Tag: inhumation

Site Diary: Summer Week 12

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

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

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

Elisa proving once again how capable she is at paperwork

Elisa’s unusual medieval pottery fragments fit together perfectly!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lynne’s fantastic find!

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

Katie and Emma getting ever deeper…

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

Clive and Alistair defining a pit they have come across

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

Alistair and Clive planning their medieval dumps

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

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

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

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

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

-Becky

Week 12 team shot

 

2017 Site Diary: Weeks 1 & 2

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

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

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

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

Trench of the Triffids.

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

Week One

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

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

Katherine, Molly, Calum and Adrienne set to work.

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

Grave Concerns

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

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

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

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

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

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

The well preserved remains of a timber coffin.

Cleaning the well preserved remains of a timber coffin.

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

Molly and a freshly unearthed button.

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

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

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

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

 

Stephen and a rather lovely architectural fragment.

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

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

Transferring benchmarks with a dumpy level.

Catriona and Katherine transferring benchmarks with a dumpy level.

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

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

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

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

The week one team.

The week one team.

Week Two

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

A busy trench!

A busy trench!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam beginning a detailed skeleton plan.

Sam beginning a detailed skeleton plan.

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

Catriona cleaning a skeleton.

Steve planning a skeleton.

Steve planning a skeleton.

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

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

 

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

Conservator Charlotte leading a tour of YATs conservation lab.

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

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

Good luck Molly!

Good luck Molly!

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

The week two team.

The week two team.

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

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

In the meantime, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

 

Site Diary: Summer Week 10

Week 10 saw some wonderful late summer sunshine that lasted for the entire week, it felt like July rather than the start of September! To go with this lovely weather we had a good bunch of continuing, new and returning trainees eager to get into the trench on Monday. Oh – we also had some fabulous finds and archaeology too!

Ashley, Jacob and Becky leveling a burial as week 10 gets off to a beautiful start!

Ashley, Jacob and Becky leveling a burial as week 10 gets off to a beautiful start!

Continuing work on their burial were Ashley and Jacob, who at the start of the week finished off the recording of a C19th juvenile burial. With records squared away they carefully lifted all of the remains by Wednesday. Thursday and Friday were spent cleaning up the grave cut and collecting any stray coffin fragments so they could be put safely with the rest of the remains ready for reburial in the church. Then it was a case of recording the grave cut which they completed by the end of the week.

Ashley and Jacob working on their burial.

Ashley and Jacob working on their burial.

The pair over the past two weeks have done a great job of very carefully and considerately working with this burial and their records are to our usual high standards. During one of our finds washing sessions pottery enthusiast Ashley found a ceramic which has proved to be something of an enigma due to its peculiar shape – it looks a bit like a loom weight but certainly made us scratch our heads!

Ashley with her strangely shaped pottery sherd.

Ashley with her strangely shaped pottery sherd.

A closer look.

A closer look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also working on burials this week was new starter Dan, although his skeleton proved to be a bit tricky to expose! The back fill for this grave was much deeper than anticipated, so whilst the upper half was revealed after a couple of days, it wasn’t until the end of the week that Dan finally managed to uncover the legs.

Dan reaching into his ever-deepening grave!

Dan reaching into his ever-deepening grave!

As Dan will be with us through until week 11 he will be able to get his recording completed next week before moving onto his next task.

Mother-daughter taster team Cheryl and Lydia spent their day working on a graveyard soil for which they finished the records off, and then began to excavate. Their deposit is called a graveyard soil because it was deposited whilst the graveyard was in use. As so many graves were dug over the space of 28 years it is inevitable that we will find several layers of dark spreads of soil that spill across the site. Cheryl and Lydia’s soil was one of several spreads that have been recorded and dug, and as these deposits are almost the exact same fill as the graves themselves it makes it very hard to distinguish individual burials!

In the foreground Lydia and Cheryl work on their deposit underneath beautiful September sunshine!

In the foreground Lydia and Cheryl work on their deposit underneath beautiful September sunshine!

Working nearby on another complicated burial was new starter Jenny and continuing trainee Victoria. They were tasked with exposing a small infant that had collapsed into an underlying burial. This involved a lot of careful and fiddly work with plastic clay modelling tools but the girls managed fine and did a great job of exposing and cleaning the burial up ready for recording.

Victoria and Jenny carefully exposing their infant burial.

Victoria and Jenny carefully exposing their infant burial.

By the end of the week the girls had fully recorded the burial and lifted it safely out of the way ready for reburial in the church. the girls even had time to start looking for the person below which the infant burial had partially collapsed into.

Placement Katie helping Victoria and Jenny put drawn records together in the September sun.

Placement Katie helping Victoria and Jenny put drawn records together in the September sun.

Our other week 10 pair working on burials was continuing trainee Alice who was now in her penultimate week of 4, and returnee Theo. The pair continued exposing a well-preserved coffin in Contrary Corner that is part of the last burial plot in this particular area.

Theo and Alice photographing their coffin in Contrary Corner.

Theo and Alice photographing their coffin in Contrary Corner.

Over the course of the week the pair managed to fully record the coffin before looking for their skeleton, which they had exposed and started to record by the end of the week. Whilst excavating the back fill, Alice came across a rather lovely little button, that appears to be made of oyster shell – she was rightly very pleased with it!

Cute as a button!

Cute as a button!

A closer look.

A closer look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of our other star finds of the week came out of our earlier deposits that dated to before the site became a graveyard. Returnees Gilbert and Joanne paired up to work on a sequence of dumps, the first of which dated from the turn of the 19th century. Out of this top deposit Jo found a lovely ceramic marble, giving her a great start to her two weeks with us! Not to be left behind, Gilbert came across that find which archaeologists dream about – a coin, and a Roman one no less!

