It’s a cliche that’s brazenly obvious at the end of a long project, but nonetheless seems perfectly apt. We’ve had a lot of fun and made some intriguing and often surprising discoveries. It really is hard to believe that three months have passed since we kicked off the summer season back in June! Back then, the team were fresh and raring to go and Planty the Plant was in the first flush of youth.
That said, it’s been a very busy 12 weeks for the Archaeology Live! team. There are a few new grey hairs here and there and Planty now looks a little worse for wear…
Tired archaeologists aside, it’s been an amazing summer and week 12 saw the team add a few new pieces to the puzzle, before making sure that all loose ends were tied up prior to our autumn hiatus.
In ‘That End’, Gary’s team had a very productive week. Rob and Nick began their week by wrapping up the records for ‘contrary corner’.
This area proved to be incredibly difficult to pick apart right up to the last few weeks of the summer, when the sequence began to resolve itself.
We now know that the area was used as part of the All Saints burial ground from 1823, a marked change from its previous life as a working yard at the turn of the 19th century. Pre-dating all of this, a wall footing discovered by Iain and Rose in week 10 suggests that the area was built on in the 18th century. What this building was and when it was built will be research targets for next season, for now it will remain a mystery!
Later in the week, Rob and Nick turned their attention to a pit that was started in week 11. Situated next to our ‘horn pit’, this feature also contained a large amount of cattle skull fragments and horn core. This tells us that the by-products of the tanning industry on nearby Tanner Row were also being disposed of in this pit, which in turn suggests that this was part of an ongoing process as opposed to being an isolated event. Future historic search into the 18th century tanning industry will hopefully add some more detail to this picture of industrial early modern York.
With work on this feature completed by midweek, the terrible twosome went their seperate ways as a number of new features were investigated. Rob moved to the central area of the trench to assist Jane in completing work on a partially excavated grave backfill. Jane, joining us for her fourth year of archaeology, had high hopes for this feature – it was from this context that Alan found his delightful Viking antler spindle whorl several weeks ago.
It took Jane a matter of minutes to locate the surprisingly shallow skull of the individual interred in this grave. Fascinatingly, the metallic decorative exterior of the coffin had survived, allowing us to see the size and shape of the coffin, as well as the position of the body within it. In this case, the coffin must have been lowered in a somewhat clumsy manner, as the skeleton had rolled slightly to one side, with the skull pressed against the edge of the coffin.
At the bottom end of the grave, Rob was looking to uncover the legs of the individual. He quickly located one leg, then another and then… another!? This was certainly a strange discovery, which caused a good deal of discussion among the team.
It is not unusual, particularly in densely occupied medieval burial grounds, for burials to cut through earlier interments. Often, the disturbed bones of the earlier grave will be re-deposited along the exterior of the new coffin – a trend seen on several recent York Archaeological Trust excavations. In this case however, all of the remains Rob had uncovered were in position and correctly articulated. Something odd was going on…
Thankfully, a little more delicate trowelling by Rob cleared up the situation when he revealed yet another leg. Instead of having numerous graves that were cut into each other, it seems our early 19th century burials can play home to more than one individual. In this case, at least one further inhumation lies beneath the skeleton revealed by Jane and Rob.
The fact that the two skeletons are currently laid directly over one and other reveals that the lower coffin must have decayed and given way, causing the coffin above to fall on to the top of the lower burial. One cannott help but wonder if anyone was in the church yard to hear the muffled thud from beneath the ground…
This is a fascinating discovery that really helps us to build a better picture of the area’s use as a graveyard. The fact that none of our adult burials intercut tells us that the burials must have been clearly marked, perhaps with headstones or earthern mounds. The graveyard was clearly well ordered, with family plots being periodically re-opened to receive numerous burials. It is also increasingly clear that the area was intended to remain in use as a burial ground for some time and records must have been kept of who was buried in which plot, and at what depth.
In the fullness of time, the area only went on to receive burials for around 25 years, as it was de-consecrated in the 1850s to house the new church hall. Despite this, Rob and Jane’s discoveries this week reveal that the churchyard was well ordered and was certainly not intended to be a short-term endeavour.
Lori’s week began with the tricky task of recording a fragment of a post-medieval (or earlier) hearth made of edge-set roof tile.
Sitting on a slither of undisturbed archaeology between two early 19th century grave cuts, this feature is lucky to have survived! It’s precise date will only be confirmed following its excavation in the autumn, but it is exciting to be seeing glimpses of earlier archaeology beginning to emerge.
Medieval roof tiles are sturdy things and can take a lot of heat! Setting them on edge reduces the risk of cracking and provides a hearth surface that can be used again and again. Visitors to YAT’s Barley Hall can see a complete example of an edge-set tile hearth; they were certainly decorative as well as practical.
With the records done and dusted, Lori teamed up with Nick to resume work on what appeared to be an infant/juvenile burial close to the north end of the trench.
Despite being small, this feature proved to be very deep and quite challenging to excavate. Nick and Lori worked patiently to uncover the remains of a small coffin. Degraded to little more than a stain, this required delicate work as the timber and corroded metal could very easily be destroyed.
Happily, after three previous years with us, Nick has developed a great trowelling technique and her and Lori were up to the task. Interestingly, this proved to be our second ’empty’ grave of the season, with no human remains found within the coffin. As discussed in last week’s blog, this could be the result of a localised quirk in the acidity of the soil (which can easily dissolve infant remains) or perhaps an infant lost early in a pregnancy that has not survived in the ground. There is also the possibility of these being symbolic burials of a coffin for an individual whose remains could not be interred.
While we will never know for sure, such features are always highly evocative, with very human moments of tragedy and remembrance that would otherwise have been lost to history being recovered the ground.
Elsewhere in Gary’s area, a pit cut that was started during our August training weekend was completed by Jackie. Joining us for a two day taster course, Jackie unearthed evidence of 19th century refuse disposal alongside medieval material upcast from earlier deposits.
There are a number of traditions on Archaeology Live! and a number of individuals who join us year after year, without whom the dig wouldn’t be quite complete. Week 12 saw the arrival of the one, the only, Betty Bashford! (For some reason, dressed as a Viking!)
Betty, along with her friend Janet, is one of the characters that make working on Archaeology Live! such an absolute pleasure. There is never a dull moment when this dream team are on site! Sure enough, it didn’t take them long to make an unexpected discovery. Betty and Janet firstly took out the last remaining construction backfills relating to the 1860s church hall.
Some nice finds were recovered from these deposits including a lovely hand-painted fragment of tin glazed earthenware dating to the late 18th century.
With the backfills removed and the construction cuts empty, it was possible to see the footings of the church hall, however, this was not all that was revealed. At the base of the cut, what appears to be a fragment of a herring-bone pattern brick floor was uncovered.
This was certainly a surprise, as we weren’t expecting to see structural remains in this part of the trench. Quite what building or yard this floor relates to is uncertain at present, but it is always exciting when such features appear.
A surviving patch of 19th century levelling material covered the rest of this brick feature, so Janet and Betty ended their week by recording this deposit and beginning to remove it. Excavation of this deposit will resume during our October dig.
Over at ‘This End’, Toby’s team had a similarly industrious week. Joining us from Sweden, Paul joined Bri to work on the site’s earliest deposits.
Working on a slither of archaeology cut on one side by a drain run and the other by the church hall wall footings, Paul recorded and removed a dump deposit. This revealed an interesting feature filled with rubble and mortar.
We suspect that the front wall of our 18th century rectory would have run below the current church hall brickwork (pictured below). Up to this point, we hadn’t been able to identify any surviving structure in this area. This truncated post-hole/footing is our first tantalising evidence of this part of the rectory structure. As we know the medieval rectory was altered and re-built on numerous occasions, it is hard to say which phase this feature relates to, but it is a good start, and something we hope to clarify as work progresses in this area.
Paul went on to empty out the rubble feature and record the cut. This exposed a burnt dump very similar in appearance to one being worked on in the next cell by Bri. By chasing into this early archaeology in these two cells, we have had a self-contained sneak preview into the medieval archaeology we will be seeing across the whole site.
Bri’s slot featured no large structural remains, but it was possible to see distinct tips of medieval material and one shallow post hole that may have contained a fence post in front of the old rectory.
