Tag: training (page 3 of 4)

Site Diary: Week 8

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

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The All Saints, North Street excavation.

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

Gary's team giving the trench a clean.

Gary’s team giving the trench a clean.

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

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

Zena and Mazda investigating a beaten earth surface.

Zena and Mazda investigating a beaten earth surface.

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

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

Linda and Janice excavating a suspected 19th century burial.

Linda and Janice excavating a suspected 19th century burial.

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

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

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

Rachel and Liss discussing their sequence.

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

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

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

Pandora, Robert and Steve.

Pandora, Robert and Steve.

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

Itab working on her post hole.

Itab working on her post hole.

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

Itab's post hole.

Itab’s post hole during excavation.

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

Zena and Mazda digging in the afternoon sun.

Digging in the afternoon sun.

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

Itab planning her feature.

Itab planning her feature.

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

Steve exposing a late medieval deposit.

Steve exposing a late medieval deposit.

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

Kirsten working on an infant burial.

Kirsten working on an infant burial.

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

Kirsty and her first find.

Kristy and her first find.

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

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

Ann and Gus looking for new features.

Ann and Gus looking for new features.

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

Rachel and Liss asess their new discovery.

Rachel and Liss asess their new discovery.

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

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

Pandora beginning to disappear from sight!

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

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

Pandora's Roman minim

Pandora’s Roman minim

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

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

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

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

Janice and her medieval marvel!

Janice and her medieval marvel!

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

Janice's shard of painted window glass.

Janice’s shard of painted window glass.

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

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

All Saints in the August sunshine.

All Saints in the August sunshine.

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

Well, not straight away anyway…

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

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

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

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

Mazda planning a deposit while Toby leads a site tour.

Mazda planning a deposit while Toby leads a site tour.

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

Kristy and Ann

Kristy and Ann

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

Itab and Rachel

Itab and Rachel

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

You're just showing off now.

You’re just showing off now Pandora…

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

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

A suitably delighted Pandora!

A suitably delighted Pandora!

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

Pandora's beautiful cornelian intaglio.

Pandora’s beautiful cornelian intaglio.

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

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

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

A Roman intaglio from the Hungate excavations.

A Roman intaglio from the Hungate excavations.

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

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

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

Kirsten and Robert backfilling a fully recorded backfill.

Kirsten and Robert backfilling a fully recorded backfill.

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

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

Kirsten's Samian sherd.

Kirsten’s Samian sherd.

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

Liss and Rachel planning a burial.

Liss and Rachel planning a burial.

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

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

Mazda and Zena

Mazda (left) and Zena (right)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheryl and Lydia were an effective mother/daughter team!

Cheryl and Lydia were an effective mother/daughter team!

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

Pandora taking section photographs.

Pandora taking section photographs.

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

A peek into Contrary Corner.

A peek into Contrary Corner.

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

Liss and Rachel descending into the post-medieval period.

Liss and Rachel descending into the post-medieval period.

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

A sandy surface under excavation.

A sandy surface under excavation.

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

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

Toby's small finds session.

Toby’s small finds session.

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

The matrix masterclass

The matrix masterclass

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

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

The week eight team

The week eight team

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

Best get digging then, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

 

 

 

 

 

Site Diary: Week 6

Week six begins.

Week six begins.

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

And then it rained.

For two days.

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

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

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

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

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

Taralea's small find.

Taralea’s small find.

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

Sunshine!!

Sunshine!!

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

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

Sarah and Jess.

Sarah and Jess.

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

Recording a burial.

Deep discussion during the recording of the burial.

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

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

Linda cleaning up her tile-lined pit.

Linda cleaning up her tile-lined pit.

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

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

Linda exposing a post hole.

Linda exposing a post hole.

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

Kent and Linda planning a surface.

Kent and Linda planning a surface.

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

Gus, Kent and Linda discussing their findings.

Gus, Kent and Linda discussing their findings.

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

Christine lifting an ashy deposit.

Christine lifting an ashy deposit.

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

Hattie exposing a possible hearth base.

Hattie exposing a possible hearth base.

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

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

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

 

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

Sieving material from a medieval deposit.

Sieving material from a medieval deposit.

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

Ted's pot sherd.

Ted’s pot sherd.

Here’s a closer look.

IMG_8022

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

Meanwhile, in Contrary Corner...

Meanwhile, in Contrary Corner…

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

Recording a new deposit in Contrary Corner.

Recording a new deposit in Contrary Corner.

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

Can you make out the outline?

Can you make out the outline?

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

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

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

Katie's sherd of samian.

Katie’s sherd of Samian.

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

Liss and Taralea.

Liss and Taralea.

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

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

A pair of pipes emerge.

A pair of pipes emerge.

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

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

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

Pete working on an 18th century dump.

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

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

Lifting the brick floor.

Lifting the brick floor.

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

Pete and Tomasz.

Pete and Tomasz.

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

Noel revealing a post hole.

Noel revealing a post hole.

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

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

Manda's Roman discovery.

Manda’s Roman discovery.

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

Finds washing action shot.

Finds washing action shot.

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

Have you got the time?

Have you got the time?

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

Internal gears visible in the corroded watch.

Internal gears visible in the corroded watch.

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

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

Paws for thought.

Paws for thought.

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

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

The week six team.

The week six team.

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

Becky, Katie, Ellen and Gus

Becky, Katie, Ellen and Gus

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

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

So, without further ado, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

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

Lisa, Pandora, Manda and Arran - DYS veterans

Lisa, Pandora, Manda and Arran – DYS veterans

 

Site Diary: Week 2

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

The view from the trench

The view from the trench

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

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

Sue and Dan's linear feature.

Sue and Dan’s linear feature.

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

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

Alice putting the finishing touches to her plan.

Alice putting the finishing touches to her plan.

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

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

Barry and Hayley - The Essex dream team.

Barry and Hayley – The Essex dream team.

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

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

Recording a new deposit.

Zada, Brad and Kimberley recording a new deposit.

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

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

Matt and Bri's construction cut under excavation.

Matt and Bri’s construction cut under excavation.

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

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

Looking down on the Rectory walls.

Looking down on the Rectory walls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting hot!

Getting hot!

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

Jade's latest find.

Jade’s latest find.

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

Jade and Alice recording.

Jade and Alice recording.

