Category: 16 (Page 2 of 3)

Site Diary: Summer Week 3

Following a successful weekend excavation, the third week of the summer dig saw the team continuing to explore the complex archaeology of All Saints, North Street. This week it’s over to York Archaeological Trust field archaeologist Katie Smith to set the scene.

Summer arrives at All Saints.Summer arrives at All Saints.

Summer arrives at All Saints.

Week 3 of the 2016  summer excavation at All Saints saw a continuation of the previous week’s work on a number of burials, as well as venturing into the earlier, pre-burial activities at this fascinating little site. Some of the trainees in week 3 were beginning their second or third weeks of excavation at North Street, and so their Monday action plans consisted of picking up where they left off the previous Friday. Our new trainees for week 3 were inducted and introduced to the site and were raring to get in the trench. However the weather had other plans…

Finds washing beneath the Tree of Finds

Spirits remained high beneath the Tree of Finds despite the rain.

 

Fortunately, by mid-morning the clouds dispersed and it was time to hop in the trench. New starters David and Kathryn began work in one of the earliest parts of the site sequence, within the old rectory walls. This area contains none of the 1824-1856 burials so we have been able to go further and further back in time in a small sondage (archaeology speak for trench within a trench!).

David and Kathryn made good progress in a very clay-rich deposit – clay is always hard going and clingy to dig! Despite this they managed to uncover a range of nice finds, such as animal bone and pottery, which indicated they were working in a medieval midden deposit full of domestic waste.

Trowelling a layer of medieval midden waste.

Trowelling a layer of medieval midden waste.

 

If the medieval dwellings that produced this material lie outside the bounds of our excavation, these deposits may provide the only evidence for what people were doing, using and eating at this point in history.

Just on the other side of the Rectory walls, we step forwards into the 19th Century, where a cluster of infant burials continued to be worked on by Jenni, Annie, Elisa and Federica.

Jenni and Annie teamed up for the week to carry on work on a double infant burial and by midweek they had fully recorded and very carefully lifted the remains ready to be put to rest in the safety of the church.

With work on the double burial completed, a trowel clean of the grave cut revealed that we had yet to reach its base – this meant that further occupants must be present below. Jenni and Annie had more work to do…

Jenni and Annie carefully lifting the decayed remains of a pair of timber coffins.

Jenni and Annie carefully lifting the decayed remains of a pair of timber coffins.

In the neighbouring grave plot, Elisa and Federica continued work on an infant burial which also had a very well preserved, albeit delicate coffin. Once the remains had been removed they meticulously collected all of the coffin fragments down to the tiniest splinters so they could be kept with the burial when it was relocated to the church.

Elisa and Federica excavating a difficult to reach burial.

Elisa and Federica excavating a difficult to reach burial.

All four trainees produced quality records and carried out the excavation and lifting with such care and attention to detail. We always take pride in our trainees as all carry out high standards of work regardless of previous experience and how delicate or difficult some archaeology may be.

Elisa painstakingly removing the last tiny coffin fragments from her and Federica’s infant burial after the remains had been lifted.

Elisa painstakingly removing the last tiny coffin fragments from her and Federica’s infant burial after the remains had been lifted.

Further down the trench Emily and Kaylan began their third weeks as trainees by finishing the recording of an adult burial who was the third inhumation in this particular grave, indicating a likely family plot. By Tuesday they had already exposed, recorded and re-covered the adult. Whether there are more burials lower down is unclear, as we are not lifting adult burials at this point because of their depth and therefore low risk of damage by development.

By working on this difficult inhumation, Kaylan and Emily were able to improve on many of the skills they have been taught over the past few weeks. For a new challenge, the intrepid pair moved to a new area to focus on pre-graveyard archaeology.

Trowel cleaning a post-medieval post pad.

Trowel cleaning a post-medieval post pad.

The theory goes that, prior to becoming a graveyard, the main section of the site would have contained a series of roughly built dwellings or open-fronted workshops that would have been somewhat haphazard in their construction and appearance. One of the most striking pieces of evidence for this is a rather large post pad that has been left in-situ for the past two seasons at North Street.

With the later deposits now cleared away,  we set Emily and Kaylan on the job of excavating the post pad which comprised some fairly hefty masonry! The structure would have provided a solid foundation and would have been capable of supporting considerable structural timbers.

Dismantling a post pad.

Kaylan and Emily dismantling a post pad and getting quite a workout!

After the post pad construction cut was recorded the pair moved on to a post-medieval levelling deposit that immediately pre-dates the structure and recovered some lovely finds.

Kaylan and a fragment of medieval floor tile.

Kaylan and a fragment of medieval floor tile.

Kaylan found part of a glazed floor tile that is similar to other examples from the site and presumably originally made up part of the church floor.

Along with glazed floor tile, we’ve also found bright green glazed roof tile at North Street, which presents an image of a very colourful medieval church.

Emily also had a nice find, a lead seal similar to one found in week 1 by Marie in a nearby grave backfill. These seals can be used for anything from textiles to correspondence as a means of authentication, perhaps after work on the corrosion by our conservation department we might be able to suggest exactly what was happening at North Street that required authenticating!

Emily and her lead seal.

Emily and her lead seal.

Close to Kaylan and Emily, work on University of Newcastle students Hope and Hannah’s well preserved juvenile burial continued as they created a detailed plan drawing of their skeleton.

The detail which goes into the recording done by our trainees is always to a professional standard  – even if it takes a while!

Thankfully, you don’t need to be an artist to draw intricate plans of seemingly tricky things such as skeletons. After a lot of careful measurements, Hope and Hannah were rightly very pleased with their drawing of this particular skeleton.

The drawing even met the exacting standards of our placement Alice!

Alice, Hannah and Hope celebrate a job well done.

Alice, Hannah and Hope celebrate a job well done.

Once recording was completed, Hannah and Hope were able to carefully lift the skeleton and collect the remaining pieces of coffin ready to go into the church for reburial. Needless to say, they did a wonderful job and were able to clean up the grave cut and get it fully recorded by the end of the week.

Molly and Meg excavating in the shade of Contrary Corner.

Molly and Meg excavating in the shade of ‘Contrary Corner’.

At the bottom end of the trench, new starters and University of York students Molly and Meg began work on a somewhat inaccessible burial. This inhumation was particularly difficult  to dig because the lower two thirds of the skeleton lay directly underneath the north east wall of the old Church Hall. Having identified the outline of a grave, they dug steadily downwards until they came across the coffin.

A well preserved 19th century coffin stain.

A well preserved 19th century coffin stain.

In several cases on this site the decorative metal plates of the coffins have been preserved to an extraordinary level, and Molly and Meg’s grave was no exception to this. Meg very carefully cleaned up a particularly nice section of surviving plating on her side which clearly showed the tapered hexagonal shape of the coffin.

Meg and Molly carefully removing the backfill of their grave.

Meg and Molly carefully removing the backfill of their grave.

 

Unfortunately, the preservation wasn’t quite as good on Molly’s side but she was still able to recover some small loose fragments of decorative plating and a lovely copper alloy button from the grave backfill.

Molly and her freshly unearthed copper alloy button.

Molly and her freshly unearthed copper alloy button.

With the midweek addition of one and two day tasters Sue and Robert the trench became a hive of activity from one end to the other.

A very busy trench from top to bottom!

A very busy trench from top to bottom!

Both tasters worked on quite different burials; Sue’s was an infant burial and Robert’s was a much deeper adult burial.

It has been a common theme across the site for infants and juveniles to have some of the most beautiful coffins, and Robert and Sue’s burials followed this trend.

