Weeks 5 and 6 of the 2017 season saw us reach the halfway point of the dig; summer was flying by! We had a host of new and returning trainees at North Street and, as always, some questionable “summer” weather…
Week 5 started with inductions for all our trainees except for Joanna who was continuing from week 4. With the new starters all tooled up, Nina was paired with Joanna and placement Paul to continue work on one of the 19th Century burials. As this burial was known to overlay another individual by this point, the girls added the finishing touches to the records before lifting the remains for storage within the Church until their reburial. Then it was onto recording the cut for this upper grave, and the fill for the lower one. It was clear that the coffin from the upper burial had decayed and collapsed directly above the lower remains, with only a thin layer of grave backfill separating the burials as individual events.
By the end of the week Joanna and Nina had managed to lift one burial, record the cut for it, recorded the fill and coffin on the lower burial and begun exposing the remains. Bearing in mind that every piece of recording consists of photography, scale drawings, levels and context cards, that’s a lot of work for one week done to a very high standard!
Also returning to North Street this summer was Jennifer, who was paired with new starter Sarah, for some fiddly work involving the cleaning up of a skeleton first uncovered by Gill and Sue in the previous week. The girls were more than up to the task, despite the awkward digging positions required due to the depth the individual lay at.
Once cleaned up, it was time to record! With some help from placement Hannah, the trio made a very effective team and produced some top-notch plans.
Working nearby were returnees Janet and Pete, who traveled all the way from Texas and Stoke respectively. They were joined by new starter Gillian and between the three of them worked on a burial and on some of the pre-graveyard deposits.
Whilst lifting the burial Pete, Janet and Gillian observed a strange deposit on the left forearm of the individual. Upon closer inspection it appears that a pin, likely to be for a shroud, had corroded close to the bone and preserved some of the fabric around it. This fascinating piece of preservation is a poignant reminder of the care and attention taken with the burials of these individuals. Not only was this person buried in a beautifully decorated coffin, but they were also wrapped in a shroud. Given that North Street is known as one of the poorer areas of York at the time the graveyard was in use, it is apparent that bereaved families wanted to do what they could when they lost a loved one, as decorative plated coffins and burial shrouds were not easily affordable. Yet many of the burials here have had decorated coffins and evidence of shrouds or clothing in the form of buttons and pins associated with the remains. With plenty of time and care, Pete, Janet and Gillian lifted the individual and set about recording the grave cut.
As the trio cleaned up the grave cut, features became visible that pre-dated the graveyard. One deposit in particular was a bright orange colour, which is could be related to heat-based activity that has scorched the earth here. This could relate to the post-medieval workshops or perhaps earlier activity. However as we were at the maximum depth in proximity to the walls, the deposits were recorded and the cut backfilled.
Another pair of returnees this week were Dan and Lucy, who carried on in the area that Josh and Laura worked on in the previous week. They lifted the last remains of a previously undiscovered infant and proceeded to record the cut. It was important to go over all of the recording process with the pair as they moved on to placement following this week of training. Once the cut was fully recorded they moved onto the next feature in the stratigraphic sequence at the site – the construction backfill for the Rectory walls.
The Week 5 tasters also had a good week, especially where finds were concerned! On Tuesday and Wednesday, Anna and Richard joined us and were given an area of build up against the rectory walls to plan and excavate. Whilst trowelling, the deposit revealed some rather lovely finds, including a lovely sherd of pottery with a very obviously square rim, dating it to the 11th/12th Century.
On Tuesday tasters Annie and Steve joined us for a day of digging about in the Church Lane trench, and then two day tasters Tim and Alan took over on Thursday and Friday. This trench has already yielded many lovely finds through sieving, from Roman coins to Medieval pottery, and so our tasters were eager to get digging. However due to some pretty poor weather towards the end of the week, Tim and Alan had some issues to deal with; sieving very soggy, sticky, clayey mud. Fortunately the guys took it all in good humour and got (literally) stuck into it.
