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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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Site Diary: Week 10

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

Digging in the August sunshine.

Digging in the August sunshine.

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

Recording a medieval stone footing.

Recording a medieval stone footing.

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

A rough stone footing.

A rough stone footing.

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

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

Anne cleaning up a 14th century levelling deposit.

Anne cleaning up a 14th century levelling deposit.

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

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

Denis exposing a layer of burnt material.

Denis exposing a layer of burnt material.

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

Anne following the edge of a spread of burnt material.

Anne following the edge of a spread of burnt material.

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

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

Eileen's fragment of medieval masonry.

Eileen’s fragment of medieval masonry.

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

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

Bri excavating a medieval levelling deposit.

Bri excavating a medieval levelling deposit.

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

Recording a medieval context.

Recording a medieval context.

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

Archaeo-ladleing

Archaeo-ladleing

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

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

Sam, Theo and Sam.

Sam, Theo and Sam.

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

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

Levelling a medieval pit cut.

Theo levelling a medieval pit cut.

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

Sam excavating a medieval levelling dump.

Sam excavating a medieval levelling dump.

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

Sam's medieval seal jug fragment.

Sam’s medieval seal jug fragment.

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

A sherd of a medieval seal jug.

A sherd of a medieval seal jug.

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

Looking north-east across That End'

Looking north-east across ‘That End’

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

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

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

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

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

Sue and John.

Sue and John.

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

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

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

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

John's star find!

John’s star find!

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

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

Josef hard at work within his sondage.

Josef hard at work within his sondage.

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

Josef performing some acrobatic feats of excavation.

Josef performing some acrobatic feats of excavation.

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

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

Josef discovering the base of his cut feature.

Josef discovering the base of his cut feature.

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

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

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

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

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

Bill and Lynne excavating in the centre of the trench.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lead from a 19th century stained glass repair.

Lead from a 19th century stained glass repair.

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

Mark and his prehistoric discovery.

Mark and his prehistoric discovery.

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

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

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

A highly worn dog tooth.

A highly worn dog tooth.

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

A clucking great find...

A clucking great find…

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

Gary begins the end of week wrap-up.

Gary begins the end of week wrap-up.

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

The week ten team

The week ten team

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

Ominous skies over All Saints...

Ominous skies over All Saints…

Until next time, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

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

Ellen takes a breather...

Ellen takes a breather…

 

 

 

 

 

One & two week courses

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

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

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

 

Summer Excavation 2019

2019 DATES TBC

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

 

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

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

A Viking spindle whorl unearthed Summer 2014.

A Viking spindle whorl unearthed Summer 2014.

One week course

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

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

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

Two week course

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

Costs

Duration                                       Price                                   Returnee/Friends of YAT

One week TBC TBC
Two weeks TBC TBC
Three weeks TBC TBC
Four weeks TBC TBC

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

CIfA National Occupational Standards for Archaeological Practice

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

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

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

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

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

E-mail: trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

Mobile: +44 (0) 7908 210026

The week nine team.

The 2015 week nine team.

Site Diary: Week 8

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

IMG_8269

The All Saints, North Street excavation.

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

Gary's team giving the trench a clean.

Gary’s team giving the trench a clean.

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

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

Zena and Mazda investigating a beaten earth surface.

Zena and Mazda investigating a beaten earth surface.

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

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

Linda and Janice excavating a suspected 19th century burial.

Linda and Janice excavating a suspected 19th century burial.

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

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

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

Rachel and Liss discussing their sequence.

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

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

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

Pandora, Robert and Steve.

Pandora, Robert and Steve.

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

Itab working on her post hole.

Itab working on her post hole.

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

Itab's post hole.

Itab’s post hole during excavation.

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

Zena and Mazda digging in the afternoon sun.

Digging in the afternoon sun.

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

Itab planning her feature.

Itab planning her feature.

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

Steve exposing a late medieval deposit.

Steve exposing a late medieval deposit.

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

Kirsten working on an infant burial.

Kirsten working on an infant burial.

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

Kirsty and her first find.

Kristy and her first find.

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

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

Ann and Gus looking for new features.

Ann and Gus looking for new features.

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

Rachel and Liss asess their new discovery.

Rachel and Liss asess their new discovery.

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

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

Pandora beginning to disappear from sight!

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

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

Pandora's Roman minim

Pandora’s Roman minim

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

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

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

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

Janice and her medieval marvel!

Janice and her medieval marvel!

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

Janice's shard of painted window glass.

Janice’s shard of painted window glass.

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

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

All Saints in the August sunshine.

All Saints in the August sunshine.

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

Well, not straight away anyway…

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

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

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

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

Mazda planning a deposit while Toby leads a site tour.

Mazda planning a deposit while Toby leads a site tour.

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

Kristy and Ann

Kristy and Ann

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

Itab and Rachel

Itab and Rachel

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

You're just showing off now.

You’re just showing off now Pandora…

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

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

A suitably delighted Pandora!

A suitably delighted Pandora!

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

Pandora's beautiful cornelian intaglio.

Pandora’s beautiful cornelian intaglio.

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

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

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

A Roman intaglio from the Hungate excavations.

A Roman intaglio from the Hungate excavations.

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

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

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

Kirsten and Robert backfilling a fully recorded backfill.

Kirsten and Robert backfilling a fully recorded backfill.

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

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

Kirsten's Samian sherd.

Kirsten’s Samian sherd.

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

Liss and Rachel planning a burial.

Liss and Rachel planning a burial.

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

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

Mazda and Zena

Mazda (left) and Zena (right)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheryl and Lydia were an effective mother/daughter team!

Cheryl and Lydia were an effective mother/daughter team!

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

Pandora taking section photographs.

Pandora taking section photographs.

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

A peek into Contrary Corner.

A peek into Contrary Corner.

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

Liss and Rachel descending into the post-medieval period.

Liss and Rachel descending into the post-medieval period.

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

A sandy surface under excavation.

A sandy surface under excavation.

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

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

Toby's small finds session.

Toby’s small finds session.

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

The matrix masterclass

The matrix masterclass

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

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

The week eight team

The week eight team

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

Best get digging then, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

 

 

 

 

 

Site Diary: Week 6

Week six begins.

Week six begins.

Week six of Archaeology Live! started out dry and bright. While the new starters were being inducted, the continuing trainees got straight down to work.

And then it rained.

For two days.

Thankfully, there is far more to archaeology than excavation, so the team retreated to the warm and dry comforts of our site hut – which just so happens to be one of York’s finest medieval churches!

Jess, Taralea, Linda, Kent and Ted sorting finds.

Jess, Taralea, Linda, Kent and Ted sorting finds.

Digging in York means you can count on a lot of finds! Well over two millennia of constant occupation means that an amazing range of objects can be recovered from even the most unassuming of features – and all of these have to be properly dealt with.

Toby and the finds team took advantage of the poor weather to catch up with the sorting and bagging of clean and dry finds. This involved dividing the assemblage into categories such as pottery, animal bone, shell, and so on – it also afforded an opportunity to weed out any as yet un-noticed treasures. The sharp eyes of Taralea spotted one such thing, a beautifully worked bone object.

Taralea's small find.

Taralea’s small find.

The worked bone plate may once have been part of an inlay, perhaps for a elaborately decorated book. When the excavation is completed, enigmatic objects like these will be sent for specialist assessment where we hope to learn more about them.

A closer look.

A closer look.

While the finds team were hard at work sorting and cataloguing hundreds of artefacts, Gary, Arran and Gus gave the new starters an introduction to all of the techniques they would be using in the trench. This meant that when the sun finally came out late on Tuesday, the team were primed and ready to go!

Sunshine!!

Sunshine!!

Jess and Sarah spent their week working on an evocative and challenging feature, an infant burial.

The Rectory that occupied the southern part of the site until the 1850s was separated from the graveyard (active 1826-54) by a brick boundary wall. For some reason, the area to the immediate north of this wall is home to a notable concentration of infant and juvenile burials.

Sarah and Jess.

Sarah and Jess.

As church records for this period have not survived, the reason for this concentration can only be guessed at. Perhaps the area was purposely set aside for younger people, perhaps we are seeing evidence of a pandemic event; while we may never know the full story, we are nonetheless left with a highly complex archaeological sequence to pick apart.

Recording a burial.

Deep discussion during the recording of the burial.

Armed only with wooden clay modelling tools (to avoid damaging the delicate bones and coffin remains), Sarah and Jess carefully revealed the remains of the infant within their grave cut and created a detailed record of the burial. With this task completed, the remains were then once again covered over.

Over in Arran’s area (That End), Kent and Linda continued to work on a sequence of structural features that were once part of late 18th century workshops.

Linda cleaning up her tile-lined pit.

Linda cleaning up her tile-lined pit.

Sitting in a small island of archaeology cut by three later graves were the remains of an unusual tile-lined pit topped with a layer of mortar. It had been hoped that excavation of the feature would offer some suggestions as to its function, however, with work on this completed, we were left distinctly none the wiser. Answers on a postcard please…

The completed pit cut freed up an earlier earthen surface for recording and excavation, a process that revealed an even earlier post hole.

Linda exposing a post hole.

Linda exposing a post hole.

Now well into their second week, Linda and Kent proved to be quite the team, making short work of the post hole and then an earlier mortar surface.

Kent and Linda planning a surface.

Kent and Linda planning a surface.

By the end of their fortnight, the US pair had recorded and excavated an impressive number of contexts and revealed the pre-burial industrial phase of activity to be very busy indeed!

Gus, Kent and Linda discussing their findings.

Gus, Kent and Linda discussing their findings.

Christine and Hattie spent their taster days working on a burnt, ashy deposit overlying a large piece of masonry.

Christine lifting an ashy deposit.

Christine lifting an ashy deposit.

As work continued, the ashy material was found to overlay a stone and mortar surface that may have once been the base of a hearth. The section of a later grave that cuts this sequence reveals that there are a number of burnt deposits that are associated with the feature. Hopefully, some material may survive that can tell us how and when this feature was used.

Hattie exposing a possible hearth base.

Hattie exposing a possible hearth base.

Ted and Pandora took over from Clive and Juliet in a slot into the site’s medieval horizon (see the Week 5 site diary).  The relative depth of these deposits reveals just how much the ground level has risen over the last six centuries!

While Linda takes a level on the 2015 ground surface, Ted and Pandora are down in the middle ages...

While Linda takes a level on the 2015 ground surface, Ted and Pandora are working in the middle ages…

 

A sequence of dumps and refuse deposits were painstakingly recorded, excavated and sieved over the course of the week, yielding some interesting finds and a large assemblage of animal bone. This mass of bone can tell us a lot about past diet and animal husbandry.