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

Dan and Sue.

Dan and Sue.

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

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

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

Planning Church Lane

Planning Church Lane

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

Recording the Rectory.

Recording the Rectory.

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

Jean digging in Contrary Corner.

Jean digging in Contrary Corner.

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

Barry and Hayley

Barry and Hayley

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

A good tray!

A good tray!

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

Drying finds.

Drying finds.

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

Matt and his Bellarmine jug neck.

Matt and his Bellarmine jug neck.

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

Jade's surface

Jade’s surface

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

Bri and his bead.

Bri and his bead.

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

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

Jade and Alice

Jade and Alice

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

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

Recording a coffin.

Recording a coffin.

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

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

Who says levelling can't be fun??

Who says levelling can’t be fun??

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

Kings of the context card.

Kings of the context card.

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

Runes? If only!

Runes? If only!

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

 

Learning about small finds.

Learning about small finds.

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

Red's medieval pot sherd.

Red’s medieval pot sherd.

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

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

IMG_7584

Brad and Kimberley

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

A sloping cobbled surface.

A sloping cobbled surface between two later graves.

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

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

Excavating a tiny coffin.

Excavating a tiny coffin.

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

Too hot!

Too hot!

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

Cynde reaching to the base of a deep feature.

Cynde reaching to the base of a deep feature.

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

Matt and Bri

Matt and Bri

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

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

Hayley recording Gill's newly exposed cobble surface.

Hayley recording Gill’s newly exposed cobble surface.

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

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

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

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

The week two team.

The week two team.

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

As ever, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

May Weekend Excavation

‘How do you know where to dig?’

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

Archaeology in the May sunshine.

Archaeology in the May sunshine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharon and Michelle get started.

Sharon and Helen get started.

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

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

Sharon proudly displaying her first find.

Sharon proudly displaying her first find.

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

Sharon and Helen's ceramic timeline.

Sharon and Helen’s ceramic timeline.

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

Sydney working on a 19th century grave.

Sydney working on a 19th century grave.

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

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

Sydney and her coin.

Sydney and her coin.

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

Michelle trowel cleaning her coffin stain.

Michelle trowel cleaning her coffin stain.

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

Michelle's worked bone object.

Michelle’s worked bone object.

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

IMG_7026

Chelsea and Tara having a closer look at their finds.

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

Chelsea's mystery object.

Chelsea’s mystery object.

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

Helen exposing a grave void.

Helen exposing a grave void.

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

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

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

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

Onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

Archaeology Live! 2015 Spring Excavation

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

The River Ouse

The River Ouse

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

Roman York

Roman York

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

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

All Saints in spring

All Saints in spring

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

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

Week One

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

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

Cleaning up the trench on day one.

Cleaning up the trench on day one.

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

Amy's first find of the season.

Amy’s first find of the season.

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

IMG_4980

Alex and her Viking era pot sherd.

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

Chris got off to a good start!

Chris got off to a good start!

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

Chris' sherd of samian.

Chris’ sherd of samian.

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

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

IMG_4971

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

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

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

A post hole backfilled with industrial residue.

A post hole backfilled with industrial residue.

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

Chris and Martin recording their post hole.

Chris and Martin recording their post hole.

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

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

Gary's levelling masterclass was clearly well received!

Gary’s levelling masterclass was clearly well received!

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

Work begins on the construction spread at This End.

Work begins on the construction spread at This End.

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

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Ernie and Alex begin excavating their construction spread.

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

Team That End

Team That End

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

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

Elanor and her bone button/spacer.

Elanor and her bone button.

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

Savannah's perforated pot base.

Savannah’s perforated pot base.

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

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Lorna, Wen and Yinghong’s feature under excavation.

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

Lorna's shard of post-medieval window glass.

Lorna’s shard of post-medieval window glass.

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

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

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

Chris and Martin begin to excavate their trample layer.

Chris and Martin begin to excavate their trample layer.

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

Finds processing underneath the Tree of Finds.

Finds processing underneath the Tree of Finds.

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

A tale of two tiles.

A tale of two tiles.

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

Worn glaze on this floor tile suggests long use.

Worn glaze on this floor tile suggests long use.

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

An unfortunate medieval floor tile.

An unfortunate medieval floor tile.

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

Archaeologists at work.

Archaeologists at work.

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

Joe and his freshly unearthed coin.

Joe and his freshly unearthed coin.

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

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

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

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

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

Phillip showing off his latest Roman pot sherd.

Phillip showing off his latest Roman pot sherd.

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

Toby's strat session.

Toby’s strat session.

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

The week one team.

The week one team.

The April Weekend Excavation

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

The April weekend dig begins.

The April weekend dig begins.

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

Jennifer and Danielle hard at work.

Jennifer and Danielle hard at work.

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

Peter's first 'shiny' of the weekend.

Peter’s first ‘shiny’ of the weekend.

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

Peter's second 'shiny'

Peter’s second ‘shiny’

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

A possible Roman brooch.

A possible Roman brooch.

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

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

Chris and Lyn working in 'That End'

Chris and Lyn working in ‘That End’

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

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

Phil and Katie excavating a dump deposit.

Phil and Katie excavating a dump deposit.

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

Katie's Cistercian ware mug handle.

Katie’s Cistercian ware mug handle.

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

Phil's

Phil’s sherds of Roman Calcite Gritted ware and Samian

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

A new feature emerges.

A new feature emerges.

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

The April weekend team.

The April weekend team.

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

Week Two

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

Week two begins.

Week two begins.

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

Bri cleaning up a large area for recording.

Bri cleaning up a large area for recording.

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

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

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

Bri cleaning around newly discovered features.

Bri cleaning around newly discovered features.

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

Records Records Records

Ernie planning the tile feature.

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

Bri, Amy and Ernie adding levels to their plans.

Bri, Amy and Ernie adding levels to their plans.

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

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

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

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

Bea, Emma and Allison recording their cobbled surface.

Bea, Emma and Allison recording their cobbled surface.

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

Bea and Emma showing off their completed plan.

Bea and Emma showing off their completed plan.

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

Cobble demolition underway!

Cobble demolition underway!

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

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Gary begins to reveal the remains of a coffin.

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

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

Work begins on a newly discovered burial.

Work begins on a newly discovered burial.

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

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

Joe

Joe and his post-medieval glass shard.

