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May Weekend Excavation

‘How do you know where to dig?’

It’s one of the most commonly asked questions that is posed to many an archaeologist and it is fundamental to what we do.  A common misconception is that archaeology is all about finding artefacts; objects that can be used to illuminate the misty recesses of the past. Those with only a casual interest in the discipline can certainly be forgiven for assuming that each hole dug on an excavation was sited to locate and recover an object. While this isn’t wholly untrue, it doesn’t take into account the huge importance of context. A find without a known provenance is merely the sum of its parts. A piece of medieval pottery picked up from the floor can tell us about its manufacture but no more. A piece of medieval pottery recovered from the backfill of a refuse pit gives us a crucial piece to the overall puzzle – a pit containing medieval pottery cannot have been backfilled prior to the medieval period. This unassuming sherd of pot has given us a terminus post quem; a ‘time after which’ an event has occurred.

Archaeology in the May sunshine.

Archaeology in the May sunshine.

With this in mind, it is crucial to recover finds from a known context within a clear stratigraphic sequence. In plain English, this means that we have to know what feature an object came from and where this feature fits in to the timeline of the site – all of which brings us back to the original question. How do we know where to dig?

Every hole you see on an excavation will have been dug by an archaeologist, but they will certainly not have been the first people to do so. In essence, we re-excavate holes that have already been dug in the past. These features come in all shapes and sizes and can be infilled with an almost infinite variety of materials. The real skill lies in identifying the edges of these features and following in the footsteps of the people who created them.

Archaeology Live! weekend training excavations offer a concise introduction to the theories and techniques of excavation and recording, they’re also a lot of fun! Looking for edges is just one of many skills that we teach on our training excavations.

For our second weekend dig of 2015, Arran and Gary were joined on-site by an enthusiastic group of trainees looking to add new discoveries to what is becoming a fascinating story at All Saints, North Street.

While it is impossible to learn every aspect of field archaeology in just two days, we structure our weekend courses to allow people the opportunity to try their hand at as many activities as possible. As the weather was looking good and sunny, we kicked off the weekend by handing out trowels and quickly picked up where the April dig had left off.

Mother and daughter team Sharon and Helen set to work on a feature located close to the site’s north-western boundary. An exploratory 1.5m slot was strung out and started back in April to give us a window into the earlier archaeology beneath the 18th and 19th century horizons. Below a later post-hole and dump deposit, the backfill of what is believed to be a 19th century burial was discovered, recorded and partially excavated. Now Sharon and Helen were tasked with continuing work on this feature.

Sharon and Michelle get started.

Sharon and Helen get started.

Discerning and following the edges of cut features on urban excavations is particularly challenging. A hypothetical ditch on a rural site may be cut through yellow natural clays and backfilled with dark brown silt. In this instance, locating and excavating along the edge of such a feature is a relatively straightforward process. In the heart of York, there is such a depth of stratified deposition that the majority of features are cut through earlier archaeology as opposed to virgin natural.

A 19th century grave cut through mixed post-medieval dumping will usually be backfilled with the very same material. As a result, spotting the edge of the cut and knowing where to dig can be quite the challenge. Sometimes it can be a matter of identifying a change in compaction or colour that gives the feature away, other times it can be a matter of archaeological intuition built up through years of experience. Some people just have the knack, and Sharon and Helen proved to be very adept at following the extents of their feature.

Sharon proudly displaying her first find.

Sharon proudly displaying her first find.

It didn’t take long for some nice finds to start showing up. Sharon was delighted to discover the handle and part of the rim of a medieval Humber Ware jug and that was just the beginning! Before long, Helen and Sharon had discovered pottery from almost every period of York’s history, with sherds of Roman Samian ware and post-medieval Cistercian ware being the highlights. All told, their finds tray had a date range of almost 2000 years!

Sharon and Helen's ceramic timeline.

Sharon and Helen’s ceramic timeline.

Joining us from the Canaries, Sydney took over the excavation of a grave in the site’s trickiest area ‘Contrary Corner’. At the end of the April excavation, delicate fragments of a coffin complete with decorative metal fittings were just beginning to appear. This meant that Sydney had to work very carefully, gently easing the grave backfill away from the remnants of the coffin.

Sydney working on a 19th century grave.

Sydney working on a 19th century grave.

Over the course of the weekend, Sydney’s gentle troweling revealed much of the outline of the coffin. As work progressed, it became apparent that the burial is that of a juvenile. This evocative discovery serves as a useful reminder that the features we are excavating tell of real human tragedies and should be treated with care and respect.

While sieving the backfill of her burial, Sydney made an unexpected find – a Roman coin! Re-deposited in a later context, the coin adds to a growing body of Roman artefacts that have been recovered from the site, many of which being of some status.

Sydney and her coin.

Sydney and her coin.

Just metres away from Sydney’s burial, Michelle also spent her weekend working on a grave that was already part-excavated. One of the deeper burials on-site, this grave also appears to contain a coffin. With much of the wood now entirely decomposed, Michelle had to gently follow a dark grey stain with corroded iron fragments appearing at regular intervals.

Michelle trowel cleaning her coffin stain.

Michelle trowel cleaning her coffin stain.

Michelle’s patient work revealed the coffin to be an unusual shape, somewhat shorter and wider than may be expected. While the base of the coffin was yet to be reached by the end of the weekend, some interesting finds were recovered. The most intriguing of these was a small fragment of bone with some incised striations. It is possible that this represents a bone-worker’s practice piece.

Michelle's worked bone object.

Michelle’s worked bone object.

Close to the north door of the church, Chelsea and Tara cleaned up a small area and discovered an as-yet unknown burial. The whole team recorded the grave backfill as a group, allowing Chelsea and Tara to quickly get started on the excavation of the feature.

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Chelsea and Tara having a closer look at their finds.

With considerable truncation from later contexts and a somewhat hazy edge, it took some persistence to discern the full outline of the burial but the girls did a marvellous job. Chelsea was rewarded by an interesting, if somewhat enigmatic find.

Chelsea's mystery object.

Chelsea’s mystery object.

Made of copper alloy, the object prompted some discussion although no conclusion was reached. This is one for the specialists!

A closer look.

A closer look.

As happens very often, the end of the weekend brought an unexpected discovery. Sharon and Helen noticed a change of compaction within their burial. This change formed a neat rectangle, although we weren’t dealing with a coffin stain this time.

Helen exposing a grave void.

Helen exposing a grave void.

What we were looking at was a looser area of soil that relates to changes in the underlying levels. The grave had been backfilled in the 19th century and the soil was compacted down. At some subsequent point, the coffin appears to have collapsed, causing the backfill directly above it to subside while the fill to either side remained unchanged. Spotting this change is useful as it gives us an idea of the size and location of the coffin that still lies deeper within the grave.

On that exciting discovery, the weekend came to an end and the team began to pack away their tools and put the site to bed until we return in late June. In the summer session, we will be locating and investigating the last of our 19th century burials before pressing on down into the post-medieval and earlier horizons. Thanks to the excellent work of our May weekend team, we now know that bit more about this fascinating site.

There’s still time to sign up for the summer excavation, we’re expecting an amazing season! Please send any enquiries to trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

So, thanks again to our weekend trainees and placements. It was a lot of fun and we had some wonderful finds. Come the summer, we have a huge number of fascinating features and deposits to investigate and we’ll detail all of our discoveries right here.

Onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

Archaeology Live! 2015 Spring Excavation

The River Ouse flows through the very heart of the ancient city of York, carving the city into two distinct halves. Over the millennia, fords, ferries and bridges have come and gone, connecting the divided city and allowing goods and people to move freely across the water. However, there has always been more to this division than simple geography.

The River Ouse

The River Ouse

It was the Romans who first established York as a major permanent settlement in AD71, taking advantage of the excellent communications offered by the confluence of the Rivers Ouse and Foss and the spur of high ground that today plays home to the Minster. The Romans were clearly aware that this was a focal point of the native British landscape and chose the high ground just north of the Ouse to house their fortress. The colonia, the civilian sector of the frontier city sprang up along the southern bank of the river and a pattern of division that can still be seen today was set in motion.

Roman York

Roman York

The fortress was the centre of Eboracum (Roman York) and when the legions left around 410 AD, the same space would go on to be occupied by a succession of great cathedrals – the church too were clearly aware of the site’s dominant position in the landscape. As York grew throughout the middle ages, the Minster remained as the beating heart of the city and when York’s fortunes began to decline in the post-medieval and early modern eras, it was the medieval buildings of the north side of the city, now considered quaint and picturesque,  that would become a new kind of tourist attraction with the arrival of the railways. The southern half of the city was frequented less by the city’s many visitors then as it is today, and as a result, far less of the area’s ancient fabric has survived.

This is not to say, however, that this side of the city is of any less historic consequence than it’s counterpart, quite the opposite in fact. For archaeologists, a key difference lies in the disproportionate amount of attention the colonia has received.  York’s great excavations at Coppergate, the Minster and Hungate were all located in or around the fortress while the south bank remains largely shrouded in mystery – and archaeologists love a mystery! As the area is largely occupied by handsome dwellings of 18th and 19th century date, it is a rare privilege to open a sizeable trench in the heart of the colonia and this is what makes our site so special.

All Saints in spring

All Saints in spring

The 2014 season began with a great deal of uncertainty. We were opening up a new trench at a new site and digging on the southern side of the city for the first time.

Thankfully, any doubts about the site’s potential were quickly swept away by a series of fascinating discoveries. By October, we had begun to reveal a rich story covering two centuries of change, drama and devotion. We were privy to personal tragedies through the site’s numerous infant burials and subjected to the grimy realities of early 19th century industry, as attested by the substantial by-products of nearby tanneries. We ended 2014 with much of the site having been taken back to the late 1700s, yet we were by no means at the end of the site’s early modern story. As always, every answer brought with it more questions and all at Archaeology Live! have been counting down the days for the 2015 season to begin.

Week One

On April 6th, the wait was finally over as the soothing music of trowel, shovel and brush returned to the trench. The Archaeology Live! team of Toby, Arran and Gary met the new team and were pleased to see a mix of new and familiar faces. For the 2015 season, Toby will be looking after finds processing while Gary and Arran will take charge of the two halves of the trench – the ingeniously named This End (Gary) and That End (Arran).

The site was in remarkable condition considering it had been largely open to the elements all winter, but the first task in hand was to give it a good clean. This meant troweling, a lot of troweling!

Cleaning up the trench on day one.

Cleaning up the trench on day one.

Basking in glorious spring sunshine, the team quickly tidied up the trench and began to familiarise themselves with the material that they would be working on.

Amy's first find of the season.

Amy’s first find of the season.

In ‘This End’ Gary’s team picked up where they had left off in October and began to peel away the first of a number of trample deposits. It didn’t take long for the finds start flowing! Amy uncovered a large fragment of a medieval jug and Alex came across the rim of a 10th to 11th century Stamford Ware pot.

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Alex and her Viking era pot sherd.

Over in ‘That End’, Arran’s team were also coming across some nice finds. Chris’ piece of decorated Roman Samian ware being the pick of the bunch!

Chris got off to a good start!

Chris got off to a good start!

Samian is an amazing pottery type, appearing far more modern than it is! It’s hard to believe this pot was made almost two thousand years ago!

Chris' sherd of samian.

Chris’ sherd of samian.

With the site now looking fantastic, we were able to take on the next challenge. At Archaeology Live!, we excavate and record using the single context methodology. In short, this means breaking down the site in to individual events. For example, if you notice a post hole cut into the backfill of a pit, you would have at least four contexts to excavate and record – the post hole backfill, the post hole cut, the pit backfill and the pit cut.

The next task is to work out the sequence of events. In the above example, we would know that the post hole is the later feature as it is cut through the material used to fill in the pit, however, with urban archaeology, things are rarely this simple.

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Joe and Ernie looking for features at the south-west end of the trench.

When you walk on to a site in a city like York and look at the ground, you will see a mass of colours and shapes within the soil. Learning to spot and define changes and features within complex archaeological sequences is one of the key skills that we teach each year. Happily, the week one team proved to be a keen eyed bunch and by day two, work was underway on a number of newly identified features and deposits.

As often happens, the tallest people on site ended up working on the tiniest feature. While cleaning up what was thought to be a trample layer, Chris and Martin noticed a circular feature with a distinctive dark infill. This turned out to be a post hole, presumably part of one of a workshop structure that occupied the site prior to the church hall’s construction in 1860. When this post was removed in antiquity, the hole was backfilled with clinker (an industrial residue)  and compacted down. Perhaps this removal of a trip hazard is evidence of 19th century health and safety…

A post hole backfilled with industrial residue.

A post hole backfilled with industrial residue.

By cleaning up their area and identifying this feature, Chris and Martin proved that the trample layer pre-dates their post hole, making the post hole the next feature to investigate. By identifying each archaeological event and working out the order in which they occurred, single context archaeology allows us to go back in time with each feature we excavate.

Chris and Martin recording their post hole.

Chris and Martin recording their post hole.

Several more post holes were recorded and excavated in Gary’s area. Sitting a little later in the sequence, these were interpreted as holes for scaffolding dating to the erection of the church hall.

With their post holes fully squared away, the ‘This End’ team could turn their attention to a sizeable stony deposit that covers much of the southern end of the trench.

Gary's levelling masterclass was clearly well received!

Gary’s levelling masterclass was clearly well received!

As this deposit is cut by numerous burials, it clearly pre-dates the site’s use as a graveyard between the 1820s and 1850s. As the team exposed more of the deposit, it became apparent that it laps up against the latest incarnation of our Rectory building which is thought to date to the late 1700s or early 1800s – this gives us quite a tight date range for the deposit. The mortar, stone, brick and tile inclusions within the deposit may suggest that it was laid down while the Rectory was being re-built.

Work begins on the construction spread at This End.

Work begins on the construction spread at This End.

As this deposit covers a large area, it proved quite the challenge to clean, photograph and draw, but the team did a marvellous job and work continued on the deposit for much of the spring session.

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Ernie and Alex begin excavating their construction spread.

Over in Arran’s area, the ‘That End’ team were also being kept busy by some challenging archaeology!

Team That End

Team That End

‘Contrary Corner’ is the unofficial name of the northernmost end of the trench. Over the 2014 season, this area constantly proved to be the trickiest part of the site to work, with clear edges and relationships in short supply. Elanor and Savannah began the week by cleaning up the area and steeling themselves for some difficult archaeology – although as it turned out, ‘Contrary Corner’ had different plans for them.

Joining us for the whole of the spring session, Elanor and Savannah had a really productive fortnight, answering many of our questions about the area.

Elanor and her bone button/spacer.

Elanor and her bone button.

Their first clean-up of the area revealed no cut features such as pits, graves or post holes. Instead, a dump of compacted material was found to be the latest identifiable event. After being cleaned and recorded, the pair began to remove the deposit, revealing it to be a levelling dump of 19th century date containing some nice finds. Elanor came across a delicate bone button and Savannah found an unusual piece of Roman pottery.

Savannah's perforated pot base.

Savannah’s perforated pot base.

The base of a colour coat vessel, the sherd had a hole punched through the base during manufacture. Pending confirmation by a specialist, our current theory is that the vessel may have been used to drain liquid from food, perhaps olives. How this Roman object ended up in a 19th century dump will never be known, but it remains a wonderful find.

