Tag: recording

2017 Site Diary: Weeks 5 & 6

Weeks 5 and 6 of the 2017 season saw us reach the halfway point of the dig; summer was flying by! We had a host of new and returning trainees at North Street and, as always, some questionable “summer” weather…

A damp start on Monday didn’t deter the Week 5 trainees from getting straight in the trench!

Week 5 started with inductions for all our trainees except for Joanna who was continuing from week 4. With the new starters all tooled up, Nina was paired with Joanna and placement Paul to continue work on one of the 19th Century burials. As this burial was known to overlay another individual by this point, the girls added the finishing touches to the records before lifting the remains for storage within the Church until their reburial. Then it was onto recording the cut for this upper grave, and the fill for the lower one. It was clear that the coffin from the upper burial had decayed and collapsed directly above the lower remains, with only a thin layer of grave backfill separating the burials as individual events.

Joanna and Nina carefully removing grave back fill from a lower burial in this plot.

By the end of the week Joanna and Nina had managed to lift one burial, record the cut for it, recorded the fill and coffin on the lower burial and begun exposing the remains. Bearing in mind that every piece of recording consists of photography, scale drawings, levels and context cards, that’s a lot of work for one week done to a very high standard!

Paul introducing Nina to the art of leveling with Joanna as the trusty staff-master!

Paul showing Joanna and Nina the single context recording process.









Also returning to North Street this summer was Jennifer, who was paired with new starter Sarah, for some fiddly work involving the cleaning up of a skeleton first uncovered by Gill and Sue in the previous week. The girls were more than up to the task, despite the awkward digging positions required due to the depth the individual lay at.

Sarah and Jennifer were all smiles as they tried out their best Archaeo-Yoga positions whilst excavating a difficult-to-reach burial.

Once cleaned up, it was time to record! With some help from placement Hannah, the trio made a very effective team and produced some top-notch plans.

Sarah plots the points, Jennifer plum-bobs the points, and Hannah calls out the measurements to Sarah. Good team work!

Working nearby were returnees Janet and Pete, who traveled all the way from Texas and Stoke respectively. They were joined by new starter Gillian and between the three of them worked on a burial and on some of the pre-graveyard deposits.

Pete and Janet working on a burial, and Gillian trowels off possible pre-graveyard deposits and surfaces.

Whilst lifting the burial Pete, Janet and Gillian observed a strange deposit on the left forearm of the individual. Upon closer inspection it appears that a pin, likely to be for a shroud, had corroded close to the bone and preserved some of the fabric around it. This fascinating piece of preservation is a poignant reminder of the care and attention taken with the burials of these individuals. Not only was this person buried in a beautifully decorated coffin, but they were also wrapped in a shroud. Given that North Street is known as one of the poorer areas of York at the time the graveyard was in use, it is apparent that bereaved families wanted to do what they could when they lost a loved one, as decorative plated coffins and burial shrouds were not easily affordable. Yet many of the burials here have had decorated coffins and evidence of shrouds or clothing in the form of buttons and pins associated with the remains. With plenty of time and care, Pete, Janet and Gillian lifted the individual and set about recording the grave cut.

Janet was visibly happy to be back at North Street once again!

As the trio cleaned up the grave cut, features became visible that pre-dated the graveyard. One deposit in particular was a bright orange colour, which is could be related to heat-based activity that has scorched the earth here. This could relate to the post-medieval workshops or perhaps earlier activity. However as we were at the maximum depth in proximity to the walls, the deposits were recorded and the cut backfilled.

Pete cleaning up the deposits now visible in the bottom of the grave cut. The orange colouration could be due to heat-based activities or events.

Another pair of returnees this week were Dan and Lucy, who carried on in the area that Josh and Laura worked on in the previous week. They lifted the last remains of a previously undiscovered infant and proceeded to record the cut. It was important to go over all of the recording process with the pair as they moved on to placement following this week of training. Once the cut was fully recorded they moved onto the next feature in the stratigraphic sequence at the site – the construction backfill for the Rectory walls.

Dan and Lucy get shown the ropes of single context recording by supervisor Katie.

The Week 5 tasters also had a good week, especially where finds were concerned! On Tuesday and Wednesday, Anna and Richard joined us and were given an area of build up against the rectory walls to plan and excavate. Whilst trowelling, the deposit revealed some rather lovely finds, including a lovely sherd of pottery with a very obviously square rim, dating it to the 11th/12th Century.

Anna looking suitably impressed with her 11th/12 Century piece of cooking pot.

Richard and Anna get their trowels stuck into a build up deposit against the Old Rectory walls.










On Tuesday tasters Annie and Steve joined us for a day of digging about in the Church Lane trench, and then two day tasters Tim and Alan took over on Thursday and Friday. This trench has already yielded many lovely finds through sieving, from Roman coins to Medieval pottery, and so our tasters were eager to get digging. However due to some pretty poor weather towards the end of the week, Tim and Alan had some issues to deal with; sieving very soggy, sticky, clayey mud. Fortunately the guys took it all in good humour and got (literally) stuck into it.

Tim and Alan get stuck into some very messy sieving, with a little help from Katie.

Their efforts were rewarded with a great find, although they spotted it without needing to sieve it – a large fragment of a Roman hypocaust tile! Whilst at first glance it looks like a big unattractive lump of ceramic building material, this is quite an informative find, as these tiles were part of the hypocaust system used in Roman villas and bathhouses to heat rooms up.  Underfloor heating is a luxury only the wealthy could afford because of the high maintenance needed to keep everything going; this find is one of several from North Street over the past few years that adds to the growing understanding of the possible appearance of this part of the city in Roman times.

Alan with a very large fragment of Roman hypocaust tile.

Week 5 had great work from all of our trainees on the burials, and saw the start of the investigation into some of the older features across the site. However it wasn’t all work and play in the trench, as the weather had other ideas on quite a few occasions; fortunately we had plenty of indoor things to do, including finds bagging. This is our opportunity to have a bit of a closer look at our cleaned up bulk finds and keep an eye out for anything unusual about what we’re sorting through. The week 5 team were very sharp eyed and spotted a few finds that were a bit different…

Clockwise from the top left: A roof or flue tile with scored lines, an oyster shell with a hole through the centre of it, a possible part of a slate pencil, and a fragment of stone with multiple scratches on it.

All of these finds have evidence of modification or working and so have been classed as ‘small finds’ and kept with our growing collection of interesting objects. Usually tile would be a bulk find, however as we are currently unsure if this is a roof tile or a flue tile (with the latter being part of hypocaust systems), it is unique enough to keep it separate. The lines on it are likely to be for the purpose of making it more adhesive to a surface. As for the oyster shell, it is unclear if the hole in the centre is a natural occurrence or from human activity, and so it has been catalogued separately. The item in the bottom right is made of slate and although it is broken at either end, the profile is circular, and resembles slate pencils or styluses found elsewhere. The stone with the parallel scratch marks on it is a bit of an unknown in regards to function, but could have been a surface for items such as leather to be cut into strips on for example.

Finds bagging with the trainees wasn’t the only opportunity to look at some small finds as they had their usual specialist session. On the Wednesday of Week 5, we had a visit from the Friends of YAT who came for a “behind-the-scenes” tour of a live excavation. This meant they were introduced to the site, the history of it, what we have discovered so far, what we hope to learn from this season and of course, they also got the chance to look at some of our small finds…

A selection of our small finds were brought out for the trainees and the Friends of YAT behind-the-scenes tour. Even Dino came out to say hello!

Friday came around all too quickly this week and we celebrated the #dayofarchaeology with some proper sunshine, our matrix session, and lots of work in the trench. Thanks to the Week 5 team for being fabulous!

The Week 5 team.

Week 6

With Arran and Katie finally having a whole weekend off, it was time for the week that would take us to the halfway point of the last season at North Street. On Monday morning, Katie hopped in the trench with continuing trainee Janet as Arran inducted the Week 6 starters, which included quite a few familiar faces from seasons past, both trainee and placement alike!


The start of Week 6. Lots of awkward features to reach down to!

Joining Janet was returnee Bill, and over the course of their week the pair worked with placement Hannah on some of the post-medieval workshop deposits and cleaned up a previously discovered skeleton ready for a full set of records and lifting.

Janet is all smiles (as always) whilst Hannah and Bill take the next measurement for her to plot!

Now in her second week as a trainee this year, Janet was really getting to grips with planning, and along with Bill and Hannah the trio put together some very detailed records and started to lift the skeleton with due care and attention.

Hannah and Janet looking rightly chuffed with their finished records!

As far as the post-medieval deposits were concerned, it is thought they relate to the period of time when the various workshops stood at the site. However so far we seemed to be getting layer after layer of mixed up tipping deposits that may relate to repeated levelling activities, possibly due to a subsiding deposit further down. The more we investigate this particular area of dumping, the clearer it should become – in theory!

Elsewhere in the trench, we had more familiar faces back for another season at North Street, and we set them to work on another area of pre-graveyard archaeology; the Old Rectory wall! Kirsten and Abi  started by adding finishing touches to paperwork for the infant burial Dan and Lucy worked on in the previous week, however once those records were squared away, it was time to empty the rest of the construction backfill of the wall! As the duo kept digging, Kirsten was rewarded with a lovely little small find – a worked bone object that could be a counter or something similar.

Kirsten proudly shows off her worked bone object.

Abi adds finishing touches to the records for an infant burial first found near the Old Rectory walls a few weeks ago.










As we’re digging stratigraphically, once the fill was excavated it was time for the wall itself to come out next! Where normally we advocate careful and steady excavation with trowels and even smaller tools for burials, this task required slightly more heavy duty implements…such as a hammer and chisel! Fortunately Kirsten and Abi were more than up to the task with a little help from placement Lucy.

Kirsten and Lucy looked quite entertained as they started demolishing part of the Old Rectory walls.

As is often the case, by Friday afternoon of Week 6 we had more questions than answers as Kirsten and Abi demolished all of the brick wall to reveal a substantial mortared stone wall footing. It wasn’t yet clear if the footing contained re-used medieval masonry or if it was in fact an in-situ remnant of our 14th Century Rectory. To confirm this as well as the extent of the footing, we’ll have to keep investigating this feature in Week 7!

Kirsten cleaning off the top of a substantial stone wall footing.

The only surviving image of the Old Rectory. Have we found evidence for the earlier building, or is it later/post medieval additions?








Part way through the week Abi teamed up with nearby duo Jasmine and Suzanne to help record a burial partially exposed by Joanna and Nina in Week 5. Suzanne and Jasmine spent most of their week carefully cleaning up the fragile remains and coffin so they could be photographed and of course recorded. Despite the challenge presented by this burial, as it lay quite far down, the girls did a fine job of cleaning up under the watchful eye of returning placement Imogen. Recording a skeleton requires patience and care however Suzanne, Jasmine and Abi were more than up to the task, and began lifting by the end of the week.

Suzanne, Abi and Jasmine team up to record a skeleton.

Also working on a burial this week was returnee Kristy and new starter Harry, who picked up from where Sarah and Jennifer were working in Week 5. Their burial lay in the centre of the trench in a particularly well preserved and beautifully decorated coffin. The coffin contained the remains of an adult male aged between 20-40 with teeth in a noticeably poor condition, which may relate to a poor diet or lifestyle.

Harry and Kristy lifting the remains of their burial.

As the pair lifted the burial, Kristy spotted something just underneath the left wrist of the individual. On closer inspection it turned out to be a button made from oyster shell and was smaller than a one penny coin! The location of the button could suggest the individual might have been buried in a buttoned shirt of sorts, and gives a very personal window into the life and death of the parishioners of All Saints.

Kristy and her tiny little oyster shell button. It will be kept with the remains of the individual lifted from this grave.

