals can be used for anything from textiles to correspondence as a means of authentication, perhaps after work on the corrosion by our conservation department we might be able to suggest exactly what was happening at North Street that required authenticating!

Emily and her lead seal.

Emily and her lead seal.

Close to Kaylan and Emily, work on University of Newcastle students Hope and Hannah’s well preserved juvenile burial continued as they created a detailed plan drawing of their skeleton.

The detail which goes into the recording done by our trainees is always to a professional standard  – even if it takes a while!

Thankfully, you don’t need to be an artist to draw intricate plans of seemingly tricky things such as skeletons. After a lot of careful measurements, Hope and Hannah were rightly very pleased with their drawing of this particular skeleton.

The drawing even met the exacting standards of our placement Alice!

Alice, Hannah and Hope celebrate a job well done.

Alice, Hannah and Hope celebrate a job well done.

Once recording was completed, Hannah and Hope were able to carefully lift the skeleton and collect the remaining pieces of coffin ready to go into the church for reburial. Needless to say, they did a wonderful job and were able to clean up the grave cut and get it fully recorded by the end of the week.

Molly and Meg excavating in the shade of Contrary Corner.

Molly and Meg excavating in the shade of ‘Contrary Corner’.

At the bottom end of the trench, new starters and University of York students Molly and Meg began work on a somewhat inaccessible burial. This inhumation was particularly difficult  to dig because the lower two thirds of the skeleton lay directly underneath the north east wall of the old Church Hall. Having identified the outline of a grave, they dug steadily downwards until they came across the coffin.

A well preserved 19th century coffin stain.

A well preserved 19th century coffin stain.

In several cases on this site the decorative metal plates of the coffins have been preserved to an extraordinary level, and Molly and Meg’s grave was no exception to this. Meg very carefully cleaned up a particularly nice section of surviving plating on her side which clearly showed the tapered hexagonal shape of the coffin.

Meg and Molly carefully removing the backfill of their grave.

Meg and Molly carefully removing the backfill of their grave.

 

Unfortunately, the preservation wasn’t quite as good on Molly’s side but she was still able to recover some small loose fragments of decorative plating and a lovely copper alloy button from the grave backfill.

Molly and her freshly unearthed copper alloy button.

Molly and her freshly unearthed copper alloy button.

With the midweek addition of one and two day tasters Sue and Robert the trench became a hive of activity from one end to the other.

A very busy trench from top to bottom!

A very busy trench from top to bottom!

Both tasters worked on quite different burials; Sue’s was an infant burial and Robert’s was a much deeper adult burial.

It has been a common theme across the site for infants and juveniles to have some of the most beautiful coffins, and Robert and Sue’s burials followed this trend.

The surviving timber of a 160+ year old coffin

The surviving timber of a 160+ year old coffin

Robert’s coffin was again well preserved and fragments of the elaborate decorative plating had also survived in places. Carrying out careful excavation while reaching into deep cuts is no mean feat!

Robert (foreground) reaching into a deep grave cut, while Federica and Elisa complete a plan drawing.

Robert (foreground) reaching into a deep grave cut, while Federica and Elisa complete a plan drawing.

In Sue’s burial, she was pleased to have recovered a number of tiny pins which may have held a shroud in place. A concentration of pins around the skull may also suggest that the infant was buried with a bonnet pinned to its hair.

Keen-eyed Sue with one of her tiny copper alloy pins.

Keen-eyed Sue with one of her tiny copper alloy pins.

Little things like these are so important because they provide insight into how, even at times of high infant and juvenile mortality rates, families would put a great deal of money and care into the burials of their lost loved ones. When the church records for the burials haven’t survived, the excavations at All Saints and the diligent work of our trainees allow the forgotten to be remembered again.

On Friday the new trainees enjoyed Arran’s usual stratigraphy masterclass, and needless to say Molly, Meg, Kathryn and Hannah did not disappoint, providing abundant bizarre suggestions for the fictional archaeological sequence. There was also a game of spot the placement going on…

Arrans stratigraphy session, complete with mammoths.

Arran’s stratigraphy session, complete with mammoths and a cunningly hidden placement.

Friday came around all too quickly and concluded a very busy week on site. The team had done some great and poignant archaeology and added some new star finds to the increasingly impressive collection. Looking back on the week the stand out find was a fragment of a lead ampulla, found by Jenni.

Jenni and her fragment of a lead ampulla.

Jenni and her fragment of a lead ampulla.

An ampulla is a type of vessel used to store holy water or oils from pilgrimages, particularly in the Middle Ages. Amupllae were originally a type of Roman vessel but were adapted for this later function from the 6th century onwards. The later types relating to pilgrimages were made out of tin, lead and sometimes silver. More extravagant examples featured religious imagery and beautiful decoration.

A lead ampulla.

A lead ampulla.

A complete example of a decorated ampulla was found during York Archaeological Trust’s recent excavations at Hungate and was dated to the 14th-16th centuries.

The handles visible on both Jenni’s and the Hungate example would have been for stringing a cord or chain through in order for the ampulla to be worn around the neck.

Jenni’s find could very possibly be a fragment of another such decorated example, like the Hungate ampulla. It’s an interesting thought to imagine that one of the medieval patrons of All Saints could have been the person who made a pilgrimage to Rome or who knows where, and returned with this precious and tiny holy cargo.