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Lorna, Wen and Yinghong’s feature under excavation.

Nearby, Lorna, Wen and Yinghong picked up work on what was believed to be a 19th century pit that had been cut to dispose of cattle skull and horn core waste from a nearby tannery. As the trio began to better define the feature, it became apparent that something else was afoot. The edges proved to be very straight and near vertical, we were clearly looking at another 19th century grave. The high occurrence of cattle horn core is a result of the grave being dug through an earlier tanning waste pit. As the cut was backfilled with the same material that it was cut through, thousands of fragments of skull and horn core were re-deposited in the feature when the coffin was buried.

Lorna's shard of post-medieval window glass.

Lorna’s shard of post-medieval window glass.

As well as being cut through an early modern tanning waste pit, the grave clearly disturbs other archaeology. Numerous earlier artefacts were recovered from its backfill, including a piece of post-medieval window glass and a sherd of burnt Samian ware.

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A nice surprise from sieving! Yinghong and her sherd of burnt Samian.

With the records on their post hole squared away, Chris and Martin turned their attention to the trample layer that it was cut through. Working next to a tall, upstanding section of church hall wall, it would be unwise to undermine the structure as it cannot presently be demolished, so an alternate digging strategy was set in place. The archaeology against the wall will be investigated in 1.5m square trenches that can be backfilled with compacted material when excavation is complete. This allows us to remain safe while looking at the deeper, earlier material.

Chris and Martin begin to excavate their trample layer.

Chris and Martin begin to excavate their trample layer.

Chris and Martin made some great progress on their ‘trench within a trench’, isolating and recording the construction event of the church hall and beginning to remove the dump of material that pre-dates the post hole.

Finds processing underneath the Tree of Finds.

Finds processing underneath the Tree of Finds.

Around the corner in the churchyard, Toby and the finds team were busily trying to keep up with the volume of finds coming off of site. As these are often caked in mud, it’s often when finds are cleaned that some of their more remarkable qualities are noticed. A fascinating example of this was seen in a pair of glazed medieval floor tiles that had been found last year. After being washed, it became apparent that the two tiles had quite different stories to tell.

A tale of two tiles.

A tale of two tiles.

Dating to the height of the church’s medieval pomp, the tiles give us a glimpse of a time when church interiors would have been far more bright and colourful than the often austere spaces that we know today. The yellow glazed example was fired as a triangle as opposed to the standard square. In this case, the tile was always intended to sit where a tiled surface meets a wall and space is insufficient to house a whole tile. The glaze is badly worn, indicating that many a medieval footstep would have passed over this tile while it was set in the church floor. If tiles could speak…

Worn glaze on this floor tile suggests long use.

Worn glaze on this floor tile suggests long use.

The green glazed example was clearly less fortunate. Fired as a whole, a scoured line can be seen running diagonally across the surface of the tile. This represents an attempt to split the tile in two, to use in a similar way as to its yellow glazed counterpart. The split was clearly unsuccessful and as the pristine condition of the vivid green glaze suggests, the tile was never used.

An unfortunate medieval floor tile.

An unfortunate medieval floor tile.

Despite the two very different stories of these tiles, they would both end up being redeposited in a 19th century yard surface. Perhaps all tiles are created equal after all.

Archaeologists at work.

Archaeologists at work.

Back in the trench, work continued apace and more noteworthy finds were appearing. Joe was delighted to find a medieval coin. Whether this is a long or short cross penny remains to be seen once the coin goes through conservation.

Joe and his freshly unearthed coin.

Joe and his freshly unearthed coin.

The coin was found re-deposited in a later context, but adds to a growing collection of residual Roman, Viking and medieval objects. The sheer volume of this material bodes well for the earlier archaeology that we will reach during the 2015 season.

On Thursday, Karen and Phillip joined us for a two day taster course and quickly set to work on a slither of earlier archaeology that had survived between a 19th century robber trench and tanning waste pit.

Karen and Phillip beginning work on a peninsula of early archaeology.

Karen and Phillip beginning work on a peninsula of early archaeology.

As the deposit is cut on either side by 19th century features, it is clearly earlier in date, but quite how early was entirely unknown. Karen and Phillip steadily lowered the deposit and began to accumulate a virtual reference collection of pottery, ranging in date from Roman to the 15th century.

Phillip showing off his latest Roman pot sherd.

Phillip showing off his latest Roman pot sherd.

In deposits such as this, it is the latest sherd that counts. A deposit may contain Viking, medieval and Victorian finds, but it is the Victorian examples that give it a date. After all, you won’t find Victorian pottery in a medieval pit – it hadn’t been invented yet – but you can find earlier finds mixed up in a Victorian pit. As this was their first ever excavation, Karen and Phillip were overjoyed to find such a range of material.

Toby's strat session.

Toby’s strat session.

As Friday rolled around, it was time for Toby’s session on building and understanding stratigraphic matrices. Over the week, the team enjoyed specialist sessions on pottery, small finds and conservation. The stratigraphy session is what brings everything together and by the end of the week, the whole team had learned how to identify, understand, excavate and record archaeological features – and had a lot of fun doing it! As the sun grew low in the sky, the team packed up and headed to a local hostelry to celebrate a great first week on site.

The week one team.

The week one team.

The April Weekend Excavation

With the first week being such a success, we were glad to welcome a brand new team on to site for the first weekend excavation of the year. Introductions and inductions out of the way, the team got started on site and picked up on many features that had been started in week one.

The April weekend dig begins.

The April weekend dig begins.

Jennifer and Danielle joined us from Dublin for the weekend and began to excavate more of the Rectory construction spread. This was challenging at times due to the compacted nature of the deposit and the possibility of finding more of the infant burials that are present in this area. The girls managed to find a perfect balance of delicate yet robust troweling, allowing them to make good progress while not damaging any potentially delicate remains.

Jennifer and Danielle hard at work.

Jennifer and Danielle hard at work.

The father and son team of Gregers and Peter, spent the weekend working on similar deposits close to the north-west wall of the church hall. Peter had some great finds luck, uncovering two interesting objects – the first of which being a sherd of burnt Samian ware complete with a maker’s stamp.

Peter's first 'shiny' of the weekend.

Peter’s first ‘shiny’ of the weekend.

Mass produced mainly in France, Samian vessels were sometimes adorned with the stamp of their maker. As many production sites have been located, it is often possible to find out where and within what date range these vessels were made. Being able to give such provenance to objects of such antiquity is a real pleasure! We’ll look forward to showing this one to our Roman specialist!

A closer look.

A closer look.

While washing finds, Peter noticed a clod of soil in the finds tray and gently broke up the soil to make sure no rogue finds were lurking within it. This is how he came across his second small find!

Peter's second 'shiny'

Peter’s second ‘shiny’

Close inspection of the obect revealed it to be made of copper alloy and possibly silver plated. At first glance, this artefact is highly reminiscent of a Roman ‘crossbow’ brooch and will be another object that we’re excited to hear a specialist opinion on.

A possible Roman brooch.

A possible Roman brooch.

Like all of our early finds, this object was found in a much later context. It remains a wonderful find however, and if Peter’s luck carries on like this, we’ll always look forward to having him back!

In Arran’s area, Archaeology Live! regulars Lyn and Chris joined us for their 8th season of archaeology in York. They were tasked with completing work on the spur of archaeology that Karen and Phillip had begun in week one.

Chris and Lyn working in 'That End'

Chris and Lyn working in ‘That End’

Being one of the first definitively pre-19th century deposits to be investigated, we were keen to see what dating evidence would be recovered. So far, the latest material to come from the context were several sherds of 15th century pottery – were we looking at a medieval deposit? In the end, this question was answered by a tiny sherd of 18th century Black Ware, the context was post-medieval.

This is actually good news as it suggests an unbroken sequence that will continue to tell us the site’s whole story, without any gaps. By the end of the weekend, Chris and Lyn had brought the deposit down to a distinct change, exposing a clay-rich deposit with a greenish tinge. Having excavated countless medieval and Viking cesspits on Hungate, Gary and Arran found this material very familiar. As such, it seems likely that a sequence of domestic refuse and cesspits will underlie the modern and post-medieval sequence. This is exciting news as such features can contain wonderful information about past diet and lifestyle.

Phil and Katie excavating a dump deposit.

Phil and Katie excavating a dump deposit.

Taking over from week one’s Chris and Martin, Phil and Katie picked up work on a dump deposit and quickly made some interesting discoveries. The ceramic assemblage was typically varied, with noteworthy finds including the handle of a 16th/17th century Cistercian ware mug and a variety of Roman wares.

Katie's Cistercian ware mug handle.

Katie’s Cistercian ware mug handle.

While early finds were appearing in abundance, 19th century pottery was still present and a more intriguing discovery was not far away.

Phil's

Phil’s sherds of Roman Calcite Gritted ware and Samian

As Phil peeled away the mixed material of the trample layer, a new feature began to emerge beneath it. Pictured below, a clear rectangular feature was clearly present below the trample, with a notably darker fill than the material it cuts into. Can you spot the edge?

A new feature emerges.

A new feature emerges.

The size and orientation of the feature suggests that we’re looking at another 19th century grave. Phil and Katie did a great job of spotting the change.

The April weekend team.

The April weekend team.

Two days is a short amount of time to squeeze in an introduction to archaeology, but our April weekend did a great job and made some wonderful discoveries.

Week Two

The weather turned cooler in week two, but the site continued to surprise us as we entered the second half of the spring session. The week two team was an even mix of new starters and people carrying over from week one and we wasted no time in getting started!

Week two begins.

Week two begins.

Over the course of the week, many members of ‘Team This End’ spent some time working on the Rectory construction spread. While cleaning around the edge of the deposit, Bri’s keen eyes located another new edge. As it follows the same orientation as the site’s many burials, this is likely to be yet another 19th century grave and will be further investigated in the summer.

Bri cleaning up a large area for recording.

Bri cleaning up a large area for recording.

As the last of the construction spread was cleared, a number of new features began to emerge. Allison had to use some surgical troweling to peal the layer away from an earlier sequence of interweaving burnt deposits that may relate to industrial use pre-dating the burials.

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Allison exposing yellow and orange burnt material beneath the construction spread.

With excavation of the spread completed, Gary’s team were free to look at a number of earlier features. Bri, Amy and Ernie teamed up to dismantle a small brick chamber associated with the Rectory. Interpreted as part of an ancillary building or cesspit, the chamber had been extensively damaged by the insertion of the church hall’s drainage.

Bri cleaning around newly discovered features.

Bri cleaning around newly discovered features.

The chamber was cut into a deposit of black, silty material which in turn overlaid a truncated tile built structure. This may have been some form of sluice for an earlier drainage/cesspit feature.

Records Records Records

Ernie planning the tile feature.

As has been something of a trend at All Saints, the early modern sequence is proving to be more complex than had been anticipated and Amy, Ernie and Bri did a great job of keeping on top of a mountain of recording.

Bri, Amy and Ernie adding levels to their plans.

Bri, Amy and Ernie adding levels to their plans.

At the end of the 2014 season, the main cesspit of the Rectory was beginning to reveal that elements of the building’s medieval predecessor had been incorporated into the early 19th century re-build. Bea, Emma and Allison picked up where we had left off and began to dismantle the cesspit built against the north-east wall. This involved working out the construction sequence and removing the latest parts of the structure.

Bea and Emma cleaning up 'residue' on the base of the cesspit.

Bea and Emma cleaning up ‘residue’ on the base of the cesspit.

The cesspit comprises numerous walls, surfaces and deposits, the latest of which being the use deposit that survives on the structures cobbled base. Thankfully, the intervening years and dry conditions have rendered the deposit totally inert, although it retains a rich brown colour. Archaeology can be so glamorous at times…

Bea, Emma and Allison recording their cobbled surface.

Bea, Emma and Allison recording their cobbled surface.

With the use deposit fully excavated, the team began to record the cobble base itself. This was done in meticulous detail, with each cobble being added to the plan drawing.

Bea and Emma showing off their completed plan.

Bea and Emma showing off their completed plan.

With their drawing complete, Emma and Bea were very happy to begin excavating their cobble surface. This revealed an underlying bedding layer that was also recorded and lifted. Dealing with structures like this is a challenging process, especially when they have been altered numerous times. A fantastic job was done of excavating and understanding the feature and it will continue to be picked apart in the summer session.

Cobble demolition underway!

Cobble demolition underway!

Joining us from Australia, Germany and… Leeds, the cosmopolitan team of Gary, Christina and Joe picked up work on two contexts in Arran’s area. Taking it in turns to rotate between two features, the team took over the excavation of the Lorna, Wen and Yinghong’s grave cut and Chris and Martin’s trample layer.

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Gary begins to reveal the remains of a coffin.

Over the course of the week, the backfill of the grave was carefully excavated. By being meticulous with their troweling, Christina, Gary and Joe were able to avoid damaging any sensitive remains that lay beneath them. By the end of the week, all the delicate excavation began to pay off as the remains of a wooden coffin with copper and iron fittings began to appear. While the wood was almost entirely lost, a dark stain was still present, visible in the above photograph running along the base of the cut on the right hand side.

As work continues on this feature in the summer, we will be able to fully expose the coffin and record it, before delving deeper to locate the individual interred there. Once recorded, the remains will be re-buried and left in-situ.

Work begins on a newly discovered burial.

Work begins on a newly discovered burial.

As the coffin was being exposed in the deeper grave, the last of Chris and Martin’s trample layer was also being excavated. Joe, Christina and Gary were then free to record the underlying grave backfill before beginning to excavate the newly exposed feature.

Both grave backfills yielded some interesting early finds, including a fragment of a post-medieval drinking vessel and a piece of flint. The flint itself wasn’t a tool, although did offer evidence of flint-working, potentially dating back to prehistory.

Joe

Joe and his post-medieval glass shard.

The team made good progress on both features and work will resume on them in the summer.

Christina gently trowelling her grave backfill.

Christina gently trowelling her grave backfill.

In the north-east corner of the trench, Julia and Chris joined us for a taster day and started work on a 19th century deposit containing a particular concentration of residual Norman period ceramics.

Julia and Chris perfecting their troweling

Julia and Chris perfecting their troweling technique.

Later in the week, tasters Paul and Emma took over work on Chris and Julia’s deposit. The layer proved to be quite shallow and revealed an earlier linear feature running beneath it.

Emma and Paul

Emma and Paul

Emma was delighted to find another flake of flint. Prehistoric finds are hard to come by in York, if we find a great quantity of residual prehistoric material, we may be able to suggest that there was prehistoric activity nearby.

Emma's flake of flint.

Emma’s flake of flint.

Savannah and Elanor’s second week in Contrary Corner was as productive as their first. As they cleaned the area beneath the deposit they excavated in week one, a clear rectangular feature was exposed. This feature was clearly another 19th century grave and had interesting stratigraphic consequences as it effectively destroyed one of our theories about the area.

Towards the end of the 2014 season, a cobble built feature had been uncovered by Archaeology Live! regular Iain. At the time, the linear nature of the feature had us convinced that it was a cobble based wall footing, cutting into the area’s numerous tips and dumps. The north-east edge of the feature (on the left of the cobbles in the picture below) was always a little uncertain and it was only thanks to Savannah and Elanor’s hard work that this situation was resolved.

The cobbled 'footing' being exposed in 2014.

The cobbled ‘footing’ being exposed in 2014.