Sieving material from a medieval deposit.

Sieving material from a medieval deposit.

The standout find of the week for Ted and Pandora was an interesting piece of pottery. At a glance, the sherd appears to be a piece of Roman Calcite Gritted Ware, but features an unusual incised decoration.

Ted's pot sherd.

Ted’s pot sherd.

Here’s a closer look.

IMG_8022

We look forward to hearing the specialist’s view on this one!

Meanwhile, in Contrary Corner...

Meanwhile, in Contrary Corner…

Over in Contrary Corner (the really tricky bit of the site), Arran’s latest victims were Katie and Lisa. They began their week by recording and excavating a widespread dump deposit that had been revealed in the previous week.

Recording a new deposit in Contrary Corner.

Recording a new deposit in Contrary Corner.

By taking this dump away, Katie and Lisa revealed a fragment of cobbled surface and rectangular feature that very much resembled a grave backfill.

Can you make out the outline?

Can you make out the outline?

The implications of a grave being located at this point in the sequence were very interesting. The dump of domestic waste excavated in week 5 must have dated to the use of the graveyard – the 19th century residents of All Saints Cottages were literally emptying their bins onto recently occupied graves!

Clearly our Victorian forebears were not particularly respectful of the burial ground on their doorstep, something which in itself throws up further interesting possibilities – were the local population against the demolition of the workshops and conversion of the site to a graveyard? This will, of course, remain pure conjecture but still highlights the power of archaeology to recover such detail about past lives from the ground.

The finds highlight of the week from Contrary Corner was an unusual sherd of burnt Samian ware.

Katie's sherd of samian.

Katie’s sherd of Samian.

Beautifully decorated with a leaf design, the sherd is one of many pieces of Samian to have been found scorched. These residual finds from earlier layers hint at the possibility of burnt Roman refuse deposits lying in wait beneath us.

A closer look.

A closer look.

Over in her slot through the surface of Church Lane, Taralea spent her fourth and final week of the season investigating a linear feature pre-dating the pipe trench that runs down the centre of the lane.

Liss and Taralea.

Liss and Taralea.

Joined by Mancunian archaeology student Liss, Taralea finished the records and got cracking with the excavation! Alongside pieces of disarticulated human bone, a range of ceramics from Roman to early modern were recovered from the backfill.

By the end of the week, the function of the linear was discovered – it was a utility trench containing a pair of cast-iron gas/water pipes.

A pair of pipes emerge.

A pair of pipes emerge.

While this discovery was a slight disappointment, not all of the archaeology beneath Church Lane had been destroyed by services, the section of the cut was revealing a multitude of earlier layers. Unfortunately, this would be a job for week 7.

In her four weeks on-site, Taralea did some excellent work and the team were all sorry to see her go. With a lot of archaeology moved, the Church Lane slot was almost ready to reveal its pre-19th century secrets.

Back in Gary’s area (This End), Pete, Tomasz and Noel had a very productive week working on deposits surrounding our site mascot Planty the Plant.

Pete working on an 18th century dump.

Pete (right) working on an 18th century dump while Planty (left) supervises.

While Planty has now gone to seed and looks a little tired, the hardworking trio made a real impact on the area. A landmark moment was the lifting of the Rectory’s brick floor, something that had become a very familiar sight!

Lifting the brick floor.

Lifting the brick floor.

Below the remaining layers of make-up, Pete and Tomasz came across a burnt layer of industrial waste. Whether this represents the opportunistic sourcing of levelling material or evidence of in-situ industrial activity will be something to investigate in the coming weeks.

Pete and Tomasz.

Pete and Tomasz.

Noel also made a discovery beneath the floor; the clear outline of a post hole. With the end of the week approaching, there was just enough time to get the new deposit recorded.

Noel revealing a post hole.

Noel revealing a post hole.

Back in That End, local acupuncturist Manda spent a productive two day taster session working on a 19th century burial. Building on discoveries made by Rheba in week 5, Manda clarified what had been a somewhat non-commital edge and revealed some tantalising early stratigraphy in section!

Lots of diligent trowel-work was rewarded by the discovery of a large sherd of Roman Greyware!

Manda's Roman discovery.

Manda’s Roman discovery.

Beneath the Tree of Finds, the finds team continued to make inroads on reducing our backlog of artefacts.

Finds washing action shot.

Finds washing action shot.

While washing finds from Steve and Terry’s ‘seafood deposit’ and Ed and Rheba’s pipe trench from week 5, some unexpected objects were encountered! The most curious of these finds was a corroded but recognisable pocket watch!

Have you got the time?

Have you got the time?

Looking at the side, it was even possible to see the cogs within!

Internal gears visible in the corroded watch.

Internal gears visible in the corroded watch.

How this object ended up in a Victorian drain is anyone’s guess!

Another highlight was the paw print of a dog in a medieval roof tile.

Paws for thought.

Paws for thought.

The end of week 6 saw us exactly halfway through the summer 2015 excavation. While it’s hard to believe we’ve already reached this milestone, the site has really started to change! Familiar sights are disappearing, exploratory sondages are growing ever deeper and the flood of fascnating finds is showing no signs of abating!

The week 6 team worked cheerfully through rain and shine and made reaching the halfway point of the dig a lot of fun! Thanks to everyone for coming along!

The week six team.

The week six team.

As ever, we must also thank our team of placements for their tireless efforts to help make Archaeology Live! run so smoothly. Cheers guys!

Becky, Katie, Ellen and Gus

Becky, Katie, Ellen and Gus

As a wise mullet enthusiast from New Jersey once said, ‘whooooooah, we’re halfway there!’

Despite this, I’m happy to report that we are by no means living on a prayer. We’ve had an amazing six weeks of archaeology and still have six more to go.

So, without further ado, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

PS. After coming straight on to Archaeology Live! from YAT’s Dig York Stadium excavation,  it was a real pleasure to have three DYS veterans on site again!

Lisa, Pandora, Manda and Arran - DYS veterans

Lisa, Pandora, Manda and Arran – DYS veterans

 

Site Diary: Week 2

An Archaeology Live! trench is always a fun place to be on a Monday morning. As the new team arrive, the site comes to life with the polite chatter of introductions and the unsheathing of shiny new trowels. Each week sees the arrival of a diverse group of brand new and returning trainees from all over the world, all with a shared passion for exploring the past and an eagerness to learn new skills.

The view from the trench

The view from the trench

As the new team set foot on to site, the weather was overcast but warm and everyone was keen to add to the exciting discoveries of week one.

In Arran’s area (That End), Sue was joined by new starter Dan as she continued to investigate a linear feature that pre-dates the Church Hall (built 1860). The southern half of the same feature was excavated during the 2014 season and proved to be be quite intriguing. Frequent finds of discarded structural stonework appear to suggest that the feature was a robber trench that was dug to recover masonry from a redundant boundary wall. Also present in some quantity was disarticulated human bone, a rare discovery in features pre-dating the Church Hall. While the robber trench theory remains a possibility, it is also possible that the linear could represent the edge of the medieval graveyard – the point at which the densely packed, intercutting burials were contained by the churchyard’s northern boundary.

Sue and Dan's linear feature.

Sue and Dan’s linear feature.

In Sue and Dan’s small slot through the feature, the same pattern of finds was continuing. Amidst a jumble of human bone, sherds of pottery from the Roman period through to the 19th century were recovered and at 0.60m and descending, the feature was looking to be pretty deep!

Close by, Alice got her second week on site started by completing the records for a burial excavated during week one.

Alice putting the finishing touches to her plan.

Alice putting the finishing touches to her plan.

The burial proved to be that of a tall and striking middle-aged male and Alice did an excellent job of recording the remains. With this job done, Alice teamed up with Jade to record a newly discovered grave backfill. As Jade was also beginning her second week on-site, the pair were quickly becoming a crack team when it came to recording. It didn’t take long for the records to be completed and for excavation to begin on the new feature.

Elsewhere in Arran’s area, Barry and Hayley picked up work on a possible burial situated right on the edge of the trench. In a wonderfully ‘small world’ moment, it turned out that they actually lived only a few miles away from one and other down in Essex!

Barry and Hayley - The Essex dream team.

Barry and Hayley – The Essex dream team.

Careful excavation quickly revealed the surprisingly shallow remains of a coffin. While the vast majority of the timber had long since rotted away, small fragments had survived when in close proximity to the coffin’s iron fittings. Coffins can also reveal themselves with a simple change in compaction – the material within the coffin being decidedly looser and less compacted than the rest of the grave backfill. With one edge beginning to appear, Barry and Hayley now had to expose the full outline of the feature.

Over in This End, many of Gary’s team were continuing where they left off in week one.

Recording a new deposit.

Zada, Brad and Kimberley recording a new deposit.

The Texan trio of Brad, Kimberley and Zada were continuing to work within a 1.50m square slot positioned to provide a window into earlier deposits underlying the 19th century horizon. The discovery of another coffin stain, however, soon complicated matters – what was thought to be a dump deposit was now clearly a grave backfill.

In a brick chamber built onto the side of an 18th-19th century Rectory building, Bri and Matt finished the records for a newly discovered construction backfill.

Matt and Bri's construction cut under excavation.

Matt and Bri’s construction cut under excavation.

Locating the construction backfill was a key event in dating and understanding the wall. As this deposit relates directly to the construction of the structure, any dateable material recovered can be used to more tightly date the feature.

Unexpectedly, the brickwork proved to be far more substantial than had been thought. The main Rectory wall that the chamber is built against only survives to a depth of up to four courses. As Matt and Bri removed the loose, rubbly material from the construction cut, the chamber wall was found to be 10 courses deep! This substantial footing provides strong evidence that the structure would have stood to more than a single storey. Such a depth of brickwork simply wouldn’t be required for a single storey structure.

Looking down on the Rectory walls.

Looking down on the Rectory walls.

A large fragment of mid-19th century concrete confirmed that the extension had been built quite late on in the Rectory’s long life. Originally medieval, the majority of the building appears to have been re-built in the early to mid-19th century before being demolished between 1852 and 1860.

Is Matt and Bri's chamber the annex on the right?

Is Matt and Bri’s chamber the annex on the right?

Joining us from Boston, MA, Cynde continued work on a narrow strip of grave backfill on the southern edge of the trench. By the end of the day, the feature was getting pretty deep and there was no sign of a coffin within the grave.