With the post hole recorded, Bri then fully exposed and recorded his burnt medieval dump. Whether this is evidence of some industrial process will be investigated in the autumn.
Paul ended his week by wrapping up the records for his and Bri’s area. He also found time to help with the excavation of another of our 19th century graves.
Archaeology Live! legend Clive re-joined us for the last week of the summer, assisting Steve with an area populated by intercutting infant burials.
This was delicate work! Fragments of coffin and the tiny bones of juvenile individuals are very susceptible to damage, so Clive and Steve were slow and steady with their work. They located the position and extent of the burial of a small child, but also worked out the relationships of a number of burials in close proximity to each other. This allows us to understand the order of events, which burials were the earliest and latest in the sequence.
These features always throw up a lot of paperwork, as the grave backfills, coffin remains and skeletons are all recorded, drawn and photographed individually. Clive and Steve made sure that all the records were in order for their burial sequence and that all the contexts were positioned correctly on our stratigraphic matrix – the diagram that allows us to understand the site sequence.
Working on his birthday, Clive was rewarded with a small archaeological gift when he found a small bone button. Clive and Steve brought their week to a close by taking over work on a burial that has been heavily disturbed by a 19th century rabbit burrow. True to form, the pair managed to locate the true edges of the grave cut. This will be looked at later in the season.
Another returning Archaeology Live! legend, Juliet was also kept very busy in this area. Charged with some of the week’s most challenging excavation, Juliet looked to fully expose a deep burial by the southern edge of the trench.
Buried well over a metre below present ground level, Juliet discovered that what had been thought to be a juvenile individual was actually an adult. Working in close confines, Juliet managed to expose enough of the skeleton to accurately plot its position. This was then recorded in detail and backfilled with a cushion of sieved soil to protect the remains from any damage. Later in the week, Juliet and Donald worked to clarify more of this sequence of infant burials and to complete any outstanding records.
The proliferation of infant burials by the rectory wall makes for very difficult excavation. Inter-cutting features often have very unclear edges due to the frequent disturbance of later graves. Once located, it takes time and great care to expose and record these remains.
Working with the guidance of the professional staff, the team in This End have done a fantastic job of picking apart this sequence. There is a lot more to do, but we are really starting to get on top of this area.
Week 12 saw us enjoying site visits from a number of YAT colleagues from our Nottingham branch, Trent and Peak Archaeology. T&P archaeologist Laura was the quickest to break out her trowel and get stuck in! Working with Kirsten, Laura investigated our largest grave cut.
This feature has been ongoing for a number of weeks and has become increasingly complex as time has gone by. It is clear that a number of graves have been situated here, the question in hand is whether we are seeing a family plot being repeatedly re-opened, or an inter-cutting sequence of individual burials. Kirsten and Laura’s deposit is proving to be one of our more finds-rich grave backfills. At present, three tubs of pottery, animal bone, shell, glass, tile, etc. have been recovered, and the feature is far from finished! As is the norm on North Street, the material is a fantastic mix of Roman to 19th century artefacts.
Later in the week, Kirsten helped Clive and Steve with the recording of their newly discovered grave backfill.
The great success of this week in Toby’s area has been the sharpening up of a very difficult sequence. As mentioned above, no half measures can be taken with this kind of archaeology, with care and respect for the individuals interred always being the prime concern.
We are now developing a growing understanding of exactly who was buried here and when. Quite why this area in particular is so densely occupied will be something to investigate in the near future.
It was another busy and eventful week for Arran and the finds team. Beneath the Tree of Finds, they battled to keep on top of the vast amount of material coming from the trench.
Over the course of the week, countless finds were washed, dried, sorted and bagged – to the ruthlessly exacting standards of our finds department.
As the finds are cleaned and dried, it is often at this point that previously un-noticed details are spotted.
The most exciting discovery this week was found on a seemingly innocuous piece of black burnished ware pottery. At first, the sherd of a Roman vessel seemed to be perfectly ordinary, part of a shallow, flat bottomed bowl referred to by archaeologists as a ‘dog bowl’.
Closer inspection revealed that the sherd had a secret – it had been inscribed with a cross.
It would be very easy to get excited about an early example of christian graffiti, but it must be kept in mind that, while the date of the pot is securely Roman, it is impossible to know exactly when the cross was inscribed. Regardless, it is still wonderful to see a personal touch on an artefact that is almost 2,000 years old!
This wasn’t the only piece of interesting Roman pottery either. A beautifully decorated sherd of a colour coat drinking vessel was noted during washing, this would have been a lovely object when complete. Seeing 2000 year old brush strokes is always wonderful!
One piece of Roman pottery caused confusion at first, as it proved hard to identify. It became clear that this confusion had arisen due to the fact that this particular sherd of high status samian ware had been burned, changing the familiar terracotta colour to a dark grey.
This wouldn’t be the last pot sherd with a story to tell either. The base of a medieval jug was cleaned and noticed to feature a ‘kiln scar’. As pots are often stacked upside down during firing, the base of the vessels can be marked by the glazed rim of the pot above. The pot above can also affect the firing of the lower vessel and a distinct curved line was clearly evident on our sherd.
The fabric on the inside of the curved mark is darker and has a distinctive grey colour. This is where the above pot has limited the airflow to the base of our vessel. When clay is fired in an oxygen starved environment it will often turn a dark grey colour, this is called reduction.
When pot is fired in a well-ventilated environment, such as a kiln with bellows, it will turn a lighter, more orange colour – this is called oxidisation and can be seen on the outside of the kiln scar curve pictured above.
While washing a clay pipe stem, Bri noticed that it was a little different to most. Early examples of clay tobacco pipes feature thick stems with a wide, off-centre aperture. This is due to the relative crudeness of manufacturing process and that thin wire had yet to be developed that was strong enough to push through the wet clay to create an airway. Instead, thicker wire had to be used which leaves a broader airway. Bri’s example could be as early in date as the late 1600s!
In a busy week for finds highlights, we also came across another fragment of medieval roof tile complete with the paw-print of a large dog. As medieval tiles were laid out to dry before firing, finds like these are surprisingly common. That said, we never tire of finding such wonderful objects! It is even possible to see the ridges of the skin in the pads of the dog’s paws. You can almost sense the medieval tiler’s annoyance!
Yet another great find from this week was a fragment of worked bone that appears to be a very early form of pen. Its date is as yet uncertain, but we look forward to showing this one to our small finds specialist.
Week 12 saw the team bring together a lot of loose ends, while new discoveries showed no signs of slowing. Our knowledge of the site’s early modern development from a busy industrial yard to a peaceful graveyard has come on in leaps and bounds. It is wonderful to be able to plot the sweeping changes in the mood and use of the area and to recover small moments such as a medieval dog plodding over his master’s unfired tiles.
This End’s concentration of infant and juvenile burials is now being mapped and understood in detail, while the first glimpses of the site’s medieval past are beginning to appear. That End continues to surprise us, with Betty and Janet’s unexpected brick floor and Nick and Lori’s ’empty’ grave keeping us firmly on our toes! Not to mention Rob’s ‘four-legged’ individual!!
Huge thanks as always must go out to our team of trainees and placements for yet another vintage week of good fun and and great archaeology!
While it is frustrating to have to stop just when the site is getting so exciting, we know that we’ll be returning to some wonderful archaeology in October! In the intervening weeks, we hope to post an overview of our findings so far on North Street, to help understand quite how much we have learned about this fascinating site. We will also aim to continue our series of blog posts looking back at previous seasons of Archaeology Live!
We’ll be back on site in October, there’s still room to join us, just contact firstname.lastname@example.org for info/bookings. We will also be opening up the site to the public between 11am and 3pm on the 25th of October! Come along and see the latest finds, meet the archaeologists and say hello to Planty the Plant (if you don’t mind the smell of slightly rotten cabbage…)
So, that wraps up the summer season of our first year on North Street. It’s been better than we could have hoped for, with a wonderfully diverse and passionate team of budding archaeologists joining us from far and wide. Thanks again to all involved for making the site such a success! Now it’s time to catch our breath, take stock and get prepped for the autumn season. Until then friends, onwards and downwards!