It now seems that our wall footing is not actually a footing at all. The perfect straight edges that had made it seem so structural are now known to be the points at which the cobbles are cut by 19th century graves. The feature would have originally been a cobble yard surface, and only survives now as a linear slither between three later grave cuts.

Savannah and Elanor celebrate their discovery. The grave cut is visible in the lower half of the shot, cutting into the cobbles.

Savannah and Elanor celebrate their discovery. The grave cut is visible in the lower half of the shot, cutting into the cobbles.

With the cobble mystery solved, the grave backfill was recorded and excavation began.

Elanor and Savannah excavating their grave backfill.

Elanor and Savannah excavating their grave backfill.

As happens all too often, the feature started to get really interesting at the very end of the final day, as the fragmentary remains of the coffin began to appear.

Decorative metalwork from Elanor and Savannah's coffin.

Decorative metalwork from Elanor and Savannah’s coffin.

Tiny fragments of timber were still present alongside delicate pieces of decorative metalwork, showing that this would have been quite an ornate coffin. Dealing with burials is always an evocative experience and it was quite the experience to be the first people to see the coffin since it had been buried almost 200 years ago.

Elanor and Savannah celebrating a job well done.

Elanor and Savannah celebrating a job well done.

Elanor and Savannah made some great progress in Contrary Corner during the spring session. Who knows what the area will reveal in the summer!

As the second week of the dig drew to a close, it was time to tidy up and reflect on the amazing progress that had been made. It’s always difficult to join an excavation at a point when it is beginning to segue between two periods, but the spring team’s enthusiasm and hard work really paid off.

The week 2 team.

The week 2 team. We don’t know what Savannah is doing either…

As always, we must sincerely thank our team of trainees for joining us this spring. All of our work, from site set-up to post-excavation is entirely funded by our trainees and none of our discoveries would have been possible without them!

We must also thank our dedicated team of placements for their invaluable assistance!

Gus, Lisa and Becky, three of our four spring placements (Not forgetting Dave!)

Gus, Lisa and Becky, three of our four spring placements (Not forgetting Dave!)

So, now we look to the summer, where we have twelve weeks and hundreds of new and returning trainees primed and ready to delve further into the site’s long and varied past. There is still time to get involved if you wish to add your own discoveries to the story of All Saints, North Street – just give us a shout via trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk

At the beginning of this post, we looked at the relative paucity of excavation south of the River Ouse. Each day of the 2015 season will do a great deal to address this imbalance. We will complete our picture of the site’s early modern story and then continue to dig further into the past. What will we find? Watch this space!

Onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

PS. Site mascot Planty the Plant survived the winter and is now best described as a shrub 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A medieval miscellany… Medieval finds highlights from Archaeology Live! 2014.

Last week, we took a closer look at some of the Roman finds that were uncovered during our 2014 excavation at All Saints, North Street. By the end of the season, we had excavated over two centuries worth of archaeology and uncovered deposits dating to the late 1700s.

A wonderful thing about urban archaeology is the variety of finds that it provides. As our site has been in constant use for two millennia, a wealth of earlier material can be found re-deposited in later contexts. The sheer volume of re-deposited Roman material uncovered so far strongly suggests that intact Roman archaeology is present at All Saints, buried beneath countless layers of later activity.

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The 120ft spire of All Saints adds a touch of drama to the beautiful 14th century All Saints Cottages.

While we can only interpret so much with finds from secondary contexts, we can still get a thrilling sneak preview into the Roman world beneath our feet; with glimpses of legionary tile production, imported luxuries like wine and oils and evidence of high status buildings, jewellery and ceramics uncovered already.

These artefacts are exciting, but they remain only echoes of a landscape that has since been radically and irrevocably changed. With one or two rather stunning exceptions (i.e. the Multiangular Tower in the Museum Gardens), York’s wonderful Roman heritage is now entirely below ground.

When we consider medieval York, we are lucky enough to be brought a little closer to life in the Middle Ages by the wealth of medieval architecture that still stands today. It is easier to visualise and understand a lost world, when you are able to see fragments that have survived the intervening centuries. A 15th century time traveller visiting our site today would see a lot that they would recognise. The magnificent church tower was completed in 1410, and the beautiful cottages pictured above were under construction in 1396. While they would see a world much changed, they would have reference points with which to orientate themselves.

A decorative, twisted medieval jug handle.

A decorative, twisted medieval jug handle.

The remains of York’s medieval cityscape allow us to share experiences with people who lived centuries ago; an experience that is made even richer when we discover the objects that these people owned and used. Archaeology is all about adding flesh to the bones of history. The lives of kings and queens are well documented, but archaeology allows us to learn more about people like ourselves.

The recent Hungate project featured the largest modern open area excavation to have ever happened in central York. The dig uncovered a wealth of wonderfully human moments; occurrences that we can easily relate to today. These came in many forms, with themes continuing over many phases of activity. We found the spoons that Victorian children had used to try and retrieve lost marbles from drains, we also found the marbles! Rewinding 1,000 years, we found leather shoes, beads and ornate metal objects that had been lost down Viking cesspits. It seems there are some things that never change…

At All Saints this year, we have been lucky enough to find an array of medieval objects that add more of these wonderfully personal details to our knowledge of medieval York. These finds aren’t always particularly glamorous, but they do tell a story to anyone who cares to listen.

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Joan and a large fragment of a medieval vessel.

Mysterious creatures…

The medieval world was alive with symbolism and meaning. Medieval parishioners of All Saints would have often seen religious processions making their way along nearby Micklegate, with priests and visiting dignitaries arrayed in rigidly defined hierarchies. The allegorical tales of the mystery plays would have been imbued with far greater meaning to those of a medieval mindset than can be appreciated by you or I in the 21st century.

This was a world where monsters and evil spirits would have seemed very real and the threat of hellfire and damnation weighed heavy on every mind. But these layers of tradition and symbolism were not limited to the glorious stained glass and monumental architecture of the church, they also appeared in everyday life.

Katie's fantastic Hambleton pot sherd.

Katie’s fantastic Hambleton pot sherd.

Joining us for her third season of Archaeology Live!, Yorkshire lass Katie made a particularly wonderful discovery when she spotted something green in the fill of an 18th century refuse pit. The object proved to be a sherd of Hambleton ware, most likely dating to the early 15th century (this date will be tightened up following a specialist assessment of the ceramics). It was immediately apparent that this was an unusual find. Unlike the numerous utilitarian fragments of bowls, jars and jugs that had already been found, this pot sherd was clearly a more decorative object. Initially thought to be part of an elaborate lid, a spot of research has revealed Katie’s find to be a fragment of a lobed cup or bowl.

A medieval lobed cup (right). © Image Copyright University of Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, 2000

A complete medieval lobed cup (right). © Image Copyright University of Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, 2000

These lobed bowls were popular in the 14th and 15th centuries, being used as communal drinking vessels that would be passed around a group of people. As the contents were drank, figures of mythical creatures, biblical characters and animals would emerge from the liquid. This period saw a nationwide shift in material culture; drinking vessels which had mainly been made of wood up until this point were now occurring more frequently in ceramic forms. However, it seems that older, communal dining traditions were being maintained, as these lobed bowls remained popular into the early 16th century. Pictured below is a charming example of a somewhat eroded, but clearly human figure from a similar vessel.

A Medieval pottery fragment, the anthropomorphic figure from a Coarse Border ware lobed cup (14th century AD) Image copyright The British Museum.

A Medieval pottery fragment, the anthropomorphic figure from a Coarse Border ware lobed cup (14th century AD)
Image copyright The British Museum.

Katie’s example has provoked a great deal of debate. Is it a cockerel? Is it a dog? Could it be some form of serpent? Final confirmation will come when the specialist pottery assessment is carried out next year. The figure has clearly lost its ears or horns and does seem to have stylised legs of some sort. If parallels have been found elsewhere, we may be able to say exactly what we’re looking at, but for now, it will remain open for debate. A suggestion that it is an early representation of Dino from The Flintstones has been met with a sensible degree of scepticism…

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm...

Yoshi? Dino? Hmmm…

While Katie’s pot sherd will remain enigmatic for now, it can certainly be agreed that it is a wonderful find. Whether it was used during celebrations or ceremonies (or both!) is an entertaining question to ponder. This find has a certain frivolous charm, allowing us a glimpse into this medieval world of mystery and symbolism. It reminds us that life in the middle ages could have a more jovial side, which gives a warm contrast to All Saints air of piety and devotion.

Family ties

Joining us for his fourth season of Archaeology Live!, Barry didn’t waste any time in adding a new piece to our medieval puzzle. In a deposit associated with the 1860s church hall, he noticed a sherd of medieval pottery.

At first glance, there was nothing immediately remarkable about this find. However, now we are learning to decode the imagery of medieval York, it is possible to find a very personal story behind this artefact.

Barry and his medieval seal.

In the 11th century, carved bone or metal seal stamps came in to common use. These stamps were used to create impressions in wax to authenticate documents with a recognised seal, a tradition that had become firmly established by the 13th century. While medieval potters were somewhat lower down the social scale than those who created beautifully illuminated manuscripts, they were nonetheless influenced by the religious and heraldic symbolism that surrounded them, particularly in their parish churches.

This influence of medieval symbolism on the ceramic tradition is something that we can clearly see in the archaeological record. In York, the 13th century saw an influx of seal jugs; vessels that featured at least one applied cirucular motif. A reflection of imagery seen on documents, high status metal vessels and in church architecture, the seals on these jugs fall into three broad categories; personal seals featuring the owner’s name, seals containing the maker’s name (medieval branding if you will) and those with motifs of animals, floral decorations and anthropomorphic images.

A complete medieval seal jug from the Yorkshire Museum collection.

A complete medieval seal jug from the Yorkshire Museum collection.

The variety of seals that have been found on these jugs suggests something far more complex than simple decoration. As we have discussed, medieval people were far more in tune with the significance of the myriad images and symbols that punctuated their world. These jugs clearly carried social, cultural, religious and political messages, as well as being beautifully crafted objects. Barry’s sherd is a perfect example of this tradition.

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A closer look…

A closer inspection of Barry’s sherd shows that we have the majority of a seal bearing the image of a bird. The stretched legs and raised wing create an image of imminent motion; our bird seems ready to take flight! Around the perimeter of the seal is a worn, but visible legend. At a glance, YAT ceramics specialist Anne Jenner instantly recognised the significance of this seal. Fragments of identical and similar seal jugs have been found at Wellington Row, Micklegate, Coppergate, Low Petergate and as far afield as Gilling East and Wharram Percy. Clearly, Barry’s vessel was one of a batch that would go on to spread across York and North Yorkshire.

Comparison with the more complete examples reveal this to be part of a jug with two bird seals on one side, and two featuring a lion on the opposite side. The lion is a ‘lion passant’ with its head looking back and its tail upright. Around the image of the lion is the text, “S. TOME:FILLI:WALTERI”, while the the bird is surrounded by the legend, “SIGILL.TOME.P-WA”. The survival of these seals means that we can actually link Barry’s pot to a particular individual, a very rare occurrence in archaeology!

A lion passant (left) and a complete bird motif .(right)

A lion passant (left) and a complete bird motif (right). Image copyright York Archaeological Trust.

The images above bear the personal seal of Thomas FitzWalter, a member of one of York’s more prosperous medieval families that are known to have been patrons of the arts. Historic records for the FitzWalters in York are scant, but the imagery of these seal jugs leave us with some tantalising possibilities. The fact that the legends contain a ‘P.’ (Pater, or father) and ‘FILII’ (son) over two separate seals could suggest that these jugs were commissioned to celebrate a marriage and the birth of a son. The widespread nature of the vessels may represent them being given as gifts, or becoming dispersed family heirlooms.

The cross above the head of the bird acts as both a grammatical indication of the legend’s beginning and a symbol of religious devotion, adding yet another layer of meaning to the seal.

Whatever the case, Barry’s find is a wonderful example of how archaeology can bring us closer to the past. Holding the vessels that people would have drunk from is always exciting, but being able to tie them to particular individuals is a rare and wonderful pleasure. Further research may yet reveal more about this fantastic artefact, but for now we can enjoy being very late guests to the FitzWalters’ happy day.

Fingerprints

A recurring theme of the 2014 season was objects featuring fingerprints. While this is not uncommon in ceramic objects from busy, urban sites, it is always highly evocative. Placing your finger in the mark left by the person who made the object you are holding many centuries ago is a vivid experience. It reminds us that archaeology is the study of people, not just sweeping historic events. Here are some of the finer examples from this year’s dig.

Medieval fingerprints.

Medieval fingerprints.

Pots and tiles were often dried before firing, but they would remain very pliable. Finger and thumb prints can be used to apply decoration, but they can also be accidental. The medieval roof tile below features the fingerprints of either a very slight individual, or a small child.

Child fingerprints in a medieval tile.

Child fingerprints in a medieval tile.

These are just several examples of similar finds, although people weren’t the only ones to make their mark…

Fingerprints in a decorative late medieval pot rim.

Fingerprints in a decorative late medieval pot rim.

As roof tiles were dried in the sun before firing, it is not uncommon to find that pesky dogs or cats wandered over the still-wet clay, accidentally immortalising their paw prints. These wonderful finds give medieval York’s animal population the chance to make their mark on the archaeological record.

Fido's signature on a medieval roof tile.

Fido’s signature on a medieval roof tile.

Medieval paw-prints.

Medieval cat paw-prints.

Fun and games

While life could be challenging in medieval York, we have found evidence that people were taking the time to have a little fun. Local lad and regular Archaeology Live! trainee Rob had a bumper year for finds; one of his finest was a tiny bone dice.

Rob having a good finds day.

Rob having a good finds day.

Dice with the traditional arrangement of opposite sides totalling seven have been around from Roman times, made in bone, metal and antler. Rob’s example has a more irregular layout that appeared in the 13th century, most likely dating it to the second half of the medieval period.

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It is a beautiful object which has clearly been worn from use. The games it played, whether it proved lucky in gambling, and how long it remained in use will never be known, but it is a fun thing to ponder. The particular joy of this artefact is its simplicity. There is no palimpsest of meaning here, just an instantly recognisable object that could be used just as easily today as it was centuries ago.

Happily, this wasn’t the only evidence of gaming to be found this year. Early in the season, Geoff was delighted to find a worked bone counter. Initially thought to be a button, closer inspection showed it to have no perforations. Instead, a small hollow had been made on one side of the disc that perfectly fits an index finger. The reverse was worn smooth, making it likely to have been a gaming piece. Its date is uncertain at present, specialist analysis may tell us more.

Geoff and his bone gaming piece.

Geoff and his bone gaming piece.

Music

It’s one thing to recreate the sights of medieval York, but one find from 2014 gives us a clue to how the area may have sounded. This medieval object is made of bone and would have been used to tune stringed musical instruments. Tuning pegs are common finds in medieval York and reveal that music would have been part of life for people of all classes. Quite what instrument this peg would have tuned is uncertain, although one possibility is the rebec, predecessor of the modern violin, which was a popular instrument in the 13th and 14th centuries.

A medieval tuning peg

A medieval tuning peg

Style and wealth

Status was of high importance to the people of medieval York. Those with a little wealth to their name would want to be seen to be fashionable and rich. Several objects discovered this year tell us about the ways medieval people chose to decorate their clothes and possessions.

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A tiny copper alloy buckle or clasp.