As the end of the day arrived, the team packed away and headed to the familiar surrounds of The Golden Slipper for rehydration and theoretical discussions.

By day two, summer was really beginning to make its presence felt, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and temperatures were already soaring!

Getting hot!

Getting hot!

Jade’s day got off to a good start as she discovered a fragment of glazed medieval floor tile, adding to a growing assemblage of yellow and green glazed tiles that have been recovered from the site so far. All Saints has spent a millennium being altered and extended, finds like these help us to create a picture of the church in its high medieval heyday.

Jade's latest find.

Jade’s latest find.

As work on Jade and Alice’s feature continued it became apparent that the grave was home to more than one individual. The delicate remains of two tiny, but well made coffins were exposed, complete with decorative metal plating. With the coffin stains cleaned up, Jade and Alice set up to record their new discoveries.

Jade and Alice recording.

Jade and Alice recording.

In Dan and Sue’s linear feature, the growing depth of the cut was making it difficult to reach down and excavate the fill without damaging the human remains within it. As a precautionary measure, the records for the cut were updated and the feature was put on hold. Work will resume when the surrounding area has been reduced.

Dan and Sue.

Dan and Sue.

Dan and Sue moved over to a new area that is suspected to contain another burial and recorded the extents of a dump of rubbly material. The complex pattern of deposition that dates to the lifespan of the cemetery proves that 19th century graveyards were not without activity. Between neat rows of graves, tips and dumps of soil were still constantly accumulating, presumably a by-product of the tons of material being moved by gravediggers.

As the many adult and infant burials demonstrate, the site would have witnessed countless solemn services and outpourings of grief between 1826 and 1854, but it was by no means a sterile environment. Pits were still being dug, soil was still being moved around and an industrious rabbit unofficially dubbed Flopsy the B*****d was energetically burrowing through layers of archaeology (much to Arran’s annoyance!).

Outside the current trench, work was continuing on creating a plan of the paved surface of Church Lane. When the surface has been fully recorded, several new slots will be excavated beneath paving slabs to investigate the archaeology between the trench and the church itself.

Planning Church Lane

Planning Church Lane

With the construction backfills within their brick chamber now fully excavated, much of Bri and Matt’s day was taken up with recording the walls themselves. Recording structures can be an exhaustive process; before they can be dismantled, it is vital to measure the building materials, describe the mortar, detail the patterns of coursing and pick apart the sequence of construction. Bri and Matt had their work cut out for them!

Recording the Rectory.

Recording the Rectory.

In Contrary Corner, Arran’s team were joined by Jean, a longstanding volunteer with YAT’s finds department. On site for a taster day, Jean was eager to brush up on her fieldwork skills and took to the excavation of an ashy deposit that appeared to post-dates the phase of burials. Jean’s careful troweling was rewarded by a number of nice finds, including some particularly pretty sherds of medieval pottery.

Jean digging in Contrary Corner.

Jean digging in Contrary Corner.

Just metres away, Barry and Hayley were continuing to follow the edges of a coffin stain. As this work demanded the pair to reach over a truncated fragment of an earlier cobbled surface, work was paused on the burial while the cobbles were recorded. As the surface pre-dates the site’s use as a graveyard, it can’t be excavated until all of the burials have been recorded. As a precautionary measure, Barry and Hayley recorded the cobbles before returning to work on their burial, this way, any accidental damage to the surface won’t be a disaster as it would already be fully recorded and ready to lift.

Barry and Hayley

Barry and Hayley

Although their burial had only been excavated to a depth of 20cm, Barry and Hayley’s finds tray was already burgeoning with a wealth of ceramics. Keen eyes will be able to spot post-medieval slipwares and Cistercian ware sitting alongside medieval York Glazed Ware and Roman Mortaria.

A good tray!

A good tray!

By Wednesday, temperatures were close to 30 degrees celsius and the trench was feeling increasingly like an oven! Nonetheless, progress continued at a steady pace with regular trips to the shade of the Tree of Finds for a spot of finds washing and and some respite from the sun.

Drying finds.

Drying finds.

While work in the trench continued on exposing coffin stains and excavating grave backfills, the finds team were making some interesting discoveries! While cleaning a small mountain of finds, Matt noticed an interesting sherd of pottery.

Matt and his Bellarmine jug neck.

Matt and his Bellarmine jug neck.

The sherd turned out to be part of the neck of a Bellarmine (or Bartmann) jar. These 17th century stoneware vessels are thought to represent the highly divisive figure of Cardinal Bellarmine, a staunch opponent of protestantism and alcohol! A more complete example was one of the star finds of the 2014 season! http://archaeologylive.org/archaeology/find-of-the-year-2014-poll/

A closer look.

A closer look.

Back on-site, Jade and Alice had finished work on their double infant burial and were beginning to pick apart a sequence of deposits that survived in a narrow peninsula between two graves. Pre-dating the burials, the upper deposit appeared to be part of a compacted surface that could once have been the floor of a workshop. Interestingly, the date of the feature was something of a mystery. We knew it would pre-date the area’s consecration in 1826, but not by how much. Jade and Alice were taking one of our first peeks into the site’s more distant past, all we needed now was some dateable material!

Jade's surface

Jade’s surface

The day ended on a high note for Archaeology Live! legend Bri. Working in a deposit associated with the construction of the Rectory, he discovered a decorative glass bead.

Bri and his bead.

Bri and his bead.

These personal finds always add a little colour to our view of the periods we study. Getting in touch with the more frivolous sides of our predecessors helps to remind us that they were people just like ourselves.

The temperatures remained hot and muggy on Thursday, but a productive day was had nonetheless.

Jade and Alice

Jade and Alice

Once recorded, Jade and Alice’s surface peeled away very easily and revealed… another surface! This turned out to be something of a trend, with surface after surface being recorded and excavated. Tantalisingly, the latest ceramics to be recovered from this sequence were 16th/17th century in date. We finally had a foothold in the post-medieval period!

After a lot of careful troweling, Hayley and Barry managed to expose the delicate outline of a tiny coffin. Set within a grave cut measuring well over 1.50m in length, this was an unexpected discovery.

Recording a coffin.

Recording a coffin.

As the day progressed, the remains of the coffin were meticulously recorded, allowing Barry and Hayley to excavate further and reveal the remains of a small infant. The presence of an infant burial within a larger grave cut suggests that the coffin may gave been placed above a deeper adult burial. Once the recording for their infant burial was complete, Barry and Hayley would be able to investigate the rest of the grave and, it was hoped, to locate the anticipated second inhabitant.

With one deposit fully excavated and recorded, Sue and Dan moved on to another deposit, cleaning up and recoding an area suspected to house a burial.

Who says levelling can't be fun??

Who says levelling can’t be fun??

At the other end of the trench, Matt and Bri were continuing to pick apart the complex Rectory sequence. This meant a lot of recording, but the pair were becoming quite the experts by this point.

Kings of the context card.

Kings of the context card.

The Tree of Finds remained a hive of activity, with finds washing revealing some as yet undiscovered surprises! There was a tantalising near-miss as some intriguing marks were discovered in a cattle rib. At a glance, it was hoped that these may be a Viking runic inscription, something that is remarkably yet to be discovered in York! Unfortunately, closer inspection revealed them to be cut marks from the butchery of the animal. So near, yet so far…

Runes? If only!

Runes? If only!

Throughout the day, members of the team broke away to enjoy Toby’s small finds session. Spotting those interesting finds and knowing how to process them is a key fieldwork skill. Clean, dry finds were also sorted into categories and bagged by type in advance of specialist analysis.

 

Learning about small finds.

Learning about small finds.

Back in the trench, more great finds were turning up. On her first archaeology taster day, Red found evidence of a medieval mishap in a sherd of pottery.

Red's medieval pot sherd.

Red’s medieval pot sherd.

In this instance, a poorly applied handle had clearly detached from a large green glazed jug. You can almost imagine the crash of broken pottery as the jug full of wine fell to the floor. Needless to say, the sherd was found amongst medieval refuse!

As happens all too often on Archaeology Live!, Friday came around all too soon. Brad and Kimberley’s 1.5m x 1.5m slot had so far discovered two infant/juvenile burials and as work progressed on the remaining area, a third coffin was discovered! It seems that the area’s proximity to the edge of the graveyard had led to individuals being shoehorned into the remaining space.

IMG_7584

Brad and Kimberley

Jade and Alice continued to find surface after surface in their small window into the post-medieval horizon. Beneath eight successive re-laid surfaces, a sloping cobbled surface was revealed that explained the unusual sequence that had been encountered. Clearly, a workshop floor had repeatedly been subsiding to the extent that the post-medieval resident was forced to lay countless replacement surfaces only to find them subsiding again.

A sloping cobbled surface.

A sloping cobbled surface between two later graves.

The reason for this subsidence can only be suggested at present, but similar patterns seen on the Hungate excavations generally meant that a large pit with an organic fill was lying in wait at a deeper level. Perhaps we have Viking/medieval cesspits (Arran’s speciality) in store for us!

Excavation of Sue and Dan’s second deposit revealed that a burial was indeed present as the fragile outline of a tiny coffin began to appear. Locating and recording the extents of this feature proved to be a real challenge as so little of it survived. By the end of the day, Sue and Dan’s patience was rewarded and they were able to begin excavating within the coffin.

Excavating a tiny coffin.

Excavating a tiny coffin.

By late afternoon, the bitumen damp course of the Victorian walls around the trench was melting in the heat. Happily, it would take more than that to stop our intrepid team of archaeologists!

Too hot!

Too hot!

Zada, Red and Cynde’s grave cut continued to descend, with no sign of a coffin appearing! Reaching the base of the feature was quite the challenge, but an amazing range of ceramics continued to be recovered.

Cynde reaching to the base of a deep feature.

Cynde reaching to the base of a deep feature.

With another wave of recording complete, Bri and Matt were free to excavate a small section of brick flooring within the Rectory building – a process that yielded interesting results.

Matt and Bri

Matt and Bri

We know that the floor is made up of 18th century brick, while the north-east wall of the re-built Rectory was erected in the 19th century. It had been thought that the floor must have been re-laid following the re-build or laid using recycled brick, however, Bri and Matt discovered that the floor was simply left in-situ and cut through by the new wall. This odd construction method speaks quite loudly of a bit of a bodge job. Cowboy builders eh?

With space in their grave now at a premium, Hayley left Barry to carry out peeling away the grave backfill and assisted taster student Gill with the recording of a newly exposed section of cobbled surface in Contrary Corner.

Hayley recording Gill's newly exposed cobble surface.