Jo showing off her ceramic marble.

Jo showing off her ceramic marble.

Gilbert strikes a pose with his Roman coin.

Gilbert strikes a pose with his Roman coin.

A closer look in the right light shows of the distinctively Roman figure on one side of the coin.

A closer look in the right light shows of the distinctively Constantinian figure on one side of the coin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the C19th dump was excavated the pair revealed another deposit this time dating to the 18th century when workshops occupied the site. We have found all sorts from other deposits related to this phase of activity and Jo and Gilbert’s deposit was no exception. Continuing his lucky streak Gilbert recovered a worked bone object and managed to strike another fabulous pose for his second “victory shot” of the week.

Another star find from Gilbert; a worked bone object.

Another star find from Gilbert; a worked bone object.

A closer look.

A closer look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gilbert’s find is one of several worked bone artefacts recovered from deposits relating to the 18th century workshops, indicating there may be some kind of bone working industry or trading going on down Church lane in the 1700s. This is not by any means certain and more information will be discovered as we delve deeper into the pre-burial horizon. Jo and Gilbert did a lovely job of getting through some of the sequence of these deposits in week 10.

Our other week 10 tasters were tasked with exploring the pre-burial horizon and over each of their one or two day courses Martin, Geri and father-daughter team Simon and Coco excavated and recorded several different dump and refuse deposits. Martin was with us for two days and managed to record one surface before excavating it to reveal another one which pre-dates the workshops, and wrote a very thoughtful blog about his two days with us.

Martin sets to work with his trowel after recording an 18th century deposit.

Martin sets to work with his trowel after recording an 18th century deposit.

Coco and Simon, although only with us for the day, also got in a bit of excavating and finds processing. The pair managed to get some lovely finds from their deposit, particularly some nice pieces of roman and medieval pottery.

Coco with a lovely piece of roman Samian ware.

Coco with a lovely piece of roman Samian ware.

Simon shows off his freshly unearthed piece of medieval splash glazed pottery.

Simon shows off his freshly unearthed piece of medieval splash glazed pottery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However one day taster Geri had the find of the week, which she spotted during a finds washing session; a fragment of worked antler from a Viking composite comb.

Geri was thrilled with her fragment of antler from a Viking comb!

Geri was thrilled with her fragment of antler from a Viking comb!

A closer look at the detail.

A closer look at the detail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working in even older deposits were new starters Mark and Moyra. They continued work in the same area as Rick and Alastair from week 9, excavating some of our  medieval deposits. Their first task was to record a clay layer with cobbles starting to peek upwards from it.

Mark working on the plan of his medieval clay layer.

Mark working on the plan of his medieval clay layer.

Whether the cobbles formed part of a surface or were just a dumping layer was still unclear by the end of the week, although more may become clear about the type of deposit the cobbles belong to in the last two weeks of the summer season. Despite some of these unanswered questions, Mark and Moyra’s patient trowelling was rewarded with some rather lovely finds. Moyra’s keen eyes spotted a lovely little piece from a glass vessel and Mark spotted some tiny fragments of prehistoric pottery, a huge challenge given it usually looks like lumps of mud or clay because of its poor quality!

Moyra and Mark show off their glass and prehistoric pottery fragments.

Moyra and Mark show off their glass and prehistoric pottery fragments.

Our other new starter, Rosie, was working in another older area of the site, quite far beneath the footprint of the Old Rectory where a series of medieval pits and dumps have been recorded and excavated. Rosie continued working in the ever deepening sequence, to the point where it was quite hard to spot her!

Right at the far end of the trench, Rosie is just visible as she delves deeper into the medieval sequence.

Right at the far end of the trench, Rosie is just visible as she delves deeper into the medieval sequence.

Over the course of her week’s training, Rosie photographed, recorded and excavated several medieval pits and shifted a lot of dirt. As has been the case with all of the features in this sequence so far, we are looking at leveling deposits, rubbish pits and dumping from likely domestic use in the medieval period. The depth these deposits extend to is quite impressive, and we could easily have another half metre or more of medieval deposits before we move definitively out of this time period. At the moment the finds indicate Rosie was working in 12th or 13th century medieval layers; whoever takes over next week has her high standards to work to, and hopefully they might begin to reach even earlier deposits!

Rosie's area looked fantastic and stretched to quite a depth by the end of her week.

Rosie’s area looked fantastic and stretched to quite a depth by the end of her week.

Week 10 really was a stellar week for finds and trainees! It was a thoroughly enjoyable to be a part of and I’d like to point out that ALL of our trainees produced their records themselves to a professional standard. They should all be very proud of their work both excavating and recording.

Our trainees took a well earned break from the rather warm weather to do a spot of finds washing under the Tree of Finds.

Our trainees took a well earned break from the rather warm weather to do a spot of finds washing under the Tree of Finds.

The week 10 team.

The week 10 team.

Thanks to all of the trainees for yet another wonderful week of archaeology!

-Katie

P.S: Although there was still two weeks of the summer season to go, week 10 was my last week as a placement on Archaeology Live! and I was so sad to see the back of it. After 5 seasons as both a trainee and placement learning all of this from scratch I’d been hired by none other than YAT itself. So whilst I was staying with the company for the foreseeable future (I’m still working for them now so I can’t be a complete disaster!) my experiences as a total beginner to seasoned placement on Arch Live were the reason I wanted to get to where I am now. Whilst a lot of my enthusiasm was for the archaeological process itself, the people, that is trainees, placements and staff, that I’ve met are what cemented archaeology as a no-brainer to me. So a big thanks from me goes to all the people I’ve met through archaeology as well as the Arch Live staff for teaching me everything I know!

