Since the end of the 2015 season, the Archaeology Live! team in York have been kept very busy with a varied succession of excavations, watching briefs and a never-ending mountain of post-excavation work! With the summer season just around the corner, now seems like a good time to delve back into the Archaeology Live! archives and look back at the discoveries from a previous season. Having already reviewed the 2001 and 2002 excavations, let’s take a trip back to 2003…
The summer of 2003 proved to be the hottest summer for thirteen years! While war in Iraq and the retirement of Concorde grabbed the headlines, current Archaeology Live! supervisors Arran and Gary were still undergraduate students at the University of York. Project Director Toby, however, was already in the thick of it – graduating to the role of Assistant Site Manager in 2003. As the dig progressed the team kept a detailed site diary, so we’ll let them tell the story in their own words.
So, pop the kettle on, pull up a comfy chair and join us as we take a trip thirteen years back in time…
St. Leonard’s Site Diary 2003
The Lord Mayor breaks ground.
“To summarise the discoveries to date: the investigation of the south-west defences of the Roman legionary fortress has been concentrated on part of the stone inverval tower SW6 in Trench 1, which is thought to have been built about AD200 and was only demolished during redevelopment of the medieval hospital of St Leonard around 1250.
A hospital stood on the site by 1100, when a two-storey stone building (almost certainly the infirmary) with a vaulted undercroft was built between the Roman tower SW6 and the west corner tower of the Roman fortress (known as the Multangular Tower). Extensive evidence for occupation within the undercroft, probably including cooking and metal-working, was recovered. The hospital was largely demolished after the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, and the site used for industrial purposes. During the 19th century the site was cleared and landscaped, and it remains a lawn to this day, albeit it briefly augmented by an air-raid shelter during World War 2.
The strategy for 2003 is to complete the excavation of that part of Trench 1 under the standing remains of the medieval hospital undercroft (the part outside the standing building was excavated to the bottom last year), and to continue the excavation of Trench 3. In addition up to three additional trenches may be excavated, in order to answer questions raised by the work carried out to date. For those thinking about taking part in the dig in the future, be warned that 2004 is expected to be the final year, with the completion of the excavation of Trench 3 and any additional trenches that have been opened.
On with the excavation!
The first wave of trainees
Week 1, 7–13 July
Although the previous season of excavation at St Leonard’s Hospital seems like yesterday, it was indeed time for the third summer season of the dig to begin at the start of July. There was a hectic week of site preparation, with the visitor access laid out and the large volume of backfill from Trench 3 removed by machine. On 8th July the site was opened to visitors, following the official opening by the Lord Mayor of York, Chas Hall, and the Lady Mayoress.
On the same day the first group of trainees began their training on the excavation, and after their introduction to the site they were soon getting their hands dirty with digging, site recording and finds work.
Trench 1 under excavation
In Trench 1, the excavation of the dumps underlying the standing remains of the medieval infirmary, which had begun in 2002, continued. These deposits were formed by the large-scale tipping of soil and other waste prior to the construction of the large Anglo-Norman timber buildings found last year, which may have been part of the original medieval hospital. Although the Roman interval tower excavated at the north-west end of Trench 1 has yet to be reached at the southern end, the large quantities of Roman pottery found already suggest the tower is not much lower down.
Recording the column base in Trench 3
In Trench 3, work concentrated on the investigation of the initial construction of the original infirmary undercroft, which is thought to date to about AD1100 (give or take a few decades). After no little effort the column base that has been for so long a feature in the centre of the trench was removed, and was found to have rested on a platform of mortared limestone fragments.
Two of the more interesting finds made this week were part of a decorated bone object; and an oyster shell that had been perforated, perhaps for use as a pendant.
A worked bone object
Week 2, 14–20 July
Despite very changeable weather the excavation progressed well, with another full complement of excavation trainees. In Trench 1 the excavation of dump deposits, probably of 11th/12th century date, continued. There was no sign of the south-east wall of the Roman fortress interval tower SW6, but we are confident it is down there somewhere! In Trench 3 the foundation platform for the column base in the centre of the trench was removed, revealing an area of cobbles. It is assumed these cobbles are in a foundation pit that provided further support for the column, but only time will tell.
A view of Trench 3. Can you spot the cobble foundation in the centre of the trench?
With the return of Assistant Site Manager Toby Kendall from secondment in France, it was possible to open up the first of the new trenches. Trench 5 lies to the north-west of Trench 3, and is intended (among other aims) to locate the north-west end of the infirmary block and to investigate the relationship of this structure to the Roman Multangular Tower at the west corner of the fortress. The garden topsoil and other modern deposits were removed.