The surviving timber of a 160+ year old coffin

The surviving timber of a 160+ year old coffin

Robert’s coffin was again well preserved and fragments of the elaborate decorative plating had also survived in places. Carrying out careful excavation while reaching into deep cuts is no mean feat!

Robert (foreground) reaching into a deep grave cut, while Federica and Elisa complete a plan drawing.

Robert (foreground) reaching into a deep grave cut, while Federica and Elisa complete a plan drawing.

In Sue’s burial, she was pleased to have recovered a number of tiny pins which may have held a shroud in place. A concentration of pins around the skull may also suggest that the infant was buried with a bonnet pinned to its hair.

Keen-eyed Sue with one of her tiny copper alloy pins.

Keen-eyed Sue with one of her tiny copper alloy pins.

Little things like these are so important because they provide insight into how, even at times of high infant and juvenile mortality rates, families would put a great deal of money and care into the burials of their lost loved ones. When the church records for the burials haven’t survived, the excavations at All Saints and the diligent work of our trainees allow the forgotten to be remembered again.

On Friday the new trainees enjoyed Arran’s usual stratigraphy masterclass, and needless to say Molly, Meg, Kathryn and Hannah did not disappoint, providing abundant bizarre suggestions for the fictional archaeological sequence. There was also a game of spot the placement going on…

Arrans stratigraphy session, complete with mammoths.

Arran’s stratigraphy session, complete with mammoths and a cunningly hidden placement.

Friday came around all too quickly and concluded a very busy week on site. The team had done some great and poignant archaeology and added some new star finds to the increasingly impressive collection. Looking back on the week the stand out find was a fragment of a lead ampulla, found by Jenni.

Jenni and her fragment of a lead ampulla.

Jenni and her fragment of a lead ampulla.

An ampulla is a type of vessel used to store holy water or oils from pilgrimages, particularly in the Middle Ages. Amupllae were originally a type of Roman vessel but were adapted for this later function from the 6th century onwards. The later types relating to pilgrimages were made out of tin, lead and sometimes silver. More extravagant examples featured religious imagery and beautiful decoration.

A lead ampulla.

A lead ampulla.

A complete example of a decorated ampulla was found during York Archaeological Trust’s recent excavations at Hungate and was dated to the 14th-16th centuries.

The handles visible on both Jenni’s and the Hungate example would have been for stringing a cord or chain through in order for the ampulla to be worn around the neck.

Jenni’s find could very possibly be a fragment of another such decorated example, like the Hungate ampulla. It’s an interesting thought to imagine that one of the medieval patrons of All Saints could have been the person who made a pilgrimage to Rome or who knows where, and returned with this precious and tiny holy cargo.

This wonderful artefact may have travelled across Europe and seen Rome at the height of its medieval splendour. Furthermore, as all that remains of Jenni’s ampulla is the corner, having been snipped off from the body of the vessel, we also know that the contents were decanted and used.

The Hungate ampulla. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust.

The Hungate ampulla. Image copyright York Archaeological Trust.

 

All in all to say it was only week 3 of 12, immense progress had been made by our fantastic trainees on so many areas of the site.

We can’t do this dig without the trainees and they do make everything such good fun, so thank you again to all of you for making Archaeology Live! possible.

 

The week 3 team

The week 3 team

As the Saturday at the end of week 3 marked the beginning of the Festival of Archaeology, we held an open day at All Saints where members of the public were able to come and look through our finds, have talks on what the archaeology was telling us about the site so far and tours around the stained glass within the church (it is some of the finest medieval stained glass in the country!).

Becky, Ellen and Katie declare the open day open!

Becky, Ellen and Katie declare the open day open!

We had lots of people of all ages and from different countries pop in to have a look around the site and it was a pleasure to share our discoveries with so many. It was particularly encouraging to meet our younger visitors who were very tenacious and keen to know what everything was!

Showing off our latest finds.

Showing off our latest finds.

Thank you to everyone who came along, we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did! Also, thanks for reading my first Archaeology Live! site diary, there’ll be more to follow very soon!

-Katie

PS. There was one more… unusual artefact discovered in week three. Found in a 1990s intrusion, meet ‘Princess Head’.

Princess Head. It's best not to ask...

Princess Head. It’s best not to ask…

 

 

Site Diary: July Weekend

The funerary customs of 19th century Britain have long fascinated those with a passion for the past. How we deal with death has changed remarkably over the millennia and by Victoria’s reign countless influences had contrived to create a heady brew of tradition, superstition and etiquette that can seem detached, morbid and even bizarre to modern observers. The highly ritualised world of burial and mourning seen in Victorian Britain was not, however, devoid of emotion. The painstaking work of our trainees here in York is enabling us to recover lost moments of genuine humanity from layers of earth and bone.

Ominous skies over All Saints.

Ominous skies over All Saints.

Over 160 years ago, a small child in the ancient parish of All Saints, North Street succumbed to illness or disease and passed away. In an age of high infant mortality this was  not an uncommon event, although this would have been of little comfort to the family the child was leaving behind. Like many others at the time, the infant was laid to rest in a quiet parcel of land nestled between a ramshackle range of Georgian and medieval dwellings, an increasingly decrepit Rectory and the looming mass of All Saints church itself. Something about this burial, however, was a little different…

Over the past three years, the trainees of York Archaeological Trust’s training excavation have been meticulously excavating and recording the complex archaeological sequence below the recently demolished All Saints Church Hall. Perhaps the most interesting discovery of the project has been a densely occupied but short-lived burial ground that covered much of the site between 1826 and 1854.

By July 2016, the  summer excavation season was well underway and site supervisor Arran was joined by a team of mainly familiar faces for the year’s third weekend excavation.

Excavation of infant burials by the former Rectory.

Excavation of infant burials by the former Rectory.

As in the previous two weeks of the summer dig, much of the team took up work on a difficult, intercutting sequence of infant burials close to the walls of the former Rectory. Theo, Michelle, Nicola and Paul had a tough task ahead of them as these burials have been found to lay stacked one above the other in no discernable pattern – a stark contrast to the neat rows seen elsewhere on site.

Theo carefully excavating a burial.

Theo carefully excavating a burial.

Theo’s burial was that of an infant that had been extensively damaged by the collapse of its coffin. Lifting away the loose grave backfill while not disturbing the remains took a great deal of patience, but following several years as a member of the Young Archaeologists’ Club, Theo is an assured hand with a trowel.  Nearby, Michelle made good progress within an adult burial, carefully excavating the material within the grave cut and exposing elements of a poorly preserved coffin stain.

Michelle working on an adult burial.

Michelle (second from right) working on an adult burial.

Up to this point, it was business as usual. The burials were laid in the same position, on the same alignment and in the same kind of coffin. Nicola and Paul’s burial, however, had a surprise in store.

Nicola and Paul using a planning frame to record their inhumation.

Nicola and Paul using a planning frame to record their inhumation.

Once the pair had fully exposed the remains of an infant and its coffin, they created a detailed record of the burial. With this process complete, the next task was to delicately lift the remains. As any development of the site will damage the more shallow graves, these infant burials are being recorded, lifted and re-buried in a safe location within the church.

As would be expected, this is not a quick process. Paul and Nicola cautiously lifted each bone and ran all of the excavated grave fill through a fine mesh sieve to ensure that 100% of the remains were recovered.

When the time came to lift the cranium, Nicola noticed something unusual in the soil beneath the right ear – not one, but two coins. This unexpected discovery immediately raised a number of questions.