This wonderful artefact may have travelled across Europe and seen Rome at the height of its medieval splendour. Furthermore, as all that remains of Jenni’s ampulla is the corner, having been snipped off from the body of the vessel, we also know that the contents were decanted and used.

The Hungate ampulla. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust.

The Hungate ampulla. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust.

 

All in all to say it was only week 3 of 12, immense progress had been made by our fantastic trainees on so many areas of the site.

We can’t do this dig without the trainees and they do make everything such good fun, so thank you again to all of you for making Archaeology Live! possible.

 

The week 3 team

The week 3 team

As the Saturday at the end of week 3 marked the beginning of the Festival of Archaeology, we held an open day at All Saints where members of the public were able to come and look through our finds, have talks on what the archaeology was telling us about the site so far and tours around the stained glass within the church (it is some of the finest medieval stained glass in the country!).

Becky, Ellen and Katie declare the open day open!

Becky, Ellen and Katie declare the open day open!

We had lots of people of all ages and from different countries pop in to have a look around the site and it was a pleasure to share our discoveries with so many. It was particularly encouraging to meet our younger visitors who were very tenacious and keen to know what everything was!

Showing off our latest finds.

Showing off our latest finds.

Thank you to everyone who came along, we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did! Also, thanks for reading my first Archaeology Live! site diary, there’ll be more to follow very soon!

-Katie

PS. There was one more… unusual artefact discovered in week three. Found in a 1990s intrusion, meet ‘Princess Head’.

Princess Head. It's best not to ask...

Princess Head. It’s best not to ask…

 

 

Site Diary: Summer Week 2

Week two of the 2016 summer excavation saw much of the All Saints team continue to explore the funerary landscape of the early to mid-19th century, adding new knowledge to a complex picture of tradition and remembrance. While numerous burials were meticulously recorded, a small group of trainees investigated the site’s more distant past.

Not a bad day for digging!

Excavation of burials close to the walls of All Saints Rectory.

Across the majority of the site, adult and infant burials are laid out in rows that follow the alignment of the long axis of the church. The graves respect each other and there is only sparse evidence of graves intercutting, and no evidence of new burials knowingly damaging in-situ remains. This indicates that the graves must have been clearly marked and that care was clearly taken to avoid damaging existing burials.

By the north-eastern wall of the former Rectory, however, lies a notable concentration of infant burials that are laid out in no clear order, with many grave cuts overlapping with each other. This area makes for an intriguing break in an otherwise clear trend of burial tradition at All Saints.

Excavation of a cluster of infant burials.

Excavation of a cluster of infant burials.

Quite why this area of the graveyard is so disordered and densely occupied is open for debate, although it has been suggested that there is an affinity with burial at the tower end of a churchyard, as this then associates the interred with the most impressive aspect of the church.

The negative stigma attached to burial on the north side of churches was certainly in decline by the early 19th century, perhaps as much a result of pragmatism as opposed to anything more ideological. After all, people had to be buried somewhere and space was getting tight!

When the area was consecrated in 1826, the church will obviously not have known that York’s churchyards would all be closed in 1854. Could the idea have been to fill the space as much as possible, working out from the Rectory walls to the north-east? We can only speculate at present, as no church records have survived relating to the churchyard at this point.

Careful excavation of a double infant inhumation.

Careful excavation of a double infant inhumation.

This lack of historic context makes the meticulous work of our trainees very significant as it will be down to the archaeology alone to tell the story of this part of the site’s history. By carefully picking apart the sequence of burials in this area, we will be able to analyse and better understand the funerary practices of the time.

Rhiannon and Jenni (foreground) working on a double burial.

Rhiannon and Jenni (foreground) working on a double burial.

Jenni and Rhiannon spent their week exposing the remains of two infants  that had been extensively damaged by 19th century animal burrowing. This disturbance meant that parts of the skeletons had been moved or, in some cases, were missing altogether. Despite these difficulties, the pair were able to fully reveal and record the two individuals, finding evidence that they were buried simultaneously. Whether the two infants were siblings may never be known, but it is a distinct possibility.

Kaylan and Emily teamed up for their second week on site to finish lifting and recording an infant burial that had been started the previous week.

Kaylan, Katie and Emily collating the records for their burial.

Kaylan, Katie and Emily collating the records for their burial.

With this task completed, Kaylan and Emily recorded and began to excavate another grave backfill. Two infant burials had already been lifted from within this grave plot and it was suspected that an adult lied beneath. As it turned out, the adult was interred at a significant depth!

Kaylan and Emily reaching into a deep inhumation.

Kaylan and Emily reaching into a deep inhumation.

Emily and her star find.

Emily and her star find.

Confined spaces and deep features can make for uncomfortable digging positions but Kaylan and Emily’s patient work paid off and, by the end of the week, they had located the skull of a deeply buried adult.

A noteworthy find was a corroded ring made of copper alloy. Whether it was a decorative object or something more mundane will have to wait until the find is investigated by YAT’s Conservation Lab.

After recording and excavating an infant individual within the cluster of  burials by the Rectory, Italian archaeologists Federica and Elisa turned their attention to a deep feature close to the edge of the trench.

