Following the yellow bunting clad chaos of the Grand Depart weekend, the Archaeology Live! team were glad to return to the relative normality of All Saints, North Street and meet the latest additions to the team.
The success of the first fortnight had set a high standard for week 3 to follow. Already, trainees from far and wide had done some excellent work and made some genuinely intruiging discoveries. One of the great cliches within archaeology is the tendency of new findings to pose as many questions as they answer. Fittingly, just as Arran’s ‘That End’ team were beginning to understand the construction sequence of the former boxing club, tentative evidence was emerging that the range of medieval buildings at the site’s north-eastern boundary may have once extended further into our trench. Also, Toby’s ‘This End’ team had their mid to late 19th century sequence fully understood just in time for an increasingly complex sequence of earlier structures to emerge. The week 3 team began the week eager to shed some light on these emerging features and discover just what had been happening along Church Lane in the twilight of the 18th century.
The new trainees once again proved to be a good mix of old, young and in-between, returnees and beginners. All of the above were keen to get started and start adding new chapters to the All Saints story.
In Toby’s area, the sheer number of walls, footings, construction cuts and trampled surfaces meant that a lot of recording was going to be required.
An excavation is certainly only as good as its records. At Archaeology Live! we place a great deal of emphasis on giving our trainees the skills to record features to a professional standard. This can involve modern techniques such as putting together digital context records and matrices on iPads, creating 3D models with photogrammetry and surveying features with GPS units. However, we always endeavour to thoroughly cover the basics of planning, levelling and creating context records in particular detail. With a good understanding of the core techniques, it is possible to use the latest equipment more effectively.
To get things moving, Toby’s team drew a detailed composite plan of their area, allowing individual contexts to be traced from this master plan. Features like the 18th century brick floor took some time to plan, as the fine details of wear and tear were noted and recorded.
As each context plan was created, Team This End added heights above sea level to each drawing. This allows the records to work in three dimensions, taking account of the varying heights and undulations within any given context. The dumpy level is a delightfully simple device which refers from known benchmarks to establish the elevation of new points.
Single context excavation is based around finding the latest identifiable archaeological event to occur and creating a detailed record of it prior to excavation. Once this has been completed, the cycle repeats as each context is excavated in reverse chronological order. In short, as we dig each feature, we move further into the past.
As the records and interpretations were compiled for the south-west end of the trench, this opened up earlier contexts for recording and excavation. A similar trample deposit to that seen in Arran’s area was identified and recorded. This context represents the site being prepped for construction, workers bringing materials on to site, levelling off the ground surface and generally leaving behind a compacted mess!
The compacted nature of the deposit meant that it was quite difficult to excavate and required a firm approach with a trowel. Toby’s team quickly got their eye in and began peeling away the trampled surface to expose earlier features and deposits. Being a context comprised of disturbed material deposited during construction, the finds were very varied. Jack made a lovely addition to our growing collection of ceramic pipe bowls when he found an intact bowl with a fleur de lys decoration.
More of the possible 18th century rectory building was uncovered, revealing that its walls survive to at least four courses in height. As more of this building is exposed in the coming weeks, we hope to learn more about its history and construction.
Coco discovered more evidence of earlier activity with a large sherd of Torksey ware pottery. Widespread in the Viking period, this ware is very robust and often decorated with thumbprints around the rim. While this 10th century discovery is in a secondary context, it does add to a growing amount of evidence that Viking activity was present on-site or nearby.
Even earlier residual material also continued to emerge, with numerous sherds of Roman pottery being recovered. These were not terribly abraded, suggesting that they haven’t been turned over repeatedly, perhaps remaining in their original contexts before being disturbed and re-deposited by 19th century workmen. Again, this volume of material bodes well for Roman archaeology being intact in deeper layers.
A final highlight from Toby’s area was the increasingly inquisitive behaviour of the local wildlife. Lunch breaks are now often punctuated by birds looking for a cheeky crumb or two. Working to a constant backdrop of birdsong is certainly one of the bonuses of our trench’s leafy location.
Gary has continued to make good progress on the post-excavation side of things. Small, rotating teams of trainees spend one or two sessions a day with him working on finds or enjoying seminars on archaeological specialisms. This week, the finds team looked at identifying and dating the myriad wares of pottery that we find in York as well as a fascinating session looking at animal and human bone. With this introduction to ceramics and bone in mind, the team were able to then look at their own finds with a keener eye and gain a better understanding of the deposits they have been excavating.
The complex, multi-phasic nature of York’s archaeology requires a detailed understanding of stratigraphy. With this in mind, we always take our trainees through a session on understanding stratigraphic sequences and putting together a Harris matrix. To this end, each team invents a hypothetical section through a sequence of deposits before putting together a matrix. Despite the attempts of a mischievous pair of magpies to disrupt proceedings, the team picked up the art of matrix building very quickly.
The volume of finds pouring from the trench has again kept Gary very busy this week. Under the Finds Tree, hundreds of artefacts have been cleaned, dried and sorted into type (ie. animal bone, clay pipe, etc.) and bagged up.