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

Christina gently trowelling her grave backfill.

Christina gently trowelling her grave backfill.

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

Julia and Chris perfecting their troweling

Julia and Chris perfecting their troweling technique.

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

Emma and Paul

Emma and Paul

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

Emma's flake of flint.

Emma’s flake of flint.

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

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

The cobbled 'footing' being exposed in 2014.

The cobbled ‘footing’ being exposed in 2014.

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

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

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

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

Elanor and Savannah excavating their grave backfill.

Elanor and Savannah excavating their grave backfill.

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

Decorative metalwork from Elanor and Savannah's coffin.

Decorative metalwork from Elanor and Savannah’s coffin.

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

Elanor and Savannah celebrating a job well done.

Elanor and Savannah celebrating a job well done.

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

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

The week 2 team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A decorative, twisted medieval jug handle.

A decorative, twisted medieval jug handle.

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

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

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

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Joan and a large fragment of a medieval vessel.

Mysterious creatures…

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

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

Katie's fantastic Hambleton pot sherd.

Katie’s fantastic Hambleton pot sherd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm...

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm…

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

Family ties

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

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

Barry and his medieval seal.

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

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

A complete medieval seal jug from the Yorkshire Museum collection.

A complete medieval seal jug from the Yorkshire Museum collection.

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

IMG_6080

A closer look…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fingerprints

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

Medieval fingerprints.

Medieval fingerprints.

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

Child fingerprints in a medieval tile.

Child fingerprints in a medieval tile.

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

Fingerprints in a decorative late medieval pot rim.

Fingerprints in a decorative late medieval pot rim.

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

Fido's signature on a medieval roof tile.

Fido’s signature on a medieval roof tile.

Medieval paw-prints.

Medieval cat paw-prints.

Fun and games

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

Rob having a good finds day.

Rob having a good finds day.

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

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

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

Geoff and his bone gaming piece.

Geoff and his bone gaming piece.

Music

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

A medieval tuning peg

A medieval tuning peg

Style and wealth

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

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A tiny copper alloy buckle or clasp.

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

Ellen's brooch.

Ellen’s brooch.

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

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

Anne's medieval buckle.

Anne’s medieval buckle.

All Saints

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

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

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

A medieval tile reunited with the church floor.

A medieval tile reunited with the church floor.

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

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

Belle's window glass fragment.

Belle’s window glass fragment.

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

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

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

A little speculation never hurt anyone...

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

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

Anne showing off her glazed roof tile.

Anne showing off her glazed roof tile.

Some examples have a darker, more purple tinged hue.

Tah dah!

Tah dah! Jen presenting her latest find.

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

Vivid green glaze.

Vivid green glaze.

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

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

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

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

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

– Arran

Archaeology Live! 2014 Highlight Reel: The Roman finds

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

A wintry view of All Saints.

A wintry view of All Saints.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decorated samian ware.

Decorated samian ware.

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

Anne and Branka's Roman coin.

Anne and Branka’s Roman coin.

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

Sarah's amphora sherd.

Sarah’s amphora sherd.

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

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

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

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

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

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

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

Graffitied Roman pottery

Graffitied Roman pottery

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

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

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

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

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

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Roman roof tile.

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

Rosie's Roman tile fragment.

Rosie’s Roman tile fragment.

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

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Decorated Roman ceramics.

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Roman calcite gritted ware.

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

Kaye's rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

Kaye’s rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

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

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

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

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

– Arran

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Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 12.

IMG_5698 Time flies when you’re having fun.

It’s a cliche that’s brazenly obvious at the end of a long project, but nonetheless seems perfectly apt. We’ve had a lot of fun and made some intriguing and often surprising discoveries.  It really is hard to believe that three months have passed since we kicked off the summer season back in June! Back then, the team were fresh and raring to go and Planty the Plant was in the first flush of youth.

A youthful, verdant Planty back in June.

A youthful, verdant Planty back in June.

That said, it’s been a very busy 12 weeks for the Archaeology Live! team. There are a few new grey hairs here and there and Planty now looks a little worse for wear…

Oh, the ravages of time...

Oh, the ravages of time…

Tired archaeologists aside, it’s been an amazing summer and week 12 saw the team add a few new pieces to the puzzle, before making sure that all loose ends were tied up prior to our autumn hiatus.

In ‘That End’, Gary’s team had a very productive week. Rob and Nick began their week by wrapping up the records for ‘contrary corner’.

Nick and Rob made use of a former cupboard in the old boxing club.

Nick and Rob made use of a former cupboard in the old boxing club.

This area proved to be incredibly difficult to pick apart right up to the last few weeks of the summer, when the sequence began to resolve itself.

Records, records, records...

Records, records, records…

We now know that the area was used as part of the All Saints burial ground from 1823, a marked change from its previous life as a working yard at the turn of the 19th century. Pre-dating all of this, a wall footing discovered by Iain and Rose in week 10 suggests that the area was built on in the 18th century. What this building was and when it was built will be research targets for next season, for now it will remain a mystery!

Later in the week, Rob and Nick turned their attention to a pit that was started in week 11. Situated next to our ‘horn pit’, this feature also contained a large amount of cattle skull fragments and horn core. This tells us that the by-products of the tanning industry on nearby Tanner Row were also being disposed of in this pit, which in turn suggests that this was part of an ongoing process as opposed to being an isolated event. Future historic search into the 18th century tanning industry will hopefully add some more detail to this picture of industrial early modern York.

Work in progress on a shallow refuse pit.

Work in progress on a shallow refuse pit.

With work on this feature completed by midweek, the terrible twosome went their seperate ways as a number of new features were investigated. Rob moved to the central area of the trench to assist Jane in completing work on a partially excavated grave backfill. Jane, joining us for her fourth year of archaeology, had high hopes for this feature – it was from this context that Alan found his delightful Viking antler spindle whorl several weeks ago.

Jane picks up work on a 19th century burial.

Jane picks up work on a 19th century burial.

It took Jane a matter of minutes to locate the surprisingly shallow skull of the individual interred in this grave. Fascinatingly, the metallic decorative exterior of the coffin had survived, allowing us to see the size and shape of the coffin, as well as the position of the body within it. In this case, the coffin must have been lowered in a somewhat clumsy manner, as the skeleton had rolled slightly to one side, with the skull pressed against the edge of the coffin.