As the feature descended ever deeper, the pair became a little tough to spot…

They're down there somewhere!

They’re down there somewhere!

At first, the feature was believed to be another burial, albeit one of the later ones in the sequence. As Elisa and Federica slowly troweled away the material infilling the feature, however, disarticulated fragments of human bone began to appear. This was an unexpected development as we have had almost no evidence of burials disturbing earlier inhumations.

Federica and Elisa in their deep linear feature.

Federica and Elisa in their deep linear feature.

The feature’s proximity to the Church Hall wall that was built six years after the 1854 closure of York’s graveyards provided a clue as to what was happening.

The human remains that had been disturbed were originally buried as part of our 1826-1854 phase of burials, however, they were disturbed when the boundary wall separating the graveyard from Church Lane  was robbed out between 1854 and 1860.

Whoever dug out this trench to recover stone from the demolished boundary wall clearly paid no regard to the burials they were disturbing, simply throwing broken fragments back into the finished trench as it was backfilled.

As the churchyard had only been closed for a few years when this robbing event occurred, this is an unpleasant circumstance to consider and shows how values have changed since Victorian times.

Anna and India lifting an infant skeleton.

Anna and India exposing an infant skeleton.

Two further infant burials were investigated by Annie, India and Anna, yielding interesting new possibilities. Some burials appeared to overlie further inhumations within the same plot, whereas some seemed to be single interments.

Annie and Ellen recording an infant burial.

Annie and Ellen recording an infant burial.

 

Annie cleaning up a grave cut for photography.

Annie cleaning up a grave cut for photography.

Over the course of the week, four burials were exposed and recorded in this area, all by trainees with little or no prior archaeological experience. The quality of the records they produced and the careful, delicate excavation they carried out is to be commended.

Away from the Rectory area, Kate and Marie-Soleil continued work on a complicated sequence within a single grave plot.

Graves with a single occupant can be relatively easy to spot. After troweling an area clean, a rectangle of more mixed, often looser material will be revealed which can then be recorded and investigated. When grave plots are opened, backfilled and re-opened numerous times, these edges can become much less defined, as numerous overlapping cuts are now present in one space.

Kate and Marie-Soleil creating a plan drawing.

Kate and Marie-Soleil creating a plan drawing.

With some skilled troweling, Kate and Marie-Soleil were able to follow the suspected edge of the latest grave cut and made a surprising discovery – not one, but two coffins!  At the south-west end of the cut, the tiny coffin of an infant began to emerge, while the larger coffin of a juvenile individual occupied the north-eastern half of the grave.

Cleaning up a decayed coffin.

Cleaning up a decayed coffin.

After over 150 years in the ground, the majority of the organic materials of the coffins have long since decayed, although the presence of metal plates and fittings can slow this process. In some cases, a thin line of decayed wood and corroded iron and brass can still show us the size and shape of the coffins and Kate and Marie-Soleil’s larger coffin was particularly clear.

Marie-Soleil cleaning up the coffin of a juvenile individual.

Marie-Soleil cleaning up the coffin of a juvenile individual.

The infant burial was recorded and lifted first and proved to be heavily affected by animal burrowing, with much of the skull and torso missing. The larger coffin was then cleaned up for photography and recording.

The coffin of a juvenile interred between 1826 and 1854.

The timber coffin of a juvenile interred between 1826 and 1854.

By the end of the week, the burial was fully recorded and ready to be lifted in week 3. The juvenile was too young to suggest a gender, but a slight curvature in the femurs may suggest that the child had suffered from malnutrition in life. A sobering reminder of the often cruel realities of life in 19th century Britain.

Kate completing her coffin plan.

Kate completing her coffin plan.

While the week two team took great strides forward in our understanding of the 19th century burial ground, some of the team were also delving further back into the site’s past.

Hannah and Hope set to work in the centre of the trench.

Hannah and Hope set to work in the centre of the trench.

Newcastle University students Hannah and Hope proved that a huge amount of information can be derived from a very small amount of archaeology as they  started work on a thin peninsula of archaeology that was cut on two sides by a pair of later burials.

As well as pre-dating the burials of the early to mid-19th century, the sequence was also earlier than a stone and tile oven feature that once sat within an 18th century workshop.

The uppermost deposit was a compacted layer of silt and sand that overlaid a number of thin, laminated dumps of mortar and beaten earth – we were clearly looking at floor surfaces that had been laid and relaid numerous times.

It is common for rough surfaces such as these to be frequently replaced, as simple beaten earth horizons are prone to rapid wear. As Hannah and Hope recorded and lifted each subsequent deposit, one possible reason for the need to refresh the floors so frequently  became clear – subsidence.

Each layer of Hannah and Hope’s floor sequence proved to be far from flat and some tended to slope quite steeply downwards. The most likely reason for this is the presence of earlier pits below the workshop floors, with soft, organic fills that settle over time.

Hope cleaning a truncated pit cut prior to photography.

Hope cleaning a sloping surface prior to photography.

Clearly, the occupier of this workshop would have frequently found hollows appearing in the floor and would have been forced to deposit layers of soil, sand and mortar to provide a level working surface. Perhaps unsurprisingly, after excavating a number of such layers, Hannah and Hope came across a shallow pit – a possible culprit for the subsidence.