The 2014 team uncovered a number of small strap ends, clasps and buckles. These decorative objects could have added a little flair to items items of clothing, saddlery and furniture. By their decorative nature, they reveal a certain degree of wealth. They were clearly owned by individuals who could afford more than simple, functional items.

Ellen's brooch.

Ellen’s brooch.

These objects will be cleaned and analysed in late 2015/early 2016 by the YAT conservation team. Who knows what more we will be able to learn about these intriguing objects.

While it is tempting to clean these finds on site, they are often highly corroded and very fragile. The buckle pictured below may even have surviving fabric, preserved within the corrosion. Treated properly, this may give us direct evidence of the kind of attire people would have favoured in the medieval period. Watch this space for further news on the metal finds!

Anne's medieval buckle.

Anne’s medieval buckle.

All Saints

It is impossible to look at every medieval find from 2014 without writing a rather lengthy tome! With that in mind, we will conclude our look at the medieval assemblage with a look at the finds that tell us more about the church itself.

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While the church is a wonderful example of high-medieval architecture, it is a building that has been in near constant flux for much of its existence. The changing demands and fashions of each century have seen swathes of structural and decorative alterations. Pews, floors, windows and walls have been entirely removed and re-modelled. However, the finds of this year’s excavation provide us with evidence of the church’s previous incarnations.

The Lady Chapel in All Saints has recently been re-floored with hand-made tiles recreated using medieval techniques to create an authentic middle ages appearance. We have been lucky enough to find examples of the original medieval floor that has since been so lovingly and faithfully restored. A wonderful moment this year, was laying a newly discovered medieval tile over the replica floor. It fit the traditional dimensions perfectly!

A medieval tile reunited with the church floor.

A medieval tile reunited with the church floor.

Our tile, while complete, shows evidence of a long life, with the glaze on the upper surface all but worn away. There is no doubt that this object will have witnessed the church in its medieval heyday, a fact which is as frustrating as it is fascinating! If only tiles could speak…

Working on a 19th century burial, Archaeology Live! regular Belle made a wonderful medieval discovery – a fragment of stained glass.

Belle's window glass fragment.

Belle’s window glass fragment.

While this wasn’t the first fragment of medieval window glass to be found this year, it is the most complete and features two complete edges that give us an idea of its original shape. The cut edges even bear the marks of the grozing iron – the tool used by medieval craftsmen to shape the glass.

All Saints is famous for its wonderful stained glass, but not all of the medieval windows have been lucky enough to survive the intervening centuries. Belle’s shard fits tantalisingly well in a current window of the church and once it is cleaned by the conservation department, we will find out whether any of the paint still survives.

The cliche that this provides a window into the medieval world is a guilty (but true!) pleasure…

A little speculation never hurt anyone...

Placing the glass over a window that survives gives an idea of its possible appearance when new.

A final find type to look at reveals even more about the church’s former appearance. This year, our team have found numerous fragments of beautifully made glazed roof tile. Made between the 13th and 16th centuries, these tiles were expensive and would only have graced the roofs of prosperous secular and religious buildings. Their lead and copper glaze gives the tiles a bright green hue that would have looked spectacular in the sun.

Anne showing off her glazed roof tile.

Anne showing off her glazed roof tile.

Some examples have a darker, more purple tinged hue.

Tah dah!

Tah dah! Jen presenting her latest find.

The combined evidence of the glazed floor and roof tiles present an image of a vibrant, colourful building. Much of this colour would fall victim to the tumult of the 16th century reformation, but the finds made by our 2014 team make it possible to see a little more of the church’s high medieval splendour.

Vivid green glaze.

Vivid green glaze.

This brief tour of just some of 2014’s finds highlights serves as a reminder of the power of archaeology to enrich and humanise the past. Adding these pieces to the medieval puzzle removes some of the distance between ourselves and the people who lived through the times we are studying. We are so close and yet so far from truly understanding the world they would have lived in.

The medieval finds from the 2014 season allow us to place our fingerprints in theirs, to decode the meanings of the ways they decorated their possessions and to roll the dice and hold the gaming pieces they would have played with.

2015 will see us reach the layers that were deposited during this age of medieval mystery. Who knows what secrets the parishioners of All Saints will have left in wait for us.

Thanks for reading! If you would like to join us in 2015 and add your own discoveries to our growing collection, email trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk to book a place on the dig or to find out more.

We can’t wait to get back on site, but until then… onwards and downwards!

– Arran

Archaeology Live! 2014 Highlight Reel: The Roman finds

As the nights draw in, the trimmings go up and Ferrero Rocher inexplicably return to supermarket shelves, the festive season is almost upon us once again. Training dig teams across the country are dragging tarps over trenches, filling sheds with freshly cleaned tools and retiring to the warmth of the tea room. Except of course, the Archaeology Live! Team, who are currently busying themselves with various projects and taking bookings for next year’s return to All Saints.

A wintry view of All Saints.

A wintry view of All Saints.

With the North Street excavation on hold until spring, now seems a good time to take stock and look back at what we achieved during the 2014 season. A good archaeologist will be quick to remind you that finds themselves are not necessarily as important as what they can tell you. Objects alone can tell a story, but it is with the art of considering finds in their context that brings us closer to the people that made, owned, used and lost them. As I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts, we are storytellers not treasure hunters, always looking for the human moments hidden in the ground. Although that said, X does occasionally mark the spot and making an exciting discovery is always the highlight of any archaeologist’s day.

We were somewhat spoiled with finds during this year’s excavation and as it’s almost christmas, let’s allow ourselves to put the grand tales aside and look back at some of the finds highlights! (Or ‘shinies’, as they’re known on site…) The season began at the end of march, with a wintery chill lingering in the air. The rubble of the freshly demolished church hall was cleared away and the site was cleaned up before the arrival of our first team of trainees.

'That End' cleaned up but unexcavated. April 2014.

‘That End’ cleaned up but unexcavated. The mixed trample layer covers the whole of the trench. April 2014.

It didn’t take long before surprisingly ancient finds began to appear in relatively modern contexts, disturbed from deeper layers and then re-deposited by 19th century workmen. Let’s start our tour of these finds with the Romans…

Samian ware is a high status Roman tableware that proliferated across Britain in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Made primarily in France and Germany, it is often highly decorated with vivid imagery and is identifiable by its terracotta red colour and beautifully smooth, slipped exterior. In fact, it often defies belief that such well made pottery can be almost 2000 years old! The 2014 season provided us with many sherds of samian ware, one of the finest examples featuring the rear end of a lion, not a creature that immediately springs to mind when you consider 2nd century North Yorkshire…

Decorated samian ware.

Decorated samian ware.

As well as Roman pottery, we were also lucky enough to find a number of Roman coins. This silver denarius features a figure (Mars?) holding a spear and shield. Despite being found in 19th century trample, it is a good indicator that intact Roman archaeology survives in deeper layers.

Anne and Branka's Roman coin.

Anne and Branka’s Roman coin.

Amphorae were large ceramic vessels used to transport goods like oils and wine across the Empire. On North Street this year, we have come across a number of large fragments of these huge storage vessels.

Sarah's amphora sherd.

Sarah’s amphora sherd.

The amount of high status Roman material suggests that the area may well have been quite affluent two millennia ago, with the Romano-British inhabitants enjoying the finer things in life.

A Roman amphora, currently on display in the Yorkshire Museum.

A Roman amphora, currently on display in the Yorkshire Museum.

Earlier, we mentioned objects having the ability to tell a story. This sherd of samian is one such find, which in this case has clearly been burned, turning its terracotta slip a deep grey. As the cross-sections and outer surfaces are equally charred, it is almost certain that this pot was broken before it was burned. You can imagine the heavy heart of the owner, who would have been very aware that this beautifully manufactured bowl had travelled thousands of miles to reach York, as they dropped the tragically broken heirloom into the pile of burning rubbish.

Fanciful perhaps, but a good way to remind ourselves that this pot was owned and used by people just like us. Imagine finding your prized Le Creuset dinner set smashed on the kitchen floor…

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

Another broken pot with a tale to tell was this sherd of black burnished ware. Once part of a flat bottomed bowl type referred to affectionately by archaeologists as ‘dog bowls’, the rim of this pot has been inscribed with an ‘X’.

Graffitied Roman pottery

Graffitied Roman pottery

Whether this was the act of one of Britain’s first christians, wishing to express their faith through personalised possessions, or an absent mindedly doodled numeral, will never be known. While we do know that the pot is definitively Roman, it is impossible to know when the ‘X’ was carved. This is a wonderful find, bringing us painfully close to connecting with an ancient graffiti artist. Quite why they were driven to inscribe this object however, will remain a mystery.

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A complete 3rd century ‘dog bowl’. Image copyright Dorset Pottery Group.

One piece of Roman text that we could read appeared on a fragment of stamped tile. When the Roman army established the settlement of Eboracum (York) in 71AD, the Legio IX Hispana (Ninth Spanish Legion) began, among other things, the manufacture of tiles complete with a legionary stamp. In 119, the Legio IX Hispana were relieved in garrisoning York by the Legio VI Victrix (Sixth Victorious Legion) allowing the Hispana to embark on their famous (mis)adventure to the north. A grand scheme of re-building then occurred across Eboracum as the northern capitol of the Roman Empire grew ever grander.

The wonderful thing about this tile fragment is that we are able to confidently link it to this important part of York’s past. The stamp clearly features the text ‘VIC‘, making it a product of the kilns of the Sixth Legion. What really bridges the many centuries between us and the men of the Legio VI Victrix however, is the thumbprint located just below the stamp. This impression would have been made by the hand of the individual who placed the still wet tile into the kiln (currently thought to have been located close to St. Cuthbert’s church on Peasholme Green) sometime in the early decades of the second century AD. 

It is always surprising how much you can learn from a seemingly innocuous fragment of roof tile!

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Roman roof tile.

Roof tiles weren’t the only Roman ceramic building material that we found this year either! A fragment of  flue tile was discovered by Rosie in August. This tile may have formed part of a hypocaust system, the Roman equivalent of underfloor heating. The sites position in the heart of York’s prosperous civilian settlement, the colonia, makes it likely that high status homes would have existed close-by. This tile may have once have provided welcome warmth to Romano-British feet, finding shelter from York’s somewhat variable weather.

Rosie's Roman tile fragment.

Rosie’s Roman tile fragment.

Our trainees are often surprised by the sheer quality of manufacture that typifies Roman artefacts. Even more utilitarian wares like greyware or black burnished are often decorated with incised markings or exteriors buffed to a smooth shine. Many sherds unearthed this season have been excellent examples of this.

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Decorated Roman ceramics.

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Roman calcite gritted ware.

Perhaps the most delicate example of fine Roman material was found by a trainee named Kaye, who attended the inaugural season of Archaeology Live! in 2001! This object has yet to be seen by a specialist, but has been tentatively dated as Roman. It appears to be a fragment of a beautiful glass ring with an inlaid stone.

Kaye's rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

Kaye’s rather splendid Roman (?) ring.

This would have been an object worn with some pride by a rather well-to-do individual whom could both afford to buy it and lived a gentile enough life to risk wearing a ring made of glass. That said, it clearly did break at some point! Even if this object proves to be medieval, or later, it will remain a thing of delicate beauty. It would have adorned the finger of someone who knew well the past landscape that we have to work so hard to even begin to understand.

Personal, almost frivolous objects such as this give us a wonderful sense of closeness to those who walked the streets of York, or Yorke, or Jorvik, or Eorforwic, or even Eboracum before us. It would be just as prized today as it was then and shows that an appreciation of beauty is an enduringly human trait. The 2015 season will see us continuing to unearth lost Roman treasures like these mentioned above.

To join us and add your own discoveries to our Roman assemblage, contact trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk to reserve your place on the dig.

What did the Romans ever do for us eh? Ahem…

– Arran

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 12.

IMG_5698 Time flies when you’re having fun.

It’s a cliche that’s brazenly obvious at the end of a long project, but nonetheless seems perfectly apt. We’ve had a lot of fun and made some intriguing and often surprising discoveries.  It really is hard to believe that three months have passed since we kicked off the summer season back in June! Back then, the team were fresh and raring to go and Planty the Plant was in the first flush of youth.

A youthful, verdant Planty back in June.

A youthful, verdant Planty back in June.

That said, it’s been a very busy 12 weeks for the Archaeology Live! team. There are a few new grey hairs here and there and Planty now looks a little worse for wear…

Oh, the ravages of time...

Oh, the ravages of time…

Tired archaeologists aside, it’s been an amazing summer and week 12 saw the team add a few new pieces to the puzzle, before making sure that all loose ends were tied up prior to our autumn hiatus.

In ‘That End’, Gary’s team had a very productive week. Rob and Nick began their week by wrapping up the records for ‘contrary corner’.

Nick and Rob made use of a former cupboard in the old boxing club.

Nick and Rob made use of a former cupboard in the old boxing club.

This area proved to be incredibly difficult to pick apart right up to the last few weeks of the summer, when the sequence began to resolve itself.

Records, records, records...

Records, records, records…

We now know that the area was used as part of the All Saints burial ground from 1823, a marked change from its previous life as a working yard at the turn of the 19th century. Pre-dating all of this, a wall footing discovered by Iain and Rose in week 10 suggests that the area was built on in the 18th century. What this building was and when it was built will be research targets for next season, for now it will remain a mystery!

Later in the week, Rob and Nick turned their attention to a pit that was started in week 11. Situated next to our ‘horn pit’, this feature also contained a large amount of cattle skull fragments and horn core. This tells us that the by-products of the tanning industry on nearby Tanner Row were also being disposed of in this pit, which in turn suggests that this was part of an ongoing process as opposed to being an isolated event. Future historic search into the 18th century tanning industry will hopefully add some more detail to this picture of industrial early modern York.

Work in progress on a shallow refuse pit.

Work in progress on a shallow refuse pit.

With work on this feature completed by midweek, the terrible twosome went their seperate ways as a number of new features were investigated. Rob moved to the central area of the trench to assist Jane in completing work on a partially excavated grave backfill. Jane, joining us for her fourth year of archaeology, had high hopes for this feature – it was from this context that Alan found his delightful Viking antler spindle whorl several weeks ago.

Jane picks up work on a 19th century burial.

Jane picks up work on a 19th century burial.

It took Jane a matter of minutes to locate the surprisingly shallow skull of the individual interred in this grave. Fascinatingly, the metallic decorative exterior of the coffin had survived, allowing us to see the size and shape of the coffin, as well as the position of the body within it. In this case, the coffin must have been lowered in a somewhat clumsy manner, as the skeleton had rolled slightly to one side, with the skull pressed against the edge of the coffin.

At the bottom end of the grave, Rob was looking to uncover the legs of the individual. He quickly located one leg, then another and then… another!? This was certainly a strange discovery, which caused a good deal of discussion among the team.

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Rob working on the foot end of a burial.

It is not unusual, particularly in densely occupied medieval burial grounds, for burials to cut through earlier interments. Often, the disturbed bones of the earlier grave will be re-deposited along the exterior of the new coffin – a trend seen on several recent York Archaeological Trust excavations. In this case however, all of the remains Rob had uncovered were in position and correctly articulated. Something odd was going on…

Thankfully, a little more delicate trowelling by Rob cleared up the situation when he revealed yet another leg. Instead of having numerous graves that were cut into each other, it seems our early 19th century burials can play home to more than one individual. In this case, at least one further inhumation lies beneath the skeleton revealed by Jane and Rob.