After lifting the skeleton at the start of the week it became apparent just how well preserved their coffin was. We decided to clean it up and get additional photographs as well as amend the existing plan to include the areas where handles, fragments of the base and even some of the fabric lining had survived.

Harry carefully cleans up the coffin sides and base. The plating is just visible on the left. On the close up, the fabric lining against the sides of the coffin is quite clear.

Kristy and Harry made a great team this week. Recording was straightforward and up to a great standard!


The pair took to the process very well and produced a great amended record for the coffin. With records completed, the pair lifted remaining pieces of coffin and they were set aside with the skeleton to be reburied together at some point in the future.




Harry and his whetstone. Yay for small finds instead of stones!

Towards the end of the week, Harry had a lovely find during a washing session. After several objects turning out to be pebbles and stones that were promptly sent for “further research” on the spoilheap, Harry had yet another stone, but noticed there was something a little different about this one. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a fine worn fragment of whetstone. At last, Harry had a find we didn’t throw away; in fact it got the small finds treatment, along with obligatory victory shot…

It was a busy week for tasters too, and on Tuesday and Wednesday we were joined by Mike and Candice, who hailed from Hull and California respectively, and mother-daughter duo Laura and Jess. Excavation of a construction backfill for the Rectory cesspit was undertaken by Laura and Jess, and they turned up quite a few finds in the process. At the end of their two days they got the chance to wash some of their finds and were amazed with the variety of things that turned up. Jess was thinking of pursuing archaeology further at university – so hopefully the taster course has piqued her interest! Candice and Mike also had a great time in the Church Lane trench and found a variety of pottery types as well as participating in some of our specialist and finds processing sessions.

Jess and Laura with their crate full of finds from a construction backfill.

Mike and Candice delve deeper below Church Lane.









Our other tasters this week were another mum and daughter duo, Cara and Alexandra, who despite a lot of rain on their day managed a little bit of trench time to practice their trowelling skills. They also had a go at finds processing and participated in one of our specialist sessions. On Thursday Laura and Mike joined us for a couple of days, so we paired them up and they got stuck into the Church Lane trench, as well as participating in Arran’s matrix masterclass and finds processing. Their highlight however, was a fragment from the rim of a Roman Black Burnished ware pot. Whilst lovely enough in itself, a closer look at the rim led to the discovery of a deliberately incised ‘X’ mark. As this is a little different from a nondescript pottery sherd, and is the second piece with this type of incision found over the past few years at North Street, it was retained as a small find.

Laura and Mark excavating in the Church Lane trench.

‘X’ marks the spot? Visible on the left of the rim.






Along with Kirsten’s discovery of the mortared stone wall footing at the Old Rectory end of the trench, we had a lovely, sunny and exciting finish to Friday afternoon. What a way to mark reaching the halfway point of this final season! As always, huge thank you to our trainees old and new for making this possible, as well as the placements for making mine and Arran’s job that bit easier…

The Week 6 team.

Till next time!


P.S: Whilst we’re on the subject of placements, after reuniting with the force of nature that is Imogen at the start of Week 6, Arran kindly asked us to demonstrate some key archaeology poses for the twitter updates. We’re fond of general daftness and so were quite happy to oblige…

Placements (and former placement) reunite to recreate those classic archaeology poses, all of which are good workouts for the legs in particular!

2017 Site Diary: Weeks 3 & 4

After a hectic first fortnight at All Saints, there was no time to pause for breath. The second Saturday of July dawned bright and sunny and the first weekend team of the year got straight to work!

Digging gear ready to go!

Digging gear ready to go!

Weekend Warriors

Inducted, oriented and tooled up, the new team took straight to the trench. The plan of attack was to attack on two fronts, investigating two very different sequences of archaeology.

Dineke, Sue and Gill get started.

Dineke, Sue and Gill get started.

In the centre of the trench, Archaeology Live! veterans Sue and Gill were joined by new starter Dineke and began work on what was believed to be the final grave plot to be investigated. Over the previous three seasons, a sequence of 19th century deposits had been excavated and the team had begun to wonder if the space had ever received a burial. As work progressed, a faint rectangular edge did eventually emerge and the new team made quick work of recording their suspected grave backfill.

Let excavation begin!

Let excavation begin!

Recording done, it was now time to break out the trowels and start digging. As the depth of a burial can never be predicted, this process is carried out slowly and with great care and one of the edges of the grave cut proved to be very clear – the others were somewhat less co-operative.

When graves have been tightly packed together and repeatedly re-opened in the past, it isn’t unusual to find their edges to be a little diffuse and the trio tackled the task with admiral patience. Thankfully, this was met with fine reward when  some stunning finds began to emerge.

Dineke's enigmatic lead object.

Dineke’s enigmatic lead object.

Dineke struck first, spotting an oddly shaped and distinctly heavy object from the mass of animal bone and pottery that was being recovered from the backfill deposit. The object was made of lead, but didn’t appear to relate to maintenance of the stained glass, as so many of our other lead artefacts have. Its purpose may remain a mystery for now, but an assessment of our small finds is scheduled for next year and may tell us a little more.

Gill and her freshly unearthed coin.

Gill and her freshly unearthed coin.

Not to be beaten, Gill celebrated her fifth season of Archaeology Live! with a real benchmark in any archaeologist’s experience – her first ever coin!

The tiny object appears to have been made of copper alloy and was covered in a thick layer of corrosion. Nonetheless, its shape and thickness appeared distinctly Roman, making it another addition top a growing assemblage of Roman coinage found at All Saints.

As we’re digging in the heart of the civilian Roman city (the Colonia), finding a good number of coins isn’t a great surprise. The interesting development is the relative scarcity of any later coins, which appear in far less quantity.

There could be numerous reasons for this skewed assemblage, but it seems very likely that the site was an important place in the height of York’s Roman splendour. As with Dineke’s lead object, we hope to learn more about Gill’s coin in post-excavation.

On the road again…

In the very north-east corner of the trench, Debi, Sonia and Richard were making their Archaeology Live! debut in a very exciting new sondage (archaeologist parlance for a ‘trench within a trench’). Church Lane is a narrow passage that runs along the north side of All Saints and connects North Street to Tanner Row. Today, it is a quiet, private footpath, but it was once a busy route between the waterfront of the Ouse and the centre of York’s tanning industry. Only one section has ever been excavated across the street back in the 2015 season and the results of this were unexpected to say the least.

Richard, Sonia and Debi beginning the Church Lane slot.

Richard, Sonia and Debi beginning the Church Lane slot.

Beginning with a sequence of 19th and early 20th century service cuts for drains and cables, the 2015 sondage didn’t get off to a glamorous start, although the fill of the drain trench did yield a beautiful Roman coin. The surprise came later as, buried beneath 18th century road surfaces, a pair of post-medieval burials were revealed close to the wall of the church. These burials appear to have been interred at a point when this area was not an active burial ground – what was going on?

Sonia hard at work

Sonia hard at work

Of course, there was only one way to find out – time to dig!

With the (incredibly heavy) flagstones of the path lifted, the first task was to quickly record the latest feature beneath them. In this case, the drainage beneath the street appears to have been replaced in the 1920s, leaving a long thin trench beneath the street.

While this is hardly Stonehenge, this drain cut is one of the deepest features on the whole site and, as a result, was cut through many centuries of archaeological deposits which, following the installation of the 1920s drains, were then used to backfill the hole. This means that lots of earlier finds have been re-deposited within the trench, finds that can tell us a lot about the site’s more ancient past.

Sonia, Richard and Debi immediately began to see the results of this process as a wonderful array of finds veritably poured from the trench.

Sonia and her Cistercian mug base.

Sonia and her Cistercian mug base.

There were many highlights, with a particularly stunning array of ceramics stealing the show. Sonia discovered the base of a 16th century Cistercian ware cup with a lovely iridescent purple brown glaze. The cup would likely have been a two handled vessel and provides a direct connection to one of the area’s post-medieval inhabitants. Holding the objects people used on a day to day basis is one of the real pleasures of archaeology after all!

Debi, Sonia, Richard and a selection of their many finds

Debi, Sonia, Richard and a selection of their many finds

All told, the pottery found in the top few inches of the feature filled several finds trays and spanned from locally made 2nd century Ebor wares to late 19th century white wares – that’s a date range of just shy of two millennia! You really can’t beat digging in York.

The good weather held for the whole weekend and the team made an excellent start on the two new features. There would, however, be no rest for the wicked – it was time for week three!

The July weekend team.

The July weekend team.

Week Three

The fine weather of the July weekend didn’t last for long and the third Monday of the dig began on a decidedly damp note. Undeterred by grey skies, the continuing trainees from week two dived straight into the trench with Katie, while Arran inducted the new starters.

Sam and Jenni cleaning a pair of neighbouring coffins.

Sam and Jenni cleaning a pair of neighbouring coffins.

Bad weather hampered much of week three, forcing the team to juggle the schedule to make best use of gaps in the rain, but it would take more than cold, wet ‘Yorkshire sunshine’ to hold our team back!

Spirits remain high as the team shelter beneath the Tree of Finds.

Spirits remain high as the team shelter beneath the Tree of Finds.

New starters Linden and Karu took over the excavation of the burial started by Gill, Sue and Dineke at the weekend and successfully defined three clear edges to the cut. The remaining edge remained elusive, with the loose backfill deposit spreading further to the north than might have been expected.

Linden and his stopper.

Linden and his stopper.

In spite of this curious edge, the feature yielded some interesting finds including a ceramic stopper from a 19th century bottle. The stopper most likely had a second life as a child’s marble as bottles of this type were frequently smashed by children to recover the stoppers.

Karu's bone object.

Karu’s bone object.

Not to be left behind, Karu came across a fragment of beautifully worked bone. The object appears to have been purely decorative and may well have been made by the horn and bone workers who occupied the site prior to its use as a graveyard.

After three days of patient trowelling, the gents were rewarded with the discovery of the coffin. While the wood only survived as an organic stain, the decorative band of metal around the edge of the coffin was clearly visible and a fragment of the collapsed lid demonstrated how beautifully decorated the coffins would have been.

A fragment of decorative coffin plate.

A fragment of decorative coffin plate.

By the end of the week, Karu and Linden had exposed around half of the coffin, which was no mean feat considering how difficult it was to reach the base of the cut. There was also one more find in store, as Karu spotted a rather enigmatic sherd of pottery…

Karu and the Demon Duck

Karu and the ‘Demon Duck’

The sherd appears to be the handle of a 19th century vessel and has been shaped in to the head of an animal. Debate raged in the trench as to precisely what creature Karu had found; was it a swan? A snake? A dragon? Karu’s suggestions of a ‘demon duck’ seems sensible enough to us…

Whatever the truth of the matter, this is certainly an unusual find – and a strong contender for find of the season!

The team hard at work.

The team hard at work.

Sam and Jenni continued work on a double burial in the centre of the trench. With one individual lifted, they were now free to clean up the remains of the other occupant of the grave.

While the upper burial had been challenging due to its collapse into the underlying coffin, the lower burial proved to be equally challenging. There was no further issue with subsidence into a lower feature but, in this case, the remains were incredibly delicate. As more of the skeleton was revealed, Sam and Jenni could see that the skeleton was female and that the bone was unusually porous, with evidence of extensive wear and tear in the spine and joints. Furthermore, almost all of the teeth were missing and had been absent long enough for the sockets in the maxilla and mandible to have almost totally healed over – this had clearly been a very elderly lady.

Jenni and Sam recording a skeleton.

Jenni and Sam recording a skeleton.

Discovering an individual like this was an important development as it provides a window into a an aspect of 19th century life that isn’t always apparent in the archaeological record – compassion.

To a casual modern observer, the 19th century can seem remote, cold, even callous. At All Saints, we have certainly seen a very high occurrence of infant mortality and the countless ways that this may have touched the lives of families living in the parish can only be imagined. Workhouses, debtors’ gaols, child labour, outbreaks of cholera and other diseases have become emblematic of this fascinating period of British history; permeating the fabric of the public consciousness.