Hayley recording Gill’s newly exposed cobble surface.

The discovery of the cobbled surface adds to a growing picture of how the site may have looked prior to becoming a graveyard. Indeed, historic texts refer to the workshops that occupied the site in the 18th century as having ‘gravel floors’. Not exactly the height of luxury…

All too soon, 5pm rolled around and the team headed away to seek refreshment and rehydration at VJ’s (home to Team Arch Live! each Friday night). Chatting over evening meals and cold drinks, it was clear that everyone had had a great week on-site.

A real benefit of the Archaeology Live! model is the ability of trainees to take ownership of their features and to know that their records go on to form the final site archive that, in turn, forms the basis of the site report. Every trainee becomes a vital part of the team, adding their own chapters to the long history of York.

Week two saw us make fantastic progress in locating and recording the many burials that inhabit the site, while also learning more about the Rectory and workshops that pre-date the burials. Huge thanks go out to all of our trainees and placements for making the dig happen, for working hard through tough conditions and for helping us better understand our ancient city.

The week two team.

The week two team.

In week three, we will continue to build on the fantastic start that we have made to the summer season. Keep your eyes on our Twitter and Facebook pages for live updates direct from the trench!

As ever, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

May Weekend Excavation

‘How do you know where to dig?’

It’s one of the most commonly asked questions that is posed to many an archaeologist and it is fundamental to what we do.  A common misconception is that archaeology is all about finding artefacts; objects that can be used to illuminate the misty recesses of the past. Those with only a casual interest in the discipline can certainly be forgiven for assuming that each hole dug on an excavation was sited to locate and recover an object. While this isn’t wholly untrue, it doesn’t take into account the huge importance of context. A find without a known provenance is merely the sum of its parts. A piece of medieval pottery picked up from the floor can tell us about its manufacture but no more. A piece of medieval pottery recovered from the backfill of a refuse pit gives us a crucial piece to the overall puzzle – a pit containing medieval pottery cannot have been backfilled prior to the medieval period. This unassuming sherd of pot has given us a terminus post quem; a ‘time after which’ an event has occurred.

Archaeology in the May sunshine.

Archaeology in the May sunshine.

With this in mind, it is crucial to recover finds from a known context within a clear stratigraphic sequence. In plain English, this means that we have to know what feature an object came from and where this feature fits in to the timeline of the site – all of which brings us back to the original question. How do we know where to dig?

Every hole you see on an excavation will have been dug by an archaeologist, but they will certainly not have been the first people to do so. In essence, we re-excavate holes that have already been dug in the past. These features come in all shapes and sizes and can be infilled with an almost infinite variety of materials. The real skill lies in identifying the edges of these features and following in the footsteps of the people who created them.

Archaeology Live! weekend training excavations offer a concise introduction to the theories and techniques of excavation and recording, they’re also a lot of fun! Looking for edges is just one of many skills that we teach on our training excavations.

For our second weekend dig of 2015, Arran and Gary were joined on-site by an enthusiastic group of trainees looking to add new discoveries to what is becoming a fascinating story at All Saints, North Street.

While it is impossible to learn every aspect of field archaeology in just two days, we structure our weekend courses to allow people the opportunity to try their hand at as many activities as possible. As the weather was looking good and sunny, we kicked off the weekend by handing out trowels and quickly picked up where the April dig had left off.

Mother and daughter team Sharon and Helen set to work on a feature located close to the site’s north-western boundary. An exploratory 1.5m slot was strung out and started back in April to give us a window into the earlier archaeology beneath the 18th and 19th century horizons. Below a later post-hole and dump deposit, the backfill of what is believed to be a 19th century burial was discovered, recorded and partially excavated. Now Sharon and Helen were tasked with continuing work on this feature.

Sharon and Michelle get started.

Sharon and Helen get started.

Discerning and following the edges of cut features on urban excavations is particularly challenging. A hypothetical ditch on a rural site may be cut through yellow natural clays and backfilled with dark brown silt. In this instance, locating and excavating along the edge of such a feature is a relatively straightforward process. In the heart of York, there is such a depth of stratified deposition that the majority of features are cut through earlier archaeology as opposed to virgin natural.

A 19th century grave cut through mixed post-medieval dumping will usually be backfilled with the very same material. As a result, spotting the edge of the cut and knowing where to dig can be quite the challenge. Sometimes it can be a matter of identifying a change in compaction or colour that gives the feature away, other times it can be a matter of archaeological intuition built up through years of experience. Some people just have the knack, and Sharon and Helen proved to be very adept at following the extents of their feature.

Sharon proudly displaying her first find.

Sharon proudly displaying her first find.

It didn’t take long for some nice finds to start showing up. Sharon was delighted to discover the handle and part of the rim of a medieval Humber Ware jug and that was just the beginning! Before long, Helen and Sharon had discovered pottery from almost every period of York’s history, with sherds of Roman Samian ware and post-medieval Cistercian ware being the highlights. All told, their finds tray had a date range of almost 2000 years!

Sharon and Helen's ceramic timeline.

Sharon and Helen’s ceramic timeline.

Joining us from the Canaries, Sydney took over the excavation of a grave in the site’s trickiest area ‘Contrary Corner’. At the end of the April excavation, delicate fragments of a coffin complete with decorative metal fittings were just beginning to appear. This meant that Sydney had to work very carefully, gently easing the grave backfill away from the remnants of the coffin.

Sydney working on a 19th century grave.

Sydney working on a 19th century grave.

Over the course of the weekend, Sydney’s gentle troweling revealed much of the outline of the coffin. As work progressed, it became apparent that the burial is that of a juvenile. This evocative discovery serves as a useful reminder that the features we are excavating tell of real human tragedies and should be treated with care and respect.

While sieving the backfill of her burial, Sydney made an unexpected find – a Roman coin! Re-deposited in a later context, the coin adds to a growing body of Roman artefacts that have been recovered from the site, many of which being of some status.

Sydney and her coin.

Sydney and her coin.

Just metres away from Sydney’s burial, Michelle also spent her weekend working on a grave that was already part-excavated. One of the deeper burials on-site, this grave also appears to contain a coffin. With much of the wood now entirely decomposed, Michelle had to gently follow a dark grey stain with corroded iron fragments appearing at regular intervals.

Michelle trowel cleaning her coffin stain.

Michelle trowel cleaning her coffin stain.

Michelle’s patient work revealed the coffin to be an unusual shape, somewhat shorter and wider than may be expected. While the base of the coffin was yet to be reached by the end of the weekend, some interesting finds were recovered. The most intriguing of these was a small fragment of bone with some incised striations. It is possible that this represents a bone-worker’s practice piece.

Michelle's worked bone object.

Michelle’s worked bone object.

Close to the north door of the church, Chelsea and Tara cleaned up a small area and discovered an as-yet unknown burial. The whole team recorded the grave backfill as a group, allowing Chelsea and Tara to quickly get started on the excavation of the feature.

IMG_7026

Chelsea and Tara having a closer look at their finds.

With considerable truncation from later contexts and a somewhat hazy edge, it took some persistence to discern the full outline of the burial but the girls did a marvellous job. Chelsea was rewarded by an interesting, if somewhat enigmatic find.

Chelsea's mystery object.

Chelsea’s mystery object.

Made of copper alloy, the object prompted some discussion although no conclusion was reached. This is one for the specialists!

A closer look.

A closer look.

As happens very often, the end of the weekend brought an unexpected discovery. Sharon and Helen noticed a change of compaction within their burial. This change formed a neat rectangle, although we weren’t dealing with a coffin stain this time.

Helen exposing a grave void.

Helen exposing a grave void.

What we were looking at was a looser area of soil that relates to changes in the underlying levels. The grave had been backfilled in the 19th century and the soil was compacted down. At some subsequent point, the coffin appears to have collapsed, causing the backfill directly above it to subside while the fill to either side remained unchanged. Spotting this change is useful as it gives us an idea of the size and location of the coffin that still lies deeper within the grave.

On that exciting discovery, the weekend came to an end and the team began to pack away their tools and put the site to bed until we return in late June. In the summer session, we will be locating and investigating the last of our 19th century burials before pressing on down into the post-medieval and earlier horizons. Thanks to the excellent work of our May weekend team, we now know that bit more about this fascinating site.

There’s still time to sign up for the summer excavation, we’re expecting an amazing season! Please send any enquiries to trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

So, thanks again to our weekend trainees and placements. It was a lot of fun and we had some wonderful finds. Come the summer, we have a huge number of fascinating features and deposits to investigate and we’ll detail all of our discoveries right here.

Onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

Archaeology Live! 2015 Spring Excavation

The River Ouse flows through the very heart of the ancient city of York, carving the city into two distinct halves. Over the millennia, fords, ferries and bridges have come and gone, connecting the divided city and allowing goods and people to move freely across the water. However, there has always been more to this division than simple geography.

The River Ouse

The River Ouse

It was the Romans who first established York as a major permanent settlement in AD71, taking advantage of the excellent communications offered by the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss and the spur of high ground that today plays home to the Minster. The Romans were clearly aware that this was a focal point of the native British landscape and chose the high ground just north of the Ouse to house their fortress. The colonia, the civilian sector of the frontier city sprang up along the southern bank of the river and a pattern of division that can still be seen today was set in motion.

Roman York

Roman York

The fortress was the centre of Eboracum (Roman York) and when the legions left around 410 AD, the same space would go on to be occupied by a succession of great cathedrals – the church too were clearly aware of the site’s dominant position in the landscape. As York grew throughout the middle ages, the Minster remained as the beating heart of the city and when York’s fortunes began to decline in the post-medieval and early modern eras, it was the medieval buildings of the north side of the city, now considered quaint and picturesque,  that would become a new kind of tourist attraction with the arrival of the railways. The southern half of the city was frequented less by the city’s many visitors then as it is today, and as a result, far less of the area’s ancient fabric has survived.

This is not to say, however, that this side of the city is of any less historic consequence than it’s counterpart, quite the opposite in fact. For archaeologists, a key difference lies in the disproportionate amount of attention the colonia has received.  York’s great excavations at Coppergate, the Minster and Hungate were all located in or around the fortress while the south bank remains largely shrouded in mystery – and archaeologists love a mystery! As the area is largely occupied by handsome dwellings of 18th and 19th century date, it is a rare privilege to open a sizeable trench in the heart of the colonia and this is what makes our site so special.

All Saints in spring

All Saints in spring

The 2014 season began with a great deal of uncertainty. We were opening up a new trench at a new site and digging on the southern side of the city for the first time.