Trainees learning to use an EDM
A new course for 2003, surveying, was run during this week. Toby Kendall demonstrated the basic surveying techniques, including laying out a site grid and drawing building elevations, and the use of an Electronic Distance Measurer (EDM) to record features on a site. Geophysical survey was taught by Dr Mark Noel (GeoQuest Associates), Professor of Geophysics at the University of Durham.
Apart from allowing the trainees to develop the surveying skills and techniques, the course made possible further recording of the medieval hospital and adjacent structures. The geophysical survey was carried out at Acomb Grange, a monastic farm close to York that was run to provide food and other materials for the hospital. A good time was had by all.
Romans meet Vikings
Over the weekend, special events were laid on as part of the National Archaeology Days organised by the Council for British Archaeology. The re-enactment group Comitatus provided demonstrations of living history at the end of the Roman period on one day, and on the second day laid out a ‘history street’ forming a physical timeline of the history of the site from early Roman times to the medieval period. Sandra Garside-Neville presented a display on brick and tile. Russell Marwood demonstrated war-gaming with a re-construction of the battle of Powicke Bridge, the first engagement of the English Civil War.
A notable find from Trench 5 was a Roman voussoir brick with a wedge-shaped profile, which would have been used in the construction of archways or vaulting. It is possible such vaulting was employed in the construction of the Roman fortress towers.
Profile of Roman voussoir brick
Week 3, 21–27 July
Another very busy week on the excavation, with a full complement of excavation trainees and another group undertaking the first artefact study course of the year. So far an average of 1,300 people per week have visited the excavation, which is very encouraging.
Visitors enjoying a display of the latest finds
The artefact course examined the whole range of finds and environmental material from several contexts dating to the early years of the medieval hospital. This showed that a great deal of waste material had been dumped on the site during the construction of the hospital. One layer produced amphibian bones and snail shells from the environmental samples, suggesting it may have been collected from alongside the nearby River Ouse. Although much of the pottery from these contexts was Roman, the small amount of 9th-12th century pottery showed that the Roman pot was residual (that is, it had been around for a long time when it was dumped) and the contexts actually dated to the time of the medieval hospital.
Excavation continues in Trench 1
On the excavation, in Trench 1 further medieval dumps were excavated, but there was still no sign of the south-east wall of the Roman interval tower SW6. Perhaps this part of the tower had been more thoroughly dismantled than the north-west wall observed in 2002.
In Trench 3 the limestone platform supporting the undercroft column was removed, revealing a large cobble and clay-filled pit. This feature is comparable in appearance to that already partly excavated towards the south-west end of the trench, and is likely to be quite deep (so as to minimise settlement of the building). Meanwhile excavation of the levelling deposits at the north-east end of the trench continued, producing a wide range of mainly Roman finds.
Medieval levelling deposits under excavation in Trench 3, with the foundation pit in the background.
A fragment of Roman Samian pottery with the maker’s stamp VIDU[CIUS?]. This high-quality red-slip ware was made in Gaul (modern France).
In Trench 5 a large rubble-filled cut was found in the south-west part of the trench. This is almost certainly the demolition cut for the World War Two air-raid shelter. An impressive range of finds of Roman to modern date was recovered from the fill.
A general view of the site looking north-west towards the Multangular Tower, showing Trench 3 in the foreground and Trench 5 to the rear.
Trench 5 under excavation, showing the air-raid shelter demolition cut in the background
Week 4, 28 July–3 August
This was yet another busy training week with all 16 trainee places snapped up. Most of the people were from the UK, but the USA was represented. Over 2000 people visited the site this week, a brilliant achievement, bringing the total this season to over 6000. Most visitors have gone away from the excavations saying how fascinating and interesting the work that we are undertaking is.
Yet more medieval deposits were excavated, but on the final day of the week a short length of masonry wall was uncovered. Could this be the south-east wall of the Roman interval tower at long last? This trench was now approaching its safe depth limit of 1m, and the sides were shored up in order to ensure the sides of the trench (and the standing medieval undercroft) do not collapse.
A newly shored Trench 1
A major advance in the excavation of this trench occurred this week, with the erection of a shelter on a specially designed metal frame. This shelter should ensure that the trench is protected from the weather, be it soaking rain or baking sun.
More 11th/12th-century levelling deposits were removed to the north-east of the column base position. These layers had a distinctly green hue, and were thought to be mostly dumps of waste material. They were divided into two working areas; one side was removed rapidly using mattocks to look at the overall nature of the dumps, whereas the other side was more carefully dug layer by layer.
Digging a medieval foundation pit
Excavation of the clay and cobble fill of the column base foundation began in earnest. A surprisingly large number of mostly Roman finds were recovered, including many fragments of painted wall plaster.
Painted Roman wall plaster
Was the construction of the medieval infirmary associated with the demolition of major Roman buildings in the vicinity?
