Please visit http://archaeologylive.org/ for all the information on our 2016 training courses.
As we celebrate our fifteenth year of trainee funded urban archaeology, we’re happy to announce that we are expanding the Archaeology Live! training excavation into the historic city of Nottingham. The archaeology of Nottingham has received increasing attention in recent years, with many fascinating discoveries being made during the construction of the city’s new tram network. The city was an important Anglian and Viking settlement, a key location in the Civil War and boasts a fascinating warren of post-medieval and early modern caves. All of this makes Nottingham a thrilling place to excavate!
The excavation will be a joint venture between Nottingham City Council and Trent and Peak Archaeology – the Nottingham branch of York Archaeological Trust. The fine details of the project are currently being drawn up and more detail will follow in the coming fortnight, but we can confirm the location of the dig – Nottingham Castle.
Digging inside a medieval castle is an archaeologist’s dream come true. Sites like these are packed with stories, drama and archaeology covering many centuries. This building has been pivotal to many crucial moments of Nottingham’s long history and we hope to learn more about the castle’s evolution and ever-changing fortunes. The training excavation will operate on the exact same system as has been tried and tested over the years in York; every feature will be recorded and excavated by trainees, with guidance and support from professional archaeologists.
We hope to release the dates and more info very soon, so watch this space for further updates. We’ll be sharing the findings of the York and Nottingham excavations as they’re uncovered, it’s going to be an exciting summer!
As ever, please direct any enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org or @ArchaeologyLive
I’ll hopefully see some of you in the trench!
Archaeology Live! has been opening up archaeological sites of national significance and offering professional standard training to people of all ages and backgrounds for fifteen years. Over the years, our trainees have explored some of York’s most exciting archaeology and made some unbelievable discoveries.
It’s now time to spread our wings…
As well as returning for a second season at All Saints, North Street in the heart of medieval York, 2015 will see us open up a new site with our team in Nottingham (and a familiar face or two!)
Here’s a small clue regarding where we’ll be digging…
Full announcement to follow next week, we’re very excited about this one!!
Watch this space.
Sometimes, with a little research, tiny objects recovered from archaeological excavations can tell us amazingly detailed stories. This fairly unremarkable piece of fired clay is a fine example of an object with a tale to tell.
Discovered in July, during our excavation at All Saints, North Street, this fragment of a clay pipe bowl was one of many found over the summer. When it was cleaned, the team were delighted to notice that the object told us not only where it was made – right here in York – but also when, as it was stamped with the year 1828. If all artefacts were so free with their provenance, us archaeologists would quickly be out of a job!
While this level of detail was an unusual and somewhat fortunate find, the story doesn’t end there. Sufficient detail of the stamp is visible to actually relate the object to an individual person and to tell us a tale of a father, a son and a stolen idea.
In 1792, George Mason of York began a seven year apprenticeship in the manufacture of fired clay tobacco pipe under the tutelage of master craftsman Mark Hesp. At the turn of the century, Hesp produced a batch of pipes with a decorative shield motif and the text ‘HESP YORK 1800’. His pipe marking the new century must have proved popular, as numerous examples have been found in excavations across York. By the 1820s, the young apprentice George was in business for himself, producing clay pipes in a premises on Monkgate in central York. In 1828, he produced a batch of clay pipes that have also been found in sites across York. The shield motif featured on the pipe bowls was almost identical to the one created by Hesp 28 years before, although the text now read ‘MASON YORK 1828’. On the opposite side, the York city crest was pictured – clearly indicating a degree of civic pride. An example found in the Hungate Block D excavation in 2007 shows us how the whole pipe would have looked.
The pipes made by George Mason supported a flourishing business, which would be taken over by his son George Jr. following his death in 1839, aged 63. George Jr. saw no reason to alter his father’s design and created his own batch of York pipes in 1848. The design featured, you guessed it, the familiar shield motif and the text ‘MASON YORK 1848’. Well, if it ain’t broke…
The exact significance of the years 1828 and 1848 remains unknown, but it is nonetheless wonderful to be able to relate a tiny fragment of clay pipe found at All Saints to a Victorian family business that certainly didn’t mind ‘borrowing’ ideas. That, in a nutshell, is the joy of archaeology; extracting the personal stories from the objects that we discover in the ground.
