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A history of Archaeology Live! Year four: St. Leonard’s 2004

At 17 years old, the Archaeology Live! training excavation is fast approaching adulthood, so what better time to flick through our proverbial baby pictures? We’ve been lucky enough to have excavated some incredible sites in the years since 2001 but our original home at St Leonard’s will always have a special place in our heart. Here, we’ve done a spot of digital digging, raided the archives and reproduced the 2004 team’s recollections of this amazing site.

A shot of the site looking towards the Multangular tower

Prologue

If you wish to start at the very beginning, here are the tales of our first three years.

A History of Archaeology Live! Year One

A History of Archaeology Live! Year Two

A History of Archaeology Live! Year Three

Week 1 

The first week of the final season of excavation got off to a good start, with the first batch of trainees digging in the trenches immediately after their induction in the morning. The first day was particularly hectic, with the opening of the site by the Lord Mayor of York, Councillor Janet Looker, being followed by a live broadcast from the site by the local ITV company. The trainees mostly worked in Trench 3, under the shelter acquired last year, but we were also able to make good progress in Trench 5. There were over 900 visitors, despite the mixed weather.

Fragment of stamped Samian pottery

Excavation of the second Roman legionary fortress rampart, associated with the stone defensive walls and towers, commenced in Trench 3. Several mixed deposits were encountered, indicating that material from a variety of sources had been brought in to form the rampart. Some of this material was apparently domestic in origin, as it was ashy in places and contained a range of artefacts, such as pottery, glass and animal bone suggestive of domestic activity.

At first glance these finds date to the 1st-2nd centuries AD, which does not dispel the notion that the rampart was constructed around AD 200.

The base of a Roman glass vessel

In the north-east part of Trench 5 the earliest of several cinder and gravel paths within the 19th century Garden of Antiquities was excavated (the later path surfaces had been excavated towards the end of 2003). Beneath this path was a mixed layer of soil and rubble, which is thought to represent 19th century landscaping of the site. In the centre of the trench, excavation of a probable 19th-century excavation pit, exposed in the side of the Second World War air-raid shelter that occupies the entire south-west half of Trench 5, began. A Roman coin and a fragment of a medieval coin were found in this pit fill.

Excavating the 19th century excavation pit

Medieval silver coin; Roman coin

Week 2  

Excavating the Roman rampart in Trench 3, looking towards the back of the rampart. Note the ashy layer (foreground)

Despite another week of unsettled weather the excavation progressed well. There were some 1,100 visitors, bringing the overall total to around 2,000. Several groups of schoolchildren had a great time taking part in special activities including digging, sieving and finds washing.

In Trench 3 the excavation of the second Roman fortress rampart continued. It is becoming clear that the rampart deposits are very mixed. Some were thick and extensive, but others appear to be no bigger than basketloads. These deposits are thought to be mostly derived from human activity. They were quite ashy in places and generally contained large quantities of abraded finds, which suggests they were originally layers of ‘rubbish’ that had been dug up to be used in the rampart. Finds included more decorated Samian pottery, copper alloy studs with glass inlay decoration, and a startling eye from an unusual Roman head pot.

Excavating the Roman rampart. The ground slope in the foreground is the original slope at the rear of the rampart

Work commenced on re-opening part of Trench 4, in order to expose a previously excavated stretch of the medieval stone drain to public view.

Good progress was made in Trench 5 excavating the fills of 19th and 20th century excavation trenches, revealing a probable medieval column foundation. The significance of this discovery is that the 19th century excavators thought they had located the north-west end of the medieval infirmary at this point, whereas it now seems the infirmary extended further to the north-west. It is therefore possible that the medieval builders used the south side of the Roman Multangular Tower to form the end of the infirmary block, which implies that the Multangular Tower survived into the medieval period. This medieval feature, and its relationship with the Multangular Tower, will be carefully examined over the next few weeks.

The eye from a Roman head pot

A fragment of decorated Samian pottery

 

Week 3 

The weather held good for most of the week with one or two downpours dampening the soil – but not the spirits of either the excavators or the visitors. The acquisition of a shelter for Trench 5 further bolstered the morale of the trainees and staff! Even on the wettest days visitors donned boots and waterproofs and came to watch progress from under their umbrellas. Despite the rain, the summer season is clearly upon us as we have been welcoming many visitors from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan as well as a steady flow of tourists from all around the UK. The number of visitors to the site topped 3000.

A busy day in Trench 3, under cover from the rain

In Trench 3 we continued to investigate the Roman rampart levels where the build up of layers has become more complicated; even individual bucket-loads of spoil can be identified.

In Trench 5 work continued to expose the line of the wall of the Multangular Tower which had been extensively robbed. Much of this work involves re-examining the trench dug in the 1920s. This trench was found to have cut through a slightly curving 19th century trench, further complicating the stratigraphy in Trench 5.

The 20th century trench (with orange sand fill) under excavation in Trench 5

In the latter part of the week the medieval drain, previously unearthed in Trench 2, was exposed in Trench 4. The next task will be to de-turf the area where Time Team had a small excavation in 1999, revealing the steps down to the World War 2 air raid shelter.

One of the regular school parties carrying out archaeological activities, under cover in the medieval undercroft

Once again trainees have come from all over the world to join us this summer. We have students from Australia, Taiwan, the United States and from Germany – so word of the training opportunities in York is clearly spreading.

There were few finds of especial interest this week but a steady flow of the typical pottery, building material and animal bone will all eventually contribute to our understanding of this complex site in the heart of the ancient city.

Roman Samian pottery with part of the stamp of the maker, Perpetuus of Eastern Gaul. Late 2nd to early 3rd century

Week 4 

The excavation continued uninterrupted despite the continued wet weather. Neither were the visitors put off, another 1,000 visiting the site this week.

Removing the Roman painted wall plaster in Trench 5

The Artefacts and Ecofacts course was held this week, alongside the fieldwork training course. Ten students, from the United States, Switzerland and Sweden as well as Britain, have worked hard learning about bones, pottery, building materials, a range of small finds, and all about methods of conservation, research and display. Finds from some of the Roman rampart deposits from Trench 3 were studied as part of this course. The trainees’ findings largely support our current interpretation of the rampart deposits as being derived from a range of sources, including domestic rubbish, and dating to around AD 200. However, several sherds of Middle Saxon pottery (around AD 650-850) were identified, which provides much food for thought for the excavation team. Perhaps the rampart had been extended by the Anglo-Saxon occupants of what was then known as Eoforwic. It is thought the former Roman fortress was held by the rulers of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria at this time, but there has been precious little archaeological evidence of this activity to date.

The 19th century trench under excavation in Trench 5. The string lines represent the approximate position of the south wall of the Roman Multangular Tower

As work continued in Trench 3 it has become clear that the nature of the deposits forming the later Roman fortress rampart is changing again; there are now signs that these rampart deposits were carefully stacked. It is expected that this will be resolved in the weeks to come.

In Trench 5 the large, curving 19th century excavation trench was excavated, producing large quantities of Roman and medieval brick and tile. On the northern side of the 19th century trench, layers apparently within the rear part of the Multangular Tower have been exposed. A substantial piece of painted wall plaster has been found, and other, smaller pieces are visible, as yet un-excavated, in the section. Such adornment is not what we necessarily associate with a military building, if indeed the plaster does derive from the tower itself. Once the other pieces have been excavated it will be interesting to compare these pieces with other plaster found during excavations elsewhere in the fortress, notably from a possible officer’s house at Blake Street across the road from St Leonard’s.

The large fragment of painted wall plaster from Trench 5

Week 5 

This week we were joined by students from the United States, Sweden, France, Belgium and from elsewhere in Britain. The steady flow of visitors to the site, both foreign tourists and local people, increased as summer holidays got underway. This was another damp week, but merely prompted the acquisition of another shelter to cover Trench 4, and work continued.

Over the weekend we hosted an event as part of National Archaeology Day. Re-enactors from the local group Comitatus and the East Yorkshire section of the World War Two Living History Group formed a ‘history street’ representing the major episodes in the site’s history, from the Roman conquest to World War 2. Russell Marwood of YAT devised a children’s quiz, and ran a war-gaming exhibit. The event was free, and attracted over 2,000 visitors, bringing the total number of visitors to 7,000.

Excavating a turf stack in Trench 3

 

Trench 3

Trainees were busy this week trowelling through the layers of a large pit. This may originally have been a cess pit cut into the rampart layers but this will not be clear until environmental work is carried out on the soil samples taken from the pit. Work otherwise has concentrated on examining the layers which make up the Roman rampart; surprisingly, some of these deposits appear to be layers of turf.

Trench 4

Work continued in this trench to expose the steps down to the WW 2 air raid shelter. Deposits encountered during this work found fragments of glazed floor tile. Although these were found residually (i.e mixed in with later material), they are of great interest as if they are medieval in date they might help to reconstruct the appearance of the hospital floors.

Trench 5

In Trench 5 work continued examining the deposits associated with the robbed Roman wall of the rear chamber of the Multangular Tower. This had previously been examined by Miller in the 1920s in an effort to understand the extent of the hospital. More Roman plaster, some of it painted with linear coloured scheme, continued to be recovered from these layers and it seems likely that it came from this now robbed out wall. The pieces of painted plaster which had been lifted previously are now undergoing conservation treatment to stabilise it prior to research.

Week 6 

Another wet week made the ground very muddy, and required a protective netting to be laid in order to protect the grass around much of the excavation area (the public route being protected this way since the beginning). This is proving to be a poor summer, such a contrast to the dry summer of 2003. Over the weekend of 24-25 July the site hosted events as part of the York Roman Festival. Again some 2,000 people visited, and the overall number of visitors passed 10,000.

Trench 3

Work continues on the both the layers within the large pit and in the surrounding ramparts. A fascinating picture is beginning to emerge as evidence appears to show that turfs were laid as part of the rampart construction and individual turfs can be seen in the section towards to the top of the trench. Clear differences in soil colour and composition can also be seen but further work needs to take place in order to understand their significance. One exciting find was part of a box flue tile, part of the ingenious heating system use by the Romans. Whether a nearby building enjoyed this luxury or whether this was dumped material from some distance away is not clear, but it is reminder of the sophistication of life in the Roman fortress. A small strap end was also recovered from this trench this week but this awaits cleaning before it can be identified.