The large cut found last week now occupies the entire south-west half of the trench. The rubble fill includes much reinforced concrete, and is clearly derived from the demolition of the World War Two air-raid shelter. In the north corner of Trench 5 a narrow cut with vertical sides, aligned west to east diagonally across the trench, came to our attention.
Excavating the air-raid shelter demolition cut in Trench 5. The orange sand visible in the section forms the upper fill of the cut; a similar deposit was found in the uppermost fill of the same cut in Trench 3 in 2001.
Excavating the 20th-century archaeological trench in Trench 5
It is thought to be a 20th-century archaeological trench, probably following the south wall of the Roman Multangular Tower where it projected back inside the fortress. Yet more great finds dating from the Roman period through to modern times were recovered from the backfills of these features.
Week 5, 4–10 August
It’s been a brilliant week, with almost as many visitors to the site as the previous record week. Trainees from Italy, the USA and England were treated to the usual rigorous tuition. It was great to see some familiar faces from last year returning; some may suggest they were gluttons for punishment! Read on for the exciting new developments within the trenches.
Trench 1 under excavation
Hurrah! Further investigation of the masonry uncovered last week showed that it was indeed the south-east wall of the Roman interval tower SW6. However, it had been almost entirely demolished, and even the facing stones on the inside of the wall had been removed. Evidently the series of medieval deposits excavated in recent weeks were the backfills of a large robber trench that had been dug down to and around the tower wall in order to remove the usable stone.
Investigating the wall of interval tower SW6 and the medieval robber cut in Trench 1.
These deposits contained much domestic rubbish, including pottery, brick and tile. These finds suggest an 11th/12th-century date for the robbing, although most of the finds were residual (much earlier than the date of their deposition) and included a prehistoric struck flint.
Work continued on the complex sequence of green dumps at the north-east end of the trench. Excavation also continued within the medieval foundation pit in the centre of the trench.
Excavating the Anglo-Norman levelling deposits in Trench 3. The undercroft foundation pit is visible to the left.
Several stake-holes and an unsual slot were also revealed this week. The slot was associated with a large post-hole or small pit, both being backfilled with deposits which were an olive greenish brown colour. It is difficult, at present, to imagine the functions or uses of these two features, but they appear to have been in use during the construction of the Anglo-Norman infirmary undercroft.
General view of Trench 3 looking south-west. The medieval foundation pit under excavation is in the centre of the trench, and beyond it the cobble fill of an adjacent foundation pit is visible.
Artefacts recovered this week included fragments of glass, metal-working slag, a stone bead and a copper object, possibly a bezel with an amber insert.
English Heritage agreed that, as we were making good progress with the excavations, another of our proposed new trenches could be opened up.
Excavating the overburden in Trench 4
Trench 4 will expose two features previously uncovered during the recent excavation programme – part of the medieval stone drain, which was found in our Trench 2 in 2001; and the entrance to the World War Two air-raid shelter, revealed by Time Team in 1999 (link prologue). This trench is also designed to assess whether the deposits associated with the Roman fortress and the medieval hospital survived the 19th-century excavations and the air-raid shelter construction. Work began on the removal of the modern overburden of topsoil and gravel.
This week there was a determined effort to try to remove the thick rubble layers infilling the demolished air-raid shelter. In doing so we reached the safe excavation depth limit of 1.5m in this trench. In addition to the usual fine array of Roman and later finds recovered from these layers, an unusual metal vent was found. This vent was probably situated on top of the air-raid shelter to let air into it from the surface.
View of Trench 5 looking west, with the Multangular Tower behind
In the north corner of the trench we have continued to explore a 20th-century archaeological trench. Although it is thought this trench follows the line of the south wall of the Roman Multangular Tower, the wall has not yet been located despite the removal of considerable depth of backfill deposits. The impressive range of finds unearthed in these fills, dating from the Roman period onwards, is intriguing, as it suggests that the excavators at that time didn’t keep as many of their finds as we do nowadays!
Excavating the vent in the air-raid shelter demolition deposits, Trench 5
Week 6, 11–17 August
What a week for visitors! This has been an exciting time on the training excavation, the busiest ever for visitors. We smashed all existing records for visitor numbers to the St. Leonard’s Hospital excavations, pulling in 2,123 visitors this week.
Over 10,000 people have now visited the excavations since the start of July and seen the exciting world of deep urban archaeological excavations.
Visitors watch the finds work takingplace on site.
To add to the visitor experience, staff and trainees have been showing the public the processes behind finds work – cleaning, cataloguing and recording the finds as well as the detailed finer points of environmental processing – searching for tiny animals bones, charred seeds, nuts and grains and other important ecofacts.