The fact that the two skeletons are currently laid directly over one and other reveals that the lower coffin must have decayed and given way, causing the coffin above to fall on to the top of the lower burial. One cannott help but wonder if anyone was in the church yard to hear the muffled thud from beneath the ground…

Recording Jane and Rob's grave.

Recording Jane and Rob’s grave.

This is a fascinating discovery that really helps us to build a better picture of the area’s use as a graveyard. The fact that none of our adult burials intercut tells us that the burials must have been clearly marked, perhaps with headstones or earthern mounds. The graveyard was clearly well ordered, with family plots being periodically re-opened to receive numerous burials. It is also increasingly clear that the area was intended to remain in use as a burial ground for some time and records must have been kept of who was buried in which plot, and at what depth.

In the fullness of time, the area only went on to receive burials for around 25 years, as it was de-consecrated in the 1850s to house the new church hall. Despite this, Rob and Jane’s discoveries this week reveal that the churchyard was well ordered and was certainly not intended to be a short-term endeavour.

Lori’s week began with the tricky task of recording a fragment of a post-medieval (or earlier) hearth made of edge-set roof tile.

Lori and Graham recording a tile hearth.

Lori and Graham recording a tile hearth.

Sitting on a slither of undisturbed archaeology between two early 19th century grave cuts, this feature is lucky to have survived! It’s precise date will only be confirmed following its excavation in the autumn, but it is exciting to be seeing glimpses of earlier archaeology beginning to emerge.

Medieval roof tiles are sturdy things and can take a lot of heat! Setting them on edge reduces the risk of cracking and provides a hearth surface that can be used again and again. Visitors to YAT’s Barley Hall can see a complete example of an edge-set tile hearth; they were certainly decorative as well as practical.

The edge-set tile hearth in Barley Hall is a complete example of a medieval hearth.

The edge-set tile hearth in Barley Hall is a complete example of a medieval hearth.

With the records done and dusted, Lori teamed up with Nick to resume work on what appeared to be an infant/juvenile burial close to the north end of the trench.

Grave business in 'That End'

Grave business in ‘That End’

Despite being small, this feature proved to be very deep and quite challenging to excavate. Nick and Lori worked patiently to uncover the remains of a small coffin. Degraded to little more than a stain, this required delicate work as the timber and corroded metal could very easily be destroyed.

Nick working on a tiny coffin.

Nick working on a tiny coffin.

Happily, after three previous years with us, Nick has developed a great trowelling technique and her and Lori were up to the task. Interestingly, this proved to be our second ’empty’ grave of the season, with no human remains found within the coffin. As discussed in last week’s blog, this could be the result of a localised quirk in the acidity of the soil (which can easily dissolve infant remains) or perhaps an infant lost early in a pregnancy that has not survived in the ground. There is also the possibility of these being symbolic burials of a coffin for an individual whose remains could not be interred.

While we will never know for sure, such features are always highly evocative, with very human moments of tragedy and remembrance that would otherwise have been lost to history being recovered the ground.

Elsewhere in Gary’s area, a pit cut that was started during our August training weekend was completed by Jackie. Joining us for a two day taster course, Jackie unearthed evidence of 19th century refuse disposal alongside medieval material upcast from earlier deposits.

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Jackie preparing her pit cut for photography.

There are a number of traditions on Archaeology Live! and a number of individuals who join us year after year, without whom the dig wouldn’t be quite complete. Week 12 saw the arrival of the one, the only, Betty Bashford! (For some reason, dressed as a Viking!)

Betty Bloodaxe in full Viking garb.

Betty Bloodaxe in full Viking garb. Cue the Ride of the Valkyries…

Betty, along with her friend Janet, is one of the characters that make working on Archaeology Live! such an absolute pleasure. There is never a dull moment when this dream team are on site! Sure enough, it didn’t take them long to make an unexpected discovery. Betty and Janet firstly took out the last remaining construction backfills relating to the 1860s church hall.

Betty and Janet tackling a 19th century construction backfill.

Betty and Janet tackling a 19th century construction backfill.

Some nice finds were recovered from these deposits including a lovely hand-painted fragment of tin glazed earthenware dating to the late 18th century.

Janet's 18th century discovery.

Janet’s 18th century discovery.

With the backfills removed and the construction cuts empty, it was possible to see the footings of the church hall, however, this was not all that was revealed. At the base of the cut, what appears to be a fragment of a herring-bone pattern brick floor was uncovered.

An unexpected discovery.

An unexpected discovery.

This was certainly a surprise, as we weren’t expecting to see structural remains in this part of the trench. Quite what building or yard this floor relates to is uncertain at present, but it is always exciting when such features appear.

19th century dumping over Janet and Betty's brickwork.

19th century dumping over Janet and Betty’s brickwork.

A surviving patch of 19th century levelling material covered the rest of this brick feature, so Janet and Betty ended their week by recording this deposit and beginning to remove it. Excavation of this deposit will resume during our October dig.

Excavating a 19th century levelling dump.

Excavating a 19th century levelling dump.

Over at ‘This End’, Toby’s team had a similarly industrious week. Joining us from Sweden, Paul joined Bri to work on the site’s earliest deposits.

Toby, Bri and Paul discussing their sequence.

Toby, Bri and Paul discussing their sequence.

Working on a slither of archaeology cut on one side by a drain run and the other by the church hall wall footings, Paul recorded and removed a dump deposit. This revealed an interesting feature filled with rubble and mortar.

We suspect that the front wall of our 18th century rectory would have run below the current church hall brickwork (pictured below). Up to this point, we hadn’t been able to identify any surviving structure in this area. This truncated post-hole/footing is our first tantalising evidence of this part of the rectory structure. As we know the medieval rectory was altered and re-built on numerous occasions, it is hard to say which phase this feature relates to, but it is a good start, and something we hope to clarify as work progresses in this area.

A possible footing appears in section.

A possible footing appears in section beneath the brickwork.

Paul went on to empty out the rubble feature and record the cut. This exposed a burnt dump very similar in appearance to one being worked on in the next cell by Bri. By chasing into this early archaeology in these two cells, we have had a self-contained sneak preview into the medieval archaeology we will be seeing across the whole site.

Paul and Bri working on medieval material.

Paul and Bri working on medieval material.

Bri’s slot featured no large structural remains, but it was possible to see distinct tips of medieval material and one shallow post hole that may have contained a fence post in front of the old rectory.

Bri troweling.

Bri troweling around his post hole.

With the post hole recorded, Bri then fully exposed and recorded his burnt medieval dump. Whether this is evidence of some industrial process will be investigated in the autumn.

Dave assisting Bri with a spot of planning.

Dave (left) assisting Bri (right) with a spot of planning. The burnt dump is the orange deposit beneath Dave’s end of the tape.

Paul ended his week by wrapping up the records for his and Bri’s area. He also found time to help with the excavation of another of our 19th century graves.

Paul working on a grave backfill.

Paul working on a grave backfill.

Archaeology Live! legend Clive re-joined us for the last week of the summer, assisting Steve with an area populated by intercutting infant burials.

Clive and Steve working on a sequence of 19th century burials.

Clive and Steve working on a sequence of 19th century burials.

This was delicate work! Fragments of coffin and the tiny bones of juvenile individuals are very susceptible to damage, so Clive and Steve were slow and steady with their work. They located the position and extent of the burial of a small child, but also worked out the relationships of a number of burials in close proximity to each other. This allows us to understand the order of events, which burials were the earliest and latest in the sequence.

These features always throw up a lot of paperwork, as the grave backfills, coffin remains and skeletons are all recorded, drawn and photographed individually. Clive and Steve made sure that all the records were in order for their burial sequence and that all the contexts were positioned correctly on our stratigraphic matrix – the diagram that allows us to understand the site sequence.

I love it when a plan comes together.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Working on his birthday, Clive was rewarded with a small archaeological gift when he found a small bone button. Clive and Steve brought their week to a close by taking over work on a burial that has been heavily disturbed by a 19th century rabbit burrow. True to form, the pair managed to locate the true edges of the grave cut. This will be looked at later in the season.

Happy birthday Clive!

Happy birthday Clive!

Another returning Archaeology Live! legend, Juliet was also kept very busy in this area. Charged with some of the week’s most challenging excavation, Juliet looked to fully expose a deep burial by the southern edge of the trench.

Juliet hard at work in one of our deepest graves.

Juliet hard at work in one of our deepest graves.

Buried well over a metre below present ground level, Juliet discovered that what had been thought to be a juvenile individual was actually an adult. Working in close confines, Juliet managed to expose enough of the skeleton to accurately plot its position. This was then recorded in detail and backfilled with a cushion of sieved soil to protect the remains from any damage. Later in the week, Juliet and Donald worked to clarify more of this sequence of infant burials and to complete any outstanding records.

Juliet at work on yet another infant burial.

Juliet at work on yet another infant burial.

The proliferation of infant burials by the rectory wall makes for very difficult excavation. Inter-cutting features often have very unclear edges due to the frequent disturbance of later graves. Once located, it takes time and great care to expose and record these remains.

Working with the guidance of the professional staff, the team in This End have done a fantastic job of picking apart this sequence. There is a lot more to do, but we are really starting to get on top of this area.

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This End in the afternoon sun.

Week 12 saw us enjoying site visits from a number of YAT colleagues from our Nottingham branch, Trent and Peak Archaeology. T&P archaeologist Laura was the quickest to break out her trowel and get stuck in! Working with Kirsten, Laura investigated our largest grave cut.

Kirsten and Laura

Kirsten and Laura

This feature has been ongoing for a number of weeks and has become increasingly complex as time has gone by. It is clear that a number of graves have been situated here, the question in hand is whether we are seeing a family plot being repeatedly re-opened, or an inter-cutting sequence of individual burials. IMG_5786 Kirsten and Laura’s deposit is proving to be one of our more finds-rich grave backfills. At present, three tubs of pottery, animal bone, shell, glass, tile, etc. have been recovered, and the feature is far from finished! As is the norm on North Street, the material is a fantastic mix of Roman to 19th century artefacts.

Later in the week, Kirsten helped Clive and Steve with the recording of their newly discovered grave backfill.

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Kirsten and Clive recording a grave backfill.

The great success of this week in Toby’s area has been the sharpening up of a very difficult sequence. As mentioned above, no half measures can be taken with this kind of archaeology, with care and respect for the individuals interred always being the prime concern.

We are now developing a growing understanding of exactly who was buried here and when. Quite why this area in particular is so densely occupied will be something to investigate in the near future.

Toby discussing edges with Kirsten and Laura.

Toby discussing edges with Kirsten and Laura.

It was another busy and eventful week for Arran and the finds team. Beneath the Tree of Finds, they battled to keep on top of the vast amount of material coming from the trench.

Just some of our finds drying in the sun.

Just some of our finds drying in the sun.

Over the course of the week, countless finds were washed, dried, sorted and bagged – to the ruthlessly exacting standards of our finds department.

Finds bagging

Finds bagging

As the finds are cleaned and dried, it is often at this point that previously un-noticed details are spotted.

Jane and Rob under the Finds Tree.

Jane and Rob under the Finds Tree.

The most exciting discovery this week was found on a seemingly innocuous piece of black burnished ware pottery. At first, the sherd of a Roman vessel seemed to be perfectly ordinary, part of a shallow, flat bottomed bowl referred to by archaeologists as a ‘dog bowl’.

Just another 'dog bowl'?

Just another ‘dog bowl’?

Closer inspection revealed that the sherd had a secret – it had been inscribed with a cross.

Graffitied Roman pottery

Graffitied Roman pottery

It would be very easy to get excited about an early example of christian graffiti, but it must be kept in mind that, while the date of the pot is securely Roman, it is impossible to know exactly when the cross was inscribed. Regardless, it is still wonderful to see a personal touch on an artefact that is almost 2,000 years old!

This wasn’t the only piece of interesting Roman pottery either. A beautifully decorated sherd of a colour coat drinking vessel was noted during washing, this would have been a lovely object when complete. Seeing 2000 year old brush strokes is always wonderful!

Painted Roman colour coat.

Painted Roman colour coat.

One piece of Roman pottery caused confusion at first, as it proved hard to identify. It became clear that this confusion had arisen due to the fact that this particular sherd of high status samian ware had been burned, changing the familiar terracotta colour to a dark grey.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

Scorched 1st-2nd century samian ware.

This wouldn’t be the last pot sherd with a story to tell either. The base of a medieval jug was cleaned and noticed to feature a ‘kiln scar’. As pots are often stacked upside down during firing, the base of the vessels can be marked by the glazed rim of the pot above. The pot above can also affect the firing of the lower vessel and a distinct curved line was clearly evident on our sherd.

The curved mark on this pot base shows that it was fired beneath another pot.

The curved mark on this pot base shows that it was fired beneath another pot.

The fabric on the inside of the curved mark is darker and has a distinctive grey colour. This is where the above pot has limited the airflow to the base of our vessel. When clay is fired in an oxygen starved environment it will often turn a dark grey colour, this is called reduction.

When pot is fired in a well-ventilated environment, such as a kiln with bellows, it will turn a lighter, more orange colour – this is called oxidisation and can be seen on the outside of the kiln scar curve pictured above.

Bri's early clay pipe stem.

Bri’s early clay pipe stem.

While washing a clay pipe stem, Bri noticed that it was a little different to most. Early examples of clay tobacco pipes feature thick stems with a wide, off-centre aperture. This is due to the relative crudeness of manufacturing process and that thin wire had yet to be developed that was strong enough to push through the wet clay to create an airway. Instead, thicker wire had to be used which leaves a broader airway. Bri’s example could be as early in date as the late 1600s!

In a busy week for finds highlights, we also came across another fragment of medieval roof tile complete with the paw-print of a large dog. As medieval tiles were laid out to dry before firing, finds like these are surprisingly common. That said, we never tire of finding such wonderful objects! It is even possible to see the ridges of the skin in the pads of the dog’s paws. You can almost sense the medieval tiler’s annoyance!

Bad dog!

Bad dog!

Yet another great find from this week was a fragment of worked bone that appears to be a very early form of pen. Its date is as yet uncertain, but we look forward to showing this one to our small finds specialist.

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An early bone pen nib.

Week 12 saw the team bring together a lot of loose ends, while new discoveries showed no signs of slowing. Our knowledge of the site’s early modern development from a busy industrial yard to a peaceful graveyard has come on in leaps and bounds. It is wonderful to be able to plot the sweeping changes in the mood and use of the area and to recover small moments such as a medieval dog plodding over his master’s unfired tiles.

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Betty showing Gary her latest finds.

This End’s concentration of infant and juvenile burials is now being mapped and understood in detail, while the first glimpses of the site’s medieval past are beginning to appear. That End continues to surprise us, with Betty and Janet’s unexpected brick floor and Nick and Lori’s ’empty’ grave keeping us firmly on our toes! Not to mention Rob’s ‘four-legged’ individual!!

Huge thanks as always must go out to our team of trainees and placements for yet another vintage week of good fun and and great archaeology!

The week 12 team.

The week 12 team.

While it is frustrating to have to stop just when the site is getting so exciting, we know that we’ll be returning to some wonderful archaeology in October! In the intervening weeks, we hope to post an overview of our findings so far on North Street, to help understand quite how much we have learned about this fascinating site. We will also aim to continue our series of blog posts looking back at previous seasons of Archaeology Live!