The entrance to the Second World War air-raid shelter in Trench 4

Trench 4

Work on re-exposing the steps to the air raid shelter was completed this week. It is anticipated that medieval deposits will be exposed in this trench in the course of the following week. An unusual small wooden object, possibly part of a playing piece or some sort of fitting, was recovered but needs conservation work prior to further investigation.

Trench 5 

The Roman rampart revealed in Trench 5

More plaster! As work continues in this trench the quantities of plaster from the robbed wall continue to be recovered, providing new challenges for conservation placements working in the laboratory. On the other side of the trench, effectively outside the Multangular Tower, upon removal of the medieval rubble what appears to be the top of the Roman fortress rampart was encountered. This is further evidence of the large-scale truncation of the rampart as part of the construction of the medieval hospital.

The foundations of internal walls within the Multangular Tower revealed in Trench 6

Trench 6

A new trench was started this week which is designed to look at the internal structure of the Multangular Tower. This has exposed an internal partition wall running across the back of the standing projecting bastion. One objective is to discover the extent of Miller’s 1920s trench; he reported encountering concrete foundations and timber piles. If these are re-discovered there is the potential for dendrochronological dating of these piles which would clearly help enormously in verifying the understood chronology of the early fortress.

Opening the first part of Trench 6

Week 7 

Steady progress was made this week, under the trench covers of course. The trainees were mostly British, but with a strong American contingent. Over 1,500 visitors took the overall visitor total towards 12,000.

Trench 3 

Work has concentrated on removing the substantial clay layers which cover the western end of the Roman rampart. These appear to be part of the construction of the rampart where layer upon layer of dumped material was deposited to reach the desired height and width. More evidence of the use of turf in the construction has been found, apparently to form cells which were then infilled with clay and cobbles. Considerable care seems to have been taken in constructing the rampart.

The large pit has finally been bottomed, and once recorded it was backfilled again for safety reasons. Its contents were of a ‘cessy’ character and contained mostly Roman material with one or two pieces of pottery which might, intriguingly, be later. Watch this space!

Trench 4 

The Victorian path (centre) cut by the air-raid shelter (foreground). Note the medieval stone-capped drain, originally unearthed in Trench 2 (background).

Recording of the air-raid shelter steps was completed this week, with all the necessary plans drawn and measurements taken in order to preserve, by record, this recent but important bit of York’s history. Further work in the trench revealed a cinder path which probably once wound its way through the Victorian landscaped garden. As might be expected few finds were found associated with this feature.

Trench 5

The final layers representing the demolition of the hospital have been cleared away from the eastern part of this trench, and we were straight down onto Roman deposits with not a hint of the intervening centuries. This, as has been seen elsewhere, is the result of the levelling off the site for the construction of the hospital and, regrettably, has removed whatever evidence there was for the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Scandinavian activity on top of the fortress rampart. An intriguing feature, a rectangular pit, was encountered just below the final hospital demolition layers. As this disappears into the section there is the possibility that it is a continuation of the L-shaped feature which was encountered in Trench 3 at the end of 2003.

Removing the fill of another Miller trench in Trench 5

Elsewhere in the trench more painted plaster, presumably from the robbed out back chamber wall of the Multangular tower, has been recovered together with a simple copper-alloy Roman ring and some coins, yet to be identified. A second narrow trench, parallel with that following the wall of the Multangular Tower and presumably excavated by Miller in the 1920s, was found to have largely removed the medieval column foundation in the centre of the trench.

Possible Roman earring from Trench 3

Trench 6

In this new trench the most recent landscaping deposits have been removed. This has revealed a gravel surface alongside the foundations of the Multangular Tower, which seems to have been part of a display of the interior of the tower post-dating Miller’s 1920s excavations.

Week 8 

We are now resigned to the rain and our steady progress continued, although the shelter over Trench 4 is only just up to the task of keeping the trench dry! Total visitor numbers neared 15,000.

Trench 3

Time continued to be spent this week examining the turf and clay construction deposits on the Roman rampart. Amongst the dumped material was found the neck of a large, fine flagon, which impressed trainees and visitors alike.

The Roman flagon found in Trench 3

Carefully excavating the Roman flagon

Attempts to reach the bottom of the foundation pit, where a supporting column of the medieval hospital once stood, have still been frustrated as it is very deep! Excavation of this feature began in 2003, but had to be halted as it was too deep to excavate safely until the surrounding surface (the Roman rampart) had been lowered. It is likely that the end is near and we will be down to natural there soon. This foundation contained fragments of glazed flanged roofing tile, an unusual form of roofing dating to the 11th and 12th centuries. This suggests there was an important building on the site at this time – but does the presence of this tile in the foundations of the first stone infirmary mean that it was derived from an even earlier hospital building?

Glazed flanged tile from Trench 3

Trench 4

Below the Victorian garden levels in this trench, a yard surface comprising stone, cobbles and lots of broken tiles was encountered. This might relate to the post-Dissolution period use of the site for a variety of industrial purposes; the yard surfaces were made up with the remains of the destroyed hospital. Other pockets of such industry have been encountered elsewhere on the site in previous seasons, but their extent and purpose has yet to be determined.

Trench 5 

A copper alloy pin from Trench 5

The later Roman rampart is clearly evident now in this trench and, as in Trench 3, efforts are being made to understand the method of rampart construction. A further coin (yet to be identified) and a copper alloy pin were recovered from this rampart material. Two large pieces of plaster with some form of foliage decoration, have been carefully lifted by our conservation team. Work on consolidating what is becoming a very important assemblage of Roman painted plaster continues in the laboratory and we will bring you images when they are available.

Trench 6

The trench dug by Miller in the 1920s inside the bastion part of the Multangular Tower is now being investigated. The part of the trench to the east, inside the rear compartment of the tower, has been de-turfed ready for further investigation. A surprising encounter was the remains of part of a cow – perhaps quite a recent cow – whose presence just beneath a small Roman stone coffin has yet to explained!

A general view of Trench 6, within the Multangular Tower

Cow bones under excavation in Trench 6

Work will continue to investigate the floor surfaces and the foundations associated with the Multangular Tower and, as work progresses, it is hoped we will find the timber piles supporting the wall foundations to which Miller referred to in his excavation report.

Week 9 

One word will sum up week 9 on site. Rain!

Rain forced us to close the site to the public for three days; rain brought down the cover on Trench 3; rain caused a section to collapse in Trench 5; rain filled up every pit and cut feature on site and threatened to turn the excavation into a quagmire. Things are now drying out, however, and the site is fully up and running again. Only three weeks to go – can we get back on schedule?

Trench 3 

The new Trench 3 shelter takes shape

Little happened in this trench as staff and placements battled to sorted out the cover and get the rainwater out of the trench. In the brief time available it was possible to examine further the construction of the ramparts. An interesting situation is developing in the north-west corner of the trench where it appears that part of the rampart might have slumped into an underlying feature. This will not be understood until excavation has continued into these lower levels. Natural still has not been reached in the bottom of the large pier base pit – which is now full of water…..

Trench 4

The cover in Trench 4 was the only one which managed to stay in place during the downpour, allowing work there to continue. As the 16th century deposits resulting from the demolition of the medieval hospital were cleared away, evidence for the construction cut of the medieval stone-lined drain was encountered. This drain, some 800 years after its construction, coped with the deluge from the heavens much better than its 20th century equivalents, cheerfully carrying the water away from the sites as it was intended to do by the monks who built it!

A domed bone object, perhaps a counter, from Trench 4

Trench 5

Here too the rain stopped play for a period as sections began to collapse and the covers could not cope. Nonetheless more wall plaster is still coming out of the trench. YAT conservator Erica Paterson and conservation student Karl Knauer were called onto site urgently to ‘lift’ a number of large fragments of painted Roman wall plaster. Fragments of painted and plain plaster were found jumbled together, many lying face down or on their sides The diggers described the plaster as being so fragile it was ‘like digestive biscuits’ and had obviously suffered cracking and breakage when dumped, not helped by the wet weather on site had made the porous material even softer and more difficult to handle.

Conservators lifting wall plaster from Trench 5

Two large fragments of plaster approximately 30 x 40 cm were uncovered face down in the trench and the aim was to lift them intact so that any surviving painted design could be saved for full study. Because of their fragile and fragmented state the conservators applied strips of – bandage impregnated with plaster – similar to that used in hospital for setting broken limbs. Once set, this created a rigid cast around the plaster fragments. Thin metal baking sheets proved useful in separating the plaster from the underlying soil. These were pushed horizontally underneath the layers of plaster and then the whole block of soil and plaster was lifted onto wooden boards. Once back in the laboratory the supported fragments could be turned over and the slow and painstaking process of removing soil to reveal the hidden painted surfaces could begin. Conservation placement student Karl Knauer from the Winterthur/University of Delaware M.S. Program in Art Conservation in the U.S. learned the art of on-site lifting from lab staff and is now continuing work on the plaster as one of his special projects.

Karl explains the process…..

A fragment of wall plaster
undergoing conservation

The next step will be to consolidate the crumbly and fragmented plaster with an appropriate synthetic resin, then to provide suitable packaging so the pieces can be stored safely yet be easily accessible for viewing.”As the plaster pieces were face-down in the trench, turning the “block lifts” over was naturally the first step in cleaning them. The soil (which had been below the painted surface prior to turning the plaster over) was removed methodically with palette knives, scalpels and brushes. Slowly, the painting became evident – and a large section of red border design was uncovered. An exciting orange-coloured area of the plaster revealed itself, as well – indicating that the design motif may have combinations of geometric and curvilinear patterns in a variety of colours. It will certainly be interesting to see if these pieces can come together and give a more complete picture of how the mural would originally have appeared!”

Bizarrely, wall plaster appears to be in the fortress rampart as well as within the Multangular Tower. This would indeed be strange and the picture will become clearer once further work has been done.

