Tag: matrix

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 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!

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