We’ll be back on site in October, there’s still room to join us, just contact trainingdig@yorkat.co.uk for info/bookings. We will also be opening up the site to the public between 11am and 3pm on the 25th of October! Come along and see the latest finds, meet the archaeologists and say hello to Planty the Plant (if you don’t mind the smell of slightly rotten cabbage…)

So, that wraps up the summer season of our first year on North Street. It’s been better than we could have hoped for, with a wonderfully diverse and passionate team of budding archaeologists joining us from far and wide. Thanks again to all involved for making the site such a success! Now it’s time to catch our breath, take stock and get prepped for the autumn season. Until then friends, onwards and downwards!

– Arran

 

PS. It’s become traditional to share the more light hearted moments of the week at the end of each post. Our placement Donald had an unexpected moment this week when a sizeable moth flew out of his hair. Goodness knows how long it had been living in there. Donald’s vegan superpowers are clearly growing…

Donald, truly at one with the natural world...

Donald, truly at one with the natural world…

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 11.

 

IMG_5666All good archaeologists know that our discipline is not a science. While there is a definite overlap with the scientific process, our findings are always tinged with a degree of subjectivity. We are storytellers at heart, modern day bards collaborating with specialists and supplementing our tales with detailed evidence and diligent recording. The real art of excavation is taking layers of earth and stone and extracting the stories of those who occupied that same space before us.

The tales are rarely complete. The pesky 1950s pipe trench has always removed the key piece of evidence; that industrious rabbit will, without fail, enthusiastically burrow in precisely the wrong place. Nonetheless, we nearly always find enough to piece together at least some of the lives that were lived in our trenches and the All Saints excavation has been a fine example of this. The last 10 weeks of digging have allowed us to discern an unexpectedly complex 19th century sequence, producing along the way some incredibly human moments. Week 11 continued this theme.

In Gary’s area, Rob and Nick cleaned up and recorded the wall footing discovered last week by Iain and Rose. One of the most exciting discoveries of the whole dig, we hope to find more evidence for what this structure was.

Up to press, our understanding of this area in the early 19th century has been of a busy yard becoming a graveyard. Only now are we beginning to see the first glimpses of what land uses pre-date that sequence.

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Recording a wall footing.

First things first though, we have to make sure we have located, excavated and understood all of the 19th century features before we can further investigate the earlier material.

With the wall footing recorded, Rob and Nick worked to clean over the whole of ‘contrary corner’ and check for any 19th century stragglers. A rectangular deposit of dark, clayey material had been noted in the base of a pit excavated during our August training weekend. Thought to be an infant burial, this was the next feature to investigate.

IMG_5633

Nick breaks out the wooden tools.

With the records complete, Rob and Nick began to gently remove the backfill of the feature, taking care not to disturb the fragile remnants of a tiny coffin. Some interesting finds quickly emerged, with Rob having a particularly good week! An early 19th century clay pipe bowl was discovered, fitting our suspected date of the feature perfectly.

Got a light?

Got a light?

As the week pressed on, Rob was lucky enough to find a truly wonderful object – a bone dice. This tiny object is somewhat cruder than the medieval example found by Gina in the second week of the summer season, leading us to suspect it may be somewhat earlier in date. Similar objects have certainly come out of Viking deposits elsewhere in York, so there is a strong possibility that this object may be the best part of a thousand years old.

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Unlike Gina’s example, the sides of this dice do not add up to seven, the numbers seemingly being cut at random.

Gina's dice (above) is larger and better preserved than Rob's (lower) example. They are a wonderful pair of finds!

Gina’s dice (above) is larger and better preserved than Rob’s (lower) example. They are a wonderful pair of finds!

It is a genuinely wonderful object that could have been owned by someone who knew the area before the current church was even standing. One can’t help but wonder what games this dice may have played and whether or not it brought success to a gambling owner.

Rob having a good finds day.

Rob having a good finds day.

With objects like this being discovered, the signs are good that medieval and Viking occupation deposits survive below us.

As Rob and Nick excavated the backfill they noticed an abrupt change, with the dark clayey material giving way to a stoney, mortar rich deposit; they had reached the base of their cut and found no evidence of any human remains. This left us with something of a mystery.

Rob and Nick's cut feature.

Rob and Nick’s cut feature.

As ever, the true reason why a seemingly empty coffin was buried here will never be known for sure. We can however put forward several possible explanations, the first of which being a quirk of the soil’s chemistry in this area of the trench – acidic soils can easily dissolve juvenile human remains and leave very little trace. It is also possible that the coffin could have been something of a symbolic burial, perhaps for a child lost very early in a pregnancy.

While this mystery will remain unresolved, it is clear that someone in the early 19th century was driven to bury a tiny coffin in the corner of a small graveyard. Nick and Rob’s painstaking excavation of this feature allows us to witness a solemn moment in York’s story that would have otherwise been lost to history.

A mass clean-up underway  in 'That End'

A mass clean-up underway in ‘That End’

Elsewhere in Gary’s area, new trainees Sara, Anna and Liberty worked together to clean a large area of ‘that end’. Numerous edges were visible; the challenge now was to ascertain which of these features was the latest to occur.

Anna and Liberty enjoying a spot of troweling.

Anna and Liberty enjoying a spot of troweling.

On sites as complex as this, this process can take some time! However, Sara struck gold when the edges of a sub-circular feature began to emerge.

Sara reveals a pit backfill.

Sara reveals a pit backfill – a darker semi-circle to the left of her trowel.

Cutting a possible fragment of cobble surface, we were keen to see whether this feature was part of the early 19th century yard or something even earlier.

Sara filling out the context card for her newly discovered deposit.

Sara filling out the context card for her newly discovered deposit.

The deposit was photographed and recorded and the team got started with the excavation. This proved to be hard work! The deposit had clearly been trampled during the early 19th century, making it very difficult to trowel.

Work begins on the pit backfill.

Work begins on the pit backfill.

Good progress was made on this feature, which pre-dates the adjacent ‘horn pit’. While it didn’t produce the same density of cattle skull fragments, a lot of horn core and bone was still present. This indicates that some tanning by-products were being deposited in this feature, alongside general domestic waste. This fits well with the idea that the yard space was used for numerous purposes between c.1800 and 1823.

Working with Becky, Lori and Dom continued work on a pair of burials close to the northern wall of the old church hall. This required a lot of work in tricky, deep features and a lot of recording. The first task was to record the infant remains uncovered at the end of last week by Lori and Joan.

Dom and Lori in recording mode.

Dom and Lori in recording mode.

With the records completed for the infant burial, a cushion of sieved soil and wooden boards were placed over the remains to protect them from any damage. Lori and Dom’s attention then turned to completing the excavation of a burial started several weeks ago by Katie and Beverly.

When the upper elements of the skeleton were revealed, it became clear that the foot end of the grave hadn’t been fully excavated. Lori and Dom amended the records for the deposit and began work on removing the last of the backfill.

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Establishing the true edge of the grave cut.

Significantly deeper than the infant burial, this adult inhumation had surviving evidence of a wooden coffin and was very well preserved. The remains were recorded and covered over.

While this was underway, Lori exposed a fascinating feature cut by both graves. On the slither of archaeology that survived between the two grave cuts, a fragment of an edge-set tile hearth with brick edging was exposed. While the date of this feature will be confirmed later, we do know that the materials used to build it are medieval in date.

This could be one of our first definite examples of medieval or post-medieval activity in ‘That End’ and it is only by chance that this fragment of early activity has survived – if the grave cuts had been any closer, the hearth would certainly have been lost. History can indeed be a fickle mistress…

A tile hearth emerging between two graves.

A tile hearth emerging between two graves.

In Toby’s area, Bri and Zoe began to investigate the deposits that pre-date the two small cells within the south-west corner of the 1860s church hall.

Zoe excavating an early 19th century dump.

Zoe excavating an early 19th century dump.

These deposits proved to be very similar to the pre-church hall trample layers exposed elsewhere in the trench. Like Lori’s tile hearth, these small islands of archaeology seem quite lucky to have survived numerous later truncation events!

Bri working on a dump that pre-dates the church hall.

Bri working on a dump that pre-dates the church hall.

A great mix of finds were discovered within these deposits, including medieval ceramics and a piece of post-medieval(?) chain. With attachments at either end, we’ll have to wait for specialist analysis before we know what this enigmatic find was used for.

Zoe and her fragment of chain.

Zoe and her fragment of chain.

A close look...

A closer look…

As Zoe and Bri worked together to record and lift a number of contexts, something quite exciting became apparent. Ubiquitous until now, 19th century ceramics had ceased to occur. Not only that, the latest finds to be encountered were medieval in date. It seems that Zoe and Bri have exposed our first confirmed layers of medieval archaeology!

This exciting prospect will be further investigated next week.

Zoe and Bri recording one of their layers of dumping

Zoe and Bri recording one of their layers of dumping

Steve and Sarah had a week of challenging archaeology, beginning with a search for good edges around a suspected infant burial. Once these edges were clarified, the backfill was recorded and the pair got started with the excavation.

Steve and Sarah investigating a grave backfill.

Steve and Sarah investigating a grave backfill.

As we’ve seen across all of our grave backfills, an interesting mix of finds are generally present within them. Steve found a rather lovely fragment of pressed glass. Finely made, this was clearly part of a very decorative object.

Steve's glass artefact.

Steve’s glass artefact.

With the expert guidance of our resident bone expert Tess, Steve and Sarah patiently removed the backfill to expose the coffin and remains of a small child. These are very evocative features to work on and it is of paramount importance to keep in mind that these are the remains of a human being and should be treated accordingly.

Steady hands required.

Steady hands required.

Once fully exposed, these remains will be recorded, re-c0vered and left in-situ. Steve and Sarah’s delicate work has added to an increasingly complex picture of this corner of the site.

Whether the concentration of infant burials in this area relate to re-used family plots or historic pandemic events will be resolved in the fullness of time, the key aim at the moment is to locate all of the burials on site and ensure that they are protected from any future intrusive works.

Maggie working on a grave backfill.

Maggie working on a grave backfill.

Joining us for a taster day, Maggie continued work on a grave backfill that has been worked on by a number of people this season. These things cannot be rushed and Maggie quickly mastered the art of delicate troweling, finding an intriguing flint object that may be a 19th century striker used to create sparks.

Maggie's worked flint object.

Maggie’s worked flint object.

Elsewhere in ‘This End’, Jo and Liz continued work on the brick chamber attached to the north wall of the 18th century rectory.

Jo and Liz troweling in the autumn sunshine.

Jo and Liz troweling in the autumn sunshine.

The plot continued to thicken in this area. As a post hole was recorded and excavated, it became apparent that earlier structural elements were beginning to appear.

A small fragment of stone wall was revealed that clearly pre-dates the 18th century brickwork. While a number of later contexts will have to be removed before we can expose this stonework, it is distinctly possible that Jo and Liz have revealed a fragment of the medieval rectory that was incorporated into the post-medieval re-build. A very exciting find!

Recording a post hole that cuts possibly medieval stonework.

Recording a post hole that cuts possibly medieval stonework.

The cobble-based cesspit (upon which Donald is standing in the image below) now seems to have been brought to construction level, sitting atop a mortary deposit. Jo and Liz recorded the wall and the deposit below it and ended their week by investigating the earlier deposit.

Week 11 has seen some exciting developments in this area, with the small brick chamber exhibiting a more complex sequence than had been anticipated. As the dig continues, we will continue to expose and record the various alterations to the structure and, once these are removed, we will finally be able to see exactly how much of the medieval buildings survive. Watch this space!!

Donald, Jo and Liz recording a deposit within the brick chamber.

Donald, Jo and Liz recording a deposit within the brick chamber.

An eventul week in the trench was mirrored beneath the Tree of Finds where a number of exciting artefacts were cleaned up and looked at in more detail.

The Finds Tree looking typically resplendent.

The Finds Tree looking typically resplendent.

While washing what was assumed to be another muddy fragment of medieval roof tile, Rob noticed some markings on the fabric of the tile. Closer inspection revealed part of a legionary stamp, clear evidence that this was actually a Roman tile!

Rob's Roman tile fragment.

Rob’s Roman tile fragment.

The letters ‘VIC’ were faintly visible in the side of the tile. This stamp most likely relates to the Legio VI Victrix (Sixth Victorious Legion) of the Roman army. In 119AD the legion was despatched to northern England to help repress an uprising and eventually replaced the incumbent IX Hispana to garrison the fortress of Eboracum (Roman York).

Finding such direct evidence of the area’s Roman past was a real privilege, which was only made sweeter when the thumbprint of a Roman potter was noticed beside the stamp. Being able to put your thumb into an almost 1900 year old thumbprint is a unique perk of archaeology. What a find!

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‘VIC’ and a clear thumbprint.

Another interesting find was a toe bone from a rather unwell cow. We’ve had numerous examples of diseased cattle bones from features associated with the tanning industry. This 19th century example exhibits clear evidence of bone infection and would have been of sufficient severity to render this foot completely useless.

Poorly cows seem to have been common.

Poorly cows seem to have been common.

Week 11 saw us continue to build on the findings of the previous week and to better understand a fascinating 19th century sequence. It seems that our first season at All Saints will be best remembered for demonstrating the merits of early modern archaeology, a period that has been criminally under-valued until now.

We have uncovered moments of early 19th century heartbreak, with numerous juvenile and infant individuals being interred along Church Lane, but we have also found evidence of more carefree times with Rob’s fantastic bone dice. Next week, we hope to add to this picture of 19th century York and wrap up the remaining loose ends. We also hope to reveal more sneak peeks of the earlier archaeology that will be the focus of next year’s excavation.

Our amazing week 11 team.

Our amazing week 11 team. It’s a shame Graeme couldn’t stay awake…

The tantalising glimpses of the Roman, Viking, and medieval deposits that lay beneath us highlight what an exciting site this is. Massive thanks go out to the week 11 team for their patient, careful excavation and fine company.

On a less jolly note, week 11 saw us say goodbye to two placements who have been absolutely invaluable to this year’s excavation, Becky and Tess. This pair of Arch. Live! veterans have very bright futures ahead of them! Huge thanks go out to Becky and Tess from all at York Archaeological Trust, we’ll see you next time.

Cheers Tess!

Cheers Tess!

Cheers Becky! (Green graze!!!)

Cheers Becky! (Green graze!!!)

 

It’s been a vintage year for the Archaeology Live! project in our new home on North Street. Now we head into the last week of the summer with a thousand questions and a lot of excitement for more thrilling discoveries. Best get cracking then, onwards and downwards!

 

– Arran

 

PS. One amusing moment to share. Archaeology Live! placement Jack was late for the group photo on Friday, assuming he was ill we were forced to improvise a replacement. I think we truly captured his essence!

Becky and Jack MkII

Becky and Jack MkII

Cheers Jack! 😉

Jack MkI

Jack MkI

 

 

 

 

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 10.

Water water everywhere!? What on earth?

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Can’t rain all the time…

After a long, dry summer, the Monday of week 10 was the first to be disrupted by rain. Digging through the glorious British summertime can be an unpredictable business, although it must be said that we’ve done rather well this year.