Sam and Jenni’s discovery, however, demonstrates that a woman who must have been in near constant pain and struggled with her mobility was cared for well enough to live to a ripe old age. With the few records that survive relating to our burial ground still awaiting further study, we may never know the name of this woman, or who it was that cared for her in her final years, but we are able to put forward some possibilities.

Colton's Hospital as seen on the 1852 OS map.

Colton’s Hospital as seen on the 1852 OS map (image credit https://yorkmaps.net/1852)

The 1852 OS map of York depicts a row of buildings marked as Colton’s Hospital a mere stone’s throw from the west end of Church Lane. An annotation reads, ‘An Almshouse for Poor Women’ and contemporary census data even lists the names of some of the residents. Was our lady a resident of Colton’s? Or was she cared for at home by her family? Whatever the truth, this lady was certainly not abandoned.

Crucially, it is clear that at least some measures were in place to care for the most vulnerable parishioners of All Saints, North Street and it is certainly refreshing to see a more human aspect of 19th century life visible in the archaeological record.

Sam, Hannah and Jenni washing finds in the sunshine

Sam, Hannah and Jenni washing finds in the sunshine

At the south end of the trench, close to the walls of the former Rectory, Josh, Hannah and Laura picked up the excavation of another burial. As has become something of an All Saints tradition, this feature required the team to adopt some unusual digging positions…

Josh, Hannah and Laura working on a burial.

Josh, Hannah and Laura working on a burial.

The team proved to be very capable and didn’t take long to have the skeleton recorded and carefully lifted. The next task was to fully clean and record the remains of the coffin, which now stood empty for the first time in around 160 years.

Katie pointing out the clear outline of a newly empty coffin.

Katie pointing out the clear outline of a newly empty coffin.

Laura pointing out bands of medieval stratigraphy in section.

Laura pointing out bands of medieval stratigraphy in section.


Before the end of the week, the coffin was also ready to lift and the trio started to clean up the cut of the grave, revealing a tantalising surprise in section.

Clearly visible in the edge of the grave cut were bands of grey and black ash and charcoal that clearly pre-date both the lifetime of the graveyard and the workshops that came before it. Were we looking at more surviving elements of a medieval yard? Only time would tell…

Medieval yard surfaces?

Medieval yard surfaces?

Finally, Josh, Laura and Hannah topped off a successful week with some great finds, including a piece of decorative glasswork from the 18th/19th century and a cute little bone button.

Hannah, Laura and Josh with their latest find.

Hannah, Laura and Josh with their latest find.

Cute as a button.

‘Cute as a button…’

In the neighbouring burial plot, were also faced with the challenges of excavating the uppermost burial within a single burial plot. With a great deal of patience (and occasionally numb legs!) the pair squeezed into a difficult space and made really good headway.

Gill and Adele

Gill and Adele

Discerning what elements of a burial are collapsed and in-situ can be very difficult, but Gill and Adele were quick to adapt. On a rainy afternoon, they also accurately transferred a benchmark around the inside of the church with a dumpy level. We love gadgets, but it’s always good to master the old fashioned hard skills too!

Indoor levelling exercises.

Indoor levelling exercises.

The team were bolstered by a healthy crowd of tasters who joined us for one to two day sessions on-site. Early in the week, the team of Juliet, Bernard and Janet took over the excavation of our Church Lane sondage, before passing the baton to Sarah, Helen, Janet and Bev.

On your marks, get set, TROWEL!On your marks, get set, TROWEL!

On your marks, get set, TROWEL!

Finds of Roman, medieval and post-medieval pottery continued to appear in the service trench backfill running beneath the street surface, as did a substantial amount of disarticulated human bone.

Juliet, a doctor from Cambridgeshire, unearthed the star find – a small shard of what appears to be post-medieval window glass. The glass was immediately placed into a finds bag with a small amount of water, before being placed in a cool, dark container. This will slow down the decay that can terribly affect ancient glass.

With the trench being situated immediately adjacent to the church, it is perfectly possible that this glass was once set within one of All Saints’ world famous windows. If only finds could speak…

Juliet and her star find.

Juliet and her star find.

As well as having a busy week in the trench, the week’s new starters also enjoyed our signature specialist sessions.

Pottery. More fun than you might think...

Pottery. More fun than you might think…

Anyone familiar with Time Team will know how impressive it is when a beautiful 3D graphic is produced after an archaeologist unearths a tiny pot sherd. Happily, you don’t need a PhD to be able to learn a lot from even the smallest ceramic find. After an hour with Arran and our reference collection, the team were well on their way to happily telling their Gritty Wares from their Grey Wares!

For the first two seasons at All Saints, a reference collection of small finds (objects of individual significance) was used to teach trainees to recognise different artefacts and material types. By 2016, the finds we had recovered from our own little trench had become a far more exciting collection! As a result, this session has now also become a chance to admire our own assemblage!

Getting to grips with stratigraphy.

Getting to grips with stratigraphy.

Stratigraphy and the dreaded Harris Matrix were the concern of our final specialist session of the week. Placing hundreds of individual contexts into an accurate stratigraphic sequence has been the bane of many a student of archaeology, however, our irreverent take on the subject has always  had great success; there are just a few more unicorns than usual…

All told, week three turned out to be a real gem, with plenty of finds too!

The week three team

The week three team


Katie explaining some of our more interesting artefacts.

Katie explaining some of our more interesting artefacts.

After seven days straight on site, there was no rest yet for Arran and Katie as July 16th marked the beginning of the UK Festival of Archaeology.  To celebrate, a well attended open day was held at All Saints, giving local people a chance to see the site and to see our most exciting finds so far.

Week 4

The fourth week of the dig began amidst a flurry of sunshine, small finds and Samian.

Gill adds another find to her growing collection!

Gill adds another find to her growing collection!

Returnee Gill was quick off the mark with the discovery of a cute copper alloy object while Jenni unearthed a lovely rim sherd from a Samian ware vessel.

This was the beginning of a flurry of nice finds, with sudden bursts of celebration echoing around the trench. Jenni led the charge by spying a fragment of a medieval coin within the backfill of her feature.

Week four was off to a flying start!

Jenni and her coin.

Jenni and her coin.

This was Jenni’s third and final week on-site and she was joined by new starter Andrew to excavate another of our 19th century inhumations. While the sunshine was welcome, the high contrast made photography something of a challenge!

Bloody shadows!

‘Bloody shadows!’

Josh and Laura continued work on the burial they started back in week three, lifting the remains of the coffin and recording the cut.

Laura and Josh

Laura and Josh

With one burial now fully dealt with, the time appeared to have finally come to further investigate the Rectory walls. As a context can only be excavated once all related later features have been taken away, this moment had been a long time coming, but when Josh and Laura discovered an as-yet unknown burial, the walls received a stay of execution.

Josh and his haul of small finds.

Josh and his haul of small finds.

While, Josh and Laura weren’t able to begin dismantling the walls of the Rectory just yet, the newly discovered inhumation yielded some really interesting finds.

Josh struck first, finding not only a copper alloy button, but also a coin! The object was highly corroded, but its size and thickness would suggest that it is Roman in date and must have been on quite the journey to end up in a 19th century grave.

The ‘mobility’ of finds is an interesting thing to consider. The landscape along the River Ouse has changed dramatically since the 9th and 6th Legions paraded the streets of Eboracum and Roman ground level may now be situated several metres below even the deepest features that we have excavated so far.

Laura and her pipe bowl.

Laura and a rather interesting pipe bowl.

If Josh’s coin was misplaced during the Roman period, the deposit that it fell into must have been repeatedly disturbed by people digging pits, foundations and myriad other intrusive features. Each time the coin was moved, it was inadvertently re-deposited at contemporary ground level and, crucially, wasn’t noticed and recovered by the person who was disturbing the ground. Over the centuries, as the coin grew worn and ever more corroded, the chances of it ever seeing the light of day again would have grown ever more remote. Until Josh came along, of course!

This worn little object has clearly had quite the adventure on its way to becoming part of the archaeological record!

Not one to be left behind, Laura also recovered an interesting and rather convenient small find complete with the date of its manufacture – 1828.

Mason York 1828

‘Mason York 1828’

The find was a clay pipe bowl; not an uncommon discovery, but a rather fine example. In this case, the moulded decoration includes the crest of the City of York and a maker’s mark that allows us to know exactly who manufactured this pipe. The 1828 date corresponds with the lifetime of the graveyard, perhaps the pipe was used by a parishioner or even a grave digger. We’ve done a little research into this particular kind of pipe in a previous season and found that it comes with an intriguing story (have a read here!).

Elsewhere in the trench, other burials were also proving to be quite fruitful, although their inaccessibility was requiring the team to squeeze into some tight spaces!

Sue and Gill investigating one of our deeper graves.

Sue and Gill investigating one of our deeper graves.

In the centre of the trench, Sue and Gill returned to the burial they began work on back in the weekend excavation. While one edge of the cut remained thoroughly elusive, they were able to discern the whole outline of the coffin and to begin exposing the remains of its occupant. Over the course of the week, the industrious pair were even able to reveal enough of the skeleton to determine that she was female.

Aching arms, but still smiling!

Aching arms, but still smiling!

Reaching into this grave without putting any weight on delicate remains proved to be quite the workout for Sue and Gill, but they were able to make really good progress regardless!

Elsewhere in the trench, new starters Joanna and Lizzie picked up work on another tricky burial. While the individual wasn’t interred at a great depth, parts of the body were found to have slumped into an underlying void – there was almost certainly another individual buried below.

Joanna and Lizzie

Joanna and Lizzie

Cleaning up human remains is never an easy task, especially when bones aren’t necessarily found where they should be(!), but Joanna and Lizzie did a great job and veteran Arch Live! placement Paul was on hand to help create a detailed record.

Paul, Lizzie and Joanna completing their records.

Paul, Lizzie and Joanna completing their records.

Week four was a busy week for taster days! A small army made up of Hannah, Mark, Diane, Andrew, Ceri, Max, Chris and Julia joined us to work on our Church Lane trench and a sequence of features that pre-date the graveyard.

Chris and Julia in the ever-deepening Church Lane slot.

Chris and Julia in the ever-deepening Church Lane slot.

The Church Lane slot continued to be very fruitful, earning its nickname of ‘The Treasure Pit!’

A huge range of pottery was unearthed, with Roman ceramics occurring in notable quantity!

Hannah and her coin.

Hannah and her coin.

It wasn’t just pottery either, as Hannah marked her first ever excavation experience with the discovery of a beautifully preserved 4th century Roman coin! As first days go, this was a good one!

A closer look...

A closer look at Hannahs Roman coin.

Back in the trench, the tasters recorded and excavated more deposits below the floor levels of our 18th century workshops.

Diane and Andrew learning to read AOD heights.

Diane and Andrew learning to read AOD heights.

While the good weather didn’t hold all week, the team remained in good cheer!

Wet Wet Wet

Wet Wet Wet!

Finds Mountain certainly wasn’t neglected during week 4, as the team cleaned, sorted and bagged hundreds of our latest finds.

Wash Wash Wash

Wash Wash Wash!

Before we knew it, Friday was upon us and the fourth week of the dig was almost over. With one third of the dig already behind us, time was really flying, but we had already learned a huge amount more about the site.

Dig Dig Dig!

Dig Dig Dig!

At the end of play, tools were gathered together, buckets were stacked, records were filed and bags were packed. As the team gathered in the pub, we looked back on another fantastic week of people powered archaeology – and there were still eight weeks left to go! What surprises were left in store for us? Watch this space for updates!

Onwards and downwards!


The week 4 team.

The week 4 team.

PS. It’s always nice to get a bit of recognition for your work, especially when it comes from eminent archaeologists like Francis Pryor!