More of the Roman interval tower wall was exposed, showing that the wall had been even more thoroughly robbed than originally thought, down to foundation level. Many mortar fragents were found at this level, no doubt resulting from the demolition of the wall.
The south-east wall of interval tower SW6 in Trench 1, with the medieval robber cut and its fills visible in the foreground.
Artefacts recovered from the medieval robber trench backfill deposits included fragments of early Roman Gallo-Belgic ware, particularly that known as Terra Nigra, as well as some Roman glass.
The excavation of the medieval foundation pit had now reached a depth of about 1.5m with no signs of the base of the cut appearing. Clearly the medieval builders had constructed suitable foundations for the massive infirmary building. The green dumped deposits being excavated on the north-east side of the trench were found to contain much domestic waste as well as charcoal, burnt clay and metal-working debris.
A view of Trench 3 looking north-east, down the slope of the fortress rampart.
These deposits were mixed with material thought to have been taken from the Roman fortress rampart. This probably shows how the even surface for the construction of the medieval infirmary was formed, by removing the top of the rampart and dumping it on the lower slope of the rampart along with any other marterial that was at hand.
Excavating in Trench 3, with a stepladder being used in the medieval foundation pit for access!
The large quantities of Roman finds in these deposits is therefore not so surprising. Roman artefacts recovered this week including fragments of window and vessel glass, several coins and more painted plaster.
After the removal of the modern overburden, the positions of Time Team’s trench excavated in 1999, and the edges of Trench 2 which we excavated in 2001, were identified. This exercise also revealed that some archaeology survives between these two trenches as well as in the area to the north-west of the Time Team investigation, which bodes well for the future.
During this week we have been concentrating on unravelling the relationship between the deposits infilling the World War Two air-raid shelter and a 20th century excavation trench.
Excavating the 1950s trench in Trench 5, with the World War Two air-raid shelter cut behind.
Careful excavation revealed that the excavation trench was in fact later than the air-raid shelter demolition deposits and therefore probably dates these excavations to the 1950s. During this painstaking excavation a further possible excavation slot that pre-dated the air-raid shelter was also revealed. This may equate with Miller’s investigation of the Multangular Tower in the 1920s. The sections revealed by the re-excavation of the 1950’s trench suggest that a complex sequence of archaeological deposits survives in this area – a tantalising glimpse into what will be dug over the following weeks. Artefacts recovered this week included medieval glazed floor tiles and the jug handle from a medieval flagon.
Trainees and staff relax at the end of another successful week!
Week 7, 18–24 August
Smashing the record for weekly visitor numbers is becoming a recurring habit here at St. Leonard’s; an incredible 2200 vistors touring the excavations this week. Total visitor numbers for this season have now passed the 12,600 mark. Work continued with training and excavating within all of the trenches, with most trainees coming from the UK, but with one from Switzerland. Read on for exciting new developments and dilemmas.
Excavation continued within the Roman interval tower SW6. Although this trench had largely reached its safe depth limit, permission was given by English Heritage to excavate a small slot in the middle of the trench through the deposits within the tower, to search for deposits and features associated with its occupation.
Cleaning the top of rampart deposits
This has revealed that the main south-east wall in this part of the interval tower had been robbed of facing stones, and the concrete beam on which it was constructed chipped away; this robbing had also removed any occupation deposits within the tower. The deposits that backfilled this robbing activity were very different from the dumps excavated in Week 6. They consisted of sand and burnt clay and tile suggesting that the material derived, at least in part, from the demolition and clearance of a hearth structure or furnace close by. Only Roman pottery including Samian and rusticated wares were recovered this week. Could this suggest that the wall was robbed in the Roman period?
Having removed all of the green dumps on the eastern side of the trench, we began tackling a series of homogenous dumps this week These appear to mimic the slope of the Roman rampart that we imagine survives at a lower level. Could this material have derived from the levelling of part of the Roman rampart in the 11th or 12th century?
Excavation in trench 3
Some medieval material was recovered, but the majority of the finds consisted of Roman material including painted plaster, pottery and glass. A shell bead and a very well preserved plated iron nail were also recovered.
Trench 4 from the undercroft
As work at the southern end of the site has concentrated within trench 1 this week, little progress was made in trench 4. Minor inroads were made into excavating out the backfills of the Time Team trench (1999) and trench 2 (2001) with fragments of tile, pottery and glass being recovered. Watch this space!
This week the team has focussed on revealing the position, orientation and detail of a Victorian gravel path that sweeps across the excavation area in a north to south direction; the continuation of this path was excavated in Trench 3 in 2001. This would have been one of the principal routes through this part of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society’s Garden of Antiquities situated here in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Cleaning up demolition deposits in the air-raid shelter.
