Over the first six weeks of our summer excavation at All Saints, North Street, we’ve learned a great deal about this quiet corner of central York. Each week, trainees from far and wide have learned and practiced new skills and made some truly remarkable discoveries along the way. As the week seven team laced up their boots and picked up their tools, we hoped to maintain this momentum into the second half of the summer.
Arran’s That End team received a dose of youthful exuberance as they were joined by the Bristolian duo of Kieran and Josh. The pair got off to a good start as they excavated a dump deposit and revealed a brand new feature.
Cut through a layer of silty material, the outline of a small stakehole was visible, filled by a looser, more lightly coloured deposit. This gave Kieran and Josh the opportunity to learn the art of single context recording, including photography, planning, levelling and the compilation of context cards.
With their records complete, Kieran and Josh had to use the appropriate tools for such a small feature. As well as Arran’s most worn down trowel (the appropriately named ‘Nubbin’), one of archaeology’s most devastating tools had to be called into action – the teaspoon.
These small tools are invaluable when excavating such tiny features and the boys put them to excellent use. In contrast to the firmer soil it was cut through, the stakehole fill was very loose and featured frequent inclusions of decayed wood – suggesting that the timber had rotted in the ground as opposed to being pulled out.
Alone, a stakehole can tell us little more than the fact that a wooden stake was driven into the ground, however, as we excavate more of these late 18th/early 19th century features, dumps and structures, we will slowly be able to piece together a picture of how the site was used at this time.
After recording the cut of the stakehole, Kieran and Josh trowel cleaned a large area, to locate the next context to excavate. This process gave Kieran the opportunity to tell a few tall tales and more than a few bad jokes…
The cleaning revealed that the stakehole was cut through a compacted trample deposit. As elements of possible earlier structures were beginning to appear, we were keen to get the deposit recorded and lifted.
By the end of the week, the plans were drawn and cards completed and excavation began.
While Kieran and Josh were delicately excavating with tiny tools, Liss and Will were taking a more aggressive approach over in their slot through Church Lane.
With a 19th century gas-pipe trench fully recorded, Liss and Will were now able to turn their attention to a strip of earlier archaeology between the pipe trench and the church. The first task was to remove a 20th century concrete footing that overlayed the earlier deposits. The appropriate tools for this job were a lump hammer and a chisel!
Archaeology offers wonderful variety sometimes!
With the modern concrete lifted, the construction cut of an associated wall was also recorded and removed.
All modern intrusions dealt with, it was now time to turn our attention to the very lucky island of archaeology that had survived numerous later truncations. The uppermost deposit was a shallow levelling deposit associated with the surface of Church Lane and Liss was delighted to find a copper lace tag within it!
As work progressed on the spur of early material, Will and Liss made another interesting discovery, a damaged but very well-laid surface of stone and brick rubble. Associated ceramics dated to the late 18th century, so it seems that this well-mettled surface is a predecessor of the current Church Lane surface.
It is likely that this surface would have been very familiar to the people occupying the workshops that pre-date our 19th century burials and the fact that it lies a good 200mm below today’s floor level also demonstrates how much the ground has been built up over the last two centuries.
By this point, Will and Liss were becoming quite an efficient team and it wasn’t long before the surface had been fully recorded and excavated!
Beneath the surface, a clay levelling deposit was recorded and excavated, which in turn revealed the clear outline of a pit cutting through an even earlier surface.
Over the course of the week, Liss and Will did a fantastic job of recording modern intrusions before really getting stuck in to the earlier sequence! Their discoveries show how much we can learn from even the narrowest slither of archaeology!
Elsewhere in Arran’s area, Katie and Terry were chosen as the week 7 custodians of Contrary Corner. The previous week had seen Katie and Lisa having great success in taming this notoriously tricky part of the site, however, old habits die hard and the corner had some unexpected surprises in store for us!
It all started simply enough, as Katie and Terry began work on a rectangular feature that seemed almost certain to be one of our 19th century graves. As work progressed, it became apparent that something different was going on. Filled with loose lenses of silt and rubble, the pit turned out to have a more amorphous form than had been expected and its sections revealed that this was just one of a series of intercutting pits.
Katie and Terry recovered a great range of post-medieval and early 19th century pottery from the backfill as well as more personal objects, such as this charming brass button.
After finishing work on their pit, Katie and Terry recorded and excavated a second pit before turning their attention to a levelling dump.
The new deposit had some unusual finds waiting in store! Katie unearthed a large bone that turned out to be a horse metapodial. These bones are often re-used and we were keen to inspect it for any signs of working.
Many such bones have been found in Viking contexts having been shaped and smoothed to be used as ice skates. Handily, such an object was readily available for comparison in our reference collection!
Sadly, a swift clean-up revealed Katie’s bone to be un-worked – although this was still the first such bone to be recovered during the All Saints excavation.
Excavation of the dump deposit revealed the backfill of a familiar looking rectangular cut feature. Had we discovered another grave?
As work on the new feature began, Terry wasn’t going to be left behind on the finds front and he quickly found an exciting object of his own, a sherd of burnt Samian ware complete with a maker’s stamp!