Site Diary: Summer Week 9.

Week 9 followed the general trend of the summer 2016 season at All Saints, with a range of features from the earlier medieval period through to the 19th century being uncovered, recorded and excavated by our fantastic trainees. Week 9 also saw, at long last, the taming of ‘Contrary Corner’, our mind boggling area of the trench that over the past three seasons has made little or no sense!

As Monday arrived, an excited group of new trainees came to join our few continuing over from the previous weeks. In a change from the past few Mondays, it decided to tip it down first thing, so sanctuary was sought underneath the Tree of Finds and a spot of finds washing was done. Fortunately, our (damp) spirits were lifted when we found evidence of pesky medieval animals running amok…

A medieval tile complete with paw print from a pesky pet!

A medieval tile complete with paw print from a pesky pet!

Thankfully by lunchtime the rain had cleared and the ground was draining, so we paired people up, jumped into the trench and set people to work on their features. Only a few of week 9 trainees were working on burials whilst the others all worked in the pre-burial or earlier horizons.

Continuing from where Leah and Charlotte had finished the previous week, two of our new starters spent their first day cleaning up a coffin for a photo and were introduced to the rest of the planning process. Jacob and Ashley did a lovely job of this and put some detailed records together for us.

Becky taking measurements for Ashley to draw her 1:20 plan from.

Becky taking measurements for Ashley to draw her 1:20 plan from.

With the coffin planned, Jacob and Ashley were able to start looking for the individual within. As they carefully picked away at the fill lots of beautiful decorative plating was revealed, and any that was loose was safely bagged up. By the end of their first week of two they were just beginning to come down onto the skull. Hopefully in week 10 they’ll make equally swift and careful progress, watch this space!

Jacob does a great job carefully cleaning up some of the lovely decorative coffin plate from his burial as placement Katie gets some close up shots.

Jacob does a great job carefully cleaning up some of the lovely decorative coffin plate from his burial as placement Katie gets some close up shots.

Now, as mentioned in the Week 8 Site Diary our continuing trainees, Alice and Libby, had been working on a mortar filled pit with a beautiful piece of medieval green glazed pot laying very close to the top of the fill. It’s been staring at Arch Live staff Arran and Becky for 2 years now so they were pretty excited that we were finally going to be able to lift it! With the recording of the back fill finished, Alice and Libby finally excavated the sherd and it really is a lovely example of decorated medieval pottery.

A closer look.

A closer look.

The finds tray from Alice and Libby's C18th pit, look at all that medieval pottery!

The finds tray from Alice and Libby’s C18th pit, look at all that medieval pottery!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the girls continued work in their 18th century pit they found lots more redeposited medieval pottery of varying ages and types. The girls recovered earlier splash and brighter green glazes as well as later brown and lead glazed wares. Libby in particular had a grand end to her two weeks with us, as she found a corroded cluster of copper alloy objects that could possibly have been a piece of jewellery. Once the pit was emptied and the cut recorded the girls identified (hopefully) the last remaining burial plot in Contrary Corner. As they began to reveal a coffin on Friday, Libby ended her last day on a high note, finding a lovely antler offcut that could relate to Viking crafting – antler was used frequently by the Vikings for combs, spindle whorls and more. Alice will be with us for another two weeks so stay tuned to hear about her progress in Contrary Corner!

Libby with her possibly Viking antler offcut.

Libby with her possibly Viking antler offcut.

Libby and Alice were very pleased when they found the final burial plot in Contrary Corner.

Libby and Alice were very pleased when they found the final burial plot in Contrary Corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the revelation of the coffin and burial plot it seems that at long last the sequence of Contrary Corner has become clear – a welcome relief after all of the head scratching it has caused over the previous two seasons!

Another team working on burials were 2-day tasters Susan, Lucy and Kate. They had a very successful couple of days on site as they managed to carefully reveal the outline of a burial and start excavating the back fill.

Susan, Lucy and Kate excavating a grave back fill under the watchful eye of placement Eleanor.

Susan, Lucy and Kate excavating a grave back fill under the watchful eye of placement Eleanor.

Working close by was returning trainee Joan, who spent her week picking apart more of the C19th burial sequence. One of the larger grave plots that had contained some infant burials that have been lifted in previous weeks was excavated by Joan to its full extent. When she had it cleaned up to a good standard it was time to get her photo, however this was easier said than done…

Joan adopts a precarious position to ensure she gets a top-notch photo of her grave cut!

Joan adopts a precarious position to ensure she gets a top-notch photo of her grave cut!

However Joan managed spendidly with her precarious stance and managed to put some fab records together, it’s been lovely to have her back on site!

All of our other week 9 trainees were working on pre-burial features. Close by Joan one pair of new starters, local lad Andy and returnee Iain spent their week cleaning, recording and excavating two large spreads that both predated the graveyard.

Andy and Iain cleaning up their first pre-burial deposit.

Andy and Iain cleaning up their first pre-burial deposit.

Their first couple of days were spent on an early 19th/late 18th century deposit covering a large area, which the burials had been cut into. First they cleaned the area and then recorded it, which was quite challenging as the plans ended up spreading over 3 or 4 sheets! Iain and Andy were more than up to the task though, and with the plans squared away they began excavating that spread until they came down onto another dumping layer. This context is at least 18th century in date but could be as early as the 17th century. Despite the area being disturbed by burials, it should hopefully give us insight into the pre-burial landscape over a slightly larger surface area rather than with thin spits of land between graves as has been the case in the rest of the graveyard area.