The backfill of the 1920’s trench has now been completely removed. Beneath this an area of mortared rubble confirmed that we had located the position of another column in the medieval hospital, which clearly did extend right up to the Multangular Tower.

Trench 6 

Work continues in Miller’s trench to get to the timber piles but, as everywhere, the rain sodden ground is making progress difficult. In the eastern part of the trench, initial examination of the layers below the modern turf shows that, so far, they are all 20th century.

Removing modern deposits in Trench 6. The water filled cut (background) is the Miller trench (partially excavated).

Week 10

At least the rain wasn’t quite so tropical this week! The site was closed to the public again for one day, but visitor numbers were over 1,300 nevertheless, bringing the total to over 15,000. The British trainees were supported by a strong American contingent, mostly here for their second week.

Excavation of the rampart deposits in Trench 3 continued. However, there are signs that we are nearing the base of the rampart; there is a fine cobble surface appearing, and the deposits towards the rear of the rampart appear to be filling a ditch running parallel to the fortress wall. Perhaps these features will prove to be a surface and a roadside ditch which pre-date the rampart.

The rampart and cobble feature under excavation in Trench 3.

At the northern end of Trench 4, a large cut filled with mortar was found. This could be the demolished internal wall in the medieval hospital, which was found in Trench 1 in 2001.

In Trench 5 the excavation of the painted wall plaster continued. This is now a very thick layer overall, and it is increasingly difficult to see this as gradual collapse of plaster within the Multangular Tower.

In Trench 6, modern deposits were removed from the eastern area. However the main effort was dedicated to the re-excavation of the 1920s trench in the western area, where we hoped to re-locate timber piles beneath the wall of the Multangular Tower; extraction of any piles could produce tree-ring dates that might date the construction of the Tower to within a year. Trainees Gabriel Gibson and Alex Schwartz deserve special praise for their tremendous efforts in removing the fill of the 1920s trench, which had to be shored to make the excavation safe, and had to be pumped out regularly as the trench filled with ground water – the wet extreme of urban archaeology. They were finally rewarded by the sight of substantial timber piles still in place beneath the Tower wall. Now all we have to do is dig even deeper to extract the timbers!

Week 11 

A dry week at last! Everything, from moving around site, was so much less trying, and so an even better time was had by all. It seems the holiday period in the USA is over, as our American representation has ended; however the British trainees were joined by two Danes. The site remained closed to visitors for two days while the site recovered, but after much effort from the guides we were able to re-open the site and almost 1,400 people came through the doors, bringing the total to nearly 17,000.

A Roman glass bead

Trench 3

Another series of sloping rampart deposits, mostly ash and charcoal, have been encountered. There is still no sign of the natural ground surface, and the trench is getting deeper every day. This is not what was expected!

Trench 4

A fragment of beautiful Roman vessel glass

The mortar filled cut identified last week has proved to be very deep. This feature is thought to be the result of robbing of the walls of the medieval infirmary; hopefully, we will find the intact foundation beneath.

Trench 5

Excavation of the layers of wall plaster continued, producing further examples of painted decoration. A near complete mortarium bowl was found. Re-excavation of the parallel modern trenches showed that they were dug to either side of a concrete slab – the foundations for the south wall of the Multangular Tower have been found at last! Apparently the (probably 1920s) excavators had followed the wall along its inner and outer faces. The medieval column base foundation was found to rest partly on the edge of this Roman foundation – another case of the medieval builders utilising the Roman structures where it suited them.

Wall plaster found, and a mortarium under excavation

Trench 6 

The highlight here was the extraction of three timber piles from beneath the wall of the Multangular Tower, a reward for the tremendous efforts put in to recover these timbers in a deep and very wet trench. Our joy was somewhat tempered when the YAT wood specialist, Steve Allen, identified the timbers as alder. Alder does not produce a consistent growth pattern every year, and so is useless for tree-ring dating. Nevertheless, the timbers display interesting evidence of Roman carpentry techniques, which will no doubt be the subject of a web diary update in the months to come.

Piles being excavated and examined

In the eastern part of the trench the early 20th century gravel surface already found in the western part was removed. However the layers below are modern in date and very thick, indicating the 1920s excavations were quite extensive.

Week 12  

The final public week of the project! Over 1,000 people visited the site on the last day, helping to boost the weekly total to almost 2,500. The season total was just under 19,500, almost the same as last year despite being the generally poor weather and being closed for the better part of a week. Many former trainees and placements returned this week, hoping to witness the major discoveries that always turn up at the end of a dig. The weather was good again, allowing us to make us much progress as possible.

In Trench 3, it now seems that a low bank had been laid down at the beginning of the rampart construction to form the rear of the rampart base. This may have had the dual role of marking the limit of the rampart for the builders, and retaining the body of the rampart. The concave surfaces of the rampart deposits being excavated are partly due to their lying against this bank, although it still seems they are also subsiding into a cut beneath the rampart.

The concave rampart deposits in Trench 3. The water-filled hole is the base of the medieval column foundation pit

In Trench 4 the mortar-filled robber trench was emptied, revealing a cobble foundation. This foundation resembles the cobble foundation found in Trench 1 in 2001, and apparently formed the south-east end of the medieval hospital infirmary from about 1100 until the building was extended to the south-east in around 1250. As this foundation was at the maximum safe depth limit, it was decided to concentrate our efforts on investigating the layers lying between this structure and the stone-lined drain to the south-east, which presumably pre-date the infirmary.

Excavating possible pre-infirmary deposits, cut by the stone-lined drain (to rear of trench)

In Trench 5 the bottom of the wall plaster layers ‘inside’ the Multangular Tower was reached. Beneath were various thin layers including gravel and clay, indicating these were floor deposits within the tower. Hopefully, study of the finds from these layers will tell us when these floors were laid down, and what kind of activities took place in this building.

The mortarium found in Trench 5 last week, after cleaning

A narrow cut was found, evidently the north-west side of the ‘L-shaped’ feature found in Trench 3. This is thought to be the base of a flight of steps that allowed the defenders of the fortress to reach the battlements quickly. However the corner of this feature overlay the south-east corner of the Multangular Tower foundation, which means the rear of the tower must have been dismantled before the timber staircase was constructed. The dating of this staircase feature is now crucial; if it is Roman in date, it means the rear of the Multangular Tower was demolished during the Roman period, while the front of the tower remained and is still standing!

At the west end of Trench 6 our attention turned to the deposits through which Miller had dug his trench to expose the timber piles. These deposits, well over 1m deep, are clearly not natural; indeed they are dumps of Roman waste material. It seems the original Roman ground surface, which consisted of sand over clay, sloped down steadily westwards to the River Ouse from this point. It therefore proved necessary to form an artificial terrace at this point before the Multangular Tower could be constructed. Hopefully the finds recovered from these deposits, including leather and wood, will help to date the construction of the Tower more closely – almost compensating for the failure to obtain tree-ring dates from the piles!

Roman dump deposits, cut through by the foundations of the Multangular Tower (left), visible in the side of Miller’s trench. The scale rests on probable natural sand

At the east end of the trench, a large mass of mortared limestone rubble was found. Much of this had apparently been removed during Miller’s excavations, but it seems likely that this material originally filled the entire compartment. The best explanation we can offer at present is that the Roman deposits into which the foundations of the Multangular Tower had been dug into at this point proved unstable, and had to be replaced with something more solid. The construction and maintenance of this tower is proving to be a much more complex operation than we had previously thought.

Week 13-15

Although the site was now closed to the public, a small team remained to tie up a few loose ends prior to backfilling the site. That was the plan anyway.

A Roman bone fitting with one copper alloy river still in place

In Trench 3, the ash and charcoal deposits were found to be filling a large, irregular 1m deep pit. The function and date of this feature is at present uncertain. It could be a prehistoric feature; it may be associated with activity taking place against the inside of the first Roman (turf) rampart of the fortress; or it could still be a quarry pit, used to extract material to form a marker bank at the rear of the second rampart. The second option is favoured at present, and it could mean that the cobble surfaces and stone features found above the charcoal layers also represent activity contemporary with the first rampart. The pit was cut into natural sandy subsoil over glacial clay. We had reached the bottom of Trench 3, some 3.3m below the current ground level!

The lowest deposit in the pit under excavation

In Trench 4, what was meant to be a cursory investigation of the medieval cobble wall foundation revealed a substantial mortared stone wall beneath! This was a pleasant surprise, as taken with the evidence from Trenches 1 and 2 it offers a plausible construction sequence for the infirmary. Apparently the mortared wall in Trench 4 joined with the Roman interval tower SW6 to the south-west and formed the south-east end of the original infirmary (around 1100). The massive cobble foundation found in Trenches 1 and 4 is evidently a replacement south-east infirmary wall, indicating that Tower SW6 was demolished some time between about 1100 and 1250. Then the infirmary was extended to the south-west, on massive concrete and rubble foundations, around 1250.

A detailed view of the original infirmary wall (under the scale), buried by the later cobble foundation

In Trench 5, excavation of the deposits overlying the foundations of the Multangular Tower and cut by the possible timber staircase feature produced a wide range of Roman finds. The most intriguing was a bone counter, inscribed with decoration and Latin text on both sides, which is almost identical with a group of counters found in London; plenty of scope for research there!

A melon bead, and decorated counter with the legend IVNIII

A revelation – the deposits containing wall plaster appear to fill a large pit situated over the foundations of the Multangular Tower. The explanation favoured at present is that the rear of the tower was dismantled, possibly soon after it was built, due to structural instability (see Week 12, Trench 6). A rampart was then built against the surviving front half of the tower, forming a continuous rampart around the west corner of the defences. Access to the rampart via the Multangular Tower was no longer possible, hence the construction of a timber staircase onto the rampart as indicated in Trenches 3 (in 2003) and 5. When these changes took place, and how the front of the Multangular Tower was used thereafter, requires careful study of the excavation data.