Further work may reveal a huge number of refuse and cess pits that pre-date both the 19th century burials and 18th century workshops. Quite why so many pits occupy this space will remain a mystery for now.

In the foreground, Bri begins work on a medieval levelling deposit.

In the foreground, Bri begins work on a medieval levelling deposit.

At the southern end of the trench, work also continued on the earliest sequence of deposits that have been encountered so far.

The southern boundary of the 19th century burial ground was the northern wall of All Saints Rectory, which stood until 1854-59.

Within the footprint of this building, there has been far less damage to the medieval and post-medieval horizon than elsewhere on-site, which gives us a far greater chance of understanding the site’s pre-18th century sequence.

This week, it was up to people taking part in our one and two day taster courses to further investigate this area and good progress was made. Following the excavation of a layer of silt dating to the 14th century, a more compacted layer was unearthed that may once have been a surface.

Taralea helping Alison and Helen create a new context record.

Taralea helping Alison and Helen create a new single context record.

This deposit proved to be very shallow and, by the end of the week, a small pit/post hole was found beneath it. Although our small slot into the medieval horizon was only getting started, interesting questions were already beginning to emerge.

  • Were we within the footprint of a building that pre-dates the 14th century Rectory?
  • Were we in an open yard space?
  • Was the area in industrial or domestic (or both!) use at this point?

As usual, each discovery brought with it new questions, but the team remained hopeful that we would be able to characterise this sequence of medieval archaeology.

Per and Janet recording a pit backfill.

Per and Janet recording a medieval pit backfill.

Beneath the Tree of Finds, the team continued to make inroads into tackling our ever growing mountain of finds and some previously unnoticed treasures emerged as countless tubs of finds were cleaned up.

Finds washing in the sun.

Finds washing in the sun.

The undoubted highlight was a fragment of medieval stained glass with paint still visible, a vivid reminder of the pomp and colour that would have characterised All Saints in its medieval heyday.

Medieval stained glass.

Medieval stained glass.

 

The team were excited to see the brushstrokes of a medieval artisan still surviving on the glass. While we’ll never know how the complete image would have looked, it remains a wonderful little find!

All told, week two of the summer excavation comfortably kept up the momentum of week one and the site changed visibly in a short space of time.

Massive thanks to all of the trainees and placements that made the week such a success!

The week two team.

The week two team.

Two weeks down, ten to go. Some questions answered, countless more posed. We had our work cut out for us!

A frequent sight at All Saints: Arran and Becky checking the week two records.

A frequent sight at All Saints: Arran and Becky checking the week two records.

Watch this space for more site diaries, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

PS. During week two, Arran and Becky became aware of a peril of asking younger placements to take a few working shots: The #ArchaeologySelfie

Ellen and Taralea in an #ArchaeologySelfie

Ellen and Taralea in an #ArchaeologySelfie

Site Diary: Summer Week 1

In the months leading up to our flagship summer excavation, bookings went through the roof. By the beginning of week one, 96% of the spaces in all 12 weeks of the dig were already booked up. All the signs suggested we were in for a hectic and eventful summer – they weren’t wrong! Here’s the first site diary from the 2016 summer dig at All Saints, North Street.

Guess who's back...

Guess who’s back…

The Archaeology Live! training excavations are the flagship public archaeology project of York Archaeological Trust. Each year, trainees from across the world converge on York to work on some of the most complex and fascinating archaeology that the UK has to offer, working all the while under the guidance of a crack team of full-time professional archaeologists.

The 2016 season at All Saints, North Street marked our third consecutive summer at this remarkable little site and the team were poised and ready to answer some of the myriad questions that have arisen around the site’s long and storied history.

Work begins on day one, week one of the summer excavation.

Work begins on day one, week one of the summer excavation.

It was something of a breathless start! In the months leading up to the summer season, the YAT fieldwork department had been kept very busy on a number of excavations across Yorkshire and the largest of these was still in full swing. This meant that regular All Saints supervisor Gary wasn’t available to take his usual post alongside Arran in running the All Saints dig. With Project Director Toby running the St Saviour’s excavation, new blood was clearly required.

Becky (left) in full recording mode.

Becky (left) in full recording mode.

Enter Becky!

Becky’s archaeological career began in 2010, when she took part in Archaeology Live! at Hungate. Since then, Becky has gained her degree in archaeology at Edinburgh and completed countless weeks as an Arch Live! placement. All of this culminated in Becky being taken on by YAT at the end of the 2015 season.

Now a fully fledged professional, Becky was back to help Arran with the running of the site.

Airdropped in from a large rural excavation, Arran and Becky gathered tools, prepared the site and welcomed the new team. The summer season was finally underway!

Emily and Simon working on an infant burial.

Emily and Simon working on an infant burial.

With a primary aim of the season being the identification of the remaining 19th century burials that are spread across the site, the majority of the team picked up work on a number of burials. Both Emily and Simon and Sue and Gill were given the delicate task of excavating and recording infant burials, making excellent headway over the course of the week.

Sue and Gill excavating an infant burial.

Sue and Gill excavating an infant burial.