Iain getting a good photo of his and Andy's dump feature.

Iain getting a good photo of his and Andy’s dump feature.

Continuing trainee Rick and new starter Alistair were working right in the medieval horizon on several more – you guessed it – dumping layers! The medieval deposits we have found at this site all seem to be dumping and refuse deposits, and Rick and Alistair added to our understanding of the order of events that created these deposits.

Rick and Alistair excavating one of their medieval dumping deposits.

Rick and Alistair excavating one of their medieval dumping deposits.

The dumping layers seemed to be domestic refuse – a mixture of animal bone, pottery, brick and tile and so on, however as is standard at All Saints, redeposited material from earlier periods was also present. One such find was a lovely piece of fine Roman pottery with a hand painted design on it.

Rick was really happy with his beautiful Roman pottery sherd!

Rick was really happy with his beautiful Roman pottery sherd!

Towards the end of the week after previous dumps had been recorded and lifted by the pair, Alistair excavated a silt and clay layer to expose the edge of some kind of stone surface or structure. Its precise function is unclear at the moment, and so gaining a better understanding will be a task for some of the trainees in week 10.

A closer look.

A closer look.

Alistair revealing the edge of a stone feature or surface.

Alistair revealing the edge of a stone feature or surface.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working in the slightly more recent pre-burial phase were new starters Cadan and Lori. Over the course of their week they managed to pick apart, record and excavate several surfaces and deposits from the 18th century.

Their first job was to clean up a sequence of late 18th century surfaces and deposits. With the cleaning of the first deposit Lori and Cadan revealed a tile feature that could have been a surface or footing , and so they set to getting it recorded. Once they had done that they removed the tiles and cleaned the mortar spread they had been laying above. With that deposit recorded equally speedily they also got the chance to excavate the mortar on Friday and begin to reveal the next sequence in the deposit. The pair picked up the recording process very quickly and like all of our trainees, produced really detailed drawings and other records.

Placement Katie was all smiles with how fast Cadan and Lori picked up planning!

Placement Katie was all smiles with how fast Cadan and Lori picked up planning!

Cadan also had a really lovely little find from one of the first deposits that overlaid the tiles. Whilst we mostly get fired clay tobacco pipe stems, its not that often we get complete pipe bowls, although this summer we have found 2 or 3 so far. Cadan added a wonderful little pipe from the 1700s to our collection, and obviously he was pretty happy about it!

Cadan was pleased with this charming little pipe bowl from the 1700s!

Cadan was pleased with this charming little pipe bowl from the 1700s!

1-day tasters Emelia and Susie also spent some time on similar features to Lori and Cadan – a C18th mortar deposit overlying a tile feature or surface. They spent their day on site excavating the mortar to reveal the tiles which were laid fairly flat on the ground. The parallels between their feature, Lori and Cadan’s sequence and some others on the site provide interesting insight into what the post-medieval horizon off Church Lane might have looked like across the centre of our trench. Its highly unlikely Emelia and Susie’s features are part of the same surfaces as Lori and Cadan’s but the repeated deposition of material is certainly a site wide occurrence.

Emelia and Susie lifting their 18th century mortar surface to reveal a tile feature.

Emelia and Susie lifting their 18th century mortar surface to reveal a tile feature.

All told week 9 was another wonderful one at All Saint’s with some lovely finds and archaeological sequences that are really starting to make sense appearing! Our trainees do 100% of the archaeology on site, and fund 100% of the project so we literally cannot do it without them and they all make it so enjoyable for staff and placements. Thanks again to the week 9 team!

The week 9 team.

The week 9 team.

– Katie

P.S: on the morning of the conservation tour when the trench was much quieter than usual site staff Arran and Becky took advantage of the calm to make some serious headway on our “Master Matrix” – the massive flow chart that shows the order in which all of our features occurred at All Saints. As we near the end of the 3rd season here, the matrix is looking very impressive (and it’s huge)…

Behold, our Master Matrix - We LOVE stratigraphy!

Behold, our Master Matrix – We LOVE stratigraphy!

Site Diary: Summer Week 8

With only 4 weeks left of the 2016 summer season of Archaeology Live! it was full steam ahead at All Saints. Our Week 8 trainees made great progress on a number of burials and medieval to post-medieval deposits. They also had a stellar week for finds during several of our washing and bagging sessions, and we have now officially found gold*!

*Leaf

Yes, that’s right, on one of our finds bagging sessions a keen-eyed trainee noticed something different about a fragment of pot. Despite the sherd looking like so many other pieces we’ve found at All Saints, this sherd, upon closer inspection, had glinting little pieces of gold leaf on it!

A pottery sherd with gold leaf - fancy!

A pottery sherd with gold leaf – fancy!

However the streak of good luck didn’t stop there, as our other finds processing (washing and bagging) sessions revealed even more stellar finds. These included 2 different styles of Nene Valley cups – a type of Roman pottery, as well as a medieval flagon, a couple of possible brooches, a piece of pottery with residue still stuck on the inside, and a possible medieval quern stone! One of our Roman wares even came with a horse’s bottom on it! It would have originally formed part of a hunting scene, which was a common motif on several types of Roman pottery vessels.

A horse bottom occupies part of the hunting scene on this Roman Nene Valley cup.

A horse bottom occupies part of the hunting scene on this Roman Nene Valley cup.

 

Daniel looking very pleased with his copper alloy object - possibly a brooch.