It is unusual to find grave goods within 19th century Christian burials as this was not the prevailing custom of the time. While the gesture of placing a small gift of money with a deceased relative is only a relatively minor break from normal practice, the position of the coins by the skull is interesting. Could the coins have been placed over the eyes only to slip off when the coffin decayed and collapsed?

A pair of copper alloy coins found beneath the skull of an infant inhumation.

A pair of copper alloy coins found beneath the skull of an infant inhumation.

The practice of interring individuals with coins on their eyes or in their mouths goes back thousands of years and the act has waxed and waned in popularity over time. While we can’t say for certain exactly how the coins had been placed within the coffin, Nicola’s discovery means that a forgotten act of kindness has been recovered from the ground.

The 19th century was a true age of discovery. Alongside technological advancements that would spearhead the industrial revolution, the findings of the first antiquarians fired the imaginations of the British public. This revival of public interest in the distant past can be seen in changes in architecture, fashion and even burial practice. Were the family of this infant caught up in this new found fervour for archaeology, or are we seeing an echo of older folk traditions still being practiced in the 19th century? Of course, we can never know and maybe that isn’t the point.

Finds like these tell us more about the things that don’t make it into the ground; giving us new insight into funeral practices and even the thoughts and acts of those who were there to lay the infant to rest.

Closer inspection of the coins revealed a further sobering discovery. The gradual corrosion of the copper alloy had clearly limited the process of decay, allowing fragments of the infant’s shroud and even hair to survive in an unusual freak of preservation. With the date of the burial well understood, no further investigation of the coins has been carried out. Instead, the coins have been reunited with the remains of the child and re-buried in the safety and sanctity of the church.

This evocative burial is an excellent example of the huge amount that we can learn about the 19th century through the study of changing funerary traditions and also highlights the importance of keeping the ethics of what we do at the forefront of our thoughts. While the stories are fascinating, they are nonetheless the stories of real lives.

Excavating the floor of an 18th century workshop.

Excavating the floor of an 18th century workshop.

Elsewhere in the trench, Julie and Sharon investigated a sequence of deposits that were laid down in the decades before the site became a graveyard.

The first order of business was to excavate the remains of a cobbled floor surface that had been cut on all sides by later graves. This deposit had already been recorded back in 2014, meaning that Julie and Sharon could begin to lift the now moss-covered cobbles immediately.

The proliferation of grave cuts across the site has made it difficult to  piece together how this area would have looked prior to 1826, making these slithers of surviving structures highly important.

The cobbles had been laid tightly packed together, but aesthetics were clearly of little concern as the builders made use of fragments of masonry and brick in as well as cobbles. The surface was not laid solidly in a bed of mortar, instead, a thin layer of sandy silt was apparently deemed  to be sufficient.

This discovery reinforces the interpretation of these structures as roughly built workshops that were assembled cheaply and quickly.

As Julie and Sharon would discover, the upshot of this low quality build was that repairs and replacements to these floors must have been frequently required.

Julie and Michelle.

Julie and Sharon.

Once the tiles and their bedding material had been fully lifted, Julie and Sharon discovered a compacted layer of tile fragments laid in a thin bed of mortar  – an even earlier floor surface. Even at the turn of the 19th century, it seems that they didn’t build ’em like they used to!

Julie and Sharon recording their second floor surface.

Julie and Sharon recording their second floor surface.

At the opposite end of the trench, Beverley worked with Archaeology Live! placement Katie to delve even further back into the site’s long history. The pair revealed, cleaned up and recorded a layer of silt and ash that was deposited back in the fourteenth or even thirteenth century.

Beverley and Katie recording a slightly waterlogged medieval dump.

Beverley and Katie recording a slightly waterlogged medieval dump.

While there is no evidence of medieval structures occupying the site prior to the construction of the Rectory in the 14th century, our trainees have unearthed a growing number of pits, dumps and levelling deposits that are packed with domestic refuse. Study of this material will allow us to gain some insight into the lifestyle led by the medieval occupants of Church Lane.

'The Bradford Gang'

‘The Bradford Gang’

The July weekend saw the team unearth some unexpected and occasionally quite moving finds, finds that allow us a glimpse into the changing ways people have dealt with mortality and how the site has been put to use. The good weather (mainly) held and the team made it a lot of fun!

Theo looking resplendent in the afternoon sun.

Theo looking resplendent in the afternoon sun.

With a plot that continued to thicken and a full ten weeks of excavation still ahead of us, the summer was beginning to look very promising indeed. As always, everyone at Archaeology Live! would like to thank the trainees that made the July weekend possible, after all, they funded the work and carried out all of the excavation and recording! Good effort team!

The July weekend team.

The July weekend team.

There are lots more updates to follow so watch this space! Until then, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

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: April & May Weekends

The 2016 digging season got off to a chilly but eventful start with a very successful two week spring excavation at All Saints, North Street. Thankfully, we wouldn’t have to wait until June to get back on site, as a pair of weekend digs kept the site ticking over nicely.

A brisk, bright start to the April 2016 weekend dig.

A brisk, bright start to the April 2016 weekend dig.

Redoubtable Archaeology Live! regulars Sue and Gill made a welcome return to All Saints for the weekend and took over the excavation of an intriguing but challenging burial. Over the spring excavation, it had become apparent that an existing burial had been re-opened to lay an infant to rest. This has been a recurring theme across the site, with numerous graves containing multiple individuals stacked one atop the other. As work progressed, it became clear that the additional burial had caused some damage to a second infant burial that was already present. With both infants already having been recorded and lifted, Sue and Gill’s first task was to reveal the remains of the third individual within the grave.

Sue and Gill recording a 19th century inhumation.

Sue and Gill recording a 19th century inhumation.

As has been the case in many such burials, this was not a straightforward process. Sue and Gill’s careful troweling slowly revealed the remains of an adult individual directly below the second infant, presumably the two were related as they were laid to rest on the same day between 1826 and 1854.

Sue and Gill continue work on their plans.

Sue and Gill (centre) continue work on their plans.

By the end of the weekend, the upper half of an adult had been fully exposed, with the lower half hidden below a wall footing of the 1860 church hall. Curiously, the left arm was never found as it had fallen into an underlying void from a collapsed coffin – clear evidence that the remains of at least one further individual are present below.

Gill enjoying the noble role of Staff Bearer.

Gill enjoying the noble role of Staff Bearer.

Intrusive later burials and collapse into earlier graves beneath their inhumation made this burial a tricky one for Gill and Sue, but they did an excellent job and created a full single context record of their coffin and skeleton before re-covering the remains with an appropriate amount of care and respect.

The April weekend dig was Keith’s first ever excavation and he too faced the challenging task of working on a 19th century inhumation. The knees of this adult individual had been exposed in a small slot dug between infant burials back in the 2015 season and the evidence seemed to suggest that the person had been buried face-down, an unusual occurrence.

With the overlying infant burials now lifted and re-interred within the church, Keith was able to reveal the entire burial and get to the bottom of this mystery.

After recording a well-preserved coffin, Keith began the delicate work of excavating within the coffin to reveal the skeleton. Despite being a beginner, he proved to be an assured troweller and discovered that the results of the previous slot had been misleading.

Revealing the whole of the inhumation proved that it had not been buried face down at all. It was now clear that, once the soft tissues of the individual had decayed, the femurs (thigh bones) were no longer held in place and had rolled over.

This suggests that the coffin had remained intact long enough for the individual within to become fully skeletal. As the coffin was yet to collapse and become filled with backfill, it was possible for the movement of the bones to take place – a curious piece of taphonomy (post-depositional change).

Planning a 19th century inhumation.