Thankfully, any doubts about the site’s potential were quickly swept away by a series of fascinating discoveries. By October, we had begun to reveal a rich story covering two centuries of change, drama and devotion. We were privy to personal tragedies through the site’s numerous infant burials and subjected to the grimy realities of early 19th century industry, as attested by the substantial by-products of nearby tanneries. We ended 2014 with much of the site having been taken back to the late 1700s, yet we were by no means at the end of the site’s early modern story. As always, every answer brought with it more questions and all at Archaeology Live! have been counting down the days for the 2015 season to begin.

Week One

On April 6th, the wait was finally over as the soothing music of trowel, shovel and brush returned to the trench. The Archaeology Live! team of Toby, Arran and Gary met the new team and were pleased to see a mix of new and familiar faces. For the 2015 season, Toby will be looking after finds processing while Gary and Arran will take charge of the two halves of the trench – the ingeniously named This End (Gary) and That End (Arran).

The site was in remarkable condition considering it had been largely open to the elements all winter, but the first task in hand was to give it a good clean. This meant troweling, a lot of troweling!

Cleaning up the trench on day one.

Cleaning up the trench on day one.

Basking in glorious spring sunshine, the team quickly tidied up the trench and began to familiarise themselves with the material that they would be working on.

Amy's first find of the season.

Amy’s first find of the season.

In ‘This End’ Gary’s team picked up where they had left off in October and began to peel away the first of a number of trample deposits. It didn’t take long for the finds start flowing! Amy uncovered a large fragment of a medieval jug and Alex came across the rim of a 10th to 11th century Stamford Ware pot.

IMG_4980

Alex and her Viking era pot sherd.

Over in ‘That End’, Arran’s team were also coming across some nice finds. Chris’ piece of decorated Roman Samian ware being the pick of the bunch!

Chris got off to a good start!

Chris got off to a good start!

Samian is an amazing pottery type, appearing far more modern than it is! It’s hard to believe this pot was made almost two thousand years ago!

Chris' sherd of samian.

Chris’ sherd of samian.

With the site now looking fantastic, we were able to take on the next challenge. At Archaeology Live!, we excavate and record using the single context methodology. In short, this means breaking down the site in to individual events. For example, if you notice a post hole cut into the backfill of a pit, you would have at least four contexts to excavate and record – the post hole backfill, the post hole cut, the pit backfill and the pit cut.

The next task is to work out the sequence of events. In the above example, we would know that the post hole is the later feature as it is cut through the material used to fill in the pit, however, with urban archaeology, things are rarely this simple.

IMG_4971

Joe and Ernie looking for features at the south-west end of the trench.

When you walk on to a site in a city like York and look at the ground, you will see a mass of colours and shapes within the soil. Learning to spot and define changes and features within complex archaeological sequences is one of the key skills that we teach each year. Happily, the week one team proved to be a keen eyed bunch and by day two, work was underway on a number of newly identified features and deposits.

As often happens, the tallest people on site ended up working on the tiniest feature. While cleaning up what was thought to be a trample layer, Chris and Martin noticed a circular feature with a distinctive dark infill. This turned out to be a post hole, presumably part of one of a workshop structure that occupied the site prior to the church hall’s construction in 1860. When this post was removed in antiquity, the hole was backfilled with clinker (an industrial residue)  and compacted down. Perhaps this removal of a trip hazard is evidence of 19th century health and safety…

A post hole backfilled with industrial residue.

A post hole backfilled with industrial residue.

By cleaning up their area and identifying this feature, Chris and Martin proved that the trample layer pre-dates their post hole, making the post hole the next feature to investigate. By identifying each archaeological event and working out the order in which they occurred, single context archaeology allows us to go back in time with each feature we excavate.

Chris and Martin recording their post hole.

Chris and Martin recording their post hole.

Several more post holes were recorded and excavated in Gary’s area. Sitting a little later in the sequence, these were interpreted as holes for scaffolding dating to the erection of the church hall.

With their post holes fully squared away, the ‘This End’ team could turn their attention to a sizeable stony deposit that covers much of the southern end of the trench.

Gary's levelling masterclass was clearly well received!

Gary’s levelling masterclass was clearly well received!

As this deposit is cut by numerous burials, it clearly pre-dates the site’s use as a graveyard between the 1820s and 1850s. As the team exposed more of the deposit, it became apparent that it laps up against the latest incarnation of our Rectory building which is thought to date to the late 1700s or early 1800s – this gives us quite a tight date range for the deposit. The mortar, stone, brick and tile inclusions within the deposit may suggest that it was laid down while the Rectory was being re-built.

Work begins on the construction spread at This End.

Work begins on the construction spread at This End.

As this deposit covers a large area, it proved quite the challenge to clean, photograph and draw, but the team did a marvellous job and work continued on the deposit for much of the spring session.

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Ernie and Alex begin excavating their construction spread.

Over in Arran’s area, the ‘That End’ team were also being kept busy by some challenging archaeology!

Team That End

Team That End

‘Contrary Corner’ is the unofficial name of the northernmost end of the trench. Over the 2014 season, this area constantly proved to be the trickiest part of the site to work, with clear edges and relationships in short supply. Elanor and Savannah began the week by cleaning up the area and steeling themselves for some difficult archaeology – although as it turned out, ‘Contrary Corner’ had different plans for them.

Joining us for the whole of the spring session, Elanor and Savannah had a really productive fortnight, answering many of our questions about the area.

Elanor and her bone button/spacer.

Elanor and her bone button.

Their first clean-up of the area revealed no cut features such as pits, graves or post holes. Instead, a dump of compacted material was found to be the latest identifiable event. After being cleaned and recorded, the pair began to remove the deposit, revealing it to be a levelling dump of 19th century date containing some nice finds. Elanor came across a delicate bone button and Savannah found an unusual piece of Roman pottery.

Savannah's perforated pot base.

Savannah’s perforated pot base.

The base of a colour coat vessel, the sherd had a hole punched through the base during manufacture. Pending confirmation by a specialist, our current theory is that the vessel may have been used to drain liquid from food, perhaps olives. How this Roman object ended up in a 19th century dump will never be known, but it remains a wonderful find.

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Lorna, Wen and Yinghong’s feature under excavation.

Nearby, Lorna, Wen and Yinghong picked up work on what was believed to be a 19th century pit that had been cut to dispose of cattle skull and horn core waste from a nearby tannery. As the trio began to better define the feature, it became apparent that something else was afoot. The edges proved to be very straight and near vertical, we were clearly looking at another 19th century grave. The high occurrence of cattle horn core is a result of the grave being dug through an earlier tanning waste pit. As the cut was backfilled with the same material that it was cut through, thousands of fragments of skull and horn core were re-deposited in the feature when the coffin was buried.

Lorna's shard of post-medieval window glass.

Lorna’s shard of post-medieval window glass.

As well as being cut through an early modern tanning waste pit, the grave clearly disturbs other archaeology. Numerous earlier artefacts were recovered from its backfill, including a piece of post-medieval window glass and a sherd of burnt Samian ware.

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A nice surprise from sieving! Yinghong and her sherd of burnt Samian.

With the records on their post hole squared away, Chris and Martin turned their attention to the trample layer that it was cut through. Working next to a tall, upstanding section of church hall wall, it would be unwise to undermine the structure as it cannot presently be demolished, so an alternate digging strategy was set in place. The archaeology against the wall will be investigated in 1.5m square trenches that can be backfilled with compacted material when excavation is complete. This allows us to remain safe while looking at the deeper, earlier material.

Chris and Martin begin to excavate their trample layer.

Chris and Martin begin to excavate their trample layer.

Chris and Martin made some great progress on their ‘trench within a trench’, isolating and recording the construction event of the church hall and beginning to remove the dump of material that pre-dates the post hole.

Finds processing underneath the Tree of Finds.

Finds processing underneath the Tree of Finds.

Around the corner in the churchyard, Toby and the finds team were busily trying to keep up with the volume of finds coming off of site. As these are often caked in mud, it’s often when finds are cleaned that some of their more remarkable qualities are noticed. A fascinating example of this was seen in a pair of glazed medieval floor tiles that had been found last year. After being washed, it became apparent that the two tiles had quite different stories to tell.

A tale of two tiles.

A tale of two tiles.

Dating to the height of the church’s medieval pomp, the tiles give us a glimpse of a time when church interiors would have been far more bright and colourful than the often austere spaces that we know today. The yellow glazed example was fired as a triangle as opposed to the standard square. In this case, the tile was always intended to sit where a tiled surface meets a wall and space is insufficient to house a whole tile. The glaze is badly worn, indicating that many a medieval footstep would have passed over this tile while it was set in the church floor. If tiles could speak…

Worn glaze on this floor tile suggests long use.

Worn glaze on this floor tile suggests long use.

The green glazed example was clearly less fortunate. Fired as a whole, a scoured line can be seen running diagonally across the surface of the tile. This represents an attempt to split the tile in two, to use in a similar way as to its yellow glazed counterpart. The split was clearly unsuccessful and as the pristine condition of the vivid green glaze suggests, the tile was never used.

An unfortunate medieval floor tile.

An unfortunate medieval floor tile.

Despite the two very different stories of these tiles, they would both end up being redeposited in a 19th century yard surface. Perhaps all tiles are created equal after all.

Archaeologists at work.

Archaeologists at work.

Back in the trench, work continued apace and more noteworthy finds were appearing. Joe was delighted to find a medieval coin. Whether this is a long or short cross penny remains to be seen once the coin goes through conservation.

Joe and his freshly unearthed coin.

Joe and his freshly unearthed coin.

The coin was found re-deposited in a later context, but adds to a growing collection of residual Roman, Viking and medieval objects. The sheer volume of this material bodes well for the earlier archaeology that we will reach during the 2015 season.

On Thursday, Karen and Phillip joined us for a two day taster course and quickly set to work on a slither of earlier archaeology that had survived between a 19th century robber trench and tanning waste pit.

Karen and Phillip beginning work on a peninsula of early archaeology.

Karen and Phillip beginning work on a peninsula of early archaeology.

As the deposit is cut on either side by 19th century features, it is clearly earlier in date, but quite how early was entirely unknown. Karen and Phillip steadily lowered the deposit and began to accumulate a virtual reference collection of pottery, ranging in date from Roman to the 15th century.

Phillip showing off his latest Roman pot sherd.

Phillip showing off his latest Roman pot sherd.