Daniel looking very pleased with his copper alloy object – possibly a brooch.

A close up of Victoria's pottery sherd complete with residue!

A close up of  Victoria’s pottery sherd complete with residue!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finds processing consists of either washing trays of finds after a context has been completely dug, or sorting finds into categories of animal bone, pottery, glass, shell, human bone etc. and bagging them up accordingly.  We generally have one bagging or washing session each day so that trainees become familiar with the process, they become better at recognising the type of finds they could come across whilst digging, and it means we stay on top of our ever mounting pile! Both processes also involve looking out for finds that may be a little different – such as copper alloy objects, worked bone and so on as these get bagged separately as small finds. They are all labelled very tidily as they then go straight to our finds department for analysis. Having regular washing and bagging sessions also allows trainees to be even more involved with the whole on-site archaeological process.

Jagoda was also pleased with her copper alloy object - it could be a brooch, coin or some kind of fitting!

Jagoda was pleased with her copper alloy object – it could be a brooch, coin or some kind of fitting!

 

A possible medieval quern stone.

A possible medieval quern stone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Away from finds processing, progress in the trench was also very good in week 8. We had a number of people working on a range of burials and a couple of other teams working on our earlier medieval and post-medieval features.

Continuing trainees Leah and Charlotte finished off recording their large adult burial and covered it over with a deep layer of sieved soil before moving onto another nearby burial plot. As they started cleaning the trample layer off the top of the backfill the girls came across a posthole/small pit. They quickly got to work on recording it, digging it and doing the same for the cut. They made a great team, and managed to recover a nice range of pottery and a rather curious iron hook from their feature.

Leah, placement Katie, and Charlotte proving that recording can be fun!

Leah, placement Katie, and Charlotte proving that recording can be fun!

Leah with her iron hook, and Charlotte with some of the pottery from their feature.

Leah with her iron hook, and Charlotte with some of the pottery from their feature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leah revealing the edge of her coffin.

Leah revealing the edge of her coffin.

With that feature excavated they continued with their grave backfill and by the end of the week had began to reveal a well preserved coffin from the 19th century burial phase.

Also working on the C19th burials were new starters Victoria and Jagoda. As well as their lovely finds from the processing sessions, they spent the start of their week carefully recording and lifting an infant burial. Once the remains had been put safely away they recovered the remaining pieces of coffin. All of the coffin is collected and kept with the remains for reburial within the church. After this infant was lifted Victoria and Jagoda carried on excavation in the much larger plot – this appears to be another family grave and so there will be an adult burial further down, although there may be more burials above.

Victoria and Jagoda gathering the remains of a coffin.

Victoria and Jagoda gathering the remains of a coffin.

Nearby new starters Libby and Alice were also working on a burial, however this one was at a much lower depth and so cleaning and recording were quite challenging. The girls were more than up to the task! With that inhumation recorded they re-covered the individual, who did not needed to be lifted due to the depth at which they were buried. They moved down into ‘Contrary Corner’ where they began work on a mortar filled pit with a piece of very nice medieval pottery laying just on top of this deposit. This particular piece of pottery has been looking at us for 2 whole seasons now but we have not been able to pick up as a number of later features have had to be dealt with first – hopefully next week Alice and Libby will get to lift it!

Alice, on the left, takes measurements for Libby to plot with our placement Ellen.

Alice,  (left), takes measurements for Libby to plot with our placement Ellen.

Alice and Libby trowelling their mortar-filled pit. Can you spot the green glazed medieval pot?

Alice and Libby trowelling their mortar-filled pit. Can you spot the green glazed medieval pot?

 

 

 

 

 

 

New starters Daisy and Kate were another pair working on the C19th burial horizon. Near to where Leah and Charlotte were working against the Old Rectory walls,  Kate and Daisy cleaned up and recorded a pair of infant grave cuts that had been lifted in week 7.

Daisy and Kate adding final touches to their levels and plans of their grave cuts.

Daisy and Kate adding final touches to their levels and plans of their grave cuts.

Kate, in the foreground, and Daisy cleaning back an earlier graveyard soil layer near the Old Rectory walls.

Kate, in the foreground, and Daisy cleaning back an earlier graveyard soil layer near the Old Rectory walls.

After squaring away those records they started cleaning up a soil deposit that appears to predate the infant burials in this particular area, as the graves are cut through it. It’s likely that it is another graveyard soil deposit; a spread of material that is the result of graves being repeatedly opened.

The rest of this week’s trainees were all working on deposits pre-dating the beginning of the burial ground, including our tasters. Victoria and Linda, from Leeds and Australia respectively, came from near and far to work on an 18th century surface. As they peeled away a compacted mortar surface, a soft burnt sand layer emerged. Perhaps this relates to activities going on in the post-medieval workshops on Church Lane?

Our other week 8 tasters, Daniel and Tony, worked on a series of medieval dumping layers, as well as Daniel finding that rather nice copper alloy brooch in finds washing. They managed to clean, record and excavate a trampled layer of refuse as well and gained a clearer idea about the sequence of deposition in this area.

Victoria and Linda working on their 18th century deposits.

Victoria and Linda working on their 18th century deposits.

Daniel and Tony cleaning up a sequence of medieval dumps.

Daniel and Tony cleaning up a sequence of medieval dumps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like Victoria and Linda, James and Ellie were also working in the post-medieval workshop horizon. They were excavating a bedding material for a hornworkers shop floor, and as this peeled away yet another mortar surface was revealed. James and Ellie managed to get this deposit fully recorded and started excavating again by the end of the week.

Ellie and James revealing their mortar layer.

Ellie and James revealing their mortar layer.