Keith planning a 19th century inhumation.

As well as being a natural troweller, Keith’s planning also proved to be immaculate!

Keiths immaculately drawn skeleton plan.

Keith’s beautifully drawn skeleton plan.

Elsewhere on site, Jan was also making his archaeological debut. His first feature was a tile, brick and stone hearth that we had begun to dismantle in the spring.

Jan excavating a stone and mortar footing.

Jan excavating a stone and mortar footing.

Built in the 18th century, the structure had long been thought to be a simple hearth within a post-medieval workshop, however, as Jan lifted the masonry around the edge of the feature, he discovered that the structure was built over a more substantial footing than had been anticipated.

This development suggested that a larger superstructure would have been present around the tile hearth base. The plot had thickened! We were now looking at something more akin to an oven as opposed to a simple fireplace.

When considered alongside contemporary pits filled with butchery waste, Jan’s discovery provides possible evidence for food processing in the decades before the site became a graveyard. A useful new piece to our puzzle.

Jenny and Kathryn spent their weekend investigating a deposit that was thought to pre-date the use of the graveyard. Following the creation of a detailed record, the pair picked up trowels and set to work.

Jenny and Kathryn excavating a dump deposit.

Jenny and Kathryn excavating a dump deposit.

The deposit yielded a huge range of ceramics, ranging from early 19th century in date, right back to the Roman period! The finds highlight was undoubtedly Jenny’s fragment of a Roman colour coat cup from the Nene Valley.

Jenny and her star find.

Jenny and her star find.

These fineware vessels were a cheaper alternative to expensive metal vessels and occur in huge quantity in Roman York. It seems our Roman predecessors were rather fond of fine wines! Finds like these provide wonderful insights into creature comforts from the dawn of the second millennium.

Tucked away at the very edge of the trench, Lyn and Chris carried on with the excavation of another 19th century burial. This required some surgical trowel work in cramped conditions, a task that this formidable duo were more than up to!

Lyn and Chris begin work on their burial.

Lyn and Chris (left) begin work on their burial.

As the weekend drew to a close, it was this feature that provided our final surprise. Lyn and Chris’ steady troweling had revealed an infant burial that seemed to lay directly over the top of an underlying juvenile. This made it quite the challenge to differentiate which remains related to which individual without great care.

Chris carefully planning an infant burial.

Chris carefully planning an infant burial.

While multiple burials within family plots has been a regular feature within the 19th century burial ground, we had found no evidence of any grave goods up to this point. As the deposition of objects within burials is not part of Christian burial custom, the lack of any grave goods thus far had been of little surprise.

Close to the end of the day, however,  Lyn and Chris noticed a green copper alloy object amongst the finger bones of their inhumation. Closer inspection revealed that the infant had been buried holding a coin in its left hand – a touching and highly evocative find.

As the corrosion of the coin had inhibited decay, fragments of fabric were still preserved on its surface, a remarkable quirk of preservation! Although it would be fascinating to investigate the coin further, it will stay with the remains of the infant and be re-buried within the church. The graves are tightly dated to between 1826 and 1854 and in this case there is need for any further research; it is far more important that the infant is re-interred in exactly the same way it had originally been laid to rest by its grieving parents.

Artefacts like these have the power to bring the past to life in a stark and often unsettling light, bringing us closer to the deeds and emotions of the people that lived through the times we study. Lyn and Chris’ discovery of this coin in a way allowed the team to act as very late guests to a funeral, witnessing a  simple human act of grief and kindness that never made its way into the history books. Working with human remains can be a privilege and our trainees at All Saints have shown an admirable level of care and respect at all times.

Arran sums up the latest discoveries.

Arran sums up the latest discoveries.

The weekend drew to a close with a wrap-up of our latest discoveries and a welcome trip to a nearby pub where the team could discuss their findings. The April weekend team achieved a remarkable amount in just two days, unearthing evidence of Roman luxuries and 19th century tragedy along the way. Now the site was left to rest, that is, until the May weekend team arrived…

The April weekend team.

The April weekend team.

With the May weekend falling on a Bank Holiday, we obviously expected rain. Happily, the day began with overcast but dry conditions. In the few weeks we’d been away, it was remarkable how many weeds had sprung up! The new team got their eye in by having a little tidy around the trench.

A slightly green trench...

A slightly green trench…

With the site looking a little cleaner, it was soon time for the team to tackle some new contexts. Sarah and Georgia set to work on a small dump of material that has survived in a gap between a pair of graves. The deposit seemed to be the uppermost in a sequence of broadly contemporary dumps and it took a little investigative troweling to spot where this dump ended and another began.

Cleaning a truncated dump deposit.

Cleaning a truncated dump deposit.

After a short while, Georgia and Sarah had defined the outline of their context and were then able to make a detailed record of the context prior to excavation.

Starting a new plan.

Starting a new plan.

Not far away, Gill and Julie were setting about a similar task, although the deposit they were investigating was suspected to overlie further 19th century burials.

Julie and Gill

Julie and Gill excavating a 19th century dump.

By the end of the weekend, both deposits had been thoroughly probed and several finds trays were now overflowing with finds. No new graves were uncovered, but our suspicions were still roused…

Investigating deposits cut by 19th century burials.

Investigating deposits cut by 19th century burials.

Dave and Tracey also spent a weekend investigating a slither of archaeology between two rows of graves. In a piece of archaeology no wider than 200mm, the pair discovered a number of dumps cut by a pit – all of which appeared to be a good deal older than our burials.

Excavating an 18th century deposit.

Excavating an 18th century deposit.

Datable finds began to emerge and Tracey and Dave were able to confirm that they had left the 19th century behind and discovered post-medieval archaeology. The sequence suggested that the space was likely to have been a yard in the late 1700s, with occasional pits and levelling dumps.

Recording a new layer.

Recording a new layer.

Traceys star Roman find.

Traceys star Roman find.

The finds highlight once again was an elegantly decorated fragment of a Roman Colour Coat cup, further evidence of Roman luxury at All Saints!

Theo and Stuart took over the excavation of an unusual feature that we started to excavate way back in 2014. Ominously dubbed ‘The Horn Core Pit’, the feature has already yielded thousands of fragments of cattle skull and horn core.

This is interesting evidence of the craft and industrial activity that was taking place around All Saints prior to the site becoming a graveyard in 1862. Horn core, the brittle, bony interior of a cow’s horn, is a by-product of the horn working industry. The sheer volume of waste deposited suggests that many a horn object will have been manufactured on Church Lane in the 18th century.

Theo and Stuart return to the 'horn core pit'

Theo and Stuart return to the ‘horn core pit’

True to form, the pit continued to produce a huge amount of horn working detritus, alongside an assemblage of late 18th and early 19th century ceramics. The only thing that Theo and Stuart failed to locate was the base of the feature; by the end of the weekend, it was still descending ever deeper. This one would need more work in the summer!

Stuart celebrates the discovery of yet another fragment of horn core...

Stuart celebrates the discovery of yet another fragment of horn core…

In just two days, the May weekend team found (and cleaned) hundreds of new finds. New detail was unearthed regarding the little understood post-medieval and Georgian history of the site and it didn’t even rain!

Keeping on top of Finds Mountain

Keeping on top of Finds Mountain

With the weekend wrapped up, the team retreated to the cosy confines of the pub to reflect on a job well done. The site was now primed and ready for a full 12 weeks of archaeology, but that’s another story…

Thanks to all of the spring weekend(s) team for their excellent company and excavation work.