View of the Multangular Tower looking west, showing the continuation of the south wall foundation in Trench 5

This scenario also has implications for the medieval infirmary. It would mean that there was no Roman tower to form the north-west end of the infirmary. The column base foundation found in Trench 5 would represent the continuation of the vaulted undercroft over the former position of the tower and presumably right up to the north-west fortress wall. In this case, the length of the infirmary would have been about 47m, rather than the 29m indicated by the 19th century excavators; a truly massive building.

Beneath the rampart and cut by the foundations of the Multangular Tower was a series of deposits including a cobble surface; these deposits are presumably contemporary with the first fortress rampart. They overlaid a possible buried soil overlying natural sand. A small pit or post-hole, cutting the buried soil, could be prehistoric in date. Anyway, we had reached the bottom of Trench 5.

In Trench 6, the dump layers in the western part of the trench were excavated down to natural sand. They were very organic, and contained wood fragments and blocks of turf. Are these the remains of the turf rampart, spread out to form the terrace on which the Multangular Tower was built? Close examination of the tower foundations in the eastern part of the trench indicated that they had been dug into natural sand. This suggests the original ground surface in the west corner of the fortress was quite flat, but then dropped off steeply down to the River Ouse. Hence the need to provide a terrace on which to build the projecting front of the Multangular Tower, and so the need to support the projecting front on timber piles in such unstable ground. It also might explain the omission of timber piles beneath the rear of the tower by the Roman builders as belief that the flat, sandy subsoil could support the weight of the tower – mistaken as it turns out.

And so the excavation finished, followed by a week of dismantling the site and backfilling the trenches. Thanks to everyone who helped to make the project such a success: the project team of course; the YAT staff who helped with the off-site activities; the 65,000 people who paid to see the dig; and not least, the 800 or so trainees who carried out most of the actual digging and paid for the privilege. Now starts the assessment of the stratigraphy, finds and environmental evidence. No doubt this will fill in many of the blanks in the story we have pieced together, as well as overturning many of the hypotheses that have been formulated over the past 4 years! Watch out for updates on the assessment, and news of how the results will be published.

The final team photo

That’s a summer in a post! I hope you enjoyed this digital archaeological dig through our past blogs, wonder if you could create a stratigraphic matrix for it…

-Gus

Site Diary: Summer Week 12

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

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

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

Elisa proving once again how capable she is at paperwork

Elisa’s unusual medieval pottery fragments fit together perfectly!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lynne’s fantastic find!

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

Katie and Emma getting ever deeper…

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

Clive and Alistair defining a pit they have come across

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

Alistair and Clive planning their medieval dumps

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

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

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

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

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

-Becky

Week 12 team shot

 

2017 Site Diary: Weeks 1 & 2

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

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

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

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

Trench of the Triffids.

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

Week One

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

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

Katherine, Molly, Calum and Adrienne set to work.

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

Grave Concerns

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

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

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

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

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

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

The well preserved remains of a timber coffin.

Cleaning the well preserved remains of a timber coffin.

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

Molly and a freshly unearthed button.

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

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

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

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

 

Stephen and a rather lovely architectural fragment.

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

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

Transferring benchmarks with a dumpy level.

Catriona and Katherine transferring benchmarks with a dumpy level.

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

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

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

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

The week one team.

The week one team.

Week Two

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

A busy trench!

A busy trench!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam beginning a detailed skeleton plan.

Sam beginning a detailed skeleton plan.

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

Catriona cleaning a skeleton.

Steve planning a skeleton.

Steve planning a skeleton.

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

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

 

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

Conservator Charlotte leading a tour of YATs conservation lab.

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

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

Good luck Molly!

Good luck Molly!

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

The week two team.

The week two team.

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

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

In the meantime, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

 

Site Diary: Summer Week 10

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

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

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

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

Ashley and Jacob working on their burial.

Ashley and Jacob working on their burial.

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

Ashley with her strangely shaped pottery sherd.

Ashley with her strangely shaped pottery sherd.

A closer look.

A closer look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Dan reaching into his ever-deepening grave!

Dan reaching into his ever-deepening grave!

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

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

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

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

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

Victoria and Jenny carefully exposing their infant burial.

Victoria and Jenny carefully exposing their infant burial.

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

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

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

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

Theo and Alice photographing their coffin in Contrary Corner.

Theo and Alice photographing their coffin in Contrary Corner.

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

Cute as a button!

Cute as a button!

A closer look.

A closer look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Jo showing off her ceramic marble.

Jo showing off her ceramic marble.

Gilbert strikes a pose with his Roman coin.

Gilbert strikes a pose with his Roman coin.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Another star find from Gilbert; a worked bone object.

Another star find from Gilbert; a worked bone object.

A closer look.

A closer look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Coco with a lovely piece of roman Samian ware.

Coco with a lovely piece of roman Samian ware.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

A closer look at the detail.

A closer look at the detail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Mark working on the plan of his medieval clay layer.

Mark working on the plan of his medieval clay layer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The week 10 team.

The week 10 team.

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

-Katie

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

Site Diary: Summer Week 9.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Libby with her possibly Viking antler offcut.

Libby with her possibly Viking antler offcut.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rick and Alistair excavating one of their medieval dumping deposits.

Rick and Alistair excavating one of their medieval dumping deposits.

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

Rick was really happy with his beautiful Roman pottery sherd!

Rick was really happy with his beautiful Roman pottery sherd!

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

Alistair revealing the edge of a stone feature or surface.

Alistair revealing the edge of a stone feature or surface.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The week 9 team.

The week 9 team.

– Katie

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

Behold, our Master Matrix - We LOVE stratigraphy!

Behold, our Master Matrix – We LOVE stratigraphy!

Site Diary: Summer Week 5

Week 5 saw the Archaeology Live! team discovering more of the pre-burial activities on North Street including recycling habits, post-medieval workshop foundations, medieval refuse pits and examples of Roman tableware. This was also the week of arguably our creepiest find to date, scroll down to find out more…

Week 5 gets underway.

Week 5 gets underway.

At the end of week 4 dynamic duo Matt and Christine had cleaned up, photographed and recorded a gravestone footing relating to a 19th century burial. In week 5 our new trainees Tom and Alec picked up where they left off and started to remove the footing. Whilst the construction of this footing is undoubtedly 19th century in date, it turned out to be built of recycled medieval bricks and Roman masonry! Utilizing earlier materials had its perks; it was cheaper than the cost of acquiring and working stone or bricks, and logistically easier to re-use materials found lying around a nearby area than have them brought in from further afield. Tom and Alec’s footing is not the only example of re-use at this site or in York as a whole; as is often pointed out on our Thursday night wanders, large blocks of Roman masonry in particular can be found in all sorts of places, often in churches and other similarly sized structures.

Tom lifting the last bits of a recycled brick and stone footing.

Tom lifting the last bits of a recycled brick and stone footing.

Elsewhere on site we found evidence of more recycling, this time in the post-medieval period. The general theory about the appearance of post-medieval North Street is one of open fronted lean-to workshops built in timber. So far we have recorded and excavated some post-pads that were substantial enough to have held sizeable structural timbers, and in week 5 two of our tasters, father and daughter team Richard and Francesca were working on one such footing. In their two days on site they managed to clean, record and excavate their footing and it turned out to be made of faced medieval church masonry! Whether it was robbed out of All Saints or left lying around is impossible to tell, but clearly these workshops incorporated odd bits and bobs of other nearby structures, which contributes more towards the idea of a ramshackle collection of workshops along Church Lane in the post-medieval period.

 

Richard and Francesca's footing, which was made of re-used church masonry.

Richard and Francesca’s footing, which was made of re-used church masonry.

Also delving into the post-medieval period were new starters Rachel and Graham, who started their week working on a rubble filled layer. Once that deposit was recorded they carried on and dug even further back in time, to find a securely dated 13th century deposit. We could date this deposit because of the pottery that came out of it, as a feature cannot be any earlier than the most recent piece of pottery within it. After the specialist pottery session on Tuesday with site supervisor Arran, Rachel and Graham were able to put their newly acquired knowledge to the test when dating this deposit.

Rachel and Graham working on their 13th Century deposit.

Rachel and Graham working on their 13th century deposit.

Windows into medieval All Saints were explored by our other two-day tasters – mum and son Penny and Oli. They excavated to the base of a 14th century pit in the area of the old Rectory. It contained the all important dateable pottery fragments as well as butchered animal bone. So not only did we find a securely dated medieval pit, the waste thrown into it can give us ideas of the activities going on at the time. In this case, butchery waste tells us what is being eaten. So far at All Saints we have found fish, cattle, sheep/goat and chicken bones all showing evidence of butchery as well as considerable amounts of tanning waste. Penny and Oli, like our other tasters Richard and Francesca, finished excavation of their feature and squared away the records by the time their taster days were over – that’s pretty fast work for beginners!

Penny reaches to the bottom of her pit, which was filled with butchered animal bone and pottery.

Penny reaches to the bottom of her pit, which was filled with butchered animal bone and pottery.

It was great to know that before the halfway point of the summer season some parts of the site were now comfortably within the medieval horizon. However, there were of course more burials to find, record and lift in week 5.

New starter Janet and returnee Pete spent their week working on a young adult burial which needed cleaning up and recording. Once cleaned we had a better idea of whether to lift this individual or leave them in-situ, as at present we are lifting infant and juvenile burials only.

Pete re-covering an adult burial on Friday.

Pete re-covering an adult burial on Friday.

Being the burial of an adult, we have left this individual in place, and so after a couple of days spent meticulously recording each detail Pete and Janet re-covered the skeleton with a deep layer of sieved soil to protect it. Both trainees did a fantastic job and produced quality records.

Janet looking very pleased with her Medieval window glass

Janet looking very pleased with her Medieval window glass

A highlight of Janet’s first week on Archaeology Live! was a lovely diamond shaped fragment of medieval window glass that her keen eyes spotted during a session of finds washing!

A closer look.

A closer look.

Once their gravestone footing was out of the way and the cut recorded, Tom and Alec moved on to recording a large spread of graveyard soil, a mixed dump of material that accumulated over the lifespan of the graveyard in the early to mid-19th century. By the end of the week they began to excavate the soil and on Friday they came across a previously unidentified infant burial. It was covered over until it could be properly recorded in week 6.