At the bottom end of the grave, Rob was looking to uncover the legs of the individual. He quickly located one leg, then another and then… another!? This was certainly a strange discovery, which caused a good deal of discussion among the team.

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Rob working on the foot end of a burial.

It is not unusual, particularly in densely occupied medieval burial grounds, for burials to cut through earlier interments. Often, the disturbed bones of the earlier grave will be re-deposited along the exterior of the new coffin – a trend seen on several recent York Archaeological Trust excavations. In this case however, all of the remains Rob had uncovered were in position and correctly articulated. Something odd was going on…

Thankfully, a little more delicate trowelling by Rob cleared up the situation when he revealed yet another leg. Instead of having numerous graves that were cut into each other, it seems our early 19th century burials can play home to more than one individual. In this case, at least one further inhumation lies beneath the skeleton revealed by Jane and Rob.

The fact that the two skeletons are currently laid directly over one and other reveals that the lower coffin must have decayed and given way, causing the coffin above to fall on to the top of the lower burial. One cannott help but wonder if anyone was in the church yard to hear the muffled thud from beneath the ground…

Recording Jane and Rob's grave.

Recording Jane and Rob’s grave.

This is a fascinating discovery that really helps us to build a better picture of the area’s use as a graveyard. The fact that none of our adult burials intercut tells us that the burials must have been clearly marked, perhaps with headstones or earthern mounds. The graveyard was clearly well ordered, with family plots being periodically re-opened to receive numerous burials. It is also increasingly clear that the area was intended to remain in use as a burial ground for some time and records must have been kept of who was buried in which plot, and at what depth.

In the fullness of time, the area only went on to receive burials for around 25 years, as it was de-consecrated in the 1850s to house the new church hall. Despite this, Rob and Jane’s discoveries this week reveal that the churchyard was well ordered and was certainly not intended to be a short-term endeavour.

Lori’s week began with the tricky task of recording a fragment of a post-medieval (or earlier) hearth made of edge-set roof tile.

Lori and Graham recording a tile hearth.

Lori and Graham recording a tile hearth.

Sitting on a slither of undisturbed archaeology between two early 19th century grave cuts, this feature is lucky to have survived! It’s precise date will only be confirmed following its excavation in the autumn, but it is exciting to be seeing glimpses of earlier archaeology beginning to emerge.

Medieval roof tiles are sturdy things and can take a lot of heat! Setting them on edge reduces the risk of cracking and provides a hearth surface that can be used again and again. Visitors to YAT’s Barley Hall can see a complete example of an edge-set tile hearth; they were certainly decorative as well as practical.

The edge-set tile hearth in Barley Hall is a complete example of a medieval hearth.

The edge-set tile hearth in Barley Hall is a complete example of a medieval hearth.

With the records done and dusted, Lori teamed up with Nick to resume work on what appeared to be an infant/juvenile burial close to the north end of the trench.

Grave business in 'That End'

Grave business in ‘That End’

Despite being small, this feature proved to be very deep and quite challenging to excavate. Nick and Lori worked patiently to uncover the remains of a small coffin. Degraded to little more than a stain, this required delicate work as the timber and corroded metal could very easily be destroyed.

Nick working on a tiny coffin.

Nick working on a tiny coffin.

Happily, after three previous years with us, Nick has developed a great trowelling technique and her and Lori were up to the task. Interestingly, this proved to be our second ’empty’ grave of the season, with no human remains found within the coffin. As discussed in last week’s blog, this could be the result of a localised quirk in the acidity of the soil (which can easily dissolve infant remains) or perhaps an infant lost early in a pregnancy that has not survived in the ground. There is also the possibility of these being symbolic burials of a coffin for an individual whose remains could not be interred.

While we will never know for sure, such features are always highly evocative, with very human moments of tragedy and remembrance that would otherwise have been lost to history being recovered the ground.

Elsewhere in Gary’s area, a pit cut that was started during our August training weekend was completed by Jackie. Joining us for a two day taster course, Jackie unearthed evidence of 19th century refuse disposal alongside medieval material upcast from earlier deposits.

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Jackie preparing her pit cut for photography.

There are a number of traditions on Archaeology Live! and a number of individuals who join us year after year, without whom the dig wouldn’t be quite complete. Week 12 saw the arrival of the one, the only, Betty Bashford! (For some reason, dressed as a Viking!)

Betty Bloodaxe in full Viking garb.

Betty Bloodaxe in full Viking garb. Cue the Ride of the Valkyries…

Betty, along with her friend Janet, is one of the characters that make working on Archaeology Live! such an absolute pleasure. There is never a dull moment when this dream team are on site! Sure enough, it didn’t take them long to make an unexpected discovery. Betty and Janet firstly took out the last remaining construction backfills relating to the 1860s church hall.

Betty and Janet tackling a 19th century construction backfill.

Betty and Janet tackling a 19th century construction backfill.

Some nice finds were recovered from these deposits including a lovely hand-painted fragment of tin glazed earthenware dating to the late 18th century.

Janet's 18th century discovery.

Janet’s 18th century discovery.

With the backfills removed and the construction cuts empty, it was possible to see the footings of the church hall, however, this was not all that was revealed. At the base of the cut, what appears to be a fragment of a herring-bone pattern brick floor was uncovered.

An unexpected discovery.

An unexpected discovery.

This was certainly a surprise, as we weren’t expecting to see structural remains in this part of the trench. Quite what building or yard this floor relates to is uncertain at present, but it is always exciting when such features appear.

19th century dumping over Janet and Betty's brickwork.

19th century dumping over Janet and Betty’s brickwork.

A surviving patch of 19th century levelling material covered the rest of this brick feature, so Janet and Betty ended their week by recording this deposit and beginning to remove it. Excavation of this deposit will resume during our October dig.

Excavating a 19th century levelling dump.

Excavating a 19th century levelling dump.

Over at ‘This End’, Toby’s team had a similarly industrious week. Joining us from Sweden, Paul joined Bri to work on the site’s earliest deposits.

Toby, Bri and Paul discussing their sequence.

Toby, Bri and Paul discussing their sequence.

Working on a slither of archaeology cut on one side by a drain run and the other by the church hall wall footings, Paul recorded and removed a dump deposit. This revealed an interesting feature filled with rubble and mortar.