The May weekend team

(Most of) the May weekend team

In the coming posts, I’ll endeavour to tell the tale of the summer 2016 excavation. It was a hectic season of exciting and often unexpected discoveries, watch this space for updates…

Onwards and downwards!

-Arran

Site Diary: Spring 2016, Week 2

The second week of the 2016 excavation at All Saints, North Street saw the team dealing with archaeology as unpredictable as the weather. Despite the best efforts of the intermittent drizzle, a number of intriguing discoveries were made and the sunshine did eventually make an appearance.

Dramatic skies over York.

Dramatic skies over York.

Week 2 of the spring excavation saw a number of new trainees joining the team and hopes were high that we would be able to answer some of the questions thrown up in week 1.

Work starts in a slightly damp trench.

Work starts in a slightly damp trench.

Kate and her new digging partner Sally began their week by recording the cut of a burial that was lifted in week 1. Suspicions that the grave overlaid an earlier burial were quickly confirmed when the outline of a rectangular feature on the correct alignment became visible in the base of the cut.

Sally pointing out the edge of a newly discovered grave cut.

Sally pointing out the edge of a newly discovered grave cut.

At Archaeology Live! we teach the Single Context recording methodology, a system that breaks archaeological features down into their individual components, i.e. a pit cut with two distinct layers of backfilling would be recorded as three separate contexts (one cut and two fills). Each context is photographed, geolocated and described in detail prior to excavation.

Back in 2014, the inaugural All Saints team cleaned up the site and identified which of the many deposits was the last to be laid down. As this was the latest event in the site sequence, it was the first to be excavated. Over the last two years, each successive team has been following on from this, teasing apart the relationships between features and excavating them in reverse chronological order. The result of this work is a complex stratigraphic sequence that sets each context in a known place in the All Saints timeline. Over 700 contexts have already been dealt with!

This painstaking process is allowing us to discover the story of the site and as each feature is excavated, the team travel a little further back in time. Kate and Sally’s discovery of a new burial meant that their first job was to define its extent and to record the backfill in advance of excavation.

Archaeology Live! placement Maddy guiding Kate and Sally through the delicate excavation process.

Archaeology Live! placement Maddy guiding Kate and Sally through the delicate excavation process.

As the week progressed, it became apparent that this burial was particularly deep and would not be easy to excavate. Unfazed by the challenging conditions, Kate and Sally successfully located the outline of the coffin and the skull and torso of the individual within, an excellent achievement given the circumstances!

Tricky digging conditions.

Tricky digging conditions.

Sally and Kate’s hard work was rewarded with a great find – a fragment of glazed medieval tile that would once have been laid within the church.

Kate proudly displays her glazed medieval floor tile.

Kate proudly displays her glazed medieval floor tile.

As locating, recording and, where appropriate, lifting the remainder of our 19th century burials is one of the major priorities of the 2016 season, much of the team were engaged in similar work. Between 1826 when the site was incorporated into the churchyard of All Saints and 1854 when all of York’s churchyards were closed, many parishioners were laid to rest within our excavation area. In the case of deeply buried adults, the graves are being located, recorded and re-covered with a protective layer of sieved earth. Shallow burials of infants and juveniles are being carefully lifted for reinterment within the church. All burials are receiving a field assessment to record any osteoarchaeological detail.

The sun makes a belated appearance.

The sun makes a belated appearance.

Archaeology students from UCL Yuqi and Jia spent week 2 continuing work on a grave cut with numerous occupants. In week 1, they established that the grave had been re-opened to receive the remains of a tiny infant burial and the first task of the week was to carefully lift the remains.

Yuqi and Jia recording an infant skeleton.

Yuqi and Jia recording an infant skeleton.

While the interment of the additional infant had clearly been done with care,  it was evident that an even earlier infant burial had been damaged in the process. It goes without saying that whoever dug the grave in the 19th century wouldn’t have intended this, but this discovery highlights the demand for space in York’s Gerorgian and Victorian burial grounds.

Yuqi and Jia demonstrated some patient trowel work and were able to record and lift the second infant burial before the end of the week. Despite the two infants having passed away at such a young age, they were both clearly afforded proper burials and were laid to rest within decorative timber coffins with brass plates. This has been something of a trend at All Saints and reminds us that no-one was immune to the hardships of 19th century life.

A fragment of a decorative metal plate from a 19th century coffin.

A fragment of a decorative metal plate from a 19th century coffin.

Close to the ruins of the former Rectory, Yannick and Ann spent their second week on site revealing further evidence of of 19th century illness.

Yannick and Ann

Yannick and Ann

Often, long term and even terminal health problems can leave little or no mark on the skeleton, making it difficult for archaeologists to identify a definitive cause of death. In the case of Ann and Yannick’s inhumation, however, there was clear evidence for a serious case of osteomyelitis. An infection of the bone, osteomyelitis is very treatable when diagnosed early, however, in the days before antibiotics it could easily lead to major complications.

In the case of Ann and Yannick’s individual, one of the femurs had become extremely swollen, with visible holes through which pus would have flown. This would have been an incredibly painful condition to live with and may even have led to the death of the individual; a fascinating but sobering discovery.

Imogen and Alice sieving the excavated backfill of a burial.

Imogen and Alice sieving the excavated backfill of a burial.

Other teams dealing with burials included Alice and Imogen and Penny and Jan. Both pairs were faced with difficulties such as variable preservation and challenging digging positions, happily they all battled through and carried out some excellent excavation work.

Jan and Penny

Jan and Penny cleaning around the remains of a timber coffin.

Once excavated, the sections of Jan and Penny’s burial showed evidence of in-situ stratigraphy, suggesting that no earlier burials are present below. This was an encouraging find, as it means that not all of the site’s post-medieval stratigraphy has been disturbed by 19th century burials.

The final grave to be investigated was located close to the walls of the later Church Hall. Chris and Julia spent their third taster day cleaning up what turned out to be a sequence of inhumations within a single plot. As collapsing coffins had caused the remains to concertina down on top of one and other, identifying articulated remains was going to be a challenging task!

Chris and Julia carefully exposing the latest in a sequence of burials within a family plot.

Chris and Julia carefully exposing the latest in a sequence of burials within a family plot.

Despite the identification and excavation of 19th century burials being the main focus of the week, a number of earlier features were also investigated. The mother and daughter team of Sian and Anna excavated a sequence of deposits that survived in a thin slither of archaeology between two later graves.

Sian and Anna begin work on a sequence of deposits that pre-date the 19th century burials.

Sian and Anna begin work on a sequence of deposits that pre-date the 19th century burials.

Despite working in somewhat cramped conditions, the pair identified a number of separate deposits that may once have been surfaces within one of the 18th century workshops that occupied the site before the graves.

The star find from the sequence was unearthed by Anna, the handle of a fine Humber Ware jug (most likely 14th-16th century). While we are yet to reach medieval deposits in this area, it is a very promising sign of what’s to come!

Anna showing off her medieval jug handle.

Anna showing off her medieval jug handle.

Gary joined us for a two day taster course and spent his first ever day of archaeology excavating a curious brick and tile built structure.

Gary begins to lift an edge-set tile surface.

Gary begins to lift an edge-set tile surface.

As it is truncated by a pair of 19th century grave cuts, the structure must pre-date 1826, however, the ceramic building material within it is medieval in date. This meant that the date of the feature was somewhere between the medieval period and the early 19th century -could Gary tighten up the dating for us?

Gary exposes a stone footing while Kate works on a later burial.

Gary exposes a stone footing while Kate works on a later burial.