One of the nicest finds that was cleaned up this week was a complete medieval floor tile. When laid on the church’s current (replica) tile floor, it was great to see that the medieval original was a perfect fit!
Over in ‘That End’, Arran’s team have also had a very busy week 3. Unhindered by the complex series of drains seen in Toby’s area, Arran’s team have been able to investigate pre-boxing club features a little sooner and have unearthed some intruiging and enigmatic features.
In her second of four weeks with us this summer, Anne was joined by Terry, a returnee who also worked with us on last year’s Hungate excavation. Anne and Terry began the week by completing work on a small refuse pit cut by a post-hole excavated in week 2.
The archaeology of this part of the trench is slightly unusual in that late medieval features appear to survive immediately below the construction trample layers of the boxing club. It is possible that the land here was quite irregular during the post-medieval period before being terraced flat by the construction of our 19th century buildings, thereby removing any 18th century archaeology. This theory will be investigated as we further explore this area.
Anne was lucky enough to come across a particularly lovely find from the backfilling of the pit when she found a large fragment of a glazed medieval roof tile. These were high status items and open up the possibility that the church once had glazed tiles on its roof. If more appear during the summer, this likelihood will certainly increase.
In the north-east corner of the trench, a different pattern of deposition appears to have occurred. Ro, another returning trainee, spent much of the week picking apart layers of trample which date to the crossover of the 18th and 19th centuries. The interweaving nature of these layers made it very difficult to isolate individual contexts, however, with the help of Archaeology Live! placement Andy, Ro exposed a post-hole backfilled with demolition rubble.
Dating to the early 19th century, this feature appears to cut yet another layer of trample. This suggests that we may have surviving elements of the open yards marked on the 1852 OS map, with the intermittent pitting and dumping you would expect to find in such a space. Interrupted by later activity this trample layer is now reminiscent of swiss cheese and earlier features can be seen peeking through eroded or damaged areas. Something to investigate in week 4 will be a linear rubble-filled feature transecting the area. This shares the alignment of the range of medieval buildings that still stand nearby and could relate to their use or alteration.
Andy also had a great find from this area as he discovered a small medieval coin. While very delicate, the coin still boasts a visible design and, when cleaned by our conservators, should be dateable. It’s been a great year for coins so far!
Elsewhere in Arran’s area, Gloria and Tony joined the dig for a two day taster course. The pair of Cumbrians went to work in removing more of the construction trample of the boxing club. While this proved hard on the wrists, Gloria was rewarded with some lovely finds as she unearthed a couple of sherds of Roman pottery.
Again, these pot sherds were not as worn as you might expect after almost two millennia in the ground. Both were fairly high status wares, one being part of a colour coat drinking vessel and the other being a rim sherd of a mortaria – the distinctive Roman predecessor of the pestle and mortar.
Tony’s trowelling was also very fruitful as he discovered more possible structural features that may add evidence to the theory that the medieval building range once occupied this area. Numerous post-pads, cobble footings and post holes have now been revealed. As these are excavated in the coming weeks, the dating material we recover from them will be vital in interpreting this complicated sequence.
Later in the week, Ro joined forces with Anne and Terry to work on a newly exposed robber trench. It took some careful trowelling to spot the edge of this subtle feature, but with some persistence it was possible to identify the full run of the context. Once recorded, the team began to excavate the backfill of the feature.
Running parallel to the boxing club wall and the run of Church Lane, the trench was found to contain 19th century material. As it is cut by the foundation trench of the boxing club, this context clearly pre-dates the 1860s building event. The most likely explanation at this point is that some form of building or boundary wall running along Church Lane was demolished and robbed out to make way for the new building. Excavation is ongoing and what we find at the base of the robber trench will hopefully shed light on what it was the Victorian builders removed. Will there be any surviving structure? Only time and more digging will tell!
Ro was delighted to find a small bone object in the backfill of the robber cut. Possibly a small button or spacer, the object is very neatly finished.
Week 3 proved to be a week of real discovery at All Saints. Delicate small finds such as coins and copper pins were recovered from trample layers and more early structural features were uncovered in both ends of the trench. There are countless questions yet to answer, but the first quarter of the Summer dig has succeeded in its initial goal of understanding and recording the origins of the boxing club. Now our attention will turn to earlier archaeology as we look to answer the age old question ‘what happened before?’
As ever, it’s important to thank our dedicated team of placements for their hard work this week. Spoilheap removal day is always a tiring day and all involved worked hard in helping us keep on top of our ever-growing heap!
The biggest thanks must always go out to our team of trainees. Since our first dig back in 2001, Archaeology Live! has always been entirely funded by the trainees who take part and actually carry out the excavation. Without this cosmopolitan gang of enthusiastic and hard-working people from all over the world, none of our countless discoveries would have been made. Pat yourselves on the back guys, great work!
So, on to week 4. Here’s to another great week. Onwards and downwards!