We suspect that the front wall of our 18th century rectory would have run below the current church hall brickwork (pictured below). Up to this point, we hadn’t been able to identify any surviving structure in this area. This truncated post-hole/footing is our first tantalising evidence of this part of the rectory structure. As we know the medieval rectory was altered and re-built on numerous occasions, it is hard to say which phase this feature relates to, but it is a good start, and something we hope to clarify as work progresses in this area.

A possible footing appears in section.

A possible footing appears in section beneath the brickwork.

Paul went on to empty out the rubble feature and record the cut. This exposed a burnt dump very similar in appearance to one being worked on in the next cell by Bri. By chasing into this early archaeology in these two cells, we have had a self-contained sneak preview into the medieval archaeology we will be seeing across the whole site.

Paul and Bri working on medieval material.

Paul and Bri working on medieval material.

Bri’s slot featured no large structural remains, but it was possible to see distinct tips of medieval material and one shallow post hole that may have contained a fence post in front of the old rectory.

Bri troweling.

Bri troweling around his post hole.

With the post hole recorded, Bri then fully exposed and recorded his burnt medieval dump. Whether this is evidence of some industrial process will be investigated in the autumn.

Dave assisting Bri with a spot of planning.

Dave (left) assisting Bri (right) with a spot of planning. The burnt dump is the orange deposit beneath Dave’s end of the tape.

Paul ended his week by wrapping up the records for his and Bri’s area. He also found time to help with the excavation of another of our 19th century graves.

Paul working on a grave backfill.

Paul working on a grave backfill.

Archaeology Live! legend Clive re-joined us for the last week of the summer, assisting Steve with an area populated by intercutting infant burials.

Clive and Steve working on a sequence of 19th century burials.

Clive and Steve working on a sequence of 19th century burials.

This was delicate work! Fragments of coffin and the tiny bones of juvenile individuals are very susceptible to damage, so Clive and Steve were slow and steady with their work. They located the position and extent of the burial of a small child, but also worked out the relationships of a number of burials in close proximity to each other. This allows us to understand the order of events, which burials were the earliest and latest in the sequence.

These features always throw up a lot of paperwork, as the grave backfills, coffin remains and skeletons are all recorded, drawn and photographed individually. Clive and Steve made sure that all the records were in order for their burial sequence and that all the contexts were positioned correctly on our stratigraphic matrix – the diagram that allows us to understand the site sequence.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Working on his birthday, Clive was rewarded with a small archaeological gift when he found a small bone button. Clive and Steve brought their week to a close by taking over work on a burial that has been heavily disturbed by a 19th century rabbit burrow. True to form, the pair managed to locate the true edges of the grave cut. This will be looked at later in the season.

Happy birthday Clive!

Happy birthday Clive!

Another returning Archaeology Live! legend, Juliet was also kept very busy in this area. Charged with some of the week’s most challenging excavation, Juliet looked to fully expose a deep burial by the southern edge of the trench.

Juliet hard at work in one of our deepest graves.

Juliet hard at work in one of our deepest graves.

Buried well over a metre below present ground level, Juliet discovered that what had been thought to be a juvenile individual was actually an adult. Working in close confines, Juliet managed to expose enough of the skeleton to accurately plot its position. This was then recorded in detail and backfilled with a cushion of sieved soil to protect the remains from any damage. Later in the week, Juliet and Donald worked to clarify more of this sequence of infant burials and to complete any outstanding records.

Juliet at work on yet another infant burial.

Juliet at work on yet another infant burial.

The proliferation of infant burials by the rectory wall makes for very difficult excavation. Inter-cutting features often have very unclear edges due to the frequent disturbance of later graves. Once located, it takes time and great care to expose and record these remains.

Working with the guidance of the professional staff, the team in This End have done a fantastic job of picking apart this sequence. There is a lot more to do, but we are really starting to get on top of this area.

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This End in the afternoon sun.

Week 12 saw us enjoying site visits from a number of YAT colleagues from our Nottingham branch, Trent and Peak Archaeology. T&P archaeologist Laura was the quickest to break out her trowel and get stuck in! Working with Kirsten, Laura investigated our largest grave cut.

Kirsten and Laura

Kirsten and Laura

This feature has been ongoing for a number of weeks and has become increasingly complex as time has gone by. It is clear that a number of graves have been situated here, the question in hand is whether we are seeing a family plot being repeatedly re-opened, or an inter-cutting sequence of individual burials. IMG_5786 Kirsten and Laura’s deposit is proving to be one of our more finds-rich grave backfills. At present, three tubs of pottery, animal bone, shell, glass, tile, etc. have been recovered, and the feature is far from finished! As is the norm on North Street, the material is a fantastic mix of Roman to 19th century artefacts.

Later in the week, Kirsten helped Clive and Steve with the recording of their newly discovered grave backfill.

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Kirsten and Clive recording a grave backfill.

The great success of this week in Toby’s area has been the sharpening up of a very difficult sequence. As mentioned above, no half measures can be taken with this kind of archaeology, with care and respect for the individuals interred always being the prime concern.

We are now developing a growing understanding of exactly who was buried here and when. Quite why this area in particular is so densely occupied will be something to investigate in the near future.

Toby discussing edges with Kirsten and Laura.

Toby discussing edges with Kirsten and Laura.

It was another busy and eventful week for Arran and the finds team. Beneath the Tree of Finds, they battled to keep on top of the vast amount of material coming from the trench.

Just some of our finds drying in the sun.

Just some of our finds drying in the sun.

Over the course of the week, countless finds were washed, dried, sorted and bagged – to the ruthlessly exacting standards of our finds department.

Finds bagging

Finds bagging

As the finds are cleaned and dried, it is often at this point that previously un-noticed details are spotted.

Jane and Rob under the Finds Tree.

Jane and Rob under the Finds Tree.

The most exciting discovery this week was found on a seemingly innocuous piece of black burnished ware pottery. At first, the sherd of a Roman vessel seemed to be perfectly ordinary, part of a shallow, flat bottomed bowl referred to by archaeologists as a ‘dog bowl’.

Just another 'dog bowl'?

Just another ‘dog bowl’?

Closer inspection revealed that the sherd had a secret – it had been inscribed with a cross.