A history of Archaeology Live! Year four: St. Leonard’s 2004

At 17 years old, the Archaeology Live! training excavation is fast approaching adulthood, so what better time to flick through our proverbial baby pictures? We’ve been lucky enough to have excavated some incredible sites in the years since 2001 but our original home at St Leonard’s will always have a special place in our heart. Here, we’ve done a spot of digital digging, raided the archives and reproduced the 2004 team’s recollections of this amazing site.

A shot of the site looking towards the Multangular tower


If you wish to start at the very beginning, here are the tales of our first three years.

A History of Archaeology Live! Year One

A History of Archaeology Live! Year Two

A History of Archaeology Live! Year Three

Week 1 

The first week of the final season of excavation got off to a good start, with the first batch of trainees digging in the trenches immediately after their induction in the morning. The first day was particularly hectic, with the opening of the site by the Lord Mayor of York, Councillor Janet Looker, being followed by a live broadcast from the site by the local ITV company. The trainees mostly worked in Trench 3, under the shelter acquired last year, but we were also able to make good progress in Trench 5. There were over 900 visitors, despite the mixed weather.

Fragment of stamped Samian pottery

Excavation of the second Roman legionary fortress rampart, associated with the stone defensive walls and towers, commenced in Trench 3. Several mixed deposits were encountered, indicating that material from a variety of sources had been brought in to form the rampart. Some of this material was apparently domestic in origin, as it was ashy in places and contained a range of artefacts, such as pottery, glass and animal bone suggestive of domestic activity.

At first glance these finds date to the 1st-2nd centuries AD, which does not dispel the notion that the rampart was constructed around AD 200.

The base of a Roman glass vessel

In the north-east part of Trench 5 the earliest of several cinder and gravel paths within the 19th century Garden of Antiquities was excavated (the later path surfaces had been excavated towards the end of 2003). Beneath this path was a mixed layer of soil and rubble, which is thought to represent 19th century landscaping of the site. In the centre of the trench, excavation of a probable 19th-century excavation pit, exposed in the side of the Second World War air-raid shelter that occupies the entire south-west half of Trench 5, began. A Roman coin and a fragment of a medieval coin were found in this pit fill.

Excavating the 19th century excavation pit

Medieval silver coin; Roman coin

Week 2  

Excavating the Roman rampart in Trench 3, looking towards the back of the rampart. Note the ashy layer (foreground)

Despite another week of unsettled weather the excavation progressed well. There were some 1,100 visitors, bringing the overall total to around 2,000. Several groups of schoolchildren had a great time taking part in special activities including digging, sieving and finds washing.

In Trench 3 the excavation of the second Roman fortress rampart continued. It is becoming clear that the rampart deposits are very mixed. Some were thick and extensive, but others appear to be no bigger than basketloads. These deposits are thought to be mostly derived from human activity. They were quite ashy in places and generally contained large quantities of abraded finds, which suggests they were originally layers of ‘rubbish’ that had been dug up to be used in the rampart. Finds included more decorated Samian pottery, copper alloy studs with glass inlay decoration, and a startling eye from an unusual Roman head pot.

Excavating the Roman rampart. The ground slope in the foreground is the original slope at the rear of the rampart

Work commenced on re-opening part of Trench 4, in order to expose a previously excavated stretch of the medieval stone drain to public view.

Good progress was made in Trench 5 excavating the fills of 19th and 20th century excavation trenches, revealing a probable medieval column foundation. The significance of this discovery is that the 19th century excavators thought they had located the north-west end of the medieval infirmary at this point, whereas it now seems the infirmary extended further to the north-west. It is therefore possible that the medieval builders used the south side of the Roman Multangular Tower to form the end of the infirmary block, which implies that the Multangular Tower survived into the medieval period. This medieval feature, and its relationship with the Multangular Tower, will be carefully examined over the next few weeks.

The eye from a Roman head pot

A fragment of decorated Samian pottery


Week 3 

The weather held good for most of the week with one or two downpours dampening the soil – but not the spirits of either the excavators or the visitors. The acquisition of a shelter for Trench 5 further bolstered the morale of the trainees and staff! Even on the wettest days visitors donned boots and waterproofs and came to watch progress from under their umbrellas. Despite the rain, the summer season is clearly upon us as we have been welcoming many visitors from the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan as well as a steady flow of tourists from all around the UK. The number of visitors to the site topped 3000.

A busy day in Trench 3, under cover from the rain

In Trench 3 we continued to investigate the Roman rampart levels where the build up of layers has become more complicated; even individual bucket-loads of spoil can be identified.

In Trench 5 work continued to expose the line of the wall of the Multangular Tower which had been extensively robbed. Much of this work involves re-examining the trench dug in the 1920s. This trench was found to have cut through a slightly curving 19th century trench, further complicating the stratigraphy in Trench 5.

The 20th century trench (with orange sand fill) under excavation in Trench 5

In the latter part of the week the medieval drain, previously unearthed in Trench 2, was exposed in Trench 4. The next task will be to de-turf the area where Time Team had a small excavation in 1999, revealing the steps down to the World War 2 air raid shelter.

One of the regular school parties carrying out archaeological activities, under cover in the medieval undercroft

Once again trainees have come from all over the world to join us this summer. We have students from Australia, Taiwan, the United States and from Germany – so word of the training opportunities in York is clearly spreading.

There were few finds of especial interest this week but a steady flow of the typical pottery, building material and animal bone will all eventually contribute to our understanding of this complex site in the heart of the ancient city.

Roman Samian pottery with part of the stamp of the maker, Perpetuus of Eastern Gaul. Late 2nd to early 3rd century

Week 4 

The excavation continued uninterrupted despite the continued wet weather. Neither were the visitors put off, another 1,000 visiting the site this week.

Removing the Roman painted wall plaster in Trench 5

The Artefacts and Ecofacts course was held this week, alongside the fieldwork training course. Ten students, from the United States, Switzerland and Sweden as well as Britain, have worked hard learning about bones, pottery, building materials, a range of small finds, and all about methods of conservation, research and display. Finds from some of the Roman rampart deposits from Trench 3 were studied as part of this course. The trainees’ findings largely support our current interpretation of the rampart deposits as being derived from a range of sources, including domestic rubbish, and dating to around AD 200. However, several sherds of Middle Saxon pottery (around AD 650-850) were identified, which provides much food for thought for the excavation team. Perhaps the rampart had been extended by the Anglo-Saxon occupants of what was then known as Eoforwic. It is thought the former Roman fortress was held by the rulers of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria at this time, but there has been precious little archaeological evidence of this activity to date.

The 19th century trench under excavation in Trench 5. The string lines represent the approximate position of the south wall of the Roman Multangular Tower

As work continued in Trench 3 it has become clear that the nature of the deposits forming the later Roman fortress rampart is changing again; there are now signs that these rampart deposits were carefully stacked. It is expected that this will be resolved in the weeks to come.

In Trench 5 the large, curving 19th century excavation trench was excavated, producing large quantities of Roman and medieval brick and tile. On the northern side of the 19th century trench, layers apparently within the rear part of the Multangular Tower have been exposed. A substantial piece of painted wall plaster has been found, and other, smaller pieces are visible, as yet un-excavated, in the section. Such adornment is not what we necessarily associate with a military building, if indeed the plaster does derive from the tower itself. Once the other pieces have been excavated it will be interesting to compare these pieces with other plaster found during excavations elsewhere in the fortress, notably from a possible officer’s house at Blake Street across the road from St Leonard’s.

The large fragment of painted wall plaster from Trench 5

Week 5 

This week we were joined by students from the United States, Sweden, France, Belgium and from elsewhere in Britain. The steady flow of visitors to the site, both foreign tourists and local people, increased as summer holidays got underway. This was another damp week, but merely prompted the acquisition of another shelter to cover Trench 4, and work continued.

Over the weekend we hosted an event as part of National Archaeology Day. Re-enactors from the local group Comitatus and the East Yorkshire section of the World War Two Living History Group formed a ‘history street’ representing the major episodes in the site’s history, from the Roman conquest to World War 2. Russell Marwood of YAT devised a children’s quiz, and ran a war-gaming exhibit. The event was free, and attracted over 2,000 visitors, bringing the total number of visitors to 7,000.

Excavating a turf stack in Trench 3


Trench 3

Trainees were busy this week trowelling through the layers of a large pit. This may originally have been a cess pit cut into the rampart layers but this will not be clear until environmental work is carried out on the soil samples taken from the pit. Work otherwise has concentrated on examining the layers which make up the Roman rampart; surprisingly, some of these deposits appear to be layers of turf.

Trench 4

Work continued in this trench to expose the steps down to the WW 2 air raid shelter. Deposits encountered during this work found fragments of glazed floor tile. Although these were found residually (i.e mixed in with later material), they are of great interest as if they are medieval in date they might help to reconstruct the appearance of the hospital floors.

Trench 5

In Trench 5 work continued examining the deposits associated with the robbed Roman wall of the rear chamber of the Multangular Tower. This had previously been examined by Miller in the 1920s in an effort to understand the extent of the hospital. More Roman plaster, some of it painted with linear coloured scheme, continued to be recovered from these layers and it seems likely that it came from this now robbed out wall. The pieces of painted plaster which had been lifted previously are now undergoing conservation treatment to stabilise it prior to research.

Week 6 

Another wet week made the ground very muddy, and required a protective netting to be laid in order to protect the grass around much of the excavation area (the public route being protected this way since the beginning). This is proving to be a poor summer, such a contrast to the dry summer of 2003. Over the weekend of 24-25 July the site hosted events as part of the York Roman Festival. Again some 2,000 people visited, and the overall number of visitors passed 10,000.

Trench 3

Work continues on the both the layers within the large pit and in the surrounding ramparts. A fascinating picture is beginning to emerge as evidence appears to show that turfs were laid as part of the rampart construction and individual turfs can be seen in the section towards to the top of the trench. Clear differences in soil colour and composition can also be seen but further work needs to take place in order to understand their significance. One exciting find was part of a box flue tile, part of the ingenious heating system use by the Romans. Whether a nearby building enjoyed this luxury or whether this was dumped material from some distance away is not clear, but it is reminder of the sophistication of life in the Roman fortress. A small strap end was also recovered from this trench this week but this awaits cleaning before it can be identified.

The entrance to the Second World War air-raid shelter in Trench 4

Trench 4

Work on re-exposing the steps to the air raid shelter was completed this week. It is anticipated that medieval deposits will be exposed in this trench in the course of the following week. An unusual small wooden object, possibly part of a playing piece or some sort of fitting, was recovered but needs conservation work prior to further investigation.

Trench 5 

The Roman rampart revealed in Trench 5

More plaster! As work continues in this trench the quantities of plaster from the robbed wall continue to be recovered, providing new challenges for conservation placements working in the laboratory. On the other side of the trench, effectively outside the Multangular Tower, upon removal of the medieval rubble what appears to be the top of the Roman fortress rampart was encountered. This is further evidence of the large-scale truncation of the rampart as part of the construction of the medieval hospital.

The foundations of internal walls within the Multangular Tower revealed in Trench 6

Trench 6

A new trench was started this week which is designed to look at the internal structure of the Multangular Tower. This has exposed an internal partition wall running across the back of the standing projecting bastion. One objective is to discover the extent of Miller’s 1920s trench; he reported encountering concrete foundations and timber piles. If these are re-discovered there is the potential for dendrochronological dating of these piles which would clearly help enormously in verifying the understood chronology of the early fortress.

Opening the first part of Trench 6

Week 7 

Steady progress was made this week, under the trench covers of course. The trainees were mostly British, but with a strong American contingent. Over 1,500 visitors took the overall visitor total towards 12,000.