Thankfully, there is much more to archaeology than digging and our site hut isn’t the worst place in the world to take shelter in times of need. Plus, there was a rather big task left on the to-do list…

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Thumbs up if you love cow skulls!

The finds from ‘Biagio’s bone pit’ and our increasingly infamous ‘horn pit’ were by this point fully cleaned and dried. This freed them up for the next step in the finds processing system – sorting and bagging.

The ‘horn pit’ (context 1152) was partially excavated earlier in the season and provided us with 15 tubs of cattle horn core and skull fragments that represent by-products of late 18th to early 19th century leather production. The backfill of the feature also contained a modest amount of incidental domestic waste and a small number of earlier finds upcast from deposits that were disturbed when the pit was originally cut. Before each fragment of bone, pottery, tile, glass, clay pipe, etc. can be seen by their relevant specialist, the finds have to be sorted into type.

Once sorted, the finds can then be bagged up following YAT’s standard protocols and are then ready for analysis. Jobs like these can be a little on the dull side, thankfully our team met the task with enthusiasm and enjoyed the opportunity to have a closer look at the finds.

Finds sorting can be fun too! (If you make it fun…)

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Donald, our resident ‘glam Viking’, tries out the horn look.

Toby’s team also took the chance to catch up with some outstanding records. As the records produced by our trainees make up the final archive, it is important that we maintain professional standards, and Toby certainly has an eye for detail!

The benefit of being quite so fussy is that the records produced by our trainees go on to make up our final site archive; nothing is re-done and it is this archive that forms the basis of the final site report.

It's a 'yes' from me.

It’s a ‘yes’ from me.

Thankfully, only parts of the day were affected by rain and the rest of the week remained clear. This allowed the team to make some great progress on site!

Team ‘That End’ began the week with some industrious troweling. Many of the edges identified by the week 9 team had been obscured by the rain and needed sharpening up. Joining us from the USA, Lori successfully identified a 19th century grave cut. The edges were a little hazy, but persistence paid off in the end.

Joined on Tuesday by Leicester lass Jen, Lori began work on excavating the grave backfill.

Lori and Jen begin to excavate their grave backfill.

Lori and Jen begin to excavate their grave backfill.

After helping us to discover the north wall of the lost church of St. John the Baptist last year on Hungate, Joan returned for her second season with us. Like Lori, she had some troweling to do before her feature became visible. Nonetheless, a pit cut was identified and recorded allowing Joan to get digging. Having dug on a number of projects, Joan is known for her habit of spotting good finds and it didn’t take her long to pick up where she left off! She was delighted to find two large fragments of a medieval Humber ware jug.

Joan up to her old tricks.

Joan up to her old tricks…

Eleanor joined the team for a taster day on site and also worked on Joan’s pit. Joan’s luck was clearly catching as Eleanor quickly made a great find of her own!

Eleanor and her debut find.

Eleanor and her debut find.

Eleanor’s rather splendid pot sherd is part of a transfer ware bowl and may date to as early as the late 1700s!

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Eleanor’s bowl/saucer. Jolly civilised.

When the pit was fully excavated, a number of inter-cutting edges became visible in the base. This suggests that we are coming down onto a sequence of refuse pits, although whether any of these newly discovered edges resolve into more grave cuts will remain to be seen.

Joan and Eleanor getting their pit cut photo-ready.

Joan and Eleanor getting their pit cut photo-ready.

Back in Lori and Jen’s grave backfill, the finds were coming thick and fast. Lori unearthed a dense copper object that could have been a wall spike or hook.

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Lori’s latest find.

Meanwhile, Jen discovered more evidence of how the medieval interior of the church may have looked with a splendid glazed medieval floor tile.

Tah dah!

Tah dah!

At present, we have found both green and yellow glazed floor tiles and some so worn that barely any glaze survives. This suggests that different areas of the church floor may have been laid with different coloured tiles. The rich, deep green floor would certainly have been a sight to see.

A closer look at Jen's floor tile.

A closer look at Jen’s floor tile.

Later in the week, Joan moved over to help Lori with the excavation of her grave backfill. True to form, Joan’s luck continued as she and Lori located the skull and coffin remains of an infant burial. Working on such features requires a great deal of concentration and a gentle touch. Armed with wooden clay modelling tools, Lori and Joan worked to expose the full extent of the coffin and the body position of the individual interred.

Once fully recorded, this burial will again be covered over.

Gary was on hand to offer Lori and Joan advice on how to approach their burial.

Gary was on hand to offer Lori and Joan advice on how to approach their burial.

In the mysterious realm of ‘contrary corner’ at the northern end of the trench, returning trainee Iain was the next archaeologist to tackle one of the site’s trickiest areas.

We may however have to re-name the area, as Iain made short work of it. After giving the area an initial trowel, he revealed and recorded a linear feature running parallel to Church Lane.

Iain working on his linear feature.

Iain working on his linear feature.

In true ‘contrary corner’ fashion, the plot quickly thickened as Iain discovered that his linear feature was actually cut by a rubble filled post-hole. Excavation of the linear was put on hold while the post-hole was dug and recorded. The feature contained some great finds including three fragments of a medieval jug handle. Happily, these proved to fit together!

Iain's medieval jug handle.

Iain’s medieval jug handle.

The handle of a 16th century Cistercian ware drinking vessel was also found. Iain was having a great start to the week!

Iain admires a 16th century Cistercian ware handle.

Iain admires a 16th century Cistercian ware handle.

After recording the post-hole, attention was turned back to the mysterious linear feature.

Recording Iain's post hole.

Recording Iain’s post hole.

Later in the week, we were joined by Rose, a prospective archaeology student looking to try out a spot of excavation before university. Working with Iain, she helped to expose a very exciting feature.

Iain and Rose hard at work.

Iain and Rose hard at work.

The linear feature turned out to be relatively shallow and at its base, a well-mettled layer of cobbles was exposed. Sat within a construction cut, these cobbles represent the base of a robbed out wall footing.

A wall footing emerges...

A wall footing emerges…

This discovery poses a number of questions.

  • How old is it?

The deposit that Iain and Rose excavated represent the robbing of the stonework in the late 18th century, we will only know the date of the feature when we excavate the cobbles and see what finds are among and below them.

  • Was this part of a large building?

The stonework in the ground is substantial and well-laid. We have dug many Victorian buildings with a complete absence of footings. This foundation could have supported a large structure.

  • Is this evidence for a demolished part of All Saints Cottages?

The 14th century cottages that overlook ‘contrary corner’ may once have extended over it. This wall lies close to the buildings centre and could have acted as a spine wall. As we uncover more contemporary features, we hope to prove or disprove this theory.

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Iain and Rose’s wall footing, cut at the top end by a later pit.

 

The footings are truncated at the northern end by a pit cut. Once this is excavated, we will look to excavate the cobbles and shed some more light on this fascinating area of the trench.

In Toby’s area, Janice and Coco took on the daunting task of finishing the excavation of a pair of graves and creating the records for each context they encountered (coffin, skeleton, grave cut, etc.)

Janice, Coco and Chas putting together the records for a grave cut.

Janice, Coco and Chas putting together the records for a grave cut.

This involved a lot of cleaning, numerous photographs, context cards and plan drawings. As always, when dealing with human remains it is vital to be respectful and thorough. By recording the exact location and depth of each inhumation, Coco and Janice are helping to safeguard the remains from any harm during future development and they did a fantastic job.

Grave cuts in an empty trench.

Grave cuts in an empty trench.

With their epic recording session complete, they closed out their week by excavating more backfill from a juvenile burial. As ever with Archaeology Live! the feature proved to be more complicated than we might have expected.

As yet, we have not been able to locate a construction point for the rectory wall (pictured in the shot below). It had been thought that this was a result of numerous later deposits lapping against the face of the wall and obscuring the construction cut. Janice and Coco’s discovery offer a new possibility.

Janice and Coco manning the dumpy level.

Janice and Coco manning the dumpy level.

The grave cut they were investigating proved to be a number of intercutting infant/juvenile grave cuts. Unlike the adult graves that all appear to respect each other’s position, the burials of the younger individuals seem to have been crammed into this area, cutting through pre-existing burials.

As church records for this phase of burials do not survive, it will be the task of our team of archaeologists to gain an understanding of this period. Could we be seeing family plots being repeatedly returned to? Could some form of pandemic have caused a surge of infant mortality? Either way, our findings over the coming weeks will hopefully clarify what was happening along Church Lane in the 1820s-1850s. Watch this space.

IMG_5553

Work underway on a number of grave cuts along the rectory’s north wall.

Like a number of the week 10 team, Chris and Audrey faced the challenge of finding edges in areas riddled with stratigraphy. It took a little time, but as there time on site ended a rectangular feature was beginning to appear. It is very possible that this could be another early 19th century burial.

Chris and Audrey hard at work.

Chris and Audrey hard at work.

Belle joined us for her second season of digging and made a great start. Working in a wide grave cut, she found a shaped fragment of medieval window glass.

Belle's window glass fragment.

Belle’s window glass fragment.

It is important to keep ancient glass damp to arrest its decay. After bagging up the find, Arran couldn’t help but wonder which window this glass may once have occupied. We may never know, but as all our finds will remain within the church, it is good to know that the glass will return to its old home.

A little speculation never hurt anyone...

A little speculation never hurt anyone…

Belle went on to join Jo, another returnee, to help clean up the brick chamber on the north side of the rectory. With the cesspit recently discovered, it was time to further investigate this much-altered structure.

Jo and Belle troweling the interior of the rectory's annex.

Jo and Belle troweling the interior of the rectory’s annex.

Within the structure, a void was discovered that appears to be a post hole. A small brick wall addition was also recorded and removed. When these features are squared away, we will continue to work on the fill of this small brick chamber as it may tell us more about the rectory’s construction, use and alteration.

IMG_5497

YAT education officer Fran joined us on site at the end of the week to sharpen up her archaeology skills. After helping Janice and Coco with their recording marathon, she took over work on the grave backfill that contained Belle’s shard of medieval glass. She quickly picked up the art of good troweling and found numerous sherds of medieval pottery.

Fran trying her hand at troweling.

Fran trying her hand at troweling.

Archaeology Live! placement Chas and Arran took the chance to have a closer look at the fabric of All Saints this week and they made some interesting discoveries. The columns and walls of the church are a veritable goldmine of medieval graffiti, bearing the marks of numerous ancient scribes. The majority of these inscriptions are masons’ marks, with craftsmen leaving their mark on their work. It is clear that a number of 14th and 15th century masons were producing stonework for All Saints.

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Masons’ marks in a medieval column.

Some of these marks have become increasing faint with age, it takes a light shone at the right angle to see them clearly. One of the columns holding up the bell tower is adorned with the image of a swan.

A medieval swan.

A medieval swan. Can you see the outline?

Robert Richards, the church warden was kind enough to give Chas and Arran a tour of the tower of All Saints. This was a thrilling chance to see the interior of one of York’s most iconic landmarks and see some ingenious feats of medieval engineering.

The spiral staircase that leads to the belfries is hidden within the church’s west wall. It is near vertical and turns only one and a half times during the ascent. While many medieval bell towers were accessed by ladders, the builders of All Saints clearly had grander plans.

 

Steady feet required.

Steady feet required. (For bonus points, spot the mason’s mark in the step)

As well as being incredibly steep, the fact that the stairway is built into the wall also makes it incredibly narrow.

The stairs proved to be a snug fit.

The stairs proved to be a snug fit.

Under construction in 1396, the octagonal spire of All Saints stands an impressive 120 feet tall, making it York’s second tallest parish church. The lower belfry was recently reinforced with a steel frame, although much of the original fabric still survives. The oldest bells date to the 17th century!

Ancient bells above All Saints

Ancient bells above All Saints

To access the upper belfry, a precarious climb over the lower bells is required. Arran caused more than one accidental dong (ahem…)

It’s best not to look down at times like these…

Clambering over the lower bells.

Clambering over the lower bells.

The upper belfry is reached by a slightly wobbly ladder and also features a mix of ancient and modern fittings.

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Looking down from the upper belfry.

A third ladder leads from the upper belfry into the interior of the spire, a remarkable structure that is equal parts breathtaking and eerie.

Looking up within the spire of All Saints.

Looking up within the spire of All Saints.

While the views are limited by wooden shutters, it was possible to catch some glimpses of York from new angles.

IMG_5518

Not a bad view really…

On the descent, Chas spotted some slightly less ancient graffiti. Clearly we weren’t the first to make the climb…

Modern graffiti

Modern graffiti in the lower belfry.

Under the Finds Tree, the team continued to work through our sizeable backlog of finds. Chas took the time to share his expertise on clay pipes, which are relatively simple to date.

Coco and Chas looking at clay pipe stems.

Coco and Chas looking at clay pipe stems.

Often ubiquitous on sites dating from the 17th century onwards, there is a world of variety in their shape and size. Thicker stems, with a wide, off-centre aperture will tend to be earlier in date as the wire used to create the hole through the stem could only be produced to a certain thickness. As technology evolved in the 19th century, thinner, stronger wires were created. This in turn made the stems tend to become thinner, with a central and increasingly narrow airway.

IMG_5469

17th, 18th and 19th century pipe stems from a single pit backfill.

Early pipe bowls were typically small and bulbous. Tobacco was expensive and hard to source in quantity, initially being the preserve of the wealthy. As early modern trade links improved and tobacco became more readily available, we see pipe bowls grow in size and adopt straighter sides. The example below is an intermediate one, dating to the 1790s.

An 18th century pipe bowl.

An 18th century pipe bowl.

Week 10 was another successful and eventful week on North Street. Our understanding of the complex 19th century sequence is becoming clearer as distinct phases and zonings of activity continue to appear. More and more we are seeing a busy early 19th century yard, complete with distinctly aromatic features like our ‘horn pit’ and butchery waste pits, being abruptly given over to burials from 1823.

This abrupt change in land use would have given the area a very different atmosphere. Instead of workmen smoking clay pipes and disposing of tanning waste, the yard would now have played home to the funerals of 19th century parishioners. This garden of remembrance would be short-lived however, as the church hall was under construction at the end of the 1850s.

As we move into 18th century and earlier deposits, we hope to bring more of the story of this quiet corner of central York back to life. The week 10 team were a joy to work with, thanks go out to all involved for some really great work, even with the abundance of cow puns…

The week 10 team.

The week 10 team.

Two weeks of the summer to go, we’d best keep digging! Onwards and downwards!

 

-Arran

 

PS. In an amusing turn of events under the Tree of Finds, Ellen and Jen noticed that 19th century pearlware rim sherds make passable tiaras. It seems we are budding fashionistas…

Kind of.

Pearlware tiaras. It could take off...?

Pearlware tiaras. It could take off…?

 

 

August training weekend at All Saints, North Street.

IMG_5383Getting away from work and family commitments for a week’s digging can prove very tricky for a lot of people. Thankfully, our training weekends are proving to be an increasingly popular alternative for archaeology enthusiasts with busy lives. The second weekend dig of the 2014 season saw the team digging in some glorious sunshine and making some intriguing discoveries.

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Work begins in ‘That End’

Stepping back into the ‘That End’ hot seat for the weekend, Arran set his new team straight to work on a number of features. Darren and Gregers troweled over a large area to clarify some difficult edges. In doing so, the pair uncovered a small dump of mixed material. Proving to be another deposit relating to the area’s busy early 19th century life as a working yard space, the context produced some great finds. In fact, it took Gregers all of five minutes to uncover this rather lovely coin!