Graffitied Roman pottery

Graffitied Roman pottery

It would be very easy to get excited about an early example of christian graffiti, but it must be kept in mind that, while the date of the pot is securely Roman, it is impossible to know exactly when the cross was inscribed. Regardless, it is still wonderful to see a personal touch on an artefact that is almost 2,000 years old!

This wasn’t the only piece of interesting Roman pottery either. A beautifully decorated sherd of a colour coat drinking vessel was noted during washing, this would have been a lovely object when complete. Seeing 2000 year old brush strokes is always wonderful!

Painted Roman colour coat.

Painted Roman colour coat.

One piece of Roman pottery caused confusion at first, as it proved hard to identify. It became clear that this confusion had arisen due to the fact that this particular sherd of high status samian ware had been burned, changing the familiar terracotta colour to a dark grey.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

This wouldn’t be the last pot sherd with a story to tell either. The base of a medieval jug was cleaned and noticed to feature a ‘kiln scar’. As pots are often stacked upside down during firing, the base of the vessels can be marked by the glazed rim of the pot above. The pot above can also affect the firing of the lower vessel and a distinct curved line was clearly evident on our sherd.

The curved mark on this pot base shows that it was fired beneath another pot.

The curved mark on this pot base shows that it was fired beneath another pot.

The fabric on the inside of the curved mark is darker and has a distinctive grey colour. This is where the above pot has limited the airflow to the base of our vessel. When clay is fired in an oxygen starved environment it will often turn a dark grey colour, this is called reduction.

When pot is fired in a well-ventilated environment, such as a kiln with bellows, it will turn a lighter, more orange colour – this is called oxidisation and can be seen on the outside of the kiln scar curve pictured above.

Bri's early clay pipe stem.

Bri’s early clay pipe stem.

While washing a clay pipe stem, Bri noticed that it was a little different to most. Early examples of clay tobacco pipes feature thick stems with a wide, off-centre aperture. This is due to the relative crudeness of manufacturing process and that thin wire had yet to be developed that was strong enough to push through the wet clay to create an airway. Instead, thicker wire had to be used which leaves a broader airway. Bri’s example could be as early in date as the late 1600s!

In a busy week for finds highlights, we also came across another fragment of medieval roof tile complete with the paw-print of a large dog. As medieval tiles were laid out to dry before firing, finds like these are surprisingly common. That said, we never tire of finding such wonderful objects! It is even possible to see the ridges of the skin in the pads of the dog’s paws. You can almost sense the medieval tiler’s annoyance!

Bad dog!

Bad dog!

Yet another great find from this week was a fragment of worked bone that appears to be a very early form of pen. Its date is as yet uncertain, but we look forward to showing this one to our small finds specialist.

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An early bone pen nib.

Week 12 saw the team bring together a lot of loose ends, while new discoveries showed no signs of slowing. Our knowledge of the site’s early modern development from a busy industrial yard to a peaceful graveyard has come on in leaps and bounds. It is wonderful to be able to plot the sweeping changes in the mood and use of the area and to recover small moments such as a medieval dog plodding over his master’s unfired tiles.

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Betty showing Gary her latest finds.

This End’s concentration of infant and juvenile burials is now being mapped and understood in detail, while the first glimpses of the site’s medieval past are beginning to appear. That End continues to surprise us, with Betty and Janet’s unexpected brick floor and Nick and Lori’s ’empty’ grave keeping us firmly on our toes! Not to mention Rob’s ‘four-legged’ individual!!

Huge thanks as always must go out to our team of trainees and placements for yet another vintage week of good fun and and great archaeology!

The week 12 team.

The week 12 team.

While it is frustrating to have to stop just when the site is getting so exciting, we know that we’ll be returning to some wonderful archaeology in October! In the intervening weeks, we hope to post an overview of our findings so far on North Street, to help understand quite how much we have learned about this fascinating site. We will also aim to continue our series of blog posts looking back at previous seasons of Archaeology Live!

We’ll be back on site in October, there’s still room to join us, just contact trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk for info/bookings. We will also be opening up the site to the public between 11am and 3pm on the 25th of October! Come along and see the latest finds, meet the archaeologists and say hello to Planty the Plant (if you don’t mind the smell of slightly rotten cabbage…)

So, that wraps up the summer season of our first year on North Street. It’s been better than we could have hoped for, with a wonderfully diverse and passionate team of budding archaeologists joining us from far and wide. Thanks again to all involved for making the site such a success! Now it’s time to catch our breath, take stock and get prepped for the autumn season. Until then friends, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

PS. It’s become traditional to share the more light hearted moments of the week at the end of each post. Our placement Donald had an unexpected moment this week when a sizeable moth flew out of his hair. Goodness knows how long it had been living in there. Donald’s vegan superpowers are clearly growing…

Donald, truly at one with the natural world...

Donald, truly at one with the natural world…

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 11.

 

IMG_5666All good archaeologists know that our discipline is not a science. While there is a definite overlap with the scientific process, our findings are always tinged with a degree of subjectivity. We are storytellers at heart, modern day bards collaborating with specialists and supplementing our tales with detailed evidence and diligent recording. The real art of excavation is taking layers of earth and stone and extracting the stories of those who occupied that same space before us.

The tales are rarely complete. The pesky 1950s pipe trench has always removed the key piece of evidence; that industrious rabbit will, without fail, enthusiastically burrow in precisely the wrong place. Nonetheless, we nearly always find enough to piece together at least some of the lives that were lived in our trenches and the All Saints excavation has been a fine example of this. The last 10 weeks of digging have allowed us to discern an unexpectedly complex 19th century sequence, producing along the way some incredibly human moments. Week 11 continued this theme.

In Gary’s area, Rob and Nick cleaned up and recorded the wall footing discovered last week by Iain and Rose. One of the most exciting discoveries of the whole dig, we hope to find more evidence for what this structure was.

Up to press, our understanding of this area in the early 19th century has been of a busy yard becoming a graveyard. Only now are we beginning to see the first glimpses of what land uses pre-date that sequence.

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Recording a wall footing.

First things first though, we have to make sure we have located, excavated and understood all of the 19th century features before we can further investigate the earlier material.

With the wall footing recorded, Rob and Nick worked to clean over the whole of ‘contrary corner’ and check for any 19th century stragglers. A rectangular deposit of dark, clayey material had been noted in the base of a pit excavated during our August training weekend. Thought to be an infant burial, this was the next feature to investigate.