PS. It’s become traditional to share the more light hearted moments of the week at the end of each post. Our placement Donald had an unexpected moment this week when a sizeable moth flew out of his hair. Goodness knows how long it had been living in there. Donald’s vegan superpowers are clearly growing…
All good archaeologists know that our discipline is not a science. While there is a definite overlap with the scientific process, our findings are always tinged with a degree of subjectivity. We are storytellers at heart, modern day bards collaborating with specialists and supplementing our tales with detailed evidence and diligent recording. The real art of excavation is taking layers of earth and stone and extracting the stories of those who occupied that same space before us.
The tales are rarely complete. The pesky 1950s pipe trench has always removed the key piece of evidence; that industrious rabbit will, without fail, enthusiastically burrow in precisely the wrong place. Nonetheless, we nearly always find enough to piece together at least some of the lives that were lived in our trenches and the All Saints excavation has been a fine example of this. The last 10 weeks of digging have allowed us to discern an unexpectedly complex 19th century sequence, producing along the way some incredibly human moments. Week 11 continued this theme.
In Gary’s area, Rob and Nick cleaned up and recorded the wall footing discovered last week by Iain and Rose. One of the most exciting discoveries of the whole dig, we hope to find more evidence for what this structure was.
Up to press, our understanding of this area in the early 19th century has been of a busy yard becoming a graveyard. Only now are we beginning to see the first glimpses of what land uses pre-date that sequence.
First things first though, we have to make sure we have located, excavated and understood all of the 19th century features before we can further investigate the earlier material.
With the wall footing recorded, Rob and Nick worked to clean over the whole of ‘contrary corner’ and check for any 19th century stragglers. A rectangular deposit of dark, clayey material had been noted in the base of a pit excavated during our August training weekend. Thought to be an infant burial, this was the next feature to investigate.
With the records complete, Rob and Nick began to gently remove the backfill of the feature, taking care not to disturb the fragile remnants of a tiny coffin. Some interesting finds quickly emerged, with Rob having a particularly good week! An early 19th century clay pipe bowl was discovered, fitting our suspected date of the feature perfectly.
As the week pressed on, Rob was lucky enough to find a truly wonderful object – a bone dice. This tiny object is somewhat cruder than the medieval example found by Gina in the second week of the summer season, leading us to suspect it may be somewhat earlier in date. Similar objects have certainly come out of Viking deposits elsewhere in York, so there is a strong possibility that this object may be the best part of a thousand years old.
Unlike Gina’s example, the sides of this dice do not add up to seven, the numbers seemingly being cut at random.
It is a genuinely wonderful object that could have been owned by someone who knew the area before the current church was even standing. One can’t help but wonder what games this dice may have played and whether or not it brought success to a gambling owner.
With objects like this being discovered, the signs are good that medieval and Viking occupation deposits survive below us.
As Rob and Nick excavated the backfill they noticed an abrupt change, with the dark clayey material giving way to a stoney, mortar rich deposit; they had reached the base of their cut and found no evidence of any human remains. This left us with something of a mystery.
As ever, the true reason why a seemingly empty coffin was buried here will never be known for sure. We can however put forward several possible explanations, the first of which being a quirk of the soil’s chemistry in this area of the trench – acidic soils can easily dissolve juvenile human remains and leave very little trace. It is also possible that the coffin could have been something of a symbolic burial, perhaps for a child lost very early in a pregnancy.
While this mystery will remain unresolved, it is clear that someone in the early 19th century was driven to bury a tiny coffin in the corner of a small graveyard. Nick and Rob’s painstaking excavation of this feature allows us to witness a solemn moment in York’s story that would have otherwise been lost to history.
Elsewhere in Gary’s area, new trainees Sara, Anna and Liberty worked together to clean a large area of ‘that end’. Numerous edges were visible; the challenge now was to ascertain which of these features was the latest to occur.
On sites as complex as this, this process can take some time! However, Sara struck gold when the edges of a sub-circular feature began to emerge.
Cutting a possible fragment of cobble surface, we were keen to see whether this feature was part of the early 19th century yard or something even earlier.
The deposit was photographed and recorded and the team got started with the excavation. This proved to be hard work! The deposit had clearly been trampled during the early 19th century, making it very difficult to trowel.
Good progress was made on this feature, which pre-dates the adjacent ‘horn pit’. While it didn’t produce the same density of cattle skull fragments, a lot of horn core and bone was still present. This indicates that some tanning by-products were being deposited in this feature, alongside general domestic waste. This fits well with the idea that the yard space was used for numerous purposes between c.1800 and 1823.
Working with Becky, Lori and Dom continued work on a pair of burials close to the northern wall of the old church hall. This required a lot of work in tricky, deep features and a lot of recording. The first task was to record the infant remains uncovered at the end of last week by Lori and Joan.
With the records completed for the infant burial, a cushion of sieved soil and wooden boards were placed over the remains to protect them from any damage. Lori and Dom’s attention then turned to completing the excavation of a burial started several weeks ago by Katie and Beverly.
When the upper elements of the skeleton were revealed, it became clear that the foot end of the grave hadn’t been fully excavated. Lori and Dom amended the records for the deposit and began work on removing the last of the backfill.
Significantly deeper than the infant burial, this adult inhumation had surviving evidence of a wooden coffin and was very well preserved. The remains were recorded and covered over.
While this was underway, Lori exposed a fascinating feature cut by both graves. On the slither of archaeology that survived between the two grave cuts, a fragment of an edge-set tile hearth with brick edging was exposed. While the date of this feature will be confirmed later, we do know that the materials used to build it are medieval in date.
This could be one of our first definite examples of medieval or post-medieval activity in ‘That End’ and it is only by chance that this fragment of early activity has survived – if the grave cuts had been any closer, the hearth would certainly have been lost. History can indeed be a fickle mistress…
In Toby’s area, Bri and Zoe began to investigate the deposits that pre-date the two small cells within the south-west corner of the 1860s church hall.
These deposits proved to be very similar to the pre-church hall trample layers exposed elsewhere in the trench. Like Lori’s tile hearth, these small islands of archaeology seem quite lucky to have survived numerous later truncation events!
A great mix of finds were discovered within these deposits, including medieval ceramics and a piece of post-medieval(?) chain. With attachments at either end, we’ll have to wait for specialist analysis before we know what this enigmatic find was used for.
As Zoe and Bri worked together to record and lift a number of contexts, something quite exciting became apparent. Ubiquitous until now, 19th century ceramics had ceased to occur. Not only that, the latest finds to be encountered were medieval in date. It seems that Zoe and Bri have exposed our first confirmed layers of medieval archaeology!
This exciting prospect will be further investigated next week.
Steve and Sarah had a week of challenging archaeology, beginning with a search for good edges around a suspected infant burial. Once these edges were clarified, the backfill was recorded and the pair got started with the excavation.
As we’ve seen across all of our grave backfills, an interesting mix of finds are generally present within them. Steve found a rather lovely fragment of pressed glass. Finely made, this was clearly part of a very decorative object.
With the expert guidance of our resident bone expert Tess, Steve and Sarah patiently removed the backfill to expose the coffin and remains of a small child. These are very evocative features to work on and it is of paramount importance to keep in mind that these are the remains of a human being and should be treated accordingly.
Once fully exposed, these remains will be recorded, re-c0vered and left in-situ. Steve and Sarah’s delicate work has added to an increasingly complex picture of this corner of the site.
Whether the concentration of infant burials in this area relate to re-used family plots or historic pandemic events will be resolved in the fullness of time, the key aim at the moment is to locate all of the burials on site and ensure that they are protected from any future intrusive works.
Joining us for a taster day, Maggie continued work on a grave backfill that has been worked on by a number of people this season. These things cannot be rushed and Maggie quickly mastered the art of delicate troweling, finding an intriguing flint object that may be a 19th century striker used to create sparks.
Elsewhere in ‘This End’, Jo and Liz continued work on the brick chamber attached to the north wall of the 18th century rectory.
The plot continued to thicken in this area. As a post hole was recorded and excavated, it became apparent that earlier structural elements were beginning to appear.
A small fragment of stone wall was revealed that clearly pre-dates the 18th century brickwork. While a number of later contexts will have to be removed before we can expose this stonework, it is distinctly possible that Jo and Liz have revealed a fragment of the medieval rectory that was incorporated into the post-medieval re-build. A very exciting find!