To read more about the clay pipe assemblage from Hungate Block D, head to http://www.dighungate.com/Editor/assets/pdfs/2007-52-blockd.pdf
To learn about how to join us on site and make your own discoveries, head to https://archaeologylive.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/archaeology-live-2015/
The All Saints excavation fires up once more in April, we can’t wait to get back on site and will post regular updates right here.
Onwards and downwards!
The votes have been counted, the expert panel of judges (well, Toby, Arran and Gary) have debated and the winner of the inaugural Archaeology Live! Find of the Year award has been decided.
Despite facing stiff competition from some stunning finds such as an ornate Viking spindle whorl, an incredbly delicate glass ring from the Roman period, two medieval bone die and some beautiful, highly symbolic medieval and post-medieval pot sherds; the artefact lovingly referred to as ‘Dino’ has come out on top, with 42% of the public vote!
Found in July 2014 by Katie Smith, a familiar face on Archaeology Live! excavations, this object was discovered in the backfill of a post-medieval refuse pit. Dating to the 15th century, it is a fragment of a Hambleton Ware lobed bowl, a drinking vessel that combined old traditions with new technology.
Lobed bowls were popular from the late 14th to early 16th centuries and were a continuation of the bawdy old tradition of communal drinking, where large bowls of delightful libations would be passed around groups of merrymakers. Originally, these vessels would have mainly been made of wood, however, as ceramic manufacture became more affordable for the middle classes, bowls such as these began to replace the older wooden vessels.
As the decades passed, they became increasingly elaborate, with figures of mythical creatures, people and animals set within the bowls. As the contents were imbibed, the figures would slowly be revealed. Examples such as this one, found at 1-5 Aldwark in 1976 feature two human figures seemingly deep in conversation.
The identity of these figures may never be known, but wonderfully impractical objects like these invite us into the minor rituals of domestic medieval life.
Katie’s figure, despite it’s somewhat dinosaur-esque appearance, may be a stylised cockerel or dog. Perhaps it could be a mythical beast from some allegorical tale of the 1400s. Specialist analysis in late 2015/early 2016 may finally reveal Dino’s true identity, but it remains open to debate at present – which is, of course, half the fun!
Who/what ever the figure turns out to be, Katie’s find remains a wonderful insight into a more playful side of medieval life and highlights the wealth of symbolism and imagery that would have been commonplace at the time. While we can never know what merriment Dino may have bourne witness to, we can at least hold the very same object six centuries later and allow ourselves to imagine. Such objects bring us closer to the everyday people of medieval York and this is a deserving winner.
Toby will start work on the T-shirt design in time for the spring training excavation in April, where the race begins to find the most exciting find of the 2015 season. What wonderful objects and stories remain buried around the ancient church of All Saints, North Street? Join us in the spring to find out!
As the old cliche goes, onwards and downwards!
We are pleased to announce that we’ll be opening our excavation up to the public for site tours on July 18th as part of the 2015 Festival of Archaeology! Working in conjunction with our hosts at All Saints Church, this will be an opportunity to explore the trench, meet the archaeologists and see the latest finds. There will also be tours of the church that will provide fascinating insights into its history, architecture, archaeology and its nationally important stained glass.
This will be one of many events taking place across Britain to celebrate our archaeological heritage.
The open day will be a chance to see behind the scenes of an archaeological excavation and to learn about the countless stories and events from this small corner of historic York.
On top of all this, the church will be holding a medieval mass at 2pm. This is an opportunity to experience what would have been central to the lives of the medieval people of York, almost exactly as they would have seen, heard and even smelled it!
The trench will be open between midday and 4pm, times for the church tours will be announced in the near future. People of all ages are welcome and the trench is fully wheelchair accessible.