In deposits such as this, it is the latest sherd that counts. A deposit may contain Viking, medieval and Victorian finds, but it is the Victorian examples that give it a date. After all, you won’t find Victorian pottery in a medieval pit – it hadn’t been invented yet – but you can find earlier finds mixed up in a Victorian pit. As this was their first ever excavation, Karen and Phillip were overjoyed to find such a range of material.

Toby's strat session.

Toby’s strat session.

As Friday rolled around, it was time for Toby’s session on building and understanding stratigraphic matrices. Over the week, the team enjoyed specialist sessions on pottery, small finds and conservation. The stratigraphy session is what brings everything together and by the end of the week, the whole team had learned how to identify, understand, excavate and record archaeological features – and had a lot of fun doing it! As the sun grew low in the sky, the team packed up and headed to a local hostelry to celebrate a great first week on site.

The week one team.

The week one team.

The April Weekend Excavation

With the first week being such a success, we were glad to welcome a brand new team on to site for the first weekend excavation of the year. Introductions and inductions out of the way, the team got started on site and picked up on many features that had been started in week one.

The April weekend dig begins.

The April weekend dig begins.

Jennifer and Danielle joined us from Dublin for the weekend and began to excavate more of the Rectory construction spread. This was challenging at times due to the compacted nature of the deposit and the possibility of finding more of the infant burials that are present in this area. The girls managed to find a perfect balance of delicate yet robust troweling, allowing them to make good progress while not damaging any potentially delicate remains.

Jennifer and Danielle hard at work.

Jennifer and Danielle hard at work.

The father and son team of Gregers and Peter, spent the weekend working on similar deposits close to the north-west wall of the church hall. Peter had some great finds luck, uncovering two interesting objects – the first of which being a sherd of burnt Samian ware complete with a maker’s stamp.

Peter's first 'shiny' of the weekend.

Peter’s first ‘shiny’ of the weekend.

Mass produced mainly in France, Samian vessels were sometimes adorned with the stamp of their maker. As many production sites have been located, it is often possible to find out where and within what date range these vessels were made. Being able to give such provenance to objects of such antiquity is a real pleasure! We’ll look forward to showing this one to our Roman specialist!

A closer look.

A closer look.

While washing finds, Peter noticed a clod of soil in the finds tray and gently broke up the soil to make sure no rogue finds were lurking within it. This is how he came across his second small find!

Peter's second 'shiny'

Peter’s second ‘shiny’

Close inspection of the obect revealed it to be made of copper alloy and possibly silver plated. At first glance, this artefact is highly reminiscent of a Roman ‘crossbow’ brooch and will be another object that we’re excited to hear a specialist opinion on.

A possible Roman brooch.

A possible Roman brooch.

Like all of our early finds, this object was found in a much later context. It remains a wonderful find however, and if Peter’s luck carries on like this, we’ll always look forward to having him back!

In Arran’s area, Archaeology Live! regulars Lyn and Chris joined us for their 8th season of archaeology in York. They were tasked with completing work on the spur of archaeology that Karen and Phillip had begun in week one.

Chris and Lyn working in 'That End'

Chris and Lyn working in ‘That End’

Being one of the first definitively pre-19th century deposits to be investigated, we were keen to see what dating evidence would be recovered. So far, the latest material to come from the context were several sherds of 15th century pottery – were we looking at a medieval deposit? In the end, this question was answered by a tiny sherd of 18th century Black Ware, the context was post-medieval.

This is actually good news as it suggests an unbroken sequence that will continue to tell us the site’s whole story, without any gaps. By the end of the weekend, Chris and Lyn had brought the deposit down to a distinct change, exposing a clay-rich deposit with a greenish tinge. Having excavated countless medieval and Viking cesspits on Hungate, Gary and Arran found this material very familiar. As such, it seems likely that a sequence of domestic refuse and cesspits will underlie the modern and post-medieval sequence. This is exciting news as such features can contain wonderful information about past diet and lifestyle.

Phil and Katie excavating a dump deposit.

Phil and Katie excavating a dump deposit.

Taking over from week one’s Chris and Martin, Phil and Katie picked up work on a dump deposit and quickly made some interesting discoveries. The ceramic assemblage was typically varied, with noteworthy finds including the handle of a 16th/17th century Cistercian ware mug and a variety of Roman wares.

Katie's Cistercian ware mug handle.

Katie’s Cistercian ware mug handle.

While early finds were appearing in abundance, 19th century pottery was still present and a more intriguing discovery was not far away.

Phil's

Phil’s sherds of Roman Calcite Gritted ware and Samian

As Phil peeled away the mixed material of the trample layer, a new feature began to emerge beneath it. Pictured below, a clear rectangular feature was clearly present below the trample, with a notably darker fill than the material it cuts into. Can you spot the edge?

A new feature emerges.

A new feature emerges.

The size and orientation of the feature suggests that we’re looking at another 19th century grave. Phil and Katie did a great job of spotting the change.

The April weekend team.

The April weekend team.

Two days is a short amount of time to squeeze in an introduction to archaeology, but our April weekend did a great job and made some wonderful discoveries.

Week Two

The weather turned cooler in week two, but the site continued to surprise us as we entered the second half of the spring session. The week two team was an even mix of new starters and people carrying over from week one and we wasted no time in getting started!

Week two begins.

Week two begins.

Over the course of the week, many members of ‘Team This End’ spent some time working on the Rectory construction spread. While cleaning around the edge of the deposit, Bri’s keen eyes located another new edge. As it follows the same orientation as the site’s many burials, this is likely to be yet another 19th century grave and will be further investigated in the summer.

Bri cleaning up a large area for recording.

Bri cleaning up a large area for recording.

As the last of the construction spread was cleared, a number of new features began to emerge. Allison had to use some surgical troweling to peal the layer away from an earlier sequence of interweaving burnt deposits that may relate to industrial use pre-dating the burials.

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Allison exposing yellow and orange burnt material beneath the construction spread.

With excavation of the spread completed, Gary’s team were free to look at a number of earlier features. Bri, Amy and Ernie teamed up to dismantle a small brick chamber associated with the Rectory. Interpreted as part of an ancillary building or cesspit, the chamber had been extensively damaged by the insertion of the church hall’s drainage.

Bri cleaning around newly discovered features.

Bri cleaning around newly discovered features.

The chamber was cut into a deposit of black, silty material which in turn overlaid a truncated tile built structure. This may have been some form of sluice for an earlier drainage/cesspit feature.

Records Records Records

Ernie planning the tile feature.

As has been something of a trend at All Saints, the early modern sequence is proving to be more complex than had been anticipated and Amy, Ernie and Bri did a great job of keeping on top of a mountain of recording.

Bri, Amy and Ernie adding levels to their plans.

Bri, Amy and Ernie adding levels to their plans.

At the end of the 2014 season, the main cesspit of the Rectory was beginning to reveal that elements of the building’s medieval predecessor had been incorporated into the early 19th century re-build. Bea, Emma and Allison picked up where we had left off and began to dismantle the cesspit built against the north-east wall. This involved working out the construction sequence and removing the latest parts of the structure.

Bea and Emma cleaning up 'residue' on the base of the cesspit.

Bea and Emma cleaning up ‘residue’ on the base of the cesspit.

The cesspit comprises numerous walls, surfaces and deposits, the latest of which being the use deposit that survives on the structures cobbled base. Thankfully, the intervening years and dry conditions have rendered the deposit totally inert, although it retains a rich brown colour. Archaeology can be so glamorous at times…

Bea, Emma and Allison recording their cobbled surface.

Bea, Emma and Allison recording their cobbled surface.

With the use deposit fully excavated, the team began to record the cobble base itself. This was done in meticulous detail, with each cobble being added to the plan drawing.

Bea and Emma showing off their completed plan.

Bea and Emma showing off their completed plan.

With their drawing complete, Emma and Bea were very happy to begin excavating their cobble surface. This revealed an underlying bedding layer that was also recorded and lifted. Dealing with structures like this is a challenging process, especially when they have been altered numerous times. A fantastic job was done of excavating and understanding the feature and it will continue to be picked apart in the summer session.

Cobble demolition underway!

Cobble demolition underway!

Joining us from Australia, Germany and… Leeds, the cosmopolitan team of Gary, Christina and Joe picked up work on two contexts in Arran’s area. Taking it in turns to rotate between two features, the team took over the excavation of the Lorna, Wen and Yinghong’s grave cut and Chris and Martin’s trample layer.

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Gary begins to reveal the remains of a coffin.

Over the course of the week, the backfill of the grave was carefully excavated. By being meticulous with their troweling, Christina, Gary and Joe were able to avoid damaging any sensitive remains that lay beneath them. By the end of the week, all the delicate excavation began to pay off as the remains of a wooden coffin with copper and iron fittings began to appear. While the wood was almost entirely lost, a dark stain was still present, visible in the above photograph running along the base of the cut on the right hand side.

As work continues on this feature in the summer, we will be able to fully expose the coffin and record it, before delving deeper to locate the individual interred there. Once recorded, the remains will be re-buried and left in-situ.

Work begins on a newly discovered burial.

Work begins on a newly discovered burial.

As the coffin was being exposed in the deeper grave, the last of Chris and Martin’s trample layer was also being excavated. Joe, Christina and Gary were then free to record the underlying grave backfill before beginning to excavate the newly exposed feature.

Both grave backfills yielded some interesting early finds, including a fragment of a post-medieval drinking vessel and a piece of flint. The flint itself wasn’t a tool, although did offer evidence of flint-working, potentially dating back to prehistory.

Joe

Joe and his post-medieval glass shard.

The team made good progress on both features and work will resume on them in the summer.

Christina gently trowelling her grave backfill.

Christina gently trowelling her grave backfill.

In the north-east corner of the trench, Julia and Chris joined us for a taster day and started work on a 19th century deposit containing a particular concentration of residual Norman period ceramics.

Julia and Chris perfecting their troweling

Julia and Chris perfecting their troweling technique.

Later in the week, tasters Paul and Emma took over work on Chris and Julia’s deposit. The layer proved to be quite shallow and revealed an earlier linear feature running beneath it.

Emma and Paul

Emma and Paul

Emma was delighted to find another flake of flint. Prehistoric finds are hard to come by in York, if we find a great quantity of residual prehistoric material, we may be able to suggest that there was prehistoric activity nearby.

Emma's flake of flint.

Emma’s flake of flint.

Savannah and Elanor’s second week in Contrary Corner was as productive as their first. As they cleaned the area beneath the deposit they excavated in week one, a clear rectangular feature was exposed. This feature was clearly another 19th century grave and had interesting stratigraphic consequences as it effectively destroyed one of our theories about the area.