Terry’s find is yet another addition to a growing assemblage of burnt Roman ceramics and suggests that the site was being used for refuse disposal two millennia ago. While this is only a small insight into life in Roman York, it proves how much a single object can tell us.
We know that the pot most likely came from 1st/2nd century France, but specialist analysis the stamp will reveal exactly which kiln produced the vessel!
Over in This End, Gary’s team were had an equally interesting week! Helen and Carol teamed up to to investigate a possible infant burial in the graveyard’s most densely populated area.
Carol and Helen did an excellent job of identifying the edges of the cut and began to carefully take away the backfill.
As the grave grew deeper, earlier layers were revealed in the section, with tip lines of charcoal rich material clearly visible.
As well as early stratigraphy, numerous older objects were found re-deposited in the grave backfill. The most striking of these finds was a pair of medieval glazed roof tile fragments. These high status tiles would almost certainly have adorned the roof of the church in its medieval heyday. The vivid green of the lead and copper glaze glistening in the sun would have been a breathtaking sight!
As the week progressed, the grave continued to descend and eventually became so deep that it was impossible to reach the base!
As further excavation was clearly impossible, Carol and Helen recorded the grave as it was and turned their attention to another burial. When the ground levels around their first burial have been reduced, we will resume excavation of the feature.
The fact that such a deep hole was dug reveals two things; space was clearly at a premium but care was still taken to avoid disturbing earlier graves. It must have been very difficult indeed to dig a deep hole in such a confined space, but our 19th century gravedigger was clearly conscious of the burials around them.
Nearby, Imogen and Christian spent their week working on deposits that pre-date the late 18th/early 19th century brickwork of the Rectory.
The first feature to be excavated was a stone post-pad that may relate to an earlier incarnation of the Rectory structure. Following this, an underlying make-up deposit was recorded and taken away.
Truncated on both sides by later features, the deposit only survived as a thin peninsula of archaeology, but was still able to reveal some interesting possibilities! The deposit contained exclusively post-medieval ceramics – it seemed we were finally clear of the 19th century! Furthermore, the deposit pealed off of an earlier layer that contained numerous sherds of green glazed medieval ceramics! In the space of a week, Christian and Imogen seem to have succeeded in taking their area over 500 years back in time!
Pandora spent her second of three weeks on site continuing to investigate a medieval sequence in one of our sondages into earlier archaeology.
Pandora’s worked on a complex set of interweaving dumps cut by a small pit, with finds ranging from the 13th-14th century to as far back as the Roman period! Indeed, in the very edge of her slot, Pandora was lucky enough to spot a large sherd of a Samian ware bowl.
This unburnt example was part of a growing collection of Roman artefacts recovered from the medieval dumping, suggesting that medieval activity was disturbing and upcasting Roman material.
Later in the week, Pandora was joined by taster student Jan, who helped to lower the deposits even further!
By the end of the week, Pandora and Jan appeared to have reached 12th/13th century deposits, as fully glazed ceramics gave way to earlier splash glazed examples. The image below reveals just how much the ground level has changed in the intervening centuries!
Back in Arran’s area, Cara spent her taster day working on similar deposits. She recorded and excavated a pit that produced finds no later than medieval in date. This was an exciting development as it offered the That End team their first peak into the medieval horizon!
In the leafy shade of the Tree of Finds, Toby and the finds team continued to work on cleaning and sorting the thousands of finds pouring from the trench. This week, they produced a real array of interesting objects!
The first of these was a pipe bowl with a stamped decoration that was only revealed when it was cleaned.
Clearly well used, the pipe bore the mark of ‘Mason York’ and instantly reminded us of similar examples found last year. These pipe bowls tell a tale of the rise and fall of a father and son’s business in 19th century York. See http://archaeologylive.org/uncategorized/a-clay-pipes-tale/ for the full story!
Next up was an unassuming object lying un-noticed in the corner of a finds tray. At first glance it appeared to be a scrap of medieval pottery, although closer inspection revealed that it had been shaped to be used as a spindle whorl. Waste not, want not!
On a less glamorous note, Toby was delighted with a more… earthy discovery. A perfect little dog poo.
The coprolite was in perfect condition and contained numerous bone fragments, revealing that the culprit had clearly been gnawing on bones!
It’s a glamorous business!
Sticking with the canine theme, the finds team also noticed the paw print of a large dog in a medieval brick fragment. The impression was so clear, that the dimpled skin of the dog’s pads can still be seen!
All told, week seven was a great week, building on the success of the first half of the summer and continuing to delight us with an array of very human (and animal!) moments from the past.
Many thanks to all of our trainees for another cracking week of archaeology!
The sun may not be shining quite as brightly and the first leaves may already be turning golden brown, but there are still five weeks of thrilling discoveries to be made on North Street! Watch out for next week’s exciting instalment.
As ever, until then, onwards and downwards!
PS. A rather severe case of mildew forced us to give site mascot Planty the Plant a haircut. I think the buzzcut suits him…