Their efforts were rewarded with a great find, although they spotted it without needing to sieve it – a large fragment of a Roman hypocaust tile! Whilst at first glance it looks like a big unattractive lump of ceramic building material, this is quite an informative find, as these tiles were part of the hypocaust system used in Roman villas and bathhouses to heat rooms up. Underfloor heating is a luxury only the wealthy could afford because of the high maintenance needed to keep everything going; this find is one of several from North Street over the past few years that adds to the growing understanding of the possible appearance of this part of the city in Roman times.
Week 5 had great work from all of our trainees on the burials, and saw the start of the investigation into some of the older features across the site. However it wasn’t all work and play in the trench, as the weather had other ideas on quite a few occasions; fortunately we had plenty of indoor things to do, including finds bagging. This is our opportunity to have a bit of a closer look at our cleaned up bulk finds and keep an eye out for anything unusual about what we’re sorting through. The week 5 team were very sharp eyed and spotted a few finds that were a bit different…
All of these finds have evidence of modification or working and so have been classed as ‘small finds’ and kept with our growing collection of interesting objects. Usually tile would be a bulk find, however as we are currently unsure if this is a roof tile or a flue tile (with the latter being part of hypocaust systems), it is unique enough to keep it separate. The lines on it are likely to be for the purpose of making it more adhesive to a surface. As for the oyster shell, it is unclear if the hole in the centre is a natural occurrence or from human activity, and so it has been catalogued separately. The item in the bottom right is made of slate and although it is broken at either end, the profile is circular, and resembles slate pencils or styluses found elsewhere. The stone with the parallel scratch marks on it is a bit of an unknown in regards to function, but could have been a surface for items such as leather to be cut into strips on for example.
Finds bagging with the trainees wasn’t the only opportunity to look at some small finds as they had their usual specialist session. On the Wednesday of Week 5, we had a visit from the Friends of YAT who came for a “behind-the-scenes” tour of a live excavation. This meant they were introduced to the site, the history of it, what we have discovered so far, what we hope to learn from this season and of course, they also got the chance to look at some of our small finds…
Friday came around all too quickly this week and we celebrated the #dayofarchaeology with some proper sunshine, our matrix session, and lots of work in the trench. Thanks to the Week 5 team for being fabulous!
With Arran and Katie finally having a whole weekend off, it was time for the week that would take us to the halfway point of the last season at North Street. On Monday morning, Katie hopped in the trench with continuing trainee Janet as Arran inducted the Week 6 starters, which included quite a few familiar faces from seasons past, both trainee and placement alike!
Joining Janet was returnee Bill, and over the course of their week the pair worked with placement Hannah on some of the post-medieval workshop deposits and cleaned up a previously discovered skeleton ready for a full set of records and lifting.
Now in her second week as a trainee this year, Janet was really getting to grips with planning, and along with Bill and Hannah the trio put together some very detailed records and started to lift the skeleton with due care and attention.
As far as the post-medieval deposits were concerned, it is thought they relate to the period of time when the various workshops stood at the site. However so far we seemed to be getting layer after layer of mixed up tipping deposits that may relate to repeated levelling activities, possibly due to a subsiding deposit further down. The more we investigate this particular area of dumping, the clearer it should become – in theory!
Elsewhere in the trench, we had more familiar faces back for another season at North Street, and we set them to work on another area of pre-graveyard archaeology; the Old Rectory wall! Kirsten and Abi started by adding finishing touches to paperwork for the infant burial Dan and Lucy worked on in the previous week, however once those records were squared away, it was time to empty the rest of the construction backfill of the wall! As the duo kept digging, Kirsten was rewarded with a lovely little small find – a worked bone object that could be a counter or something similar.
As we’re digging stratigraphically, once the fill was excavated it was time for the wall itself to come out next! Where normally we advocate careful and steady excavation with trowels and even smaller tools for burials, this task required slightly more heavy duty implements…such as a hammer and chisel! Fortunately Kirsten and Abi were more than up to the task with a little help from placement Lucy.