Trainees Alec (left) and Tom (right) set to work on excavation of a graveyard soil under the watchful eye of new placement Matt.

Trainees Alec (left) and Tom (right) set to work on excavation of a graveyard soil under the watchful eye of our new placement Matt.

Nearby new starters Katie and Jess had a busy week of searching for and recording more burials. Katie worked on a deeper adult-sized burial, and Jess was working on a much shallower infant burial next to her.

Katie (left) works on a deep adult burial whilst Jess (centre) focused on a much smaller, more shallow infant burial.

Katie (left) works on a deep adult burial whilst Jess (centre) focused on a much smaller, more shallow infant burial.

By the end of the week Katie hadn’t managed to find her burial although some parts of a coffin line had started to appear, it was obviously very far down! However she teamed up with Jess to record the delicate infant burial that had been exposed on Friday.

Katie, (left) with the help of placement Taralea, adds the finishing touches to the plan of the infant she and Jess drew.

Katie, (left) with the help of placement Taralea, adds the finishing touches to the plan of the infant she and Jess drew.

Continuing in the same plot as week 4, Anna and Frankie recorded an infant burial that had been heavily disturbed by burrowing animals. Once the burial had been recorded and lifted the girls cleaned up the grave cut and found… another grave! This particular area has already had several burials lifted and so may well be a family plot. For the rest of the week the girls continued to excavate until they found their coffin outline on Friday. However before they reached the coffin the backfill had produced a wonderful array of pottery sherds.

A nice assemblage of pottery from Anna and Frankie's grave back fill.

A nice assemblage of pottery from Anna and Frankie’s grave back fill.

Here we have a handful of pottery from Anna and Frankie’s feature, some of you may be able to identify Roman, Norman and Viking pottery! The most plentiful pottery from this 19th century feature was Roman, with greywares, samian, black burnished and color coat all making an appearance, as well as a large piece of an amphora, a large Roman storage vessel. What is notable about these sherds is they are mainly examples of fine or high status wares.

Frankie and her freshly unearthed sherd of an amphora.

Frankie and her freshly unearthed sherd of an amphora.

Amphorae were large storage vessels for luxury liquid and dry goods such as wine and oil. Samian, colour coat and black burnished wares in particular were made to be displayed on a table for people to see as a sign of wealth. All of these pottery types have been found across the site, which is located on the colonia side of Eboracum. This gives us some indication of the lifestyle of these Roman residents and supports the generally accepted idea that those residing in the colonia were serving citizens, officials and retired legionnaires.

Frankie (foreground) and Anna (centre) reaching into their grave back fill looking for a 19th century coffin.

Frankie (foreground) and Anna (centre) reaching into their grave back fill looking for a 19th century coffin.

Week 5 was one of interesting stratigraphic tales and even more interesting finds. However one particular find from this week has certainly stayed with me and probably several others. It was on a sunny tea break like many others when placement Ellen sat near the Tree of Finds and unearthed this thing from the topsoil…

We simply call it Creepy Baby.

Here in the YAT Fieldwork office, site supervisor Arran has had it hanging off of his shelving unit underneath site mascot Mr Fish for months now, and I’m sure it watches everyone in the office who walks by. Goodness knows how it got to the back of All Saints, but I don’t like it.

Besides “Creepy Baby,” week 5 had been another packed week with trainees working on features of many different dates and, as always, all of their hard work has been to a consistently high standard. They are assisted of course by our staff and placements, but its the trainees who make Archaeology Live! the success that it is.

The week 5 team.

The week 5 team.

Thanks for reading, keep an eye out for week 6!

Katie

P.S. In true Throwback Thursday style, a returning trainee, Janet, found a picture of All Saints back in 2014 and its safe to say we have moved a lot of dirt in three seasons! See for yourself below…

June 2014.

June 2014.

July 2016.

July 2016.

Site Diary: Summer Week 2

Week two of the 2016 summer excavation saw much of the All Saints team continue to explore the funerary landscape of the early to mid-19th century, adding new knowledge to a complex picture of tradition and remembrance. While numerous burials were meticulously recorded, a small group of trainees investigated the site’s more distant past.

Not a bad day for digging!

Excavation of burials close to the walls of All Saints Rectory.

Across the majority of the site, adult and infant burials are laid out in rows that follow the alignment of the long axis of the church. The graves respect each other and there is only sparse evidence of graves intercutting, and no evidence of new burials knowingly damaging in-situ remains. This indicates that the graves must have been clearly marked and that care was clearly taken to avoid damaging existing burials.

By the north-eastern wall of the former Rectory, however, lies a notable concentration of infant burials that are laid out in no clear order, with many grave cuts overlapping with each other. This area makes for an intriguing break in an otherwise clear trend of burial tradition at All Saints.

Excavation of a cluster of infant burials.

Excavation of a cluster of infant burials.

Quite why this area of the graveyard is so disordered and densely occupied is open for debate, although it has been suggested that there is an affinity with burial at the tower end of a churchyard, as this then associates the interred with the most impressive aspect of the church.

The negative stigma attached to burial on the north side of churches was certainly in decline by the early 19th century, perhaps as much a result of pragmatism as opposed to anything more ideological. After all, people had to be buried somewhere and space was getting tight!

When the area was consecrated in 1826, the church will obviously not have known that York’s churchyards would all be closed in 1854. Could the idea have been to fill the space as much as possible, working out from the Rectory walls to the north-east? We can only speculate at present, as no church records have survived relating to the churchyard at this point.

Careful excavation of a double infant inhumation.

Careful excavation of a double infant inhumation.

This lack of historic context makes the meticulous work of our trainees very significant as it will be down to the archaeology alone to tell the story of this part of the site’s history. By carefully picking apart the sequence of burials in this area, we will be able to analyse and better understand the funerary practices of the time.

Rhiannon and Jenni (foreground) working on a double burial.

Rhiannon and Jenni (foreground) working on a double burial.

Jenni and Rhiannon spent their week exposing the remains of two infants  that had been extensively damaged by 19th century animal burrowing. This disturbance meant that parts of the skeletons had been moved or, in some cases, were missing altogether. Despite these difficulties, the pair were able to fully reveal and record the two individuals, finding evidence that they were buried simultaneously. Whether the two infants were siblings may never be known, but it is a distinct possibility.

Kaylan and Emily teamed up for their second week on site to finish lifting and recording an infant burial that had been started the previous week.

Kaylan, Katie and Emily collating the records for their burial.

Kaylan, Katie and Emily collating the records for their burial.

With this task completed, Kaylan and Emily recorded and began to excavate another grave backfill. Two infant burials had already been lifted from within this grave plot and it was suspected that an adult lied beneath. As it turned out, the adult was interred at a significant depth!

Kaylan and Emily reaching into a deep inhumation.

Kaylan and Emily reaching into a deep inhumation.

Emily and her star find.

Emily and her star find.

Confined spaces and deep features can make for uncomfortable digging positions but Kaylan and Emily’s patient work paid off and, by the end of the week, they had located the skull of a deeply buried adult.

A noteworthy find was a corroded ring made of copper alloy. Whether it was a decorative object or something more mundane will have to wait until the find is investigated by YAT’s Conservation Lab.

After recording and excavating an infant individual within the cluster of  burials by the Rectory, Italian archaeologists Federica and Elisa turned their attention to a deep feature close to the edge of the trench.

As the feature descended ever deeper, the pair became a little tough to spot…

They're down there somewhere!

They’re down there somewhere!

At first, the feature was believed to be another burial, albeit one of the later ones in the sequence. As Elisa and Federica slowly troweled away the material infilling the feature, however, disarticulated fragments of human bone began to appear. This was an unexpected development as we have had almost no evidence of burials disturbing earlier inhumations.

Federica and Elisa in their deep linear feature.

Federica and Elisa in their deep linear feature.

The feature’s proximity to the Church Hall wall that was built six years after the 1854 closure of York’s graveyards provided a clue as to what was happening.

The human remains that had been disturbed were originally buried as part of our 1826-1854 phase of burials, however, they were disturbed when the boundary wall separating the graveyard from Church Lane  was robbed out between 1854 and 1860.

Whoever dug out this trench to recover stone from the demolished boundary wall clearly paid no regard to the burials they were disturbing, simply throwing broken fragments back into the finished trench as it was backfilled.

As the churchyard had only been closed for a few years when this robbing event occurred, this is an unpleasant circumstance to consider and shows how values have changed since Victorian times.

Anna and India lifting an infant skeleton.

Anna and India exposing an infant skeleton.

Two further infant burials were investigated by Annie, India and Anna, yielding interesting new possibilities. Some burials appeared to overlie further inhumations within the same plot, whereas some seemed to be single interments.

Annie and Ellen recording an infant burial.

Annie and Ellen recording an infant burial.

 

Annie cleaning up a grave cut for photography.

Annie cleaning up a grave cut for photography.

Over the course of the week, four burials were exposed and recorded in this area, all by trainees with little or no prior archaeological experience. The quality of the records they produced and the careful, delicate excavation they carried out is to be commended.

Away from the Rectory area, Kate and Marie-Soleil continued work on a complicated sequence within a single grave plot.

Graves with a single occupant can be relatively easy to spot. After troweling an area clean, a rectangle of more mixed, often looser material will be revealed which can then be recorded and investigated. When grave plots are opened, backfilled and re-opened numerous times, these edges can become much less defined, as numerous overlapping cuts are now present in one space.

Kate and Marie-Soleil creating a plan drawing.

Kate and Marie-Soleil creating a plan drawing.

With some skilled troweling, Kate and Marie-Soleil were able to follow the suspected edge of the latest grave cut and made a surprising discovery – not one, but two coffins!  At the south-west end of the cut, the tiny coffin of an infant began to emerge, while the larger coffin of a juvenile individual occupied the north-eastern half of the grave.

Cleaning up a decayed coffin.

Cleaning up a decayed coffin.

After over 150 years in the ground, the majority of the organic materials of the coffins have long since decayed, although the presence of metal plates and fittings can slow this process. In some cases, a thin line of decayed wood and corroded iron and brass can still show us the size and shape of the coffins and Kate and Marie-Soleil’s larger coffin was particularly clear.

