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.
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!
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!
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!).
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!
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).
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.
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!
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!
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.
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…
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!