With the tile surface and brick superstructure lifted, a substantial stone footing for the feature was revealed. This tantalising development suggested that we were looking at a larger oven feature as opposed to a simple hearth, but we still didn’t know the construction date!

In the end, it was the week’s most unassuming find that gave us the crucial dating evidence, a tiny sherd of tin glazed earthenware from the mid-late 18th or early 19th century. By finding this datable artefact within the mortar and stone of the structure, Gary had revealed that it must have been built in the decades immediately preceding the consecration of the graveyard. It’s amazing what a tiny sherd of a dinner plate can tell you!

Gary's tiny (but crucial!) pottery sherd.

Gary’s tiny (but crucial!) pottery sherd.

The week drew to a close with a session on stratigraphic analysis and a spot of gentle finds washing. Everyone agreed that we had made some industrious progress in understanding the 19th century burials and the deposits and features that pre-date them.

Gary leading a stratigraphy seminar.

Gary leading a stratigraphy seminar.

After months of waiting, the spring excavation was all but over! Happily, it had been a great success and a lot of fun! Thanks to all of the trainees and placements, none of this would be possible without you!

The Spring Week 2 team.

The Spring Week 2 team.

Our next site diaries will look at our weekend digs and (when I catch up) the beginning of the summer session. Speaking from experience, I can guarantee a few surprises! In the meantime dear friends, onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

Site Diary: Spring 2016, Week 1

Springtime in the British Isles. A time of change and renewal heralded by trumpeting daffodils and a flourish of birdsong. Verdant growth returns to barren trees and the days steadily become longer and warmer. Unless, of course, you are trying to carry out an archaeological excavation in Yorkshire.

Springtime on North Street (before the rain!)

Springtime on North Street (before the rain!)

Following a spell of settled sunny weather, the rain clouds inevitably gathered just in time for the Grand Départ of the 2016 season. The site had lain silent and empty for six long months and the latest wave of brand new archaeologists were excitedly waiting in the wings. Sadly, we’d have to wait just a little longer to hear the music of trowels return to the trench.

Thankfully, there’s much more to archaeology than just excavation, so the team had plenty to get on with in the warmth and shelter of All Saints church, our rather stunning site hut. While the rain lashed against the beautiful stained glass, the site induction was followed by a tour of the church led by Dr. Robert Richards. All Saints has been in constant use for the best part of a millennium and there is good evidence to suggest it is older still, so the ancient fabric of the building is awash with wonderful insights into the beliefs, politics and perils of the people who have worshipped here over the centuries.

Finds processing.

Finds processing.

After lunch, site supervisors Gary and Arran introduced the team to the theories and techniques we would be using in the trench, before beginning work on processing our already rather formidable assemblage of finds. In urban archaeology, it is not uncommon for a single context (i.e. the backfill of a post hole) to contain tens or even hundreds of finds. Each set of finds recovered from a given context are cleaned and allowed to dry, before being sorted into various categories such as pottery, animal bone and so on. This sorted material can then be analysed by specialists, providing an extra layer of detail to our interpretations. It was at this point, that we spotted the season’s first star find.

Anns star find!

Ann’s star find!

Hidden amongst a jumble of bone and pottery was a fairly unassuming fragment of antler, spotted by the keen eyes of York local Ann. It was immediately apparent that we had happened upon a noteworthy find, one that could even take us back in time to the dense forest that once covered the land north of York.

Viking antler comb fragment.

Viking antler comb fragment.

In the years following the Norman conquest, huge areas of the countryside were declared Royal Forests, meaning common land that had been a source of fuel, food and raw materials for centuries was now reserved exclusively for the use of the elite. This legislation acted as a catalyst for changes that can easily be seen in the material culture that we find in York. Prior to this royal acquisition, antlers shed by the many red and fallow deer that roamed the Forest of Galtres in York could  be collected and put to use by Anglo-Scandinavian traders and craftsmen.

Antler is a useful and highly versatile material that was utilised extensively in York during the 10th to 12th centuries. One of the more common objects to be manufactured were composite bone and antler combs. Raw antler was cut into thin plates held together by bone or antler panels that would often be incised with intricate decorations. Once the plates and panels were riveted together, the teeth of the combs would be carved – a painstaking operation! For wealthier Viking individuals, these combs were a real status symbol and a recent study has revealed them to have played an important role in Anglo-Scandinavian culture.

By spotting this previously un-noticed find, Ann had got us off to a great start!

An antler composite comb unearthed on the Coppergate excavations

An antler composite comb and case unearthed on the Coppergate excavations

Tuesday saw blue skies and more seasonal weather return to York and the team got to work in cleaning up the trench following its long abandonment.

The sun returns!

The sun returns!

A primary goal of the 2016 season is to gain a full understanding of the density, nature and location of the burials that were interred between 1826 and 1854. No church records regarding these burials have survived, so it will be up to the archaeology to tell us more about life and death in the parish during the 19th century. A definite trend was noted during the 2015 season wherein infant and juvenile burials were placed at a far shallower depth than adults, thereby rendering them highly vulnerable to damage. Over the course of 2016, these shallow inhumations will be carefully recorded, lifted and re-buried in the ossuary of All Saints Church. Adult burials will be recorded and left in-situ below a protective layer of sieved earth.

The team carefully excavating 19th century burials.

The team carefully excavating 19th century burials.

Following her remarkable start to the week, Ann teamed up with Swiss archaeology enthusiast Yannick to record and excavate our smallest coffin yet. The individual laid to rest in this grave must have died at a very young age as very little of the skeleton had survived. Through some precise and very cautious troweling, Ann and Yannick were able to define the outline of the decayed timber coffin in which the infant was buried, before lifting the remains and placing them within the church. Infant mortality was very high in 19th century York and Ann and Yannick’s measured and respectful work has revealed another forgotten tale of loss from the ground.

Ann and Yannick hard at work.

Ann and Yannick hard at work.

Elsewhere on site, the teams of Kate and Ella and Kirsten and Alice were also tasked with the delicate work of recording and excavating infant burials.

Kate and Ella begin work on their first burial.

Kate and Ella begin work on their first burial.

Kate and Ella did an excellent job of exposing, recording and lifting their burial and they also discovered that the inhumation had been placed above at least one adult individual. The second individual was buried at a far greater depth, meaning Kate and Ella had a lot of digging to do!

Planning a 19th century inhumation.

Planning a 19th century inhumation.

Alice and Kirsten took over the excavation of a more unusual infant burial that had initially been discovered back in 2015. While the excellent levels of preservation in York have allowed us to see and record the outlines and decorative features of many of our coffins, this burial had something else – the fragile remains of a name plate. While over 150 years of corrosion had left the plate incredibly delicate, the words ‘aged 0 years’ remained legible. This was an evocative moment for the team and it was certainly a privilege to witness such a personal moment of All Saints’ long history.

 

Alice and Kirsten squaring away their records.

Alice and Kirsten squaring away their records.

At the northern end of the trench, Jia and Yuqi spent their week working on an equally difficult burial. In this instance, an adult grave had been re-opened to allow for the interment of an infant. Burials like these demonstrate the re-use of grave plots to receive the remains of numerous presumably related individuals.

Jia and Yuqi begin work on their first burial.

Jia and Yuqi begin work on their first burial.

Excavating and recording a skeleton is a delicate and considered process that is complicated further when numerous individuals are placed on top of each other. Yuqi and Jia were more than up to the task and made excellent progress.

Excavation in warm spring weather.

Excavation in warm spring weather.

The first week of the new season wasn’t only about burials, trench supervisors Arran and Gary were also keen to delve further back into the history of the site.