Towards the end of the 2014 season, a cobble built feature had been uncovered by Archaeology Live! regular Iain. At the time, the linear nature of the feature had us convinced that it was a cobble based wall footing, cutting into the area’s numerous tips and dumps. The north-east edge of the feature (on the left of the cobbles in the picture below) was always a little uncertain and it was only thanks to Savannah and Elanor’s hard work that this situation was resolved.

The cobbled 'footing' being exposed in 2014.

The cobbled ‘footing’ being exposed in 2014.

It now seems that our wall footing is not actually a footing at all. The perfect straight edges that had made it seem so structural are now known to be the points at which the cobbles are cut by 19th century graves. The feature would have originally been a cobble yard surface, and only survives now as a linear slither between three later grave cuts.

Savannah and Elanor celebrate their discovery. The grave cut is visible in the lower half of the shot, cutting into the cobbles.

Savannah and Elanor celebrate their discovery. The grave cut is visible in the lower half of the shot, cutting into the cobbles.

With the cobble mystery solved, the grave backfill was recorded and excavation began.

Elanor and Savannah excavating their grave backfill.

Elanor and Savannah excavating their grave backfill.

As happens all too often, the feature started to get really interesting at the very end of the final day, as the fragmentary remains of the coffin began to appear.

Decorative metalwork from Elanor and Savannah's coffin.

Decorative metalwork from Elanor and Savannah’s coffin.

Tiny fragments of timber were still present alongside delicate pieces of decorative metalwork, showing that this would have been quite an ornate coffin. Dealing with burials is always an evocative experience and it was quite the experience to be the first people to see the coffin since it had been buried almost 200 years ago.

Elanor and Savannah celebrating a job well done.

Elanor and Savannah celebrating a job well done.

Elanor and Savannah made some great progress in Contrary Corner during the spring session. Who knows what the area will reveal in the summer!

As the second week of the dig drew to a close, it was time to tidy up and reflect on the amazing progress that had been made. It’s always difficult to join an excavation at a point when it is beginning to segue between two periods, but the spring team’s enthusiasm and hard work really paid off.

The week 2 team.

The week 2 team. We don’t know what Savannah is doing either…

As always, we must sincerely thank our team of trainees for joining us this spring. All of our work, from site set-up to post-excavation is entirely funded by our trainees and none of our discoveries would have been possible without them!

We must also thank our dedicated team of placements for their invaluable assistance!

Gus, Lisa and Becky, three of our four spring placements (Not forgetting Dave!)

Gus, Lisa and Becky, three of our four spring placements (Not forgetting Dave!)

So, now we look to the summer, where we have twelve weeks and hundreds of new and returning trainees primed and ready to delve further into the site’s long and varied past. There is still time to get involved if you wish to add your own discoveries to the story of All Saints, North Street – just give us a shout via trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

At the beginning of this post, we looked at the relative paucity of excavation south of the River Ouse. Each day of the 2015 season will do a great deal to address this imbalance. We will complete our picture of the site’s early modern story and then continue to dig further into the past. What will we find? Watch this space!

Onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

PS. Site mascot Planty the Plant survived the winter and is now best described as a shrub 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A medieval miscellany… Medieval finds highlights from Archaeology Live! 2014.

Last week, we took a closer look at some of the Roman finds that were uncovered during our 2014 excavation at All Saints, North Street. By the end of the season, we had excavated over two centuries worth of archaeology and uncovered deposits dating to the late 1700s.

A wonderful thing about urban archaeology is the variety of finds that it provides. As our site has been in constant use for two millennia, a wealth of earlier material can be found re-deposited in later contexts. The sheer volume of re-deposited Roman material uncovered so far strongly suggests that intact Roman archaeology is present at All Saints, buried beneath countless layers of later activity.

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The 120ft spire of All Saints adds a touch of drama to the beautiful 14th century All Saints Cottages.

While we can only interpret so much with finds from secondary contexts, we can still get a thrilling sneak preview into the Roman world beneath our feet; with glimpses of legionary tile production, imported luxuries like wine and oils and evidence of high status buildings, jewellery and ceramics uncovered already.

These artefacts are exciting, but they remain only echoes of a landscape that has since been radically and irrevocably changed. With one or two rather stunning exceptions (i.e. the Multiangular Tower in the Museum Gardens), York’s wonderful Roman heritage is now entirely below ground.

When we consider medieval York, we are lucky enough to be brought a little closer to life in the Middle Ages by the wealth of medieval architecture that still stands today. It is easier to visualise and understand a lost world, when you are able to see fragments that have survived the intervening centuries. A 15th century time traveller visiting our site today would see a lot that they would recognise. The magnificent church tower was completed in 1410, and the beautiful cottages pictured above were under construction in 1396. While they would see a world much changed, they would have reference points with which to orientate themselves.

A decorative, twisted medieval jug handle.

A decorative, twisted medieval jug handle.

The remains of York’s medieval cityscape allow us to share experiences with people who lived centuries ago; an experience that is made even richer when we discover the objects that these people owned and used. Archaeology is all about adding flesh to the bones of history. The lives of kings and queens are well documented, but archaeology allows us to learn more about people like ourselves.

The recent Hungate project featured the largest modern open area excavation to have ever happened in central York. The dig uncovered a wealth of wonderfully human moments; occurrences that we can easily relate to today. These came in many forms, with themes continuing over many phases of activity. We found the spoons that Victorian children had used to try and retrieve lost marbles from drains, we also found the marbles! Rewinding 1,000 years, we found leather shoes, beads and ornate metal objects that had been lost down Viking cesspits. It seems there are some things that never change…

At All Saints this year, we have been lucky enough to find an array of medieval objects that add more of these wonderfully personal details to our knowledge of medieval York. These finds aren’t always particularly glamorous, but they do tell a story to anyone who cares to listen.

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Joan and a large fragment of a medieval vessel.

Mysterious creatures…

The medieval world was alive with symbolism and meaning. Medieval parishioners of All Saints would have often seen religious processions making their way along nearby Micklegate, with priests and visiting dignitaries arrayed in rigidly defined hierarchies. The allegorical tales of the mystery plays would have been imbued with far greater meaning to those of a medieval mindset than can be appreciated by you or I in the 21st century.

This was a world where monsters and evil spirits would have seemed very real and the threat of hellfire and damnation weighed heavy on every mind. But these layers of tradition and symbolism were not limited to the glorious stained glass and monumental architecture of the church, they also appeared in everyday life.

Katie's fantastic Hambleton pot sherd.

Katie’s fantastic Hambleton pot sherd.

Joining us for her third season of Archaeology Live!, Yorkshire lass Katie made a particularly wonderful discovery when she spotted something green in the fill of an 18th century refuse pit. The object proved to be a sherd of Hambleton ware, most likely dating to the early 15th century (this date will be tightened up following a specialist assessment of the ceramics). It was immediately apparent that this was an unusual find. Unlike the numerous utilitarian fragments of bowls, jars and jugs that had already been found, this pot sherd was clearly a more decorative object. Initially thought to be part of an elaborate lid, a spot of research has revealed Katie’s find to be a fragment of a lobed cup or bowl.

A medieval lobed cup (right). © Image Copyright University of Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, 2000

A complete medieval lobed cup (right). © Image Copyright University of Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, 2000

These lobed bowls were popular in the 14th and 15th centuries, being used as communal drinking vessels that would be passed around a group of people. As the contents were drank, figures of mythical creatures, biblical characters and animals would emerge from the liquid. This period saw a nationwide shift in material culture; drinking vessels which had mainly been made of wood up until this point were now occurring more frequently in ceramic forms. However, it seems that older, communal dining traditions were being maintained, as these lobed bowls remained popular into the early 16th century. Pictured below is a charming example of a somewhat eroded, but clearly human figure from a similar vessel.

A Medieval pottery fragment, the anthropomorphic figure from a Coarse Border ware lobed cup (14th century AD) Image copyright The British Museum.

A Medieval pottery fragment, the anthropomorphic figure from a Coarse Border ware lobed cup (14th century AD)
Image copyright The British Museum.

Katie’s example has provoked a great deal of debate. Is it a cockerel? Is it a dog? Could it be some form of serpent? Final confirmation will come when the specialist pottery assessment is carried out next year. The figure has clearly lost its ears or horns and does seem to have stylised legs of some sort. If parallels have been found elsewhere, we may be able to say exactly what we’re looking at, but for now, it will remain open for debate. A suggestion that it is an early representation of Dino from The Flintstones has been met with a sensible degree of scepticism…

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm...

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm…

While Katie’s pot sherd will remain enigmatic for now, it can certainly be agreed that it is a wonderful find. Whether it was used during celebrations or ceremonies (or both!) is an entertaining question to ponder. This find has a certain frivolous charm, allowing us a glimpse into this medieval world of mystery and symbolism. It reminds us that life in the middle ages could have a more jovial side, which gives a warm contrast to All Saints air of piety and devotion.

Family ties

Joining us for his fourth season of Archaeology Live!, Barry didn’t waste any time in adding a new piece to our medieval puzzle. In a deposit associated with the 1860s church hall, he noticed a sherd of medieval pottery.

At first glance, there was nothing immediately remarkable about this find. However, now we are learning to decode the imagery of medieval York, it is possible to find a very personal story behind this artefact.

Barry and his medieval seal.

In the 11th century, carved bone or metal seal stamps came in to common use. These stamps were used to create impressions in wax to authenticate documents with a recognised seal, a tradition that had become firmly established by the 13th century. While medieval potters were somewhat lower down the social scale than those who created beautifully illuminated manuscripts, they were nonetheless influenced by the religious and heraldic symbolism that surrounded them, particularly in their parish churches.

This influence of medieval symbolism on the ceramic tradition is something that we can clearly see in the archaeological record. In York, the 13th century saw an influx of seal jugs; vessels that featured at least one applied cirucular motif. A reflection of imagery seen on documents, high status metal vessels and in church architecture, the seals on these jugs fall into three broad categories; personal seals featuring the owner’s name, seals containing the maker’s name (medieval branding if you will) and those with motifs of animals, floral decorations and anthropomorphic images.

A complete medieval seal jug from the Yorkshire Museum collection.

A complete medieval seal jug from the Yorkshire Museum collection.

The variety of seals that have been found on these jugs suggests something far more complex than simple decoration. As we have discussed, medieval people were far more in tune with the significance of the myriad images and symbols that punctuated their world. These jugs clearly carried social, cultural, religious and political messages, as well as being beautifully crafted objects. Barry’s sherd is a perfect example of this tradition.