The cobble-based cesspit (upon which Donald is standing in the image below) now seems to have been brought to construction level, sitting atop a mortary deposit. Jo and Liz recorded the wall and the deposit below it and ended their week by investigating the earlier deposit.
Week 11 has seen some exciting developments in this area, with the small brick chamber exhibiting a more complex sequence than had been anticipated. As the dig continues, we will continue to expose and record the various alterations to the structure and, once these are removed, we will finally be able to see exactly how much of the medieval buildings survive. Watch this space!!
An eventul week in the trench was mirrored beneath the Tree of Finds where a number of exciting artefacts were cleaned up and looked at in more detail.
While washing what was assumed to be another muddy fragment of medieval roof tile, Rob noticed some markings on the fabric of the tile. Closer inspection revealed part of a legionary stamp, clear evidence that this was actually a Roman tile!
The letters ‘VIC’ were faintly visible in the side of the tile. This stamp most likely relates to the Legio VI Victrix (Sixth Victorious Legion) of the Roman army. In 119AD the legion was despatched to northern England to help repress an uprising and eventually replaced the incumbent IX Hispana to garrison the fortress of Eboracum (Roman York).
Finding such direct evidence of the area’s Roman past was a real privilege, which was only made sweeter when the thumbprint of a Roman potter was noticed beside the stamp. Being able to put your thumb into an almost 1900 year old thumbprint is a unique perk of archaeology. What a find!
Another interesting find was a toe bone from a rather unwell cow. We’ve had numerous examples of diseased cattle bones from features associated with the tanning industry. This 19th century example exhibits clear evidence of bone infection and would have been of sufficient severity to render this foot completely useless.
Week 11 saw us continue to build on the findings of the previous week and to better understand a fascinating 19th century sequence. It seems that our first season at All Saints will be best remembered for demonstrating the merits of early modern archaeology, a period that has been criminally under-valued until now.
We have uncovered moments of early 19th century heartbreak, with numerous juvenile and infant individuals being interred along Church Lane, but we have also found evidence of more carefree times with Rob’s fantastic bone dice. Next week, we hope to add to this picture of 19th century York and wrap up the remaining loose ends. We also hope to reveal more sneak peeks of the earlier archaeology that will be the focus of next year’s excavation.
The tantalising glimpses of the Roman, Viking, and medieval deposits that lay beneath us highlight what an exciting site this is. Massive thanks go out to the week 11 team for their patient, careful excavation and fine company.
On a less jolly note, week 11 saw us say goodbye to two placements who have been absolutely invaluable to this year’s excavation, Becky and Tess. This pair of Arch. Live! veterans have very bright futures ahead of them! Huge thanks go out to Becky and Tess from all at York Archaeological Trust, we’ll see you next time.
It’s been a vintage year for the Archaeology Live! project in our new home on North Street. Now we head into the last week of the summer with a thousand questions and a lot of excitement for more thrilling discoveries. Best get cracking then, onwards and downwards!
PS. One amusing moment to share. Archaeology Live! placement Jack was late for the group photo on Friday, assuming he was ill we were forced to improvise a replacement. I think we truly captured his essence!
Cheers Jack! 😉
Water water everywhere!? What on earth?
After a long, dry summer, the Monday of week 10 was the first to be disrupted by rain. Digging through the glorious British summertime can be an unpredictable business, although it must be said that we’ve done rather well this year.
Thankfully, there is much more to archaeology than digging and our site hut isn’t the worst place in the world to take shelter in times of need. Plus, there was a rather big task left on the to-do list…
The finds from ‘Biagio’s bone pit’ and our increasingly infamous ‘horn pit’ were by this point fully cleaned and dried. This freed them up for the next step in the finds processing system – sorting and bagging.
The ‘horn pit’ (context 1152) was partially excavated earlier in the season and provided us with 15 tubs of cattle horn core and skull fragments that represent by-products of late 18th to early 19th century leather production. The backfill of the feature also contained a modest amount of incidental domestic waste and a small number of earlier finds upcast from deposits that were disturbed when the pit was originally cut. Before each fragment of bone, pottery, tile, glass, clay pipe, etc. can be seen by their relevant specialist, the finds have to be sorted into type.
Once sorted, the finds can then be bagged up following YAT’s standard protocols and are then ready for analysis. Jobs like these can be a little on the dull side, thankfully our team met the task with enthusiasm and enjoyed the opportunity to have a closer look at the finds.
Finds sorting can be fun too! (If you make it fun…)
Toby’s team also took the chance to catch up with some outstanding records. As the records produced by our trainees make up the final archive, it is important that we maintain professional standards, and Toby certainly has an eye for detail!
The benefit of being quite so fussy is that the records produced by our trainees go on to make up our final site archive; nothing is re-done and it is this archive that forms the basis of the final site report.
Thankfully, only parts of the day were affected by rain and the rest of the week remained clear. This allowed the team to make some great progress on site!
Team ‘That End’ began the week with some industrious troweling. Many of the edges identified by the week 9 team had been obscured by the rain and needed sharpening up. Joining us from the USA, Lori successfully identified a 19th century grave cut. The edges were a little hazy, but persistence paid off in the end.
Joined on Tuesday by Leicester lass Jen, Lori began work on excavating the grave backfill.
After helping us to discover the north wall of the lost church of St. John the Baptist last year on Hungate, Joan returned for her second season with us. Like Lori, she had some troweling to do before her feature became visible. Nonetheless, a pit cut was identified and recorded allowing Joan to get digging. Having dug on a number of projects, Joan is known for her habit of spotting good finds and it didn’t take her long to pick up where she left off! She was delighted to find two large fragments of a medieval Humber ware jug.
Eleanor joined the team for a taster day on site and also worked on Joan’s pit. Joan’s luck was clearly catching as Eleanor quickly made a great find of her own!
Eleanor’s rather splendid pot sherd is part of a transfer ware bowl and may date to as early as the late 1700s!
When the pit was fully excavated, a number of inter-cutting edges became visible in the base. This suggests that we are coming down onto a sequence of refuse pits, although whether any of these newly discovered edges resolve into more grave cuts will remain to be seen.
Back in Lori and Jen’s grave backfill, the finds were coming thick and fast. Lori unearthed a dense copper object that could have been a wall spike or hook.
Meanwhile, Jen discovered more evidence of how the medieval interior of the church may have looked with a splendid glazed medieval floor tile.
At present, we have found both green and yellow glazed floor tiles and some so worn that barely any glaze survives. This suggests that different areas of the church floor may have been laid with different coloured tiles. The rich, deep green floor would certainly have been a sight to see.
Later in the week, Joan moved over to help Lori with the excavation of her grave backfill. True to form, Joan’s luck continued as she and Lori located the skull and coffin remains of an infant burial. Working on such features requires a great deal of concentration and a gentle touch. Armed with wooden clay modelling tools, Lori and Joan worked to expose the full extent of the coffin and the body position of the individual interred.
Once fully recorded, this burial will again be covered over.
In the mysterious realm of ‘contrary corner’ at the northern end of the trench, returning trainee Iain was the next archaeologist to tackle one of the site’s trickiest areas.
We may however have to re-name the area, as Iain made short work of it. After giving the area an initial trowel, he revealed and recorded a linear feature running parallel to Church Lane.
In true ‘contrary corner’ fashion, the plot quickly thickened as Iain discovered that his linear feature was actually cut by a rubble filled post-hole. Excavation of the linear was put on hold while the post-hole was dug and recorded. The feature contained some great finds including three fragments of a medieval jug handle. Happily, these proved to fit together!
The handle of a 16th century Cistercian ware drinking vessel was also found. Iain was having a great start to the week!
After recording the post-hole, attention was turned back to the mysterious linear feature.
Later in the week, we were joined by Rose, a prospective archaeology student looking to try out a spot of excavation before university. Working with Iain, she helped to expose a very exciting feature.
The linear feature turned out to be relatively shallow and at its base, a well-mettled layer of cobbles was exposed. Sat within a construction cut, these cobbles represent the base of a robbed out wall footing.
This discovery poses a number of questions.
The deposit that Iain and Rose excavated represent the robbing of the stonework in the late 18th century, we will only know the date of the feature when we excavate the cobbles and see what finds are among and below them.