Marie-Soleil cleaning up the coffin of a juvenile individual.

Marie-Soleil cleaning up the coffin of a juvenile individual.

The infant burial was recorded and lifted first and proved to be heavily affected by animal burrowing, with much of the skull and torso missing. The larger coffin was then cleaned up for photography and recording.

The coffin of a juvenile interred between 1826 and 1854.

The timber coffin of a juvenile interred between 1826 and 1854.

By the end of the week, the burial was fully recorded and ready to be lifted in week 3. The juvenile was too young to suggest a gender, but a slight curvature in the femurs may suggest that the child had suffered from malnutrition in life. A sobering reminder of the often cruel realities of life in 19th century Britain.

Kate completing her coffin plan.

Kate completing her coffin plan.

While the week two team took great strides forward in our understanding of the 19th century burial ground, some of the team were also delving further back into the site’s past.

Hannah and Hope set to work in the centre of the trench.

Hannah and Hope set to work in the centre of the trench.

Newcastle University students Hannah and Hope proved that a huge amount of information can be derived from a very small amount of archaeology as they  started work on a thin peninsula of archaeology that was cut on two sides by a pair of later burials.

As well as pre-dating the burials of the early to mid-19th century, the sequence was also earlier than a stone and tile oven feature that once sat within an 18th century workshop.

The uppermost deposit was a compacted layer of silt and sand that overlaid a number of thin, laminated dumps of mortar and beaten earth – we were clearly looking at floor surfaces that had been laid and relaid numerous times.

It is common for rough surfaces such as these to be frequently replaced, as simple beaten earth horizons are prone to rapid wear. As Hannah and Hope recorded and lifted each subsequent deposit, one possible reason for the need to refresh the floors so frequently  became clear – subsidence.

Each layer of Hannah and Hope’s floor sequence proved to be far from flat and some tended to slope quite steeply downwards. The most likely reason for this is the presence of earlier pits below the workshop floors, with soft, organic fills that settle over time.

Hope cleaning a truncated pit cut prior to photography.

Hope cleaning a sloping surface prior to photography.

Clearly, the occupier of this workshop would have frequently found hollows appearing in the floor and would have been forced to deposit layers of soil, sand and mortar to provide a level working surface. Perhaps unsurprisingly, after excavating a number of such layers, Hannah and Hope came across a shallow pit – a possible culprit for the subsidence.

Further work may reveal a huge number of refuse and cess pits that pre-date both the 19th century burials and 18th century workshops. Quite why so many pits occupy this space will remain a mystery for now.

In the foreground, Bri begins work on a medieval levelling deposit.

In the foreground, Bri begins work on a medieval levelling deposit.

At the southern end of the trench, work also continued on the earliest sequence of deposits that have been encountered so far.

The southern boundary of the 19th century burial ground was the northern wall of All Saints Rectory, which stood until 1854-59.

Within the footprint of this building, there has been far less damage to the medieval and post-medieval horizon than elsewhere on-site, which gives us a far greater chance of understanding the site’s pre-18th century sequence.

This week, it was up to people taking part in our one and two day taster courses to further investigate this area and good progress was made. Following the excavation of a layer of silt dating to the 14th century, a more compacted layer was unearthed that may once have been a surface.

Taralea helping Alison and Helen create a new context record.

Taralea helping Alison and Helen create a new single context record.

This deposit proved to be very shallow and, by the end of the week, a small pit/post hole was found beneath it. Although our small slot into the medieval horizon was only getting started, interesting questions were already beginning to emerge.

  • Were we within the footprint of a building that pre-dates the 14th century Rectory?
  • Were we in an open yard space?
  • Was the area in industrial or domestic (or both!) use at this point?

As usual, each discovery brought with it new questions, but the team remained hopeful that we would be able to characterise this sequence of medieval archaeology.

Per and Janet recording a pit backfill.

Per and Janet recording a medieval pit backfill.

Beneath the Tree of Finds, the team continued to make inroads into tackling our ever growing mountain of finds and some previously unnoticed treasures emerged as countless tubs of finds were cleaned up.

Finds washing in the sun.

Finds washing in the sun.

The undoubted highlight was a fragment of medieval stained glass with paint still visible, a vivid reminder of the pomp and colour that would have characterised All Saints in its medieval heyday.

Medieval stained glass.

Medieval stained glass.

 

The team were excited to see the brushstrokes of a medieval artisan still surviving on the glass. While we’ll never know how the complete image would have looked, it remains a wonderful little find!

All told, week two of the summer excavation comfortably kept up the momentum of week one and the site changed visibly in a short space of time.

Massive thanks to all of the trainees and placements that made the week such a success!

The week two team.

The week two team.

Two weeks down, ten to go. Some questions answered, countless more posed. We had our work cut out for us!

A frequent sight at All Saints: Arran and Becky checking the week two records.

A frequent sight at All Saints: Arran and Becky checking the week two records.

Watch this space for more site diaries, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

PS. During week two, Arran and Becky became aware of a peril of asking younger placements to take a few working shots: The #ArchaeologySelfie

Ellen and Taralea in an #ArchaeologySelfie

Ellen and Taralea in an #ArchaeologySelfie

Site Diary: Summer Week 1

In the months leading up to our flagship summer excavation, bookings went through the roof. By the beginning of week one, 96% of the spaces in all 12 weeks of the dig were already booked up. All the signs suggested we were in for a hectic and eventful summer – they weren’t wrong! Here’s the first site diary from the 2016 summer dig at All Saints, North Street.

Guess who's back...

Guess who’s back…

The Archaeology Live! training excavations are the flagship public archaeology project of York Archaeological Trust. Each year, trainees from across the world converge on York to work on some of the most complex and fascinating archaeology that the UK has to offer, working all the while under the guidance of a crack team of full-time professional archaeologists.

The 2016 season at All Saints, North Street marked our third consecutive summer at this remarkable little site and the team were poised and ready to answer some of the myriad questions that have arisen around the site’s long and storied history.

Work begins on day one, week one of the summer excavation.

Work begins on day one, week one of the summer excavation.

It was something of a breathless start! In the months leading up to the summer season, the YAT fieldwork department had been kept very busy on a number of excavations across Yorkshire and the largest of these was still in full swing. This meant that regular All Saints supervisor Gary wasn’t available to take his usual post alongside Arran in running the All Saints dig. With Project Director Toby running the St Saviour’s excavation, new blood was clearly required.

Becky (left) in full recording mode.

Becky (left) in full recording mode.

Enter Becky!

Becky’s archaeological career began in 2010, when she took part in Archaeology Live! at Hungate. Since then, Becky has gained her degree in archaeology at Edinburgh and completed countless weeks as an Arch Live! placement. All of this culminated in Becky being taken on by YAT at the end of the 2015 season.

Now a fully fledged professional, Becky was back to help Arran with the running of the site.

Airdropped in from a large rural excavation, Arran and Becky gathered tools, prepared the site and welcomed the new team. The summer season was finally underway!

Emily and Simon working on an infant burial.

Emily and Simon working on an infant burial.

With a primary aim of the season being the identification of the remaining 19th century burials that are spread across the site, the majority of the team picked up work on a number of burials. Both Emily and Simon and Sue and Gill were given the delicate task of excavating and recording infant burials, making excellent headway over the course of the week.

Sue and Gill excavating an infant burial.

Sue and Gill excavating an infant burial.

Both burials turned out to house multiple occupants, presumably related individuals within a family plot. Emily and Simon’s inhumation proved to be in good condition and featured a well-preserved coffin. Sue and Gill’s burial was found directly below an infant that had been lifted during the spring excavation. This unusual burial was found interred with a coin in its left hand, an interesting throwback to an ancient tradition.

The underlying individual proved to be very challenging indeed, with the legs having partially collapsed into an underlying void. Untangling which remains belonged to which individual required some painstaking trowel work, something that Sue and Gill coped with admirably.

By the end of the week, both burials were fully recorded and had begun to be lifted. Due to the shallow depth and vulnerability to erosion of the infant burials, we had been requested by the church to carefully lift the infants and juveniles for re-burial in the safety and sanctity of the church.

Recording using a planning frame.

Recording using a planning frame.

In the centre of the trench, Sarah and Marie-Soleil began work on what was believed to be an adult burial, a task with unique challenges of its own. Careful trowel cleaning had revealed the outline of a rectangular feature that pre-dated a number of burials, the size of which suggested that a fully mature person would be interred within.

As the adults have tended to be buried at a greater depth than the infants, there is a far greater volume of grave backfill to excavate, but this doesn’t make it time to break out the mattock. On a site full of family grave plots, it is impossible to know whether or not infant or juvenile burials are stacked on top of the underlying adult. Marie-Soleil and Sarah had a lot of patient troweling to do!

Sarah and Marie-Soleil working on a burial

Sarah and Marie-Soleil working on a burial

Despite taking a fittingly measured approach, good progress was made and some interesting finds were soon unearthed. The value of sieving was proved by the discovery of this mysterious little object.

An ossified segment of a goose trachea.

An ossified segment of a goose trachea.

The soil conditions in York offer a remarkable level of preservation, allowing a delicate fragment of the trachea of a goose to survive in the ground. Credit also goes to the careful troweling and keen eyes of Marie-Soleil and Sarah! A second finds highlight was a fragment of a decorative 19th century clay pipe bowl. The fleur-de-lys decoration tells us that this pipe may well have been purchased from the Prince of Wales pub that traded on nearby Skeldergate in the 19th century.

Marie-Soleil and her clay pipe bowl.

Marie-Soleil and her clay pipe bowl.

A lead seal/token.

A lead seal/token.

The most exciting find to be recovered from the grave backfill was undoubtedly a circular lead seal or token.

These lead objects can have a variety of uses and forms. In the medieval period, there was a drive to enforce uniformity in the sale of textiles. Lead seals were often used as a method of authenticating the quality and provenance of cloth and were stamped in the same way as coins to produce imagery and text.

Papal bulla are lead seals used to authenticate documents, charters, indulgences, (etc. etc.) from the Catholic church. A number of these have been unearthed in York, sometimes with elaborate stamped imagery.