Trench 3 

Work has concentrated on removing the substantial clay layers which cover the western end of the Roman rampart. These appear to be part of the construction of the rampart where layer upon layer of dumped material was deposited to reach the desired height and width. More evidence of the use of turf in the construction has been found, apparently to form cells which were then infilled with clay and cobbles. Considerable care seems to have been taken in constructing the rampart.

The large pit has finally been bottomed, and once recorded it was backfilled again for safety reasons. Its contents were of a ‘cessy’ character and contained mostly Roman material with one or two pieces of pottery which might, intriguingly, be later. Watch this space!

Trench 4 

The Victorian path (centre) cut by the air-raid shelter (foreground). Note the medieval stone-capped drain, originally unearthed in Trench 2 (background).

Recording of the air-raid shelter steps was completed this week, with all the necessary plans drawn and measurements taken in order to preserve, by record, this recent but important bit of York’s history. Further work in the trench revealed a cinder path which probably once wound its way through the Victorian landscaped garden. As might be expected few finds were found associated with this feature.

Trench 5

The final layers representing the demolition of the hospital have been cleared away from the eastern part of this trench, and we were straight down onto Roman deposits with not a hint of the intervening centuries. This, as has been seen elsewhere, is the result of the levelling off the site for the construction of the hospital and, regrettably, has removed whatever evidence there was for the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Scandinavian activity on top of the fortress rampart. An intriguing feature, a rectangular pit, was encountered just below the final hospital demolition layers. As this disappears into the section there is the possibility that it is a continuation of the L-shaped feature which was encountered in Trench 3 at the end of 2003.

Removing the fill of another Miller trench in Trench 5

Elsewhere in the trench more painted plaster, presumably from the robbed out back chamber wall of the Multangular tower, has been recovered together with a simple copper-alloy Roman ring and some coins, yet to be identified. A second narrow trench, parallel with that following the wall of the Multangular Tower and presumably excavated by Miller in the 1920s, was found to have largely removed the medieval column foundation in the centre of the trench.

Possible Roman earring from Trench 3

Trench 6

In this new trench the most recent landscaping deposits have been removed. This has revealed a gravel surface alongside the foundations of the Multangular Tower, which seems to have been part of a display of the interior of the tower post-dating Miller’s 1920s excavations.

Week 8 

We are now resigned to the rain and our steady progress continued, although the shelter over Trench 4 is only just up to the task of keeping the trench dry! Total visitor numbers neared 15,000.

Trench 3

Time continued to be spent this week examining the turf and clay construction deposits on the Roman rampart. Amongst the dumped material was found the neck of a large, fine flagon, which impressed trainees and visitors alike.

The Roman flagon found in Trench 3

Carefully excavating the Roman flagon

Attempts to reach the bottom of the foundation pit, where a supporting column of the medieval hospital once stood, have still been frustrated as it is very deep! Excavation of this feature began in 2003, but had to be halted as it was too deep to excavate safely until the surrounding surface (the Roman rampart) had been lowered. It is likely that the end is near and we will be down to natural there soon. This foundation contained fragments of glazed flanged roofing tile, an unusual form of roofing dating to the 11th and 12th centuries. This suggests there was an important building on the site at this time – but does the presence of this tile in the foundations of the first stone infirmary mean that it was derived from an even earlier hospital building?

Glazed flanged tile from Trench 3

Trench 4

Below the Victorian garden levels in this trench, a yard surface comprising stone, cobbles and lots of broken tiles was encountered. This might relate to the post-Dissolution period use of the site for a variety of industrial purposes; the yard surfaces were made up with the remains of the destroyed hospital. Other pockets of such industry have been encountered elsewhere on the site in previous seasons, but their extent and purpose has yet to be determined.

Trench 5 

A copper alloy pin from Trench 5

The later Roman rampart is clearly evident now in this trench and, as in Trench 3, efforts are being made to understand the method of rampart construction. A further coin (yet to be identified) and a copper alloy pin were recovered from this rampart material. Two large pieces of plaster with some form of foliage decoration, have been carefully lifted by our conservation team. Work on consolidating what is becoming a very important assemblage of Roman painted plaster continues in the laboratory and we will bring you images when they are available.

Trench 6

The trench dug by Miller in the 1920s inside the bastion part of the Multangular Tower is now being investigated. The part of the trench to the east, inside the rear compartment of the tower, has been de-turfed ready for further investigation. A surprising encounter was the remains of part of a cow – perhaps quite a recent cow – whose presence just beneath a small Roman stone coffin has yet to explained!

A general view of Trench 6, within the Multangular Tower

Cow bones under excavation in Trench 6

Work will continue to investigate the floor surfaces and the foundations associated with the Multangular Tower and, as work progresses, it is hoped we will find the timber piles supporting the wall foundations to which Miller referred to in his excavation report.

Week 9 

One word will sum up week 9 on site. Rain!

Rain forced us to close the site to the public for three days; rain brought down the cover on Trench 3; rain caused a section to collapse in Trench 5; rain filled up every pit and cut feature on site and threatened to turn the excavation into a quagmire. Things are now drying out, however, and the site is fully up and running again. Only three weeks to go – can we get back on schedule?

Trench 3 

The new Trench 3 shelter takes shape

Little happened in this trench as staff and placements battled to sorted out the cover and get the rainwater out of the trench. In the brief time available it was possible to examine further the construction of the ramparts. An interesting situation is developing in the north-west corner of the trench where it appears that part of the rampart might have slumped into an underlying feature. This will not be understood until excavation has continued into these lower levels. Natural still has not been reached in the bottom of the large pier base pit – which is now full of water…..

Trench 4

The cover in Trench 4 was the only one which managed to stay in place during the downpour, allowing work there to continue. As the 16th century deposits resulting from the demolition of the medieval hospital were cleared away, evidence for the construction cut of the medieval stone-lined drain was encountered. This drain, some 800 years after its construction, coped with the deluge from the heavens much better than its 20th century equivalents, cheerfully carrying the water away from the sites as it was intended to do by the monks who built it!

A domed bone object, perhaps a counter, from Trench 4

Trench 5

Here too the rain stopped play for a period as sections began to collapse and the covers could not cope. Nonetheless more wall plaster is still coming out of the trench. YAT conservator Erica Paterson and conservation student Karl Knauer were called onto site urgently to ‘lift’ a number of large fragments of painted Roman wall plaster. Fragments of painted and plain plaster were found jumbled together, many lying face down or on their sides The diggers described the plaster as being so fragile it was ‘like digestive biscuits’ and had obviously suffered cracking and breakage when dumped, not helped by the wet weather on site had made the porous material even softer and more difficult to handle.

Conservators lifting wall plaster from Trench 5

Two large fragments of plaster approximately 30 x 40 cm were uncovered face down in the trench and the aim was to lift them intact so that any surviving painted design could be saved for full study. Because of their fragile and fragmented state the conservators applied strips of – bandage impregnated with plaster – similar to that used in hospital for setting broken limbs. Once set, this created a rigid cast around the plaster fragments. Thin metal baking sheets proved useful in separating the plaster from the underlying soil. These were pushed horizontally underneath the layers of plaster and then the whole block of soil and plaster was lifted onto wooden boards. Once back in the laboratory the supported fragments could be turned over and the slow and painstaking process of removing soil to reveal the hidden painted surfaces could begin. Conservation placement student Karl Knauer from the Winterthur/University of Delaware M.S. Program in Art Conservation in the U.S. learned the art of on-site lifting from lab staff and is now continuing work on the plaster as one of his special projects.

Karl explains the process…..

A fragment of wall plaster
undergoing conservation

The next step will be to consolidate the crumbly and fragmented plaster with an appropriate synthetic resin, then to provide suitable packaging so the pieces can be stored safely yet be easily accessible for viewing.”As the plaster pieces were face-down in the trench, turning the “block lifts” over was naturally the first step in cleaning them. The soil (which had been below the painted surface prior to turning the plaster over) was removed methodically with palette knives, scalpels and brushes. Slowly, the painting became evident – and a large section of red border design was uncovered. An exciting orange-coloured area of the plaster revealed itself, as well – indicating that the design motif may have combinations of geometric and curvilinear patterns in a variety of colours. It will certainly be interesting to see if these pieces can come together and give a more complete picture of how the mural would originally have appeared!”

Bizarrely, wall plaster appears to be in the fortress rampart as well as within the Multangular Tower. This would indeed be strange and the picture will become clearer once further work has been done.

The backfill of the 1920’s trench has now been completely removed. Beneath this an area of mortared rubble confirmed that we had located the position of another column in the medieval hospital, which clearly did extend right up to the Multangular Tower.

Trench 6 

Work continues in Miller’s trench to get to the timber piles but, as everywhere, the rain sodden ground is making progress difficult. In the eastern part of the trench, initial examination of the layers below the modern turf shows that, so far, they are all 20th century.

Removing modern deposits in Trench 6. The water filled cut (background) is the Miller trench (partially excavated).

Week 10

At least the rain wasn’t quite so tropical this week! The site was closed to the public again for one day, but visitor numbers were over 1,300 nevertheless, bringing the total to over 15,000. The British trainees were supported by a strong American contingent, mostly here for their second week.

Excavation of the rampart deposits in Trench 3 continued. However, there are signs that we are nearing the base of the rampart; there is a fine cobble surface appearing, and the deposits towards the rear of the rampart appear to be filling a ditch running parallel to the fortress wall. Perhaps these features will prove to be a surface and a roadside ditch which pre-date the rampart.

The rampart and cobble feature under excavation in Trench 3.

At the northern end of Trench 4, a large cut filled with mortar was found. This could be the demolished internal wall in the medieval hospital, which was found in Trench 1 in 2001.

In Trench 5 the excavation of the painted wall plaster continued. This is now a very thick layer overall, and it is increasingly difficult to see this as gradual collapse of plaster within the Multangular Tower.

In Trench 6, modern deposits were removed from the eastern area. However the main effort was dedicated to the re-excavation of the 1920s trench in the western area, where we hoped to re-locate timber piles beneath the wall of the Multangular Tower; extraction of any piles could produce tree-ring dates that might date the construction of the Tower to within a year. Trainees Gabriel Gibson and Alex Schwartz deserve special praise for their tremendous efforts in removing the fill of the 1920s trench, which had to be shored to make the excavation safe, and had to be pumped out regularly as the trench filled with ground water – the wet extreme of urban archaeology. They were finally rewarded by the sight of substantial timber piles still in place beneath the Tower wall. Now all we have to do is dig even deeper to extract the timbers!

Week 11 

A dry week at last! Everything, from moving around site, was so much less trying, and so an even better time was had by all. It seems the holiday period in the USA is over, as our American representation has ended; however the British trainees were joined by two Danes. The site remained closed to visitors for two days while the site recovered, but after much effort from the guides we were able to re-open the site and almost 1,400 people came through the doors, bringing the total to nearly 17,000.

A Roman glass bead

Trench 3

Another series of sloping rampart deposits, mostly ash and charcoal, have been encountered. There is still no sign of the natural ground surface, and the trench is getting deeper every day. This is not what was expected!

Trench 4

A fragment of beautiful Roman vessel glass

The mortar filled cut identified last week has proved to be very deep. This feature is thought to be the result of robbing of the walls of the medieval infirmary; hopefully, we will find the intact foundation beneath.

Trench 5

Excavation of the layers of wall plaster continued, producing further examples of painted decoration. A near complete mortarium bowl was found. Re-excavation of the parallel modern trenches showed that they were dug to either side of a concrete slab – the foundations for the south wall of the Multangular Tower have been found at last! Apparently the (probably 1920s) excavators had followed the wall along its inner and outer faces. The medieval column base foundation was found to rest partly on the edge of this Roman foundation – another case of the medieval builders utilising the Roman structures where it suited them.