The summer excavation will be in full swing at this point, who knows what we will be finding! If you would like to join the excavation and add your own discoveries, please browse the information on this website and direct enquiries to email@example.com
See you in the trench!
York has a huge variety of accommodation options, from affordable hostels and campsites to luxury hotels. The following is a quick guide to find somewhere that suits you.
The content below is up-to-date as far as we are aware, please get in touch if you find anything to be incorrect. Also, feel free to add feedback on places you have stayed on our Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/notes/archaeology-live/accommodation-york-nearby/10151781819631846 – bear in mind that this is a forum for recommendations rather than criticism.
*SPECIAL DEALS for 2015*
Hotel 53 are a competitively priced hotel in the centre of York, about a 10-15 minute walk from our excavation. They offer a 10% discount to Archaeology Live! trainees, just quote York Archaeological Trust when you call to book. Please note that terms and conditions apply. The discount is valid for double rooms and doesn’t apply during bank holidays and race weekends.
General searches are a good place to start there are a number of options
– Good general booking site local to York http://www.visityork.org/book/ not a national site so the revenue stays local.
– Another good local engine http://www.iknow-yorkshire.co.uk/
– Bit of a York guide with some accommodation links http://www.insideyork.co.uk/
Hotels are surprisingly cheap if you book well in advance and avoid the weekend nights
– People had a good deal here by sharing a twin room and getting in early http://www.travelodge.co.uk/hotels/196/York-Central-hotel
– This one lists guest houses, pubs and bed and breakfasts as well http://www.york-stay.co.uk/
Bed & Breakfast is a very large part of the accommodation available in York (just don’t boast about having a Full English when you turn up and see ravenous hoards!)
– The University has some options for this http://www.yorkrooms.com/
– Independent York bed and breakfast site, you need to contact individually but gives you and idea what’s around http://www.yorkbedandbreakfast.co.uk/
– I am not sure if this counts as a B&B but there are some really good options at lots of prices there was one place at £16 per night https://www.airbnb.co.uk/s/York–United-Kingdom?source=bb
– People have said very good things about the Bar Convent http://www.bar-convent.org.uk/accommodation.htm
Hostels are a good option if you want to pay less
– YHA has a hostel in York book through their web site and if you are a member you get discounts http://www.yha.org.uk/
– The University is running a system similar to a hostel in the halls where we used to stay http://www.yorkconferences.com/events/venue/bed-and-breakfast-14.aspx you need to book dates between the 10th July and 5th September for the £24 per night price to be available
– We also spoke with York St John University and they are renting out rooms in different locations. The cheapest option was at the Lord Mayors walk campus. You will have to send them a message or call to find out more details (they were very helpful when I spoke with them) http://www.yorksj.ac.uk/conference-office/conference-home/accommodation.aspx
– There is the boutique hostel on Micklegate which is very nearby for the site http://safestayyork.co.uk/safestay-york/bedrooms.html
– The same for Stonegate which is very central http://www.thefortyork.co.uk/
Renting or sharing is a good option if you are coming for a longer stay
– One of the popular engines is this http://www.spareroom.co.uk/flatshare/york
– Gumtree is another option for a longer stay http://www.gumtree.com/flats-houses/york
– Bit extreme but if you are bringing the whole family over a nice option. There are a few houses in the York area www.lovehomeswap.com
– There are a couple of places here which can be rented by a group. They have had good feedback from one of our regulars www.centreyorkcottages.co.uk
– For those who wish to camp or caravan try www.pitchup.com
– Ukcampsite is very good. The campers reviews are also very useful www.ukcampsite.co.uk
– For caravanners, this is supposed to have a really good shower block. Mainly hard standing with hook ups http://www.yorkcaravanpark.com
Further afield To help planning stays and journeys there are numerous things to help
– Excellent Park and ride apps to help you plan your journey and stay in York http://www.mxapps.co.uk/product.aspx?appId=york_park_ride
During our debut season at All Saints, North Street, we were lucky enough to find some fantastic artefacts. These objects would all have been personal possessions of people who lived, worked and worshipped along North Street many centuries ago.