As is often the case, by Friday afternoon of Week 6 we had more questions than answers as Kirsten and Abi demolished all of the brick wall to reveal a substantial mortared stone wall footing. It wasn’t yet clear if the footing contained re-used medieval masonry or if it was in fact an in-situ remnant of our 14th Century Rectory. To confirm this as well as the extent of the footing, we’ll have to keep investigating this feature in Week 7!
Part way through the week Abi teamed up with nearby duo Jasmine and Suzanne to help record a burial partially exposed by Joanna and Nina in Week 5. Suzanne and Jasmine spent most of their week carefully cleaning up the fragile remains and coffin so they could be photographed and of course recorded. Despite the challenge presented by this burial, as it lay quite far down, the girls did a fine job of cleaning up under the watchful eye of returning placement Imogen. Recording a skeleton requires patience and care however Suzanne, Jasmine and Abi were more than up to the task, and began lifting by the end of the week.
Also working on a burial this week was returnee Kristy and new starter Harry, who picked up from where Sarah and Jennifer were working in Week 5. Their burial lay in the centre of the trench in a particularly well preserved and beautifully decorated coffin. The coffin contained the remains of an adult male aged between 20-40 with teeth in a noticeably poor condition, which may relate to a poor diet or lifestyle.
As the pair lifted the burial, Kristy spotted something just underneath the left wrist of the individual. On closer inspection it turned out to be a button made from oyster shell and was smaller than a one penny coin! The location of the button could suggest the individual might have been buried in a buttoned shirt of sorts, and gives a very personal window into the life and death of the parishioners of All Saints.
After lifting the skeleton at the start of the week it became apparent just how well preserved their coffin was. We decided to clean it up and get additional photographs as well as amend the existing plan to include the areas where handles, fragments of the base and even some of the fabric lining had survived.
The pair took to the process very well and produced a great amended record for the coffin. With records completed, the pair lifted remaining pieces of coffin and they were set aside with the skeleton to be reburied together at some point in the future.
Towards the end of the week, Harry had a lovely find during a washing session. After several objects turning out to be pebbles and stones that were promptly sent for “further research” on the spoilheap, Harry had yet another stone, but noticed there was something a little different about this one. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a fine worn fragment of whetstone. At last, Harry had a find we didn’t throw away; in fact it got the small finds treatment, along with obligatory victory shot…
It was a busy week for tasters too, and on Tuesday and Wednesday we were joined by Mike and Candice, who hailed from Hull and California respectively, and mother-daughter duo Laura and Jess. Excavation of a construction backfill for the Rectory cesspit was undertaken by Laura and Jess, and they turned up quite a few finds in the process. At the end of their two days they got the chance to wash some of their finds and were amazed with the variety of things that turned up. Jess was thinking of pursuing archaeology further at university – so hopefully the taster course has piqued her interest! Candice and Mike also had a great time in the Church Lane trench and found a variety of pottery types as well as participating in some of our specialist and finds processing sessions.
Our other tasters this week were another mum and daughter duo, Cara and Alexandra, who despite a lot of rain on their day managed a little bit of trench time to practice their trowelling skills. They also had a go at finds processing and participated in one of our specialist sessions. On Thursday Laura and Mike joined us for a couple of days, so we paired them up and they got stuck into the Church Lane trench, as well as participating in Arran’s matrix masterclass and finds processing. Their highlight however, was a fragment from the rim of a Roman Black Burnished ware pot. Whilst lovely enough in itself, a closer look at the rim led to the discovery of a deliberately incised ‘X’ mark. As this is a little different from a nondescript pottery sherd, and is the second piece with this type of incision found over the past few years at North Street, it was retained as a small find.
Along with Kirsten’s discovery of the mortared stone wall footing at the Old Rectory end of the trench, we had a lovely, sunny and exciting finish to Friday afternoon. What a way to mark reaching the halfway point of this final season! As always, huge thank you to our trainees old and new for making this possible, as well as the placements for making mine and Arran’s job that bit easier…
Till next time!
P.S: Whilst we’re on the subject of placements, after reuniting with the force of nature that is Imogen at the start of Week 6, Arran kindly asked us to demonstrate some key archaeology poses for the twitter updates. We’re fond of general daftness and so were quite happy to oblige…