Wall plaster found, and a mortarium under excavation

Trench 6 

The highlight here was the extraction of three timber piles from beneath the wall of the Multangular Tower, a reward for the tremendous efforts put in to recover these timbers in a deep and very wet trench. Our joy was somewhat tempered when the YAT wood specialist, Steve Allen, identified the timbers as alder. Alder does not produce a consistent growth pattern every year, and so is useless for tree-ring dating. Nevertheless, the timbers display interesting evidence of Roman carpentry techniques, which will no doubt be the subject of a web diary update in the months to come.

Piles being excavated and examined

In the eastern part of the trench the early 20th century gravel surface already found in the western part was removed. However the layers below are modern in date and very thick, indicating the 1920s excavations were quite extensive.

Week 12  

The final public week of the project! Over 1,000 people visited the site on the last day, helping to boost the weekly total to almost 2,500. The season total was just under 19,500, almost the same as last year despite being the generally poor weather and being closed for the better part of a week. Many former trainees and placements returned this week, hoping to witness the major discoveries that always turn up at the end of a dig. The weather was good again, allowing us to make us much progress as possible.

In Trench 3, it now seems that a low bank had been laid down at the beginning of the rampart construction to form the rear of the rampart base. This may have had the dual role of marking the limit of the rampart for the builders, and retaining the body of the rampart. The concave surfaces of the rampart deposits being excavated are partly due to their lying against this bank, although it still seems they are also subsiding into a cut beneath the rampart.

The concave rampart deposits in Trench 3. The water-filled hole is the base of the medieval column foundation pit

In Trench 4 the mortar-filled robber trench was emptied, revealing a cobble foundation. This foundation resembles the cobble foundation found in Trench 1 in 2001, and apparently formed the south-east end of the medieval hospital infirmary from about 1100 until the building was extended to the south-east in around 1250. As this foundation was at the maximum safe depth limit, it was decided to concentrate our efforts on investigating the layers lying between this structure and the stone-lined drain to the south-east, which presumably pre-date the infirmary.

Excavating possible pre-infirmary deposits, cut by the stone-lined drain (to rear of trench)

In Trench 5 the bottom of the wall plaster layers ‘inside’ the Multangular Tower was reached. Beneath were various thin layers including gravel and clay, indicating these were floor deposits within the tower. Hopefully, study of the finds from these layers will tell us when these floors were laid down, and what kind of activities took place in this building.

The mortarium found in Trench 5 last week, after cleaning

A narrow cut was found, evidently the north-west side of the ‘L-shaped’ feature found in Trench 3. This is thought to be the base of a flight of steps that allowed the defenders of the fortress to reach the battlements quickly. However the corner of this feature overlay the south-east corner of the Multangular Tower foundation, which means the rear of the tower must have been dismantled before the timber staircase was constructed. The dating of this staircase feature is now crucial; if it is Roman in date, it means the rear of the Multangular Tower was demolished during the Roman period, while the front of the tower remained and is still standing!

At the west end of Trench 6 our attention turned to the deposits through which Miller had dug his trench to expose the timber piles. These deposits, well over 1m deep, are clearly not natural; indeed they are dumps of Roman waste material. It seems the original Roman ground surface, which consisted of sand over clay, sloped down steadily westwards to the River Ouse from this point. It therefore proved necessary to form an artificial terrace at this point before the Multangular Tower could be constructed. Hopefully the finds recovered from these deposits, including leather and wood, will help to date the construction of the Tower more closely – almost compensating for the failure to obtain tree-ring dates from the piles!

Roman dump deposits, cut through by the foundations of the Multangular Tower (left), visible in the side of Miller’s trench. The scale rests on probable natural sand

At the east end of the trench, a large mass of mortared limestone rubble was found. Much of this had apparently been removed during Miller’s excavations, but it seems likely that this material originally filled the entire compartment. The best explanation we can offer at present is that the Roman deposits into which the foundations of the Multangular Tower had been dug into at this point proved unstable, and had to be replaced with something more solid. The construction and maintenance of this tower is proving to be a much more complex operation than we had previously thought.

Week 13-15

Although the site was now closed to the public, a small team remained to tie up a few loose ends prior to backfilling the site. That was the plan anyway.

A Roman bone fitting with one copper alloy river still in place

In Trench 3, the ash and charcoal deposits were found to be filling a large, irregular 1m deep pit. The function and date of this feature is at present uncertain. It could be a prehistoric feature; it may be associated with activity taking place against the inside of the first Roman (turf) rampart of the fortress; or it could still be a quarry pit, used to extract material to form a marker bank at the rear of the second rampart. The second option is favoured at present, and it could mean that the cobble surfaces and stone features found above the charcoal layers also represent activity contemporary with the first rampart. The pit was cut into natural sandy subsoil over glacial clay. We had reached the bottom of Trench 3, some 3.3m below the current ground level!

The lowest deposit in the pit under excavation

In Trench 4, what was meant to be a cursory investigation of the medieval cobble wall foundation revealed a substantial mortared stone wall beneath! This was a pleasant surprise, as taken with the evidence from Trenches 1 and 2 it offers a plausible construction sequence for the infirmary. Apparently the mortared wall in Trench 4 joined with the Roman interval tower SW6 to the south-west and formed the south-east end of the original infirmary (around 1100). The massive cobble foundation found in Trenches 1 and 4 is evidently a replacement south-east infirmary wall, indicating that Tower SW6 was demolished some time between about 1100 and 1250. Then the infirmary was extended to the south-west, on massive concrete and rubble foundations, around 1250.

A detailed view of the original infirmary wall (under the scale), buried by the later cobble foundation

In Trench 5, excavation of the deposits overlying the foundations of the Multangular Tower and cut by the possible timber staircase feature produced a wide range of Roman finds. The most intriguing was a bone counter, inscribed with decoration and Latin text on both sides, which is almost identical with a group of counters found in London; plenty of scope for research there!

A melon bead, and decorated counter with the legend IVNIII

A revelation – the deposits containing wall plaster appear to fill a large pit situated over the foundations of the Multangular Tower. The explanation favoured at present is that the rear of the tower was dismantled, possibly soon after it was built, due to structural instability (see Week 12, Trench 6). A rampart was then built against the surviving front half of the tower, forming a continuous rampart around the west corner of the defences. Access to the rampart via the Multangular Tower was no longer possible, hence the construction of a timber staircase onto the rampart as indicated in Trenches 3 (in 2003) and 5. When these changes took place, and how the front of the Multangular Tower was used thereafter, requires careful study of the excavation data.

View of the Multangular Tower looking west, showing the continuation of the south wall foundation in Trench 5

This scenario also has implications for the medieval infirmary. It would mean that there was no Roman tower to form the north-west end of the infirmary. The column base foundation found in Trench 5 would represent the continuation of the vaulted undercroft over the former position of the tower and presumably right up to the north-west fortress wall. In this case, the length of the infirmary would have been about 47m, rather than the 29m indicated by the 19th century excavators; a truly massive building.

Beneath the rampart and cut by the foundations of the Multangular Tower was a series of deposits including a cobble surface; these deposits are presumably contemporary with the first fortress rampart. They overlaid a possible buried soil overlying natural sand. A small pit or post-hole, cutting the buried soil, could be prehistoric in date. Anyway, we had reached the bottom of Trench 5.

In Trench 6, the dump layers in the western part of the trench were excavated down to natural sand. They were very organic, and contained wood fragments and blocks of turf. Are these the remains of the turf rampart, spread out to form the terrace on which the Multangular Tower was built? Close examination of the tower foundations in the eastern part of the trench indicated that they had been dug into natural sand. This suggests the original ground surface in the west corner of the fortress was quite flat, but then dropped off steeply down to the River Ouse. Hence the need to provide a terrace on which to build the projecting front of the Multangular Tower, and so the need to support the projecting front on timber piles in such unstable ground. It also might explain the omission of timber piles beneath the rear of the tower by the Roman builders as belief that the flat, sandy subsoil could support the weight of the tower – mistaken as it turns out.

And so the excavation finished, followed by a week of dismantling the site and backfilling the trenches. Thanks to everyone who helped to make the project such a success: the project team of course; the YAT staff who helped with the off-site activities; the 65,000 people who paid to see the dig; and not least, the 800 or so trainees who carried out most of the actual digging and paid for the privilege. Now starts the assessment of the stratigraphy, finds and environmental evidence. No doubt this will fill in many of the blanks in the story we have pieced together, as well as overturning many of the hypotheses that have been formulated over the past 4 years! Watch out for updates on the assessment, and news of how the results will be published.

The final team photo

That’s a summer in a post! I hope you enjoyed this digital archaeological dig through our past blogs, wonder if you could create a stratigraphic matrix for it…


Site Diary: Summer Week 12

The final week of the 2016 season dawned with blue skies, bright sunshine and warm temperatures- the last gasps of summer. It made us appreciate quite how beautiful the church would have been in its medieval peak, with a crown of green glazed roof tiles, it would have practically glowed. The season’s end clearly got us all rather whimsical, but what everyone actually wants to hear about is the archaeology- so let’s get to it!

A good start to the day, in our beautiful site cabin

We had a mixture of newbies and regulars on site this week but it also marked the return of the other half of our favourite Italian Dynamic Duo- Elisa! Doing what she does best, she sprang straight into action recording an infant burial before moving onto some pre-graveyard deposits, picking apart the stratigraphy of a few features that have been visible, but not free to excavate for nearly three years! Elisa’s rubble and tile filled 18th century pit soon bore finds fruit with a lovely medieval vessel rim and handle fragment followed quickly by another fragment from the same vessel.  We allowed ourselves to hope that the rest would appear, but archaeology rarely does what you want it to!

Elisa proving once again how capable she is at paperwork

Elisa’s unusual medieval pottery fragments fit together perfectly!

Federica, our other skilled Italian archaeologist, continued working this week on exposing the coffin stain for her adult burial- and boy was this a tall fellow! Every time someone checked on her the coffin had crept further and further until about six foot of coffin had been exposed. As the skeleton was carefully exposed, the skull suggested that we were looking at an adult  male who died relatively young.

He just kept growing! Federica excavating the coffin of a young adult male

Federica also recovered a rather phenomenal piece of colour coat Roman pottery, complete with lettering! It was quite an unusual sherd, so we asked around our archaeology contacts and a helpful individual offered an example of another recently discovered Roman cup. It doesn’t take an expert to spot the similarity and this is incredibly helpful as it helps us visualise how the whole of Federica’s cup would have looked.

Federica’s pottery shard (above) and an example from another site (below)

Nene Valley, or colour-coat wares, were made in numerous sites, with a large production centre in the Nene Valley in Cambridgeshire. There is some similarity with this pottery type and wares from the Lower Rhineland. The production of this pottery was based in Durobrivae, a fortified garrison town now known as Water Newton, but there were also kilns in the surrounding area. The wares began to appear in the mid 2nd century but remained prolific for much of the Roman occupation of Britain.

By the Rectory, Lynne, in her second week with us, has been joined by Rose and Poppy as she continues to expose the construction cut that she and Sophia identified last week. The three made quick work of cleaning and recording the construction cut and soon began to excavate the backfill so that we can finally ‘unlock’ the rectory walls and remove them (a context is only free to dig when all related features that post-date it have been dealt with).

Lynne, Poppy & Rose busy excavating their rectory wall construction backfill

The three made a good team and exposed the footings of the rectory in record time with Lynne and her keen eyes spying a coin in the backfill which makes this the third week in a row where a Roman coin has been recovered. She was naturally delighted with her find!

Lynne’s fantastic find!

Katie and Emma this week returned to their gradually deepening quest into the medieval period and it was getting more awkward and tighter by the moment- most people wouldn’t want to spend this much time down a hole with their sister (believe me, I have two of them) but Katie and Emma did a wonderful job navigating the tricky working conditions while exposing more medieval levelling layers.

Katie and Emma getting ever deeper…

Clive and Alistair, towards the center of the site, were busy unpicking a complex sequence of medieval dumps. These are important features to attempt to piece together a picture of the use and occupation along the street running down the side of All Saints Church.