In the case of Marie-Soleil’s object, a layer of corrosion on the exterior means that we can’t currently say precisely which kind of object it is. This will be a job for our conservation department!

While the majority of the team spent the week working on burials, Arran and Becky had different plans for Kaylan and Sarah. The Anglo-American duo took over the excavation of our infamous (and seemingly bottomless!) ‘horn core pit’, an ever-deepening cut feature filled with the by-products of 18th century horn working.

Sarah and Kaylan tackling some tricky digging.

Sarah and Kaylan tackling some tricky digging.

It all began simply enough, with the expected bounty of cattle horn core and cranium fragments quickly appearing, but there was a surprise in store – an unexpected skull!

Excavation of deep features can require some creative positioning...

Excavation of deep features can require some creative positioning…

One of the real thrills of urban archaeology is that seemingly ironclad theories and interpretations can be destroyed almost as quickly as they are created. Up to this point, the sheer volume of horn core recovered from this feature had naturally led us to presuming that disposal of these waste products had been its primary function. Kaylan and Sarah’s discovery meant that we now knew that we were looking at a burial – but why the concentration of horn core?

Interpreting complex archaeological sequences is an artform in its own right and we encourage our trainees to really get to grips with their features. After a brief period of pondering, postulating and pontificating, Kaylan and Sarah realised that there was a simple explanation for the curious glut of horn core in this one particular burial – and it wasn’t some bizarre Mithraic ritual!

When considered in its context, the burial wasn’t really unusual at all, it just happened to have been placed in the exact location that an earlier horn working waste pit already existed. As the grave was dug out in the 19th century, the spoil, horn and all, was piled up at the side of the grave before being used to cover the newly interred coffin and backfill the hole.

So there we had it. Our horn core pit wasn’t actually a horn core pit after all, just a grave that happened to have disturbed and then re-deposited the backfill of a pre-existing pit.

Kaylan and Sarah planning their burial.

Kaylan and Sarah planning their burial.

This feature highlights the complexity of the archaeology at All Saints, with countless intercutting and overlapping features just waiting to be teased apart by our trainees. Breaking this palimpsest of archaeology down into a sequence is a wonderfully challenging process and, by the end of the week, Kaylan and Sarah had their newly reinterpreted burial fully recorded.

Becky explaining single context recording.

Becky explaining single context recording.

Elsewhere in the trench, Paula and Lisa spent a taster session working on some much older archaeology within the footprint of the former Rectory. Over the course of the 2015 season, this part of the trench had been taken from the 18th to the 14th century, and we were keen to go a little further back in time. To this end, a small area was set aside for a 2m x 1m sondage – a trench within a trench. The first thing to do was to clean the area up and identify the latest archaeological context in the sequence.

Paula and Lisa investigating the medieval horizon.

Paula and Lisa investigating the medieval horizon.

It didn’t take long to identify an amorphous spread of dark, silty material and, once it had been recorded, Lisa and Paula had time to excavate the deposit. A number of sherds of Roman pottery were unearthed, but the crucial finds were an assemblage of splash glazed and locally made green glazed wares. These allowed us to date the deposit to the 14th century, showing that a significant amount of deposition had occurred at this point – perhaps in response to repeated flooding or changing land use. Early signs were very promising for our new sondage!

Working out elevations.

Working out elevations.

Arran leading the stratigraphy session.

Arran leading the stratigraphy session.

 

As the week drew to a close, the summer season’s inaugural stratigraphy session was held beneath the Tree of Finds (or Stratigratree…).

The trainees came up with some surprisingly innovative suggestions and managed to put a sequence of 70 hypothetical contexts into a perfect Harris matrix.

Sarah and Becky

Sarah and Becky

After the long wait for the summer season to begin, the end of week one came about surprisingly quickly. We were up and running and had eleven more weeks to work on some wonderfully complex and unpredictable archaeology!

Taralea and Emily

Taralea and Emily

From unexpected skulls to mysterious lead seals, week one didn’t disappoint at all! The team did some fantastic work despite some difficult features and, perhaps most importantly, everyone had a lot of fun. The stage was set for a vintage year of Archaeology Live!

The week one team

The week one team

We always take the time to thank the team at this point, after all, none of this would happen without them! Cheers guys!

We’ll be adding more site diaries in the coming weeks and detailing the never-ending stream of finds and surprises that made this summer so exciting. Keep your eyes peeled for updates.

In the meantime, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

 

PS. Special mention should go to our placement Katie for her sheer enthusiasm in this session of levelling…

Katie

Adopt the position!!!

Site Diary: Week 11

Autumnal clouds looming over All Saints.

Autumnal clouds looming over All Saints.

Week 11 of the summer excavation arrived with an unfamiliar chill in the air. The breeze now carried with it a scattering of fallen leaves and lengthening shadows now stretched across the trench.  Autumn was almost upon us, as was the end of the 2015 season. With just two weeks to go, there were still so many questions to answer and the team couldn’t wait to get started!

Unfortunately, the weather had got a little carried away with the autumnal theme…

Becky, Katie and a LOT of paperwork!

Becky, Katie and a LOT of paperwork!

As the rain poured outside, the team wisely decided to focus on indoor tasks in the warmth and shelter of the church. Sessions on recording methodologies, pottery dating and finds sorting were held while the placements took the opportunity to check a small mountain of records.

Thankfully, Tuesday saw the sunshine make a welcome return and the team sprung to action in the trench.

The sun returns to Church Lane, well, some of it.

The sun returns to Church Lane, well, some of it.

Rosemin and Joanna took over work on an area suspected to have been a processional route into the graveyard that occupied the site between 1826 and 1854.  It didn’t take long for the duo to find their first feature, as they spotted the outline of a post hole.

Rosemin and Joanna investigating a 19th century deposit.

Rosemin and Joanna investigating a 19th century deposit.

Over the previous two weeks, Arran’s ‘That End’ team had been working hard to prove or disprove whether this route into the graveyard had existed. If the theory was correct, we would find no burials in this space and archaeology that pre-dates the 19th century would survive. If the theory was false, then Rosemin and Joanna would discover yet more burials.

The first step in solving the mystery was to excavate the post hole and retrieve some dating material. In doing so, it didn’t take long for the week’s first exciting find to appear – a beautiful sherd of decorated Samian ware.

Jo and her freshly unearthed Roman pot sherd.

Jo and her freshly unearthed Roman pot sherd.

The post hole proved to be fairly substantial, and contained an eclectic mix of ceramics that ranged from Roman to medieval in date.

The omens were good, but could this be a genuine medieval feature or were we being mis-led? After all, it is still possible to find 19th century features that contain no 19th century finds. To definitively prove our theory, we would have to investigate the deposit underlying the post hole.

With the post hole recorded, Joanna and Rosemin began to clean up their area to see what deposit or feature was the next in line to investigate. This proved to be tricky work as the area was a mass of varied colours and textures with no clear cut features.

Joanna and Rosemin - Josemin

Joanna and Rosemin – Josemin

By the end of the week, a number of possible features had been uncovered and, crucially, no grave cuts had as yet become apparent. Our mystery, however, remained firmly unsolved as the mixed material being revealed by Jo and Rosemin still contained early 19th century ceramics – this one was going to go right to the wire!

Edges of uncertain date beginning to emerge.

Edges of uncertain date beginning to emerge.

Over in ‘This End’, Sarah and Stuart had made a brisk start and exposed the outline of a juvenile burial. After recording the grave backfill, they began the delicate process of exposing the remains of the coffin.

Stuart, Sarah and Becky investigating a 19th century infant burial.

Stuart, Sarah and Becky investigating a 19th century infant burial.

Sarah and Stuart’s diligent work was soon rewarded with an enigmatic find – a neatly cut but undecorated lead seal.

Sarah and her lead seal.

Sarah and her lead seal.

As the week progressed, the faint outline of a tiny timber coffin began to appear. This was clearly the burial of a very young individual, perhaps only one or two years old when they died.

Infant and juvenile burials have formed a large proportion of the site’s 60-plus inhumations. This is interesting as the area was not a particularly poor place in the 19th century, indeed all of the burials were furnished with coffins complete with at least some degree of decoration. Clearly, class was no barrier to the very real trials and hardships of the 19th century and high infant mortality affected people of all walks of life.

Excavating a 19th century infant burial.

Excavating a 19th century infant burial.

The remains of the infant within the coffin did indeed show evidence of these hardships, visible in a distinct curvature of both femurs (thigh bones) that can be a clear indicator of malnutrition.

Sarah finishing up her burial records.

Sarah finishing up her burial records.

Excavating features such as these can be a very touching experience, as in doing so we bear witness to the more tragic moments in the lives of York’s 19th century inhabitants. Through archaeology we can glimpse an unfiltered picture of life and, indeed, death in the past and create a permanent record of these forgotten stories.

Over in That End, Alistair was finding more evidence of the tough realities of life in the 19th century.

Hugh, Alistair and Katie recording a burial.

Hugh, Alistair and Katie recording a burial.

 Alistair’s first task of the week was to record the burial of a 19th century adolescent, yet another individual that didn’t survive to adulthood.
With this task completed, Alistair took to the excavation of the neighbouring grave, which proved to be quite remarkable!
Hugh (left) and Alistair (right) working on 19th century burials.

Hugh (left) and Alistair (right) working on 19th century burials.

As Alistair carefully excavated the backfill of the grave, he located and recorded a coffin that is quite typical for the site, a tapered timber hexagon with decorative brass panels.

Timber coffins almost never survive intact, as bacteria in the soil slowly breaks down the wood and eventually causes the collapse of the coffin. At All Saints, we have been able to identify the outlines of these collapsed coffins as the decayed wood can be seen as a dark stain in the soil. Where metal fittings are present, it is common to find fragments of wood still in-situ as the corroding metal can slow the process of decay around it.

Alistair excavating a 19th century burial cut through an 18th century cobbled floor.

Alistair excavating a 19th century burial cut through an 18th century cobbled floor.