The path consists of a complex sequence of lensed gravel, clinker and mortar deposits edged during its later use by large limestone blocks. More of the latest path survived than originally thought, though it had been damaged to the west during the construction and demolition of the World War 2 air-raid shelter and subsequent landscaping.
Planning the Victorian path
A great selection of artefacts recovered from the landscaping deposit that sealed the path dated from the prehistoric period (flint scraper/tool) to the relatively modern (Victorian hair clip and a modern pen-knife).
Fragment of Samian pottery recovered from trench 3 showing a running lion.
Week 8, 25 – 31 August
This week was a quieter one for both trainees and visitor numbers perhaps relating to the fact that the schools go back soon. Visitor numbers were good, but considerably down, with 1,359 people viewing the excavations. The total number of visitors so far this season was just short of 14,000 by the end of the week. Even though the workers were few, enthusiasm was alive and kicking, and as a result, much was achieved.
Excavation focussed, at last, on the rampart deposits at the southern end of the trench. These deposits were the only ones excavated so far this season that could definitely be Roman in date and character.
Excavating rampart deposits in Trench 1.
The rampart deposits consisted of a complex sequence of interleaved sandy deposits, heavily disturbed by animal burrowing, which were very difficult to excavate stratigraphically. The deposits were a revelation however, as they revealed that the interval tower SW6, rather than being built into an earlier rampart, was actually constructed first and the rampart piled up against it. This is the first time in the excavations history that we have revealed evidence to suggest this. Only a few artefacts were recovered from the rampart deposits including several sherds of York ware Roman pottery dating from the 1st or 2nd century AD.
Dry sieving of archaeological deposits from Trench 3 to retrieve small artefacts.
This week, a three pronged approach was used to tackle areas of archaeology in this trench. Firstly, at the west end after a thorough clean a large number of post- and stake-holes were revealed. This brought back memories of the 2002 season, when hundreds of these features were exposed and excavated at the eastern end of the trench. Luckily these were easily identified and dealt with rapidly.
Checking records as the foundation pit gets ever deeper!
Secondly, excavation proceeded again within the central foundation pit associated with a column of the 13th century hospital undercroft (see week 5). Four pieces of medieval glazed roofing tile came from the deposits excavated from within the foundation pit as well as a glass melon bead. The foundation pit is now c. 1.7m deep and still going! Could the pit go all the way down into natural deposits?
Excavating levelling dumps on the eastern side of Trench 3.
The third prong involved the removal of further homogenous dumps at the eastern end of the trench. These again produced a nice array of finds dating mainly to the Roman period including glass, pottery and a coin, although we are fairly confident they are still 11th or 12th century in date.
Within this trench, excavation focussed on excavating a slot through the backfill of trench 2 which we excavated in 2001. The top of the substantial 13th century drain revealed in 2001 was re-exposed at c. 0.40m below the present ground surface. Quantities of brick, tile and pottery were recovered as well as one half of a pigs jaw with an intact set of teeth including the tusk and incisors.
Excavating deposits within the air-raid shelter demolition cut.
With fewer trainees this week, work focussed on cleaning the last of the landscaping deposits, discussed last week, off the gravel path within the Yorkshire Philosophical Societies garden of antiquities.
The path looking north-east.
In the process of doing so the true appearance of the path, during its last phase of use, perhaps in the 1930’s, was revealed. A narrow gully was exposed on the western side of the path, cutting through the latest of its surfaces, Could this have been dug to drain rain water off the path and into the deep landscaped area within the multangular tower?
A fragment of a double-sided bone or horn comb, perhaps of medieval date was recovered from the landscaping deposits on top of the path.
Setting up a planning frame in trench 5
Week 9, 1- 7 September
Here we are again, at the end of another busy, exciting and productive week. Trainees from all over the UK were given a thorough grounding in the techniques of archaeological excavation, within a deep urban environment, learning the skills of the archaeologist. Trainee numbers bounced back this week, with renewed vigour, which was very encouraging. Enthusiasm for the subject was, as always, running extremely high. Visitor numbers continued the trend of last week, with the end of the summer holidays for schools, only c. 1100 visiting this week, a far cry from the 2200 visitors in week 7. Still, we have had 15205 visitors so far this season, well up on the same time period last year.
Excavation of rampart deposits in Trench 1.
Excavation within this trench continued to focus on carefully peeling apart the individual layers that make-up the Roman rampart on the south-east side of the interval tower SW6. This has been much harder than expected, as the ground, due to its sandy nature, has been prized by burrowing animals in the past. Few finds were recovered from these deposits as they consist of small patches and layers of mostly redeposited sandy natural from the surrounding area.
Flint flake recovered from the rampart deposits in Trench 1. Approximate size 15mm long.