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Nick breaks out the wooden tools.

With the records complete, Rob and Nick began to gently remove the backfill of the feature, taking care not to disturb the fragile remnants of a tiny coffin. Some interesting finds quickly emerged, with Rob having a particularly good week! An early 19th century clay pipe bowl was discovered, fitting our suspected date of the feature perfectly.

Got a light?

Got a light?

As the week pressed on, Rob was lucky enough to find a truly wonderful object – a bone dice. This tiny object is somewhat cruder than the medieval example found by Gina in the second week of the summer season, leading us to suspect it may be somewhat earlier in date. Similar objects have certainly come out of Viking deposits elsewhere in York, so there is a strong possibility that this object may be the best part of a thousand years old.

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Unlike Gina’s example, the sides of this dice do not add up to seven, the numbers seemingly being cut at random.

Gina's dice (above) is larger and better preserved than Rob's (lower) example. They are a wonderful pair of finds!

Gina’s dice (above) is larger and better preserved than Rob’s (lower) example. They are a wonderful pair of finds!

It is a genuinely wonderful object that could have been owned by someone who knew the area before the current church was even standing. One can’t help but wonder what games this dice may have played and whether or not it brought success to a gambling owner.

Rob having a good finds day.

Rob having a good finds day.

With objects like this being discovered, the signs are good that medieval and Viking occupation deposits survive below us.

As Rob and Nick excavated the backfill they noticed an abrupt change, with the dark clayey material giving way to a stoney, mortar rich deposit; they had reached the base of their cut and found no evidence of any human remains. This left us with something of a mystery.

Rob and Nick's cut feature.

Rob and Nick’s cut feature.

As ever, the true reason why a seemingly empty coffin was buried here will never be known for sure. We can however put forward several possible explanations, the first of which being a quirk of the soil’s chemistry in this area of the trench – acidic soils can easily dissolve juvenile human remains and leave very little trace. It is also possible that the coffin could have been something of a symbolic burial, perhaps for a child lost very early in a pregnancy.

While this mystery will remain unresolved, it is clear that someone in the early 19th century was driven to bury a tiny coffin in the corner of a small graveyard. Nick and Rob’s painstaking excavation of this feature allows us to witness a solemn moment in York’s story that would have otherwise been lost to history.

A mass clean-up underway  in 'That End'

A mass clean-up underway in ‘That End’

Elsewhere in Gary’s area, new trainees Sara, Anna and Liberty worked together to clean a large area of ‘that end’. Numerous edges were visible; the challenge now was to ascertain which of these features was the latest to occur.

Anna and Liberty enjoying a spot of troweling.

Anna and Liberty enjoying a spot of troweling.

On sites as complex as this, this process can take some time! However, Sara struck gold when the edges of a sub-circular feature began to emerge.

Sara reveals a pit backfill.

Sara reveals a pit backfill – a darker semi-circle to the left of her trowel.

Cutting a possible fragment of cobble surface, we were keen to see whether this feature was part of the early 19th century yard or something even earlier.

Sara filling out the context card for her newly discovered deposit.

Sara filling out the context card for her newly discovered deposit.

The deposit was photographed and recorded and the team got started with the excavation. This proved to be hard work! The deposit had clearly been trampled during the early 19th century, making it very difficult to trowel.

Work begins on the pit backfill.

Work begins on the pit backfill.

Good progress was made on this feature, which pre-dates the adjacent ‘horn pit’. While it didn’t produce the same density of cattle skull fragments, a lot of horn core and bone was still present. This indicates that some tanning by-products were being deposited in this feature, alongside general domestic waste. This fits well with the idea that the yard space was used for numerous purposes between c.1800 and 1823.

Working with Becky, Lori and Dom continued work on a pair of burials close to the northern wall of the old church hall. This required a lot of work in tricky, deep features and a lot of recording. The first task was to record the infant remains uncovered at the end of last week by Lori and Joan.

Dom and Lori in recording mode.

Dom and Lori in recording mode.

With the records completed for the infant burial, a cushion of sieved soil and wooden boards were placed over the remains to protect them from any damage. Lori and Dom’s attention then turned to completing the excavation of a burial started several weeks ago by Katie and Beverly.

When the upper elements of the skeleton were revealed, it became clear that the foot end of the grave hadn’t been fully excavated. Lori and Dom amended the records for the deposit and began work on removing the last of the backfill.

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Establishing the true edge of the grave cut.

Significantly deeper than the infant burial, this adult inhumation had surviving evidence of a wooden coffin and was very well preserved. The remains were recorded and covered over.

While this was underway, Lori exposed a fascinating feature cut by both graves. On the slither of archaeology that survived between the two grave cuts, a fragment of an edge-set tile hearth with brick edging was exposed. While the date of this feature will be confirmed later, we do know that the materials used to build it are medieval in date.

This could be one of our first definite examples of medieval or post-medieval activity in ‘That End’ and it is only by chance that this fragment of early activity has survived – if the grave cuts had been any closer, the hearth would certainly have been lost. History can indeed be a fickle mistress…

A tile hearth emerging between two graves.

A tile hearth emerging between two graves.

In Toby’s area, Bri and Zoe began to investigate the deposits that pre-date the two small cells within the south-west corner of the 1860s church hall.

Zoe excavating an early 19th century dump.

Zoe excavating an early 19th century dump.

These deposits proved to be very similar to the pre-church hall trample layers exposed elsewhere in the trench. Like Lori’s tile hearth, these small islands of archaeology seem quite lucky to have survived numerous later truncation events!

Bri working on a dump that pre-dates the church hall.

Bri working on a dump that pre-dates the church hall.

A great mix of finds were discovered within these deposits, including medieval ceramics and a piece of post-medieval(?) chain. With attachments at either end, we’ll have to wait for specialist analysis before we know what this enigmatic find was used for.

Zoe and her fragment of chain.

Zoe and her fragment of chain.

A close look...

A closer look…

As Zoe and Bri worked together to record and lift a number of contexts, something quite exciting became apparent. Ubiquitous until now, 19th century ceramics had ceased to occur. Not only that, the latest finds to be encountered were medieval in date. It seems that Zoe and Bri have exposed our first confirmed layers of medieval archaeology!

This exciting prospect will be further investigated next week.