IMG_6080

A closer look…

A closer inspection of Barry’s sherd shows that we have the majority of a seal bearing the image of a bird. The stretched legs and raised wing create an image of imminent motion; our bird seems ready to take flight! Around the perimeter of the seal is a worn, but visible legend. At a glance, YAT ceramics specialist Anne Jenner instantly recognised the significance of this seal. Fragments of identical and similar seal jugs have been found at Wellington Row, Micklegate, Coppergate, Low Petergate and as far afield as Gilling East and Wharram Percy. Clearly, Barry’s vessel was one of a batch that would go on to spread across York and North Yorkshire.

Comparison with the more complete examples reveal this to be part of a jug with two bird seals on one side, and two featuring a lion on the opposite side. The lion is a ‘lion passant’ with its head looking back and its tail upright. Around the image of the lion is the text, “S. TOME:FILLI:WALTERI”, while the the bird is surrounded by the legend, “SIGILL.TOME.P-WA”. The survival of these seals means that we can actually link Barry’s pot to a particular individual, a very rare occurrence in archaeology!

A lion passant (left) and a complete bird motif .(right)

A lion passant (left) and a complete bird motif (right). Image copyright York Archaeological Trust.

The images above bear the personal seal of Thomas FitzWalter, a member of one of York’s more prosperous medieval families that are known to have been patrons of the arts. Historic records for the FitzWalters in York are scant, but the imagery of these seal jugs leave us with some tantalising possibilities. The fact that the legends contain a ‘P.’ (Pater, or father) and ‘FILII’ (son) over two separate seals could suggest that these jugs were commissioned to celebrate a marriage and the birth of a son. The widespread nature of the vessels may represent them being given as gifts, or becoming dispersed family heirlooms.

The cross above the head of the bird acts as both a grammatical indication of the legend’s beginning and a symbol of religious devotion, adding yet another layer of meaning to the seal.

Whatever the case, Barry’s find is a wonderful example of how archaeology can bring us closer to the past. Holding the vessels that people would have drunk from is always exciting, but being able to tie them to particular individuals is a rare and wonderful pleasure. Further research may yet reveal more about this fantastic artefact, but for now we can enjoy being very late guests to the FitzWalters’ happy day.

Fingerprints

A recurring theme of the 2014 season was objects featuring fingerprints. While this is not uncommon in ceramic objects from busy, urban sites, it is always highly evocative. Placing your finger in the mark left by the person who made the object you are holding many centuries ago is a vivid experience. It reminds us that archaeology is the study of people, not just sweeping historic events. Here are some of the finer examples from this year’s dig.

Medieval fingerprints.

Medieval fingerprints.

Pots and tiles were often dried before firing, but they would remain very pliable. Finger and thumb prints can be used to apply decoration, but they can also be accidental. The medieval roof tile below features the fingerprints of either a very slight individual, or a small child.

Child fingerprints in a medieval tile.

Child fingerprints in a medieval tile.

These are just several examples of similar finds, although people weren’t the only ones to make their mark…

Fingerprints in a decorative late medieval pot rim.

Fingerprints in a decorative late medieval pot rim.

As roof tiles were dried in the sun before firing, it is not uncommon to find that pesky dogs or cats wandered over the still-wet clay, accidentally immortalising their paw prints. These wonderful finds give medieval York’s animal population the chance to make their mark on the archaeological record.

Fido's signature on a medieval roof tile.

Fido’s signature on a medieval roof tile.

Medieval paw-prints.

Medieval cat paw-prints.

Fun and games

While life could be challenging in medieval York, we have found evidence that people were taking the time to have a little fun. Local lad and regular Archaeology Live! trainee Rob had a bumper year for finds; one of his finest was a tiny bone dice.

Rob having a good finds day.

Rob having a good finds day.

Dice with the traditional arrangement of opposite sides totalling seven have been around from Roman times, made in bone, metal and antler. Rob’s example has a more irregular layout that appeared in the 13th century, most likely dating it to the second half of the medieval period.

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It is a beautiful object which has clearly been worn from use. The games it played, whether it proved lucky in gambling, and how long it remained in use will never be known, but it is a fun thing to ponder. The particular joy of this artefact is its simplicity. There is no palimpsest of meaning here, just an instantly recognisable object that could be used just as easily today as it was centuries ago.

Happily, this wasn’t the only evidence of gaming to be found this year. Early in the season, Geoff was delighted to find a worked bone counter. Initially thought to be a button, closer inspection showed it to have no perforations. Instead, a small hollow had been made on one side of the disc that perfectly fits an index finger. The reverse was worn smooth, making it likely to have been a gaming piece. Its date is uncertain at present, specialist analysis may tell us more.

Geoff and his bone gaming piece.

Geoff and his bone gaming piece.

Music

It’s one thing to recreate the sights of medieval York, but one find from 2014 gives us a clue to how the area may have sounded. This medieval object is made of bone and would have been used to tune stringed musical instruments. Tuning pegs are common finds in medieval York and reveal that music would have been part of life for people of all classes. Quite what instrument this peg would have tuned is uncertain, although one possibility is the rebec, predecessor of the modern violin, which was a popular instrument in the 13th and 14th centuries.

A medieval tuning peg

A medieval tuning peg

Style and wealth

Status was of high importance to the people of medieval York. Those with a little wealth to their name would want to be seen to be fashionable and rich. Several objects discovered this year tell us about the ways medieval people chose to decorate their clothes and possessions.

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A tiny copper alloy buckle or clasp.

The 2014 team uncovered a number of small strap ends, clasps and buckles. These decorative objects could have added a little flair to items items of clothing, saddlery and furniture. By their decorative nature, they reveal a certain degree of wealth. They were clearly owned by individuals who could afford more than simple, functional items.

Ellen's brooch.

Ellen’s brooch.

These objects will be cleaned and analysed in late 2015/early 2016 by the YAT conservation team. Who knows what more we will be able to learn about these intriguing objects.

While it is tempting to clean these finds on site, they are often highly corroded and very fragile. The buckle pictured below may even have surviving fabric, preserved within the corrosion. Treated properly, this may give us direct evidence of the kind of attire people would have favoured in the medieval period. Watch this space for further news on the metal finds!

Anne's medieval buckle.

Anne’s medieval buckle.

All Saints

It is impossible to look at every medieval find from 2014 without writing a rather lengthy tome! With that in mind, we will conclude our look at the medieval assemblage with a look at the finds that tell us more about the church itself.

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While the church is a wonderful example of high-medieval architecture, it is a building that has been in near constant flux for much of its existence. The changing demands and fashions of each century have seen swathes of structural and decorative alterations. Pews, floors, windows and walls have been entirely removed and re-modelled. However, the finds of this year’s excavation provide us with evidence of the church’s previous incarnations.

The Lady Chapel in All Saints has recently been re-floored with hand-made tiles recreated using medieval techniques to create an authentic middle ages appearance. We have been lucky enough to find examples of the original medieval floor that has since been so lovingly and faithfully restored. A wonderful moment this year, was laying a newly discovered medieval tile over the replica floor. It fit the traditional dimensions perfectly!

A medieval tile reunited with the church floor.

A medieval tile reunited with the church floor.

Our tile, while complete, shows evidence of a long life, with the glaze on the upper surface all but worn away. There is no doubt that this object will have witnessed the church in its medieval heyday, a fact which is as frustrating as it is fascinating! If only tiles could speak…

Working on a 19th century burial, Archaeology Live! regular Belle made a wonderful medieval discovery – a fragment of stained glass.

Belle's window glass fragment.

Belle’s window glass fragment.

While this wasn’t the first fragment of medieval window glass to be found this year, it is the most complete and features two complete edges that give us an idea of its original shape. The cut edges even bear the marks of the grozing iron – the tool used by medieval craftsmen to shape the glass.

All Saints is famous for its wonderful stained glass, but not all of the medieval windows have been lucky enough to survive the intervening centuries. Belle’s shard fits tantalisingly well in a current window of the church and once it is cleaned by the conservation department, we will find out whether any of the paint still survives.

The cliche that this provides a window into the medieval world is a guilty (but true!) pleasure…

A little speculation never hurt anyone...

Placing the glass over a window that survives gives an idea of its possible appearance when new.

A final find type to look at reveals even more about the church’s former appearance. This year, our team have found numerous fragments of beautifully made glazed roof tile. Made between the 13th and 16th centuries, these tiles were expensive and would only have graced the roofs of prosperous secular and religious buildings. Their lead and copper glaze gives the tiles a bright green hue that would have looked spectacular in the sun.

Anne showing off her glazed roof tile.

Anne showing off her glazed roof tile.

Some examples have a darker, more purple tinged hue.

Tah dah!

Tah dah! Jen presenting her latest find.

The combined evidence of the glazed floor and roof tiles present an image of a vibrant, colourful building. Much of this colour would fall victim to the tumult of the 16th century reformation, but the finds made by our 2014 team make it possible to see a little more of the church’s high medieval splendour.

Vivid green glaze.

Vivid green glaze.

This brief tour of just some of 2014’s finds highlights serves as a reminder of the power of archaeology to enrich and humanise the past. Adding these pieces to the medieval puzzle removes some of the distance between ourselves and the people who lived through the times we are studying. We are so close and yet so far from truly understanding the world they would have lived in.

The medieval finds from the 2014 season allow us to place our fingerprints in theirs, to decode the meanings of the ways they decorated their possessions and to roll the dice and hold the gaming pieces they would have played with.

2015 will see us reach the layers that were deposited during this age of medieval mystery. Who knows what secrets the parishioners of All Saints will have left in wait for us.

Thanks for reading! If you would like to join us in 2015 and add your own discoveries to our growing collection, email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk to book a place on the dig or to find out more.

We can’t wait to get back on site, but until then… onwards and downwards!

– Arran

Archaeology Live! 2014 Highlight Reel: The Roman finds

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

A wintry view of All Saints.

A wintry view of All Saints.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decorated samian ware.

Decorated samian ware.

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

Anne and Branka's Roman coin.

Anne and Branka’s Roman coin.

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

Sarah's amphora sherd.

Sarah’s amphora sherd.

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

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

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

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

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

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

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

Graffitied Roman pottery

Graffitied Roman pottery

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

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

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

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

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

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Roman roof tile.

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

Rosie's Roman tile fragment.

Rosie’s Roman tile fragment.

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

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Decorated Roman ceramics.

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Roman calcite gritted ware.

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

Kaye's rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

Kaye’s rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

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

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

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

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

– Arran

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