Carrying on from last week, dumps of material that were laid down to the north-east of the Roman rampart in the 11th or 12th century, continued to be excavated. These deposits are also proving tricky to peel apart.
Looking south-west up the rampart.
The dumps appear to have been thrown down the slope of the rampart from south-west to north-east in a rapid succession. As a deposit settles, material appears to scatter down the slope of the rampart, the edges of the deposit become blurred with the rapid build-up of further dumps that occurr above it. This creates difficulties in defining the full extent of a context, and also the definition of fresh ones. The dumps are fairly similar in colour, composition and character and therefore, as you can imagine, it is difficult to define one dumping episode from another.
Digging deep at the north-east end of Trench 3!
The top of an L-shaped cut was also exposed this week, truncating the sloping rampart deposits. Could this be an attempt to shore up the rampart with a wooden structure? An addition of a building to the rampart in Roman or Viking times? Or a slot to define a property, or boundary that ran up the slope of the rampart?
Bone object, possibly a measuring spoon, bowl diameter c.18mm across.
Further excavation may produce an answer as we investigate this strange feature further. All suggestions however can be posted via the web discussion rather than by postcard! Artefacts recovered from this trench this week included a possible bone measuring spoon of probable medieval date along with a selection of other finds dating from the Roman and medieval periods.
Glass melon bead, 16mm across.
New trainees were hard at it removing more backfill material to reveal the medieval drain within the previously excavated trench 2 (2001) this week. Two-thirds of this has now been exposed, with many finds being recovered from the backfills. In 2001 some of the modern deposits, such as the backfill of the 1940’s air-raid shelter, were removed by machine rather than being carefully hand excavated and sieved.
Putting trainees through their paces in Trench 4!
It is likely that the finds originate from deposits which were machine cleared or rapidly excavated with mattocks and shovels. It is impossible on any archaeological excavation to get 100% finds recovery, so this exercise is a good case in point. The percentage of recovery of artefacts from a deposit very much depends on the method of excavation used.
An inticate sequence of interleaved paths, dating to the late 19th and early 20th century have been investigated this week. For many visiting members of the public, these deposits are what brings archaeology to life, as they can imagine men and women in Victorian garb parading along this path within the Garden of Antiquities.
Trench 5 looking north
Further deposits within the air-raid shelter demolition cut have also been tackled this week, another feature on the site that stirs peoples memories and brings history to life for members of the public. Several copper alloy objects, perhaps part of a Roman vanity set, were recovered from this trench this week, along with a selection of other finds from Roman to modern times.
The gravel path under excavation in Trench 5.
Week 10, 8 – 14 September
“I dig it”, “The best £1 I have spent ever” and “Keep up the good work”; these are some of the many enthusiastic and encouraging comments that members of the public have left us in our visitor book this season. Some 16,500 people have seen the training excavation so far this year.
We have been busy this week training a healthy number of module and taster trainees, most of whom originate from the UK but with a trainee from the USA. To hear about the challenges faced this week read on.
A fantastic discovery made this week was the remains of a turf rampart, sealed by the material that was banked up against the back of the later Roman fortress wall. Could this earlier defensive feature date to 71AD when the IXth Roman Legion first arrived in York? Amazingly, it was still possible to see the individual turf blocks used in this early rampart’s construction, and although no finds were recovered this week, we are hopeful that further excavation may produce dateable finds from these deposits. Watch this space.
Excavating the earlier Roman rampart in Trench 1
Within this trench, the removal of the homogeneous dumps on the north-east side of the trench last week revealed a clay deposit which became much thicker to the north-east, thereby forming a level surface against the back of the Roman rampart. A single post-hole was associated with this levelled area.
Excavating the clay feature in Trench 3
Could this be a flat platform for a building situated close to the rampart, or a yard or work area? In either case, this is the first evidence for human activity on the site between the Roman and medieval periods. It may represent the use of this part of the former Roman fortress as a hospital before the Norman Conquest – a Viking hospital!
Placement Dave Harwood drawing inside the medieval foundation pit in Trench 3
This really would fill in one of the blank spaces in York’s history; only further investigation will tell. The clay sealed the backfill of the L-shaped cut revealed last week, so the clay has been the focus of our work this week, as it was more recent in date. As most readers probably know archaeologists dig backwards in time, from modern times to the prehistoric, defining and digging each individual context and interpreting each event or activity as they are revealed by the excavation process.
The clay levelled area contained a fragment of pottery that may date it to the 11th century. A possible hone stone and fragments of glazed roof tile were also recovered this week.