Both burials turned out to house multiple occupants, presumably related individuals within a family plot. Emily and Simon’s inhumation proved to be in good condition and featured a well-preserved coffin. Sue and Gill’s burial was found directly below an infant that had been lifted during the spring excavation. This unusual burial was found interred with a coin in its left hand, an interesting throwback to an ancient tradition.

The underlying individual proved to be very challenging indeed, with the legs having partially collapsed into an underlying void. Untangling which remains belonged to which individual required some painstaking trowel work, something that Sue and Gill coped with admirably.

By the end of the week, both burials were fully recorded and had begun to be lifted. Due to the shallow depth and vulnerability to erosion of the infant burials, we had been requested by the church to carefully lift the infants and juveniles for re-burial in the safety and sanctity of the church.

Recording using a planning frame.

Recording using a planning frame.

In the centre of the trench, Sarah and Marie-Soleil began work on what was believed to be an adult burial, a task with unique challenges of its own. Careful trowel cleaning had revealed the outline of a rectangular feature that pre-dated a number of burials, the size of which suggested that a fully mature person would be interred within.

As the adults have tended to be buried at a greater depth than the infants, there is a far greater volume of grave backfill to excavate, but this doesn’t make it time to break out the mattock. On a site full of family grave plots, it is impossible to know whether or not infant or juvenile burials are stacked on top of the underlying adult. Marie-Soleil and Sarah had a lot of patient troweling to do!

Sarah and Marie-Soleil working on a burial

Sarah and Marie-Soleil working on a burial

Despite taking a fittingly measured approach, good progress was made and some interesting finds were soon unearthed. The value of sieving was proved by the discovery of this mysterious little object.

An ossified segment of a goose trachea.

An ossified segment of a goose trachea.

The soil conditions in York offer a remarkable level of preservation, allowing a delicate fragment of the trachea of a goose to survive in the ground. Credit also goes to the careful troweling and keen eyes of Marie-Soleil and Sarah! A second finds highlight was a fragment of a decorative 19th century clay pipe bowl. The fleur-de-lys decoration tells us that this pipe may well have been purchased from the Prince of Wales pub that traded on nearby Skeldergate in the 19th century.

Marie-Soleil and her clay pipe bowl.

Marie-Soleil and her clay pipe bowl.

A lead seal/token.

A lead seal/token.

The most exciting find to be recovered from the grave backfill was undoubtedly a circular lead seal or token.

These lead objects can have a variety of uses and forms. In the medieval period, there was a drive to enforce uniformity in the sale of textiles. Lead seals were often used as a method of authenticating the quality and provenance of cloth and were stamped in the same way as coins to produce imagery and text.

Papal bulla are lead seals used to authenticate documents, charters, indulgences, (etc. etc.) from the Catholic church. A number of these have been unearthed in York, sometimes with elaborate stamped imagery.

In the case of Marie-Soleil’s object, a layer of corrosion on the exterior means that we can’t currently say precisely which kind of object it is. This will be a job for our conservation department!

While the majority of the team spent the week working on burials, Arran and Becky had different plans for Kaylan and Sarah. The Anglo-American duo took over the excavation of our infamous (and seemingly bottomless!) ‘horn core pit’, an ever-deepening cut feature filled with the by-products of 18th century horn working.

Sarah and Kaylan tackling some tricky digging.

Sarah and Kaylan tackling some tricky digging.

It all began simply enough, with the expected bounty of cattle horn core and cranium fragments quickly appearing, but there was a surprise in store – an unexpected skull!

Excavation of deep features can require some creative positioning...

Excavation of deep features can require some creative positioning…

One of the real thrills of urban archaeology is that seemingly ironclad theories and interpretations can be destroyed almost as quickly as they are created. Up to this point, the sheer volume of horn core recovered from this feature had naturally led us to presuming that disposal of these waste products had been its primary function. Kaylan and Sarah’s discovery meant that we now knew that we were looking at a burial – but why the concentration of horn core?

Interpreting complex archaeological sequences is an artform in its own right and we encourage our trainees to really get to grips with their features. After a brief period of pondering, postulating and pontificating, Kaylan and Sarah realised that there was a simple explanation for the curious glut of horn core in this one particular burial – and it wasn’t some bizarre Mithraic ritual!

When considered in its context, the burial wasn’t really unusual at all, it just happened to have been placed in the exact location that an earlier horn working waste pit already existed. As the grave was dug out in the 19th century, the spoil, horn and all, was piled up at the side of the grave before being used to cover the newly interred coffin and backfill the hole.

So there we had it. Our horn core pit wasn’t actually a horn core pit after all, just a grave that happened to have disturbed and then re-deposited the backfill of a pre-existing pit.

Kaylan and Sarah planning their burial.

Kaylan and Sarah planning their burial.

This feature highlights the complexity of the archaeology at All Saints, with countless intercutting and overlapping features just waiting to be teased apart by our trainees. Breaking this palimpsest of archaeology down into a sequence is a wonderfully challenging process and, by the end of the week, Kaylan and Sarah had their newly reinterpreted burial fully recorded.

Becky explaining single context recording.

Becky explaining single context recording.