The Archaeology Live! team hate to pick favourites, but a decision needs to be made as to which find will feature on the T-shirt for the upcoming 2015 season. Each year of Archaeology Live! has had a different T-shirt design to give trainees a unique reminder of their time on site. We always try and use an image of an artefact or feature discovered specifically on the current site. As 2014 was our first year at All Saints, we used one of the ‘maria’ tiles from the church’s newly restored Lady Chapel as the featured image; these can still be purchased from http://www.zikzak.co.uk/acatalog/all-saints-dig-york-t-shirts.html
So, which find will be the winner? It’s down to you to vote!
Here are the contenders:
Alan’s worked antler object.
This beautifully made object may have been a decorative spindle whorl, counter or gaming piece. It is likely to be medieval or perhaps even Viking in date.
Katie’s fragment of a 15th century Hambleton Ware lobed bowl.
This wonderful creature would have been set in the base of a communal drinking vessel. As people passed around the bowl, it would have emerged from the wine/beer/water and been rather amusing for all involved. Quite what the creature is remains a mystery. Dino from the Flinstones has been mooted but is rather unlikely…
Gina and Rob’s bone die
Gina’s dice (above) is in beautiful condition and could be anything between Roman and medieval in date. Rob’s dice (below) features a more 13th century style layout and has clearly been used for some time.
Kaye’s glass ring
This beautiful object is most likely Roman in date and would have been a stunning piece of jewellery when complete.
Barry’s fragment of a medieval seal jug
This seal would have graced the side of a 13th century York Glazed Ware jug. The image on the seal tells us that it may well have been commissioned by noteable York citizen Thomas FitzWalter to celebrate a marriage and/or birth of a son. A rare example of an artefact being linked to a single person or family.
Gerwin’s Belarmine Jug.
This grumpy looking individual is Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), a staunch anti-protestant who’s image adorned many thousands of 16th-17th century German stoneware drinking jugs. This provides wonderful evidence of post-medieval satire, as the cardinal was strongly opposed to excessive drinking!
Please cast your vote for which find should feature on the 2015 T-shirt on the poll below. The winner will be announced in the next couple of weeks once the Archaeology Live! team have counted and ejudicated the votes. If you feel we have omitted a deserving find from the shortlist, get in touch and let us know!
Over to you!
Places and Spaces
Below are the current spaces available on the 2015 Archaeology Live! training courses. Even if a course is full, we sometimes get late openings coming up if people have had to cancel – so get in touch and we can create a reserves list if it is your only option.
If you are unsure as to how to read the details below, have a look at this example in italics;
Week no. Starting Date. Longer Courses. TasterCourses
Week 8 14/06/17 6 Tue 4 Wed 0 Thur 2 Fri 2
So, during week 8, starting 14th June 2017, there are spaces for 6 people on the one week or longer course and then 4 taster spaces on the Tuesday, 2 on the Thursday and finally 2 on the Friday.
Week no. Starting Date. Longer Courses. TasterCourses
Week 1 06/04/15 6 Tue na Wed na Thu 3 Fri 4
Week 2 13/04/15 8 Tue 1 Wed 4 Thu 2 Fri 4
Week no. Starting Date. Longer Courses. TasterCourses
Week 1 22/06/15 2 Tue 3 Wed 3 Thu 4 Fri 4
Week 2 29/06/15 7 Tue 3 Wed 4 Thu 4 Fri 4
Week 3 06/07/15 7 Tue 4 Wed 4 Thu 2 Fri 2
Week 4 13/07/15 8 Tue 3 Wed 3 Thu 3 Fri 4
Week 5 20/07/15 8 Tue 4 Wed 4 Thu 2 Fri 2
Week 6 27/07/15 10 Tue 4 Wed 4 Thu 4 Fri 4
Week 7 03/08/15 10 Tue 4 Wed 4 Thu 4 Fri 4
Week 8 10/08/15 10 Tue 4 Wed 4 Thu 4 Fri 4
Week 9 17/08/15 10 Tue 4 Wed 4 Thu 1 Fri 1
Week 10 24/08/15 10 Tue 4 Wed 4 Thu 4 Fri 4
Week 11 31/08/15 9 Tue 4 Wed 4 Thu 4 Fri 4
Week 12 07/09/15 9 Tue 4 Wed 4 Thu 4 Fri 4
April Weekend Course
Fully booked – we have a reserves list and may do more courses if demand is high.