The stonework in the ground is substantial and well-laid. We have dug many Victorian buildings with a complete absence of footings. This foundation could have supported a large structure.
The 14th century cottages that overlook ‘contrary corner’ may once have extended over it. This wall lies close to the buildings centre and could have acted as a spine wall. As we uncover more contemporary features, we hope to prove or disprove this theory.
The footings are truncated at the northern end by a pit cut. Once this is excavated, we will look to excavate the cobbles and shed some more light on this fascinating area of the trench.
In Toby’s area, Janice and Coco took on the daunting task of finishing the excavation of a pair of graves and creating the records for each context they encountered (coffin, skeleton, grave cut, etc.)
This involved a lot of cleaning, numerous photographs, context cards and plan drawings. As always, when dealing with human remains it is vital to be respectful and thorough. By recording the exact location and depth of each inhumation, Coco and Janice are helping to safeguard the remains from any harm during future development and they did a fantastic job.
With their epic recording session complete, they closed out their week by excavating more backfill from a juvenile burial. As ever with Archaeology Live! the feature proved to be more complicated than we might have expected.
As yet, we have not been able to locate a construction point for the rectory wall (pictured in the shot below). It had been thought that this was a result of numerous later deposits lapping against the face of the wall and obscuring the construction cut. Janice and Coco’s discovery offer a new possibility.
The grave cut they were investigating proved to be a number of intercutting infant/juvenile grave cuts. Unlike the adult graves that all appear to respect each other’s position, the burials of the younger individuals seem to have been crammed into this area, cutting through pre-existing burials.
As church records for this phase of burials do not survive, it will be the task of our team of archaeologists to gain an understanding of this period. Could we be seeing family plots being repeatedly returned to? Could some form of pandemic have caused a surge of infant mortality? Either way, our findings over the coming weeks will hopefully clarify what was happening along Church Lane in the 1820s-1850s. Watch this space.
Like a number of the week 10 team, Chris and Audrey faced the challenge of finding edges in areas riddled with stratigraphy. It took a little time, but as there time on site ended a rectangular feature was beginning to appear. It is very possible that this could be another early 19th century burial.
Belle joined us for her second season of digging and made a great start. Working in a wide grave cut, she found a shaped fragment of medieval window glass.
It is important to keep ancient glass damp to arrest its decay. After bagging up the find, Arran couldn’t help but wonder which window this glass may once have occupied. We may never know, but as all our finds will remain within the church, it is good to know that the glass will return to its old home.
Belle went on to join Jo, another returnee, to help clean up the brick chamber on the north side of the rectory. With the cesspit recently discovered, it was time to further investigate this much-altered structure.
Within the structure, a void was discovered that appears to be a post hole. A small brick wall addition was also recorded and removed. When these features are squared away, we will continue to work on the fill of this small brick chamber as it may tell us more about the rectory’s construction, use and alteration.
YAT education officer Fran joined us on site at the end of the week to sharpen up her archaeology skills. After helping Janice and Coco with their recording marathon, she took over work on the grave backfill that contained Belle’s shard of medieval glass. She quickly picked up the art of good troweling and found numerous sherds of medieval pottery.
Archaeology Live! placement Chas and Arran took the chance to have a closer look at the fabric of All Saints this week and they made some interesting discoveries. The columns and walls of the church are a veritable goldmine of medieval graffiti, bearing the marks of numerous ancient scribes. The majority of these inscriptions are masons’ marks, with craftsmen leaving their mark on their work. It is clear that a number of 14th and 15th century masons were producing stonework for All Saints.
Some of these marks have become increasing faint with age, it takes a light shone at the right angle to see them clearly. One of the columns holding up the bell tower is adorned with the image of a swan.
Robert Richards, the church warden was kind enough to give Chas and Arran a tour of the tower of All Saints. This was a thrilling chance to see the interior of one of York’s most iconic landmarks and see some ingenious feats of medieval engineering.
The spiral staircase that leads to the belfries is hidden within the church’s west wall. It is near vertical and turns only one and a half times during the ascent. While many medieval bell towers were accessed by ladders, the builders of All Saints clearly had grander plans.
As well as being incredibly steep, the fact that the stairway is built into the wall also makes it incredibly narrow.
Under construction in 1396, the octagonal spire of All Saints stands an impressive 120 feet tall, making it York’s second tallest parish church. The lower belfry was recently reinforced with a steel frame, although much of the original fabric still survives. The oldest bells date to the 17th century!
To access the upper belfry, a precarious climb over the lower bells is required. Arran caused more than one accidental dong (ahem…)
It’s best not to look down at times like these…
The upper belfry is reached by a slightly wobbly ladder and also features a mix of ancient and modern fittings.
A third ladder leads from the upper belfry into the interior of the spire, a remarkable structure that is equal parts breathtaking and eerie.
While the views are limited by wooden shutters, it was possible to catch some glimpses of York from new angles.
On the descent, Chas spotted some slightly less ancient graffiti. Clearly we weren’t the first to make the climb…
Under the Finds Tree, the team continued to work through our sizeable backlog of finds. Chas took the time to share his expertise on clay pipes, which are relatively simple to date.
Often ubiquitous on sites dating from the 17th century onwards, there is a world of variety in their shape and size. Thicker stems, with a wide, off-centre aperture will tend to be earlier in date as the wire used to create the hole through the stem could only be produced to a certain thickness. As technology evolved in the 19th century, thinner, stronger wires were created. This in turn made the stems tend to become thinner, with a central and increasingly narrow airway.
Early pipe bowls were typically small and bulbous. Tobacco was expensive and hard to source in quantity, initially being the preserve of the wealthy. As early modern trade links improved and tobacco became more readily available, we see pipe bowls grow in size and adopt straighter sides. The example below is an intermediate one, dating to the 1790s.
Week 10 was another successful and eventful week on North Street. Our understanding of the complex 19th century sequence is becoming clearer as distinct phases and zonings of activity continue to appear. More and more we are seeing a busy early 19th century yard, complete with distinctly aromatic features like our ‘horn pit’ and butchery waste pits, being abruptly given over to burials from 1823.
This abrupt change in land use would have given the area a very different atmosphere. Instead of workmen smoking clay pipes and disposing of tanning waste, the yard would now have played home to the funerals of 19th century parishioners. This garden of remembrance would be short-lived however, as the church hall was under construction at the end of the 1850s.
As we move into 18th century and earlier deposits, we hope to bring more of the story of this quiet corner of central York back to life. The week 10 team were a joy to work with, thanks go out to all involved for some really great work, even with the abundance of cow puns…
Two weeks of the summer to go, we’d best keep digging! Onwards and downwards!
PS. In an amusing turn of events under the Tree of Finds, Ellen and Jen noticed that 19th century pearlware rim sherds make passable tiaras. It seems we are budding fashionistas…
Getting away from work and family commitments for a week’s digging can prove very tricky for a lot of people. Thankfully, our training weekends are proving to be an increasingly popular alternative for archaeology enthusiasts with busy lives. The second weekend dig of the 2014 season saw the team digging in some glorious sunshine and making some intriguing discoveries.
Stepping back into the ‘That End’ hot seat for the weekend, Arran set his new team straight to work on a number of features. Darren and Gregers troweled over a large area to clarify some difficult edges. In doing so, the pair uncovered a small dump of mixed material. Proving to be another deposit relating to the area’s busy early 19th century life as a working yard space, the context produced some great finds. In fact, it took Gregers all of five minutes to uncover this rather lovely coin!
Being highly corroded, a precise date will remain uncertain until it is cleaned by our conservators. However, judging by its size and appearance, a Roman date seems the most likely. Regardless, Gregers was off to a great start and suitably happy with his work!
With their dump fully recorded and excavated, Gregers and Darren cleaned up a small patch of darker soil. This deposit proved to be the backfill of a post hole, one of an increasing number of structural features in the area.
The post hole proved to be relatively shallow, seemingly effected by later clearance events. Nonetheless, when all the contemporary structural elements are viewed together, we may be able to build a clearer picture of what kind of transient structures were in use here at the beginning of the 19th century.
Dave and Tracey took on the tricky task of working in ‘contrary corner’. They began their week by continuing work on a pit backfill that was started in week 9.