Digging even further back in time were other new starters Rick and Jack, who continued work on a medieval dump sequence started by Colin and Sam in week 7. Over the course of the week they got through an impressive 4 individual dumping events, thoroughly recording each one. What they also discovered through their levelling was that each dumping layer sloped down and away from the church, which gives us an idea of what the medieval horizon around All Saints may have looked like, perhaps with the church standing taller than everything around it. If you remember from previous site diaries, we have also found a large amount of bright green glazed medieval roof tiles that paint a picture of a very impressive green-roofed medieval All Saints that would have stood out  in a very dramatic fashion. Credit goes to Rick and Jack for making so much headway through the medieval ground level and shifting a lot of earth, as well as putting some quality records together!

Jack and Rick excavating one of their 4 medieval dumping layers.

Jack and Rick excavating one of their 4 medieval dumping layers.

Week 8 was impressive all round, for excavation, recording quality and of course those star finds, and it’s all down to the trainees’ hard work. Thanks must also go to the placements for making everything at the dig run smoothly as we wouldn’t be able to do it without them either.

The week 8 team.

The week 8 team.

That’s all for now, week 9 to follow soon…

Katie

P.S. It’s not all hard work for the staff and placements, as when we finish on site for the day we and the trainees will often head to a pub, for a walk that ends up in a pub, or for food in a pub/bar – you get the idea. On Wednesdays Arran, Toby and co. play football, so sometimes if the weather is good Becky and the placements take any trainees who want to come along for 2-4-1 cocktails in a nice little bar. Wednesday of week 8 just happened to be my birthday so some of us got a little carried away with that offer…

Wednesday evening...

Wednesday evening…

...Thursday morning.

…Thursday morning.

 

Site Diary: Summer Week 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Corinne and her (possibly Roman) silver coin.

Corinne and her (possibly Roman) silver coin.

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

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

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

 

 

Corinne and Kat and their matching bone buttons.

Corinne and Kat and their matching bone buttons.

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

Imogen, Linda and Chris hard at work recording.

Imogen, Linda and Chris hard at work recording.

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

Chris with her Masonic pipe bowl.

Chris with her Masonic pipe bowl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colin and his mysterious copper alloy object.

Colin and his mysterious copper alloy object.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracy and Leanne with finds galore!

Tracy and Leanne with finds galore!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The centre of the Roman fortress.

The centre of the Roman fortress.

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

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

The Friday afternoon round up.

The Friday afternoon round up!

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

-Becky

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

The week 7 team.

The week 7 team.

Site Diary: Summer Week 6

Week 6 marked the halfway point of Summer 2016 at All Saints, and it didn’t disappoint! Work continued on a number of burials of varying ages and sizes from the 19th century as well as several post-medieval and medieval deposits. We were able to answer some questions about the area within the footprint of the Old Rectory too. Whilst some trainees continued from the previous week we had several new starters joining us on Monday for another week of discovery.

Week 6 saw some mixed weather and a lot of recording and digging!

Week 6 saw some mixed weather and a lot of recording and digging!

Headway was made with a number of burials this week by our 1 – 2 day tasters and our week-long trainees. New starter Leah joined continuing trainee Anna to carry on exposing the coffin remains within the burial of a juvenile. Once they had found the extent of the coffin, which had survived as a dark stain with some wood fragments and metal fittings, they were able to record it. It was then time for the girls to continue with some careful digging downwards to locate the skull before exposing the rest of the remains.

Locating the skull first is a useful way to begin as it is easy to work your way down the skeleton without disturbing the more delicate areas such as the hands and feet. The coffin recording and cleaning of the remains took most of Anna and Leah’s time up, but it was worth it for the end result and they had uncovered half of the skeleton by the end of the week.

Leah (right) and Anna (centre) record their inhumation with placement Katie.

Leah (right) and Anna (centre) record their inhumation with placement Katie.

Nearby, continuing trainee Katie started lifting the infant burial recorded by her and Jess the week prior and, once the remains were safely stored for reburial in the church, she was able to clean up and record the small grave cut.

Katie delicately cleaning up an infant-sized grave cut.

Katie delicately cleaning up an infant-sized grave cut.

With the records for that particular individual squared away, Katie set about finding more of the coffin in the much deeper adult grave she had originally been working on in week 5. On Tuesday we were joined by two-day taster Charlie who began working across from Katie on cleaning up another infant burial for recording. It was a bit cramped for the girls but they managed very well!

Charlie (right) works on an infant burial whilst Katie (left) works on a deeper adult burial. Anna and Leah are in the background working on their juvenile burial.

Charlie (right) works on an infant burial whilst Katie (left) works on a deeper adult burial. Anna and Leah are in the background working on their juvenile burial.

Charlie managed to clean and record her infant over the course of her two days so it was ready to be lifted. On Thursday 1 day tasters Ann and Jan worked on that and another nearby infant burial, beginning to lift one and exposing more of the other.

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Ann and Jan working n their two infant burials.

Ann and Jan working n their two infant burials.

On Friday we were joined by another pair of 1 day tasters, Ann and Libby, who were set to work on the same cluster of burials. In the afternoon Becky managed to take them through the recording process – not bad for a day’s work!

Site staff Becky explaining the recording process to day tasters Ann and Libby.

Site staff Becky explaining the recording process to 1 day tasters Ann and Libby.

Also working on burials in week 6 was continuing trainee Janet who, alongside new starter Sam, was tasked with trying to understand an incredibly complex sequence of intercutting burials of varying ages near the centre of the trench. The reason for this complexity is the use and re-use of two neighbouring grave plots for interments being followed by additional burials being squeezed into the gap between the two plots – making the individual burial events very hard to pick apart.