Excavation continued within the backfill of the former Trench 2 (2001), virtually all of which has now been removed, exposing the medieval stone drain and previously unexcavated archaeological deposits to either side. Although we will not be able to investigate these deposits this season, we are already looking forward to tackling them next year. A hole, or sluice in the top of the medieval drain, was rediscovered this week. This may have been used to get rid of liquid waste from the kitchens, which were situated in the medieval hospital undercroft. A wide selection of finds dating from Roman times to the modern period were recovered from the backfill of Trench 2 this week including pottery, animal bone and ceramic building materials (brick and tile).
Investigating 19th century garden features; note the stones forming the path edgings
Interior view of the medieval drain, showing the vaulted stretch that supported the north-east wall of the infirmary
This week, work has been targeted on the Victorian path that sweeps across the trench from south to north. This would have been a route-way through the Garden of Antiquities maintained by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Planning one of the 19th century paths in Trench 5
The removal of a sequence of gravel paths last week revealed landscaping deposits and the construction point of the limestone edging stones, cut into an earlier path sequence. Once planned, photographed and recorded, the large blocks which lined the path were removed to reveal the full extent of an earlier path surface and landscaping deposits that pre-date the paths construction. Stay tuned to see what else is revealed below the path in weeks 11 and 12.
Week 11, 15 – 21 September
How time has flown this year. It seems like only yesterday that we were exposing the medieval column base in Trench 3, and Trench 5 was but a twinkle in Toby’s eye. Since then we have excavated huge amounts of archaeological deposits, and the spoil heaps from these two trenches in particular are truly enormous. Joining the British trainees on the excavation and our second surveying course of the season were people from the USA and France.
The survey course, led by Toby Kendall, got off to a cracking start this year with trainees undertaking a contour survey of the Victorian landscaping in the Multangular tower, and learning the skills behind archaeological surveying. At Acomb Grange (see Week 2), they learned the technicalities of geo-physical survey with Prof. Mark Noel of GeoQuest Associates, and found evidence that may tell us more about the medieval grange. Further survey work on-site resulted in the tying in of all of the trenches and the existing grid. A set of permanent markers were then installed, so that next year, the laying out of the grid and the trenches should be easier.
Mark Noel putting trainees through their geophysics paces
Finally, they were trained by Jane McComish in the principles of building recording, identifying building styles and dating them and the recording of architectural fragments. After which, on a tour of York, they were tested on their new found skills to date standing buildings within the city.
The final excavation act in this trench was to peel apart the early Roman turf rampart. No evidence for a cut through these deposits for the construction of the later Roman interval tower wall was found, giving the impression that these deposits had been laid up against the wall; but this would put them much later in the sequence. Instead, it is assumed that the concrete and rubble wall completely filled its construction cut and was therefore built up against the early rampart, leaving no sign of a cut.
The early Roman rampart under excavation in Trench 1, to the rear of the interval tower wall
Except for a couple of tiny fragments of animal bone, no finds were recovered from this feature until a superb fragment of twisted glass vessel stem was found in the lowest of these deposits. Could this be a fragment of an elaborate glass vessel or vase, brought here when the IXth Legion came to York? Hopefully its shape and style should mean that we can date it with some accuracy.
Roman glass vessel stem from the rampart in Trench 1, 42mm long
After removing the 11th century clay feature last week, investigation has concentrated on further dumps of material below this which have been laid down to the north-east of the Roman rampart. Are these deposits of Viking or even Anglian date?
Trench 3, looking south-west: excavating probable post-Roman deposits at the base of the Roman rampart (bottom) and the enigmatic L-shaped feature (top)
The removal of the clay feature has also completely exposed the fill of the L-shaped slot first revealed in Week 9, and the latter is now under excavation.
A rare fragment of marbled yellow Samian pottery of probable 1st or 2nd century date was recovered from deposits excavated this week as well as a Roman coin and a stone bead, which was recovered during environmental processing.
Trench 3, looking north-east: a closer view of the L-shaped slot under excavation
Planning the rear of the Roman rampart
When viewed from its north-eastern side, the rampart now looks extremely impressive and it is hoped to get some great photographs of this at the end of next week.
An unusual fragment of yellow samian from Trench 3, maximum dimension about 40mm
A Roman stone bead
As our efforts concentrated on the rampart deposits within Trench 1 this week, little has changed within Trench 4. However, the medieval drain has still been attracting the curiosity of many of the visitors to the site as it is one of the most visible and dramatic looking structures within any of the archaeological trenches at the moment. Attention should return to this trench next week.
The medieval drain, labelled for the benefit of visitors
After the removal of the edging stones last week, an earlier path within the Yorkshire Philosophical Society’s Garden of Antiquities has been revealed. This appears to follow the same alignment as the later path, sweeping across the trench from south to north.