Returning trainees Lydia and Cheryl picked up work on a small area of archaeology surviving between a number of later graves and pits. Several layers have already been recorded and excavated in this location, revealing a sequence of post-medieval dumping and refuse disposal, it was now time to find what was laying in wait for us below.

Lydia and Cheryl exposing a medieval deposit.

Lydia and Cheryl exposing a medieval deposit.

Revealing a brand new archaeological context for the first time is always an exciting moment and Lydia and Cheryl’s deposit didn’t disappoint. As the remnants of the overlying layer were troweled away, a much lighter and more clay rich deposit began to appear, containing pottery of 11th to 15th century date. The new layer was cleaner with less in the way of domestic refuse than had been seen above. Perhaps we are looking at an attempt to raise the ground level following a period of flooding, perhaps we have revealed an intact medieval surface. This will be an area to watch in the 2016 season!

David and Lindsey enjoyed a productive taster day working on an even more truncated slither of archaeology that had survived between a pair of later graves. Their first task was to complete the excavation of a dump deposit of late 18th century date and it didn’t take long to come across an unexpected surprise – a surviving cobbled surface.

David and Lindsey preparing to record a truncated cobble surface visible at the bottom of the shot.

David and Lindsey preparing to record a truncated cobble surface visible at the bottom of the shot.

The many 19th century burials have left the earlier archaeology looking something like a swiss cheese, although it is still possible to learn a lot about the older material. David and Lindsey’s surface will prove to be an invaluable piece to a complex puzzle, each piece giving us a more complete picture of the site’s industrial use in the late 1700s. The floor would once have been situated within a roughly built timber shed where evidence so far suggests that metalworking was practiced – not a bad discovery for a pair of brand new archaeologists!

Finds washing in the sunshine.

Finds washing in the sunshine.

After a long winter spent waiting for the new season, the first week of the spring dig seemed to fly by! The first team of the 2016 excavation were fantastic fun to have on-site and carried out some stellar work. As Friday drew to a close, the team took some time to reflect on our latest discoveries, from tragic tales of young lives cut short, to tantalising glimpses into life in the height of Viking York. Not a bad start, not bad at all!

The Spring 2016 week 1 team.

The Spring 2016 week 1 team.

As always, everyone at Archaeology Live! express our thanks to the trainees that make the project possible. We are entirely funded by the fees paid by the team and none of our discoveries would be possible without their hard work and boundless enthusiasm – especially in the unpredictable spring weather!

So that’s us up and running, watch this space for updates on the rest of the spring season. It seems like we’re in for some amazing archaeology!

Onwards and downwards!

-Arran

 

 

Spring News

April update from York

It’s been a damp and chilly spring in York, but it’s all happening at Archaeology Live HQ!  Here’s an overview of our latest news:

Extra weekend dig!

Due to astonishing demand, we’ve opened up a fourth weekend excavation for the summer and we’re already down to the last two places! Click here for more info on the courses.

Post-excavation courses

Our Winter 2016 Post-Excavation courses are now open for bookings. These courses are open to anyone with previous Archaeology Live! experience and offer a unique opportunity to learn what happens to site records after an excavation is completed. Trainees will look at the primary archive from our All Saints, North Street excavation and learn how to process, manage and analyse the data. For full info on the courses, click here.

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Digitising records.

Archaeology Live! 2016

York is home to some of Britain’s best preserved and most complex archaeological deposits. In 2016, we will be digging in not one, but two sites in the heart of the city.

The All Saints, North Street excavation, summer 2015

The All Saints, North Street excavation, summer 2015

On the west side of the River Ouse, within the Roman colonia, our All Saints, North Street dig will enter its third year. Click here to learn more about the site and how to get involved.

On the east side of the river, close to the Roman fortress, we will be returning to the site of our 2006 season to further investigate a sequence containing some fascinating archaeology. In particular, we will be looking for evidence for a Viking predecessor to the medieval church of St. Saviour’s. Click here to learn more!

Setting up to plan, St. Saviour's 2006

Setting up to plan, St. Saviour’s 2006

Spring Season 2016

We had a fantastic start to the new digging season between March and early April. We are currently writing up the site diaries for our Spring excavation, which yielded a few real surprises! Watch this space for updates.

A freshly unearthed glazed medieval floor tile, April 2016.

A freshly unearthed glazed medieval floor tile, April 2016.

In 2016, we’re opening up new ways for you to get hands-on experience of some nationally significant archaeology. Whether you’re behind the scenes helping us create a site report, or out in the trench unearthing the latest finds, you’ll be on the cutting edge of an amazing archaeological project!

To find out more about any of our courses or to book your space to join the team, email us at trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

St. Saviour’s 2016

York is a city with an abundance of internationally significant archaeology and over the last 16 years our training excavations have made some truly amazing discoveries! This summer, we’ll be taking things up a notch and opening up a second excavation in the heart of the city and this time we’re on the hunt for the Vikings!

Cleaning back in 2006

Cleaning a newly opened trench back in 2006

Where is the site?

church-224x300

St. Saviour’s Church, York

We will be excavating immediately adjacent to DIG on a plot of land next to the St Saviour’s Church. To some of you this will be familiar to this site as we located Archaeology Live! 2006 on that site – we are returning after a decade away.

It goes without saying that the same great training will be taking place at All Saints North Street, the site we started in 2014, but there is now a second option.

This will be limited to those who have already completed some training with us as we will be running this season with a slightly less tightly structured training schedule.

When is the excavation?

We will be excavating at St. Saviour’s from Monday June the 27th, for 8 weeks until Friday 19th August.

How do I get involved?

As mentioned above, this excavation is limited to those who have previous Archaeology Live! experience. There is, however, the option for new starters signing up for a two week course to get the best of both worlds and do one week at each site. Course costs will be the same for each of the two sites, email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk to book your place on this groundbreaking dig!

Duration                                       Price                                   Returnee/Friends of YAT

One week£250£230
Two weeks£440£400
Three weeks£580£530
Four weeks£690£640
Excavating a medieval gully.

Excavating a medieval gully.

What will we find?

Commercial excavations in 2004, Archaeology Live! 2006 and building recording that took place in 2012 have all highlighted a complex sequence of buildings, roads, other structures and activity which goes back to the Viking period. There are also significant volumes of Roman finds which suggest there will be Roman archaeology at lower levels if they are reached.

During 2016 we aim to further investigate the southeast part of the site looking at;

  • What remains of the buildings on the site & how much they have disturbed earlier deposits?
  • Was there a specific landscaping event at this side of the site which levelled off the natural slope of Hungate?
  • Is there the same wealth of medieval archaeology that was seen just to the north in the 2006 dig?
  • Finally…. Can we prove that the burials across the site are actually Viking in date?
Setting up to plan a newly exposed structural sequence.

Setting up to plan a newly exposed structural sequence.

In 2006 we started work knowing there was good archaeology on the site, we just didn’t know just how much and how close to the surface this was. During the setup week it was immediately apparent that we were in for a great summer!

Planning an intact hearth.

Planning an intact hearth.

All through the summer the site was producing Roman finds. As those of you who have dug with us already know, this is very normal for the complex urban archaeology that we excavate during the Archaeology Live! training excavations.

Cleaning up cobbled surfaces

Cleaning up cobbled surfaces

The earliest features we found were most probably Viking in date with traces of timbers in clear lines, linear cut features as well as burials. This may indicate Viking buildings or plots may be present on the site as well as suggesting that there was an earlier timber church that stood where St Saviour’s presently stands. This would be an amazing discovery!