Clive and Alistair defining a pit they have come across

With a sequence of complex deposits comes much paperwork, so Clive and Alistair also have to keep up to date their pile of paperwork, as you can see getting a good use out of planning frame.

Alistair and Clive planning their medieval dumps

Also this week we were visited for a day by Maree and Debra from Australia, that is dedication to archaeology! They worked on a robber cut that was started by Zachary earlier in the week.

Maree and Debra experiencing the joys of digging in British summer!

Taking advantage of some rainy weather we also got a chance to catch up on some finds bagging, this gave us a chance to bag up properly one of the star finds of the 2015 season. This delightful late-20th/early-21st century artefact was recovered from present day topsoil and has been affectionately called ‘Creepy Baby’.

Creepy Baby attempting to get out of his/her bag!

Week 12 was a fantastic week that saw us really starting to get into the Medieval deposits, allowing us to create a story for how people used the site before it became a graveyard. Thanks to our fantastic team this week for helping us to see out the end of this year’s excavations. Now to start planning what we will do through winter and what will come in Archaeology Live! next year. Hope to see you there!


Week 12 team shot


2017 Site Diary: Weeks 1 & 2

The ancient streets of York can be a bustling melee of tourists and locals, battling for space beneath the jettied floors of listing medieval buildings. As with many such cities, however, there are many hidden snickleways down which one can briefly escape the clamour of modern life. Tucked between the imposing church of All Saints, North Street and its neighbouring row of 14th century cottages, the well worn paving of Church Lane is one such place to find quiet and sanctuary in the heart of the city. That was, of course, until the archaeologists arrived…

Church Lane hiding in the shade of All Saints, North Street. Image courtesy of David Dodwell

In 2014, the Archaeology Live! training excavation broke ground away from the familiar surrounds of the Hungate development for the first time in almost a decade. While the Hungate project had been a whirlwind tour covering two millennia of York’s past, the time had come for a change and the All Saints, North Street excavation proved to be an excellent successor. Three years, hundreds of archaeological contexts and thousands of finds later, the team returned to the trench for one last hurrah before once again moving to pastures new.

Here is the tale of our final adventure at All Saints, North Street and it all began with… weeding. LOTS of weeding.

Trench of the Triffids.

Abandoned for nine months, the newly verdant trench had taken on a life of its own, leaving site manager Arran the unenviable task of clearing away the greenery. Predictably, this task was carried out on the hottest day of the year but several gallons of mud, sweat and tears later, the site was back to its sparkling self and the stage was set.

Week One

The 2017 season marked a big step forward for YAT archaeologist Katie, as it marked her first season as an Archaeology Live! supervisor. This was a well deserved benchmark for Katie, who had dug at All Saints successively as a trainee, a placement and, finally, professional staff.

With rain forecast, Arran and Katie flew the new team through the rigours of the site induction and got straight to work!

Katherine, Molly, Calum and Adrienne set to work.

Katherine, Molly, Calum and Adrienne set to work on a pair of burials.

Grave Concerns

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, York was faced with a rapidly growing population, a development that placed extra strain on the city’s already burgeoning churchyards. Churches like All Saints and St Crux, Shambles were forced to acquire additional land in which to inter their deceased parishioners and much of the current excavation area was consecrated in 1826. By 1854, all of York’s churchyards were closed by order. Reports of wells being tainted by liquids draining from burial grounds were rife and reform was badly needed. Despite this relatively brief lifespan, the burial ground has proved to be densely occupied.

Discussions with the church over the close season had brought about a change to our approach to the site’s 19th century burials. Three years of excavation had brought about a good understanding of the site’s deposit model and over seventy separate burials had been identified and recorded. In 2015 and 2016, the team had been requested to carefully lift shallow lying infant and juvenile burials for re-interment within the ossuary of the church, while deeper lying adult burials had been recorded, re-covered and left in-situ.  This new knowledge of the depth and location of the burials proved that the proposed re-development of the site would effectively destroy all of the site’s inhumations. In response, permission was granted by the church authorities to exhume the remains of all individuals buried on-site with a view for them to be temporarily housed within the church. Prior to any future construction work taking place, the remains will then be re-buried in the same site, but at a greater depth. This considered solution will allow for the site to enter a new chapter of occupation, whilst also respecting the remains of the individuals who chose to be buried there and protecting them from any damage.

This process will also allow for the remains to be studied archaeologically, revealing tell-tale signs of age, gender, illness and lifestyle. With scant historic records regarding the burial ground surviving, it was down to our trainees to learn as much as possible about the lives of the parishioners of All Saints, North Street.

Steve, Catriona, Andy and Stephen excavating a pair of neighbouring graves.

With the further investigation of the burial ground being a primary goal of the 2017 season, the whole team set to work on four of the site’s burials. Each of these individuals had been at least partially exposed in previous seasons, before being re-covered beneath a cushion of sieved earth and a protective wooden board. The first task at hand was to remove our own 21st century backfill material and to fully clean the delicate remains below. With a mix of experienced and brand new trainees, Arran and Katie were delighted by the team’s suitably patient and considered trowel work.

Working with human remains demands a high level of care and respect and each inhumation will come with its own unique challenges. From a young person in their early teens to a very elderly female, the four burials under investigation in week one allowed the team to get a good grasp of the varied ways that skeletal remains can tell us their stories.

The well preserved remains of a timber coffin.

Cleaning the well preserved remains of a timber coffin.

A defining character of practically all of the burials at All Saints has been the ubiquity of timber coffins, the majority coming complete with decorative metal panels. All four burials from week one featured clear evidence of these coffins, with remains of timber surviving remarkably well after around 160 years in the ground.

Molly and a freshly unearthed button.

Alongside the fascinating insights into burial practice, the backfills of the graves were also yielding some interesting discoveries. As a grave is usually backfilled with the earth that was upcast from its excavation, this material will contain evidence of what was happening in years prior to the cutting of the grave.

The provenance of individual objects recovered from these backfilling deposits can therefore be quite varied. For example, a 19th century individual digging a grave may accidentally drop something a contemporary object such as a coin. It is, however, equally possible that the digging of the hole may unearth much older artefacts within spoil that is briefly piled beside the grave and ultimately used to cover the coffin.

Fittingly, week one saw some very interesting objects discovered within grave backfills.

Keen-eyed Molly spotted a lovely little button that had been skilfully crafted from a piece of animal bone. It is even possible that the object could have been manufactured in one of the workshops known to have occupied the site in the decades prior to its consecration!


Stephen and a rather lovely architectural fragment.

In the centre of the trench, Stephen and Andy’s grave yielded a beautifully worked piece of medieval masonry that may once have adorned part of the church.

As everyone knows, there is far more to archaeology than just digging, and the team’s week was broken up with training in other important aspects of the discipline. Alongside seminars on pottery, small finds, stratigraphy and conservation, the team also processed finds and learned survey techniques. With unpredictable weather, the team were grateful to have the church as an impromptu site hut and teaching space!

Transferring benchmarks with a dumpy level.

Catriona and Katherine transferring benchmarks with a dumpy level.

Katie walking Steve and Catriona through the compilation of detailed context cards.

Katie walking Steve and Catriona through the compilation of detailed context cards.

After the long wait for the digging season to start, week one seemed to fly by in a blur! By the end of the week, one individual had already been lifted and the coffins within the other three graves were being recorded.

Thanks to the hard work and professional attitude of the week one team, the 2017 season got off to a flying start!

The week one team.

The week one team.

Week Two

In the second week of the summer excavation, we were joined by a mix of new starters and a few familiar faces. Alongside the new intake of trainees, Arran and Katie were joined by Archaeology Live! legend Dave (The Dig), who became the first placement to join the 2017 team.

A busy trench!

A busy trench!

Work continued on the four burials from week one and as the grave cuts grew ever deeper, the team were forced to employ increasingly unusual digging positions to reach the delicate remains within.

It's all a bit of a reach for Calum and Molly.

It’s all a bit of a reach for Calum and Molly.

While Calum and Molly carefully exposed an adult individual within a well-preserved coffin, returnee Jan and new starter Tony recovered the remains of a newly empty coffin and began to clean up the grave cut for recording. In doing so, they became the first archaeologists of the season to ask what would become a frequently asked question – is another individual buried within this grave plot?

Jan and Tony squeezing into a tight spot while investigating a grave cut.

Jan and Tony squeezing into a tight spot while investigating a grave cut.

Many of the burials at All Saints have been laid to rest in communal plots, with coffins buried one on top of the other. In some cases, it seems multiple individuals were interred at once, while in other cases graves seem to have been intermittently re-opened. The graves with multiple occupants may represent family plots or efficient use of the site’s limited space.

With their skeleton and coffin lifted, Jan and Tony would now have to carefully clean the base of the grave cut to ascertain whether anyone else was interred below. In this case, the pair were met with firm, intact stratigraphy at the base as opposed to looser, more mixed grave backfill – this was a single grave.

Molly lending a hand to Jenni and Sam on a complicated burial sequence.

Molly lending a hand to Jenni and Sam on a complicated burial sequence.

Elsewhere in the trench, 2016 veterans Sam and Jenni were dealing with a particularly tricky burial. This was at the very least a double inhumation and when the coffin of the underlying grave had eventually decayed and collapsed, the individual had slumped downwards into the earlier cut.

As a result of this, the skeleton was laid in a very unusual position with the right arm and the right side of the torso suspended awkwardly up to 200mm above the rest of the body. Furthermore, the remains of the lower individual were situated directly beneath those of the one above; Jenni and Sam would have to clean the skeleton with great care to avoid any confusion over which bones belonged to which person.

Calum, Jenni and Sam hard at work on a double inhumation.

Calum, Jenni and Sam hard at work on a double inhumation.

With the help of Calum and Molly, Sam and Jenni were able to expose the entirety of the skeleton and were well underway with the recording by the end of the week – a very impressive achievement! The burial was clearly of an adult individual, but damage to the skeleton during the collapse of the coffins made it very difficult to define its sex.

Sam beginning a detailed skeleton plan.

Sam beginning a detailed skeleton plan.

At the northern end of the trench, Steve and Catriona also managed to fully expose a skeleton, revealing some fascinating information about person’s health. The skeleton was clearly male and unusually robust, with exaggerated muscle attachments  suggesting that the person would have been highly active. With these skeletal abnormalities and railways, sawmills and flour mills close by, the man was clearly employed in a physical job.

Catriona cleaning a skeleton.

Steve planning a skeleton.

Steve planning a skeleton.

In spite of this active lifestyle, however, evidence from the teeth and pelvis would suggest that the person was only around 45 at the time of death – a sobering reminder of the low life expectancy of the time.

No cause of death was apparent, but the joints were extremely worn and there were many issues with the teeth. Clearly, this individual would have lived with a great deal of pain.


Steve and Catriona’s burial was in such a good state of preservation that the pair carried out a photogrammetric survey as well as creating a traditional plan drawing. Watch this space for the results when they’re processed!

Conservator Charlotte leading a tour of YATs conservation lab.

Conservator Charlotte leading a tour of YAT’s conservation lab.

The week two team kept up to the excellent standard of work set by the previous team and dealt admirably with some challenging conditions. Many questions were answered and the week ended on a real high when Molly was offered her first ever professional contract by Cotswold Archaeology! Over her three weeks as an Archaeology Live! trainee, Molly has learned a lot and we wish her the best in her career!

Good luck Molly!

Good luck Molly!

Week two succeeded in bringing us closer to the lives of the people we are studying at All Saints, reminding us of the unimaginable difficulties that people would have faced and none of this would be possible without the hard work of our trainees.

The week two team.

The week two team.