The earlier path is composed of compacted layers of sand and gravel, with no evidence for a stone edging. Several deposits to the west of the path, associated with the early 19th century landscaping of the site, have also been tackled this week. One dark layer had been tantalisingly visible in the side of the air-raid shelter cut for some time, and is interpreted as a garden soil that was buried by later landscaping.
Excavating the 19th century garden deposits in Trench 5
A very shallow linear feature, cut into the garden soil, was difficult to interpret. Could it indicate the position of a garden bed, or further antiquarian investigations into the site? Or, is it simply just where the passage of feet has worn a shallow hollow into the underlying deposit, as visitors to the garden took a short-cut off the gravel path down into the landscaped area within the Multangular tower? Further work at the north-west end of the air-raid shelter demolition cut revealed a fragment of the southern wall of the Multangular Tower where it projects back into the fortress. This is a very encouraging discovery, and it is hoped we will uncover more of this wall next season.
A bone counter from Trench 3
Week 12, 22 – 28 September
The final week of a very successful season! A check of the visitor numbers showed that only a fraction short of 20,000 people visited the site this year – not including the repeated visits by squirrels, intent on hiding their nuts in our trenches. Far from being what we thought could be a quiet week on the excavation, perhaps an opportunity to tie up loose ends, we had another busy training and digging week – not to mention running our second artefact study course of the season.
Sandra Garside-Neville teaching the finer points of brick and tile analysis
The artefacts students concentrated on the finds recovered from a group of dumps in Trench 3, thought to have been associated with the construction of the Anglo-Norman stone infirmary (see Weeks 8-9). After processing their finds and environmental samples, they carefully studied the whole range of material – from bricks to animal bone. Their findings indicate that these dumps were derived not only from the demolished upper part of the Roman rampart, but also from contemporary domestic waste. This suggests that there was occupation nearby, and that the medieval builders had made use of any material to hand in order to form the flat surface for the construction of the infirmary. Snail evidence indicated that the dumps were occasionally left exposed for some time and dried out before the next layer was added, which suggests that the formation of these dumps was a prolonged process. The information obtained from this course demonstrates how the thorough investigation of the full range of finds and other data available from urban sites such as St Leonard’s Hospital can greatly improve our understanding of the history of the site and its relationship to the wider social and economic history of York.
Digging and section drawing of the post-Roman deposits to the rear of the Roman rampart
Back to the trenches! All that was left to do in Trench 1 was to draw and describe the deposits and features as they were left when excavations in this trench ceased at the end of last week. In Trench 3 on the other hand, excavation was continuing apace, and there were some excellent developments here. To begin with, we were surprised when further excavation of the deposits at the base of the Roman rampart suddenly reached natural clay (the glacial material on which the city of York rests).
The orange natural clay being exposed in Trench 3
These deposits, underlying the 11th century clay feature excavated last week, were not very thick, indicating that there was little activity in the area between the end of the Roman period and the 11th century. Another result of reaching natural clay at the north-east end of the trench means that we now have some idea of the amount of archaeological deposits that remain to be excavated down to natural in the rest of the trench next year.
Excavating the strange L-shaped feature
We were able to complete the excavation of the strange L-shaped cut in the top of the rampart. This feature had at least one post hole within it, suggesting that it originally supported a timber structure set into the rampart; our best guess to date is that this was a timber staircase that provided access to the fortress wall from the interior of the fortress. Even more intriguingly, some pottery from this feature could date to the Anglo-Saxon period, in which case this would be our best evidence so far for the maintenance of the fortress defences into the Anglo-Saxon period. Analysis of the pottery from this feature by a pottery researcher is eagerly awaited.
Trench 4 under excavation, with the standing medieval infirmary in the background and trench supervisor Maria Vinnels in the foreground
Excavation in Trench 4 turned to the trench excavated by Time Team in 1999. This trench unearthed the entrance to the World War 2 air-raid shelter. However, a determined attempt to locate this feature was not successful, which suggests it lies deeper than expected. The examination of this part of the air-raid shelter will have to wait until next year.
Excavating the air-raid shelter fills
In Trench 5 excavation of a slot to examine the lower air-raid shelter fills concluded. To the north-east, a gravel path and landscaping deposits were encountered. They were presumably associated with the creation of the Garden of Antiquities around the middle of the 19th century. However, it is still not clear how extensive the Victorian excavations were in this part of the site; consequently, the extent of survival of the post-medieval and earlier deposits remains to be seen.
Thanks very much to all of the people who took part in the excavation this year, which was certainly very successful in terms of archaeological research.”
Archaeology Live’s ‘difficult third album’ turned out to be an absolute breeze, with a remarkable sequence of multi-phasic archaeology. The 2004 season would also be eventful, but that’s another story…
Watch this space for more trips down memory lane!