Zoe and Bri recording one of their layers of dumping

Zoe and Bri recording one of their layers of dumping

Steve and Sarah had a week of challenging archaeology, beginning with a search for good edges around a suspected infant burial. Once these edges were clarified, the backfill was recorded and the pair got started with the excavation.

Steve and Sarah investigating a grave backfill.

Steve and Sarah investigating a grave backfill.

As we’ve seen across all of our grave backfills, an interesting mix of finds are generally present within them. Steve found a rather lovely fragment of pressed glass. Finely made, this was clearly part of a very decorative object.

Steve's glass artefact.

Steve’s glass artefact.

With the expert guidance of our resident bone expert Tess, Steve and Sarah patiently removed the backfill to expose the coffin and remains of a small child. These are very evocative features to work on and it is of paramount importance to keep in mind that these are the remains of a human being and should be treated accordingly.

Steady hands required.

Steady hands required.

Once fully exposed, these remains will be recorded, re-c0vered and left in-situ. Steve and Sarah’s delicate work has added to an increasingly complex picture of this corner of the site.

Whether the concentration of infant burials in this area relate to re-used family plots or historic pandemic events will be resolved in the fullness of time, the key aim at the moment is to locate all of the burials on site and ensure that they are protected from any future intrusive works.

Maggie working on a grave backfill.

Maggie working on a grave backfill.

Joining us for a taster day, Maggie continued work on a grave backfill that has been worked on by a number of people this season. These things cannot be rushed and Maggie quickly mastered the art of delicate troweling, finding an intriguing flint object that may be a 19th century striker used to create sparks.

Maggie's worked flint object.

Maggie’s worked flint object.

Elsewhere in ‘This End’, Jo and Liz continued work on the brick chamber attached to the north wall of the 18th century rectory.

Jo and Liz troweling in the autumn sunshine.

Jo and Liz troweling in the autumn sunshine.

The plot continued to thicken in this area. As a post hole was recorded and excavated, it became apparent that earlier structural elements were beginning to appear.

A small fragment of stone wall was revealed that clearly pre-dates the 18th century brickwork. While a number of later contexts will have to be removed before we can expose this stonework, it is distinctly possible that Jo and Liz have revealed a fragment of the medieval rectory that was incorporated into the post-medieval re-build. A very exciting find!

Recording a post hole that cuts possibly medieval stonework.

Recording a post hole that cuts possibly medieval stonework.

The cobble-based cesspit (upon which Donald is standing in the image below) now seems to have been brought to construction level, sitting atop a mortary deposit. Jo and Liz recorded the wall and the deposit below it and ended their week by investigating the earlier deposit.

Week 11 has seen some exciting developments in this area, with the small brick chamber exhibiting a more complex sequence than had been anticipated. As the dig continues, we will continue to expose and record the various alterations to the structure and, once these are removed, we will finally be able to see exactly how much of the medieval buildings survive. Watch this space!!

Donald, Jo and Liz recording a deposit within the brick chamber.

Donald, Jo and Liz recording a deposit within the brick chamber.

An eventul week in the trench was mirrored beneath the Tree of Finds where a number of exciting artefacts were cleaned up and looked at in more detail.

The Finds Tree looking typically resplendent.

The Finds Tree looking typically resplendent.

While washing what was assumed to be another muddy fragment of medieval roof tile, Rob noticed some markings on the fabric of the tile. Closer inspection revealed part of a legionary stamp, clear evidence that this was actually a Roman tile!

Rob's Roman tile fragment.

Rob’s Roman tile fragment.

The letters ‘VIC’ were faintly visible in the side of the tile. This stamp most likely relates to the Legio VI Victrix (Sixth Victorious Legion) of the Roman army. In 119AD the legion was despatched to northern England to help repress an uprising and eventually replaced the incumbent IX Hispana to garrison the fortress of Eboracum (Roman York).

Finding such direct evidence of the area’s Roman past was a real privilege, which was only made sweeter when the thumbprint of a Roman potter was noticed beside the stamp. Being able to put your thumb into an almost 1900 year old thumbprint is a unique perk of archaeology. What a find!

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‘VIC’ and a clear thumbprint.

Another interesting find was a toe bone from a rather unwell cow. We’ve had numerous examples of diseased cattle bones from features associated with the tanning industry. This 19th century example exhibits clear evidence of bone infection and would have been of sufficient severity to render this foot completely useless.

Poorly cows seem to have been common.

Poorly cows seem to have been common.

Week 11 saw us continue to build on the findings of the previous week and to better understand a fascinating 19th century sequence. It seems that our first season at All Saints will be best remembered for demonstrating the merits of early modern archaeology, a period that has been criminally under-valued until now.

We have uncovered moments of early 19th century heartbreak, with numerous juvenile and infant individuals being interred along Church Lane, but we have also found evidence of more carefree times with Rob’s fantastic bone dice. Next week, we hope to add to this picture of 19th century York and wrap up the remaining loose ends. We also hope to reveal more sneak peeks of the earlier archaeology that will be the focus of next year’s excavation.

Our amazing week 11 team.

Our amazing week 11 team. It’s a shame Graeme couldn’t stay awake…

The tantalising glimpses of the Roman, Viking, and medieval deposits that lay beneath us highlight what an exciting site this is. Massive thanks go out to the week 11 team for their patient, careful excavation and fine company.

On a less jolly note, week 11 saw us say goodbye to two placements who have been absolutely invaluable to this year’s excavation, Becky and Tess. This pair of Arch. Live! veterans have very bright futures ahead of them! Huge thanks go out to Becky and Tess from all at York Archaeological Trust, we’ll see you next time.

Cheers Tess!

Cheers Tess!

Cheers Becky! (Green graze!!!)

Cheers Becky! (Green graze!!!)

 

It’s been a vintage year for the Archaeology Live! project in our new home on North Street. Now we head into the last week of the summer with a thousand questions and a lot of excitement for more thrilling discoveries. Best get cracking then, onwards and downwards!

 

– Arran

 

PS. One amusing moment to share. Archaeology Live! placement Jack was late for the group photo on Friday, assuming he was ill we were forced to improvise a replacement. I think we truly captured his essence!

Becky and Jack MkII

Becky and Jack MkII

Cheers Jack! 😉

Jack MkI

Jack MkI

 

 

 

 

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