May Weekend Course
Fully booked – we have a reserves list and may do more courses if demand is high.
August Weekend Course
Fully booked – we have a reserves list and may do more courses if demand is high.
TBC Email firstname.lastname@example.org to express interest.
With sufficient demand we will run an additional weekend course so just let us know. Bookings and enquiries to email@example.com
Last week, we took a closer look at some of the Roman finds that were uncovered during our 2014 excavation at All Saints, North Street. By the end of the season, we had excavated over two centuries worth of archaeology and uncovered deposits dating to the late 1700s.
A wonderful thing about urban archaeology is the variety of finds that it provides. As our site has been in constant use for two millennia, a wealth of earlier material can be found re-deposited in later contexts. The sheer volume of re-deposited Roman material uncovered so far strongly suggests that intact Roman archaeology is present at All Saints, buried beneath countless layers of later activity.
While we can only interpret so much with finds from secondary contexts, we can still get a thrilling sneak preview into the Roman world beneath our feet; with glimpses of legionary tile production, imported luxuries like wine and oils and evidence of high status buildings, jewellery and ceramics uncovered already.
These artefacts are exciting, but they remain only echoes of a landscape that has since been radically and irrevocably changed. With one or two rather stunning exceptions (i.e. the Multiangular Tower in the Museum Gardens), York’s wonderful Roman heritage is now entirely below ground.
When we consider medieval York, we are lucky enough to be brought a little closer to life in the Middle Ages by the wealth of medieval architecture that still stands today. It is easier to visualise and understand a lost world, when you are able to see fragments that have survived the intervening centuries. A 15th century time traveller visiting our site today would see a lot that they would recognise. The magnificent church tower was completed in 1410, and the beautiful cottages pictured above were under construction in 1396. While they would see a world much changed, they would have reference points with which to orientate themselves.
The remains of York’s medieval cityscape allow us to share experiences with people who lived centuries ago; an experience that is made even richer when we discover the objects that these people owned and used. Archaeology is all about adding flesh to the bones of history. The lives of kings and queens are well documented, but archaeology allows us to learn more about people like ourselves.
The recent Hungate project featured the largest modern open area excavation to have ever happened in central York. The dig uncovered a wealth of wonderfully human moments; occurrences that we can easily relate to today. These came in many forms, with themes continuing over many phases of activity. We found the spoons that Victorian children had used to try and retrieve lost marbles from drains, we also found the marbles! Rewinding 1,000 years, we found leather shoes, beads and ornate metal objects that had been lost down Viking cesspits. It seems there are some things that never change…
At All Saints this year, we have been lucky enough to find an array of medieval objects that add more of these wonderfully personal details to our knowledge of medieval York. These finds aren’t always particularly glamorous, but they do tell a story to anyone who cares to listen.
The medieval world was alive with symbolism and meaning. Medieval parishioners of All Saints would have often seen religious processions making their way along nearby Micklegate, with priests and visiting dignitaries arrayed in rigidly defined hierarchies. The allegorical tales of the mystery plays would have been imbued with far greater meaning to those of a medieval mindset than can be appreciated by you or I in the 21st century.
This was a world where monsters and evil spirits would have seemed very real and the threat of hellfire and damnation weighed heavy on every mind. But these layers of tradition and symbolism were not limited to the glorious stained glass and monumental architecture of the church, they also appeared in everyday life.