Elsewhere in the trench, Paula and Lisa spent a taster session working on some much older archaeology within the footprint of the former Rectory. Over the course of the 2015 season, this part of the trench had been taken from the 18th to the 14th century, and we were keen to go a little further back in time. To this end, a small area was set aside for a 2m x 1m sondage – a trench within a trench. The first thing to do was to clean the area up and identify the latest archaeological context in the sequence.

Paula and Lisa investigating the medieval horizon.

Paula and Lisa investigating the medieval horizon.

It didn’t take long to identify an amorphous spread of dark, silty material and, once it had been recorded, Lisa and Paula had time to excavate the deposit. A number of sherds of Roman pottery were unearthed, but the crucial finds were an assemblage of splash glazed and locally made green glazed wares. These allowed us to date the deposit to the 14th century, showing that a significant amount of deposition had occurred at this point – perhaps in response to repeated flooding or changing land use. Early signs were very promising for our new sondage!

Working out elevations.

Working out elevations.

Arran leading the stratigraphy session.

Arran leading the stratigraphy session.

 

As the week drew to a close, the summer season’s inaugural stratigraphy session was held beneath the Tree of Finds (or Stratigratree…).

The trainees came up with some surprisingly innovative suggestions and managed to put a sequence of 70 hypothetical contexts into a perfect Harris matrix.

Sarah and Becky

Sarah and Becky

After the long wait for the summer season to begin, the end of week one came about surprisingly quickly. We were up and running and had eleven more weeks to work on some wonderfully complex and unpredictable archaeology!

Taralea and Emily

Taralea and Emily

From unexpected skulls to mysterious lead seals, week one didn’t disappoint at all! The team did some fantastic work despite some difficult features and, perhaps most importantly, everyone had a lot of fun. The stage was set for a vintage year of Archaeology Live!

The week one team

The week one team

We always take the time to thank the team at this point, after all, none of this would happen without them! Cheers guys!

We’ll be adding more site diaries in the coming weeks and detailing the never-ending stream of finds and surprises that made this summer so exciting. Keep your eyes peeled for updates.

In the meantime, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

 

PS. Special mention should go to our placement Katie for her sheer enthusiasm in this session of levelling…

Katie

Adopt the position!!!

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 11

Autumnal clouds looming over All Saints.

Autumnal clouds looming over All Saints.

Week 11 of the summer excavation arrived with an unfamiliar chill in the air. The breeze now carried with it a scattering of fallen leaves and lengthening shadows now stretched across the trench.  Autumn was almost upon us, as was the end of the 2015 season. With just two weeks to go, there were still so many questions to answer and the team couldn’t wait to get started!

Unfortunately, the weather had got a little carried away with the autumnal theme…

Becky, Katie and a LOT of paperwork!

Becky, Katie and a LOT of paperwork!

As the rain poured outside, the team wisely decided to focus on indoor tasks in the warmth and shelter of the church. Sessions on recording methodologies, pottery dating and finds sorting were held while the placements took the opportunity to check a small mountain of records.

Thankfully, Tuesday saw the sunshine make a welcome return and the team sprung to action in the trench.

The sun returns to Church Lane, well, some of it.

The sun returns to Church Lane, well, some of it.

Rosemin and Joanna took over work on an area suspected to have been a processional route into the graveyard that occupied the site between 1826 and 1854.  It didn’t take long for the duo to find their first feature, as they spotted the outline of a post hole.

Rosemin and Joanna investigating a 19th century deposit.

Rosemin and Joanna investigating a 19th century deposit.

Over the previous two weeks, Arran’s ‘That End’ team had been working hard to prove or disprove whether this route into the graveyard had existed. If the theory was correct, we would find no burials in this space and archaeology that pre-dates the 19th century would survive. If the theory was false, then Rosemin and Joanna would discover yet more burials.

The first step in solving the mystery was to excavate the post hole and retrieve some dating material. In doing so, it didn’t take long for the week’s first exciting find to appear – a beautiful sherd of decorated Samian ware.

Jo and her freshly unearthed Roman pot sherd.

Jo and her freshly unearthed Roman pot sherd.

The post hole proved to be fairly substantial, and contained an eclectic mix of ceramics that ranged from Roman to medieval in date.

The omens were good, but could this be a genuine medieval feature or were we being mis-led? After all, it is still possible to find 19th century features that contain no 19th century finds. To definitively prove our theory, we would have to investigate the deposit underlying the post hole.

With the post hole recorded, Joanna and Rosemin began to clean up their area to see what deposit or feature was the next in line to investigate. This proved to be tricky work as the area was a mass of varied colours and textures with no clear cut features.

Joanna and Rosemin - Josemin

Joanna and Rosemin – Josemin

By the end of the week, a number of possible features had been uncovered and, crucially, no grave cuts had as yet become apparent. Our mystery, however, remained firmly unsolved as the mixed material being revealed by Jo and Rosemin still contained early 19th century ceramics – this one was going to go right to the wire!

Edges of uncertain date beginning to emerge.

Edges of uncertain date beginning to emerge.

Over in ‘This End’, Sarah and Stuart had made a brisk start and exposed the outline of a juvenile burial. After recording the grave backfill, they began the delicate process of exposing the remains of the coffin.