The pit backfill contained pottery ranging in date from Roman to 19th century, appearing to represent disposal of domestic waste. Whether this waste would have come from the nearby rectory or All Saints Cottages is hard to say, although some high status ceramics were certainly present.
The pit truncated a number of earlier features, including a cobble surface and perhaps most importantly, an infant burial. As we know that the site began receiving burials only after 1823 and that the pit pre-dates the 1860s construction of the Church Hall, we can quite tightly date this feature.
With the pit fully recorded, Dave and Tracey turned their attention to the opposite end of ‘contrary corner’ and discovered, recorded and excavated a second refuse pit. Finally, it seems that this difficult end of the trench is beginning to yield clear features with a little less resistance!
Sally and Amanda began their weekend in an area where no clear edges were appearing. A diligent troweling session was needed to define the extents of a dump of clayey material. This pre-dates the early 19th century phase of burials, most likely being deposited in the first decade of the 1800s.
With their context fully excavated, Sally and Amanda resumed their hunt for new edges and cleaned up a number of deposits. This process gave us a much clearer view of the sequence at this (well, that) end of the trench and will put us in good stead for next week!
Toby’s team were also faced with some tricky trowelling. Niamh, John, Lottie, Diane, Harvey and David rotated through a number of tasks over the weekend. One of the bigger jobs was the removal of a dump deposit at the north-west edge of the trench.This process revealed the backfill of a post hole which was cleaned and photographed. It also exposed a possible grave backfill, although this will be investigated next week.
Interestingly, the 18th century rectory wall still has no visible construction cut. This means that the deposits that lie next to the wall are still later in date. This area was cleaned up to try and clarify this situation, revealing a very mixed deposit that was rich in mortar. It is possible that this deposit is the result of fairly intensive grave digging.
As Toby’s team grew increasingly confident with their troweling, they picked up the excavation of one of our partially dug grave backfills. Working at a suitably steady pace, the team were able to clarify the edges of an increasingly complex, inter-cutting sequence.
Under the gaze of Planty the Plant, the ‘This End’ team learned that archaeology isn’t all underground, as they began to record the walls of the old church hall. Meticulous measurements led to some very handsome elevation drawings that reveal the walls to be something of a palimpsest, with numerous alterations.
Under the shade of the Finds Tree, some fascinating artefacts were cleaned up, including an unusual sherd of Roman colour coat pottery in the form of a mortarium.
Washing finds from a context rich in animal bone, the team enjoyed an impromptu faunal remains session and were able to re-construct parts of several cows.
A particularly interesting find was a bone from the barbed tale of a ray. It seems that some exotic items were on the 19th century menu…
One of the weekend’s best finds was a fragment of medieval stained glass. Now barely even translucent, it is intriguing to wonder which window this once occupied!
The weekend closed with a guided tour of the site and a summary of the latest findings. There is a lot to fit in to two days, but this proved to be a vintage training weekend, with new deposits being discovered and excavated and new ideas being brought up regarding the early 19th century use of the site. Gregers’ coin was an obvious highlight amidst some great finds, with a high occurrence of unusual and high status ceramics. On Sunday, we were also joined by a VIP guest and Archaeology Live! legend – Harry!
Many thanks to the weekend team for a fascinating and fun two day dig! Great work by all and good to see a mix of new and familiar faces.
With only three weeks to go, there is a lot of archaeology still to play with! The increasingly autumnal weather may attempt to play a part, but on the strength of this season so far, I think we’ll have a stellar end to the summer dig!
Onwards and downwards!
One of the great pleasures of being part of Archaeology Live! is meeting people from all walks of life, from all over the world. Over the last fourteen years, our Archaeology Live! excavations have proved to be a melting pot of new friendships, professional contacts and more than a few budding romances. That said, it’s always great to see the return of a few familiar faces. With Archaeology Live! stalwarts Tom, Megan and Chas returning to placement duties, week nine got off to a flying start.
With the new arrivals inducted, suited and booted, trowels were brandished and work began.
With ‘This End’ becoming increasingly populated by early 19th century burials, Toby’s team cleaned up the central area of the trench.
Looking to clear up a number of somewhat fuzzy edges and hopefully expose a few new ones, the new additions quickly got their troweling eye in. Theo and Callum took over work on a large rectangular cut feature that has up to press seemed a tad wide to be a grave.
As the week progressed, it became apparent that something rather complex was going on. The wide cut feature was in fact several intercutting graves, later interrupted by a shallow charnel pit. The difficulty in tying down the sequence lay in the intensive focus of activity on a very small piece of ground. As each feature cut into its predecessor, much of the earlier deposits were removed, leaving only thin slithers of surviving backfills.
This discovery effectively turned a single context into a multitude of separate events, each requiring an individual record. Joined at the end of the week by Hugo, Callum began to record and excavate the sequence of graves and pits. While work on these features will continue over the next couple of weeks, the work done by Callum, Theo and Hugo has made a confusing mass of disturbed edges into a complex, but understandable stratigraphic sequence.
Beth and Donald joined us for their third year running this week and faced quite a new challenge. Last year on Hungate, the pair recorded and excavated an early 20th century concrete yard surface, during which Beth managed to break a mattock shaft in two! This season’s work would prove far more delicate.
In the section of a later burial, the grave of an infant had been discovered earlier in the season. Now the feature was free to investigate, Beth and Donald delicately troweled the area to locate the full extents of the burial.
As has been the general policy all season, no burials are currently scheduled to be removed during this excavation. The team have however looked to locate the positions and depths of surviving human remains to ensure they are protected from any intrusion from future development work.
As the grave backfill was gently peeled away, the outline of a collapsed coffin became visible, including a very degraded name plate. This discovery is important as it tells us that this was a sanctioned burial and adds a sombre human touch to the feature. These remains, partially revealed by Donald and Beth, will last have been seen by their grieving relatives almost two centuries ago.
With respect for the individuals interred along Church Lane, we will not be posting any images of their remains. While public access to our discoveries is perhaps our main aim, features like these are best dealt with quietly and respectfully.
Janice enjoyed a similarly challenging week, as she worked to ascertain the position and depth of the individual interred in her grave cut. This was tricky work, made harder by the confined space, but Janice’s patient excavation paid off as she revealed the upper and lower extremes of the skeleton. This allowed us to begin detailed records of the burial, again allowing us to ensure that this individual can continue to rest in peace.
As the grave was cut through almost a metre of earlier stratigraphy, a great variety of finds were present in the backfill. A particular highlight was the shiny, slightly comical lid fragment from a post-medieval pot.
In Gary’s area, the ‘That End’ team looked to make similar progress. Joined this week by Archaeology Live’s favourite Southern Belle, Lorraine, Beth recorded and excavated the fill of a small refuse pit.
Making a formidable team, it wasn’t long before Beth and Lorraine made some great finds. Highlights included a worked bone object with a carved internal thread.
It is possible that this could be the decorative end of an umbrella or similar item. It was certainly designed to screw on to something.
The excavation of this pit proved that a possible structural feature visible in the section of ‘Biagio’s bone pit’ (see earlier blog entries…) to be almost entirely truncated by later activity. That slight disappointment didn’t stop Beth and Lorraine from enjoying their work, however, as the finds continued to flow.
With the pit recorded, the intrepid pair revealed, recorded and excavated a small post hole, forcing Beth to break out field archaeology’s most devastating tool: The Teaspoon.
One of a number of emerging structural features, this post hole adds to a growing body of evidence that this yard was a busy working space in the first two decades of the 19th century.
Sandra and Bella began their week of excavation with us by investigating a feature that cut into a cobble surface/footing recorded by Gina and Geoff early in the season. Like Callum and Theo’s feature, this proved to be a difficult task. After a good deal of investigative troweling, Sandra and Bella discovered that they were actually dealing with two features, a shallow pit cut and an infant burial.
Complex relationships like these throw up a lot of records and Sandra and Bella worked hard to clean, photograph and plan each layer and cut edge. The discoveries made in this area depict an unusual dichotomy. Clearly, this area of 19th century yard space was home to countless pits, tips and post holes, but it was also being used, seemingly concurrently, for burials. As the ceramics from each context in this area are analysed by specialists, it will be fascinating to see if we can tighten the dating sequence and confirm whether or not the yard remained in active use while it was receiving burials.
Bella and Sandra ended their week by recording and excavating a small dump of clayey material. This in turn revealed yet another stakehole!