Joining us for her third season of Archaeology Live!, Yorkshire lass Katie made a particularly wonderful discovery when she spotted something green in the fill of an 18th century refuse pit. The object proved to be a sherd of Hambleton ware, most likely dating to the early 15th century (this date will be tightened up following a specialist assessment of the ceramics). It was immediately apparent that this was an unusual find. Unlike the numerous utilitarian fragments of bowls, jars and jugs that had already been found, this pot sherd was clearly a more decorative object. Initially thought to be part of an elaborate lid, a spot of research has revealed Katie’s find to be a fragment of a lobed cup or bowl.
These lobed bowls were popular in the 14th and 15th centuries, being used as communal drinking vessels that would be passed around a group of people. As the contents were drank, figures of mythical creatures, biblical characters and animals would emerge from the liquid. This period saw a nationwide shift in material culture; drinking vessels which had mainly been made of wood up until this point were now occurring more frequently in ceramic forms. However, it seems that older, communal dining traditions were being maintained, as these lobed bowls remained popular into the early 16th century. Pictured below is a charming example of a somewhat eroded, but clearly human figure from a similar vessel.
Katie’s example has provoked a great deal of debate. Is it a cockerel? Is it a dog? Could it be some form of serpent? Final confirmation will come when the specialist pottery assessment is carried out next year. The figure has clearly lost its ears or horns and does seem to have stylised legs of some sort. If parallels have been found elsewhere, we may be able to say exactly what we’re looking at, but for now, it will remain open for debate. A suggestion that it is an early representation of Dino from The Flintstones has been met with a sensible degree of scepticism…
While Katie’s pot sherd will remain enigmatic for now, it can certainly be agreed that it is a wonderful find. Whether it was used during celebrations or ceremonies (or both!) is an entertaining question to ponder. This find has a certain frivolous charm, allowing us a glimpse into this medieval world of mystery and symbolism. It reminds us that life in the middle ages could have a more jovial side, which gives a warm contrast to All Saints air of piety and devotion.
Joining us for his fourth season of Archaeology Live!, Barry didn’t waste any time in adding a new piece to our medieval puzzle. In a deposit associated with the 1860s church hall, he noticed a sherd of medieval pottery.
At first glance, there was nothing immediately remarkable about this find. However, now we are learning to decode the imagery of medieval York, it is possible to find a very personal story behind this artefact.
In the 11th century, carved bone or metal seal stamps came in to common use. These stamps were used to create impressions in wax to authenticate documents with a recognised seal, a tradition that had become firmly established by the 13th century. While medieval potters were somewhat lower down the social scale than those who created beautifully illuminated manuscripts, they were nonetheless influenced by the religious and heraldic symbolism that surrounded them, particularly in their parish churches.
This influence of medieval symbolism on the ceramic tradition is something that we can clearly see in the archaeological record. In York, the 13th century saw an influx of seal jugs; vessels that featured at least one applied cirucular motif. A reflection of imagery seen on documents, high status metal vessels and in church architecture, the seals on these jugs fall into three broad categories; personal seals featuring the owner’s name, seals containing the maker’s name (medieval branding if you will) and those with motifs of animals, floral decorations and anthropomorphic images.
The variety of seals that have been found on these jugs suggests something far more complex than simple decoration. As we have discussed, medieval people were far more in tune with the significance of the myriad images and symbols that punctuated their world. These jugs clearly carried social, cultural, religious and political messages, as well as being beautifully crafted objects. Barry’s sherd is a perfect example of this tradition.
A closer inspection of Barry’s sherd shows that we have the majority of a seal bearing the image of a bird. The stretched legs and raised wing create an image of imminent motion; our bird seems ready to take flight! Around the perimeter of the seal is a worn, but visible legend. At a glance, YAT ceramics specialist Anne Jenner instantly recognised the significance of this seal. Fragments of identical and similar seal jugs have been found at Wellington Row, Micklegate, Coppergate, Low Petergate and as far afield as Gilling East and Wharram Percy. Clearly, Barry’s vessel was one of a batch that would go on to spread across York and North Yorkshire.