When burials are stacked on top of each other within family plots, the deterioration and collapse of the lower coffin(s) causes the later burials above to sink into the newly formed voids. Add intercutting graves from overlapping burial plots as well as all the pre-burial activities in the area and it can become very difficult to see separate graves until you start digging them. By the end of the week Janet and Sam’s patient work had given us a much better understanding of the burial sequence here and we identified the next grave, that of an infant, ready to record and dig. In week 7 Janet will be able to continue work on this grave by finishing her recording and starting to look for the coffin.

In the foreground to the right, Becky, Sam and Janet try and figure out their burial sequence.

In the foreground to the right, Becky, Sam and Janet try and figure out their burial sequence.

Meanwhile Sam moved onto a nearby cobbled area that had survived from the post-medieval period between two graves, and spent the end of the week putting some detailed records together. These tiny spurs of archaeology are the only insight we have into pre-burial activities in the graveyard area of All Saints, so it is extremely important to treat them with great care.

Sam recording a post-medieval cobble surface that survived between two C19th graves.

Sam recording a post-medieval cobble surface that survived between two C19th graves.

On Friday of week 5 Tom and Alec came across a previously unidentified infant burial whilst excavating a graveyard soil, and so on Monday of week 6 an important job was to get the burial recorded so it could be lifted out of harms way. It was up to new starters Hasel and Lesley to plan the back fill and remains.

It was a highly truncated grave and space was at a premium, so Lesley moved onto another feature and Hasel spent the rest of the week lifting the skeleton and looking for the edges of the cut, which were far from clear! In the Week 2 Site Diary site supervisor Arran discussed possible explanations for why there seems to be a large quantity of inter-cutting infant burial plots located in this particular area in line with the church tower. This grave adds further to the evidence for somewhat less careful burial of younger individuals in this area of the graveyard.

Placement Matt take Lesley and Hasel through the recording process for their truncated infant burial.

Placement Matt take Lesley and Hasel through the recording process for their truncated infant burial.

The remainder of Lesley’s week was spent exploring the most ancient deposits that we have reached so far. A sondage (a “trench within a trench”) within the footprint of the Old Rectory has given us the chance to investigate the nature of deposits beyond the 19th century graveyard. So far we have been finding securely dateable C14th pits and dumps which has led us to wonder if we are inside a building that pre-dates the Rectory, or in an outside space such as a yard or garden. The other question we would like to answer is if the space was for industrial or domestic (or both!) use.

In week 2, trainees Alison and Helen found 14th century silting and a compacted layer that could have been a surface. On the July Weekend Dig Beverley excavated a C14th silty ashy layer, in week 3 David and Kathryn dealt with a medieval midden layer and in week 4 tasters Caroline, Lisa, Lyn, Ann and Pat worked on another series of dumps containing animal bone and hearth clearance material. Week 5 saw Penny and Oli excavate a large pit of butchered animal bone, again from the 14th century. Now, Lesley has added to the record of this area with the excavation of a deposit containing a lot of fish bones; it was yet another medieval refuse pit.

Lesley and Matt excavating a rather deep medieval rubbish pit.

Lesley and Matt excavating a rather deep medieval rubbish pit.

So Lesley’s pit is another piece of evidence that helps answer our questions, this area is very likely to have been an outside space at this point as you wouldn’t expect to find this kind of waste inside a domestic dwelling. The waste could be from domestic or industrial activities related to the preparation of food – hence the butchery, fish bone and hearth waste. Hopefully as the season goes on we will be able to learn more about the activities that produced this waste.

Working in medieval deposits elsewhere on site were new starters Colin and Annemarie, who spent their week taking up several dumping layers that are some of the oldest on site. Each layer was cleaned, photographed, planned, levelled, described and then excavated. By the end of their week they had made it through several distinct layers and had them all recorded and ready to be added to the site matrix. That’s pretty fast work!

Colin and Annemarie excavating one of a sequence of medieval dump deposits.

Colin and Annemarie excavating one of a sequence of medieval dump deposits.

Working in the more recent pre-burial horizon were other new starters Bill from the UK and Christine, who joined us all the way from Australia! In many places on the site there are little spurs of land between graves, like the cobbled surface Sam was working on, that give us a bit of a keyhole look at the post-medieval activities on the site. Several of these spurs survive, albeit precariously, in “Contrary Corner,” and so it was here that Bill and Chris started to record and excavate in week 6. Like Colin and Annemarie they made their way through several different deposits meaning they got to learn and practice their recording skills quite frequently! We were expecting these deposits to be 18th century in date, although the pottery suggests some of the lower deposits were possibly medieval. Bill and Christine turned out to be a crack team at recording and they made really good progress on these very fragile spurs of ground.

Bill and Chris working hard in Contrary Corner.

Bill and Chris working hard in Contrary Corner.

Throughout the week the trainees received all of the usual specialist sessions on pottery, conservation, small finds and stratigraphy as well as numerous finds washing/bagging sessions. One finds washing session proved particularly fruitful for Colin who came across this rather nice socketed worked bone object, it could be post-medieval in date:

Colin looking rightly pleased with his worked bone object.

Colin looking rightly pleased with his worked bone object.

Another finds washing session revealed a chicken print in a medieval roof tile. You can just imagine the frustration of the potter checking on his drying tiles and finding out a stray chicken has ran all over them!

Evidence of medieval chickens running amok!

Evidence of medieval chickens running amok!