In the medieval period things became very busy with a substantial road and a number of walls, most probably from buildings. We also had a lot of finds, including quite a collection of worked bone fragments. This may relate to specific craft activities across the separate plots which would have extended across the site.

 

Into the post medieval period the buildings were extended and covered a good portion of the site. A so much medieval material was re-used in this process it may be that there is an even more complicated picture than what we already thought.

A fragment of a Viking composite comb.

A fragment of a Viking composite comb.

So, plenty to look at in a short period of time and lots of tantalising questions to answer! Medieval buildings and roads, historic crafts, Viking burials and, potentially, a new chapter to the history of one of York’s famous churches. It’s all to play for.

Depending on what we find this year, we may be able to look further into the site over a longer period of time. This could be the start of something big!

To join the St. Saviour’s excavation, email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

 

 

 

 

A Miscellany of Peculiar Finds

Part One: The Curious Tale of Valentine’s Meat Juice

valentine

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

As the opening line of L. P. Hartley’s 1953 tome The Go-Between very presciently pointed out; while many aspects of life in the past may seem familiar to us, it was a very different world indeed.

Over the years, the Archaeology Live! team have come across a multitude of more… unusual artefacts. These curious objects are often unearthed from the most surprising of contexts and, if we are very lucky, can bring to life forgotten moments from the more dusty and unfamiliar recesses of our past.

On a recent excavation in North Yorkshire, Archaeology Live! Director Toby Kendall came across just such an artefact.

A bottle of Valentines Meat Juice.

A Valentine’s Meat Juice bottle.

Hidden amongst a jumble of 20th century rubble was an intact bottle with a clearly legible design. Closer inspection revealed the simple but rather charming motif of Valentine’s Meat Juice. It was immediately apparent that this bottle warranted further research.

Little did Toby know that this find had an amazing tale to tell…

Science(?)

Victorian Britain witnessed an explosion of technological advancement and scientific discovery, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. The age that saw the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’, also saw patents for the Spherical Velocipede and the Multi-purpose Cane. In a century that gave us pasteurisation and aspirin, a gentleman named Mann S. Valentine gave us Valentine’s Meat Juice.

 

Surely the perfect gift for any discerning chap about town.

Surely the perfect gift for any discerning chap about town.

In their search for cure-all remedies it seems that our Victorian forebears were not too concerned with the science behind the multitude of potions and lotions that filled the nation’s pharmacy shelves. Furthermore, there was very little in the way of rules and regulations regarding the production and marketing of such products. Britain was awash with unscrupulous salesmen extolling the virtues of products containing substances as lethal as lead, arsenic and asbestos. In an age of international trade, vastly improved communications and print advertising, business was booming for pseudo-scientists!

Mann S. Valentine Jr.

Mann S. Valentine Jr.

When Mann S. Valentine, a merchant from Richmond, Virginia,  made his first foray into this fledgling industry in 1871, he believed he had created a product of a higher calibre. Each 2oz bottle contained a tonic claimed to be effective in the treatment of conditions such as typhoid, cholera, pneumonia, atonic dyspepsia, diarrhoea, gastritis and nausea. US excavations of 19th century brothels have come across Valentine’s Meat Juice bottles in some quantity, evidencing a belief that the liquor could “act as a cure for sexually transmitted diseases, aka social diseases.” It seems there were no limits to its applications!

So what were the ingredients of this miraculous tonic you ask?

The answer is beef. Four pounds of beef.

Valentine’s Meat Juice was born out of adversity. By New Year’s Eve 1870, Mann’s wife Maria had been seriously ill for weeks, ill to the extent that it had not been possible for her to eat. Mann’s solution was to invent a system of shredding and compressing beef while maintaining a low heat; the theory went that this process allowed the juices to be collected without any loss of protein. Valentine’s own account of the genesis of his miracle cure can be read here, including a staggering number of glowing testimonials!val

Maria recovered from her illness and lived for another three years. Word quickly spread about the benefits of Valentine’s “nourishing protein tonic” and by the end of the century it was being produced on an industrial scale and sold across the globe.

The tonic even gained royal approval as King George V, Chinese Viceroy Li Hung Chang, US President James Garfield and Emperor Yoshita of Japan all extolled its virtues.

The Valentine’s Meat Juice brand thrived in a golden age of pseudo-science, however, the story takes a stranger turn when we consider how the tonic was administered. While the standard dose was taken orally, Caroline Rance’s research into 19th century ‘quack’ doctors suggests that some physicians believed the most efficient method of absorbing the goodness of the tonic was to introduce it per rectum.’

Indeed, a 1900 entry from the Philadelphia Medical Journal suggests that a mixture of one egg, one tablespoon of Valentine’s Meat-Juice, 4oz sterilised milk, ½oz. brandy, ½ tsp. salt, and 5oz of sterilised water should be deposited every two hours, as high up the large bowel as possible.” (Read more at Caroline’s website)

 

Meat_Juice_Ad

 

If the image of King George V of England receiving the equivalent of a Bovril enema isn’t shocking enough, the story took an altogether darker turn in 1889 when a bottle of Valentine’s Meat Juice was implicated in one of the 19th century’s most high-profile murder cases.

James Maybrick and Florence Chandler met aboard a transatlantic steamer in 1880 and were married within a year. At 40, the Liverpool born merchant Maybrick was 23 years older than his American bride, but the pair were clearly smitten and the early years of their marriage were happy ones.

Florence and James Maybrick

Florence and James Maybrick. (Image: Getty)

Following a spell in Virginia, the Maybricks relocated to Liverpool and took residence in Battlecrease House in Liverpool with their two young children. It was here where their honeymoon period came to a tragic end.

James was an unfaithful husband and a hypochondriac, regularly making use of cure-all tonics containing substances as poisonous as strychnine and phosphoric acid. The pair became increasingly estranged, leading Florence to gambling and serious debt. As James’ health deteriorated, Valentines Meat Juice was frequently administered and when he finally died, a bottle was found to have been contaminated with arsenic. Florence was implicated by an intercepted letter and her habit of extracting arsenic from flypaper for supposedly cosmetic purposes.

Despite questionable evidence and unreliable testimony, Florence was tried and initially sentenced to death, although this conviction was later downgraded to life imprisonment. Florence returned to the USA after fifteen years behind bars and died penniless and alone in 1941. She never saw her children again.

 

Florence MAybrick on trial. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Florence Maybrick on trial. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The case became embroiled in a growing feminist movement that demanded better representation for women’s’ rights within the legal system and Florence’s guilt remains a matter of heated debate. The Maybrick trial has been studied in detail in a recently published book by Kate Colquhoun.

By the mid-20th century, public demand for health products had changed and the Valentine’s Meat Juice factory closed its doors for good in 1957 after almost 90 years of production. Mann S. Valentine was an intriguing character. An avid collector of art and antiquities, he went on to found a museum and even posed for a series of photographs conveying different emotions. Little did he know that his brainchild would go on to touch the lives of royalty before being ensnared in a net of murder and intrigue!

A little performance art. Image source http://thevalentine.org/about/history-mission#

A little performance art. Image source http://thevalentine.org/

It’s amazing what a small bottle buried in a pile of rubble can tell you!

– Arran

 

To read more about the curious tale of Valentine’s Meat Juice, search online or try the following links:

The Elements of Murder

A Brief History of the Production of Valentine’s Meat Juice

http://richmondmagazine.com/news/valentines-meat-juice-02-20-2009/

 

If you would like to join our 2016 excavation in York and add your own discoveries to our miscellany of peculiar finds, contact us on trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

 

Tobys pride and joy

Tobys pride and joy

 

 

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