Comparison with the more complete examples reveal this to be part of a jug with two bird seals on one side, and two featuring a lion on the opposite side. The lion is a ‘lion passant’ with its head looking back and its tail upright. Around the image of the lion is the text, “S. TOME:FILLI:WALTERI”, while the the bird is surrounded by the legend, “SIGILL.TOME.P-WA”. The survival of these seals means that we can actually link Barry’s pot to a particular individual, a very rare occurrence in archaeology!
The images above bear the personal seal of Thomas FitzWalter, a member of one of York’s more prosperous medieval families that are known to have been patrons of the arts. Historic records for the FitzWalters in York are scant, but the imagery of these seal jugs leave us with some tantalising possibilities. The fact that the legends contain a ‘P.’ (Pater, or father) and ‘FILII’ (son) over two separate seals could suggest that these jugs were commissioned to celebrate a marriage and the birth of a son. The widespread nature of the vessels may represent them being given as gifts, or becoming dispersed family heirlooms.
The cross above the head of the bird acts as both a grammatical indication of the legend’s beginning and a symbol of religious devotion, adding yet another layer of meaning to the seal.
Whatever the case, Barry’s find is a wonderful example of how archaeology can bring us closer to the past. Holding the vessels that people would have drunk from is always exciting, but being able to tie them to particular individuals is a rare and wonderful pleasure. Further research may yet reveal more about this fantastic artefact, but for now we can enjoy being very late guests to the FitzWalters’ happy day.
A recurring theme of the 2014 season was objects featuring fingerprints. While this is not uncommon in ceramic objects from busy, urban sites, it is always highly evocative. Placing your finger in the mark left by the person who made the object you are holding many centuries ago is a vivid experience. It reminds us that archaeology is the study of people, not just sweeping historic events. Here are some of the finer examples from this year’s dig.
Pots and tiles were often dried before firing, but they would remain very pliable. Finger and thumb prints can be used to apply decoration, but they can also be accidental. The medieval roof tile below features the fingerprints of either a very slight individual, or a small child.
These are just several examples of similar finds, although people weren’t the only ones to make their mark…
As roof tiles were dried in the sun before firing, it is not uncommon to find that pesky dogs or cats wandered over the still-wet clay, accidentally immortalising their paw prints. These wonderful finds give medieval York’s animal population the chance to make their mark on the archaeological record.
Fun and games
While life could be challenging in medieval York, we have found evidence that people were taking the time to have a little fun. Local lad and regular Archaeology Live! trainee Rob had a bumper year for finds; one of his finest was a tiny bone dice.
Dice with the traditional arrangement of opposite sides totalling seven have been around from Roman times, made in bone, metal and antler. Rob’s example has a more irregular layout that appeared in the 13th century, most likely dating it to the second half of the medieval period.
It is a beautiful object which has clearly been worn from use. The games it played, whether it proved lucky in gambling, and how long it remained in use will never be known, but it is a fun thing to ponder. The particular joy of this artefact is its simplicity. There is no palimpsest of meaning here, just an instantly recognisable object that could be used just as easily today as it was centuries ago.
Happily, this wasn’t the only evidence of gaming to be found this year. Early in the season, Geoff was delighted to find a worked bone counter. Initially thought to be a button, closer inspection showed it to have no perforations. Instead, a small hollow had been made on one side of the disc that perfectly fits an index finger. The reverse was worn smooth, making it likely to have been a gaming piece. Its date is uncertain at present, specialist analysis may tell us more.
It’s one thing to recreate the sights of medieval York, but one find from 2014 gives us a clue to how the area may have sounded. This medieval object is made of bone and would have been used to tune stringed musical instruments. Tuning pegs are common finds in medieval York and reveal that music would have been part of life for people of all classes. Quite what instrument this peg would have tuned is uncertain, although one possibility is the rebec, predecessor of the modern violin, which was a popular instrument in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Style and wealth
Status was of high importance to the people of medieval York. Those with a little wealth to their name would want to be seen to be fashionable and rich. Several objects discovered this year tell us about the ways medieval people chose to decorate their clothes and possessions.