Well that’s all there is to report on for this week, it was a great chance to answer some long-held questions about the medieval period at All Saints – although there is still much more to be learned. We also made progress on understanding the more complex burial sequences on the site as well as getting some of the more fragile remains lifted safely out of the way. Friday of week 6 also marked the halfway point of the summer season at All Saints, and it was amazing how fast it had gone so far, but they do say time flies when you’re having fun – so far we’ve had a ball and hope the trainees have too!

Thank you of course, to the trainees for making Archaeology Live! happen and making it so much fun, and thank you readers for reading!

Katie

 

P.S: We knew this was going to be a good week as Becky kicked off Monday by getting a high-five from a resting bee…

Strange things happen when you spend 6+ weeks in the sun...

Strange things happen when you spend 6+ weeks in the sun…

Site Diary: Summer Week 4

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

Cloudless skies over All Saints.

Cloudless skies over All Saints.

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

Hannah proudly displaying her first ever medieval find.

Hannah proudly displaying her first ever medieval find.

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

Anna and her tiny Roman minim.

Anna and her tiny Roman minim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Painstaking excavation of a tiny infant skeleton.

Painstaking excavation of a tiny infant skeleton.

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Catherine excavating with Arch Live! placement Ellen.

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

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

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

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

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

Molly reaching into a deep grave cut.

Molly reaching into a deep grave cut.

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

Molly, Meg and Katie completing their records.

Molly, Meg and Katie completing their records.

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

Molly measuring a stone footing.

Molly measuring a stone footing.

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

Archaeology is a serious business...

Archaeology is a serious business…

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

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

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

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

Recording a 19th century coffin.

Recording a 19th century coffin.

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

Frankie adding a little colour to a very dry trench.

Frankie adding a little colour to a very dry trench.

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

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

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

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

Kaylan and Frankie adding levels to their coffin plan.

Kaylan and Frankie adding levels to their coffin plan.

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

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

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

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

Christine and Matt meticulously excavating an infant burial.

Christine and Matt meticulously excavating an infant burial.

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

Archaeologists in their element.

Archaeologists in their element.

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

A busy taster day in the medieval period.

A busy taster day in the medieval period.

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

Ann and Pat descending further back in time.

Ann and Pat descending further back in time.

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

Work continuing in our medieval sondage.

Work continuing in our medieval sondage (left).

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

Sorting and bagging finds prior to specialist analysis.

Sorting and bagging finds prior to specialist analysis.

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

Escaping the heat beneath the tree of finds.

Escaping the heat beneath the tree of finds.

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

Tea, anyone?

Tea, anyone?

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

The week 4 team.

The week 4 team.

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

-Katie

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

Of course, we had to name him Captain Jack.

Captain Jack Sparrow

Captain Jack Sparrow

 

 

Site Diary: Summer Week 3

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

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

Summer arrives at All Saints.

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

Finds washing beneath the Tree of Finds

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

 

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

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

Trowelling a layer of medieval midden waste.

Trowelling a layer of medieval midden waste.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elisa and Federica excavating a difficult to reach burial.

Elisa and Federica excavating a difficult to reach burial.

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

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

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

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

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

Trowel cleaning a post-medieval post pad.

Trowel cleaning a post-medieval post pad.

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

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

Dismantling a post pad.

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

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

Kaylan and a fragment of medieval floor tile.

Kaylan and a fragment of medieval floor tile.

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

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

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

Emily and her lead seal.

Emily and her lead seal.

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

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

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

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

Alice, Hannah and Hope celebrate a job well done.

Alice, Hannah and Hope celebrate a job well done.

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

Molly and Meg excavating in the shade of Contrary Corner.

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

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

A well preserved 19th century coffin stain.

A well preserved 19th century coffin stain.

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

Meg and Molly carefully removing the backfill of their grave.

Meg and Molly carefully removing the backfill of their grave.

 

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

Molly and her freshly unearthed copper alloy button.

Molly and her freshly unearthed copper alloy button.

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

A very busy trench from top to bottom!

A very busy trench from top to bottom!

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

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

The surviving timber of a 160+ year old coffin

The surviving timber of a 160+ year old coffin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arrans stratigraphy session, complete with mammoths.

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

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

Jenni and her fragment of a lead ampulla.

Jenni and her fragment of a lead ampulla.

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

A lead ampulla.

A lead ampulla.

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

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

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

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

The Hungate ampulla. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust.

The Hungate ampulla. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust.

 

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

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

 

The week 3 team

The week 3 team

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

Becky, Ellen and Katie declare the open day open!

Becky, Ellen and Katie declare the open day open!

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

Showing off our latest finds.

Showing off our latest finds.

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

-Katie

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

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

Princess Head. It’s best not to ask…

 

 

Site Diary: July Weekend

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

Ominous skies over All Saints.

Ominous skies over All Saints.

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

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

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

Excavation of infant burials by the former Rectory.

Excavation of infant burials by the former Rectory.

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

Theo carefully excavating a burial.

Theo carefully excavating a burial.

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

Michelle working on an adult burial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excavating the floor of an 18th century workshop.

Excavating the floor of an 18th century workshop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie and Michelle.

Julie and Sharon.

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

Julie and Sharon recording their second floor surface.

Julie and Sharon recording their second floor surface.

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

Beverley and Katie recording a slightly waterlogged medieval dump.

Beverley and Katie recording a slightly waterlogged medieval dump.

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

'The Bradford Gang'

‘The Bradford Gang’

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

Theo looking resplendent in the afternoon sun.

Theo looking resplendent in the afternoon sun.

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

The July weekend team.

The July weekend team.

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

-Arran

 

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