With the coffin fully exposed and recorded, Alistair began to expose the remains of the individual within and made a remarkable discovery.

The person buried within the coffin died at around six or seven years of age and clearly lived a difficult life. Close inspection of the remains revealed clear ridges running horizontally across the teeth, an indication that the child had suffered from dental enamel hypoplasia. This condition can manifest itself in teeth and bone and is the result of severe illness and/or malnutrition. Once again we had found evidence of a tough life cut tragically short, but there was still more to learn.

Skeletons of such young individuals are yet to develop the typical traits that help us to identify whether they were male or female, but a quirk of preservation in Alistair’s burial allowed us to hazard a guess. When the coffin gave way and collapsed onto the remains within, part of a decorative metal plate landed directly over the child’s forehead. As a result of its proximity to this corroding metalwork, some of the child’s hair was found to be perfectly preserved.

This was a unique discovery for this excavation, allowing us to see that the child had had short blonde hair. This discovery could suggest that the individual would have been male, as cropped short hair certainly wasn’t the norm for young girls in the 19th century. Another intriguing possibility is that the hair may have been cropped short following a fever, a tradition which was thought to bring down temperatures.

Once again, a new discovery has brought with it yet more questions, however, Alistair’s careful excavation has given us an unprecedented amount of information about a short and difficult life. As the discovery was made, the mood in the trench became understandably sombre, however, it is finds such as these that help to put skeletal remains in a very human context.

Looking north along Church Lane.

Looking north-east along Church Lane.

Elsewhere in That End, Hugh and Abi were also working on 19th century burials. Abi had spent the previous week establishing the true edge of her grave cut and following the outline of one side of a coffin. Finding the other side of the coffin was, however, proving rather tricky!

Abi searching for the northern side of her coffin.

Abi searching for the northern side of her coffin.

A combination of variable preservation and the burrowing of a 19th century rabbit was making this already delicate task more difficult than usual.

Abi’s patience, however, was thankfully rewarded by an interesting find, a well-preserved fragment of a glazed medieval tile that would have been part of the church floor centuries ago.

Abi and her medieval glazed floor tile.

Abi and her medieval glazed floor tile.

Like Alistair, Hugh made some very unexpected discoveries within his burial. The grave cut was situated close to a pair of structural features that were thought to pre-date the grave; a mortared stone footing and a feature made of medieval brick. As excavation progressed, it became apparent that the brickwork was not a medieval feature after all – it was built within the cut of the burial!

Hugh (below the YAT banner) working on his burial.

Hugh (below the YAT banner) working on his burial.

While some burials have featured post holes at the head end that may have supported a cross, Hugh’s discovery is the first surviving example of a substantial 19th century grave marker that has been found at All Saints.

Hugh exposing a 19th century brick and stone grave marker.

Hugh exposing a 19th century brick and stone grave marker.

Once fully exposed, the brickwork proved to be un-mortared and built over a block of limestone. The structure made use of recycled medieval brick and gave us evidence that the individual who built it wasn’t the most diligent undertaker. Bizarrely, the grave marker had been built directly over the top of the coffin and when this eventually collapsed, the whole structure appears to have collapsed with it, sinking deeper into the grave and crushing the skull of the individual buried within.

The fact that none of our 19th century burials have been found to intercut suggests that the burials were clearly marked above ground. Hugh’s unusual sequence allows us to see what kind of monuments were in place and shows us that some 19th century individuals may not have taken a great deal of pride in their work!

As well as 19th century burials, week 11 also saw the excavation of some much earlier features.

Sarah, Julie, Elizabeth

Sarah, Julie, Elizabeth and Dave clearly enjoying their sieving!

Julie and Elizabeth spent a two day taster session working on medieval deposits in the south-west corner of the trench. The sequence was a complex one, with an interweaving mass of dumps and pits occupying a space that was later built over by the medieval Rectory.

Julie and Elizabeth planning a medieval pit backfill.

Julie and Elizabeth planning a medieval pit backfill.

Records suggest that the church acquired the land in the 14th century, and the ceramics from Julie and Elizabeth’s deposit comfortably pre-date this. In fact, the majority of the pottery was Anglo-Norman in date (11th-12th century) and were typified by the coarse gritty wares of the period.

The interior of a Norman gritty ware cooking pot.

The interior of a Norman gritty ware cooking pot.

These coarse, hard-wearing vessels were almost always cooking pots or storage jars. Many exhibit clear charring on the exterior and would have been used to cook countless meals almost a millennium ago.

The fire-blackened exterior face of the same sherd.

The fire-blackened exterior face of the same sherd. Clear grooves of the potter’s fingers can also be seen in the fabric.

Karen and Phillip, also joining us for a two day taster, picked up work on an area they had investigated in the spring excavation. In a spur of later medieval dumping that survives between two 19th century graves, the pair found a huge range of ceramics and domestic waste.

Karen and Phillip digging in the autumn sunshine.

Karen and Phillip digging in the autumn sunshine.

The frequent occurrence of Roman pottery mixed in with animal bone and medieval ceramics suggests that the deposit was laid down as a levelling event, raising and flattening the ground level.

Clearly, a combination of primary domestic dumping and material excavated from nearby pits was utilised, which explains why so much upcast Roman material was present.

Karen and Phillip.

Karen and Phillip sieving their medieval levelling layer.

Stuart, who took part in YAT’s community excavations on the site of York’s forthcoming Community Stadium, spent two days working on a tiny island of medieval archaeology that had survived between a 19th century concrete footing and a later medieval post hole.

Stuart exposing a medieval feature.

Stuart exposing a layer of charcoal beneath a pair of stones.

Despite the massive amount of later intrusions, Stuart was able to identify and record a number of contexts including a dump rich in charcoal. The post hole that cuts the deposits is thought to have been part of the original medieval Rectory, therefore Stuart’s sequence must relate to activity pre-dating the church’s acquisition of the land.

Several metres away Anne, Eileen and Denis spent their week working on similar material, discovering a laminated sequence of ashy medieval deposits that also pre-date the Rectory.

Anne working on a sequence of medieval deposits.

Anne working on a sequence of medieval deposits.

A small post hole was found cutting through theses laminated deposits, complete with a pad of stone at the base of the cut.

Denis and Anne's medieval post hole.

Denis and Anne’s medieval post hole.

Finds were not plentiful from this sequence as disposal of material from hearth clearance appears to have been the main activity taking place at this point. Anne was, however, lucky enough to discover a fragment of a very large medieval jug.

Anne and her medieval pot sherd.

Anne and her medieval pot sherd.

Week 11 also saw Toby and the finds team continuing to clean up some fascinating finds, the most enigmatic being this unusual object.

One ring to rule them all...

One ring to rule them all…

This tiny bone object is actually the ossified trachea of a goose which, unsurprisingly, wasn’t the first guess of any of the trainees!

A small copper alloy object was recovered from a 19th century context and may have been part of a decorative medieval(?) strap end.

A tiny copper alloy fitting.

A tiny copper alloy fitting.

All too quickly, 5pm on Friday was upon us and the team’s thoughts naturally began to turn pubwards.

Week 11 saw us make some particularly solemn discoveries, with the infant burials making for a very emotive insight into the welfare of the 19th century parishioners of All Saints, North Street. Each discovery we make brings us closer to our goal of understanding how life on the site has changed over the centuries for the people who lived and worked here and how the area has developed and changed.

Recording in progress.

Recording in progress.

With more burials discovered and recorded and excellent progress being made on our medieval features, the week proved to be a huge success. Thanks to all of the trainees and placements for their hard work, especially in the changeable autumn weather!

The week eleven team.

The week eleven team in formation.

With week 11 in the bag, we were about to enter the final week of the summer. As ever, there were a few surprises in store for us yet. There’s never a dull moment on North Street!

Almost there then, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

IMG_8530

 

 

Site Diary: Week 10

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

Digging in the August sunshine.

Digging in the August sunshine.

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

Recording a medieval stone footing.

Recording a medieval stone footing.

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

A rough stone footing.

A rough stone footing.

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

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

Anne cleaning up a 14th century levelling deposit.

Anne cleaning up a 14th century levelling deposit.

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

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

Denis exposing a layer of burnt material.

Denis exposing a layer of burnt material.

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

Anne following the edge of a spread of burnt material.

Anne following the edge of a spread of burnt material.

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

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

Eileen's fragment of medieval masonry.

Eileen’s fragment of medieval masonry.

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

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

Bri excavating a medieval levelling deposit.

Bri excavating a medieval levelling deposit.

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

Recording a medieval context.

Recording a medieval context.

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

Archaeo-ladleing

Archaeo-ladleing

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

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

Sam, Theo and Sam.

Sam, Theo and Sam.

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

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

Levelling a medieval pit cut.

Theo levelling a medieval pit cut.

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

Sam excavating a medieval levelling dump.

Sam excavating a medieval levelling dump.

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

Sam's medieval seal jug fragment.

Sam’s medieval seal jug fragment.

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

A sherd of a medieval seal jug.

A sherd of a medieval seal jug.

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

Looking north-east across That End'

Looking north-east across ‘That End’

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

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

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

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

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

Sue and John.

Sue and John.

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

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

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

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

John's star find!

John’s star find!

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

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

Josef hard at work within his sondage.

Josef hard at work within his sondage.

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

Josef performing some acrobatic feats of excavation.

Josef performing some acrobatic feats of excavation.

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

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

Josef discovering the base of his cut feature.

Josef discovering the base of his cut feature.

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

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

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

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

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

Bill and Lynne excavating in the centre of the trench.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lead from a 19th century stained glass repair.

Lead from a 19th century stained glass repair.

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

Mark and his prehistoric discovery.

Mark and his prehistoric discovery.

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

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

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

A closer look.

A closer look.

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

A highly worn dog tooth.

A highly worn dog tooth.

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

A clucking great find...

A clucking great find…

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

Gary begins the end of week wrap-up.

Gary begins the end of week wrap-up.

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

The week ten team

The week ten team

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

Ominous skies over All Saints...

Ominous skies over All Saints…

Until next time, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

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

Ellen takes a breather...

Ellen takes a breather…

 

 

 

 

 

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