Gregers' coin, fresh out of the ground.

Gregers’ coin, fresh out of the ground.

Being highly corroded, a precise date will remain uncertain until it is cleaned by our conservators. However, judging by its size and appearance, a Roman date seems the most likely. Regardless, Gregers was off to a great start and suitably happy with his work!

Gregers shows off his find.

Gregers shows off his find.

With their dump fully recorded and excavated, Gregers and Darren cleaned up a small patch of darker soil. This deposit proved to be the backfill of a post hole, one of an increasing number of structural features in the area.

A post hole emerges...

A post hole emerges…

The post hole proved to be relatively shallow, seemingly effected by later clearance events. Nonetheless, when all the contemporary structural elements are viewed together, we may be able to build a clearer picture of what kind of transient structures were in use here at the beginning of the 19th century.

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Dave and Tracey took on the tricky task of working in ‘contrary corner’. They began their week by continuing work on a pit backfill that was started in week 9.

The trench basking in the afternoon sun.

The trench basking in the afternoon sun. Contrary Corner occupies the northern end of the trench, overlooked by 14th century cottages.

The pit backfill contained pottery ranging in date from Roman to 19th century, appearing to represent disposal of domestic waste. Whether this waste would have come from the nearby rectory or All Saints Cottages is hard to say, although some high status ceramics were certainly present.

Dave and Tracey begin excavating their pit backfill.

Dave and Tracey begin excavating their pit backfill.

The pit truncated a number of earlier features, including a cobble surface and perhaps most importantly, an infant burial. As we know that the site began receiving burials only after 1823 and that the pit pre-dates the 1860s construction of the Church Hall, we can quite tightly date this feature.

Dave and Tracey's pit after excavation.

Dave and Tracey’s pit after excavation.

With the pit fully recorded, Dave and Tracey turned their attention to the opposite end of ‘contrary corner’ and discovered, recorded and excavated a second refuse pit. Finally, it seems that this difficult end of the trench is beginning to yield clear features with a little less resistance!

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Tracey cleaning her pit backfill, a lighter circle of soil can be seen to the right of her trowel.

Sally and Amanda began their weekend in an area where no clear edges were appearing. A diligent troweling session was needed to define the extents of a dump of clayey material. This pre-dates the early 19th century phase of burials, most likely being deposited in the first decade of the 1800s.

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Gus runs Sally and Amanda through the finer points of planning.

With their context fully excavated, Sally and Amanda resumed their hunt for new edges and cleaned up a number of deposits. This process gave us a much clearer view of the sequence at this (well, that) end of the trench and will put us in good stead for next week!

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Sally and Amanda, mid-trowelathon…

Toby’s team were also faced with some tricky trowelling. Niamh, John, Lottie, Diane, Harvey and David rotated through a number of tasks over the weekend. One of the bigger jobs was the removal of a dump deposit at the north-west edge of the trench.IMG_5388This process revealed the backfill of a post hole which was cleaned and photographed. It also exposed a possible grave backfill, although this will be investigated next week.

Troweling next to the rectory wall.

Troweling next to the rectory wall.

Interestingly, the 18th century rectory wall still has no visible construction cut. This means that the deposits that lie next to the wall are still later in date. This area was cleaned up to try and clarify this situation, revealing a very mixed deposit that was rich in mortar. It is possible that this deposit is the result of fairly intensive grave digging.

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Toby’s team continue work on a grave backfill.

As Toby’s team grew increasingly confident with their troweling, they picked up the excavation of one of our partially dug grave backfills. Working at a suitably steady pace, the team were able to clarify the edges of an increasingly complex, inter-cutting sequence.

Under the gaze of Planty the Plant, the ‘This End’ team learned that archaeology isn’t all underground, as they began to record the walls of the old church hall. Meticulous measurements led to some very handsome elevation drawings that reveal the walls to be something of a palimpsest, with numerous alterations.

Recording begins on the upstanding building remains.

Recording begins on the upstanding building remains.

Under the shade of the Finds Tree, some fascinating artefacts were cleaned up, including an unusual sherd of Roman colour coat pottery in the form of a mortarium.

Roman ceramics.

Roman ceramics.

Washing finds from a context rich in animal bone, the team enjoyed an impromptu faunal remains session and were able to re-construct parts of several cows.

We have the technology, we can re-build moo. Ahem...

We have the technology, we can re-build moo.
Ahem…

A particularly interesting find was a bone from the barbed tale of a ray. It seems that some exotic items were on the 19th century menu…

Seafood was clearly popular at All Saints.

Seafood was clearly popular at All Saints.

One of the weekend’s best finds was a fragment of medieval stained glass. Now barely even translucent, it is intriguing to wonder which window this once occupied!

Medieval window glass.

Medieval window glass.

The weekend closed with a guided tour of the site and a summary of the latest findings. There is a lot to fit in to two days, but this proved to be a vintage training weekend, with new deposits being discovered and excavated and new ideas being brought up regarding the early 19th century use of the site. Gregers’ coin was an obvious highlight amidst some great finds, with a high occurrence of unusual and high status ceramics. On Sunday, we were also joined by a VIP guest and Archaeology Live! legend – Harry!

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Harry dropped by on the off chance someone had some spare ham.

Many thanks to the weekend team for a fascinating and fun two day dig! Great work by all and good to see a mix of new and familiar faces.

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The August weekend team

Toby's end of week wrap-up.

Toby’s end of week wrap-up.

With only three weeks to go, there is a lot of archaeology still to play with! The increasingly autumnal weather may attempt to play a part, but on the strength of this season so far, I think we’ll have a stellar end to the summer dig!

Onwards and downwards!

-Arran

Ominous skies over All Saints Cottages.

Ominous skies over All Saints Cottages.

Archaeology Live! Summer 2014. Week 9.

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One of the great pleasures of being part of Archaeology Live! is meeting people from all walks of life, from all over the world. Over the last fourteen years, our Archaeology Live! excavations have proved to be a melting pot of new friendships, professional contacts and more than a few budding romances. That said, it’s always great to see the return of a few familiar faces. With Archaeology Live! stalwarts Tom, Megan and Chas returning to placement duties, week nine got off to a flying start.

Chas, Tom and Megan. Part of the Archaeology Live! furniture.

Chas, Tom and Megan. It wouldn’t be Arch Live! without them.

With the new arrivals inducted, suited and booted, trowels were brandished and work began.

With ‘This End’ becoming increasingly populated by early 19th century burials, Toby’s team cleaned up the central area of the trench.

Cleaning up 'This End'

Cleaning up ‘This End’

Looking to clear up a number of somewhat fuzzy edges and hopefully expose a few new ones, the new additions quickly got their troweling eye in. Theo and Callum took over work on a large rectangular cut feature that has up to press seemed a tad wide to be a grave.

Theo and Callum taking on some tough stratigraphy.

Theo and Callum taking on some tough stratigraphy.

As the week progressed, it became apparent that something rather complex was going on. The wide cut feature was in fact several intercutting graves, later interrupted by a shallow charnel pit. The difficulty in tying down the sequence lay in the intensive focus of activity on a very small piece of ground. As each feature cut into its predecessor, much of the earlier deposits were removed, leaving only thin slithers of surviving backfills.

Callum in full troweling swing.

Callum in full troweling swing.

This discovery effectively turned a single context into a multitude of separate events, each requiring an individual record. Joined at the end of the week by Hugo, Callum began to record and excavate the sequence of graves and pits. While work on these features will continue over the next couple of weeks, the work done by Callum, Theo and Hugo has made a confusing mass of disturbed edges into a complex, but understandable stratigraphic sequence.

Records! Records! Records!

Records! Records! Records!

Beth and Donald joined us for their third year running this week and faced quite a new challenge. Last year on Hungate, the pair recorded and excavated an early 20th century concrete yard surface, during which Beth managed to break a mattock shaft in two! This season’s work would prove far more delicate.

Beth and Donald beginning their week.

Beth and Donald beginning their week.

In the section of a later burial, the grave of an infant had been discovered earlier in the season. Now the feature was free to investigate, Beth and Donald delicately troweled the area to locate the full extents of the burial.

As has been the general policy all season, no burials are currently scheduled to be removed during this excavation. The team have however looked to locate the positions and depths of surviving human remains to ensure they are protected from any intrusion from future development work.

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Beth and Donald employing their most delicate troweling techniques.

As the grave backfill was gently peeled away, the outline of a collapsed coffin became visible, including a very degraded name plate. This discovery is important as it tells us that this was a sanctioned burial and adds a sombre human touch to the feature. These remains, partially revealed by Donald and Beth, will last have been seen by their grieving relatives almost two centuries ago.

With respect for the individuals interred along Church Lane, we will not be posting any images of their remains. While public access to our discoveries is perhaps our main aim, features like these are best dealt with quietly and respectfully.

Janice working on a C19th burial.

Janice working on a C19th burial.

Janice enjoyed a similarly challenging week, as she worked to ascertain the position and depth of the individual interred in her grave cut. This was tricky work, made harder by the confined space, but Janice’s patient excavation paid off as she revealed the upper and lower extremes of the skeleton. This allowed us to begin detailed records of the burial, again allowing us to ensure that this individual can continue to rest in peace.

As the grave was cut through almost a metre of earlier stratigraphy, a great variety of finds were present in the backfill. A particular highlight was the shiny, slightly comical lid fragment from a post-medieval pot.

Janice's unusual pot sherd.

Janice’s unusual pot sherd.

In Gary’s area, the ‘That End’ team looked to make similar progress. Joined this week by Archaeology Live’s favourite Southern Belle, Lorraine, Beth recorded and excavated the fill of a small refuse pit.

Beth and Lorraine's refuse pit.

Beth and Lorraine’s refuse pit.

Making a formidable team, it wasn’t long before Beth and Lorraine made some great finds. Highlights included a worked bone object with a carved internal thread.

Beth's worked bone object.

Beth’s worked bone object.

It is possible that this could be the decorative end of an umbrella or similar item. It was certainly designed to screw on to something.

The excavation of this pit proved that a possible structural feature visible in the section of ‘Biagio’s bone pit’  (see earlier blog entries…) to be almost entirely truncated by later activity. That slight disappointment didn’t stop Beth and Lorraine from enjoying their work, however, as the finds continued to flow.

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Live long and prosper.

With the pit recorded, the intrepid pair revealed, recorded and excavated a small post hole, forcing Beth to break out field archaeology’s most devastating tool: The Teaspoon.

'There is no spoon'

‘There is no spoon’

One of a number of emerging structural features, this post hole adds to a growing body of evidence that this yard was a busy working space in the first two decades of the 19th century.

Sandra and Bella began their week of excavation with us by investigating a feature that cut into a cobble surface/footing recorded by Gina and Geoff early in the season. Like Callum and Theo’s feature, this proved to be a difficult task. After a good deal of investigative troweling, Sandra and Bella discovered that they were actually dealing with two features, a shallow pit cut and an infant burial.

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Sandra and Bella’s area under investigation.

Complex relationships like these throw up a lot of records and Sandra and Bella worked hard to clean, photograph and plan each layer and cut edge. The discoveries made in this area depict an unusual dichotomy. Clearly, this area of 19th century yard space was home to countless pits, tips and post holes, but it was also being used, seemingly concurrently, for burials. As the ceramics from each context in this area are analysed by specialists, it will be fascinating to see if we can tighten the dating sequence and confirm whether or not the yard remained in active use while it was receiving burials.

Recording in 'that end'

Recording in ‘that end’

Bella and Sandra ended their week by recording and excavating a small dump of clayey material. This in turn revealed yet another stakehole!

Sandra and Bella lifting a clay dump.

Sandra and Bella lifting a clay dump.

A busy week in ‘That End’ has added to an increasing cross-site division. It is certain that refuse pits, structural features and industrial features are increasingly common as you move further from the 18th century rectory building. Clearly, the rector liked to keep such smelly nuisances away from his dwelling. It is interesting to note that the residents of All Saints Cottages couldn’t afford to be so choosy. It’s fascinating to think that these beautiful medieval buildings have only been held in such high regard in relatively recent times; they must have seemed quite old hat in the 1820s.

Hindsight can be a wonderful thing.

All Saints Cottages border the northern end of the trench.

All Saints Cottages border the northern end of the trench.

The rectory is depicted in an early 19th century engraving and seems to have been quite a grand residence, even if a little artistic licence seems to have been taken – the footings we have uncovered are a tad smaller than you would expect for such a large building.

The north-east wall of the rectory with cesspit annex to the top of shot.

The north-east wall of the rectory with cesspit annex to the top of shot.

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The rectory – note the annex to the right.

The Tree of Finds enjoyed a wonderful moment as the last of the ‘horn pit’ finds were finally washed. Representing the by-products of the tanning industry, the 15 tubs of cattle skull and horn core proved quite a task to clean!

No more horn core!! :)

No more horn core!! 🙂

Finds washing revealed a number of treasures that had yet to be noted. A seemingly innocuous pot sherd was washed by Beth and was found to contain antler stamped decoration.

Beth under the Finds Tree.

Beth under the Finds Tree.

This is proving a tough sherd to date, with opinion remaining thoroughly divided. It’s fabric and decoration are crude and a Roman or Anglo-Saxon date wouldn’t be beyond the realms of the imagination. However, it is equally plausible to be a locally made post-medieval ware. We await specialist opinion…

Suggestions welcome...

Suggestions welcome…

While washing what appeared to be a clump of dirt, Bella spotted this small, well-made copper alloy object. A decorative fitting of some sort, we eagerly await our small finds specialist’s opinion on this one.

Bella's copper object.

Bella’s copper object.

Another amusing discovery was a large dog’s paw print in a medieval roof tile. You can almost picture the tiler’s annoyance at his unruly dog!

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Woof

Often difficult to distinguish between some Roman equivalents, we have nonetheless been noting an increase in Viking finds as we creep into earlier deposits. It bodes well for what lies beneath us!

Viking ceramics.

Viking ceramics.

Week 9 has seen our picture of early 19th century activity along Church Lane come into ever sharper focus. We can see unpleasant activities being pushed away from the rectory at the south end of the yard and kept close to All Saints Cottages to the north; we can also see working life continuing in the yard while it was being incorporated into the church’s burial ground. The refuse pits we excavate are giving us new insights into past diets and lifestyles and, as we expose elements of the individuals buried along Church Lane, we are able to meet the 19th century parishioners of All Saints face to face.

None of this would be possible without the funding, hard work and boundless enthusiasm of our wonderful team of budding archaeologists. It is people like this that give archaeology such a bright future, thank you to all the week 9 team for another exciting week on North Street!

The week 9 gang.

The week 9 gang.

So, now we head in to the closing stages of the summer session. Only three weeks and one weekend to go! It’s been immense fun so far and a genuine privilege to work with such a passionate and diverse group of individuals. Here’s to a big finale!

Onwards and downwards!

– Arran

PS. In closing, I’ll leave you with this.

Odd things happen on excavations sometimes. Our placement Becky was off sick for a day and it was decided she needed a replacement. Enter Becky MkII…

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Finding some ‘green graze’

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Keeping on top of those finds.

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A spot of recording.

A dinner date with Planty.

A dinner date with Planty.

Some light troweling.

Some light troweling.

Becky MkI.

Becky MkI. Thankfully, alive and well.

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