Stuart, Sarah and Becky investigating a 19th century infant burial.

Stuart, Sarah and Becky investigating a 19th century infant burial.

Sarah and Stuart’s diligent work was soon rewarded with an enigmatic find – a neatly cut but undecorated lead seal.

Sarah and her lead seal.

Sarah and her lead seal.

As the week progressed, the faint outline of a tiny timber coffin began to appear. This was clearly the burial of a very young individual, perhaps only one or two years old when they died.

Infant and juvenile burials have formed a large proportion of the site’s 60-plus inhumations. This is interesting as the area was not a particularly poor place in the 19th century, indeed all of the burials were furnished with coffins complete with at least some degree of decoration. Clearly, class was no barrier to the very real trials and hardships of the 19th century and high infant mortality affected people of all walks of life.

Excavating a 19th century infant burial.

Excavating a 19th century infant burial.

The remains of the infant within the coffin did indeed show evidence of these hardships, visible in a distinct curvature of both femurs (thigh bones) that can be a clear indicator of malnutrition.

Sarah finishing up her burial records.

Sarah finishing up her burial records.

Excavating features such as these can be a very touching experience, as in doing so we bear witness to the more tragic moments in the lives of York’s 19th century inhabitants. Through archaeology we can glimpse an unfiltered picture of life and, indeed, death in the past and create a permanent record of these forgotten stories.

Over in That End, Alistair was finding more evidence of the tough realities of life in the 19th century.

Hugh, Alistair and Katie recording a burial.

Hugh, Alistair and Katie recording a burial.

 Alistair’s first task of the week was to record the burial of a 19th century adolescent, yet another individual that didn’t survive to adulthood.
With this task completed, Alistair took to the excavation of the neighbouring grave, which proved to be quite remarkable!
Hugh (left) and Alistair (right) working on 19th century burials.

Hugh (left) and Alistair (right) working on 19th century burials.

As Alistair carefully excavated the backfill of the grave, he located and recorded a coffin that is quite typical for the site, a tapered timber hexagon with decorative brass panels.

Timber coffins almost never survive intact, as bacteria in the soil slowly breaks down the wood and eventually causes the collapse of the coffin. At All Saints, we have been able to identify the outlines of these collapsed coffins as the decayed wood can be seen as a dark stain in the soil. Where metal fittings are present, it is common to find fragments of wood still in-situ as the corroding metal can slow the process of decay around it.

Alistair excavating a 19th century burial cut through an 18th century cobbled floor.

Alistair excavating a 19th century burial cut through an 18th century cobbled floor.

With the coffin fully exposed and recorded, Alistair began to expose the remains of the individual within and made a remarkable discovery.

The person buried within the coffin died at around six or seven years of age and clearly lived a difficult life. Close inspection of the remains revealed clear ridges running horizontally across the teeth, an indication that the child had suffered from dental enamel hypoplasia. This condition can manifest itself in teeth and bone and is the result of severe illness and/or malnutrition. Once again we had found evidence of a tough life cut tragically short, but there was still more to learn.

Skeletons of such young individuals are yet to develop the typical traits that help us to identify whether they were male or female, but a quirk of preservation in Alistair’s burial allowed us to hazard a guess. When the coffin gave way and collapsed onto the remains within, part of a decorative metal plate landed directly over the child’s forehead. As a result of its proximity to this corroding metalwork, some of the child’s hair was found to be perfectly preserved.

This was a unique discovery for this excavation, allowing us to see that the child had had short blonde hair. This discovery could suggest that the individual would have been male, as cropped short hair certainly wasn’t the norm for young girls in the 19th century. Another intriguing possibility is that the hair may have been cropped short following a fever, a tradition which was thought to bring down temperatures.

Once again, a new discovery has brought with it yet more questions, however, Alistair’s careful excavation has given us an unprecedented amount of information about a short and difficult life. As the discovery was made, the mood in the trench became understandably sombre, however, it is finds such as these that help to put skeletal remains in a very human context.

Looking north along Church Lane.

Looking north-east along Church Lane.

Elsewhere in That End, Hugh and Abi were also working on 19th century burials. Abi had spent the previous week establishing the true edge of her grave cut and following the outline of one side of a coffin. Finding the other side of the coffin was, however, proving rather tricky!

Abi searching for the northern side of her coffin.

Abi searching for the northern side of her coffin.

A combination of variable preservation and the burrowing of a 19th century rabbit was making this already delicate task more difficult than usual.

Abi’s patience, however, was thankfully rewarded by an interesting find, a well-preserved fragment of a glazed medieval tile that would have been part of the church floor centuries ago.

Abi and her medieval glazed floor tile.

Abi and her medieval glazed floor tile.

Like Alistair, Hugh made some very unexpected discoveries within his burial. The grave cut was situated close to a pair of structural features that were thought to pre-date the grave; a mortared stone footing and a feature made of medieval brick. As excavation progressed, it became apparent that the brickwork was not a medieval feature after all – it was built within the cut of the burial!

Hugh (below the YAT banner) working on his burial.

Hugh (below the YAT banner) working on his burial.

While some burials have featured post holes at the head end that may have supported a cross, Hugh’s discovery is the first surviving example of a substantial 19th century grave marker that has been found at All Saints.