A busy week in ‘That End’ has added to an increasing cross-site division. It is certain that refuse pits, structural features and industrial features are increasingly common as you move further from the 18th century rectory building. Clearly, the rector liked to keep such smelly nuisances away from his dwelling. It is interesting to note that the residents of All Saints Cottages couldn’t afford to be so choosy. It’s fascinating to think that these beautiful medieval buildings have only been held in such high regard in relatively recent times; they must have seemed quite old hat in the 1820s.
Hindsight can be a wonderful thing.
The rectory is depicted in an early 19th century engraving and seems to have been quite a grand residence, even if a little artistic licence seems to have been taken – the footings we have uncovered are a tad smaller than you would expect for such a large building.
The Tree of Finds enjoyed a wonderful moment as the last of the ‘horn pit’ finds were finally washed. Representing the by-products of the tanning industry, the 15 tubs of cattle skull and horn core proved quite a task to clean!
Finds washing revealed a number of treasures that had yet to be noted. A seemingly innocuous pot sherd was washed by Beth and was found to contain antler stamped decoration.
This is proving a tough sherd to date, with opinion remaining thoroughly divided. It’s fabric and decoration are crude and a Roman or Anglo-Saxon date wouldn’t be beyond the realms of the imagination. However, it is equally plausible to be a locally made post-medieval ware. We await specialist opinion…
While washing what appeared to be a clump of dirt, Bella spotted this small, well-made copper alloy object. A decorative fitting of some sort, we eagerly await our small finds specialist’s opinion on this one.
Another amusing discovery was a large dog’s paw print in a medieval roof tile. You can almost picture the tiler’s annoyance at his unruly dog!
Often difficult to distinguish between some Roman equivalents, we have nonetheless been noting an increase in Viking finds as we creep into earlier deposits. It bodes well for what lies beneath us!
Week 9 has seen our picture of early 19th century activity along Church Lane come into ever sharper focus. We can see unpleasant activities being pushed away from the rectory at the south end of the yard and kept close to All Saints Cottages to the north; we can also see working life continuing in the yard while it was being incorporated into the church’s burial ground. The refuse pits we excavate are giving us new insights into past diets and lifestyles and, as we expose elements of the individuals buried along Church Lane, we are able to meet the 19th century parishioners of All Saints face to face.
None of this would be possible without the funding, hard work and boundless enthusiasm of our wonderful team of budding archaeologists. It is people like this that give archaeology such a bright future, thank you to all the week 9 team for another exciting week on North Street!
So, now we head in to the closing stages of the summer session. Only three weeks and one weekend to go! It’s been immense fun so far and a genuine privilege to work with such a passionate and diverse group of individuals. Here’s to a big finale!
Onwards and downwards!
PS. In closing, I’ll leave you with this.
Odd things happen on excavations sometimes. Our placement Becky was off sick for a day and it was decided she needed a replacement. Enter Becky MkII…
After many successful years of Archaeology Live! on Hungate, one of the great pleasures of this season has been the opportunity to get to grips with a whole new site. We have taken the exciting step of crossing the River Ouse and begun an excavation within the colonia of the Roman city, after thirteen seasons nestled safely in or around the fortress. New sites bring new challenges, but thankfully the rich archaeological deposits of York have yet again failed to disappoint.
At Archaeology Live! we are great believers in throwing our trainees in at the deep end. We always endeavour to have a site stripped of overburden and ready to excavate before the first trainee steps foot into the trench. This means the people that dig with us spend the entirety of their stay working on stratified archaeology – we leave the joys of clearing topsoil to our long suffering staff!
The first four weeks of the summer season saw the team piecing together the story of the recently demolished boxing club (former church hall, mortuary chapel, Sunday school, etc.), how it was built and how it was used. With this complete, the team then began to uncover the story of the half century leading up to the church hall’s construction in the 1860s. Last week saw a herculean effort to clear the construction deposits (i.e. compacted mess made by Victorian builders!) to expose the extents of earlier features and deposits, the only problem being that these were somewhat hard to come by! If last week was defined by the word ‘trample’, then this week was all about the hunt for that most elusive of archaeological creatures, the Clear Edge On A Deeply Stratified Urban Site (or CEOADSUS as we call it in the biz…)
Urban archaeology is a complicated beast. The merry olde city of York has been constantly occupied for over two millennia, its citizens seemingly obsessed with digging pits and filling them in again. This makes for a complex mess of confused edges and interweaving deposits. That said, the week 5 Archaeology Live! team were more than up to the task of picking apart this archaeological jigsaw.
In Arran’s area, Arleanne, Beverly and Katie (from the USA, Canada and Scarborough respectively) began their week by excavating a small post hole. Sealed by the seemingly endless C19th builder trample, this was one of the first pre-1860s features to be identified and its dark, charcoal-rich fill was highly visible. With this recorded, it took a full day of trowelling to reveal the next context in the archaeological sequence – that most glamorous of deposits, a dump.
As with so many other contexts across the site, this early-mid 19th century dump deposit contained pottery dating from the Roman to early-Victorian periods.
Beverly added yet another decorated clay pipe bowl to our burgeoning assemblage. This particular example featuring a floral decoration.
With the sun beating down, Katie, Beverly and Arleanne carefully pealed away the mixed dump deposit, before seeing their hard work rewarded with the clear edge of a rectangular cut feature. By the end of the week, the team had begun to excavate the upper fill of this feature and had recovered a good amount of medieval to post-medieval pottery.
With its size and orientation, it is possible that this feature may be a burial, although it is equally possible that it could turn out to be a pit. This will be investigated next week and any human remains that may be discovered will not be removed during this project. While work is ongoing on this context, an intriguing find was recovered during the dry-sieving of its backfill – a small, circular copper object. Too thick to be a coin and not an obvious shape for a button, it will be down to our conservation team to solve this riddle.
Elsewhere in Arran’s area, Anne and Terry were also seeking out the next feature in their sequence. After a thorough clean of their area, it became apparent that the latest feature was a stone post-pad. An exciting possibility relating to numerous structural features in this area is that the surviving row of buildings now known as All Saints Cottages (built c.1396) may once have extended into our trench. The present day buildings exhibit structural timbers sitting atop stone post-pads not dissimilar to this feature.
With the post-pad recorded and removed, Anne and Terry then recorded another dump deposit which yielded some lovely ceramics.
Beneath this deposit was a pleasant surprise, a truncated fragment of a well-laid cobble surface. Whether this proves to be a structural footing, or part of an early yard, it is great to see this area beginning to settle into a clear sequence.
Anne and Terry ended their week by recording and beginning excavation on two deposits sealed by their dump. Terry’s context proved to be yet another layer of dumping reminiscent of laminated yard deposits. Anne’s small scatter of bone-rich material proved to be the upper fill of a large pit full of animal bone. This is exciting evidence of butchery activity occurring on site and a rare example of a pit being used for one focused activity other than domestic refuse disposal. A finds highlight was the handle of a medieval, green glazed jug. Work will continue on this pit next week.
At the north-eastern extreme of the trench, Gideon and Jess took custody of what we have come to know as Complicated Corner. In this area, numerous layers of dumping and trample have already been recorded and lifted, punctuated with small pits and post-holes. This week, yet another dump deposit was uncovered and removed, revealing a confusing mass of ephemeral edges.
The painstaking trowelling of Gideon and Jess paid dividends as they revealed the backfill of a rectangular pit, alongside the beginnings of a structured dump of rubble. The pair began work on recording and excavating their pit at the end of the week and up to press, it appears to contain ceramics of a date no later than the late 1700s. We do indeed seem to be creeping back in time in this area, despite the complex nature of the archaeology! As this area finally, if reluctantly, yielded some good edges, it has now been re-named Contrary Corner.
Tom and Gill joined Arran’s team on a two day taster course this week and joined the effort of finding new contexts that had previously been sealed by the 1860s construction trample. Exposing another bone-rich deposit, they began to excavate a second pit full of butchered animal bone.
Filled in particular by fragments of cattle skull, this deposit would have been rather pungent when fresh! As work progresses on this area, it is becoming possible to see evidence of the zoning of activity. Two neighbouring pits full of primary butchery waste strongly suggest that meat processing had been occurring on-site. Hopefully more trends will appear in the coming weeks that will continue to give us a flavour of the site’s many past lives.