The 2014 team uncovered a number of small strap ends, clasps and buckles. These decorative objects could have added a little flair to items items of clothing, saddlery and furniture. By their decorative nature, they reveal a certain degree of wealth. They were clearly owned by individuals who could afford more than simple, functional items.
These objects will be cleaned and analysed in late 2015/early 2016 by the YAT conservation team. Who knows what more we will be able to learn about these intriguing objects.
While it is tempting to clean these finds on site, they are often highly corroded and very fragile. The buckle pictured below may even have surviving fabric, preserved within the corrosion. Treated properly, this may give us direct evidence of the kind of attire people would have favoured in the medieval period. Watch this space for further news on the metal finds!
It is impossible to look at every medieval find from 2014 without writing a rather lengthy tome! With that in mind, we will conclude our look at the medieval assemblage with a look at the finds that tell us more about the church itself.
While the church is a wonderful example of high-medieval architecture, it is a building that has been in near constant flux for much of its existence. The changing demands and fashions of each century have seen swathes of structural and decorative alterations. Pews, floors, windows and walls have been entirely removed and re-modelled. However, the finds of this year’s excavation provide us with evidence of the church’s previous incarnations.
The Lady Chapel in All Saints has recently been re-floored with hand-made tiles recreated using medieval techniques to create an authentic middle ages appearance. We have been lucky enough to find examples of the original medieval floor that has since been so lovingly and faithfully restored. A wonderful moment this year, was laying a newly discovered medieval tile over the replica floor. It fit the traditional dimensions perfectly!
Our tile, while complete, shows evidence of a long life, with the glaze on the upper surface all but worn away. There is no doubt that this object will have witnessed the church in its medieval heyday, a fact which is as frustrating as it is fascinating! If only tiles could speak…
Working on a 19th century burial, Archaeology Live! regular Belle made a wonderful medieval discovery – a fragment of stained glass.
While this wasn’t the first fragment of medieval window glass to be found this year, it is the most complete and features two complete edges that give us an idea of its original shape. The cut edges even bear the marks of the grozing iron – the tool used by medieval craftsmen to shape the glass.
All Saints is famous for its wonderful stained glass, but not all of the medieval windows have been lucky enough to survive the intervening centuries. Belle’s shard fits tantalisingly well in a current window of the church and once it is cleaned by the conservation department, we will find out whether any of the paint still survives.
The cliche that this provides a window into the medieval world is a guilty (but true!) pleasure…
A final find type to look at reveals even more about the church’s former appearance. This year, our team have found numerous fragments of beautifully made glazed roof tile. Made between the 13th and 16th centuries, these tiles were expensive and would only have graced the roofs of prosperous secular and religious buildings. Their lead and copper glaze gives the tiles a bright green hue that would have looked spectacular in the sun.
Some examples have a darker, more purple tinged hue.
The combined evidence of the glazed floor and roof tiles present an image of a vibrant, colourful building. Much of this colour would fall victim to the tumult of the 16th century reformation, but the finds made by our 2014 team make it possible to see a little more of the church’s high medieval splendour.
This brief tour of just some of 2014’s finds highlights serves as a reminder of the power of archaeology to enrich and humanise the past. Adding these pieces to the medieval puzzle removes some of the distance between ourselves and the people who lived through the times we are studying. We are so close and yet so far from truly understanding the world they would have lived in.
The medieval finds from the 2014 season allow us to place our fingerprints in theirs, to decode the meanings of the ways they decorated their possessions and to roll the dice and hold the gaming pieces they would have played with.
2015 will see us reach the layers that were deposited during this age of medieval mystery. Who knows what secrets the parishioners of All Saints will have left in wait for us.
Thanks for reading! If you would like to join us in 2015 and add your own discoveries to our growing collection, email firstname.lastname@example.org to book a place on the dig or to find out more.
We can’t wait to get back on site, but until then… onwards and downwards!