So, there we were. Two weeks down and it was like we’d never left. After three years, the chance to interact more directly with the human remains had proved to be highly evocative. Archaeology’s unique ability to recover intricate details of peoples’ lives can be astonishing. After just two weeks, the careful work of our team was already revealing the incredible amount of hard work that made up the lives of some of All Saints’ 19th century parishioners. We were able to learn more about the health worries that would have weighed on their minds, even down to the particulars of aches and pains. While the excavation of a burial ground obviously tells us mainly about how peoples’ lives ended, the remains can also tell us how they lived.

Over the coming weeks, there would be no slowing down. Watch this space for further updates!

In the meantime, onwards and downwards!




Site Diary: Summer Week 7

Officially past the halfway point and hurtling towards the end of the summer, Monday of Week 7 was as hectic as expected! While the previous week had been largely sunny, rain clouds loomed ominously for much of this week, though luckily we escaped the worst of it and the team soldiered  on admirably. Having said goodbye to some of our longer term trainees and placements the previous week we were happy to greet some new additions to the team.

There may be trouble ahead... A dark cloud just missed the site.

There may be trouble ahead… A dark cloud just missed the site.

Put straight to work on our longest running burials, Charlotte (an undergraduate student from Leicester university) found herself dealing with one of the tallest individuals we’ve come across so far,  appearing to be over six feet in height! The height, robust build and a decidedly masculine skull made Charlotte pretty confident that we were dealing with an adult male. Her careful work guaranteed that both the skeleton and the beautifully decorated coffin remains were left intact, which was no easy task as the rest of the skeleton was very poorly preserved. We’ll be watching this one for a future career in archaeology!

A six+ foot skeleton is no difficulty for our trainee Charlotte.

A six+ foot skeleton is no difficulty for our trainee Charlotte.

And now from one of the largest burials on site, to one of the smallest. Intrepid trainee Janet had gradually been picking apart a sequence of burials throughout  her time with us, and every time we thought we’d found the latest in the series another would appear!

Towards the end of week 6, Janet made a real breakthrough with the discovery of a tiny infant burial in a very well preserved coffin. Armed with her trusty clay modelling tools Janet did an excellent job of exposing the coffin first, and then, very slowly, revealing the burial itself. The reason for the confused stratigraphy was now clear: two neighbouring grave plots had clearly become fully occupied, forcing this infant individual to be squeezed into the gap between. This act of repeatedly reopening graves and then straying outside of the defined grave plot had led to a multitude of overlapping cuts that had to be placed in the correct order by Janet. She did a fine job!

It has been a step-by-step process to untangle the sequence of burials that led to this tiny one on the top.

It has been a step-by-step process to untangle the sequence of burials that led to this tiny one on the top.

Janet has carried on her work away from site, researching the history of All Saints and the surrounding area- watch this space for a report from her on some of the discoveries she made (it may include a few sordid details!).

It was Janet's last week and we would miss her enthusiasm in week 8.

It was Janet’s last week and we would miss her enthusiasm in week 8.

Two of our youngest trainees , Steffi and Hope, joined us this week and enthusiastically took to work on a pair of infant burials. The pair were very quick to pick up the rigours of single context recording, especially planning and levelling – leaving us older people shamefully putting our phones away while they calculated everything in their heads. That maths GCSE seems like it was a long time ago…

By the end of the week Hope and Steffi had successfully excavated, recorded, and begun to lift their burials- rather impressive for two sixteen year olds on their first trip away from home. Hopefully we’ve inspired these two to continue to pursue history- though maths seems a pretty good bet too!

Imogen was visibly joyous at how quickly Hope and Steffi took to planning!

Arch Live! placement Imogen was visibly joyous at how quickly Hope and Steffi took to planning!

Our second set of youngsters, Corinne and Kat, had an equally successful week. They were rather prolific in the small finds stakes and it seemed every other moment we were getting called over to inspect some new find. The two were carrying with work on a burial sequence from the previous few weeks and took to it like ducks to water (aided by the shiny things they kept finding I expect).

Sometimes you get into interesting digging positions in the name of archaeology!

Sometimes you get into interesting digging positions in the name of archaeology!


Corinne and her (possibly Roman) silver coin.

Corinne and her (possibly Roman) silver coin.

On Tuesday Corinne found the holy grail of archaeological finds (apart from the actual Holy Grail, obviously)- A COIN! Spotted during sieving, the purple-ish hue of the corrosion suggests that Corinne had found a silver coin that appears to be Roman in date – a wonderful find all round.

Kat got in on the action next with a lovely bone button, possibly from the burial itself, and Corinne’s discovery of a matching one within minutes cemented these girls as the treasure finders of the week.

The buttons were particularly lovely as they added a more personal side to the story of the burial, as did four coffin studs from a decorative plate on the lid that had collapsed onto the skeleton’s sternum.



Corinne and Kat and their matching bone buttons.

Corinne and Kat and their matching bone buttons.

By the end of the week the Corinne and Kat team had successfully uncovered, recorded and lifted their burial, recovered some amazing finds, and had time to prove that another burial was laying in wait underneath. We wish we had the energy of these youngsters!

Imogen, Linda and Chris hard at work recording.

Imogen, Linda and Chris hard at work recording.

Week 7 was Christine’s second week with us and she continued to bring her cheery Australian disposition to everything- even Contrary Corner! Working with Linda, a regular returnee, Christine spent the week troweling  diligently in the north-east corner of the site to uncover the remainder of a burial that was started last week. Completing this burial was another important step towards freeing up the archaeology between the graves for excavation, so congratulations to Chris and Linda for getting us there with their unwavering enthusiasm and continuously growing pottery collection- washing their finds should be great fun in the future!

Chris with her Masonic pipe bowl.

Chris with her Masonic pipe bowl.

As a bonus Chris also found a whole clay pipe bowl, complete with Masonic symbols- a wonderful find to finish off her time with us.

Linda showing off just some of the pottery from their feature.

Linda showing off just some of the pottery from their feature.

Archaeology Live! Placement Jess continued to guide two week trainee Colin through the trials and tribulations of the archaeological process. They were joined by Sam, a new trainee, on exposing some of the earliest deposits on site. The pair spent the week carefully picking apart a sequence of dumps and levelling deposits that pre-date the  graveyard, giving us tantalising hints about the area before it became consecrated ground in 1826. The two made a formidable team in investigating medieval archaeology, quickly identifying a medieval post hole and several overlapping dump deposits. In fact, the only thing slowing these two down was the sun making the photos rather difficult to take. Sunshine also meant certain red-haired site supervisors took to clinging to the side of the church to save their pale, quickly turning red, skin…

Sam works on getting the photo of a medieval post hole perfect.

Sam (right) works on getting the photography of a medieval post hole perfect. (Note site supervisor Arran hiding in the shade…)

Colin also made the rather remarkable discovery of a copper object within a medieval layer, one of the first small finds from a confirmed medieval deposit. Despite poor preservation, Colin did a wonderful job in delicately excavating the object, probably some kind of decorative fitting originating from the 14th-16th century.

Colin and his mysterious copper alloy object.

Colin and his mysterious copper alloy object.

As Colin and Sam made progress delving into medieval layers in one area of site they had competition from some of our tasters as to who was the furthest back in time. Sam and Jonah, two two-day tasters, were excavating a medieval dump in our sondage, within the remains of All Saints’ long demolished Rectory and made excellent progress in sifting through a fair amount of rather sticky clay. It was hard work but they managed to get through the layer to uncover a clear edge for a medieval pit. An earlier evaluation trench in this area showed that if we get down far enough we’ll encounter intercutting medieval pits – could Sam and Jonah’s find be the first indication of this? This little corner of the rectory is looking increasingly exciting and the pottery is also looking increasingly ancient. The dark brown-green of later medieval pottery has made way for the bright green and splashed variety- hints we are in early medieval deposits? It will be exciting to see what the pit has in store for us.

Sam and Jonah have been working to expose the dark grey edge of a medieval pit.

Sam and Jonah have been working to expose the dark grey edge of a medieval pit.

Sam and James, a mother and son team have done what some of us have been waiting two years to do- lifting the cobble yard surface that has been visible since early 2014! “Locked in” for two years due to surrounding later archaeology- namely that pesky horn core pit that became a sequence of burials. The pair updated the record of the cobbles as the full extent of the feature has has only recently been revealed. They then carefully lifted the surface to reveal… another surface! The plot thickens.

Mother and son team Sam and James work on removing a cobble surface.

Mother and son team Sam and James work on removing a cobble surface.

This is where Georgia and Roy, a father and daughter pair, join the story. They have perhaps been the most enthusiastic tasters of the summer and the two worked on exposing and recording the rough tile surface that appeared beneath Sam and James’ cobble surface. We hope to see more of these two in the future.

Georgia and Roy have removed their tile surface and started cleaning - what a smile!

Georgia and Roy have removed their tile surface and started cleaning – what a smile!

At the end of the week we were joined by Leanne and Tracy, two lovely ladies, who were working on the last remnants of a 19th century trample layer dating to the construction of the church hall in 1860. The aim was to locate the last unidentified burial plots on-site. They managed to do this and more as they quickly found a veritable hoard of finds, ranging from pottery, to ironwork, to bone and back again from all periods.

Tracy and Leanne with finds galore!

Tracy and Leanne with finds galore!

We do more than dig and record at Archaeology Live! – we wash and sort our finds as well! This week when sorting and bagging under the watchful eye of placements we found a rather unique animal bone. Unlike many of our best bone finds, it hasn’t been worked, but it still has a story to tell. The bone in question is a sheep/goat metapodial, a bone that is in the hands/feet of humans, but in the lower legs of four-legged animals as they effectively walk on tiptoes. The point of interest is the rather lumpy area in the centre of the bone, a distorted area where bone has regrown following a break or infection. The fact that the bone has healed indicates that this animal was lucky enough to have a caring owner!

A sheep or goat metapodial with evidence of a healed break/bone infection.

A sheep or goat metapodial with evidence of a healed break/bone infection.

Urban excavations throw up a lot of finds, and while keeping on top of Finds Mountain can be a challenge, it’s always nice to come across a previously un-noticed gem!

Placement Katie laying finds out to dry in the sun - these are only from the past week of washing!

Placement Katie laying finds out to dry in the sun – these are only from the past week of washing!

The week 7 trainees also enjoyed our specialist sessions on pottery, conservation, small finds, and stratigraphy. Undoubtedly some of the finds from this week will make it into future small finds talks- especially the coin and copper object!

Arran takes our trainees through the finer points of stratigraphy under the stratigra-TREE.

Arran takes our trainees through the finer points of stratigraphy under the stratigra-TREE.

The Thursday Wander(™) took a tour of the Roman fortress this week as we followed the outline of the walls and finished at the centre of the fortress, York Minster (before we went to the pub, of course). The wander is always a must as our venerable leader Toby shows us how archaeology is still visible in a modern urban landscape, from tilting buildings due to the earth rampart of the fortress sinking, to the Minster being built in the same place as the most important buildings in Roman York.

The centre of the Roman fortress.

The centre of the Roman fortress.

Of course this is only if you can keep up with Toby’s impressive walking speed. It’s a known fact he walks faster then he runs.

By the end of the week, through a flurry of recording at the end to finish up the many, many features that we’d excavated, we had an exhausted but pleased team. This week has especially shown the broad appeal of archaeology- from 16 year olds barely done with their GCSE’s to retired folks that are following a passion they’ve had all their lives. And all the recording was in tip top shape per-normal!

The Friday afternoon round up.

The Friday afternoon round up!

Thanks to all our trainees and placements who made this a fabulous week! As we stumble, somewhat sunburnt and frazzled into the latter half of the summer we’re grateful for such amazing and enthusiastic people.


P.S. Maintaining attention for the group photo was a bit more difficult this week, possibly due to passing cyclists almost taking Toby out as he tried to get a good picture. This was actually the best one – that probably says a lot about the others!

The week 7 team.

The week 7 team.

© 2021

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