Over in Toby’s area, the search for new edges was equally ambitious. Close to the 18th century rectory, it quickly became apparent that the area had been a busy and well-used yard space. The team began the week by cleaning up, recording and excavating a new layer of trample.
As Team This End stripped away this layer of trample, a number of earlier deposits were revealed.
Jim spent a lot of time cleaning up a patch of burning with particularly tricky edges. As the deposit was cleaned, it became clear that a number of shallow cuts post-dated the burning event, yet again emphasising the busy nature of deposition in this area. Persistence again paid off however, as Jim pieced together the sequence and began to record and lift the latest deposits, proving himself a dab hand with a trowel!
Bill and Sarah also put in a fair shift of trowelling, themselves revealing a distinct layer of mortar. True to form, the edges of this deposit were subtle at best.
With their deposit recorded, Bill and Sarah began to excavate the mortar layer and it wasn’t long before they were rewarded with an exciting find; a large sherd of a Roman amphora. Used to transport wines and oils, these large vessels were a mainstay of Roman trade and hint that luxury goods were being consumed close-by in the Roman period.
Elsewhere in ‘This End’, Minty and Coco were revealing an increasingly complex sequence relating to the old rectory building. What we had presumed would be a simple external wall was proving to be much more complicated. With a series of dumps and wall adjustments and re-builds becoming visible, this part of the rectory could possibly correspond with an odd porch structure marked on an 18th century engraving of the building.
A number of interesting finds were revealed as Minty and Coco excavated a small pit close to the rectory wall, including an unusual early C19th glass bottle.
In the same feature, Coco was lucky enough to find a fragment of medieval floor tile, that was almost certainly once part of the church floor. Again, comparison with the current floor of the Lady Chapel (which was based on excavated finds) proved to be a perfect match, glaze and all.
Elsewhere in Toby’s area, the finds were coming thick and fast! Jackie, digging with us on a one day taster, was delighted to find a fragment of a worked bone clothing pin, similar to a number of Viking examples found on Hungate.
Cleaning up the latest trample layer provided returnee Helen a chance to find her second medieval coin in two years! While fragmentary, the coin is well preserved and should be dateable once cleaned.
Archaeology Live! regular Sharon teamed up with new trainee Lucy to work on a small rectangular feature. This was one of the first features in This End to reveal a clear edge and proved to be surprisingly deep! Containing a mix of Roman to post-medieval pottery, the pit was excavated to a depth of around 400mm. While the feature was not bottomed, it will be far easier to resume excavation once the surrounding area has been reduced. As it could possibly represent a burial, this will be a feature that certainly warrants a cautious approach!
Under the shade of the Finds Tree, Gary and his team continued to shed new light on the site with the ongoing work of finds processing.
The site is producing an impressive assemblage of butchered animal bone, a key insight into past diets. Many fragments of bone exhibit clear butchery marks, allowing us to see how meat was processed and what species were preferred.
The base of a dog skull was an unusual find within a domestic waste assemblage, proving that not all ‘pets’ were buried carefully during the early 19th century!
The week was rounded off with the usual specialist sessions on conservation, small finds, pottery, animal bone and stratigraphy. These sessions provided a chance to escape the fierce sunlight and to get to grips with some new aspects of archaeology.
The week 5 team continued to maintain the high standards set so far in the summer session. It’s been a continuing pleasure to work with such a diverse and motivated team and, as everything we do at Archaeology Live! is entirely funded by our trainees, it is important to recognise their hard work and enthusiasm. Thank you to all our trainees, tasters and placements for another thrilling week of archaeological discovery.
As we delve further into pre-boxing club layers, we are really beginning to get a taste of the site’s story. The most encouraging fact is that we are barely halfway through the season! Here’s to next week’s exciting discoveries!
Onwards and downwards!
PS. I feel it would be bad form to not include this wonderful moment of bonding between Toby and Frankie (Craig’s dog) from Thursday night. I feel the two really connected…
With the 2014 summer season almost upon us, it seems like a good time to take a look back at the sites we have excavated in previous years. As a charity, a main aim of York Archaeological Trust’s work is to promote public engagement with the past, allowing people the opportunity to do more than view a site from behind a fence and there is no better way to do this than getting people in trenches making discoveries of their own. The archaeology of York is an amazing source of potential new knowledge and has to be dealt with in a careful and thorough manner, with this in mind the Archaeology Live! training dig was born. The excavation work and subsequent analysis and publication that make up each season of Archaeology Live! is entirely funded by the trainees. In essence, the project has been ‘crowdfunding’ since long before the term was coined.
The site chosen for the inaugural season had an excellent archaeological pedigree. The excavation was located in the west corner of the Roman legionary fortress of Eboracum, bounded on two sides by surviving fortress walls. The area continued to serve a defensive function throughout the Anglian and Viking periods and became the site of St. Leonard’s hospital in the medieval period. The Victorian era saw the site used as an archaeological garden, housing finds from the Yorkshire Philosophical Society before again resuming a defensive purpose with the construction of a Second World War air raid shelter. On Wednesday 13 June, the site was formally opened by the Lord Mayor of York, Councillor Irene Waudby and work began.
Three trenches were excavated during the 2001 season, all uncovering a diverse range of fascinating finds and features. In fact, a total of 600 individual contexts were recorded and excavated over the 13 week dig! As is typical of York, deposits were uncovered representing an unbroken sequence of activity covering two millennia.
A short blog post isn’t sufficient to detail the full findings of the 2001 dig, but here are a few highlights. The World War II air raid shelter proved to be an evocative reminder of a dark time in York’s past. A number of personal items were recovered, including coins, pins, marbles and beads.
A curious collection of archaeological features were found to be ornately laid as part of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society’s archaeological garden. A large column base proved to be one of the more impressive artefacts on display.
The dig took place in the infirmary area of the medieval St Leonard’s Hospital. This was founded as St Peter’s Hospital in 936 and transferred to its present site in the 11th century. The hospital, one of the largest in medieval England, once supported 225 beds. In the 14th century it maintained up to 18 clergy, 16 female servants, 30 choristers, 10 private boarders and 140–240 poor sick people. This gives some idea of the range of religious, spiritual, medical, social and charitable roles undertaken by a medieval hospital. Parts of the hospital can still be seen, including a vaulted entrance passage, an undercroft to the infirmary and a chapel, all of 13th century date. Other remains of this once vast hospital survive inside the nearby Theatre Royal.
An unanticipated discovery was an impressive medieval stone lined drain. This proved that the hospital had a substantial and complex drainage system, taking sewage and run-off away from the infirmary.
Substantial stone wall footings relating to the hospital allowed for new insights into the construction and development of the medieval buildings. An array of exciting finds were uncovered from the hospital, with masses of pottery, bone, glass, etc delighting the trainees. These gave an idea of the activities going on within the hospital complex and the lifestyles of the people living and working there. One particular highlight was a beautifully preserved medieval bronze seal ring.
Evidence was found of earlier structures being incorporated into the medieval hospital buildings. Week seven of the dig revealed the north-west wall of one of the Roman legionary fortress interval towers. Known as SW6 because it is the sixth tower along the south-west side of the fortress, the wall was left upstanding within the cobble foundations of a wall belonging to the medieval hospital, re-used in order to form part of the medieval foundations. Clearly the medieval builders were aware of the quality of Roman construction, making good use of the surviving wall.
The site was open to visitors throughout the season, with thousands of people flocking to see the discoveries as they were made. Events were held to give local children a chance to lend a hand with finds processing and learn more about York’s past. As has become normal for Archaeology Live! trainees came from across the globe to get involved with the dig and the team ranged in age from children to pensioners!
The 2001 excavations set a great standard for what training digs can achieve. At Archaeology Live! we believe that with the right training, no archaeology is too complex or difficult for members of the public to work on, with or without prior experience. The team of staff, placements and trainees made a great start to what would be a number of seasons at St. Leonards. We’ll be posting about the findings of those digs in the coming weeks. As we enter our fourteenth year of trainee funded archaeology in York, we look forward to many exciting discoveries to come!
Watch this space!
PS. I’ve found no explanation for this picture of Toby and a bird, but it seemed vital to include it.