Hugh exposing a 19th century brick and stone grave marker.

Hugh exposing a 19th century brick and stone grave marker.

Once fully exposed, the brickwork proved to be un-mortared and built over a block of limestone. The structure made use of recycled medieval brick and gave us evidence that the individual who built it wasn’t the most diligent undertaker. Bizarrely, the grave marker had been built directly over the top of the coffin and when this eventually collapsed, the whole structure appears to have collapsed with it, sinking deeper into the grave and crushing the skull of the individual buried within.

The fact that none of our 19th century burials have been found to intercut suggests that the burials were clearly marked above ground. Hugh’s unusual sequence allows us to see what kind of monuments were in place and shows us that some 19th century individuals may not have taken a great deal of pride in their work!

As well as 19th century burials, week 11 also saw the excavation of some much earlier features.

Sarah, Julie, Elizabeth

Sarah, Julie, Elizabeth and Dave clearly enjoying their sieving!

Julie and Elizabeth spent a two day taster session working on medieval deposits in the south-west corner of the trench. The sequence was a complex one, with an interweaving mass of dumps and pits occupying a space that was later built over by the medieval Rectory.

Julie and Elizabeth planning a medieval pit backfill.

Julie and Elizabeth planning a medieval pit backfill.

Records suggest that the church acquired the land in the 14th century, and the ceramics from Julie and Elizabeth’s deposit comfortably pre-date this. In fact, the majority of the pottery was Anglo-Norman in date (11th-12th century) and were typified by the coarse gritty wares of the period.

The interior of a Norman gritty ware cooking pot.

The interior of a Norman gritty ware cooking pot.

These coarse, hard-wearing vessels were almost always cooking pots or storage jars. Many exhibit clear charring on the exterior and would have been used to cook countless meals almost a millennium ago.

The fire-blackened exterior face of the same sherd.

The fire-blackened exterior face of the same sherd. Clear grooves of the potter’s fingers can also be seen in the fabric.

Karen and Phillip, also joining us for a two day taster, picked up work on an area they had investigated in the spring excavation. In a spur of later medieval dumping that survives between two 19th century graves, the pair found a huge range of ceramics and domestic waste.

Karen and Phillip digging in the autumn sunshine.

Karen and Phillip digging in the autumn sunshine.

The frequent occurrence of Roman pottery mixed in with animal bone and medieval ceramics suggests that the deposit was laid down as a levelling event, raising and flattening the ground level.

Clearly, a combination of primary domestic dumping and material excavated from nearby pits was utilised, which explains why so much upcast Roman material was present.

Karen and Phillip.

Karen and Phillip sieving their medieval levelling layer.

Stuart, who took part in YAT’s community excavations on the site of York’s forthcoming Community Stadium, spent two days working on a tiny island of medieval archaeology that had survived between a 19th century concrete footing and a later medieval post hole.

Stuart exposing a medieval feature.

Stuart exposing a layer of charcoal beneath a pair of stones.

Despite the massive amount of later intrusions, Stuart was able to identify and record a number of contexts including a dump rich in charcoal. The post hole that cuts the deposits is thought to have been part of the original medieval Rectory, therefore Stuart’s sequence must relate to activity pre-dating the church’s acquisition of the land.

Several metres away Anne, Eileen and Denis spent their week working on similar material, discovering a laminated sequence of ashy medieval deposits that also pre-date the Rectory.

Anne working on a sequence of medieval deposits.

Anne working on a sequence of medieval deposits.

A small post hole was found cutting through theses laminated deposits, complete with a pad of stone at the base of the cut.

Denis and Anne's medieval post hole.

Denis and Anne’s medieval post hole.

Finds were not plentiful from this sequence as disposal of material from hearth clearance appears to have been the main activity taking place at this point. Anne was, however, lucky enough to discover a fragment of a very large medieval jug.

Anne and her medieval pot sherd.

Anne and her medieval pot sherd.

Week 11 also saw Toby and the finds team continuing to clean up some fascinating finds, the most enigmatic being this unusual object.

One ring to rule them all...

One ring to rule them all…

This tiny bone object is actually the ossified trachea of a goose which, unsurprisingly, wasn’t the first guess of any of the trainees!

A small copper alloy object was recovered from a 19th century context and may have been part of a decorative medieval(?) strap end.

A tiny copper alloy fitting.

A tiny copper alloy fitting.

All too quickly, 5pm on Friday was upon us and the team’s thoughts naturally began to turn pubwards.

Week 11 saw us make some particularly solemn discoveries, with the infant burials making for a very emotive insight into the welfare of the 19th century parishioners of All Saints, North Street. Each discovery we make brings us closer to our goal of understanding how life on the site has changed over the centuries for the people who lived and worked here and how the area has developed and changed.

Recording in progress.

Recording in progress.

With more burials discovered and recorded and excellent progress being made on our medieval features, the week proved to be a huge success. Thanks to all of the trainees and placements for their hard work, especially in the changeable autumn weather!

The week eleven team.

The week eleven team in formation.

With week 11 in the bag, we were about to enter the final week of the summer. As ever, there were a few surprises in store for us yet. There’s never a dull moment on North Street!

Almost there then, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

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